Church

A hush fell over the congregation.

The pastor had asked, “Are there any other announcements?”

A slender older woman at the back said, “I have one, but I’m coming up there.”

We all waited while she slid out of her pew, went around the back, and walked up the center aisle. Nobody said a word as she climbed the few steps up the lectern. She stood, looking at the congregation, her lips pressed in a tight line. Finally she spoke.

“The rumors, the hate mail — it all has to stop. We need to support our pastor.”

My mind went back some 15 or 16 years before — to a different church, a different problem. The pastor had begun a belittling diatribe from the pulpit against individuals in the congregation. One man — a big teddy bear of a man, a former dairy farmer — stood up.

“This has to stop,” he said, addressing the pastor.

A shouting match ensued. I don’t remember the particulars because I had quickly gotten my children out of the sanctuary. We waited in the safety of the nursery until church was over.

Sanctuary. It’s a funny word for what was happening in there that day.

Sometimes church becomes ugly and unsafe.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love,
by our love.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

We sing, but we don’t do.

Until one person stands up and reminds us that we can choose a better way.

Last week we celebrated the resurrection. This week our pastor read from John 21, when the (unrecognized) risen Christ found the disciples fishing again.

How easily we slip back into old ways!

But He has given us a new way to live — it’s by doing the hard work of love.

Q is for Quirky

I often don’t know how to describe my collages, so I use the word quirky. How else could explain this odd conglomeration using a couple of dogs and a Dr. Seuss character?

from The New Century Dictionary, 1948, — a 2 volume set found in the free box at the Endicott library.

A quirk is a sudden twist. I was surprised to read that in the dictionary, because I think of quirks as “unique-nesses” — those things that make you you.

We currently have a cat that loves belly rubs. I consider that a quirk.

Last week our cat disappeared.

The first day, I didn’t think much of it. She’ll be back, I told myself.

But when I went for a walk, I scanned the ditches on either side of the road, just in case she had darted out in front of a car and met her demise.

The second day, I started mentally running through the list of predators in the vicinity. I hear coyotes howl at night. Do they like cats? My brother told me that large owls prey on cats. I hadn’t seen any large owls, but he said there were some in the area. Our neighbor once told us that foxes prey on cats. I know foxes live around here. I was pretty sure that the bald eagles prefer fish from the river, so I ruled them out — hoping I was right about that.

I walked the road again looking for our little black cat, calling her, looking in the fields for her — but the only black I saw were crows.

The third day came and I was worried. I asked my brother, didn’t we used to have cats that would disappear for a week at a time?

Ishibon (1967)

“Ishibon would go off two to three weeks,” he said.

Ishibon had been our first cat. I remembered Ishibon going off and coming back. I felt better.

A little.

But by the fourth day, I felt like I needed to brace Mary for the inevitable.

“If Piper doesn’t come back,” I told her, “we’ll need to get another cat to keep the mice at bay.”

“I don’t want another cat,” she said. “I want Piper.”

Piper, with all her little quirks, was our cat.

It was Good Friday, and I found myself thinking about Jesus’ disciples watching Jesus die on the cross. They had so hoped that He was the Messiah.

“There, there,” the Pharisees undoubtedly said. “We’ll get another Messiah.”

And one of the Marys would have replied, “I don’t want another Messiah. I want Jesus.”

Because for all His quirks — picking grain on the Sabbath and speaking with a Samaritan woman, all those times He behaved in unexpected ways, and then, at the end, to die like that — He WAS the Messiah.

The people simply couldn’t see it at the time.

If He had behaved like everybody else, He wouldn’t have been God.

I know I’m not saying it well, but the quirks made the Messiah.

Your quirks make you. My quirks make me.

And our quirky little cat returned on Saturday, an early Easter gift for us.

I think she wanted a belly rub.

Piper

K is for Kindness

Part of my morning quiet time includes a creed — to remind myself of those things I believe to be true. It started with the basic Apostles’ Creed, but has grown. One part that I added is this:

I believe that the trials in my life are ultimately God’s good for me. They are like the grains of sand in an oyster that God uses to produce pearls.

The world is an unkind place. It’s full of people who thumb their noses and stick out their tongues.

Yesterday, in the checkout at the grocery store, the young woman behind me, obviously upset by something that had happened, said to her companion, “I just want to punch her in the face.”

With violent words, we betray the frustrations in our hearts.

This past Sunday, I was especially frustrated by a situation I knew that my father would encounter, where he would be excluded and pushed aside. The mama-bear in me raised her hackles and lashed out with words — words I didn’t entirely regret but wish I had said with a little more kindness.

When I put together this collage, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was saying, but when looking for a “K” collage, I paused on it. Yes, I think I know now. It’s about right responses. It’s about kindness. So timely for me today.

The one boy is obviously the bully. He’s not nice. He’s not being nice.

The man is ready to rush in and give him a good smack.

But the other boy, he’s still extending the ping-pong paddle.

In kindness.

“Come and play,” he seems to be saying.

It’s Jesus. He constantly says, “There, there. I see. I know. Come unto me, you weary, heavy-laden, frustrated, overwhelmed child. I still love you. I still want to play ping-pong with you.”

And as I yield to Him, He adds another layer to the grit in my life, working to create a pearl.


Background from The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd

Man from My Dad’s Job by Peter Glassman, illustrated by Timothy Bush

Ping-pong paddle boy from My Fun With Words by James Ertel, illustrated by Geoffrey Brittingham, Seymour Fleishman, Vernon McKissack

Bully from Wheels on the Bus (a Raffi Song to Read book) illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz Wickstrom

Just Keeping It Real

I read a comment on Facebook yesterday about women’s faith blogs — how they talk about messy lives but fail to show the mess. Let me show you my mess. Without my mess, my blog is meaningless.

