Change is so dang hard for me. I hate it. More often than I choose to say - I'm not a fan of change. This distrust, fearful anticipation of the unknown-ness of change has always been with me. Held me stuck. And the truth of the matter is: change is always with us, always with me.
Changes are coming for me. Some things I’ve thought to be constant are now shifting. Right here, right now I have no idea what my world will look like when the dust settles. Living in this in-between time is hard. I’m on-edge, cranky, short-tempered, fearful – especially with folks who matter to me most. I watch myself snap, crackle and pop at the folks I love. I feel powerless and reactive.
And almost by surprise, my spirit woke up a little bit today. Out of nowhere. Or perhaps out of somewhere – out of the core of me. And in that awakening I remembered that I’m not alone. I remembered that I’m not alone in it – this scary, uncertain, feeling-powerless time – I’m not alone in it.
My partner, Linda reminded me this morning that we’ve gotten through this kind of thing before, we’ve gotten through times of change and un-knowing. “And,” she said, “we’ll get through this one, too. We have more than enough, and we’ll figure out a way. “
Tonight driving away from work, my friend Susie talked me home. We talked about big picture and what brings life. She reminded me of gifts and graces, of margaritas and queso dip. And then I pulled in the driveway…
…there on a fence post 30 feet away sat a big ‘ole hawk. Oakhurst has our own personal hawk, and this was probably my neighbor. Just sitting there, calm as could be. I was snapping pictures as Susie and I continued our conversation. She googled hawks as messengers and this is what she found:
In representation to humanity, the hawk is called messenger, protector and visionary. Keen vision is one of its greatest gifts. Hawks see things others miss.
The hawk comes to you indicating that you are now awakening to your soul purpose, your reason for being here. It can teach you how to fly high while keeping yourself connected to the ground.
As you rise to a higher level, your psychic energies are awakening and the hawk can help you to keep those senses in balance. Its message for you is to be open to hope and new ideas, to extend the vision of your life.
The Hawk is an animal of flight. It soars through the air looking down, and sees everything. It has a larger perspective of what is going on down below. With its keen eyesight, it looks down as it soars through the air looking for its prey. It can see the smallest of creatures below.
The Hawk is known as a messenger, similar to the planet Mercury, for the hawk soars close to the Grandfather Sun, as does the planet. When you listen to the power of the Grandfather Sun or Wise Spirit that lives within, you are protected from all types of harm.
The Hawk teaches you to be observant and take a close look at your surroundings. It soars with the power to overcome difficult situations. It soars in circles over the life of the earth, asking you to circle over your life and view it from a higher perspective.
The Hawk has a distinct cry, one that most people are aware of. Its cry signifies awareness. If you hear the cry of the hawk use your intuitive ability to discern the message and seek the truth.
If a hawk has soared into your life, you require a higher perspective. You need to see the details of what is going on and look at the bigger picture. Take a look at your situation from above.
These are surely companioning words today for this part of my journey. A bird landing close enough that even I couldn’t miss it. A messenger to validate and lead my way into what is surely next. I am grateful and excited about the discovery (again for the first time) of my “reason for being here.” Dear hawk friend, I am listening. I will breathe myself into being open to “hope and new ideas, and extending this new vision for my life.”
This messenger came at a good time, the best time. What a gift – something bigger than what has gotten me stuck. Something reminding me to not be afraid – because still in me – there is power to soar. Thank you, to God and to my friend Hawk.
My friend Beth is an artist. She gifts so many of us with what her heart/mind sees, somehow faithfully capturing those same images in her pictures. This picture was her Facebook post on Friday. Not sure what her heart held, but this picture spoke deeply to me.
Winter months have come to be my hardest . Although winter holds many places of celebrations - February is even my birthday month, for goodness sakes. Not to mention winter holding Christmas and New Years and Epiphany and Valentine’s and St Pat’s Day. AND yet, and yet it’s my hardest season. It’s always been like that for me. Growing up in Central Illinois, the winters took so dang long. And even living here in Atlanta, I’m cranky every time I have to pull on my gloves and scarf. Don’t get me wrong; winter holds beauty like no other. I am grateful each year to see the trees without the leaves - being able to see each one particularly. I love winter sunsets and sunrises. I love the clarity of the stars on a winter night. There’s something holy about actually seeing my breath. But winter, each year, seems to be hard on me.
I just don’t like feeling cold – physically or emotionally. Cold gets inside my bones and lives there too long. Cold keeps my shoulders and my spirit scrunching in. And when I’m doing that – I’m not much good to anybody, not much good for anybody. Especially me.
