Monday, December 26, 2016

Happy Holidays!

"Gather the Pieces" will return next Monday. I am enjoying some time with my family.

Peace and blessings to all.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?

Guest post by Mike Reed

Read Matthew 2:16-18

I like Christmas music, carols as well as "sounds of the season." One from the latter category that I always enjoy comes from the late Andy Williams: "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year." The lively, upbeat song highlights many of the things that bring joy to us at Christmas. You can hardly suppress a smile upon hearing it, even if you are having a "Blue Christmas" day as "The King" would have put it.

From October onward we gear up for this most wonderful time. The music, of course, as I have implied, plays a major role as do decorations, shopping, special programs, parties, family get-togethers, etc. It almost seems un-American if not un-Christian not to feel that this really is "the most wonderful time of the year."

Most of us know the familiar "Christmas story," parts of which appear in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. While the joy experienced in the two stories of Jesus' birth differs from the sentiments sung by Andy Williams, it is still there. However, that does not constitute everything recorded in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

In Matthew 2:16-18, which we tend to skip over for the most part, we have a downright horrible , story. In a fit of anger at having been deceived by the wise men who did not return to tell him of the whereabouts of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, the king ordered the slaughter of all children in and around Bethlehem who were two and under. The story ends with words from Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled because they are no more."

Talk about "pouring cold water" on "the most wonderful time of the year"! This story does just that. Why did such a terrible story make it into the Bible? Who needs such a downer while we are in the midst of a time of celebration?

I will mention only one possible reason why the story remains timely for us. While most people enjoy this "most wonderful time of the year," others struggle for a variety of reasons: illness, loss of a loved one, broken relationships, unemployment, addictions, disappointments, and the like. Such people do not experience the joy. Instead, they feel full of pain, remorse, guilt, and more. The carols and "sounds of the season" that bring comfort to us pass by them like so much noise or even worse, open old or more recent wounds.

Keep that thought in mind as you move through these days. Be alert for those for whom this might not be "the most wonderful time of the year." Pray for them, speak words of comfort if you can or simply listen to them or give them a hug.

For Your Reflection:
Do you know someone for whom the holiday season might present difficulty because of loss, illness, unemployment, mental illness or estrangement? Make time to visit these persons, send a card, bake cookies or extend kindness in some way. Spreading the light of Christ will bring joy to others.

Prayer: "The most wonderful time of the year," can be a misleading phrase as challenges we face often do not take a break during the month of December. Hope can be hard to find amidst the lyrics and melody of this song. Remembering God's presence always, even when it seems "everyone" is rejoicing and celebrating grounds us for these days. God is near, surrounding us with love always. Amen.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Three Simple, Quick Ways To Add Holiday Holiness


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

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

Here are three simple ways to combat the holiday frenzies that require only 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 with whom you talk or even a person you see, but don't have any interaction. Blessings can come from others unaware.

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

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

For Your Reflection:

1. What do you want to remember and hold from the approaching holidays?

2. How can you make your hopes happen?

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

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Delight In The Light


Mike, my husband, has never been much on getting the Christmas tree. When we lived in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, a family in the church had a tree farm. Every October we went to their house and tagged the tree we wanted. The first week of December we found our tree on the front porch.

When we moved to the south side of Indianapolis, our daughters, Sarah, Anna, and I, went searching for our tree, always waiting until close to December 20 or 21, when the prices were lowered. Our best bargain was $5.00 for a mangy tree that brightened our living room corner once we added lights and homemade ornaments.

In Vincennes, we continued our tradition of waiting as long as possible to secure a tree that was affordable.

For many years, after we moved to Fishers, Anna and I (Sarah was in college) went to a tree farm, roamed the fields, and finally selected and sawed our tree. Loading the tree into the wagon that circulated up and down the rows and riding back to the little store where we paid, seemed like a hay ride in mid-December.

When the children were out of college, Mike often joined me to select a tree at the lot a block from our home operated by the Boy Scout troop at the church he pastored. Our goal was to find a tree with a straight trunk that would remain upright in the stand.

Last year, while Mike figured with numbers in the checkbook, I headed out to find the tree. Pulling into a grocery store parking lot, I could see lights outlining the area where the trees were sorted by kind, leaning against wooden posts.

The night was cold and windy, but I was captivated by the multi-colored tree lights defining the space. I noticed that the lights were randomly placed. There were four red lights, then a cluster of two blue lights, followed by green, yellow and more red. There was no order in color to the strands - just random placement. Looking at this scene before I got out of my car, I felt delight, delight at the sight, delight in the light!

I needed some delight. The past few days held their own depth of darkness. I missed being with our children on Thanksgiving, a week earlier. A friend's daughter was dealing with monthly chemotherapy due to a brain tumor. Other people I knew and loved were facing difficulty within their families and job loss. Our daughter, Sarah, who teaches in an elementary school in Denver, experienced a lock-down twice in one month because of guns. The massacres in Paris and California left me and I assume many others fearful to go places with a feeling of safety and security.

Driving to the lot, carrying all of these thoughts led me to perceive the world as especially dark, and hung on me as if someone had sewn them to the back of my coat. However, when I saw the string of holiday lights in the distance indicating the boundary of the tree stand, my heart quickened. The random arrangement of lights caught my attention, rearranging my thoughts as I approached.

Martha Steward surely wouldn't approve of four red lights in a row followed by two blue lights, green, yellow and more red, but the light surrounding and giving form to the tree lot soon entered and surrounded my troubled heart, reminding me of three scriptures associated with Advent.

 - Isaiah 9:2 - The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them the light has shined.

 - John 1:5 - The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

- John 8:12 - Again, Jesus spoke to them saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

I carried these verses with me as I walked around the lot quickly finding a tree that I liked. The helpful scout leader carried the tree to my car, carefully placing it in the trunk for the short ride home.

I felt more peace driving home, amazed how a simple experience of lights offered hope and encouragement to my dark places. When I arrived home, Mike unloaded the tree and surprised me the next day when I came home from tutoring, and found the tree in the stand ready to decorate.

For Your Reflection:

When have you been enriched at Christmas with an unexpected experience?

Prayer: God, you continually amaze me how you come in unexpected places, comforting my soul from Christmas lights randomly arranged in a grocery store parking lot. Far more amazing was Mary's unexpected pregnancy and birth of Jesus in a place as random as a manger. Keep my heart open to receive you wherever I am. Amen.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Your Free Copy of Delight in the Light is Available Here

Download your own copy of Delight in the Light: Finding God Throughout Advent.  

Enjoy the readings to add meaning to your Advent season. It's my gift to you.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mary - A Poem

Dark braids





Close to

Patches sewn on

Your garment for

More use.

Dough lining

Your fingers

While the

Bread of Life

Grows within.

Thoughts about dinner

And checking on sheep,

When the visitor came

With astonishing news.

"A baby for me,

From God did you say?

I'm not ready to be

A mother.




"God is with you,"

The angel said.

"All is well.

Let it be.

I'll finish the bread,

Gather figs for dinner,

Check on the sheep

In the pasture,

And visit Joseph in

His shop.

