Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Twist to the Test

Walt Bettinger, CEO of Charles Schwab Corporation, shared in a recent New York Times article (February 7, 2016) about an experience he had in college. He was about to take the final for his business strategy class. Striving to maintain his perfect 4.0, he spent hours preparing for this last exam, memorizing formulas to do calculations for case studies.

He describes what happened:

          "The teacher handed out the final exam, and it was on one piece of paper, which really surprised me because I figured it would be longer than that. Once everyone had their paper, he said, 'Go ahead and turn it over,' Both sides were blank.

          And the professor said, 'I've taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last ten weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: 'What is the name of the lady who cleans this building?'"

Bettinger continues. "And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the "B" I deserved. Her name was Dottie. I'd seen her before, but I'd never taken the time to ask her name. I've tried to know every Dottie I've worked with ever since."

I copied this article and sent it to my oldest daughter, Sarah, who is an art teacher in Denver. She is about to celebrate fifteen years of teaching. I wanted her to read this story because she naturally follows the lessons Walt Bettinger's professor tried to teach his class. Throughout her fifteen years, she has befriended every custodian in the schools where she worked. She not only values their contribution of cleaning her room each day and emptying the trash, but she spends time talking to them, asking about their families, honoring them as people.

Sarah often bakes a batch of chocolate chip cookies to take to the custodians when they have gone the extra mile to clean a particularly messy art room or offers compassion for a personal struggle they are experiencing.

"The custodians are my best friends," I've heard her say a few times, "because they are willing to take time to do tasks that make my job easier."

When I asked what she thought of the New York Times article, she replied, "I showed it to the custodian."

What if one day we went to church and when it came time for the sermon, everyone in the congregation received a blank sheet of paper. What if the pastor started the sermon by saying, "You have a blank sheet of paper. Write the name of the custodians at this church, at your workplace or your gym. Or write the name of your mailperson or garbage collector or other people who make your day easier, assisting in some way that you take for granted."

What if you gave yourself the assignment right now?

If you have no name on the paper, make it your mission this week to introduce yourself to these people and express your gratitude to them for their service.

Prayer: Loving God, you surround us with people who help us each day, but we have no idea their name or circumstance. Help us show an interest in them like you continuously do with us, and show  us ways to extend love and gratitude. Amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Hope Lost and Found

Found Hope

A few years ago I was experiencing a rough patch in life and decided to seek counseling for my concerns. One day after an appointment, I strolled through a few downtown Indianapolis stores next to the building where my counselor's office was located.

One business attracted my attention because of all of the homemade items displayed in the window. Going into the shop, I was surrounded by books, unusual mugs, unique gifts for any occasion, and jewelry. I lingered over the jewelry cases filled with necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Not being a fan of jewelry, I was surprised at my interest.

Many of the necklaces had words engraved on a single silver circle. One caught my attention and stopped my heart. Inscribed next to a small anchor were the words - hope anchors the soul. The words brought comfort to my troubled heart.

"Oh, my!" I thought, looking at the price displayed on a sign next to the case. "I've never spent that much on an article of clothing or pair of shoes!"

I hoped to distract myself from the necklace that carried words offering encouragement for troubling times, so I wandered around the store. Before long, I meandered back to the jewelry case to stare at the necklace whose words blanketed my heart and stirred my soul.

Hesitatingly, I asked the clerk to open the case so I could hold the necklace. I took a deep breath. How could I work out the purchase?

"I want the necklace," I heard myself saying. The clerk found a small box to hold my purchase. I put the necklace on when I got in the car and for eighteen months, I received comfort and encouragement whenever I touched the circle around my neck.

Lost Hope

Last Sunday, I went to swim at the Fishers YMCA. I had a lot of energy bubbling within that needed to come out. With snow falling overhead and ice forming underfoot, my usual Sunday walk was not possible. Spending forty minutes on a treadmill at the Y was not appealing so I chose to swim.

