Sunday, September 24, 2017

Surrounding Our Home With Love

My friend, Joyce, and I arrived early to an evening meeting at church. While we waited for others to come, she told me people ask her if she's still living in "that big house."

"I say, 'Yes I am,' wondering why so many friends think I need to move to a smaller place since John's in a memory care unit of a nursing home. It may be a bit big for one person, but I don't want to leave."

Words Embedded in the Home

I listened as Joyce described "that big house" where she wants to stay.

"We built the house seventeen years ago, when John retired from ministry. We'd lived in many parsonages during his career. Finally, we had an opportunity to build a home of our own. We could design each room with features we'd long desired.

"However, our home was extra special because of what was nailed on the studs between the insulation and the dry wall. A few months before construction of our house began, we sent letters containing index cards to our family and friends. We asked them to write a favorite scripture or blessing on the card.

Every day the mailman brought cards with scripture and words lovingly penned on each one. Finally, the day arrived when we gave 177 cards to the contractor and asked him to nail them on the boards forming the frame. We chose to put the cards in specific rooms. For example, the cards we received from children were put in rooms where our grandchildren would play and sleep.

"Whenever anyone suggests that I move to a smaller home or an apartment I can't even begin to imagine leaving a place where I feel surrounded by blessings and love from so many who celebrated with us when we built our first home."

"Oh, my, Joyce," I admired her creativity as she followed the prompting from God. "I don't think I've ever heard of people writing scripture or loving thoughts to include building a home. I can appreciate why you want to stay in the house for as long as you can!"

Joyce smiled, "I am thankful someone understands."

(Writing continues below picture of index cards on the frame of a room.)

The Builder of All Things Is God

Driving home from church that night, I thought about Joyce and the inner walls of her home. I've participated in many house blessings, but this house was graced from the inside out.

Having lived in many parsonages, I can identify with the excitement John and Joyce felt building their own home. Even seventeen years later, Joyce still feels surrounded by God's love and the love of family and friends when she goes through each room.

Joyce and John's home reflects the words found in Hebrews 3:4 - "For every house is build by someone, but the builder of all things is God."

The Letter

Joyce sent me a copy of a letter she and her husband wrote to each contributor. May it bless you as it must have blessed everyone who received it years ago:

      Precious Lord, we give you praise and thanks for each individual who has provided a label to surround our home with their love and friendship. May your mercy, grace and peace surround each of them as well. It is also our prayer, Heavenly Father, that the cards may be a blessing and witness to all who read them - especially the workers and the neighbors who check the progress. If just one person, after reading what you share, would have a new relationship with You, we would rejoice even more. Bless the reader as well as the sender. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What scripture verses would you write if someone sent you this letter?
2.What scripture would you want included in your home?
3. Could you add a verse to your home or apartment, even though it's already built, as a way to retroactively pray for your home to be blessed by God?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the ways others rejoice in tangible ways with celebrations in our lives. Joyce and John's home was blessed structurally and spiritually with love from many friends and family who wanted them to feel your presence always. Thank you for their generosity of thought and prayer that continues to nurture Joyce each day. Amen.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"Call The Midwife"

"Nonnatus House, midwife speaking" is the friendly greeting people hear when they call the convent where nuns and midwives live in London's East End.

"Call the Midwife," the popular PBS series set in the fifties, chronicles the adventures of nuns and nurses who visit expectant mothers, providing London's poorest pregnant women with the best possible care.

I enjoy watching this show that is based on the memoir of Jennifer Worth, one of the midwives at Nonnatus House. Each episode weaves back and forth between the drama of helping women give birth in their homes to watching the nuns chant in the chapel or pray in their rooms. Taking the love of God into dirty, one-room flats to help those in poverty is the mission of patient and caring midwives, some of whom are nuns.

The Rhythm of Liturgy

When I watch this show, I am reminded of those days in my early twenties when I thought God was calling me to be a nun. Growing up in the Episcopal Church, I learned early in my life the sustaining presence of liturgy. Each Sunday the same words in prayers, responsive readings, and psalms, greeted me as I sat on a hard wooden pew for a service called "Morning Prayer." "Holy Communion" celebrated the first Sunday of the month, contained different liturgy from "Morning Prayer," but was equally nurturing.

The repetitive nature of the liturgy during my formative years, offered comfort and grounding as I came each week from a home that was chaotic and unpredictable.  My attachment to God grew with each service and  I came to depend on God being present for me when people were not.

Craving a Convent

As I was finishing undergraduate school, my heart often yearned to live in a house surrounded by prayer and people who were loving and kind - my perception of what a convent was like.

I learned that the Episcopal Church did indeed have monks and nuns, so the path seemed clear - for awhile anyway. When I completed graduate school, my search for a job began along with a pull toward service in God's name. However, I wanted to be a wife and mother, too. All of these conflicting thoughts churned my soul, leaving me confused and undecided for the future.

A Household of Peace

God intervened when I met a young man who eventually became my husband. This man wanted to be a pastor! Life in God's kingdom took an unexpected turn. Marrying Mike opened a new dimension of love, service and eventually, two sweet girls.

Mike and I created a house filled with prayer, love and kindness. However, my soul still sought weekly, familiar liturgy in worship. God's presence through liturgy carved deep paths that were sustaining and grounding when I was growing up and continued to be important now.

