Sunday, June 25, 2017

Anonymous Notes to People i Encounter

For a week last summer, I decided to write a note to a person who caught my attention as I went through my day. I did this at the end of the day to reflect on each person's impact and to increase my awareness of those I encounter. I had no way of giving the letter to them.

The next couple of weeks I will share these notes Maybe you would like to complete a similar exercise.

Note 1 - June 2, 2016

Dear Young Woman,

  You walked into the library with your drink held high in your right hand and a dark, thick book tucked under your left arm. You walked straight and tall, a posture of confidence going through the front door and down the hall.

I wonder what book you had and what you were doing at the library at 9:00 am on a Thursday morning? What excused you from school?

Your step conveyed focus and determination - so my prayer for you today is that you will achieve the goals you are seeking, now and in the future.

Note 2 - June 2, 2016 (taking two girls, 8 and 10 to the fabric store)

Dear Lady in the Parking Lot at the Fabric Store,

We'd just finished a successful, fairly quick trip to get fabric to make skirts. We exited the building and went to the car.

Eight-year-old Elizabeth, got in on a side close to another car where you were waiting to park. When you rolled down your car window, I apologized for delaying your entrance. In a cheerful voice, you said, "This is summer! No need to hurry!"

I thanked you for understanding. The smile on your face and pleasant voice helped me feel the sincerity of your words.

Bless you for the patience you showed two little girls taking their time getting into the car.

Note 3 - No date given

Dear Lady in the Locker Room at the YMCA (She was explaining what she was doing with her eight-year-old granddaughter who is living with her during the summer because of parental turmoil.)

You are doing a wonderful job of nurturing the importance of education in your granddaughter. You are giving her solid grounding in a life that must be confusing at times. Challenging her in English, math and spelling to work ahead almost two years above grade level is inspiring. The love and care you are offering her will stay with her always. I offer prayers for strength and energy to care for an eight-year-old.

Prayer: Everyday, God, we see your creation in other human beings - all shapes and sizes, all made by you and containing your image. Even though we may not interact with many in person, we can learn from each one when we share a common space temporarily or observe from a distance. Thank you for providing glimpses of you through others as we go through our days. Amen.

More letters to follow next week.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Wherever we are, we're together."

This year for Mother's Day, Anna wrote a loving note and sent a bag of my favorite granola from a place we like to get coffee and eat breakfast when we visit her in Portland. I try to ration the granola over a few days, but usually it's gone within 24 hours.

Sarah made me a card containing thoughtful and loving sentiments. She enclosed in her package a colorful fabric banner she found in a coffee shop in Denver. Seven small flags hang from the banner with encouraging statements.

I draped the banner over the bulletin board in my office where I can read the words whenever I walk in. Each phrase has a matching picture.

Here are the seven thoughts I see throughout my day:

         -  Be truthful.
         -  Be empowered.
         -  Be brave.
         -  Be determined.
         -  Be active.
         -  Be kind.

These colorful pieces of cloth:

         -   Offer advice for daily living
         -   Guide me in ways to treat and respond to people
         -    Create an attitude that is positive and energizing
         -    Illustrate how to organize my day with meaningful intentions
         -    Add color and image to a listing of life's truths.

The small card that came with the banner said, "Handmade flags to honor and celebrate." Now I have a visual reminder to honor and celebrate each day in specific ways.

Anna's handwritten note and granola and Sarah's handmade card and banner keep me connected  to my sweet daughters who live across the country, reflecting the words on the front of Anna's card, "Wherever we are, we're together."

Reflection Questions

1. How do you keep in touch with those you love who live far away?
2. What words of advice guide your day? Could you make a banner for each?

Prayer: God, thank you so much for my daughters who fill my heart with joy even though we don't see each other often. There are many ways to stay in touch, and you have blessed us with quick and easy means of communication that give great depth of love and meaning to our time. Thank you for thoughtfulness that brings comfort and greeting to my mother-heart. Amen.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Walking Around the Elephant in the Room

Yesterday, my friend Sue and I went to visit a mutual friend, Jan, who was recently diagnosed with acute leukemia. We entered the hospital room, both of us anxious, not knowing what to say to our friend who was exercising last week at the local YMCA and three days later was getting intravenous chemotherapy.

