Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day Holiday

A new posting for "Gather the Pieces" will occur on June 6. Thank you loyal readers.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Half-Price Cat, Full-Price Value

A few months after we put our first cat, Luke, to sleep due to recurrent kidney stones, Anna and I went to the Humane Society.

We walked into the cat section, going from cage to cage hoping to find an identical loving, cuddly companion to replace our sweet Luke. After none of the cats passed Anna's criteria we were directed by an employee to a large room filled with sixty cats that had been living together in a trailer. The sign on the door said:

                                         ALL CATS IN THIS ROOM HALF PRICE

Opening the door, we felt like giants in an ant colony as the cats scattered. Some of the them were sleeping or cowered in groups. Anna decided to sit on the floor and whatever cat came to her lap would become our new feline resident.

She sat for a few minutes, and finally a black, white and orange calico bravely made its way over, climbed into her waiting lap, and curled in a little ball. Anna smiled, gave me a "thumbs up," and Lucy became ours.

Now, Lucy wasn't as cuddly as she appeared that day. We found initial impressions were not quite as they seemed. When we brought Lucy home, she didn't like to be held, stiffening her legs, pushing away every time I picked her up. Staying in our house required that Lucy enjoy being held and carried.

After Anna returned to college, "boot camp" for Lucy began. I gathered this soft ball of fur and held her close until she could stand it no more. She'd leap to the floor after a few minutes. Every day for weeks I worked with Lucy, wanting her to become something she wasn't - a cuddly cat.

After a month or so, whatever held Lucy back from fully embracing my love finally melted. When I sat down, she curled to mold my lap. When I picked her up she relaxed over my shoulder like a sleeping child.

When Anna moved to Oregon in 2008, Lucy's attentiveness to me and sensitivity to my heart erupted. She seemed to know when my heart ached for my children, coming to me more often to be held. Somehow she was aware of my need for comfort. When I was holding her close, she was also holding me.

Recently I awakened close to 5:30 a.m., way too early for me to get up. I lay in bed, restless, creating anxiety that I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep. I heard a thud as Lucy jumped onto the bed. She rested vertically on my pillow so her torso was next to my face.

I put my hand on her back feeling her soft fur and heartbeat. Resting my hand over her heart, I captured the steady rhythm. In a few minutes my body relaxed. I awakened ninety minutes later to find Lucy still close by.

Sometimes value is not what it seems and only time can discover depth that lies within.

Prayer: God, thank you for creating animals that often bring comfort and companionship. Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Circles and Other "Signs Along The Way"

Every Tuesday I volunteer at Indiana University Hospital on the north side of Indianapolis. I serve in the chaplain department and help with hospital bereavement for adults and infants. Each day, I check in with the chaplain on the first floor and then go to the third floor that houses labor and delivery.

Last Tuesday, I went to the third floor twice. It's not uncommon to see people gathered on the far right side of the floor as they await the birth of a baby.

I noticed the group of people had arranged the chairs in  a circle forming a wide group containing various ages including a five or six month old baby. These people were a jovial group, laughing, smiling and passing the baby around like a little football. He soon will have to share the spotlight with another little one. My guess is these two cousins will grow up having fun, and building special memories at family gatherings and reunions.

On the other side of the third floor, I saw a young woman in a wheelchair surrounded by a circle of eight friends who came to visit. I watched as they laughed and talked animatedly, bringing repeated smiles to their sick friend.

Circles suggest inclusivity. In a rectangular setup, people sitting at the four corners are tucked away and can get "lost" from the conversation; but in a circle, everyone is seen.

In the Episcopal church where I grew up communion was always the first Sunday of the month. Instead of using bread to represent the body of Christ, they used a circular wafer with a cross embossed on the front.

I think of life in the body of Christ as a circle embracing all people whom we encounter with love. A circle also "happens" when a person gives and receives a hug. Two sets of arms wrap around each other - a picture of how the love of God embraces us at all times.

One of the ways I stay aware of God's presence is to look for "signs along the way." A circle reminds me of God's embrace. Bread represents the body of Christ helps me recall the day Jesus fed thousands from five loaves of bread and two fish. A piece of cloth I am quilting takes me to the woman with the hemorrhage who was healed by touching the hem of Jesus' robe. A candle speaks of God's light and constant presence.

