Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Crimson Starbucks Cup - A Beacon of Light on A Gray, Rainy Day

Driving to Nora, part of the north side of Indianapolis to purchase gift cards for my children at Whole Foods, I noticed a homeless man holding a sign. He was sitting on a stack of plastic crates in the grassy median at the entrance to Nora Plaza.

Stopping at the light, I rolled down my window and asked if I could get him something to eat.

He replied, "No, but I would like a cup of coffee - black."

"Ok, I'll be back."

Circling through the light I drove to the Starbucks a short distance away. Since I do not drink coffee, ordering a large cup was a new experience. Entering the store, I quickly placed my order and decided to purchase a gift card in case the man got hungry or thirsty later in the day.

Carrying the large, hot coffee in one of those controversial bright red cups, I felt like I was in a church processional, walking down the aisle, carrying a candle of light and love. I walked through the parking lot, and dodged a few cars to reach the man and make my delivery.

On that rainy, mid-November day, the wind was blowing with force creating a wind advisory that I heard on the radio. These blustery conditions made walking a challenge. Seeing the man sitting in this weather mess for a period of time evoked compassion.

He must have been a tall man because when I reached his perch we met each other at eye level. I handed him the cup, and took note of the layers of clothing, his bloodshot eyes heavy with fatigue. His large, rough looking hands took a break from holding the sign that described his status in life.

He reached gratefully for the coffee, my candle of light on a gray day.

I showed him the gift card. "You can use this to get something to eat or more coffee."

"Thank you. Have a nice day. Make it a good one!"

Not expecting any response I was surprised to receive a blessing for my day. Moving toward my car, I noticed a pile of plastic grocery store bags and a backpack on the opposite side of the street from where the man sat. These must be his earthly possession gathered in one spot.

I reached my car and turned on the heat.

I don't know the circumstances of this man's life, but I do know that Jesus told us to care for one another - not just our family or friends who live in homes, but for the least and those on the fringe regardless of what brought them there.

When I arrived home, I went to my desk to read the Upper Room devotional for November 18. The thought for the day was: "Today I will offer hospitality to strangers in my path." The scripture listed was Hebrews 13:1-3: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it."

Wow, I was right on target in my mission without knowing "my commission for the day." I pray my beacon of love and light contained in a bright crimson coffee cup will be a sign of hope and love for this child of God, perched on a stack of plastic crates at a busy intersection. - and that he can "make this day a good one" despite his circumstances.

Prayer: God, you bring us people each day who need a kind word or smile or a more tangible expression of love. Give us boldness to keep our eyes open so we may show hospitality to all in your name. Amen.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Pound Shower for Thanksgiving

From January 1979, to November 1983, Mike served two churches west of  Evansville. We lived next door to one of the churches in Mt. Vernon, a town of 7,000. The other church, Zoar United Methodist, was in the middle of a cornfield with rows and rows of cornstalks on either side and across the street.

The gravel road that led to the church generated puffs of dust as we traveled along. An outhouse from the days before indoor plumbing rested in the church backyard, a testament to progress, convenience and the long history of the congregation. A water pump was on the south-side. An idyllic scene of days gone by was captured in this country church that found ten to fifteen people in attendance each Sunday morning.

A big attraction for the children was the inch-thick brown rope knotted at the end that led upwards to the belfry. Pulling the rope each week brought delight to the four or five children who attended.

The people who attended Zoar were either farmers or worked in the large General Electric plastic plant situated on the paved road we took to the church. A few people did both - farmed the land part-time and worked at GE.

We often returned home on Sunday morning with a bag of zucchini or string beans or a dozen freshly laid eggs from these people who shared generously their resources. We were surprised, however, at the first all-church Thanksgiving dinner we attended in November, 1979, to find a row of brown paper grocery bags on the old church pews that formed a border on one side of the fellowship hall.

We enjoyed a delicious meal that evening with tables covered with food characteristic of Thanksgiving Day. Following dinner, one of the church leaders stood before those gathered, welcoming everyone especially Mike, me and one-year-old Sarah.

He continued: "We have a tradition at Zoar Church to honor our pastor and family each Thanksgiving with a pound shower. All of our families have filled a bag or two with a pound of flour or sugar or oranges or anything else we could think of to stock your pantry."

Overwhelmed with gratitude, we hardly knew what to say. Carrying the bags to our small car required multiple trips with help from a few of the men. When we arrived home, we put our sleepy Sarah to bed and unpacked all of the bags. We found beans, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, all from their gardens, as well as store-bought candy, flour, sugar, two-dozen fresh eggs, turnips and a pumpkin. We didn't have enough room in our small kitchen to store our bounty so we placed the surplus on shelves in the basement.

