Offerings

This is awkward, because I am not often asked to help with things. Maybe people can just tell I am a klutz by nature, or shy, or I am just that good at not being visible. Whatever, somehow I was noticed and asked to help at my church altar guild.

There is an abbey near Charleston that offers silent prayer retreats where I have gone a few times to regroup my life. I love going there, it is in a beautiful setting on the Cooper River, it is actually the former plantation where Clare Boothe Luce lived as a married woman. Her library is still there. So each morning there is a mass and different retreatants are asked to bring the gifts. This one time I was given the carafe of wine. Terrified, I gingerly carried this beautiful symbol, slowly and thankfully without incident.

So this  should encourage me, and when the chair of the guild told me to decant the pitchers of water and wine I did so, she was at the moment out of the building discussing I supposed something with the priest, I chose a bottle she had been given by a member of the congregation, not the usual label.

Upon her return she exclaimed and laughed uncomfortably, explaining she had not intended it to be used this Sunday, how so many would complain, and had I tasted it? No, I hadn’t, so she poured off some in an empty plastic water bottle, drank a little and made a face like someone who ate a lemon. She shoved the bottle at me, “Here, you try this,” so I did.

It burned like fire.

Now understand no one ever gets more than a taste of wine at the communion rail, but with this wine that’s more than enough. Holy Spirit’s fire is rivaled by this wine. I understood why Native Americans called whiskey fire water. So I offered to pour it back. She totally ignored me! Chattering away, clearly to herself about looking forward to the expressions of everyone as they drank this wine, what the priest would think… and she told me to put the water and wine decanters by the altar.

She showed me how to dress the altar table for the service, how to prepare the chalices, how to fill the candles with oil and the sanctuary lamp and check the wicks. We put the host wafers in the paten, the priest’s wafer in the larger chalice one, placed everything on the altar.

And then we were finished. She collected her things, directed me to the fellowship hall to help her fill the coffee maker tanks with water for after service. Looking at me pointedly as we prepared to leave she mentioned she also had another lady in mind to help with the altar guild.

I think I might have been fired on my first day!

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earthly good

Several years ago I had the privilege of visiting Israel with an Israeli-based organization. I was there 10 days and the tour guide soaked us in Jewish history as well as showing us holy sites where Jesus lived and taught like the church at Cana, Church of the Beatitudes, Galilee, Jerusalem and Golgotha. At times overwhelming, the people in my group and I shared this experience with awe, reverence and humble hearts.

But there was one traveler who seemed to be most interested in attracting the attention of a female traveler. No particular one, just a female.

He seemed a pleasant enough sort, persistent but nice. He was from Colorado and insinuated himself gently but intentionally enough as to remind me of a movie I’d seen a while before, “Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels” with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. It’s a funny film about a couple of con men, I recommend it. (Sigourney Weaver had a movie about two women cons, “Heartbreakers”, also funny).

Anyway, on the flight back to New York I was walking the kinks out of my legs and he offered a cup of coffee. We chatted a short while and he asked which church I attended. At the time I thought it an odd question so I replied I wasn’t really consistently attending and he thought that was ok, most people were too religious to be of any earthly good.

I paused a moment. I’d heard this expression all my life, basically from ne’er-do-wells trying to convince nice people to let their hair down (also heard Luke 12:19 used this way, to which I’d respond with Luke 12:20!).

Proverbs 16:3-9 basically gives advice on living in a way that is pleasing to God. That if you “commit your work to the Lord, your plans will be established”. I’d always heard “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” I’d also heard that we can control our thoughts and thus control our attitudes not just in ourselves and what we do but toward others. The first commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, spirit and soul” and the second: “Love your neighbor…” So what we do really needs to include mindfulness of God, and being considerate, thoughtful and loving of our neighbor who, for a literal person like myself I have to remind me that this is not whomever lives next door or down the street, but anyone. God created each of us, everywhere. So this means any and everyone.

So I wonder when I do or say things, and I have always had an unbridled tongue and an undisciplined mind to my occasional deep regret, the impression or ripples they make. I can’t dwell on this, my little brain hasn’t the capacity. But I offer a prayer asking forgiveness where I have offended, asking encouragement where I have actually done some good. I say done some good because I know there is “no one good but God alone.”

In many cases we’ll never know what kind of mark we have left. I just remember to use my powers for good, or ask God if He will. This doesn’t give me license to do as I please and just assume God will fix everything, clean up my mess. This makes me ultimately responsible for everything I do or say and to remember that no matter how awful the memory or the feeling brought by that memory or the lack of forgiveness from or for whomever, I am forgiven.

I have said this before but I need to know it again. God sent a Savior, His Son. For me, for you, forever.

I pray to be used for His good, His glory.

 

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Prov. 16:3, 23:7; Luke 10:27, 18:19

shadows under the door

So… family vacations. As my brother said, he couldn’t have planned it better if he’d tried.

Day 4 of our week my brother was not feeling well. And this is someone who never feels something to the point of concern. He forges ahead and gets through it.