We let Jan set the tone of our visit as well as the flow of conversation. First, she explained the chronology of her illness. Then we joked with the nurse, who entered the room to answer the beeping machine attached to Jan’s arm, that Jan looked like a crime scene with bruises up and down both arms.

We caught up on her family and their responses to her hospitalization. Another hospital employee came in and asked what Jan wanted for dinner. The employee read choice after choice, to which Jan answered how terrible each one tasted. After only four days in the hospital, she already had a list of likes and dislikes. She settled on grilled cheese and tomato soup, a meal we decided couldn’t be ruined.

Sue brought some of her books to share. I selected a bouquet of flowers which I discovered too late where not allowed on the cancer floor.

As our visit was ending, I asked Jan how we could pray for her.

She held up a pamphlet with the name of her type of leukemia on the front. “This is what I have. Do you know anyone who survived?”

We finally acknowledged the elephant around which we danced for thirty minutes.

“Yes,” I said. “I know someone.” One of my daughter’s friends had the same diagnosis in high school and now is a healthy mother of three young children. Jan seemed somewhat encouraged by the news.

Visiting Jan was not easy, as we were in shock how a seemingly healthy person could be so sick in such a short time. It forced us to consider our own mortality while facing the possibility of losing a friend.

However, we know that our visit provided company and distraction to our friend whose home in Evansville was five hours away. Given the distance, she would have few visitors during this time of stress and fear.

How do we approach people who are confronting difficult, life-threatening circumstances?

  1. Show Up – It’s never easy to be present to someone with a serious illness, but showing up to visit mirrors the compassion Jesus had for those with physical or emotional difficulties.
  2. Bring something for the person to do. Hospital days can be long. If this person left in a hurry, he or she may not have remembered to bring an activity to fill the long hours while receiving treatment or waiting for the doctor or other staff to arrive.
  3. Let the patient direct the flow of the conversation. He or she will let you know what to talk about.
  4. If you feel comfortable, pray with the person before you leave. Bring an awareness that God is present and at work in the life of the patient. You’ll offer comfort. 
By the time we left, she seemed more relaxed than when we first arrived—in fact, when I turned to wave, she had a huge smile on her face. I want to believe we were vessels of God’s love and compassion and that our care and concern will linger in Jan’s heart when she is afraid or lonely.

Prayer: God, thank you for strength needed to visit those who are sick, for we face our own mortality when we do so. Give Jan whatever she needs, for I know you are the great provider. Amen.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

How Do You Feel God Giving You Rest?

“My burdens are gone!”

Twenty minutes earlier, I started my walk with thoughts swirling in and through my mind. Keeping a steady pace, I passed by homes, flowers, and yards that were like friends developed over the twenty years I’d walked the neighborhood.

Staying present to my surroundings as well as to what God might offer was impossible, as the burdens I carried seemed to settle in for good. Halfway through my route, I suddenly realized my head was empty – free! No more words and sentences occupied my mind.

“What a relief! I feel lighter and peaceful.” My brisk steps reflected my feelings.

Movement, Repetition, Freedom 

Somewhere in the middle of my path, God came in and relieved me of my worries. My mind was cleared and I had room for new thoughts or simply rest.

I noticed the same pattern when I swam the next day. During the first ten to twelve laps, concerns and thoughts sloshed around in my mind. However, as the laps increased, I again found myself in a place of rest. God caused the thoughts to silence. I was able to swim with more energy after my mind cleared.

I Will Give You Rest 

One of my favorite scriptures, Matthew 11:28, describes God’s care when we are occupied by many thoughts and concerns. Jesus is speaking, and He says, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest.”

God comes to lift my cares and remind me that God knows me and is aware of what’s in my heart. God enters my mind unexpectedly and lifts my concerns, bringing freedom, peace, clarity—and a quicker step to my walk, or greater speed with each stroke.

Reflection Question – How do you feel God removing your worries?

Prayer: God, in your generous love and compassion you come to us, lift our cares, cleanse our minds, and open more room for us to hear your voice. Thank you for the way you help us navigate the perils of life by carrying our loads and refreshing our hearts. Amen.