This is day five of our sister’s week. Each year since our Mom died, my three biological sisters and I have gathered to spend a week together. We add spice to our laughing and talking, by enjoying a bit of sight seeing. This year we’ve expanded the family circle to include our aunt and her four girls as well as a family reunion that lasted all last weekend. What a fabulous time we are having. Each day, I have given God thanks for helping me find this wonderful family, seventeen years ago.
Families sometimes have struggles, for sure. As human beings we can be mean, spiteful, even cruel at times. Yet when we focus on love, joy, & acceptance, as our crowd has been doing this week, joy explodes and pours out all around us.
Today God has reminded me that the whole world is our family. We are not called to judge people as enemy/friend, useless/valuable, different/equal. Instead, God has given us millions of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sons and daughters, we haven’t yet met. All we need do is open our hearts to embrace all people and watch love explode into the world.
Today, let us give thanks that we are all God’s children, one family. Offer your love to the world. Trust that God will make it grow.
There’s lots to read about parenting today. In the news media we hear about “helicopter” parents. The metaphor is perfect. These parents hover over their children, sometimes nearly suffocating them with kindness, help, and protection. Up until two weeks ago, I too judged today’s “helicopter parents.” I was never that kind of parent when I raised my children,, I thought. I gave them lots of room to try things, to live and figure life out without me hovering over them.
In less than one second, Saturday morning, May 11, my smugness evaporated. My strong, healthy daughter slammed onto the ground in a fall from a horse. Our lives changed. Her fall was no one’s fault. The accident happened. One of her vertebrae exploded as it crushed from the impact, and now protrudes into her spinal canal. The good news, the blessed news, is she has no paralysis. For that we are grateful. The orthopedic spinal trauma specialist said if the damaged vertebra remains stable she won’t need an operation. In twelve to eighteen months, she will recover.
Since the accident, I have been a total “helicopter” parent. With no thought of shame, I hovered at the hospital. I fretted as they fitted the brace on her body. I stood close when she stood for the first time, nurses right beside her to help.
It’s been nearly three weeks now. She’s walking with a walker. The brace supports her in the same way as a full body cast. Both she and I look ahead to the months of pain she will endure as her body inches toward recover. I realize I cannot remain the helicopter parent. I must give her room to heal both in body and soul. I have to trust that as a mature woman she can make wise decisions about the amount of activity she can do.
Once again, I am learning to trust in God’s goodness and love. As both my daughter and I face the journey ahead, one thing I know, “God’s goodness enfolds us regardless what happens. God’s strength and wisdom empower us. God’s love can bring joy even in the midst of our struggles.
Today, I consciously choose to trust in God, to give thanks that we are not alone. God is with us. Today, I cry out with the biblical father seeking healing for his child in Mark 9:24 “I do believe, Lord. Help me with my doubts and fears.” (Mark 9:24)
The last few days, my thoughts have focused on Jesus’ story of “The Lost Son.” In movies, books, and life, I seek happy endings. I smile when the lost son realizes his folly and returns home. I nod when the grieving father runs out to meet him when he is still a long way off. The elder son’s response of anger and righteous judgment feels good and proper. The father’s response also feels good. Will the elder son understand his father’s plea for love and mercy? We aren’t told, so I can fill in my happy ending. Both sons have learned how to love. Father is wiser.
How does Jesus’ story end today? Too often today, addiction swallows us up leaving us lost, sleeping on the streets, even murdered. Sometimes it’s our commitment to overwork, an extramarital relationship, total self-indulgence, that carries us away from family, loved ones, God. Unlike the lost son in Jesus’ story, we don’t return home. We may have started home many times but we stumbled again and again and again. We can’t stay on that homeward path.
And so, too often, as parents, spouses, children, friends, we are left sitting at the gate, still loving, still praying, still hoping, still weeping. The opportunity to run down the path, arms open wide, love pouring forth, never comes.
Too often, as elder siblings, we keep plugging away, doing our best, resentment hidden and growing, judgment made. We want to hang onto our rage, our self-righteousness. We’re sure we are right. We don’t want help forgiving those who are unforgivable. We don’t want to face God’s unconditional love, God’s endless mercy, let alone participate in it.
Today, whether we are the lost son, the elder brother or the loving parent, we go to our death still paralysed, still lost on life’s journey. And so we think there is no possibility for a happy ending.
