Tag Archives: prayer

Sanctuary Places and People

Holy spaces, sanctuary places, safe people are already embedded into our real lives. On my morning walk through a nearby wooded area, there is a particular stretch of the walk that I call my sanctuary. The trees form an arch. Light filters through the trees in a way that takes my eyes up every time. No one is usually around. It feels peaceful, holy, set apart and full of God’s presence to me. I worship there regularly.

I have another sanctuary place or two at home. One is my red chair right beside my journals, Bible and devotional materials. In the warm weather, I can see the patio plants, hear the fountain and the birds out there. In the cold weather, I’m close to my fireplace.

I’m fortunate to have access to some dear friends’ lake home where I have another few sanctuary places…a screened-in porch, a deck with a lake view, another wooded walking place.    I’m headed there this week to work on an upcoming retreat I’m speaking at. I can’t tell you the anticipation I feel at the thought of five days of nature, silence, prayer, reading, walking, resting and writing.

I also have sanctuary people. Lovely people who I feel safe and open with. People who have shared lots of layers of life with me. These are the ones who don’t require small talk…we can spend time together that flies by and still not quite have said all that needs saying.

When I was younger and much busier, I wish I would have spent more time recognizing my sanctuary places and people and savoring them sooner. I wish I would have written them all down in a list and put a big “S” by each one. I wish I would have intentionally gleaned out the non-sanctuary places and toxic people or at least minimized my time with them.

In Jesus Always by Sarah Young, today’s entry, she imagines Jesus telling us to look for My unseen presence around you. The beauty of nature and the pleasures of loved ones are reminders, pointing you to Me. What does it mean to look for Christ’s unseen presence?

As I head to the lake sanctuary, I challenge you to make a list of your sanctuary places and people and schedule more time in those holy spaces.

  

Milestones

In days gone by, a milestone was literally a stone or pile of stones which marked the distance along a route. A milestone reassured a traveler of the distance he/she had traveled and that they were still on the right path.

Now it also means an action or event that signifies a change in a stage of life or in one’s development. I think some seasons just have more milestones. May and June seem filled with them: weddings, anniversaries, reunions, school years ending and graduations.

Sometimes milestones seem to come along mildly and well-paced so you have time to mark them, to realize you are there, to feel all the feelings attached to that milestone and to move from where you are to the next phase.  You have time to breathe, take pictures and wipe your eyes with a special hanky. Sometimes you have time to make speeches,  celebrate and have parties and toasts.

And then, there are other seasons, when the milestones just fly by, one after the other with such a fastness about them that you feel out of breath, overwhelmed and wondering what just happened.

In the past week, our youngest child graduated from high school, accepted some scholarships and spoke at church on senior Sunday. We had three different family and friends gatherings, entertained relatives from out-of-town, celebrated his friends’ graduations and told him over and over how proud we are.

In the same week, I had a doctor’s visit where I learned for sure that I can stop taking the medication I’ve been on five years which has caused me countless side effects. I learned I only have to see the oncologist once a year now and can now do mammograms just like other women do, once a year. In the midst of all the other milestones, I cried in the parking lot happy tears of joy because it felt like a giant healing milestone. I wanted to feel it and to give God thanks for it.

Now, while we are still putting away graduation decorations, we are packing for our son’s college new student conference which begins in the morning. We will continue hovering around the milestone of getting him ready to leave the nest in just a couple of months.

In the midst of it all, our baby grandson was trying to play the piano while holding a toy (he’s a multitasker) and fell right on the corner of the piano bench getting his first big boy face boo-boo. His mom and dad were great saying, “Oh he will be fine and kids get bruised.” I could barely take it. I didn’t want that milestone to be at my house.

Milestones. They are everywhere…with so many feelings attached. Psalm 25:6, The Message translation, shares it as a prayer, “Mark the milestones of your mercy and love, God; Rebuild the ancient landmarks.”

God, be with us in our milestone moments. Help us breathe, pause and reflect at each one. Help us to notice the Holy, sweet, difficult passages in our lives and to let your mercy and love enfold each one. Amen

A Bucket of Skunks

I was loading my car early in the morning to head home from my daughter’s house to mine, readying myself for the five-hour drive, when I saw it. Actually, the smell of it came before the seeing. It stopped me in my tracks,  a bucket of dead skunks. Okay, it was a bucket of two dead skunks but that was plenty.

Has that ever happened to you? Probably not, the strangest things always happen to me first. But, haven’t you ever been minding your own business and stumbled across or caught a whiff of some serious unpleasantness? The kind of awfulness that can make you gag?

You know what I mean, that loss that stops you cold in your tracks; that diagnosis you never dreamed would be yours; the huge bill you weren’t expecting to get, that hangs like a dark stinky cloud over your head; that thing your kid did that you had prayed they would never do. Or maybe it is the words spoken that no one can ever erase, like “I don’t love you anymore” or “There’s nothing more we can do.”

The awful smell, the reality of what you see and now know, it’s like a bucket of skunks or worse. Sometimes, life contains skunks.