Occasionally, Mike and I attend an Episcopal Church, usually on Ash Wednesday or during a midday service on Wednesday. When I read the words in the Book of Worship for "Morning Prayer" and "Holy Communion," my soul is stirred to those days long ago sitting on a hard, wooden pew.

Liturgy for My Days

For my birthday last year, I asked for the book, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Each day I find a set of readings and prayers for reflection that wrap my soul in God. Some of the readings and prayers remind me of those when I was young listening to words that deepened my faith. I slip these on like a person dons a favorite sweater or comfortable pair of shoes. They offer assurance, even a sensation, that I am home - home in liturgy that brought comfort and peace early in life and continues today.

Watching "Call the Midwife" for the six-week-long season connects me to those days when thinking about entering a convent seemed the direction my life would follow. Even though I did not become a nun, Mike and I created a home filled with prayer, love and a focus on service to others - non unlike the daily practice of nuns who also pray, love and serve others.

The nuns in the series, along with my liturgy book, allow me to stay attentive to God, to practice my faith every day, and to spread God's love wherever I go - especially to the poor or those on the fringe.

Questions for Reflection

1. What moments, prayers, rituals or liturgy do you recall from your early memories of church?
2. Were they meaningful and formative to your faith?
3. How are they present in your faith practice today?

Prayer: God, You come to us in many ways. Sitting in church Sunday morning is a wonderful opportunity to hear Your Word proclaimed in sermon, prayers, readings and music.Even when we are young, Your presence can open our souls to life with You. Guide us in our faith to move closer to You, as we say the Lord's Prayer, participate in responsive readings, and proclaim our faith in creeds. All of these bring our hearts to You. Amen.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bracelets, Cards - Signs of Love in Times of Loss and Illness

Choking back tears with a solid lump in my throat, I walked into the busy mall on Sunday afternoon. My mission was not pleasant and I wished I could be anywhere, but shopping at a mall.

My friend, Ann, and I have known each other since June of 1989, when Mike was assigned to pastor the church in Vincennes where Ann and her husband, Chuck, attended with their three children.

Shortly after we moved, Ann and I drove a group of children to church camp. We brought our own youngest children - my four-year-old daughter, Anna, and her three-year-old, Margaret - along for the ride.Soon these two were playing with their dolls in the back seat of Ann's van, beginning a friendship that would last the seven years of Mike's appointment.

Ann and I had a lot in common - faith and family were our priorities. Eventually, my oldest daughter, Sarah, became one of Ann's children's favorite babysitters. Our families were connected in many ways, sharing experiences in church and often during the week.

Bracelets, Cards, and Tears

Ann was the only person who came to say good-bye to us the day we moved in June of 1996. That was a sad day, one we both were dreading. However, we continued our friendship through exchanged letters, birthday and Christmas cards, and an occasional visit.

When Ann's beloved father died, I sent her a bracelet along with a note of condolence. When her dear mother died, I sent another bracelet and note. When my parents died, she sent three bracelets that are pictured above.

Now I was looking for a bracelet to honor her husband, who died six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.

I cried so hard at home when I heard the news of Chuck's passing. He was a respected doctor in the community as well as being a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. I wondered how I could get through the jewelry counter of a store fielding inquiries from helpful sales clerks.

Perusing the jewelry counter in three stores, I finally found a bracelet - one with two silver strands clasped together - a perfect visual for the devotion and love Ann and Chuck shared.

At home, I wrapped a note of love and prayer around the box containing the bracelet, drove to the post office and sent the package to my dear friend.

More Cards, More Tears

My trip to choose a bracelet wasn't the first time this summer I found myself in tears at a store. In late May, a friend of my youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer and given two to four years to live. At age 33, this diagnosis was devastating. Off I went to the Hallmark store to purchase a card for him and for his mother.

Standing in front of rows of cards, "for serious illness" I started to cry.

"How am I ever going to make it to the check-out counter and pay for my choices with tears coming down my cheeks?" I wondered.

After looking at many cards, considering their words over and over, I finally made two choices. Sniffling, dabbing my eyes with a tissue, clearing my throat, I managed to pay for my selections and make it out the door.

Compassion, Comfort, Companionship

Life brings these moments that touch us to our core. Sudden illness of seemingly healthy people awakens our compassion and channels our desire to help in any way possible to bring comfort and offer companionship along a road that has more questions than answers - a path that brings deep loss, sadness, disbelief, despair and grief.

How do we manage through these days that are tough to navigate? Psalm 46:1 offers immediate direction - "God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble."

On July 30, I wrote how how God gave me four ways to stay solidly connected to God during an extended time when several people about whom I cared deeply were experiencing significant illness or challenges in relationships. I refer you to that link (see below) as those directives continue to lead me through each day, providing me with strength to face whatever comes my way - grief or joy, happiness or despair, longing or hope.

Prayer: God, these days keep us seeking You with every breath we take. Inhaling Your presence does help by offering strength and the ability to persevere when times are tough. We can weep and lament in Your presence for we know You receive all of our needs and thoughts with love. Wrap us now in Your arms, hold us close, remind us we are loved by You, for in You we can stand firm in faith and be sustained all of our days. Amen.

For further reading:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Vacation Day

I am taking tomorrow off.

 Next Monday, I will share a story about "Bracelets, Cards - Signs of Love in Times of Loss and Illness."

Thank you for being a faithful reader.