We drove to a small emergency room not far from where his family and I were enjoying our annual beach week. After a ct-scan he was rushed to emergency at the larger hospital. Two a.m. he was put in a hospital room waiting for surgery.

Irony: They wake you about every half-hour through the night for something. As soon as daylight touches the edge of that windowsill they leave you alone.

So he dozed, on and off. I watched the shadows of medical people’s feet walking past his door. Waiting for those that would stop and take him to surgery. To healing.

Me: “Do you have any Bibles?”

Gift shop person: “No, sorry.”

Me: “Is there a chapel?”

Pink Lady: “I don’t know of one.”

Me: “Are there Bibles, anywhere?”

Pink Lady: “Not that I know of.

I remembered my Bible in the glove compartment in my car, reluctant to leave my brother should those shadows stop for him I ran outside to get it.

He kept dozing. Shadows kept walking. He woke.

Me: “Can I read you a psalm?’

Him: “Sure.”

Me: Psalm 91… basically assuring anyone frightened beyond their wits that God will keep you under His wings, under His feathers.

Comfort.

The shadow stopped. A strong, young man opened the door, asked my brother to give his name, birthdate. Correct patient. My brother heroically gets up out of the bed.

Orderly: “Uh, nope, not having you flashing people down in surgery. Get back in the bed.”

My brother: Laughter.

So he goes. I breathe a prayer to follow him, through pre-op, anesthesia, the cutting, post-op, recovery.

God heard me.

I walk down the hallway toward where the same strong, young man is bringing my brother back to his family, back to consciousness, back to life. I follow them to his room where his wife, daughter, my son are waiting.

Groggily my brother says, “Did he…” can’t finish.

Understanding, I respond: “Laparoscopy.”

Repeat: “Open cut?”

Me: “No. Laparoscopy.”

Brother: “Guy’s a genius.”

My brother is there, he can hear us, he responds, slowly as one coming out of deep sleep would. I joke that I have never in my life seen him inebriated. His wife, “Oh, he’s a happy drunk!”

My brother: “I drive better, too.”

Laughter.

We stay to visit as his nurses check his oxygen saturation which rises and falls like my emotions.

“I’m not going to code,” he says.

We laugh, but cautiously.

He needs sleep. We exit for the night hugging as best we can through tubes and wires promising to return in the morning.

“Love you.”

“Love you.”

Goodnight.

family vacations

Every summer my family went to the same inn at the beach, usually the same week and generally with the same group of people. My brother and I looked forward to this almost like Christmas. It was basically the one week we saw both our parents consistently, unrushed, relaxed.

It was great.

Eight or nine years ago my brother decided to restart this tradition with his family, inviting me to join them. There is only one inn left at this beach, the one where we always stayed blew down in a hurricane about 30 years ago. We still look forward to this.

So I decided I’d show off some North Carolina wines this time. Aside from communion wine on Sunday I don’t drink much but maybe someone will. I had taken my son to a local vineyard for lunch on one of his visits a year or so ago and he enjoyed it. Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I piled in the car late Tuesday morning after a heavy rainstorm. I figured it was over.

I figured wrong.

It’s about an hour’s drive to this winery and I could barely see as I drove. Thankfully not many people were taking their chances so we arrived unscathed. I bought some wine, got back in my car galvanized for the return trip though at this point it had stopped raining.

Picture0810171645_1.jpg* one of the recommended wines *

On my drive home I realized how much I will miss Lily and Lulu. This is not a pet friendly place and I kept telling myself it’s only one week, if I leave late enough and come home early enough it’s really only 6 days. I know one year a lady whose family had been going to this inn for years convinced the proprietors to allow her to bring her ancient chihuahua that she was giving fluids to each day. They allowed it but others at the inn were not so happy complaining it would set a precedent, whatever. Personally I thought it was wonderful that they allowed her to do this. I saw this little dog. Unless you knew she had him you’d never even know he was there.

Some friends tried to convince me to get therapy dog vests. That way my dogs could go with me everywhere. They’d love it! Apparently you don’t have to train your dog, you don’t even need to have a condition that warrants a therapy dog. Not even a doctor’s explanation. You can just buy these vests online. This is something I could not do though. I couldn’t live with myself, not just myself being a fraud, but dragging my dogs into the deception?

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Nope. Couldn’t do it.

So I will wait until the last possible moment to take them to their vacation spot before I go to mine. My brother and his family are driving from Texas. About 18 hours compared to my 2-hour drive. Then my son plans to join us on Tuesday. Though predicted to stay offshore, that’s also just about the same time the tropical storm is scheduled to arrive.

Maybe I will have some of that wine…..

 

 

 

simple gifts

As I began the slow climb up the mountain Aaron Copland’s “Simple Gifts” played on the car radio. Appalachian Spring is a favorite composition of mine. . .  “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ”twill be in the valley of love and delight… ”

I thought of a favorite author, Ann Voskamp’s book “1,000 Gifts” where she found herself at a place I reach occasionally… I can no longer see beauty for the mundane I have built in my own presupposition. So in her book Ann seeks to find gratitude in the hard, unpleasant times in her life. She finds beauty in the angry, strength in the weak. She finds God in her gratitude when she would perhaps find discouragement, instead finds courage.

