Sunday, January 28, 2018

Open My Eyes That I May See

I got out of my car with arms full of Christmas cards to mail and a package to send. I like the small post office in Nora, a small community within Indianapolis. The people are friendly and helpful and I was driving in an area where the post office is located.

As I spread out all of my cards and arranged the contents of the package on a table near the "you-do-it" section in the lobby, an elderly woman came along beside me.

Quickly clearing a space for her, I said, "I don't need to take up all of this room. I tend to spread out so I can organize my mailings."

She smiled, "I need to fill out this paper to hold my mail while I am gone. I don't see well. Can you help me?"

"Sure!" I set aside my cards and held the corners of her form to steady her writing. I checked what she had already written, but she was confused about the dates of her departure and arrival home.

Completing the Form

She was certain about when she was leaving so we entered that information. Then we counted forward until she reached the time when she was coming home. I looked over the other questions and told her she was ready to turn in the request. The form complete, she reached into her purse offering  to pay me for helping her.

"Oh, no. Helping another is part of life in God's kingdom."

"I am eighty-one years old and I am thankful to be here," she replied. "I used to be an elementary school principal and do things with ease."

"I'm glad you're here too!" I said. "Have a nice time away. I watched her walk slowly through the lobby.

Dropping my cards and package in the appropriate bins, I reflected how my vision and her lack of vision came together. Interestingly, outside the post office sat a blind man, a fixture at the corner of the building selling brooms. Today was cold and windy and he was wearing a heavy coat and hat. Two women were talking to him and I watched as he laughed and smiled.

Open My Eyes

My experience at the post office with the woman who had trouble seeing reminded me of the opening stanzas of an old hymn, "Open My Eyes, That I May See."

The first three stanzas of the hymn begin with these words:

"Open my eyes, that I may see;"

"Open my ears, that I may hear;"

"Open my mouth, and let me bear,"

That day I  was able to blend all three verses as I helped the retired principal complete her form.

How Are Your Eyes, Ears and Mouth?

I wonder how many times I miss opportunities to be in service to others because my eyes don't see or my ears don't listen carefully or my mouth remains silent or says something inappropriate. God help me be aware of those I cross paths with so that I can be aware of and present to those who may need help.

Have you been in a hurry lately and not given attention to those around you? We all have busy days with lots to do. Let your eyes be opened to see, your ears be opened to listen and your mouth be opened to speak as you move through God's kingdom and interact with God's people.

Sometimes you are at the right place at the right time - when your vision is clear and your heart is open to respond.

For Your Reflection

1. When have you paused to talk or help someone in need as you were on your way to do something else?

2. How did you feel after you completed your service?

3. What practices help you become more attentive to others?

Prayer: God, our days are busy, but our hearts truly want to extend love to those who may need attention. Keep us alert and aware of others wherever we go. Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Do I Give Others Fifty Percent or More?

I had just arrived at the hospital where I'm a volunteer chaplain. I logged in at the computer in the volunteer office and walked across the lobby to get the mail. I'm always on the lookout for those who need assistance - I watch for people who seem lost or upset or nervous.

That Tuesday morning, I saw a woman sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the atrium surrounded by a pool of spilled Pepsi on the floor.

As I went over to greet her, she said, "I must have fallen asleep and knocked my Pepsi over."

"I'll get someone to clean up." I went to the information desk to request someone from housekeeping to come. Meanwhile, I got one of those bright, yellow, plastic signs that I could set near the spill to warn people to be careful.

"What kind of Pepsi do you drink?" I asked, waiting with her. She showed me the empty bottle. 

"I'll be right back." I went to the cafeteria, where I purchased two bottles of the same kind of Pepsi she spilled. 

Realizing I needed to check in at the chaplain's office, I handed her the bags with the two bottles of Pepsi and went on my way carrying with me her face of gratitude.

Did I Give Enough?

Reflecting later that afternoon, I remembered two challenges from a sermon I heard two days prior to my encounter with the woman.

"God, help me recognize you in this moment."

"God, if you can use me today, help me pay attention."

I gave myself fifty percent on my response to this woman, wondering why I didn't take an extra few minutes to ask why she was at the hospital or how she was doing, especially since she had fallen asleep in the chair.

