Monday, April 20, 2015

Meet Your Neighbors

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was a stranger and you invited me in."
Matthew 25:35


The Narrow Gate

Enter through the narrow gate...Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14).  
I have never been fond of this particular passage, but I find myself contemplating it this morning. On January 1 of this year I woke with sciatica, a condition I have had before.  I made some adjustments to my physical activity, including daily stretching, and that has helped enormously. This practice has even nurtured a sense that even I can be a person of discipline.  I have been experiencing enough success that I was beginning to think of sciatica as a thing of the past.  Well, until yesterday when it flared once again.  I think the message this time is that I probably need to become lighter on my feet - the less weight I carry, the more comfortable I can be.  The time has come to pay attention to what I am eating and drinking. I think there is no getting around the narrow gate that is ahead, and it will take some maturity to get through it.    
However, thanks to a small book of reflections entitled, Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life by Jane Marie Thibault and Richard L. Moran, I am feeling more encouragement than discouragement.  Many of us in our youth embarked upon the journey of our lives with the sense that anything could happen; there would no boundary that could hold us back for long.   However, as we approached  our middle years, most of us set down a least a few roots to work on careers and tend to families.  We learned tenacity as we weathered various storms.  We may not have felt invincible, but we were feeling pretty darned strong.  
Yet, about the time we settle in, the third phase of our life begins to make itself known.  We begin to reflect on the past.  What did we do well?  What did we not do so well?  For some, health concerns begin. While it is easy to get discouraged, it is here where we can turn and begin the pilgrimage - the pilgrimage to God.  We have been on this journey our whole lives, but in the last third of our lives, we are given a chance to get more focused.   We let some possessions go, and may find ourselves moving into smaller homes or senior communities.  We usually do become more disciplined, often out of necessity as our bodies change.  There are rewarding moments, but also times of profound loss.  All of these can bring us closer to God, but we do have to let ourselves accept these changes.      
The good news is that God's love is the expansiveness that we yearned for in our youth, and it is worth going through that narrow gate to continue the journey.   Each stage of our lives brings both joys and challenges, and we are shaped by both.  Regardless, God is always there.   That is true whether we are playing with grandchildren in the park, or sitting in the hall of skilled nursing.       
 Let us not waste this precious pilgrimage time, cowering in fear, hiding our age, clinging to outdated youthful images. The only gate that awaits is the gate of love, and however narrow our passage may be, we will all get through.  We have the promise of the Good Shepherd, who assures us no one will be left behind, and this I do believe.  Let us go together.    
Blessed be. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Blue Sweater

While visiting a small skilled nursing community earlier this month, I walked up to a rather anxious looking man to introduce myself. He grasped my extended hand, and before I could say anything, he said with uneasy determination, "My name is Boyd." He was very much struggling to stay afloat and even his name was proving difficult to hold on to.  I was reminded of meeting Vernon in the very beginning of my ministry, close to eight years ago.   I felt that maybe I had just completed one rotation around the sun. 
Friends, I will be sorting through some of my writings, so you may see some older posts resurfacing as I attach pictures.  Your comments are always appreciated. Follow the blog if you are so inclined, and if you ever feel you are receiving too many emails, just let me know.  

I thank you for your presence.  It has always given me the sense that I do not travel alone.  The Boyds, Vernons, Sadies, Marys and all the others are all better served because of you.  

   The Blue Sweater 

One of the earliest poems I can remember contemplating as a young adult was William Carlos Williams’ poem, “The Red Wheel Barrow.” I never have felt that I really understood what he was talking about when he wrote “so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water besides the white chickens,” and I do not think Iunderstand now. But the words of the poem came to mind last week as I found myself thinking about a blue sweater.

Last week, after a worship service, I went over to a man sitting alone. He had taken communion a few minutes before, but he had looked so very sad. I introduced myself, and he reached out and took my hand. Because many of the people I serve struggle with dementia, I am very cautious about asking folks to tell me their name.  During my mother’s illness, people were always asking her what her name was. The question would often cause her much anxiety when she could not remember. Yet, despite my sense of trepidation, I decided to ask. Sure enough, he panicked and said he did not know. He grasped my hand tighter, paused a moment, and we took a deep breath together. He then exclaimed, “Vernon! My name is Vernon!” We talked for a bit, and during our conversation I noticed his beautiful blue sweater with large buttons. His sweater had been knitted in a shade of blue that matched his eyes. I could not help but comment, “Vernon, I think someone who loves you gave you that sweater.”

He smiled. He could not quite remember, but he smiled. 

I recognized that sweater because even though I knew my father kept his house a balmy 87 degrees, I was always sending him a sweater, especially after my mother died. Just in case. Just in case he got cold – or lonely. In my mind they were one in the same,
and the distance between Texas and California led me to distrust the weather report. Too often, I simply could not be there just to make sure that all was okay, so I would send a sweater. 

Therefore, while I might underestimate the importance of a red wheel barrow and a white chicken, I think I understand a little bit about the hope that can be knitted into a blue sweater – the hope that love can identify us long after our names, our jobs, our successes, and our failures have faded away. I believe we can trust that compass reading. In the unmapped and too often unclaimed realm of love, there God calmly sits and calls us by our real name: God’s Own.

Friday, April 10, 2015

In Just a Moment

I noticed a bent over elder man, 
standing patiently at a front door.
When the door was opened     
He did not immediately go in.
 He paused   
and wiped his feet before going through.

In that moment I heard a voice call to him from a kitchen years ago, 
“Wipe your feet!  Dinner’s almost ready, so go wash your hands.”   
I saw a young boy about to rush across the threshold
But pausing, just in the nick of time, to quickly brush his feet across the mat.      
He does not know how grateful she is for that front porch screen creaking sound
That lets her know he is safely home.  

I do not know what heaven looks like, 
but maybe for a moment,
it will smell of something tasty
like chicken soup and chocolate cake,
or sauerbraten and warm linzer torte,
or some other delicious fare
 made with hands that cherished us
and souls that wanted us to do well in this life.

Then, we can pause in happiness
 that the meal is ready,
that any dirt or mud we have tracked through this world is gone,
and God is grateful because we are home.  


Friday, April 3, 2015


Good Friday found me distracted by work postponed, emails not sent, and other nagging voices, all my own.  As I drove across the bridge, I started thinking that maybe after leading worship this morning, I might not go to a Good Friday service but rather come home.  Get something done.
However, the service I led was at a long term memory care community that I deeply love. As we talked of life and death and resurrection and the rolling away of the stones to set our own love free (yes, these kinds of conversations do happen in memory care), I suddenly felt deep gratitude.  Not only for the beloved community that gathered with me, but for Jesus.  In that moment, I remembered that if it were not for Jesus, I probably not be standing among these people I love.  I would not be hearing their songs and their laughter; I would not  be hearing their beautiful voices when we say the Lord's prayer together.          
I decided to go to the Good Friday service. It was beautiful, and at least for a few minutes I was able to lay my burdens at the foot of the cross and weep, something I do not do enough of.   And again, I felt gratitude for this wondrous, timeless love  that continues to hold us together, even when it seems we are completely falling apart.    
Thank you, Jesus.  I think I am just about ready for Easter.