I took off my necklace and hung it on the hook inside the locker. I swam, showered, dressed and went home. Monday morning, I reached for my necklace when I awakened. It was gone.

I gathered my swim bag, rushed to the Y, and raced to the locker I used the day before. I swung open the door and looked on the hook - nothing was there. I swept my hand across the locker shelf, looked on the floor, and picked through the lost and found at the front desk. No necklace.

Hope was lost.

Jesus talks about lost things in the Bible;  a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son - all of which were found. My necklace was lost, but not found. Oh, my!

Lost People

Reflecting on my life, I cannot remember losing any object that was meaningful, but I do remember losing people. I lost nurturing experiences and opportunities for enrichment, but losing people, and opportunities with them cannot be replaced - time passes and those moments will never come again.

Losing people created holes in my heart and gaps in experiences that are hard if not impossible to fill. Last week I visited a friend I had not seen for several months. I said, as I left, "I don't like to loose touch with people who mean a lot to me."

A few days later I visited my 100 year-old friend, Annabel, whose 'motherly influence' has touched and enriched my life for over 35 years. As she and I sat and talked, I realized I have lost the Annabel who encouraged me as a young wife and mother, wrote letters and sent cards that offered blessing and love. Annabel was confused as we spoke, struggling to find words to say and forgetting what I told her moments before. Even when I showed her pictures of our daughters, for whom Annabel was a surrogate grandmother, she did not stay grounded.

Losing people in the churches Mike pastored was always difficult. When we moved, we left them behind. I treasured these dear folks in the congregation who helped fill losses I experienced growing up through kind and thoughtful ways.

Although I miss the necklace around my neck, it was just a piece of metal. Losing people creates an ache in my heart that I carry with me everywhere. I can surely return to the store and purchase another necklace, but finding a balm to soothe my heart is not so easily found.

Jesus Finds Us

Looking back at Jesus' story of the lost sheep (Matthew 8:10 or Luke 15:3-9) provides comfort and hope. This parable shows how a shepherd who has lost one sheep from a herd of 100, will leave the others to search for the lost one. The shepherd does not return until the lost one is found.

Jesus, like the shepherd with a lost sheep, is focused and directed to come to each of us until His love brings comfort to soothe an aching heart.

For me, loss seems to be a daily companion as my past awakens to my present. Others may have loss through death, unemployment, impaired relationships, despair, illness or feelings of rejection, loneliness or envy. Jesus' parable about the lost sheep is a metaphor for the ways God is always searching for us, every moment of the day, to fill our souls with hope for the myriad of circumstances life presents.

Maybe one of these days I'll drive to the store where I purchased the necklace in late 2014 to see if there is another one. Right now, I want to rest in Jesus' path of love that weaves through my heart and patches the holes formed by loss.

Prayer: God, You pursue us always wanting to offer care and presence for every need we have. When loss overwhelms and makes us feel isolated, increase our awareness of how the shepherd left the flock to search for the one that was lost. Your filling and patching offers the truest, deepest hope to our souls. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Stay with Me - Sit with Me

Shortly after the last supper in the upper room, Jesus went to pray in Gethsemane. (Matthew 26:36-41; Mark 14:32-42). Right before he left, he predicted Peter's betrayal and the disciples' desertion. He knew what was ahead and how he would suffer. His heart was heavy.

He asked the disciples to "Sit here while I go over and pray" (Matthew 26:36). Jesus asked for companionship and comfort from those who knew him best and who had walked beside him in ministry. But what happened? The disciples fell asleep while Jesus expressed to His Father deep sorrow and anguish (Matthew 26:37-39). They were unable to "sit with" Jesus and be present to his needs even for a short time.

Sitting Shiva - A Jewish Tradition

The Jewish faith observes a tradition called sitting shiva for seven days following a death. The family gathers at one location where friends can come, spend time, and offer comfort, and sympathy in the days following a loss.

