Summer Porch Prayers

In the summertime and early fall, I spend a fair amount of time inside our screened-in front porch in the mornings with a cup of coffee and the daily readings.  The air temperature has cooled overnight and I usually catch a light breeze.  It’s not exactly quiet, but a good deal of the sounds at least in the early morning hours are birds or squirrels.  Eventually more and more cars drive by and it’s not quite as peaceful, but porch time is still the most reflective part of the day for me.

On our street this summer, one family has moved away and now another house has a dumpster nearby and I’m wondering if they, too, will be leaving or perhaps they are cleaning or remodeling.  The neighbors’ house on the other side of the dumpster has had some landscaping done and there’s a vivid pink flowering plant in full bloom this morning, with that dumpster just a few feet away on the driveway behind it.  Maybe the coffee just hasn’t kicked in yet, but that image of beauty and growth (pink plant) in contrast with that green dumpster (used to get rid of garbage) resonates with me this morning.

I am thankful for my husband who has spent far more time than me this summer in the garden and attending to the weeds. The back patch of garden once again has color and life and new growth, as if it were just waiting to be uncovered and set free from all that was holding it back from really growing.

What am I willing to cast off in the dumpsters or weed piles of my life today?  Are there grudges or fears or insecurities weighing me down?  What kind of new growth do I hope for, dream of, desire?  These, my friends, are the questions that I ponder while my little city street awakens to yet another day.  I share these thoughts with you and rest assured that THE Master Gardener of All hears my prayers.

Elusive Rainbows and Other Such Things

Can I just say that this has been the weirdest summer ever?  I cannot really articulate too much on this statement but I assure you, dear reader, what I write is true.  I entered the month of June with great hopes for some summer enlightenment and as July prepares to bid us adieu, I have yet to glean anything that is transformative or even remotely helpful.

I am convinced, however, that life provides plenty of teachable moments and while the big questions of the universe have not been revealed to me so far, this summer, I have been graced with wonder and awe in little snippets, always just enough to remind me that God’s grace is all I need.

In my carefully scheduled, over-planned daily calendar of events, God has revealed beauty, humor, persistence and a reminder to me to remain humble.

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.”
(Isaiah 55:8) 

 When I start taking myself way too seriously, which is often, that’s when I notice a little chipmunk racing across the road or a mother deer splashing in a puddle with her two babies.  As I lament my unfinished daily “to do” list, I think of two other moms whose lives were cut far too short by cancer.  Suddenly my “problems” seem rather insignificant in the greater scheme of things.   As I fret about upcoming transitions in our family life, I am comforted by the many ways God has intervened over the past fifty-one years and has never given me more than I can truly handle.  Why would it be any different now or in the days ahead?

Not every day is a rainbow day or a good hair day or a low-stress day.  Some days ARE better than others.  But just the promise of an occasional rainbow or little snippets of wonder and awe sustain this determined disciple.  Your grace IS enough, LORD.

Shiny Blue Portapotties on a Flatbed Trailer

I was recently driving to the local post office and found myself behind a large truck that was transporting two portapotties on a large trailer.  They were probably on their way to a weekend graduation event or an outdoor venue of some type but as soon as I saw them, I knew I had to reflect on this image just a little bit more.

You see, when I saw those portapotties, I was reminded that even the most wonderful life events must allow for a little bit of a mess.  Just think about the arrival of a newborn infant and the number of diapers used in those early days or the process of housebreaking a furry canine family member.  In a roundabout way, I am talking about hospitality here, friends.  Planning for a houseguest or planning a party for a large group entails carefully anticipating what the other person(s) will need to be comfortable.  Every little detail matters, not just the ones that we find easy or pleasing or exciting.

Am I going out on a limb if I say that the same can be true of practicing my faith?  It’s easy for me to fall into that “same old, same old” routine of praying or even to put aside my morning Scripture reading now that summer is here and the living is easy.  Maybe I find myself in a prayer “rut” or becoming increasingly negative, even “judgy” at times.  Those subtle changes inside prompt me to delve a little deeper, and, above all, face the mess.  Just like securing enough portapotties for an outdoor event, it’s up to me to keep being present to God and others in prayer and relationships.

In a general audience on May 15, 2013, Pope Francis shared the following words: “This is a prayer we must pray every day: ‘Holy Spirit, make my heart open to the word of God, make my heart open to goodness, make my heart open to the beauty of God every day.’”

I’m waiting for a daily devotional that I ordered from our local bookstore to come in today and once it does, I’m back into the routine.  You see, part of my “mess” is that what I was reading daily to accompany the daily readings just wasn’t touching my heart or reaching me anymore.  I needed something more and turned to prayer, and re-committed to “showing up” for God and the people in my lives this summer, to truly be PRESENT.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Graduations, Celebrations and Good-byes

Our June calendar historically is the time for dance recitals, high school graduations and other end-of-the-year celebrations.  At such occasions as these, we often see people we possibly have not seen in a while and it is wonderful to re-connect, even for a few short hours.  We reminisce about favorite times in the past, comment on how things have changed, and often promise to “get together…soon.”  Eventually, though, we must part again, and let’s face it, good-byes aren’t always easy.  It may sound simple and too sentimental, but I just don’t think there’s ever enough time.

