Long Days. Restless Nights.

The last two days have been long. Long and full of hard tasks. I don’t mind the hard work… It’s what I’m called to do.

Maybe it was the dark and hairy commute home after seeing my last patient. Maybe it was the emotional stress. But I didn’t sleep so well last night.

I started home last night after prayers at the bedside of a sweet saint. Earlier in the day I met with another family and made funeral plans. And I talked with still others about the reality of saying “good-bye” before many more “hello’s” go by.

I sat in traffic. I creeped and crawled my way home. For a good 15 minutes, my speedometer looked like this:

IMG_6747.JPG

Yeah. That was fun. There ought to be a rule about how many minutes your car can be in “park” on an interstate…

So what do you do? I flipped on the news and traffic station, and the announcer said, “Pick your lane and stick with it.” I mulled that one over. For several hours.

Perseverance. Determination. Focus.

“Pick your lane and stick with it.”

Keep trying. Listen to that still, small voice. Know yourself and do what you do best.

“Pick your lane and stick with it.”

Even when it’s frustrating. Even when you’re misunderstood. Even when (especially when) you aren’t sure what’s next…

“Pick your lane and stick with it.”

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is?

Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care
If so I can’t imagine why
We’ve all got time enough to cry

– Chicago

Today was my first day keeping tabs on the time since we ended Daylight Savings time over the weekend. Every time I looked at a clock or my watch, I didn’t know if it was set correctly or not. Every. Stinking. Time.

My car is set ten minutes fast so that I get places on time. (Yes I know that I know I’ve set it ahead– it still helps.)

My alarm clock sets itself automatically once I sync my phone to it. It’s so smart!

My phone is always correct, assuming that I remember to charge it.

IMG_6744But the piece of jewelry I wear on my wrist… who knows? The ‘extra’ clock in my office? probably not. So I spent today checking the time on my phone, and then setting (or confirming) the time on the regular timepiece. It got a little comical when someone asked me the time and I pulled out my phone.

“My kids do that all the time,” she said. “It drives me crazy!”

I nodded. “Yeah, mine do it as well. But it just so happens that today, I don’t know if my watch is right or not. But I know my phone is!”

Sometimes when I walk into a room and see my patients, they have no idea what day it is, or even the time of day… Is it after lunch or before breakfast? It is Tuesday or Friday? And who is this friendly visitor, any way?

On a day full of appointments, meetings and tasks, I moved from one to the next. Time flew. And I kept wondering, “what time is it?”

I was reminded today of one of my overseas experiences that taught me about our modern obsessions with the clock. My host country called it “tick-tick time” — we Westerners were so caught up in what the clock said. They, on the other hand, were more interested in the events and people around them. Time itself was not important in the grand scheme of things.

On a day like today, when I never knew the time (until I looked at my phone) I realized how much healthier that is.

Tempus fugit said Mrs. Shinn from The Music Man.

She was so right.

The Last Rose of Summer

lastrose

Tonight the overnight temperature is predicted to go well below 40 degrees. I decided that I wouldn’t risk my roses another day, but brought in the last blossoms on the bush. The rose is a “Peace Rose” and the flowers meld from peach to yellow to pink as the bud swells and opens. The rose also has a gentle fragrance, too.

But it’s November 1st, and the reality is that we are deep into Autumn, and the rose is done blooming for the year. It’s later than most years. I’ve loved looking at it out my kitchen window all summer.

I went out and clipped the last blossoms of the bush and brought them in… I inhaled the fragrance and admired the glossy leaves, the tiny thorns. It was one last gasp of beauty before we have the cold, chilly days and long evenings of winter.

Then I realized… how many times do we have a “last” moment — and don’t stop to appreciate it? What ends, and you suddenly realize that it’s gone from your normal routine? There’s many of these milestones in life…

– the last time you clean crayon off the walls

– the last time your hold the bicycle while they wobble down the street

– the last time you see a friend or relative

In hospice, we know that just about any time could be a “last time”… We try to affirm the life well-lived, and remember to appreciate each interaction. It’s part of mindfulness, being thankful, showing appreciation, and honoring others…

All these events can slip by unrecognized for how special they are. Today, for me, was a day to ‘stop and smell the roses.’

Ad majorem Dei gloriam

To the greater glory of God.

Joining the Carnival: Sacred Pauses

From a RevGal, I found out about a blog “carnival” on the theme of “Sacred Pauses.” It intrigued me, so I decided to give it a whirl. 🙂 April Yamasaki will be offering other writing prompts as a part of her book launch, but I’m starting this “cruise” with my own reflections.