Oh my!"

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Memory Quilts for Sean and Jillian

I first met my dear friend, Selena, on a windy, chilly, snowy day, a week before Christmas in 2010.  She and her husband, Jeff, along with members of their extended families were standing on snow covered, icy ground near the front of a small, rural cemetery.

When I got out of my car, my eyes went quickly to the tiny, grey casket perched on a wooden bier in front of a large whole dug in the earth. I’d never attended an infant funeral.

Mike, stood next to Selena and Jeff, although I could easily have picked them out in a crowd with grief molding their faces and eyes that were blank allowing tears not vision to settle in and flow.

I stood to the side to let the family have full view so they could hear the prayers and words Mike would say to commit two, sweet little souls to God and their bodies to the earth. The twins, born at 23 weeks, survived a few days; Sean, the little boy, one day, his sister, Jillian, two.

Jeff and Selena scheduled to relocate from Raleigh, North Carolina to Fishers, with Jeff’s job transfer, birthed the babies, and packed to move following their loss, all within a month.

They knew no one in Fishers. However, God set to work an amazing series of events to bring them to a church that would envelop them with love and compassion for these days. Their pastor in Raleigh, knew  Mike from their days at the Duke Divinity School. He contacted Mike, describing Sean and Jillian’s deaths. Mike set in motion through a series of emails and phone calls a few nights of meals, visits from people in the church to assist with the early days of their arrival and following the funeral service.

Even the caretaker of the small cemetery was a member of the church. She quickly arranged a place for the children to be buried.

With such deep grief and knowing few people, Selena turned to her long-time skill in quilting to companion her through these days and months of processing great loss.

She and Jeff were given all of the quilts that touched Sean and Jillian while they were in the hospital. Early in February, Selena decided to make two memory quilts, one for Sean and one for Jillian to send to the hospital in Raleigh where they were born.

With her then nearly three-year-old son, Alex, by her side, they found quilt shops in the Indianapolis area. Eventually she found the perfect fabric to honor her dear children. Planning the quilts, and purchasing fabric, gave Selena structure and focus for her days.

Into the spring and summer she sewed and quilted, finally finishing in mid-fall, ready to mail to Raleigh in time for the first anniversary of their deaths, November 18. Before she packed the quilts, she asked the two pastors of the church, her Bible study group and a few friends, to pray over her handwork. The quilts were heavy with her grief, but also heavy with prayer from those who cared and loved her.

I asked Selena to describe her experience making the memory quilts.

“The hum of my sewing machine has always brought me a sense of peace. As a young girl, I’d play with my dolls at my mother’s feet under the table while she sewed, hearing the monotonous hum of the needle piercing the fabric.

I grew up and discovered my love for sewing in particular making beautiful quilts. Six years ago, my husband and I lost our beloved son and daughter. At a time when I didn’t want to get out of bed in the mornings, I knew I needed to honor them by living.

The hum of the machine once again brought me peace. At the hospital in Raleigh, we were given everything our children touched, including quilts, blankets and hats. I found comfort in these items because I was touching what they had last touched.

I decided to start making memory quilts in their honor to give the feeling of touch and warmth to other families. While I piece together bright, happy fabrics (because I know the personalities of my children are bright and happy in Heaven), I pray for each of them. I also pray for the baby girl who will receive my daughter’s memory quilt and the baby boy who will receive my son’s memory quilt, praying deep into the threads, breathing prayers into the batting, lovingly holding the fabrics as I lovingly held my own son and daughter.

I have made two quilts each year since their passing. I send them to the nurse who cared for my children six years ago. She, along with the staff, decide which family will receive the quilts each year. I know my children are resting in the arms of the Lord, proud of what their mother is doing, listening to the peaceful hum of the sewing machine."

For Your Reflection:
1.       How have you worked through times of deep grief and loss?

2.       What ways help you touch those places of grief that seem endless, without words or form?

3.       Can art (I consider quilting an art form) become an avenue of expression, a picture of what wells from your heart?

Join me in praying for Jeff and Selena this week as they remember the sixth anniversary of the loss of Sean and Jillian this Friday, November 18.

Prayer: God, many times we plough through unbearable grief, similar to Selena and Jeff. Our loss may have a different nature, but deep grief is often without form. Thank you for Selena’s gift of sewing that allows her to companion others who are going through similar experiences. May you bless each with love, and prayers that are within every stitch and inch of fabric.  Guide those who are in grief; lead them to a way through a hobby or special interest that their grief can come to a place of peace, glorifying you with gratitude. Amen.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Earth"s Quilt - A Poem


Time to make the earth's quilt.

Yellow, orange and red leaves

Come together in random patterns,

Warming the earth

Through winter's cold,

Covering seeds that rest,

Waiting for the time to

Burst forth with pastel colors --

A sweet sight after winter's grays.

Rest, earth, rest under the quilt

You provide for yourself.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Jesus Wrote and The Loss of the Contemplative Mind

Jesus preached, blessed, ate, healed, walked, talked and ..........wrote!

John Chapter 8-1-11 described an encounter Jesus had with teachers of the law and Pharisees who asked about a woman caught in adultery. The punishment according to Jewish law was stoning. Before he responded, Jesus took a moment to write in the sand. Verse 6: "But he (Jesus) bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger."

Jesus knew the importance of his answer, so he took a moment to pause and write.

"As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her." (verse 7)

After he answers the teachers and Pharisees, he bends over again to write on the ground.

We don't know what Jesus wrote, but he did give an example to pause and reflect before answering.

The End of Reflection

On Sunday, June 12, The New York Times, featured an article by Teddy Wayne called "The End of Reflection." The author recognized a change in his life. In the past when he had extra time, he would "observe or think about my surroundings or take a walk."

Now he notes, "I pick up my phone to check a notification, browse and read the internet, text, use an app or listen to audio or on rare occasions, engage in an old-fashioned "telephone call." The last remaining place I'm guaranteed alone with my thoughts is in the shower."

Wayne quotes Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows. "As our technologies increase the intensity of stimulation and the flow of new things, we adapt to that pace. We become less patient. When moments without stimulation arise, we start to feel panicked and don't know what to do with them, because we've trained ourselves to expect this stimulation."

Carr sees the use of the internet and other electronics as "the loss of the contemplative mind."

We need a contemplative mind to stay in touch with God. If we go with the trends Wayne and Carr are noting in their articles and books, we are doomed to shallow thinking and impatient attitudes.

The January, 2016, issue of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) included a short article, "The Write Way to Slow Down." The article explains, "One thing proven to help you slow down is writing your thoughts and feelings longhand. On paper. It's not just writing; it's taking time to think and process life events. The ritual is an effective way for you to analyze situations creatively and to stay centered during difficult times."

There it is. Writing. The way to slow down.

Jesus modeled it well for us, and John captured the moment when Jesus wrote in the sand.

Returning to Jesus

Jesus knew the Pharisees and teachers of the law were waiting for an answer. Jesus realized the importance of the question required careful thought so he paused, twice to write on the ground.