 

I am thankful that we have happy occasions to celebrate, but sometimes I’m at a loss for words when saying good-bye to someone I won’t see for possibly a very long time.  Do you ever feel this way?  Some people have a way with words, but I tend to get tongue-tied in the moment, or am moved to tears at that moment of good-bye.  Tears of both gratitude and sadness, tears of love and friendship.

In Scripture, we see some good-byes including those from Paul in Acts 20, in Ephesians 6, and in 2 Thessalonians 3.   The following words from Numbers, though, are both a blessing and a good-bye:    The Lord said to Moses:  Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them:  The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them. (Numbers: 6 22-27)

 

So, when faced with good-byes, if words fail you, remember you are not alone and that good-byes are only poignant because the moments shared have been so wonderful together!

 

Lake Thoughts

There’s a line in a Lee Ann Womack song that says I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.  I don’t live anywhere near an ocean, but am fortunate enough to live in a small city by a very large lake.  I’m not a boat person and I’ve never even been on a jet ski, but I often go to the water and just sit.  It doesn’t matter what time of year or what kind of weather because in all seasons, I find the lake to be beautiful and peaceful and so much bigger than me or any of my individual cares or concerns.  The lake has existed long before I arrived in this city and the lake will be around long after I am gone.  And that, for some reason, is extremely comforting.

Last evening my daughter and I watched the sun set on the lake while a few little children were throwing rocks into the water.  Twelve hours later, I can still hear their excited laughter at the waves washing ashore.  Those giggles sounded like pure joy mixed with a little wonder and awe at this very large body of water and all its power. I thought of our own three children, especially as our nest at home begins to feel emptier and emptier.  I silently thanked God for the memories of laughter and summer ice cream cones and sunsets on that same lake.

Going to the water is like a re-set button for me.  The lake does not require me to do anything but just sit and watch and listen.  I don’t have to come up with solutions or defend my positions or solve problems that seem unsolvable.  The water keeps my ego in check.  Sitting and looking at the lake fills me up again with wonder and awe of our gracious God.  I need the water just as I need my family, my prayer community and my friends.

I hope, dear friends, that you find some refreshment and peace this summer in whatever quiet moments you hold dear.  Just like water, life is precious.  Make each sunrise and sunset count.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bumper Sticker Reflection

This morning on a rainy drive to drop off our daughter at school, we were behind a vehicle with a bumper sticker that read Purr More, Hiss Less.  Not knowing the driver, I made a hasty assumption that the vehicle owner most likely is a cat person, but I really don’t even know that for sure.  That simple sticker, though, has given me something to ponder as I sip the second cup of coffee and look out the window at a rather grey day.

One of the daily readings this week is from Mark 12:  28-34.  In it, Jesus tells us about the two greatest commandments:

 The first is this:  Hear, O Israel!   The Lord our God is Lord alone!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Each day, each hour, each minute of our lives we are given the opportunity to either “purr” or “hiss.”  When we choose to love one another, when we respond in compassion to others’ actions instead of reacting in anger or mistrust or neglect, we work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

I have learned over the years to consciously turn each day over to God and ask for strength and guidance so that I may fully love my family, my neighbors, my co-workers and friends.  This also means loving those I don’t know yet.  I often miss the mark and end up hissing, growling, sulking or retreating to have a pity party.  These moments don’t last long but are a reminder that I’m still a work in progress and have a long way to go!  But I find strength in these words from Mark and I am strengthened by the love of those who accept me in all my brokenness.  I am made whole in God’s love and will continue to look for God in everyone I meet today.  I want others to know that I am a woman of peace and love without having to read the back of my car for validation…but then again, I wonder if I can just find a sticker that says that just in case?

Garden Lessons

Do you like to cook or bake?  If so, you might find great comfort in following a recipe.  I know I do, especially when baking.  There is a certain security I feel in knowing that if I follow all the directions precisely, most often the desired results will occur.  The bread will rise or the cookies will bake or the pie crust will turn a delicious golden brown.

Unfortunately, I have discovered that gardening in many ways does not follow this same rule of certitude.  I can sow the seeds at just the right time, water on schedule, plant in full sun or partial shade depending on the flower’s or vegetable’s needs, etc.  I can seem to do everything “by the book” and yet the plants may succomb to a virus, a fungus or some furry creature with a hearty appetite (yes, Mr. Squirrel, I’m talking to you).   So does that mean I stop planting a garden just because there are many factors I just cannot control?  No way.  That would be far too easy.  Planting a garden involves taking a leap of faith and often consulting others for help.

Discipleship, like gardening, my friends, is not for the faint of heart.  For fifty-one years, I have, more often than not, stuck to my Catholic Christian faith.   Along the way, though, there have been times where I’ve given in to temptation, anger, pride, and the list goes on and on.  I’ve frequently had to turn to others for advice and this life has required a daily, sometimes hourly leap of faith.  I’ve come to rely on God and others in my faith community for strength and support.   I am not the textbook example of the perfect Christian if there is such a thing, but I am strengthened when I read in Acts of the Apostles 2: 46-47 that “every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.”  Isn’t that what we are all about as a parish family?  