Last month as part of NaNoBloPo (National Blog Posting Month) the questions focused on “energy” — what gives you energy? what drains your energy? where do you find the best place to recharge? what superpower do you want to have so you’ll never run out of energy? (and so on…) I confess that I lost steam part-way through the month when life got complicated and my wacka-doodle schedule (working overnights as a hospital chaplain) depleted my reserves. I found some good ideas among the prompts. The ones that caught my fancy were the ones which asked us to blog about how one gets re-energized.

What an excellent question!

It took several years for me to begin to figure out that just because an author says “this is how you achieve spiritual renewal” that it didn’t necessarily apply to me. Sitting in silence? Maybe occasionally. Doing qi gong or standing meditation? Not so much. Then there was the sweet suggestion of using a rag and scrubbing my kitchen floor on my knees, all the while praying. Uhhhh… no.

Depending on the pace of my day, I have learned to stop and do a gut-check. What do I really need for refreshment? A phone call with a friend? Playing a mindless video game? (Yes! there are times that’s perfect!) Take photos? Attempt knitting? Take a walk? Go on a silent retreat? Just sit and read? Play my piano?

The key is stumbling and bumbling around until I understand — “where is God missing?” in my spiritual/social/physical/psychological matrix. It’s not an exact science. It’s not even a coherent cookbook-like process, necessarily. I’ve tried this discipline and that writer. I’ve done Ignatian/Hildegard/Rumi/Psalms. Nice idea for some. But not necessarily for me, at least, not as a daily, rigorous spiritual diet. (In fact, I view with extreme skepticism those “5 Steps to Spiritual Growth” books because usually they do not match MY steps. But I digress…)

Today was a perfect example of how NOT to stay focused and refreshed. I played phone tag with the tax preparers. I made lists and read a little Medical Ethics (yawn) for my class. I read some more on theodicy for a paper I’m presenting later this month. (Note to self: FINISH IT!) And then I thought I’d just dash off on a few errands, come back and have lunch and then get back to writing and studying.

EXCEPT… the car battery was dead. For reasons unknown, it was nonfunctional and I was not happy. I called Bearded Brewer who coached me through using the charger. I dithered around for an hour, waiting to see if the battery charger would give my car enough juice to get back on track again. (It did. And I kept my fingers crossed and went off on maneuvers.) But it just “done me in.”

Prrrrrr...
Prrrrrr…

The car battery? That’s an easy enough fix. What took considerably more time was my emotional equilibrium. Because when I let myself stay “stewing” I’m spewing a lot of extra energy. (I figured it out. Eventually. And things are cool now. The battery may or may not need replacing. Or the alternator. Or the starter. But whatevs.)

Today what reset my grump-o-meter was a bit of Henry. A few scritches. A wuzzle. And a lap cat. Prrrrrrfect.

Finding that place to refresh, refocus, renew – that’s what a “sacred pause” is for me. And I’m looking forward to blogging more about that.

When We All Suffer: Lessons learned from commuting on the DC Metro

For the second Sunday after Epiphany, Year C

The rudeness of the people shoving their way around each other, fighting for entry into a Metro car always surprises me. There will another train in 3 minutes during rush hour. Just chill, people! But no…

On one occasion, I stepped back to allow someone to exit. The person right behind me, jabbering away on his cell phone, sensed a gap in the Force and surged around me, not realizing that a person in a wheelchair is trying to get off the train. He stopped abruptly and they did a little shuffle. Left. Right. Left. The man was trapped in the flow, the last person trying to get off as we all waited to get on.

I finally spoke up. “WAIT A MINUTE! Let him off!”

The guy snarled obscenities to me, deliberately kicked the other guy’s wheelchair so that it turned sideways, half on the car and half on the platform, and vaulted over him onto the train. Two of us managed to help him pull free just as the doors closed. Everyone behind me groaned.

“Sir, are you OK?” He looked up, angry.

“I’m fine. Thank you!” He snapped. He wheeled away, yelling for people to move out of his way. I stepped back from the edge of the platform slightly, still guarding my place where the doors would open for the next train.

I looked around at my fellow commuters. Not one would meet my eyes. Everyone was suddenly very busy, scanning their smart phones. Did they not care? Or were they just embarrassed?

The next train came, and since I had not moved, I was in a perfect position to get on the train and find a spot to stand. Shaking my head, I settled into a secure standing position near the front of the car and braced myself for the commute home. Maybe I’d find a seat soon. I slipped automatically into my “Metro zone,” finding my earbuds and being watchful of my setting without staring at anyone. It’s a necessary skill for commuting.

“You know, I think you did the right thing, watching out for that guy,” said the man next to me. I looked up, pausing to stick in my earbuds. The man was about my age and dressed in a well-tailored charcoal grey suit. “People become animals when they think no one knows them.”