They were expecting consent to the Jewish law, so Jesus' answer stunned them when he offered compassion and forgiveness.

Of course, no one knows what Jesus wrote before or after he responded or if he wrote something to the woman, to those asking the question, or to God. Perhaps he wrote a prayer asking for wisdom  prior to his answer and a prayer of gratitude afterwards. No one knows.

Jesus offers a model to use not only when we are involved in thought-provoking or difficult conversations or responding to a question with a friend at work, at church or other places.

1. Take a moment to pause before replying. Collecting thoughts and organizing how to phrase an answer can result in an effective and meaningful response and encourages a contemplative mind.

2. Offer a quick prayer for guidance.

3. Write down a few thoughts - after all, the article in AARP reminds us that writing slows us down.

4. Say a short prayer of gratitude for God's help after replying.

Slowing down in today's fast-paced world is a challenge, but necessary. Companionship with God demands times of silence, contemplation and reflection to grow deeper in faith and hear God's voice.

For your reflection:

1. What do you think Jesus wrote in the sand?
2. How can you incorporate Jesus's model of writing before replying into everyday life.
3. What is the value of writing for you?

Prayer: God, advances in communication seem to discourage the contemplative mind. How can we weigh seriously and listen to your voice as we talk with others and consider matters of importance? Help us use Jesus' model of pausing and writing in our interaction and during our time with you. Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Found Objects - What I Found - What Jesus Found

The book How To Be An Explorer of the World led me to start with the activity suggested on page 30—to collect items on a walk. The first few times I went around the neighborhood, all I found was a leaf and an empty acorn shell. I live in a housing addition that is well-kept with little trash.
A few days later I found several note-worthy items that I stuffed into my pocket. When I arrived home, I examined the ‘gems’ – a yellow candy wrapper, a red bottle cap, a rusty ‘S’-shaped chain, a rubber band and a wrapper from Walgreen’s for adhesive bandages.
I added to my collection a note I found in the locker to which I was assigned at the Jordan Y, and a listing of Christmas hymns on a piece of paper I found in a library book. On the back side of the paper were the dates for Advent, beginning in late November.

All of a sudden the box that held my finds was filled with items that offered more questions than the leaf and acorns. I knew where these two came from, but everything else tapped my inquisitive imagination. For example, when I looked at the candy wrapper, I wondered what type of sweet the paper held. How did it taste – sweet or sour? Who ate the candy? When and where was it purchased?
The listing of Christmas carols on the slip of paper from the library book as well as the dates for Advent made me wonder if the person who wrote this information was a church choir director or a pastor. I could contact him, as his name is printed on the front, but I like letting my imagination wonder what the dates and hymns mean.
I wondered what liquid the bottle cap topped and who drank it. Why did someone need an adhesive wrap? Who wore the wrap – a child or an adult?
All of this reflection made me remember how Jesus used common objects to tell stories and teach.
How Jesus Used Common Objects
Jesus taught using parables or stories using metaphors – a comparison to something in the kingdom using like or as: The kingdom of heaven is like a pearl, or the kingdom of heaven is like yeast.
Perhaps over a series of days Jesus collected a few objects that he saw in the homes where he stayed or along the path he walked. He decided to use these objects to teach about the kingdom, giving them an additional meaning or purpose from what people saw.
Jesus compared the kingdom of God to weeds, a mustard seed, yeast, a pearl and a net, offering meaning beyond what is seen.
My Box of Parables
Compared to the box of objects I found, those that came from nature offered no reflection or questions for me, but the other items spewed forth with questions.
Let’s look again – I found an acorn and a leaf. Reflecting like Jesus, I could say, The kingdom of God is like an acorn waiting to provide nourishment for a squirrel. God nourishes our souls when we read God’s word, hear stories about God at work in people’s lives, and as we feel God’s presence. Or, The kingdom of God is like a leaf that brings beauty in the fall.

Looking at the other objects that are really trash and litter, what could they teach about God? Is there a parable in each one?
The kingdom of God is like 
…… empty candy wrapper, ready to embrace a soul in protective care or show how God wants to embrace each of God’s children in love;
……a bandage that wraps around a wound allowing healing, just as God wraps us in arms of protection and care, to heal us when we hurt;
….a chain, as words and actions link us to someone else making his way through the day;
….a listing of dates and hymns for Advent where the celebration of Christ’s birth is outlined and planned;
…… a rubber band that keeps stretching to include new people in God’s kingdom.
If I take time to dig deeper, I discover parables or at least a short lesson about the nature of God in the items found while I walked.

For your reflection:
1.     Take a walk, picking up several items you find. Which ones stimulate questions? Which ones offer quick answers?
2.     How can you link God’s kingdom to what you found, making a parable for each one?
Prayer: Jesus found common objects to teach about the kingdom and invite believers to look and see spiritual truths. Guide our paths each day, and open our eyes to learn about you from objects and relationships we encounter. Amen.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

When this you see remember me .........

When it came time for us to move from Vincennes to Fishers, Indiana, in June, 1996, the congregation wanted to give us a remembrance of the seven years spent living and serving together. They knew of my long-time interest in quilts, so they set to work creating.

Everyone was asked to donate pieces of fabric that were cut into two-by-two inch squares. We didn't know it, but people gathered in homes and sewed a stole for Mike and a vest for me using all of the tiny pieces. On the inside of each were signatures of church members.

We were presented with our special gifts on Mike's last Sunday. In addition, they gave Sarah a quilt made with Indiana University fabric and Anna one with Duke fabric. Our family felt wrapped in love by the congregation as we relocated to Fishers. 

I remembered a phrase - 'When this you see remember me ' - from a book on quilting that was filled with patterns and described how women worked to put a quilt together to send with a friend moving to an undeveloped part of the United States. The group gave the departing woman a tangible symbol of their lives together, knowing they may never see each other again.

I recalled this phrase when I looked at Mike's stole and my vest both of which brought comfort, especially in the first few months after our move. The unique handwork helped my adjustment and locked in fond memories.

When Mike retired in June, 2011, from Fishers United Methodist Church, my Sunday school class made me a quilt from squares each family contributed - another example of thoughtful generosity and something I still use to see and remember all the people, just as the phrase that caught my heart long ago conveyed so well.

Jesus and Remembrance

Luke 22:14-20 describes the Lord's Supper Jesus shared with the disciples before his crucifixion; "He took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, and broke it saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me. In the same way, he gave them the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is God's new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.'"

In these final days, Jesus knew that he would be leaving the disciples, heading for the cross. He wanted to leave something with them as a way of remembrance. Placing the loaf of bread and cup of wine in front of the disciples gathered around the table he could easily have used the words, "When this you see, remember me."

The Last Supper is portrayed in many pieces of art and paintings. I have even seen a loaf of bread and bunch of grapes pictured in a stained glass window. For the Christian, seeing these elements on a church altar or in a piece of art, clearly invokes a remember that Jesus is with us.

Other Remembrances

When I at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, a crucifix hung in every patient room and along the hallways on each floor - when this you see remember me.