The following Tuesday, I walked past where she sat with Pepsi all over the floor and seat cushion and asked myself why I didn't interact with her further.

That spot is a reminder for me to take the extra few minutes to be present to all of God's children and inquire about their circumstances wherever I am. There was nothing urgent at the chaplain's office that would have prevented a few more minutes with this woman. People need one hundred percent of me when I am there to serve, not fifty percent as I offered.

Questions for Reflection

1. Who do you see each day? Be present to those you encounter wherever you go. Ask God to open love and compassion in your heart to extend to other.

2. Take time to care for those you see or those you know by listening to their concerns or celebrating their joys.

3. Record these moments so you can remember how God has used you.

Prayer: God, we are surrounded by your people wherever we go. Help me pay attention, to be present and care for those I see. Help me take a few minutes from my personal agenda to listen for those who may need a kind and compassionate ear, for my heart's desire is to love others in your name. Amen.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Duke Basketball and God's Presence

One of our family's favorite activities through the years has been watching Duke University play basketball. Mike graduated from Duke Divinity School in 1976, so we have a personal interest in the team.

We watched many years of memorable games including national championships in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2011, and 2015.

After their championship in 2015, I heard an interview with Coach Mike Krzyzewski. The reporter asked the coach to compare winning this fifth title. He replied:

     "I can't compare one title with another. All of them are great. The one you're in the moment, the most current, you can feel it best. What we've tried to do all year is live in the moment.  I told the players to live in the present and not worry about external expectations."

Live in the Moment

Coach Krzysewski taught his players the value of staying in the moment - in the present - so that nothing could distract them from the game they were playing. Schoolwork, relationships, a job, difficulties with a roommate, problems at home are a few of the circumstances that could distract a player's focus.

Stay in the game and live in the moment. It's advice that worked for his team, and it's advice that works for me.

Being Present

I believe "Coach K" has good words that can be applied to those who desire to stay focused on God. Distractions are all around us. I find distractions to prayer even if I am sitting at my desk looking out the window. My mind can wander to what I need to do for the day or to a concern about another person or what happened the day before, and the list goes on.

Although I am not playing a basketball game, I am working at being present to God.

What helps me most when I find my thoughts wandering is to take a deep breath. I can then bring my focus back to God where I can hear God's voice.

Live in the moment. Live in the present. That's what "Coach K" said. It's good advice for his players and for those who desire to deepen their walk with God.

Questions for Reflection

1. What distractions come your way when you try to pray?
2. How are you inspired to stay focused on God when your mind wanders?

Prayer: We desire, God, to stay present to you and present to others in your name. Distractions swarm around us, taking our minds in many directions. Our desire is to stay in constant awareness of your presence. Guide and direct us in ways unique to each of us, that will help us stay grounded in you - and as "Coach K" says, "Live in the moment,"  Amen.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Eight Questions for the New Year

Before you put away the ornaments from the Christmas tree, file recipes of food you only prepare for holidays and organize your presents, get a sheet of paper and a pen to record a few thoughts.

Reflect on experiences during the month of December and record what came to mind. Consider these questions.

     1. Where did I see God?
     2. How did I experience God?
     3. When did I offer God's love?

Keep a copy of what you wrote where you can reference throughout 2018, perhaps in the spring after Easter, during July, and in October as preparations for next Christmas begin.

The answers that come from the questions can reveal the fullness of God's presence as well as give form to changes you might want to implement during the year or in future holiday seasons.

Additional reflections for the new year examine your life and priorities. Respond to each for a sense of cleansing and direction in 2018.

     1. For what am I longing?
     2. What themes keep recurring in my life?
     3. Where am I struggling?
     4. What is most life-giving to me?
     5. What is least life-giving?

Jesus spent time away for prayer. Although we do not know the content of his reflections, he gave us a model of the importance of being still with God. We, too, can be still before God and ask these questions, seeking wisdom and insight from above.

Prayer: God, at the beginning of a new year, help us collect our experiences with you and others from 2017. Guide us as we use these eight questions to realize your presence with us to offer new energy and focus within and guide us in service to you. Amen.