We had a short conversation about the inhumanity of the Metro system, and then both of us retreated into our personal electronic devices.

What would it take to change someone’s manners on the Metro? Perhaps having to BE in a wheelchair himself? As I mused, I thought about how often we deliberately ignore or minimize the pain of others.

Sometimes it’s quite deliberate. If I take the time to acknowledge your pain, then I might need to help you. Or listen to you. Or do something about it. And if I don’t I feel guilty.

Other times, it’s because I’m oblivious. I’m wrapped up in my own questions and pondering, and I can literally step right over yours. (Though in the case of the wheelchair-bound Metro commuter, I don’t know what would have made him more noticeable to everyone, besides a klaxon…)

It seems to be our selfish human nature that we respond with a self-centered OUTTA MY WAY! when faced with the obstacles of caring for and dealing with others. Being responsive to others can slow you down. Mess up your “A Game.” Or, in the case of my pushy Metro friend, make you miss a train.

But in these words of Paul, we are shown how when one of us suffers, we all suffer…

I Corinthians 12:12-31

12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.

14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. 19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” 22 Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. 23 The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. 24 The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor 25 so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.

27 You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. 28 In the church, God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, the ability to help others, leadership skills, different kinds of tongues. 29 All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they? 30 All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they? 31 Use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way.

The theme of humanity’s interconnectedness appears in other places in Scripture (Romans 12:5 and Ephesians 4:25, for starters). It is woven into Christ’s parables and sermons. It is such an important theme that it was among the first Messianic scriptures read by Christ in the synagogue:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As someone who names Christ as my Redeemer, I am called to consider how I will help the poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed. While vocationally I am frequently caring for the sick, where is my compassion when I am out of my chaplain’s garb? Where does the “every-day Deb” see the needy around her? When do I notice and when do I turn my head away? While not every need is mine to cover, I know in my heart when I’ve disengaged because it was not convenient. Or comfortable. Or clean. Or (let’s face it) when no one else would notice if I didn’t help.

Perhaps I also don’t want to get involved because I don’t like the person I see. They do not live as I live, or pray as I pray, or agree with my doctrine/political party/sports team. I might make a petty decision to ignore them just because they are not “like me” enough.

When I DO decide to get involved, it’s not about the guilt. It’s about the grace. The gift of God to us. That’s what motivates, empowers and frees me from my agenda to search out God’s agenda for my day. It’s knowing that I have somehow, despite my own struggles, insecurities and plans, found a way to make the love of God shine like a light in the darkness. Feebly. Painfully. In spite of me. In spite of all of us.

That’s God at work.

‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
Jesus. (Matthew 25)

Son of God
Shaper of the stars
You alone
The dweller of my heart
Mighty King
How beautiful You are, how beautiful

Son of God
The Father’s gift to us
You alone
Were broken on the alter of love
Precious Lamb
Our freedom’s in Your blood, It’s in your blood

Jesus, Oh Holy One
I sing to You
Forgiven
Savior, I’m overcome
With Your great love for me

Son of God
Strenght beyond compare
You alone
The darkness cannot bear
Lord of love
Your kindness draws me near, it draws me

Son of God
Prophecy of old
You alone
Redeemer of my soul
Come again
And lead your people home, come lead us home

You are worthy
You are worthy
You are worthy of all my praise

You are beautiful
You are beautiful
I will lift up my hands and singSon of God
Shaper of the stars
You alone
The dweller of my heart
Mighty King
How beautiful You are, how beautiful

Son of God
The Father’s gift to us
You alone
Were broken on the alter of love
Precious Lamb
Our freedom’s in Your blood, It’s in your blood

Jesus, Oh Holy One
I sing to You
Forgiven
Savior, I’m overcome
With Your great love for me

Son of God
Strenght beyond compare
You alone
The darkness cannot bear
Lord of love
Your kindness draws me near, it draws me

Son of God
Prophecy of old
You alone
Redeemer of my soul
Come again
And lead your people home, come lead us home

You are worthy
You are worthy
You are worthy of all my praise

You are beautiful
You are beautiful
I will lift up my hands and sing.

Epiphany 2C — Isaiah 62: 1-5, That New Name…

Have you ever been in a place where you needed a fresh start? Maybe wanted to get a whole new identity and start over?

During my last semester in seminary, we were required to attend a Spiritual Formation class that included a short retreat with our classmates and professor. My prayer partner and I arrived on campus exhausted and ready for a break. She was in the throes of denominational schism and conflict, her application for ordination in the netherlands of bureaucracy. I was in a difficult ministry setting and was ready to quit ministry completely.