It’s just the beginning of a new gardening season at our home and we are just about to begin Ordinary Time again in our church home.  I can be prepared for some things and do my best to stick with the plan, but I’m also getting ready for whatever yet unknown variables that may or may not come my way.  I’m going to try to enjoy both the garden and parish life to the best of my ability each day.  In the end, it’s all up to THE Master Gardener anyways, isn’t it?

Sticks and Stones

I had better lead off with a little disclaimer, friends.  Today’s blog does not contain puppies, rainbows or glitter.  This is not a comfortable topic for me to address but one that weighs heavily on my heart of late.  For lack of a better term, I will call it Social Media Shaming.

Remember the poem when we were children, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me?”  We all know that was not true then and it’s not true now.  Words sting, and words accompanied by a photo online can spread like wildfire when people feel free to comment and add their own “two cents’ worth.”   During the past year, I have scrolled through my daily newsfeed and seen postings by friends complaining of how someone parked their car at the mall, neighbors with untidy yards or Christmas lights left up too long, etc.  Someone offends me and now there is an immediate audience for my anger.  Snap a picture and send it out to everyone I know.  After all, it’s a free country, right?

If you read Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery as a student, you might remember how easily all the townspeople picked up those rocks when Tessie unfortunately drew the paper with the black dot on it.  Worse yet, people grabbed the rocks even BEFORE they knew who would be the target.  I beg you to consider that the Comment button on Facebook or Instagram can be like a rock or like an olive branch and should be used with care and compassion.

Pope Francis, in a homily at the Vatican on November 13, 2016 stated:

“What endures, what has value in life, what riches do not disappear? Surely these two: the Lord and our neighbor. These two riches do not disappear! These are the greatest goods; these are to be loved. Everything else – the heavens, the earth, all that is most beautiful, even this Basilica – will pass away; but we must never exclude God or others from our lives.”

 We can all do better.  We must strive to look for the good in others, to look for Christ in the people who offend us, too.  This is no easy task and I have a long way to go with this, also.   Let’s not add to the pain and suffering that already exists in our society.  As Easter people, we can build up instead of tear down.  And if you have never read The Lottery, why not add it to your summer reading list?  It might make you think twice before you pick up that rock or hit that comment button.

Rubble

Recently I drove by a site in a nearby town where a building is being taken down.  What once was a vibrant, productive facility that employed 1,500 people in its heyday has been reduced to little mountains of broken bricks and rubble.  For some reason, I find this extremely unsettling, even though I know there is a plan for the site once everything is removed.   In a shopping plaza closer to home, there is a small store that is closing soon.  Giant banners have been placed all around the store announcing deep discounts and the proclamation that “Everything Must Go.”  Once the store closes, the building owner may lease to another tenant and a new business can crop up.  And so it goes…

Changes, whether planned or unplanned, can be unsettling at times.  Can you relate to Thomas’ words to Jesus, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”  (John 14: 5) When uncertainty, self-doubt, concern and anxiety surround an upcoming move or life status change, I encourage you to read a little further in John where Jesus gives great reassurance:

 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.  I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.  Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”  (John 14: 15-21)

 No matter what changes you may be facing or even perhaps have already experienced, I hope that Jesus’ words from John will bring you some comfort today.  Or, if you know someone who needs to hear these words, please share them.   Above all, be merciful to yourself  today and allow some time to process, grieve, and accept whatever is going on that may be unsettling.  Be assured we are not alone in any of this.  Peace be with you, my friend.

Feed My Sheep

Feed My Sheep.  3 simple words.  You may recognize them from John 21:15-19.  If you have not read this scripture passage in a while, I encourage you to go and look it up when you have a few minutes.

I share this with you today because Feed My Sheep is a recurring theme in my sometimes unconventional prayer life.  I say unconventional because over the years many of the best prayer moments with God have occurred on Central New York roadways.  Don’t worry, hands-free!    I can sit during morning prayer time at home with my cup of coffee in one hand and daily reading in the other and get very little out of it, but twenty miles down the road later that morning, there have been times when I’ve had to turn down the radio to just be alone with my thoughts and what I’ve come to know as fleeting moments of GRACE and WISDOM.  Did you say something, LORD?  What exactly do you mean by that? 

Yesterday was First Communion Sunday at our parish and at many churches near and far.  One of the hymns’ refrains may be quite familiar to you:  “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears…”  So many sheep references, but what does it all mean?  That has become my fervent prayer.

Who are these sheep LORD?  And when you say FEED MY SHEEP, are we talking about teaching and guiding or are we talking about nourishment of the body, too?   When I cook for others am I feeding your sheep or am I feeding my ego?  Or possibly both?  I just don’t know.  But what I DO know, is that I’m enjoying the journey.  There have been so many lessons along the way. I wonder what today’s journey will bring.  I have a full tank of gas and I’m ready.   Lead me, LORD.