When I returned to the third floor for the second time that day, the circle of "expectant" relatives was broken. A few were walking around stretching their legs. Others had gone downstairs for lunch. The baby's impending arrival prolonged the family's wait. The circle of friends on the other side were still going strong laughing, smiling and bringing cheer to the sick one.

I carried away comfort from these two gatherings as I remembered  all a circle represents to my heart - another one of my "signs along the way."

What are your "signs along the way?"

Prayer: Holy God, the world is full of symbols that can bring us to you. Help us spend some time thinking of symbols that are dear to us, return us to you, keeping us grounded in your presence. Amen.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Part 2- Preserving Memories - Creative Journaling Techniques

I became aware of journals and keeping a journal in the early seventies after I finished graduate school. I learned then that writing can be for purposes other than preparing papers for classes or lesson plans for children and adults I saw in the speech clinic or writing my thesis.

During those early days of discovery, I noted the trend that changed the noun, journal, into a verb, journaling - an interesting linguistic switch!

Diaries in the Lives of Other and Their Influence on my Life

Writers I admired kept journals and inspired me in different ways. Anne Frank's diary gave me an insight into her life as she shared thoughts and feelings of an emerging teenager and chronicled events that happened while living in seclusion with others. A few decades later, I gained strength from a sentence she wrote with which I could identify: "I can shake off everything as I write, my sorrows disappear, my courage reborn."

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, first released her series of diaries and letters in 1972. I admired her reflective spirit as well as the opportunity she had to leave her husband and five active children for a week to write her well-known book Gift From The Sea.

I didn't have the same luxury as Mrs. Lindbergh. When my children were young, my husband was busy with church meetings and congregational responsibilities, so finding time to write was a challenge. But I did my best, listening for God's voice to inspire words and ideas. They came in spurts back then as I wrote regularly for a clergy spouse magazine called SPICE.

Then I became aware of Madeline L'Engle, whose writing helped form my spiritual life. She set up a separate writing area in a garage behind her home. A bit jealous, I longed to find a dedicated space set apart from the bustle of family that could contain paper, pen and typewriter to bring my thoughts to life. Despite this longing I loved seeing how Madeline L'Engle found God in everyday life as she raised children, cared for an aging mother, and ran a country store in Connecticut with her actor husband who shuttled back and forth to New York City for work.

Ways to Keep a Journal

Keeping a journal has often challenged me, as I am inconsistent writing about thoughts and feelings. I received a maroon-colored journal for Christmas when I was thirteen, but I had no idea what to do with it nor was I given any guidance, instruction or encouragement for how to develop a pattern of recording reflections.

These three influences, Anne Frank, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Madeline L'Engle, filled the gap as they became models for writing and helped me realize I could incorporate writing "in between" everyday life. I discovered it wasn't so much what or how I recorded what I felt in my heart and soul, but that I gathered pieces of my life and develop a way to reflect and record.

Here are various types of diaries I've kept or am keeping to chronicle moments I want to remember:

1. Finding a Coin - When I find a coin, I tape it in a notebook, writing the date and where I found it next to the coin.

2. Recording a Period of Time - Two years ago, every Saturday morning from January to June, I went to a one-hour program at the Indianapolis Museum of Art called "Yoga in the Galleries." Each week, I took a picture of my yoga mat in front of a picture in the gallery where the class met. I taped the photos in a handmade book, a birthday gift from my oldest daughter, Sarah. I enjoy looking through this small journal containing only the date and pictures; it helps me remember the thoughts that were on my mind during each week's class.

3. Four years ago I attended a "Visioning Your Life" program held the first of January at my church. I created four collages that reflected thoughts about my family, myself, and life in general. Referring to these through the years helps me see how I visioned my life and realized how a few areas have evolved.

4. Gratitude Journal - At the end of each day, I write a few words that express my gratitudes. I am into the fifth year for completing this daily task. It's interesting to read my gratitudes through the years and how a few are repeated.

5. Art and Words for the Day - Each day, as a way both to stay present and mindful, and to remember and record how God came to me, I make small sketches or write a few words that were important. These illustrations and phrases increase my awareness of God's provision, encouragement, strength, and blessing. I paint what I draw, adding more color and life.

6. Charm Bracelet - In the days following the journal gift decades ago, a charm bracelet became my private, yet visible record of memories. (See Gather the Pieces entry for May 1, 2016: "Part 1 - Charm Bracelet - A Visible Diary.")