One morning at the retreat center, I headed out with my camera. It was quiet and crystal clear. I wrestled with my doubts.
Why was I in seminary?
Why was every door of opportunity being slammed shut?
Why wasn’t I drawn to the typical “women’s ministry” or “children’s ministry” positions?
(It’s not that I don’t think women should NOT fulfill those roles — they just weren’t for me.)
And why, above all, were the alternatives not clear?

I was silent. I watched. I looked. I prayed. And took pictures. Several photos later the images spoke volumes to me. It was as if God said, “Do not fear the opposition. Do not assume that conflict means you are in the wrong. I will make a way. I have a place for you.”

25005_376337896342_7625635_n
Stubborn stump growth from a beaver-felled tree
25005_376337861342_382589_n
Persistence and perseverance on my path.
25005_376337796342_2656551_n
Finding my way through the forest.
25005_376338006342_5580819_n
Letting God see the depths of my heart.
Goose paddling contentedly in the swamp
Geese paddling contentedly in the swamp

The beauty of this week’s passage is rooted in a theme of recovery and restoration. The Jewish people had been restored to their Land. Weary and wounded, they wanted assurance that God had heard their prayers for relief.

And God, the Faithful One, had responded. In this passage, in the context of the post-exilic era, God makes several precious promises to the people. And they are for the Church today, too!

Hear the Word of the Lord from Isaiah 62

1 For Zion’s sake I won’t keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I won’t sit still
until her righteousness shines out like a light,
and her salvation blazes like a torch.
2 Nations will see your righteousness,
all kings your glory.
You will be called by a new name,
which the Lord’s own mouth will determine.
3 You will be a splendid garland in the Lord’s hand,
a royal turban in the palm of God’s hand.
4 You will no longer be called Abandoned,
and your land will no longer be called Deserted.
Instead, you will be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land, Married.
Because the Lord delights in you,
your land will be cared for once again.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so your sons will marry you.
With the joy of a bridegroom because of his bride,
so your God will rejoice because of you.

God answered the hurting by promising that instead of being called Abandoned and Deserted, they would be God’s Delight. They would be married again to their Land and their God. And the most beautiful promise of all was this:

You will be called by a new name,
which the Lord’s own mouth will determine.

ָח ָדׁש ֵׁשם Yes! The NEW NAME!!!

The New Name
The New Name

At the Spiritual Formation retreat, we were each challenged to lay aside our goals, dreams and plans and to allow God to remake them and redirect us. For my prayer partner and I, this was especially poignant. Lay down our old dreams and hopes, and take on God’s? But what we wanted to do for God was not bad! In fact, we thought it was exactly what God asked. We set down a rock we had found on our morning walk, and picked up a stone with the NEW NAME on it.

It is a humbling thing to be brought to the place of “losing” everything, as the exiled Jewish people had experienced, only to be restored with God’s glory shining more glorious than before. They could not have known or predicted how God would do it. It was enough to know that God was at work. And that God would rejoice because of them.

In the almost three years since that retreat, I’ve had my “new name” rock with me on my desk at work, at home, in my pocket when I preach. It is present to remind me that I can keep going where God leads, as God leads. I don’t have to know all the specifics. I just need to know WHO leads me. There have been times that the journey has been disappointing, and other times where I knew in the depths of my heart that I had LISTENED and God was pleased.

37336_440866366342_5108995_nAs the Spirit has led, I’ve been challenged, encouraged and filled with peace. I have been given that New Name which is God’s gift to me. Not the same as anyone else’s. I nodded in agreement as I read Paul’s words in I Corinthians 12:

4 There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

Where you are today – I hope you sense that God has led you into the “activity of the Spirit” that makes God’s glory shine. As for me, I’m learning how to shine on! It is not easy. And doubts and questions will still come. But I know I’m on the right path, because God makes the way. It requires no wrestling, or worrying, just following!

Thanks be to God!

NaBloPoMo: Superpowers

I’m combining two prompts into one today:

If you were a superhero, what would be your hidden superpower? and…

As a superhero, would you rather have extreme strength or extreme speed?

 


Boy. It’s hard to come up with a superpower. On the days that  I am feeling invincible, I’d want a superpower like being able to HEAL someone with a touch. Or provide the perfect analogy to a pressing argument. Or perhaps, to have discernment and help someone see the root of the issue.

And then, I realize, that sounds a lot like Jesus. So I stop lusting after a superpower and go back to being an every day, normal (I think) human being, trying to show love and compassion and make a difference in the world.

Tom Brokaw is quoted as saying, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”

I think I’ll keep pursuing making a difference. I’m up for that challenge.