Many of us have items around our homes that remind us of those we love. When we see them our hearts feel comfort, connection and they invoke stories of our time with the giver. We give to others objects whose meaning represents our relationship and shared experiences. When they see it, we hope they remember us.

Reminders of Jesus and God's presence through items like crosses, symbols of communion and baptism, icons and candles help us stay present to the reality that "God is here in this place," or "God is in this hospital," or "God is here with me, which I remember when I wear a cross around my neck."

"When this you see remember me" says so much. For me, I not only think of the person who gave me an item - I also grow more aware of God everywhere and in all people. I deeply treasure my vest, Mike's store, Sarah and Anna's quilts. I can picture people, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ from First United Methodist Church in Vincennes. The Sunday school quilt from Fishers United Methodist Church, is also cherished, given to me by dear friends who are still remembered and loved.

For your Reflection:

1. What objects have you received from family and friends that bring remembrances of thought and love? Describe what they mean to you.

2. Are there religious symbols in church, your home, outside in the woods, in your front yard, along the path of your favorite walk, at your job, that serve as reminders of God" Described these moments of awareness.

3. What have you given others to remember you or an experience you shared?

Prayer:  For me, "When this you see remember me" captures all you left behind for us to remember you; bread and wine; a mustard seed, yeast, a coin, a fig tree and other objects that symbolize you and offer teaching about the kingdom. We do remember you with each one as we use these encounters to deepen our faith and trust in you. Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Light a Candle - See the Way

A few years ago, the church I attend installed a three-tiered votive candle rack on a table to the right of the altar. Sunday morning worshipers can light a candle before or after the service. Mike and I were surprised to see candles in a Protestant church.

When we first started attending, Mike always went forward to light a candle. I occasionally light a candle at home, especially when I am baking biscuits or cinnamon rolls, but I didn't feel led to do so in church.

One Sunday, however, when I was facing a challenging week, I decided to follow Mike to the front and light a candle too. I found it so meaningful that I now light a candle, with an intention, every Sunday morning as part of my worship. Especially important were the Sundays preceding each of my daughter's birthdays, when I lit a candle for them since I knew I wouldn't be with them on their special day.

A lit candle at home or at church, provides a visible reminder of God's presence.

Lighting Candles in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Faith Traditions

Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches set aside a place in the sanctuary to light candles.

Lighting a candle in the Orthodox Church is regarded as a time of prayer. The lit, slender, twelve-inch candles are placed in a box of sand so that the drippings do not go on the floor, but are caught in the sand. People are encouraged to end their silent reflection with the words, "Lord have mercy," repenting of their sins and re-igniting the light of God within. Following prayer,  a re-commitment made to live as light, helping others to see the way in a world of darkness.

The Catholic Church suggests lighting candles as a way to pray for a specific concern or person. The candles remain lit after the person leaves, showing a collective spirit of prayer to the entire church. When the mass ends, keeping the candles aflame helps those attending to remember that the prayer offered remains and others are welcome to come and pray over the candles and the intentions.

My Own Practice

When I bake biscuits or cinnamon rolls, lighting a candle is part of the ritual along with gathering and mixing ingredients, kneading the dough and smelling the aroma that fills my kitchen.

At other times, I light a candle to say, "God is with me" or "God is here." The candle is an encouragement and source of comfort as I do laundry, write, cook, read the newspaper or write letters to my daughters. Lighting a candle reminds me I am never alone.

For Further Reading

For Your Reflection

1. How do you remind yourself that God is with you?

2. Light a candle while you are home. Remember that Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." John 8:12) Reflect on these scripture references to light as you look at the candle. What thoughts come?

- Psalm 27:1 - "The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one."

- Psalm 119:105  - "Your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path.

- Matthew 5:16 - "In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your father in heaven."

- John 1:5 - "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out."

- John 12:35-37 - "Jesus answered, 'The light will be among you a little longer. Continue on your way while you have the light, so that the darkness will not come upon you, for the one who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Believe in the light, then, while you have it, so that you will be the people of light.'"

Prayer: Candles are reminders of God, faith and holiness. We are made in your image, and I ask that you help me settle deeper into you, God, so that I can discover more and more that ideal self you've made me to be. Amen.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Words From The Marketplace

Thoughts or new perspectives can come from unexpected places. Here are a few words of wisdom that came as I was "passing through life" the past few weeks.

The Kroger Parking Lot - Nora section of Indianapolis

During a recent rainy Saturday, I went to my favorite Kroger on the north side of Indianapolis. When I got out of my car I noticed a Kroger employee gathering grocery cards that were scattered across the parking lot.

I asked, "What happens when it rains and you are collecting the carts?"

"I get the good Lord in my face," she replied with a big grin.

"Now that's a new perspective!" I dodged the rain drops as I opened my umbrella and rushed into the store.

My Church - Indianapolis

John, the custodian at the church I attend, is a retired postal service employee who was part of a class I taught on prayer a few years ago.

When I go to the church every Monday night to lead a support group, John is usually vacuuming the carpet. His positive, upbeat attitude is always refreshing.

One evening, I asked how he was doing and he replied, "Making things happen!"

"That's a great motivating phrase," I replied, reflecting on how I can take the initiative to bring about good in the world.

Indiana University North Hospital - Carmel

Louise, the director of volunteer services at the hospital where I volunteer every Tuesday is a former nurse. She managed a floor for many years before taking a part-time job with volunteer services.

Louise is full of wisdom gain from dealing with patients, families and hospital staff.

When I recently finished my shift, I overheard her talking to a new volunteer. "Always manage up," she offered.

She later explained when I asked about the phrase, "Always be positive and encouraging with people." Although she was referring to guests, patients and staff in the hospital, her words can apply to any interaction.

Walking through the rain in the grocery store parking lot, talking with a custodian at church and listening to a former nurse in an office - unsuspecting places to glean wisdom, in the  "marketplaces" of my life.

For your reflection:

1. Keep your ears attuned when you go different places throughout your day. Where do you find wisdom? Who is an unsuspecting carrier of reflection for your day?

2. Record thoughts of strangers or others that you hear in passing or in conversation. with those you know. How can these thoughts enter your heart and bring new insight to your life?

Prayer: God, thank you for people who spread your word with phrases that have come to them through their life experiences. Keep our ears and hearts open to receive what you want us to capture in the marketplace of life. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Owner of A Broken Heart

Occasionally when I cannot express what I feel in words, I use fabric, paper, paint, an X-acto knife or scissors to give language to my thoughts.

Several years ago, I had no words for what I was experiencing. I drew a 12" wide heart on fabric, cut the heart into twelve pieces, hand-sewed the pieces together, then appliqued the heart on a large piece of cloth. I repeated the same cycle nine times - cutting a large heart, making twelve pieces, hand-sewing the piece together, and appliqueing to fabric.

Recently I came across the quilt that I stashed in a closet. I noticed many of the pieces of the hearts were frayed, coming apart and worn. Preparing to put the quilt in a bag for Goodwill, I noted the beautiful design from machine quilting on the back. How could I throw away this piece created during a time of chaos and turmoil?