Take Time to Keep a Journal

Keeping a journal, whatever form it takes, does require some time. First, it's necessary to slow down the pace of daily life and become mindful of daily experiences and encounters, allowing feelings and images to surface. Next, assemble the necessary tools in one place - pen, paper, pencil, markers, fabric, paints, computer - to record what you want to remember.

Allow time, daily, once a week or whatever frequency you decide to offer moments of relaxation, blessing, refreshment, and renewal. Keeping a journal manages stress, reveals how God is at work, assesses strengths and weaknesses, chronicles challenges and celebrates life.

I am grateful for the writing and encouragement of Anne Frank, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Madeline L'Engle, and how these women guided my writing. In different ways each one strengthened the path of my life and nurtured a meaningful way of self-expression.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for giving us ways to record our experiences and encounters. Often we develop, explore or discover new abilities as we select and practice writing, art, and collecting to record life's moments. For the gifts of reflection and expression we give thanks. Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Part 1 - Charm Bracelet - A Visible Diary

I picked up the magazine that arrived earlier in the day, grateful for the way the wooden kitchen chair welcomed my tired body. Hoping for a respite from the avalanche of emotional discord that arrived a few days earlier, I turned the cover and entered the world of perfectly prepared meals, stylishly dressed women and homes beautifully decorated.

Turning the pages, I discovered an article on charm bracelets that shot like an arrow to a place of sweet remembrance from my teenage years. Those days didn't contain a lot of fun, pleasure or identification with peers; re-connecting with such positive experiences encouraged me for many days.

Charm bracelets were popular with teenagers during the sixties. One day I went to a local department store and purchased a silver charm bracelet that eventually would hold and record the memories, interests, travels, dreams and visions of my high school years. The charm bracelet became a journal that I wore around my wrist, that came with me everywhere; a steady companion in the tumult of my life at home.

I didn't have many opportunities to earn money when I was in high school. An occasional babysitting job at fifty cents an hour only netted two or three dollars for an evening's efforts. Consequently, with charms ranging from three to twenty-five dollars, I had to save for many months to afford a permanent representation of a rite of passage or special event.

Living within five blocks of a mall, I often walked to the store to look in the cases containing the charms or twirl the turn styles laden with charms. I had a mental list of charms I  wanted to buy. Anticipating and planning for the next purchase offered excitement to my days.

Stories About  Charms

Some charms had to wait for an event. For example, only after I turned 16 did I add the silver number resting in the middle of two circles. The stoplight charm came after I passed my driving test when I was seventeen. Although I was on the high school girl's basketball team for two years, I waited until I scored some points before I added a basketball. The diploma charm was a graduation gift. I bought the silver numbers of the year I graduated with gift money.

Other charms reflected my interests at the time; a swimmer for the three summers I taught swim lessons at a local pool; a musical note and saxophone for playing in the band; a typewriter for my years as editor of the school newspaper.

When I traveled with my family, charms were available in gas stations gift shops for one or two dollars. I acquired the state of New York when I visited the place of my birth, the Statue of Liberty when we went to New York City, and the lobster pot and crab came during our time in Maine.

A Favorite Piece of Jewelry

I wore my bracelet every day, as did most of my friends. We discussed our charms and shared additions with squeals of delight. The clang of the bracelet as charms banged against each other with arm and hand movements added "music" to accompany my days.

I purchased a gold bracelet shortly after I graduated from high school to hold charms from my college experience; Dumbo the elephant came from a 1968 visit to Disneyland when my college team, Ohio State, played in the Rose Bowl; a turtle, the symbol of my sorority, Delta Zeta; the seal of my sorority made into a charm from a pin; and a brightly colored hex symbol seen on a barn purchased in Pennsylvania Dutch country. When I asked the lady at the store what the sign meant, she said, "Good luck for marriage." My single, recently-graduated-from-college self, placed that charm with hopes for a sweet young man in my future.

Although I received a small, maroon diary for Christmas when I was in the eighth grade, I didn't know how to record my thoughts or make notations for daily events. Back then, in 1963, journals didn't come with guidelines or instructions to stimulate word and expression. The charm bracelet, however, gave me a way to picture and record my high school and college experiences. My two bracelets were a "visible diary" of sorts not containing anything private except the thoughts that I carried with each charm.