For me, the Good News, the “happy ending” comes when we learn to trust our Christian story which tells us that the power of God’s love is so strong, God’s plan for each one of us so flexible, so creative, that even death cannot keep us paralyzed. In fact, death, in whatever form it comes, opens the way for “new life,” the happy ending.
Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)
Jesus’ own life story tells us that whether our death brings forth the possibility of new life, transformation, abundance.
Today, whether we are facing the loss of a beloved person, the ending of a life-long dream, the closing of our precious church,– wherever we find ourselves present in Jesus’ story, we can trust that the resurrection will come. God will not be defeated. We may not see the transformation, but it will come, if not in this world than in the next. Weeping will end. Joy will come with the morning. We are not truly paralyzed. We can open ourselves to understanding, forgiveness and love. We can receive God’s peace that is beyond our understanding because we can trust in God’s transformation, whenever it happens.
We have hope, for God has assured us there will be “a happy ending” in this life or the next. Our transformation is guaranteed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We can hear and live Jesus’ words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) For this, I am truly grateful.
As seniors, we hope we have learned a few things about life. Most of the time these learnings have come to us the hard way. Our wisdom is precious. we would like to share it and save our children and grandchildren from going through the same trial and error process that we did.
Occasionally, the urge to offer advice becomes overwhelming for me. Still, I know it’s not my call. When advice is requested, I can share my knowledge. Otherwise, my call is to give support and pray. Fulfilling that role requires patience, trust and even courage.
As Easter approaches, I’m thinking about Jesus’ mother. When Jesus headed for Jerusalem that last time, I can only imagine the worry and possibly anger his family experienced. They would have wanted him to stay in Galilee where he was relatively safe. Still it wasn’t their call. Even after his resurrection, I’m sure there would be some friends that still vibrated from the pain and yes, anger with Jesus. If he had only stayed home. If he had only listened to me. Their feelings may have even got in the way of fully experiencing the joy of his resurrection.
For me, one of the resurrection messages for parents, grandparents, friends and family is: it’s not our call to totally protect our children or any of our loved ones. Like Jesus, they have to make their own choices. The wonder of the resurrection is that we can have patience trust and courage, because we know that God’s miracle of love for them will be far better than anything our precious knowledge can do. In the end they too will have new life.
In the gospel lesson this week, John tells us the story of Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem. The cheating has been happening for years. Jesus has seen it before. On this day, Jesus said, “Stop turning my father’s house into a market!” In today’s words, he’s saying: “Enough is enough! This has to stop.
This month young people in the United States have risen up to yell, “Stop. Get rid of the guns in our society. They’re killing our friends.” They are chanting the phrase, “Enough is enough.”
For a long time, our First Nations people have been shouting, “Stop. Prejudice, disrespect, and hate are killing our people. Suicide, murder have become an epidemic. Enough is enough.”
Within our Christian community, many denominations are looking death in the eye. Congregations are shrinking and ageing. The young seem to have deserted us. Society is chanting, “We’re spiritual not religious. We don’t need the church.”
We don’t know what happened the next day at the temple. Were the money changers, back in business still cheating the people? It seems that way in the U.S. Their government isn’t rushing to pass laws for gun control. Here in Canada, we are no different. We talk lots, and yet in terms of our First Nations people, more rot is revealed in our justice system every day.
My Christian denomination, the United Church of Canada, has been experiencing a clearing of the temple for the last thirty years. We are now facing the fact that our old ways are being wiped away. We are letting go of underused, expensive buildings. We are pruning and grafting new ways for our church government. We’re looking carefully at our mission statements. We’re seeking discernment in how God is calling us to be church in today’s society. It’s scary. We don’t know what lies ahead. This process requires trust in God’s ultimate goodness and love. Who will we be in five or ten years time, only God knows.
My hope, my faith, is that change will truly come. This won’t be a moment, a ground swell that fizzles and everything returns to the status quo. We will become Christians who are relevant, passionate, and faithful to the teachings of Jesus. We will truly love God, love each other and love ourselves in today’s world. We will walk with our First Nations people in a nation where all are truly equal, where healing can happen. God will work through us to bring permanent change. The task is begun. I am grateful.