Beth’s Friday-picture somehow reminds me of hope living in the midst of winter. With those chairs, I can see myself – with somebody or -bodies. We’re sipping something fine and talking about what was, is and what just may be. We’re sitting and listening for one another, as we listen to the water close by. Just over a little bit away the water is moving – not stuck, not frozen but moving. Splashing and gurgling. We can hear the water singing her old, familiar melody reminding our hearts, “this too shall pass.” And even if these chairs are here just for me and no living human is with me, in her picture I feel the companioning that is here. Birds and squirrels. Ancestors remembered. Hope sits here when I enter into Beth's picture.
Thank you, Beth. Thank you for your heart and mind and artist’s eye. Thank you for this picture – and for reminding me today: it just takes a nudge to move on. With a friend’s picture, a friend’s laugh or hug – when we are open to see – we can be reminded at all the best times that hope is always with us. Sometimes it's sitting right there beside us.
Building walls. Building bridges. These acts happen all the time. Everyday in our hustling and bustling in and through these minutes and hours of our lives, we are so often spending our energy and time building one or the other. Intentionally and unintentionally. Through our actions and our words, we create space for folks, ideas, practices to come closer and cross over toward them or we build walls to keep others out.
It's funny how each act starts with the same motion. Whether we are building a wall or a bridge, we start by leaning over and picking up a stone or brick. Each task starts with the bending over and beginning. What happens next makes all the difference.
As 2016 begins, we are mindful again of our opportunity for starting again, starting over. What was was. What is is. And it's up to us. It's up to you and me. The time couldn't be more important than it is now. The need for being mindful, intentional, thoughtful has never been greater. With all our technology, we seem to only be propelling ourselves faster through our days, our lives. With instantaneous news, we barely have time to react, rarely time to absorb, rarely time to let our hearts catch up.
Walls. Bridges. Bridges. Walls. We do both all the time, and experience them as well – and our lives follow our intentions. Throughout our lives we are wall-builders as well as bridge-builders. When our intentions are about bridge-building, then we our looking out, looking toward, looking one another in the eye. When our intentions are about building walls, our end goal is separation. When we become focused on how strong and how high our walls are built, our lives follow suit. When we wonder and imagine "how can I get from here to there?" then our path is set before us. Then we are moving toward, beyond ourselves.
May 2016 be a time for more bridges for all of us. May it be a time when we look toward one another more. May our first intention be to meet one another halfway, or more than halfway. It comes down to that - you and me - and our first action.
Especially this Christmas I’m looking for, longing for moments of goodwill. Especially this Christmas my heart is seeking kindness. Especially this Christmas my spirit is yearning for the compassion that renews and restores. This Christmas…
“…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Many of us resonate with these words and this year they ring so very true. It has recently been a season of shouting over one another, with candidates and parties booming out their promises. It’s hard to turn on the radio or TV without being shocked at the cruelties we are able to do to one another. The hopes and fears are present – and I am turning again to Bethlehem.
This Christmas I seek the One who will sit beside the bedside of an old woman who is crying into the night. I seek the One who will walk beside a young boy who is walking home from school, after being bullied for being different. This Christmas I seek the One who makes more room at the table and in the pews – the One whose laughing eyes light up a room, the One whose tears flow with mine.
Christmas seems to have gotten more and more complicated as I’ve grown older. I remember shopping being simpler and “less.” I remember the caroling being done in bunches of friends. I remember caroling house-to-house, and being invited in for hot chocolate and chocolate chip cookies. I remember…
This Christmas may we be reminded that we are participants in the Christmas Spirit. This isn't a time when we sit in the audience, enjoy the show and clap at the end. This is the time when we are led...to do, to sing, to listen, to shout on the street corner, to roll up our sleeves, to hug more and to give another permission to begin again. Reverend Howard Thurman's prayer, "The Work of Christmas" could not be truer than it is this year:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kinds and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart...
and to radiate the Light of Christ,
everyday, in every way,
in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.
This Christmas may we lead with our hearts. This Christmas may we look one another in the eye and see what is good and fine and holy. This Christmas may there be comfort and joy for each of us. Each. One. Of. Us.
Time and again, I’m reminded of the preciousness of people, places and times. It’s funny because in the business of health care, “people, place and time” are indicators of whether or not someone is “oriented.” And you know – that’s more true than we know.
For me “being oriented” speaks to what matters most to me. People. Places. Times.