In this case, this bucket of skunks was the result of a hard night for my daughter and son- in-law, who live in the country. Their dog cornered these two skunks right outside their bedroom window and would not desist. Suffice it to say, the skunks lost and ended up in a bucket. The smell of their fight, permeating the dog, parts of the house and beyond. I actually smelled it from another part of the house in the night and thought my son-in-law was making coffee but that’s a whole other story.  Apparently, when you are sleeping, smells can be deceiving.

And that’s how I, at the beginning of a good day, ran right into a bucket of  very pungent, non-alive skunks.

Is there a Word for this? A faith response to our bucket of skunks moments? I think so.

First, acknowledge it. Go ahead, stop, smell and see that something really rotten has crossed your path.

Secondly, talk about it. No matter how bad it is you have to talk about it. Tell the story. We are still talking about the skunks at our house. Talk about your grief. Talk about that financial pressure you are feeling or how much your job stresses you right now. Talk about your worry over the health thing or the parenting thing or the darkness you feel.

Thirdly, pray about it. Some of the smelliest things I have lifted in prayer have taken on new dimensions under God’s healing light. Psalm 141:1-2, The Message translation even connects our prayers to a pleasing fragrance, “God, come close. Come quickly! Open your ears-it’s my voice you’re hearing! Treat my prayer as sweet incense rising; my hands raised are my evening prayers.” Can skunkiness be transformed into a sweet perfume under God’s watch? Yes.

Fourth, laugh about it if it is not too soon. I promise, there are moments of joy and lightness even in the toughest of things. When I was a little girl, at my first funeral, I could not understand how people were laughing, before, during and after the funeral. Now, I know, because life is mixed, sorrow is bittersweet and joy really  comes, in all situations, even if only for a minute of relief.

As I left town, my son-in-law and daughter were discussing what to do with their bucket of skunks; how to rid themselves of it. I just happily drove away, glad that it wasn’t my bucket of skunks. Which, now that I think about it, is a whole other point. Sometimes what’s ailing us is not even really our concern. What’s that saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”?  It might even apply to skunk buckets.

 

New

For several years now, I’ve chosen a word to guide me in prayer, study and focus. This was not my idea. It is a different kind of Spiritual Discipline suggested by the work of Rachel Olsen and Mike Ashcraft. You can read more about it at http://www.myoneword.org.

At the end of each year, I start making a prayerful list of words that simmer to the surface of my consciousness. I believe God guides this process.  Past words for me have been Radiance, Enjoy…last year’s word was Release. That one was powerful. I released a ton of clutter, my overbooked schedule, a ministry position I’d held for almost 2 decades. I released stress. In the wake of all that releasing, I found so much room to concentrate on the gifts and joy in my life.

My word for 2017 surprised me. It is so simple; so short. I chose the word New. When I told my husband my word, he just stared at me blankly. At first I thought he was thinking, “new? As in new year? new month? new? How boring!” Actually, now that I’m writing this I don’t at all know what he was thinking because I didn’t ask. For all I know he was just trying to figure me out yet again.

As happens when you choose a word, things start catching your attention. Today is only January 2 and already several scriptures have danced in front of me, aligning themselves with my word. Revelation 21:5: “Behold, I make all things new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!.” And this line in a devotional, “I am working newness into your life.”  Jesus Calling Evening by Sarah Young.

This morning I did a word study on this little word, New: fresh, what has not been known or seen before, unfamiliar, untouched.

Yes, it is simple, easy, short and I’m so excited about it. It will be my guiding word. Where will it lead? That is yet to be revealed.

This morning when I walked, I noticed how fresh everything was after our morning storm. I stopped and watched the water rushing by in a creek. The sky was the brightest shade of blue. Everything around me, new. 2017…new.  Yes! .

 

Broken Courage

I was shopping at a cute store in a small town during one of my recent travels. The bracelets I was looking at were unique, a piece of curved  pottery with a word on each. If you purchased a bracelet, a portion of your purchase would go toward helping someone in need. I like that kind of thinking so I was checking them out. Something happened though and a bracelet fell on the floor and broke. I was horrified so I told the young woman I would pay for it.

When she rang up my purchases I told her, “I better see what word I broke.” It was courage. I broke courage.

As I finished my drive home, I thought about the broken courage. It’s actually the only courage I’ve known. I went to seminary at a time when not all that many women had been pastors. Only one of the  four churches I  served had ever had a female pastor before me. It took courage to break ground like that but I did it, one relationship at a time, sermon by sermon, wedding by wedding, funeral by funeral.

I’ve been a hospital chaplain along the way.  I’ve walked into some awful situations to try to represent God to people. I’ve seen some things you would never want to see. I guess it took courage. I just did it one pager call at a time.

My hospice work was the same.  I didn’t know how to help people die well before I just started entering into the lives of terminal patients, one by one. I just tried to trust God and listen to people and it worked.

Being a wife and a mom of three and a grandmother now takes courage.  It takes courage just to love people but also to let them grow, mature, change and disagree with you. It takes courage to realize how much you love them and how incredibly vulnerable you are to whatever happens to them.