After all, the hearts on the back were complete - when I studied the stitching I couldn't even see the frayed edges on the front side. All I saw was the visual purity of a healthy heart weaving all over the underside of this artwork made when I was heartsick!

The quilt suggested a metaphor for rough patches of life with the ragged pieces on the front and the transformed hearts on the back. Hearts are frequently broken into pieces, frayed and word for various reasons. In time, with prayer, those same hearts experience God's healing and restoration.


1. What is on your mind that breaks your heart, personally, for a friend, for our nation?

2. Draw a picture of a heart and divide it into as many pieces as you want.

3. Bring to God your concerns, holding each piece of the heart praying: "Put my heart in your hand, God. Bring warmth, insight, discernment, wisdom or any other thought or tiny piece of love that can help me come together.

4. Make this time of prayer and holding happen over a few days, weeks or even months, knowing that restoration can take time.

5. When you are ready to piece your heart together, get glue, and paper. Put the pieces as close together as you can - realizing that the new form may look different, but is beautiful.

6. Thank God for the healing taking place and for the freedom that comes from being open to transformation.

For your Reflection:

1. How did dividing your paper heart begin to represent the fractures and fissures of your pain?

2. What feelings surfaced as you worked through each step from beginning to end?

3. Write a short prayer to thank God for holding your heart and bringing change.

Prayer: God, thank you for allowing us to express creatively what we feel inside and how we image our heart to appear when we have distress. We can feel emotions from experiences that indeed wound us. In your rest and through prayer, our hearts can be fused together and we can walk in new life. Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

God's Provision - How Church Ladies Filled The Gap

Early in the summer, I went to a local gift store. One of the employees asked if I made the bag I carried over my shoulder..

"No, but a friend did."

"I'm learning to sew."


"There's a group of ladies who sew at my church every Tuesday night. They are teaching me. I'm making a bag." She described the colors of the fabric.

"Sounds beautiful. Save the scraps and you can eventually make a quilt!"

She laughed. Maybe she wasn't sure about the quilt yet.

My Church Ladies - God's Provision

I made my way through the store looking at various items. While she was talking about the ladies who sew, my heart swirled back to the numerous 'church ladies' in my life who helped me cook by writing their recipes on index cards, introduced me to quilting by sharing stories of their handwork and providing fabric, but more importantly offered positive models of what it meant to be an encouraging wife and nurturing mother.

I called these women "silent encouragers." They had no idea I was watching as they interacted with their spouses, prepared meals and raised their children. Church ladies were part of God's provision for me, filling a huge gap in my life by living out healthy marriages and child raising.

God's Provision through the Ram

The Bible lists may stories of God's provision. One of the most remarkable is when God tests Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). Abraham obeyed taking his son to a mountain, tying him on an altar made from a pile of wood. Just as Abraham raised a knife to kill Isaac, an angel called to him saying, "Don't hurt the boy or do anything to him," he said. "Now  I know you have obedient reverence for God, because you have not kept back your only son from him."

The story continues, "Abraham looked around and saw a ram caught in in bush by its horns. He went and got it and offered it as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham named the place, 'The Lord Provides.' And even today people say, 'On the Lord's mountain he provides.'"

God's Provision for  My Family
Sometimes God's provision is with something material. For example, we lived in Vincennes, Indiana, from June 1989 to June 1996. One late Friday afternoon, Mike, Anna and I were walking to the high school football stadium for the opening game of the season. Sarah was a freshman. She played in the marching band and was already at the stadium practicing for the pre-game show.

As the three of us were walking the few blocks from our parsonage to the stadium, we wondered how we were going to afford to get in. It was the end of the month and our bank account registered $5.00. We weren't sure if six-year-old Anna was free, nor did we remember the cost of adult admission. We kept walking, hoping we had enough. If not, we decided one of us would stay at the game with Anna and the other would go home.

We were at the bottom of the street leading to the stadium when a car pulled over to the sidewalk.

The friendly voice of a church lady called out, "Hi Mike and Jacquie! Are you going to the game?"

"Yes we are!"

"I have two adult tickets. Would you like them? John and I can't go tonight."

Stunned, we replied, "Sure ...yes we could use your tickets!" Pat's hand jutted out the window waving the two tickets.

"I get season tickets each year free because I'm a school principal. So glad we found someone to use them!"

God's provision once again.

We got into the game. Anna was free and the $5.00 we brought enabled Anna and a friend to split a bag of popcorn and have a drink.

God's provision was timely, serendipitous, and received with much gratitude.
Keeping Hearts Open for Everyday Provision

God's provision occurs throughout the day - many times we may not even be aware. When we're struck with a new thought or insight about life or we sense a nudge to complete God's call to extend love to others - these are ways God provides. God is always waiting to deepen our faith and move us closer to his image. Keeping an open hear ensures a readiness to receive what God gives readily and with great love.

The church ladies in Mike's three rural student pastorates in North Carolina were formative in my early days of marriage. As I said, they showered me with recipes and encouragement as I learned to cook. The church ladies in each of Mike's appointments in those early years offered models to ground my life in God and to be the best wife to Mike and mother to Sarah and Anna. Even after 42 years, the imprint of what they gave me remains.

Questions for reflection:

1. Who are the silent encouragers from your life?

2. What individuals or groups of people have modeled Christian living for you?

Prayer: God, I thank you deeply for the many ways you have offered provision to fill gaps of loss in my life. These church ladies have blessed me in ways that still carry me today. As I have been blessed, open my heart to bless others in your name. Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hasten - What Elie Wiesel Taught Me About Prayer

Well-known Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, died July 1. He was a prolific writer with thirty books to his credit. His first book, Night, chronicles his experiences after his family was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

I found a copy of Night for a dollar at an antique store one day when I was looking for a hard-back copy of an old book for an art project.

Night is a description of Elie Wiesel's time in two concentration camps, Auschwitz (May 1944 to January 1945) and Buchenwald (January 1945 to April 1945). Stories of beatings, lack of food, extreme exercise, marching for hours, and humiliation made me wonder how he survived. Most of the prisoners did not. His mother and younger sister died in May 1944 and his father in January 1945.

Elie was a devout Jew. As a young boy he was devoted to study of the Talmud. His interest in Jewish law centered his life. He continued to pray and practice Jewish rites even when he was in Auschwitz.

Shortly before being transported to Auschwitz, Jews were told to place clothing and items they wanted to save in backpacks. All of the Jewish families in Elie's hometown, Sighet, Transylvania, left their homes and gathered in ghettos created in the center of town. They stayed in the ghetto until the day the cattle cars came to take them away.

Walking by his home the day he left, Elie commented -

     "I looked at my house in which I had spent years seeking my God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later. Yet, I felt little sadness. My mind was empty." (page 19)

I was taken by his words "...seeking God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later."

Jews do not believe their Messiah has come. They are still waiting.

Reading Night and portions of another book Elie Wiesel wrote, All Rivers Run To The Sea, his devotion to prayer, study of scripture, and Jewish tradition impressed upon me his urgent desire for the coming of the Messiah and for what life would be like when that happened. He persevered with hop that practicing his faith would bring about the Messiah's arrival.