In these few days between Christmas joy and New Year’s celebrations, I began my morning prayers with gratitude for a time of rest. I’m sure God laughed as I also gave thanks for the desire to walk on my elliptical trainer for 5 minutes three times today, and the desire to get back to editing the sequel to Fireweed. Then I asked for the motivation to clean up my study that has become the repository of the Christmas chaos. Obviously, my idea of what constitutes rest is a little strange.
Still I had wakened feeling good, ready to write something. A few moments with my inspirational reading and these words came. I looked at them, and thought. I can’t post these. I’m not sad today. The sun is shining. Our Christmas family gatherings have been full of love and joy. Yet, God offered me, these words. They must be needed by someone. So here they are.
I remember when
I did not cry.
I feared my pain.
I did not know
Tears healing power.
The dam is cracked.
Tears seep through
There is no patch
To hold them back.
The crack widens
Control is gone.
Those tears pour through.
Unchecked and free
Tears are my words
The best I have.
They’ll wash me clean.
They’ll bring new life.
The December 10, 2017 reading from the Daily Disciplines published by the Upper Room touched my heart. I will share it with you in its entirety. I typed this into my computer this morning before church. I didn’t have time to look for a picture, besides where would I find a picture of a tree covered with white envelopes. When worship was over we went to the church hall for refreshments. This tree stood by yesterday’s bake table, resplendent in it’s white notes waiting to be part of our tree lighting tonight. God incidents never cease to amaze me. I pray this story will speak to you as it did to me. Blessings as you wait for the Christ child.
“Mike hated the commercialism of Christmas. When forced to retire early, he checked out altogether. ‘Get me nothing,’ he crouched, ‘until people understand what Christmas is all about.’ That year, his wife, Nan, gave him a white envelope, which she nestled into the tree. Inside, Nan pledged to sew uniforms for an underprivileged wrestling team. Once she started, Mike decided to help. Together, they sized the children, cut the fabric and befriended the school kids. By year’s end, Mike was ready for another envelope. Each year thereafter, Nan gave him another envelope. The acts of kindness they shared together sprouted throughout their city: birdhouses for a refuge shelter, a playground for an orphaned children’s home, a community garden from a vacant lot. Those became the best years of Nan’s and Mike’s lives.
One year, Mike died just three days before Christmas. Friends and family gathered to share Nan’s grief. On Christmas Eve, Nan placed for Mike, one last envelope into the tree. She awoke Christmas morning to squeals downstairs. As she came down, she saw their Christmas tree covered in white. Dozens of envelopes from every child, grandchild, nephew and niece – pledged acts of kindness in honor of Mike, the man who had come to love Christmas.
How do we wait faithfully for God in today’s wilderness? The prophet Isaiah says, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” We pave a straight path for through acts of kindness, justice, generosity and compassion. When we love, God will come. “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me,’ John says. As sure as a baby’s birth in a manger, as abundant as Christmas envelopes multiplying into the future, God will walk the path laid out. Love will encompass the world.
PEACE WILL COME!!!!!
Dear God, Baby of the Manger, may each act of kindness be a straw in your crib, preparing the way for your coming. Amen
Is faith a magic charm? Some people think so, but not me. Faith is not my “lucky rabbit’s foot”, or special hat that will ensure my life goes smoothly. Faith doesn’t protect me from failure, or accident or illness. Faith won’t even keep my loved ones alive. So what good is it?
Faith is that strength from God that comes when I feel totally overwhelmed. When I’m amazed that I actually survived such a tough time, I know that God joins me in life’s journey. Faith tells me that God’s strength will sustain me through the joys and tragedies that come with living. With faith, I will not just survive, but live creatively. My faith is my anchor for living. I will not lose hope. When darkness surrounds me, God gives me enough light for the next step, and that is all I need.
My faith also calls me to journey in gratitude. I am grateful for the abundant blessings I receive. I am also grateful for God’s presence carrying me, leading me through the storms of life. I am grateful that I can trust that there will be new life at the end of the storm. God will not be defeated.