Not all that long ago, my friend, Jackie and I used to meet most Wednesdays late in the afternoon. We would meet at Evans Fine Foods. Each time my friend Jackie and I would set a date to meet for cobbler, my heart was oh, so happy. Well, just to be clear I ordered cobbler, and Jackie seemed to have a taste for the Brownie Delight. It’s all good.
Jackie and I have known one another for 20 years or more. We met as fellow sisters in the fight against HIV. Back in the day before protease inhibitors our paths crossed. We met in those dark days when so many of the folks we cared for were dying. In those days people mattered, places mattered, time truly mattered. At her retirement party not long ago, I said “let’s meet at Evans sometime,” and started doing just that.
There was such a comfort for my soul when she and I set a date with one another. It was as though our souls put flags on a hill up ahead, and in doing that, we held a place for one another. In the hustle and bustle of our days, I was so very grateful for this time we would set. Some may say it was for the iced tea and cobbler, and don’t get me wrong that was part of the truth. But the greater part of the truth was the joy I felt when I saw my friend’s face across the table. We would catch one another up on stories, of what had happened since the last time we’d talked. Little-everyday-things like hearing about Jackie’s invitation to the White House to honor her HIV work – that was a pretty great story. But you know what always topped her list was talking about her grands. Stories to tell – with laughter and tender, wet eyes. Jackie and I didn’t bring an agenda. We set a date, and saved a place for one another. That simple, and that precious. It was a time to let go and catch up. It was a time for listening with our hearts.
Everyone needs a place where they can save a place for a friend. Evans Fine Foods had for years been that spot for me. It was one of those rare places where hearts were given time to catch up with one another. My family and friends have been sharing a table there for years. Most Wednesdays our waitperson, Pam served our spirits as well cobbler. There was something just fine when someone smiled my way when I walked into the restaurant. There was something just fine when I sat down at a table and before I knew it, an un-sweet iced tea and a smile or hug would appear – without my needing to ask. There was something so fine in this crazy, hustling-bustling days when someone looked at me with smiling eyes and asked, “how about the usual today”?
Using the past tense as I describe Evans continues to break my heart. The restaurant closed not too long ago. Many of us regulars are much like wandering pilgrims trying to make sense of the world. We seem to have lost our compass. If you know of a place that has the feeling “come on in, and rest your weary, sweet self,” please let me know.
Setting a date, saving a place has become a life-giving, spiritual practice. It marks time for me, so that I can connect with kind souls and re-connect with myself. It gives my heart something to look forward to. It matters because it reminds me of the value of hopeful anticipation. People. Place. Time. Holding a friend’s hand, holding a friend’s story. This is one of my favorite things and it makes life worth living – each time.
I wonder if it’s true for many of us or just me, but I’m guilty of taking my life for granted. I’m guilty of taking all my freedoms for granted. I’m guilty of taking my daily life-privileges for granted. I’m guilty of going to my job everyday, reading my library book when I grab lunch, having dinner with Linda and our two healthy, funny boys and then watching TV until bedtime…and then climbing into my nice, warm bed for a peaceful night’s sleep…I’m guilty of taking all of that - each and every moment - for granted. I’m guilty of forgetting that for most of the world that’s just not the case.
These recent days have been unbelievable in our country. We have allowed a man who is running for the highest office in our land to say something cruel and inconceivable out loud. Over and over and over again. His statement to ban Muslims from entering the country is such a farce, such a joke – and I look around and no one is laughing. I’m shocked and baffled and wounded to see that some folks are cheering. Those who hear and understand it for the racist statement that it is – those folks are crying.
It matters. It matters that I/that we voice our responses to this culture of hate. It matters that we make eye contact, and speak to our Muslim brothers and sisters. It matters that we speak to these statements of separation and discrimination. It matters that I/we not let him speak for me/us.
I look around and wonder how we could have gotten to this place in our culture. Have we gotten so complacent with our screens and fast-food-lifestyle that we’re able to lump an entire segment of people into one grouping and then cut them off? Done and done? What will happen to our souls if we don’t say “no?” “No, that’s not who we have worked all these years to become.” “No, this is not the way we view and interact with one another.” “No, this is not who we have dreamed ourselves to be.” If this, then what will be the next ripping in the tapestry of our country?
As hospice chaplain, I visited a patient and her husband this week that were at one time refugees. They escaped from China. They left the place that had been their home, where their parents were, where their grandparents and beloved family members were buried. They left that place and came to the United States. They followed their hearts and their hope for what could be better and came here. They raised their two daughters and now are marveling at their granddaughter as she turns 2 next week.