When my husband's father died suddenly on December 20, 1983, word spread quickly among the two churches he was serving. By mid-afternoon, our small parsonage living room was filled with people who came to" sit with" us. We were still in shock. A steady stream of people came by into the evening to let us know by their presence that they were keeping us in prayer. They offered comfort and companionship, listening as we began the process of grieving our beloved father, father-in-law, and granddad. These people were sitting shiva, so to speak with us.

Sitting With Others

Almost a year ago, I "sat with" my friend, Donna, and her family while her daughter, Katie, also my friend had surgery for a brain tumor. The chairs in the waiting room were arranged in a circle. We didn't say much during the two hour wait, mainly making small talk to break the tension and pass the time. But we didn't need to say much because God's presence was felt in those moments of anxiety and uncertainty as we sat in a circle of love.

Sitting with others, even when few words are spoken - especially when few words are spoken - let's God's presence and love come through. When we sit with someone, we make room in our heart for him or her just like God does for us. When we "sit with" another, we model how God is present to us through giving our time, listening, offering reflection and prayer - precious gifts to those about whom we care.

Sitting with someone can also be for a happy occasion. Two years ago my long-time, dear friend, Ann, who lives in Vincennes, had a doctor's appointment in Indianapolis the day before my birthday. She decided to spend the night with one of her daughters who lives about a mile from me, to help celebrate my birthday. I prepared lunch, and Ann came over. She "sat with" me, as we shared happenings in our lives. I still remember the joy of Ann's gift of time. I even drew the picture below to honor our visit.

God Sits With Us
When I can express what I feel God is telling me or I draw a picture when I don't have the words to say, God comes and "sits with" me. When I rest with a few verses of scripture, and ask God to enter my study, God is "sitting with" me.
Psalm 139:5 (NCV) assures us of God's presence: "You are all around me - in front and in back - and you have put Your hand on me."
Take a few moments and reflect on how God comes to you and you will identify how God "sits with" you.
I am sad, Jesus did not have love and support from his close friends during his time of great need. We feel his disappointment and frustration with the disciples whose loyalty failed him expressed in Matthew 26:40 (GNV) Then he returned to the three disciples and found them asleep; and he said to Peter, "How is it that you three were not able to keep watch with me for even one hour."
Knowing Jesus' feelings, can inspire us to be present to others in the various circumstances life presents.
How have you "sat with" others for happy and sad occasions? Reflect on these experiences. How did you feel to have companionship?
Prayer: God, you are indeed all around us - in front and in back. You "sit with" us in many ways offering silent companionship we can hear in our hearts and feel in our souls. Deepen our faith and trust in you so we can increase our awareness of how you "sit with" us. Guide us and direct our vision to those who may need us to "sit with" them. Amen.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Part 2 - Cain and Abel

Each participant in the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts seminar I took last fall had to create a piece of art in response to the story of Cain and Abel. Writers, a fiber artist, a film maker, and artists were in the class.

I wrote a poem:

Long ago,
Two, sweet little boys,
Played side by side.
Now, the sheep cry,
The fields weep,
For the double loss.

Shared a thought:

Adversity came early for earth's first family.

And created two pieces of art pictured below:

Eve's Quilt of Loss - In the old and new testament people often expressed grief by tearing their clothes. "Eve's Quilt of Loss" represents what Eve might have don, tearing cloth following the loss of Abel by death and Cain by banishment. Strips of wool, symbolizing Abel, a shepherd, and linen, for Cain's work in the fields, are woven together and hand quilted.

Shredded Genesis 4 with the shredded cover of  Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl:  St. Augustine thought that Cain's murder of Abel was a foreshadowing of what was to happen to the Jews during World War 2. I shredded a copy of Genesis, chapter four, the story of Cain and Abel, and wove together the shredded cover of Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl, to illustrate the connection between Cain's murder of Abel and the Holocaust.

Evil shreds lives - Abel's and Anne's woven together - centuries apart, common injustice.