Forty-five years ago, a sixteen-year-old high school student painted an intriguing masterpiece just for me. It hangs in my living room still today. In the picture, a teenager stands at the water’s edge with her dog. Wind blows her hair and clothes. White caps roll in. Thunderclouds fill the sky. There is a gap in the clouds with just a sliver of sun showing. Sometimes, my guests think the teen is watching a storm coming. Sometimes they see new life in the sun that is peeking through the clouds, bringing an end to the storm. I see faith in that painting. The presence of the son, whether or not he is hidden by the clouds, is always there waiting, loving, giving strength. The teen in the picture can face whatever comes, and whatever has been. For me, that high school student of so long ago captured Jesus’ words, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
When we pray the Lord’s prayer, we say: Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. What is God’s kingdom like?
Jesus said, God’s kingdom is like “45a treasure that was hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again. He was very happy. So he went and sold everything he had. And he bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a trader who was looking for fine pearls. 46 He found one that was very valuable. So he went away and sold everything he had. And he bought that pearl.(Matthew 13:44-46)
Occasionally, we are like the person who discovered the treasure of God’s kingdom. A spectacular sunset, an unexpected act of kindness or forgiveness, a loved one’s hug surprises us. For at least a few moments, we stop and soak in these treasures that touch our hearts. Sometimes we are like the gem merchant. We know God offers us glimpses of God’s kingdom so we live with our eyes and hearts open, seeking them.
In Jesus stories, the people do more than recognize these glimpses of God’s kingdom as a passing wonder. They know the value and so they “sell everything they have” because they want that treasure, that pearl to be with them always.
How do we keep those kingdom moments with us. Whether we’re “religious people searching for experiences of God, or just rushing through our busy days, God offers us these experiences. How do we make them an integral part of our lives to hold, enjoy and share.
Jesus calls us to let go of our endless need for more, endless worry about the future, our overwhelming fear and shift our focus to working with God to build kingdom moments. Every time we gather together to raise funds for special medical treatment for a sick child, or to help the victims of a fire, we are agents of God’s love in the world. With every law our country passes to end mistreatment of indigenous people, the LGBTQ community, the poor, this world takes a step closer to God’s kingdom. With every refugee we receive into our hearts and communities, we are doing the work of God’s kingdom, for we are God’s agents of love and justice in this world. As individuals, when we focus on prayer, sharing, kindness, forgiveness, we create small pockets of love in this world. Actually, the list is endless.
We are selling all that we have. We are taking steps towards love and justice, towards the reign of God in our world. God’s kingdom is coming, a few tiny steps at a time. We can all be a part of the journey. And I am truly grateful. Thanks be to God.
In our country today, there is a large group of people who declare that they are “spiritual but not religious”.
Over the last few years, I have endeavoured to understand this category. When I question those who are spiritual but not religious, they tell me that they do believe in a power, a source of all that is, that is bigger than anything we humans can muster. They add that they are just not interested in attending church or following any religious traditions. They also tell me that they certainly believe in caring for others. I know that to be true because I have experienced them as generous, caring, loving responsible citizens.
As we continued to talk, I have learned that the spiritually but not religious, feel they might need the church for weddings, and maybe funerals. Often they enjoy yoga, or pickle ball, or musical presentations, or quilting or other activities that are held in the church, Occasionally, they end up volunteering in a church sponsored program like the local food bank, or children’s program. My conclusion has been that those who are spiritual and not religious usually see the church building, minister and congregation minister as useful.
This morning, I’m aware that this assumption that the church, supported and manned by other people, will continue to be there even unto the end of the age, may one day be false. As Christians we know that our precious church family, requires our time, our commitment, our gifts. We know God is the foundation of our church family, and yet God is not limited to churches. God already works all over the earth. As our population ages, church workers are becoming fewer and fewer. Without the help of the broader community, your local huch may disappear, as many have over the last few years.
Therefore, if the spiritual but not religious want the presence of “the church” in their community, now is the time to help, with their, time, talents and even their dollars.
Our God is a God of relationships. Jesus gathered a group of friends around him. He was not a solitary person. He knew the support, and joy that comes when a purpose is shared, when we weep together, and when we celebrate together. We, Spiritual and religious people know from experience that we don’t want to miss out on all the advantages of our religious community. So once again we offer an invitation, “Come, join our communities spread throughout this beautiful world. Come. We want you with us. We need you with us. We will share all that we have and all that we are as church communities. We are ready to receive you. Together we can offer love, caring, life cycle rituals, spirituality. Our faith is not meant to turn you away. Together we believe that God, the Creator, that great power of new life, is will us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
“Twoarebetterthanone, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken….”