The patient’s husband taught me the Chinese character for the word “well” (which is at the heart of Isaiah’s reading for tomorrow). He drew it on his wife’s white board, which she used when she lost her speech. He drew the character that looked very much like this: “#.” He said in the center is a circle and that means, “well.” He taught me, “The well is in the center of every village and community. It is the place that represents the life of the community. No matter how big the village may grow, the well is always in the center of who and where they are.” Isaiah 12: 3 says “With joy draw water from the well of salvation.”
This couple, these foreigners, these immigrants teach me each time I visit their house. They teach me of hospitality, of dedication and commitment to one another through and beyond illness, they teach me of their deep love of the Eucharist and of God. And this week, this man taught me the Chinese word for “well.” This image of “well” that is speaks to that which brings life, refreshment, renewal for all who encircle it. How much better my heart is for them and their risking years ago to be pilgrims.
Georgia Congressman, John Lewis spoke these words (although he might have been the first, but I quote him now) “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
Thanks to our friend Reverend Jan L. Richardson for this benediction:
One: Not to one but to many you have been called:
All: Come on the dancing wind. Come
One: from the deepest forest. Come
All: from the highest places. Come
One: from the distant lands. Come
All: from the edges of darkness. Come
One: from the depth of fear
All: And become the bearer of God.
Amen and amen.
I'm so very grateful for stories. I love holding onto them. I love hearing them from others. I love the fact that I'm held in a greater story. All of these comfort me and bring me balance.
I'm grateful when somebody is telling me about something and then say “it's like the time we …” In that moment we are both remembering a shared past. The teller is inviting me in to what has been going on before. And it's shared. It's a reminder of one truth, always true: you're not alone.
The hopeful thing for me about many stories is when they remind me of beginnings, middles and endings. AND through the years I have learned that many endings move into beginnings and something new starts. AND all the while, these stories are a part of a greater tapestry.
Now in this season of Advent, we are waiting. In these growing darker December days, we are waiting. This Advent-waiting is a special kind of waiting. And every year as it comes around again, it feels that it arrives at just the right time.
Advent-waiting is accompanied by expectations. Advent-waiting has no particular or clear picture of what will be. Advent-waiting holds hope in it.
As this Advent season begins, I feel the tenderness of this hope my heart holds. We all have been living in tender days these days. More often than not we are startled with the violence we humans do to one another. Places that have held images of laughter and light, now appear on our screens with overturned tables and chairs, sounds of sirens. Jerusalem. Nairobi. Newtown. Paris. Mali. San Bernardino.
In many ways my story weaves in and through yours. Your pain imprints upon my heart. Hope dwells in our interconnection.
Do you remember that old Coke commercial that showed people holding hands for miles and miles further than we could see, while “I’d like to teach the world to sing” plays in the background? Hope, the waiting-for-something that will renew and restore our collective spirits, begins again for us in these Advent days.
It’s like the time we … were walking and we thought for sure we were lost, and just when we thought we’d give up, we saw a light in the window up on the road a bit. And we knew we could walk on …. and we did. And here we are....in these Advent days.
(thanks to friend, Mary Jean Adkins for this picture)
At Candler, our kind and gracious seminary professors used to call these places of the heart: “growing edges.” That was a nice way of saying “truly, you need to address this…” Whatever the “this” seems to be. Growing edges were identified as bumps in the road, places that held us back from moving on. Places that got in our way of learning or living. Growing edges. What was true back years ago at Candler, continues to be true today – my “this,” my growing edge is my resistance to change.
All change – big or small - has a way of discombobulating my spirit in ways that I truly fear that I might become lost.
Change that has been the hardest for me is the change that comes to my root system.
When changes have come to the places and to the ones who keep me tethered and balanced – when these changes come, I have felt truly lost. The deaths of my parents and loved one, the loss of a job I thought I would always have, health and living changes – all of these changes have struck deep to the root of me, to the heart of me.
Sometimes (when I’m in my more grounded place) I recognize that change most always brings with it, something new. Opportunities come with changes that weren’t there before. Possibilities come for renewal and restoration.
My life experiences, all the times of holding on and letting goA have taught me to trust what was, what is and what will be. My faith nudges me at all the best times to stay open, to keep looking. My faith grounds me and invites me to believe that something will come, a path will appear.