So I became overwhelmed by that which I had lost sight of, what I failed to notice… rescue dog Lulu tickling me with her whiskers when she hopes to be noticed. Rescue dog Lily slathering my face with a slobbery kiss. Birdsong echoing in the pine thicket where my dogs and I walk at sunrise during summer. Tiny frogs in the eave of my house croaking loudly after a rainstorm. Puddle shimmers on the walkway reflecting under the porch ceiling. The sun gleaming on pine needles. Water droplets edged on grape leaves like tiny crystals.

During my time away I relished the sound of lively conversation and laughter among random small groups chatting happily on the lodge veranda. The gentle creak of rocking chairs as I watched a deer delicately pick her way along the edge of the woods munching leaves. The soft hum of crickets outside my open window where rainwashed, cool fresh air gently blew over my toes. Up the mountain the clouds hovered just below the peaks, hugging the light mist that floated below them. Plodding up each switchback I offered to God my challenges, cares, fears, and a few  tears. I thanked Him as I walked down the mountain, for the answers He would bring, for the comfort I already knew, for the peace over that which I cannot control.

Hope is a simple gift of the heart. It grows through faith and through my answered prayer. When allowed its freedom hope is indomitable, strengthening, comforting, and offers freedom from whatever tries to contain me. I can overcome it, whatever it is.

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Thank You God.

— Shaker lyrics, “Simple Gifts” written by Elder Joseph Brackett, 1848

newness of life

I loved the prayers of the Episcopal church, when I finally listened. My family started in the Presbyterian church, my mom’s church, until the minister left and one replaced him that my dad did not like. So we went to “his” church.

I sang in the choir there, fortunately had a director who was very good at teaching her choir members to read music although I could never look at a note on the scale and know what it should sound like. I always sang soprano. Melody is easier to sing than harmony.

So as I grew up things changed as they are inclined to do, and the church began to fray from its biblical strength. Those beautiful prayers were rewritten so as not to offend or call to responsibility those things we have done, or ought not to have done, where we saw there was “no health in us” and we needed God.

And my life changed, too. I became a single parent, learned to deal with an ex-family, keep a home, find a job (with my dad- challenge), groceries, cook, car maintenance, bills, the whole life bit. So I needed a church where I felt the solid strength of God again. Around then interdenominational churches were becoming popular but they were a far cry from the church I knew as a child. No order of worship, praise songs before the offering, no prayers of humility, thanksgiving, petition, confession. There was a sermon, communion usually once or twice a month. But they did (mostly) center themselves on the Bible. So I went to one for several years, until I stopped hearing what I needed to hear.

I needed and wanted more.

So I found an Anglican church. They use the same prayer book I grew up with so I have those prayers to strengthen me again. And a favorite the priest reads, inviting us before we take the sacraments to intend to lead a new life. And sometimes I need to start over. Find my newness. Like in Romans chapter 6, “newness of life”.

I have a place I go in the mountains. Even in summer there is a freshness, a crispness there. It’s a different place, different air, different people. It is away from everything so nights, even warm nights, the stars are clear and sparkling bright. The crickets and owls are all I can hear.

And if I climb the summit which though it isn’t dramatic it is a workout, I might see a few deer, some bluebirds, butterflies in the wildflowers. Sometimes there is a bear or two though I have not ever seen any. They are shy, I am told if you speak to them or sing or clap your hands they run away. And I ask God to help me cleanse myself of my burdensome preconceptions, misconceptions, anger, dullness, impatience… by the time my newness is restored, it is time to go home.

And any separation anxiety from rescue dogs Lily and Lulu has disappeared as I begin wending my way back home.

Thankful.

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Ps. 121

Skateboards and snapping turtles

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So there’s this great park near where I live. It’s got a huge skateboard ramp, a little pond with a couple of fountains and lots of benches around the pond. Rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I enjoy late afternoon walks around the pond, stopping at the odd bench to sit and feel the cool breeze. As we walk often a skateboarder will stop to pet Lily and Lulu, which they absolutely love, each pushing the other to glean the most pets.

As we were driving out of the parking lot recently I noticed a guy standing by the curb across the street, an odd, dark lump at his feet. So I asked, “What is that?”

“Turtle,” he said.

Me: “Is it dead?”

Guy: “No, I’m kicking it to try to get it to go off in the drain ditch.”

So I get out of the car, walk over. Kicking turtle man has dirty tissues gingerly held in his fingers where clearly he unsuccessfully tried to pick up this pretty large turtle.

“You can’t pick it up,” he says. “It jerks its head around and bites.”

So I bent down, picked the now really angry turtle up by the back edges of its carapace and, sure enough that head stuck way out and swung around to try to bite me. Not having any luck with biting me it seemed to consider its plight, now 3-4 feet floating above ground as I quickly walked it across the street to the pond.

I placed it in the fringed cattail edge and waited. And waited. I don’t know if it needed a moment to recollect itself, having been mortified at actually being touched by humans or it wanted to see if I had other plans. So I stepped toward it. >>Plop!<<

Off it swam, many stories to tell.

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