How To Kneel

As a teen I visited the Catholic Church
The kneelers caused me concern –
What if I didn’t do it right?
I knew that I had to learn.

“When do I kneel? When do I sit?
When do I stand?” I asked.
“Just follow the others,” my friend said,
“And you will catch on fast.

“Take care when you kneel that you do not slouch
Or rest back on the pew.
Keep your back straight, strong and erect.
Nothing else will do.

“Lazy Christians are the ones who slouch.
Lazy Christians rest.
Those who kneel with their back upright
Will be the ones most blessed.”

Those words were quite forgotten
In the intervening years.
There were times I prayed on my haunches
Or with my face to floor in tears.

The posture of prayer is a mystery –
And I think God honors them all –
But in this dark moment of history
I saw men kneeling quite tall –

They were wearing orange jumpsuits
And kneeling in Libyan sand.
Dark-clad men stood behind them,
A knife in each slayer’s hand.

I don’t know about lazy Christians –
But that photo for me impressed
That those who kneel with their back upright
Will be the ones most blessed.

Communion again

IMG_5903[1]I was the first in line for communion.

When the teen server tore off a piece of bread and handed it to me, she looked at me and paused.

I waited for the words — “This is the Bread of Life.” Or, “the Body of Christ broken for you.”  Which would she say?

She hesitated and then her face broke out into a big smile. “Hi,” she said. She had forgotten what she was supposed to say and simply greeted me.

I laughed and took the bread to dip into the challis.

The little girl beside her lifted the cup to me and said, in a tiny voice, “The cup of blessing.”

I dipped my bread and went back to my seat, still smiling.

Sometimes, in the somberness of the occasion, we forget that it was like a family meal in that upper room so long ago. I’m sure there was a clatter of dishes and hubbub of voices while everyone dined, reclining at the table.

  • Peter objecting to Jesus washing his feet.
  • Peter motioning for John to ask Jesus a question.
  • John asking Jesus Peter’s question.
  • Jesus dipping the bread and handing it to Judas.
  • Judas leaving.
  • Peter’s exchange with Jesus.
  • Thomas’s exchange with Jesus.
  • Philip’s exchange with Jesus.

Comings, goings, actions, conversations — all in the course of one meal.

Quiet introspection played no part.

Listening to Jesus did.

Sometimes, in the ceremony and formality of communion at church, we miss the human connection — and that’s what Jesus did on earth, connect with us in a very human way.

“Hi.”

Communion amazes me every time.

Make a Joyful Noise

Aviary Photo_130673560544807816“You may want to wait and see if your student is serious before you get this thing fixed up,” the flute man told me.

“Ummm,” I said hesitantly, “it’s mine. I’ve had it since high school.”

I felt almost apologetic about my Armstrong open-hole flute. The repadding was long overdue, but I had finally squirreled away the several hundred dollars I knew it would cost.

“Please go ahead with a full overhaul,” I told him, and he did.

When I picked it up from him in November, I felt like I was bringing home a family member after a long convalescence.

He had done a fantastic job. I knew it as soon as I began to play.

You see, I play in church. Not the stand-up-and-play-a-solo-for-the-offertory kind of playing. Just playing along with the hymns.

For fun.

For worship.

I sit near the organist with my back to congregation. Yes, sit, not stand.

At our last church, I played with the worship team and had to stand facing the congregation. I asked if I could stand behind a plant on the stage and the worship leader thought I was kidding.

That was also the church where the worship leader met with me and asked me to play for her before I joined the worship team.

“Play what?” I asked.

“Oh, just play anything,” she said, and I fumbled through a scale or Yankee Doodle or something.

I’m a cook who needs a recipe and a musician who needs music.

Oddly enough, she let me join the team.

At this church, I had asked the pastor if I could play in church.

“I’m not sure I understand what that would look like,” she said.

“Well,” I said slowly, “it would look like me playing the hymns while the congregation sings them.”

I interpreted her silence to be a tacit approval of the idea.

So I showed up with my flute on Sunday.

And the next Sunday.

And the next.

Aviary Photo_130673561463466893Most Sundays I sit up there with the organist/choir director. I play the hymns straight from the hymnal or from an orchestrated hymnal my sister had given me years ago (if the hymns match in key with the hymnal used by the church).