Cancer made me call up my courage. Many an appointment or scan, I’ve had to conquer my fear just to show up. Taking a little white pill daily these past five years has stretched my courage because of all the side effects it presents me with.

It has taken courage to endure what’s happening in my home (we are on the third week now of living out of our garage due to a remodel that we orchestrated.)  Americans are having to be quite courageous to make it past November 8, 2016. Do you think we will? I’ve had to try very hard not to either burst into tears or punch people I care about over it.

I’m about to try something totally new that makes me have butterflies in my tummy because I am 100% out of my element. I’m doing it anyway which is the broken and courageous part, I guess.

I’ve pretty much only every had  broken courage  but it works, especially when combined with a dose of faith, prayer and trust.

I’ve got a new treasure I keep in my purse to remind me how it is. It’s a small broken  courage bracelet. And strangely, it is enough.

Attention

If you read my last entry, you are aware that last week I had to move almost everything from inside the house to the garage to get ready for ceiling and floor work at our home. I ended the week sore, bruised and really sick of my stuff. It was particularly difficult in the pantry, finding foods that were at “their best if eaten by 2012.” Yeah.

The man overseeing phase one coached me on how to get the house ready. When I asked him what I should do while they are working he politely said, “Go on vacation?” He laughed but I can take a hint. Thankfully, we have friends that are very generous with their lovely lake house in Oklahoma. They let me squat there whenever I need silence or time away. I once asked them what they would do if I never left. They only laughed nervously and said “You are welcome to stay as long as you want.” Yes, these are the best of friends.

I’ve been here since last Saturday just soaking in fall at the lake. The leaves are contemplating their fall colors: red, gold or orange. The weather is crisp at night and never hot in the daytime. I’ve seen lots of deer, all kinds of birds and of course the squirrels are having the time of their life with a generous helping of acorns everywhere. Right now, I’m on a screened in porch while it rains and gently thunders all around me. It is delicious. Oh, and also I have coffee.

The election is really scarring/scaring me. I’ve been beside myself, addicted to Twitter in a “gawking at an accident kind of way.” My husband even told me, “you’ve got to disconnect from this stuff.” Here, it is easier. First, the wi-fi is non-existent. Secondly, my focus has changed. Here, it is more about the rhythm of the day than of the news cycle. Sunrise and sunset anchor the morning and evening. Walks are longer and without headphones. I’m reading actual books, on my fifth now. My journal entries and prayer time are elongated in a slow and gentle way.

I’ve been reading a book called “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” by Sherry Turkle, a technology professor at MIT. She is like a voice in the wilderness lamenting our addiction to our phones and all things electronic. Our attention is fractured, splintered, shot. We are losing the art of long slow talks and just being able to sit in silence or watch the sky or look out over a body of water.

I’m no better than anyone else. I’m addicted. I can’t seem to pull away from my phone, even here. But, I am aware that I want something different. I am aware that my soul is fed and even anchored by nature, by quiet, by stillness. When I put my attention in the right place I’m assured in powerful ways of God’s goodness and nearness. This morning I was comforted by this old hymn line running through my mind, “Though the wrongs seem oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.”

I have no answers for anything except this: what we attend to matters. I’m going to do my best to attend to creation and the One who creates.

A Tiny Sanctuary: The Mammogram Dressing Room

Once you’ve had breast cancer, there is no such thing as a routine mammogram. Maybe it is routine to the medical team.  Maybe it is routine to others, but not to you. Today, I had my every six month ritual of driving to the place, checking in, waiting, changing in that tiny dressing room, waiting, the actual mammogram and then more waiting.

For the first time since my diagnosis four years ago, I decided to be a big girl and go alone.  My husband reluctantly agreed. When I was driving there, overcome with anxiety and internal drama, tears started flowing and I realized maybe being a big girl was overrated. At the exact moment, I wheeled in to the parking lot, I received a text from my friend Rhonda who was diagnosed at the same exact time as me, with the same exact thing. She knows there is no such thing as a routine mammogram. Her words were a holy, well-timed balm: “Still saying payers. I know how anxious you are.  Close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Feel God’s presence.” I gathered myself, dried my tears and went in.

I tried to tell myself all the good things about mammograms: at least there is an easy, sort of painless way to have this checked out twice a year; at least they don’t weigh you beforehand; at least they are nice there; their wifi password is peaceofmind; they have peppermints; previous cancer patients get to find out that day if they are okay; I always have a good, gentle caring technician who asks me about 700 times if I’m okay.

Once I was ushered into the little dressing room, I realized that was my tiny, every six months, sanctuary, the shelf you lay your clothes on, my altar. Before the mammogram, my prayers were for peace, calm, reassurance; afterwards, it was the place I could cry tears of relief and joy and whisper thank you’s to God and savor, for that moment, my good health,

When I was checking out, the receptionist told me, “Girl, when you were going in, you looked like you were walking the green mile.” I said, “You’re pretty observant, it is a scary walk back there for me.”  There is no such thing as a routine mammogram, but I’m so grateful for it and for the tiny sanctuary moments along the way.