Christian Prayer and Jewish Prayer

Reflecting on Wiesel's life prior to the Holocaust caused me to think about the purpose of our Christian practice of prayer. When we pray for peace do e have faith that our prayers will result in peace? When we pray for love, do we believe love will come?

I am reminded of a passage in Mark 11:24, where Jesus tells the disciples, "When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it." Jesus is saying, if you desire peace, pray using these words - "Thank you God for the peace I feel." You may not feel peace immediately, but praying with a grateful heart will bring comfort until peace comes.

Elie Wiesel believed that fasting would hasten the coming of the Messiah. His heart believed that through fasting the Messiah would appear. He was praying as Jesus directed, "believing that he had already received," a prayer of faith, trust and gratitude.

What do we believe we can hasten through completing prayer, study of God's Word, fasting and acts of love and service? How can we hasten God's kingdom with all people we meet?

Elie Wiesel's faith sustained him through life in two concentration camps. When he was barely alive, beaten to the core, his life with God remained strong --- I think it is because he prayed, believing and God strengthened him to make it through.

Prayer: God, you have given us an example of a young man deep in faith who believed that he could hasten your coming through fasting and devotion to your Word. Let us believe, too, that praying with faith, trust, and belief, we too can hasten your kingdom and mold us more completely into your image. Amen.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Sustaining Presence of Rituals - Everyday, Liturgical and In Illness

Ritual - an established procedure for a religious or other rite; a book of rites or ceremonies

Most everyone has rituals for beginning their day - awakening, a shower, eat, go to work, stay at home, have lunch and dinner, exercise, sleep. That's a basic outline with individual modifications.

Athletes sometimes observe rituals before a game - eating certain foods, listening to favorite music and wearing the same clothes. Before I jump into the pool to swim, I ask God to bless my time in the water, making those moments holy and meditative.

My ritual each morning links me to God shortly after I awaken. I go to my desk, say the Lord's Prayer out loud twice, pray for my family and friends, record my gratitude from the previous day, reflect on a few verses of scripture, and if a word or image surfaces, I record it. These practices observed before I go downstairs ground my day in God.

Now that I am retired, I have the luxury of spending more time in the morning reading the Bible and in prayer. When I worked, however, I developed an abbreviated form of centering using my 30 minute commute to pray and then read a prayer before I got out of my car. Sometimes it's necessary to be creative and find a meaningful ritual with God.

Coffee Ritual

The March, 2016, issue of O:The Oprah Magazine, had a short feature called "Coffee Mate." The author describes how she got to know the barista who filled her coffee order each morning. He always greeted her with a smile and asked how her day was going. She, in turn, got to know him as he shared stories about his family and desire to return to school. She said, "I've never told him my last name, yet he knows me from the milestones to the minutiae. Sure he's a total stranger, but when he asks how I'm doing, he actually wants to know."

My daughters, Sarah and Anna, stop each morning for coffee on their way to work. They enjoy  camaraderie and familiarity with the baristas who take their orders. When I asked my older daughter, Sarah, what she thought about "Coffee Mate," she replied, "It's all about the ritual."

And it is. There is something sustaining about being greeted by the same face at the coffee shop each day. Often the barista has the coffee waiting before an order is place.  Exchanging pleasantries and conversation builds a connection that can be foundational to the day.

Rituals to Sustain in Challenging Circumstances and Illness

Rituals can offer secure attachments for all stages of life. For moments of celebration such as a birthday or graduation, we often have cake with words honoring the occasion scripted on the top. Invitations are sent, family and friends gather. Sometimes cards and gifts find their way to the person of honor. We know the pattern for celebration - the ritual for gathering and honoring has been set in place for many generations.

Daily living often brings challenges, such as job loss or serious illness as well as frustrations or inconveniences  like a broken computer, a tooth crown that comes off, glitches in event planning or a flat tire. Rituals to sustain in these circumstances can involve coming to church.

I grew up attending the Episcopal Church that uses it's Book of Common Prayer. This book contains all of the services of worship for the calendar year. Holy Communion is celebrated the first Sunday of the month followed by three Sundays that use the service of Morning Prayer. For the occasional fifth Sunday, Morning Prayer is repeated.

Despite growing up in an unpredictable, chaotic home, I knew what to expect on Sunday. I came to love the comforting presence of the service rituals that became familiar over the years. The words and liturgy buried deeply in my heart, grounding me closer to God over time.

The January 18, 2016, Patheos blog ( had an article about the importance of liturgy written by Jonathan Algner who lives with depression. "The Black Dog, The White Pill and Liturgy" describes the importance of liturgy as follows:

"If it wasn't for liturgy, I really might have been done. My depression is worlds better than it was last fall, but there are still times when I feel disconnected. I don't always feel my faith. I don't always feel God's presence. I don't always believe.

But I still go to church, and I say and sing and pray when my heart is often unable to do so.

Even when I don't believe, I say it anyway, " I believe in God, the Father Almighty.."

Even when I don't mean it, I pray it anyway, "Thy kingdom come, they will be done ...."

Even when words fail, I listen anyway, "The body of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you."

And I know that I am no longer alone.

It's restoring.



And it's life giving. Even if all I can do is muster the energy to show up and do my job, the ritual of the liturgy, the word and sacrament, nourishes my faith at its weakest points and gives me strength to carry on."

What rituals form your day?

What rituals are meaningful in worship and help practice your faith?

Prayer: God, part of our forming closer to Your image involves rituals to increase an awareness of Your presence to sustain us at all times. Guide us as we seek You each day. Amen.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Special Annotated Gift

A few weeks ago (June 20) I introduced Hannah Brencher's book, If You Find This Letter. I liked Hannah's idea of writing letters to strangers; I wrote a stack of my own to leave for others in various places around town.

Having enjoyed Hannah's book so much, I bought two copies, one for each of my daughters. The book brought up memories reminding me of Sarah and Anna. Hannah mentions her mother's habit of writer her letters at college - I did the same and continue to write to each one frequently as both live far away.

I read one book through the lens of Sarah's life experiences and the other through Anna's. Throughout the book, whenever I found descriptions that linked our lives to Hannah's, I wrote a note or underlined the sentence or paragraph.

For example, on page eight, Hannah describes the lunch her mother made and gave her shortly before the train left to take her to her first job in New York City. "Without unfolding the square mess of silver (aluminum foil), I knew it was two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Four slices of whole wheat bread." In Sarah's book, in the margin next to that passage, I commented, "Remember your elementary school lunches - peanut butter and jelly every day on crumbly homemade bread."

Page 142 brought to mind Hannah's favorite coffee shop. "The Blend was a little coffee shop Libby and I had discovered as we made our way toward Arthur Avenue one morning." This sentence merited a pencil drawing of a coffee cup as well as underlining, since both girls enjoy coffee shops and relish their coffee each morning.

I saw so many connections between Hannah's life and my daughters'. I couldn't resist purchasing two copies of the book, underlining, drawing little pictures with my pencil and adding my own comments.