Every week, the organist turns to me at the end of the service and says, “Thank you for playing.”

Every week, I say back to her, “No. Thank you.”

Because I know this isn’t a privilege I would have at every church.

But I love to worship in this way.

Can you imagine if everyone felt the freedom to worship with whatever gift or talent they had been given, no matter how small?

Make a joyful noise, eh?

 

Bridget

Yesterday, my friend Laura Lynn Brown launched a new site: makesyoumom.com.

I have previously written about how I met Laura at Laity Lodge.

I was honored that she asked me if I would be willing to submit a piece for her new site, so I found an old piece I had written, dusted it off a little, and sent it to her.  I was even more honored when she decided to include it in her launch.

quiltsquareMomswimcoach” was written about my time coaching the Cooperstown Girls Varsity Swim Team.

Feeling nostalgic, I pulled out another piece written about that era and read through it.

Gosh, those were the days.

No, they weren’t, really.  They were hard and stressful. I was in my forties, pregnant for some of it, working outside the home for the first time in decades, trying to homeschool, and still in the wake of the storm I mentioned yesterday.

But Bridget — Bridget was a gift to me.

She was a high school girl with a sunny smile, a giving soul, and Rocky Balboa’s work ethic.

When I started coaching, I had no experience coaching anything ever. Yes, I was a swimmer.  Yes, I was a swim official.  Yes, my children swam.  Did that make me a coach?  No.  Yet there I was, on deck, being called “Coach” by eighteen girls, one of them named Bridget.

I threw myself into coaching to the best of my ability.  I used workouts that the previous coach had left me, started watching videos on teaching the different strokes, researched swimming on the internet, and shamelessly asked other coaches how they did things.

The girls knew I was new. Some used it to get out of work.  The most common technique was to negotiate during practice.

Negotiations would go something like this.

Swimmer:  Coach, do we really have to do 10 100s of freestyle?

Me: Is that what I wrote on the board?

Swimmer:  Yes, but I was thinking, maybe I could just do 5 50s of butterfly since that’s what I’ll be swimming in the meet.

Pushover me:  Sure, I guess so.

Or,

Swimmer:  Coach, do we really have to do a 200 kick?

Me:  I was thinking we need to work on our kicking.

Swimmer:  I have this blister on my foot from some new shoes and kicking hurts.  Can I just do a 100 pull?

Pushover me:  Sure, I guess so.

Eventually, I started to catch on.  Only certain girls asked me and without exception they were negotiating for something easier.  Also, as I planned out the practices, I became more and more keyed into what I wanted to work on and what I wanted the team to accomplish over the course of the season.

The more I grew as a coach, the more the negotiating irked me.  I started to say no to all negotiations.

One day, when the chief negotiator began to propose her own sets, I said no, but she continued whining and wheedling.   Something in me snapped.  I took off my whistle, handed it to her, saying, “Apparently you know more about coaching than I do,” and walked off the deck.

Bridget came and found me in the locker room. “Mrs. Zaengle, I’m so sorry,” she said.

I looked at her – Bridget, who never gave me a problem, never questioned anything I asked her to do, was apologizing to me.

She followed up that verbal apology with a letter that she had every girl on the team sign.  In the letter they thanked me for my time and my efforts; they apologized for not respecting me; they promised to work hard for me.

I think that was the day I realized what a gift Bridget was to me.

She worked so hard at every practice.  Sometimes, in my quest for sets, I went to college sites and selected sets that were probably too hard for the girls.  One of those times, I looked at Bridget’s flushed cheeks mid-set, realizing how hard the practice was.

“Let’s change the interval, Bridget, or shorten the set,” I said.

“No, Mrs. Zaengle,” was her reply.  “I can do it.”

And she did.

She worked, and her work was a joy to me.  Even when I messed up.  Even when what I asked was unreasonable.  Bridget was a gift.

Bridget’s attitude was infectious, too.  I noticed more and more of the girls adopting her positive ways.

In the end, the team and I had the relationship described in Momswimcoach. That was a gift, too.

And Laura Brown? She’s also a gift. Encouraging me to keep trying.

We’re surrounded by people who are gifts. I’m quite sure of that. We just don’t always recognize them.