It’s after 9 AM. I’m still in my pajamas. My top is an oversized men’s shirt that I bought at a thrift store. My flannel pants are old and comfy. I put on socks because my feet get cold in the morning. I grabbed the ones on the floor by my bed because they were closest, and I was bleary-eyed from a lousy night’s sleep. The socks are threadbare. Just keeping it real.

My left ankle aches. The bruising from my knee injury is draining to my feet. I asked a doctor about it — the husband of a friend — at a swim meet because I didn’t want to make a trip to the clinic. He said it was normal. It looks awful but no one sees my ankles, and I can live with the ache. But I prop my leg up like an old woman, and I guess I am.

When I finish my quiet time, I hide my pile of books on the floor by the chair where I usually sit. If I don’t, my father may start looking through them. It’s not there’s anything I don’t want him to see and I would be happy to share them, but something about unbidden looking feels like an invasion of my minimal privacy.

The dog follows me everywhere. She sleeps by my bed. I hear her licking at weird hours of the night. At 5 AM she follows me down the stairs, and up and down with me every time I use the bathroom or get something from my bedroom. She has bad breath and thunks up and down the stairs gracelessly.

The kitchen table is a mass of papers. My parents have always had clutter problems. I inherited that gene. What if something I recycle turns out to be important?

… but

If I choose to focus on the positives…

My coffee was delicious this morning. Fresh ground coffee beans make all the difference. Even “Fred” said this morning, “Mom, you make great coffee.”

Yes, “Fred” is visiting. And Helen. And Bud is back from his business trip. My father is working on the crossword puzzle in the chair next to me. Philip and Henry video-called this morning. I am surrounded by family and feeling oh-so-blessed.

Even the dog is in the room, lying on the floor far enough away that I can’t smell her. I can see where her coat is turning from black to gray and am reminded that she is an old dog. How much longer will we have her? I don’t know, but I’m going to be thankful for that time.

“Fred” is trying to write a haiku for Henry and every line rhymes. Helen laughs, and says, “Haikus don’t have to rhyme, you know,” but “Fred” keeps working on it.

Life is good. Even with a cluttered kitchen table and threadbare socks.

 

 

The Beginnings of Every Ordinary Day

“Holy cow!” my father said. “You must have gotten up early!”

I had just told him that I had already driven to the airport and back to pick up my husband from a business trip.

“No earlier than usual,” I told my father.

“What time do you get up?” he asked.

“5 o’clock,” I answered.

I didn’t tell him that he also gets up most mornings right around 5. I hear him on the monitor I have in my room because I worry about him falling or needing assistance.

He needs more and more assistance. The other day he called to me, “Sally? Sally?” with the door cracked open. When I checked on him, he was half-dressed and couldn’t think what to do next. But that was at 9 AM, around his usual time for getting dressed.

At 5 AM, on most days, I hear him get up to use the bathroom, but he goes back to bed. I get up, too, and go downstairs to make coffee.

The next 2 – 3 hours are blissfully mine.

Tuga and coffee in the pre-dawn

I read. My pile of books changes with the seasons.  Right now, I’m reading a Lenten devotional from She Reads Truth,

(rabbits not included)

The New Christian Year, daily readings following a liturgical calendar, compiled by Charles Williams, (my friend, Africa, who is learning to rebind books would be appalled at the white adhesive tape I used when it started falling apart on me),

Blaise Pascal’s Pensées (a pensée a day keeps the mind at play, I tell myself),

my Bible (5 Psalms and the chapter of Isaiah I’m memorizing),

and my prayer book. (Usually I have Lancelot Andrewes help me out here, but I’m giving him a break for Lent.)

I pray. The list grows longer and longer of the people I pray for by name. It’s rare when I cross someone off, but Antonin Scalia came off when he died, and Richard Hanna, my congressman, came off when he left office. Those girls kidnapped by Boko Haram? I chose one name off that list, and until I see her name in a follow-up story — and I frequently check — I’ll continue to pray for her and her family. Friends and family stay on my list forever. If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that your name is there.

I moodle. Brenda Ueland defines moodling as aimless dawdling. I find it essential for my mental health.

Something about letting thoughts swirl and settle sets everything right.

Lancelot Andrewes has a prayer that one commentator deemed incomplete, but I find it the perfect way to end my beginning every day.

In every imagination of my heart
In the words of my mouth
In the works of my hands
In the ways of my feet

I give it all over to Christ and ask His blessing on those things — my imaginations, my words, my works, my ways — and then head into another ordinary day.

Caregiver’s Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot do,

I can’t “fix” my loved one.

I can’t make him think more clearly.

I can’t make him understand.

I can’t go back in time, and mustn’t languish over how or what he was, because he is who he is now and that’s where we are.

Courage to do the things I can,

I can handle business affairs — writing checks, paying bills, scheduling appointments.

I can do laundry.

I can prepare meals and serve snacks.

I can answer the phone.

I can chauffeur.

I can explain things over and over and over and over, and set my exasperation aside.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

When I lay in bed at night, let me not angst over the battle, but, in the weariness of a hard-fought day, take my rest knowing that I did the best I could.

Few will see or know what I do.

My own loved one will never fully grasp the sacrifice that I, and my husband, and my children, are all making on his behalf.

But it is right and good.

And You know, o Lord.

Let that be enough.


Adapted from The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.

Immersed

…The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure nothing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice….

Blaise Pascal, Pensées

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

1 Corinthians 15:54 (ESV)


When I read the Daily Prompt: Immerse, Pascal’s words and the scripture from She Reads Truth’s Lenten devotional were fresh in my mind.

I could picture my tiny finite being totally lost in the Infinite God.

Swallowed up.

Immersed like my swimmer in a great ocean of Love.