My oldest daughter, Sarah, celebrates her birthday this month. One of her gifts was my annotated copy of If You Find This Letter, along with ten notecards I embroidered in case she decides to write a few notes to others.

Our family tradition on birthdays is to give the non-birthday celebrant a "sibling box" of small remembrances. This year, Anna will receive her annotated version of the book along with ten notecards.

My prayer is that these two sweet daughters will spread words of affirmation and encouragement in Colorado and Oregon, here and there, at some of the places they like to visit.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for words from others that awaken memories and make connections in joyful and surprising ways. I am so grateful for the wonderful gifts of my daughters and the fun we have together. Bless the writing in the book that enlivened my memory; bless my annotations that will fill their hearts with joy. Our lives are always in your hands. Amen.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

God's Consolation in Art

I came to learn the value of art later in life, when I was almost 50. Nurturing creativity in my two young daughters was always a priority. We had in our home, blank sheets of white paper, crayons, markers, paint and scissors available for their use by the time they were a year old.

I'd read long ago in the Christian Science Monitor that if a parent wanted to have a creative child, do not purchase coloring books, but give them sheets of blank paper. I followed this guideline and ended up raising an art teacher and a marketing specialist who writes a blog and arranges pieces of jewelry for enticing Instagram messages at an independent business.

My own creativity was squelched growing up because my mother saw crayons and coloring as a waste of time. Our only box of crayons spent most of the time on the top shelf of the coat closet. Art in elementary school was hit-or-miss as the classroom teacher, back in the fifties, taught all subjects as well as the "specials" art, music and gym. When we did have art, perhaps a few times a year, every project looked the same as we followed the teacher's directives.

No room was allowed for individual expression nor were variations encouraged. Being locked into copying the teacher's example for color and design seemed robotic, against a child's natural inclination to experiment with color, form or design.

Art Awakening.

When I was approaching 50, I discovered my non-dominant left hand could draw. Drawing connected me to God and became prayer. Art projects touched and opened my soul in ways that deepened my connection to God, and awakened my creativity.

In the July/August, 2013, issue of Alive Now, a publication of The Upper Room, I had a short reflection published:

                              What comes from God

                              Brings me to God.

                              God prays by creating,

                               I create to pray.

These words describe my process of co-creating with God, making art that deepens my faith and nurtures my art.

God's Presence Through Art

Through the years since art awakened, God has walked beside me through various trials and challenges with peace coming through the completion of art projects.

For example, my parents died four days apart in January, 2013. My relationship with my mother and father was difficult, making the way I grieved them a challenge. I searched the internet for articles and talked with a few professionals about how to grieve people who were not responsible parents.

One day, my art teacher, who was aware of my emotional turmoil, suggested we make paper from the stack of sympathy cards I received. I tore over 100 cards into small pieces, and we made eight sheets of paper. I took the tiny, torn pieces of cards we did not use, dried them, and stitched them together. I thought the sheets of paper would be the path to restoration, but it turned out completing this piece designed by God's leading became the source of healing I sought. When the project was done, I finally reached a place of peace related to my parents' passing.

A Source of Comfort

Art continues to be a source of comfort and healing. For example, a week ago Tuesday, I had a day that challenged me with memories surfacing from the past, creating great anxiety, confusion and anger.

Every Tuesday I am a volunteer chaplain at a local hospital. Fortunately I was able to greet and help the people who came my way with care and interest while inside I was experiencing emotional turmoil. That night, I couldn't fall asleep. I asked God for an image to represent my struggle, knowing from past experiences an image is a communication from God. Copying the image and seeing what the image brings, becomes a way to pray, and stay present.

I thought about the layers of my self, what people saw and how I responded compared to the layers behind me that were stacked with memories filled with anger, frustration and anxiety.

I got out of bed, went to my desk, placed a piece of white paper on the board I use to cut paper, removed my X-acto knife from the glass apple cup and cut a series of long rectangles. Cutting the paper released the inner tension and turmoil that had resided in me all day. Then I went back to bed and slept.

The rectangles sat on my desk for a day before I wove them together, then sewing the woven pieces on a square of fabric. While I was completing the project God brought me the word -assurance- that anchored my work. The woven piece was an assurance of God's presence with me.

Later, I found four references in the Bible for the word "assurance." I copied these scriptures and have reflected on them in the following days. The image and word "assurance" remind me I am in God's presence always, no matter what is happening.

Art, lately discovered, but richly pursued, is a source of companionship as I have worked through hard times. God is always present when people are not, offering understanding, strength and comfort.

Art, God and You

Your path with God and art may be different from mine. You may or may not have images to use, but opening your heart to God can bring ways to receive that will relate to your interests. God knows how to reach you with insights, perspectives for days of celebration and challenge.

How to start -

1. Open your heart to God, asking God to enter.

2. I believe art can be a way to work through difficult times or celebrate life. You don't have to create a masterpiece; merely experimenting with color and paper can get you started. For example, get a sheet of white paper and a basic set of watercolor paints. Think about how you feel then find a color that matches your feelings. Paint lines using these colors. Be alert for stirrings that may happen in your heart. Listen to what God might be saying to you. Allow time to rest with your art.

3. Return to the art in a few days. Listen to the art. What does it say? What does God say to you through what you created?

4. Bring a specific event or moment in your life as you interact with the paint and paper. Where does God enter? What image comes? How does God speak to you through the image?

5. Keep your interaction with the paints and paper simple. Allow time to explore fully what you put on paper and how God comes. I have spent several weeks on a simple piece of artwork, sitting with the art and listening to God. There is no hurry. Sometimes it takes awhile to hear a message God wants to convey.

Prayer: God, art museums all over the world are filled with artist's interpretations of your message. You can speak to us too as we gather paper and paints. We can respond to scripture and paint our perspective. We can related to an image that has come to us in a new way. Art can offer an avenue of healing and growth, and moving deeper into you and our created selves. Open our hearts and guide our hands. Amen.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Staying Within Reach of Jesus

Jesus was talking to a group of people when a woman came behind him. She had suffered from severe bleeding for twelve years. Hoping to be relieved of her difficulty, she pushes through the crowd with great faith, desiring only to touch the hem of Jesus' cloak.

When she reached the cloak, Jesus turned around. He felt power go out of him and said, "Courage my daughter! Your faith has made you well." At that moment the woman was healed of her infirmity. The simple act of touch cloth, Jesus' cloak, made her well.

I, too, find healing and peace when I touch cloth while I quilt, imagining I am in the crowd right next to Jesus.

My interest in quilting began in 1973 when Mike began serving churches in rural North Carolina while in seminary at Duke University. One summer he pastored two small churches. Often the families invited us for lunch or dinner. We were glad to eat a "true Southern meal" and especially enjoyed getting to know the families, their hobbies and interests.

Most of the women quilted. They were proud of the quilts that they made, showing me stacks of sewed beauty in various colors and patterns. They told me the story contained within each quilt that involved the choice of fabric and design. I could tell that the quilts were a source of pride, containers of family history as well as a source of warmth and comfort on cool nights.