From the Rock Tumbler

A few months ago I had a day when I felt so pounded by life — having arguments with people I love and struggles in so many other areas — that I sent out a frantic prayer request to a close circle of friends. Here is a part of what I wrote:

I sat on our back deck today weeping, feeling so beat up and lost.

“Lord, I fear that I’m just being pulverized and all that’s left of me will be dust,” I cried — and He gave me the image of a toy rock tumbler we had years ago, with ugly stones being made beautiful while tumbling in grit and water.

“Your tears are the water needed for this,” He whispered, and I wished it wasn’t so.

I’m going to be tumbled to nothingness — I’m quite sure. And it’s not one thing — it is so many, on so many fronts. I’m surrounded by grit and abrasiveness.

I know this probably doesn’t make sense, but can you please pray for me?

A week or so later, I was working to memorize Isaiah 54. Isaiah 54:11-12 reads,

“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.

I will make your pinnacles of agate,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your wall of precious stones.

I looked up carbuncles. They sound like something painful and ugly, and, it turns out, they are. From webmd.com

A carbuncle is a red, swollen, and painful cluster of boils that are connected to each other under the skin…. Filled with pus — a mixture of old and white blood cells, bacteria, and dead skin cells — carbuncles must drain before they’re able to heal. Carbuncles are more likely than boils to leave scars.

But the Biblical carbuncle is an unfaceted gemstone like a garnet. These are the stones that are polished in the ocean (or a rock tumbler) to a rich red.

The grit in our lives may be painful and hard to bear. We may have wounds that need to drain before they heal.  We may even have scars.

But God is using the grit in our lives to polish us to a luster we cannot even fathom. We are but storm-tossed gems in the sea of life.

Thanks be to God.

polished stones from the Ramsey rock tumbler

polished stones from the Ramsey rock tumbler

Beauty in the Beast

I have a problem person in my life.

My struggle with them kept worsening — to the point where everything this person did irritated me. I dreaded those days when I knew we would interact.

I lay awake the other night, thinking about it, feeling irked, feeling downright angry, wishing the knots in my stomach would go away so I could sleep.

“Lord,” I prayed, “You made this difficult person and You love them. Help me to see something beautiful in them.”

When I woke up in the morning, I prayed the same thing.  Before I left the house, I prayed it again. All day, the petition kept rising. “Help me to see something beautiful in this trying person.”

I’ll confess — I didn’t find what I was looking for.

It wasn’t until I was getting ready to go home and was talking to a friend that I began to understand. She mentioned some very positive things about my contrary person and I thought, I have so much garbage in the way that I can’t see clearly. This may take some time.

It’s like in Beauty and the Beast — when Belle first encountered the Beast, all she could see was the ugly.

Over time, she learned to see him with new eyes.

The funny thing is that, as I was looking for beauty in one person, I began to be more aware of it in others. Two siblings working together to overcome a challenge. A Subway worker who made buying sandwiches fun.  A compassionate adult helping a little boy with a broken toy.

Our days are made up of so many little moments, little bits of light and beauty. If only I could remember them all.

Several of my friends keep gratitude journals.

I decided to keep a beauty journal where I can write down those bits of beauty I see each day.

It won’t be filled with sunrises, sunsets, flowers, or trees, though. I can’t take photographs of what I’m looking to record.

I’ll fill it with people and the little acts of kindness they do. That’s the kind of beauty I long to see.

I know it’s there, too, in my difficult person. I just can’t see it yet.

My Beauty journal

My Beauty journal

A Writer’s Prayer

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)

You, who are the Word, write words.

You wrote the law on tablets of stone

and you wrote grace on our hearts.

Your words were recorded by others,

and you scratched lost words in the dirt.

Lord, I want to write, too.

The process is still a mystery to me —

an idea

given form

becoming alive –

Too often I bully ideas

instead of giving them room to breathe.

You who breathed life into creations of dust, help me to give life to my words.

You who are truth, help me to write words that are true.

You who are the bread of heaven, help me to write words that nourish others.

You who brought order from chaos, help me to do the same with the jumbled and tangled mess of thoughts inside me.

It is through You and for You that I desire to write,
and it is in Jesus’ name that I pray.

Amen