A few people put small toys or books for Sarah. Our hearts were surely filled that first Thanksgiving dinner with the Zoar congregation and the four that followed. The sweet, generous people in this farming community shared from their abundance in a way that covered our table all winter.

Prayer: God, your generosity was reflected in the kindness shown by the members of Zoar Church that left an imprint on my heart long ago. Guide me each day to show your love to all I encounter in ways appropriate to their needs. Amen.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"You must have been brought up right!"

Every Monday I stop at the Starbucks on the corner of 56th and Emerson. Although I don't drink coffee, I like tea. Peach Tranquility is my current favorite.

Monday, November 2, was more like Monday, July 2, with temperatures near 80 degrees, a bright, shiny sun and slight breeze added to the mix of unusual weather. When I got out of my car I noticed a short, elderly woman, holding a cane in one hand, a Starbucks cup in the other. In between hands, smashed like an accordion, were a newspaper, a tablet of paper and numerous other papers.

Seeing her struggle to open her car door, I hurried across the parking lot to offer assistance. Relief spread across her face when she saw me.

"You see I had company for two weeks. I don't know if I can recover!"

"That's a lot of cooking and cleaning. You must be exhausted." I could see the lines of stress and fatigue all over her face. "I hope you can go home and rest," helping unload her arms and settle in the driver's seat.

"You must have been brought up right. Thank you for your help," she said, slipping into her car with the same relief noted when a person finally lays his or her head on a pillow, exhausted from a long day, ready to sleep!

Walking into Starbucks to place my order, I wondered how the woman assumed because I was helpful I had been "brought up well." Does responding with kindness necessarily reflect one's upbringing? I don't think so - not in my case, for sure.

I am thankful my act of kindness blessed a stranger, but thinking that I was "brought up well" was not the origin of my generosity. Reflecting the love of Jesus, following the model he presented for interaction with others grounded my actions.

That day I was able to live the first of three suggestions I offered last week to bring holiness to the holiday season - bless another.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for keeping my eyes open and heart ready to respond in service to those I meet along the path I walk each day. Amen.

Related Reading: 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Three Simple, Quick Ways to Add Holiday Holiness

Even though Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, many stores are displaying Christmas items, a few since the end of the summer. Already I've heard people talk about "the busy holiday season" almost with a sense of dread.

"How can this be?" I wonder. We'll be celebrating the coming of God's son, the best gift ever!

Here are three simple ways to combat the holiday frenzies that only require an awareness of people encountered and experiences you have - no wrapping paper, tape or bows required.

Begin each day with these three thoughts:

1. How can I bless another?

2. Ask God to open your heart to receive from someone else - a stranger or even a person you see, but don't interact with. Blessings can come from others unaware.

3. Watch how God is revealed throughout your day in a new or unexpected way.

Write these suggestions on a piece of paper, and tape it inside your car, on the bathroom mirror or on the kitchen cabinet where you can be reminded of simple ways to add a little holiness to your "to do" list for the day.

Prayer: God, every year we move so quickly through a season that begs for quiet and reflection. Slow us down, open our hearts as we move toward Bethlehem. Amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What Quilts Your Heart?

Recently I was reading one of Scott Russell Sanders' book, A Private History of Awe, that is a memoir about his life. I like the way he uses words to describe what he sess. Turning page after page, I felt comfort in my heart as he described in detail where he lived and people he encountered.

"How can words bring comfort?" I wondered, especially since I was unfamiliar with the places he described and I have never met him.

God can speak and reach our hearts in many ways. Some find peace at the ocean or walking through the woods. Others through sewing and piecing quilts, like the ladies in every church Mike pastored even when he was at Duke, found comfort emerging from the work of their hands and companionship of others working on a common project.

Well-written sentences that reflect the heart of the author can offer comfort to someone like me who appreciates the way words come together to express thoughts, ideas or describe people or places.

As I continued reading, it wasn't so much his memories, but the depth of self that he brought to his past where comfort emerged. He was not describing hardship or sentimentality, but a warmth and depth of feeling related to his surroundings.

"This writing quilts my heart," I thought, meaning the gathering and recording of thoughts bound together with the sensitivity and of his writing style went right to my heart, mirroring the flow of a thread-filled needle entering and exiting two layers of cloth and batting.

For many years I made quilts and found great joy and comfort from this craft. Now "piecing" together words bound with God's blessing and inspiration brings comfort and peace.

What quilts your heart? What life experiences do you find to bind together? Whatever moves in and through your heart to soothe and mend or celebrate is bound together by God's love.

Prayer: God, everyday we gather pieces of what we experience. Sometime we are comforted, while other moments bring sadness, discouragement. All are part of your kingdom and come from our interactions and experiences. Help us bring all of our pieces, binding them with your love, to quilt our hearts with your presence that rests in all. Amen.

Image by Jude Hill, Creative Commons via Flickr.