When we returned to Indiana following Mike's graduation, he received an appointment to a church in New Castle, east of Indianapolis. Remembering how much I like the quilts made by the women in rural communities, I took a beginning quilting class at the local YMCA.

A group of women at the church who learned about the class I was taking, gave me a generous supply of fabric scraps from their stash. I had a ready supply of fabric to begin my first quilt - the perfect project for a long Indiana winter.

Cutting the fabric, sewing the squares together and arranging the squares into a nine-patch pattern brought a feeling of peace to my heart. Was I experiencing a connection to Jesus' cloak like the woman long ago?

As I quilted, I remembered the scripture passage where that story is found, Matthew 9:20-22. Placing myself in these passages, I imagined myself touching Jesus' cloak as I manipulated the fabric into a colorful quilt. I truly believed the peace that came whenever I touched cloth was as if I , too, was in the crowd that day reaching for Jesus, content with feeling the hem of his garment.

Recently I read Still Life: A Memoir of Living with Depression by Gillian Marchenko. Early in the book, she references this same scripture in her desperation to find a way out of living with depression.

"There is a story in the New Testament about a woman who hemorrhaged and bled for years. Jesus walked by her one day in a village, and she reached out and grabbed on to his robe. Feeling power leave him, he turned and saw her. 'Take heart,' daughter, he said, 'your faith has healed you.'" I thrust my hands out in front of me. I am a little girl lost in a dark house alone. I need to find that robe. I want to be healed."

Through the years I have made many quilts for my daughter's twin beds, quilt for their dolls and stuffed animals. Quilt-making began for me in 1976 and continues today when I make small quilted pieces to give friends, for pillows or decorations. The feeling of peace that began when I first picked up and sewed fabric squares together and then rhythmically moved the needle in and out of two layers of fabric and one layer of batting, remains today, keeping me in touch with Jesus, the source of all I need.

Prayer: God, many ways connect us to you. Taking a portion of your life and blending with our stories and circumstances keeps us in your life-giving touch. Amen.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

What Does It Mean - My Faith Is Tested?

In the YMCA locker room, I chatted with Judy, a woman I see there frequently. She has custody of her eight-year-old granddaughter. Admiring Judy's stamina to raise a youngster, I always ask what her granddaughter is doing. We talked that day about summer vacation, Judy explaining how she is challenging her granddaughter to read and complete math and English workbooks two levels above her grade.

"You certainly value education,"

"Education is key," Judy replied. She told about her friend whose full-time job at a local hospital was recently reduced to part-time, putting a financial hardship on the family consisting of four children.

"This job situation has really tested my faith," her friend commented.

We talked a few minutes loner before I went to dry my hair.

Reflecting on Judy's words about her friend, made me wonder: How is our faith tested?

Thoughts on Faith

We can assume or hope all who believe in God have faith that is foundational, an anchor that grounds our interactions and responses to all events.

But what does it mean to have our faith tested? Is our faith only tested when bad things come our way?

Do we ask questions of God when we are confronted with an unpleasant challenge, emotionally, personally, professionally? When unexpected illness or other medical uncertainties come our way, is  our faith tested by asking God, "Why is this happening to me? How can this be?"

When "life is good" and things go our way, can we say our faith is strong or tested? When something unpleasant happens to us or to someone we care about, do we automatically say, "my faith is being tested?" Or, is our faith tested when we see a homeless person and question how to respond with some change, purchasing a hamburger or cup of coffee, or walking by?

Whatever trial or test comes our way - life brings those things. We aren't immune to them. It's our response that either brings us closer to God or takes us further away.

Reflection Questions:

1. How do I describe my faith?
2. What is a test of my faith?
3. What does this test reveal?
4. How do I respond? Is questioning God appropriate?

Examples from the Bible about Testing Faith

Looking at Genesis chapter 22, we hear God speaking to Abraham: "Sometime later, God tested Abraham. 'Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much and go to the land of Moriah. There on a mountain that I will show you, offer him as a sacrifice to me.'"

God continued with specific instructions for Abraham to follow. Can you imagine how difficult this test was for Abraham? Abraham, however, complied with faithful obedience. Just in the moment when his knife was raised to slay his son, God intervened.

An angel of God called to Abraham from heaven: "Don't hurt the boy or do anything to him. Now I know that you have obedient reverence for God, because you have not kept back your only son from him."

In the New Testament, I wonder if Mary's faith was tested when the angel delivered the news that she was pregnant with Jesus? Her astonished response, "How can this be?" (Luke 1:34) might suggest a momentary waver in faith.

How do others answer the question - What does it mean to have your faith tested?

After I found examples from the Bible of people whose faith was tested, I decide to ask some of my own friends what they thought. I asked, "What does it mean to have your faith tested?"

One person answered: "My faith was tested when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So many thoughts ran through my head when given that news among which was 'why me?' I was more afraid than anything, but I fairly quickly realized I was in God's hands and prayed for mercy that He would see me through whatever happened."

Another friend replied:  "My faith was tested when my life plans didn't go along with God's plan for me. I could have walked away, but I chose to stay with the Lord and accept the life He has blessed upon me. It has taken many years to fully accept my new situation, but by putting my trust in Him despite my frustration and heartbreak for this path, my faith has strengthened."

Another person shared these thoughts: "What does it mean to have your faith tested? Good question. It seems tied to trials in 1 Peter and in James 1:2-4. 'Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.' Trials seems to be the testing of our faith. When I talk about trusting in God or having hope and then life falls apart do I still believe? Do I still trust? Do I still have hope? The trial stretches me to see if I will stick it out and hold to what I said I  believed."

I spoke with my neighbor who shared these thoughts: "My faith is tested when I see a world that hates God, and it seems like evil is winning. If God is just, why doesn't he right some wrongs now? Why do miracles not happen any more?"

A long-time friend remembered a time when her faith was tested: "In March of 2015, our adult daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Our family was in shock and shut down with fear. I was angry - how could this possibly be? My own mother died of a brain tumor when I was six. My daughter lost her mother-in-law to a brain tumor in 2012. How would my son-in-law handle all of this with two small daughters? This did not seem fair, and I was quick to tell that to God. When my faith was tested, I was surrounded by my family, friends and church - they took care of us and got us through. They were the hands and feet of Christ. This is what helped me to keep my faith during this difficult time."

As for me, my faith is tested when I don't feel the flow of God's presence through my soul. Usually I feel God's presence when I write or complete art. When art and words stop, I am perplexed. "Where are you God? I believe, but I don't see signs of your presence?"

How to Respond When Our Faith is Tested

When our faith is tested, however we perceive these times, it seems the only words to say to God are, "I can't get through this (name the trial or situation) without you. Increase my faith and trust in you so that I can receive the care you will offer." Have we failed whatever trial or test by asking or questioning God? I think not, especially if you still believe in God's presence at all times. You can end with, "Affirm my belief despite not seeing."

Reflection Questions

1. When do you feel your faith tested?
2. How does that feel?
3. How do you respond?

Prayer: God, we do have moments and circumstances that test our faith. We wonder how to respond when life brings events that shake our foundations. Steady us during these times with comfort and the knowledge that you are with us always. Amen.