Perhaps our wisest teacher for living in and through change is nature’s yearly lesson that accompanies the change of seasons. Summer into fall, leaves letting go beautifully and particularly into winter, bare branches bringing buds in the spring. One leading into another. Each season for its time. And then grace comes and there is a letting go and moving on toward what will be next.
My friend MJ took this beautiful picture along the Fox River in Wisconsin last weekend. Here we are invited to journey on...on the path that is before us. Through the woods, through the cold, through the beauty into what is to be next. If we stop and dig in, if our spirits get stuck and resistant…just imagine what we might miss. Just imagine what may be up the path just a bit…left foot, right foot.
There’s a waxing moon over Paris tonight. Earlier this evening Linda and I watched a segment from 60 Minutes that reported on shootings just two nights ago. The last scene of the report was a shot of Notre Dame sounding chimes for those who were killed…and above Notre Dame was the shot of the waxing moon.
Friday night’s shooting stirred up so much for me and I imagine for many of us. As we watched there were heart-echoes of a Tuesday morning in September fourteen years ago; there were echoes of a scene from Boston where one minute runners were crossing the marathon’s finish line and the next, everyone was running for cover.
So many of us live our lives so far from violence. We get up each morning worrying about what to wear for work or getting our kids to school on time. So many of us are so privileged in our way of living our lives.
It’s easy to be fearful in these hours and days following Friday night’s shootings. It’s easy to think the worst of what could be next for anybody, for everybody. It’s so easy to give-in to the shutting down of mind and spirit.
I heard that of the many miracles of Friday night, there was one small, but magnificent one. France and Germany were playing one another in football (soccer). When the game was stopped because of the sounds of explosions, it would have been easy for chaos to break out, for neighbor to turn against neighbor. I heard that when the German fans were exiting the stadium, many of them spontaneously burst into the singing of the French national anthem.
The moon is waxing now. More light is coming. This is the time each month when we are reminded that holding on matters. During these nights we can live into knowing that soon and very soon we will be able to see, even in the dark. This is the time when we find the strength and the courage to sing our neighbor’s song. Even in what feels like whistling in the dark… how can I, how can we keep from singing?
Psalm 91: 1-2 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord,
“My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (NRSV)
Part of our healing after a deep loss is making our way back into the world. When our pain is fresh, we feel so very vulnerable. Re-entry feels like it is asking too much of us. Stepping again into the world, re-connecting after our loss can seem almost impossible.
Often this time of re-entry becomes our beginning steps toward healing. When we move back into our places of belonging, we are reminded that even after this life-changing loss, we are yet alive. We continue to live, each hour of each new day. Here in these places where we find shelter, where our stories are known, we are reminded in visible and invisible ways that we are not lost. We are reminded that life continues on.
In Psalm 91 we hear sanctuary-words. Later in this psalm we hear words of the night, times often understood to be times of fear and despair. So many tears are shed into the night. And here the psalmist comforts us: it is to this vulnerable place that the Almighty comes and provides shelter.
Though I grew up in Illinois, I’ve lived here in Atlanta long enough to now claim local sanctuary-places. One such place is Evans Fine Foods. For me, this restaurant has become a sheltering place. Transformation can happen in places where stories overlap, where there are comings and goings, where laughter can be heard just a few tables away. I tell folks I go to Evans for breakfast, for scrambled eggs and grits and that’s true. But my heart knows it’s much more than that.
More days than not I go to remember that I belong. I’m missed when I’m not there. It has come to be a place for me of holding on and letting go. Here the good and hard times find sanctuary. It is to Evans where our family and friends go after tragedy, deaths, job losses, as well as new job announcements and birthday toasts shared. It is the place where I meet others who are going through similar times. Here our part-time waitperson, full-time pastor, Martha, brings us another iced tea and reminds us that we shall get through this one, too. Most every Saturday for more years than I can count, I have gathered with good friends and sit in the corner booth (aka Booth 25). Here we listen for one another’s hearts; here we are given more than enough to believe again.
The moon and her ever-changing cycle teach us that no two nights are the same. There are changes and shifts, sometimes oh so subtle, but they are there nonetheless if we are paying attention. Re-entry invites us back into living again. These sanctuary places are where we go to experience our stories being known and held. These sanctuary places are where strangers and friends help us re-new and re-claim our tender spirits. Grits and iced tea: bread and wine.
This is Chapter 5 from my book, "Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days." I've been known to eat three or four breakfasts there a week. Some mornings I join my friend, David as he works his morning crossword puzzle and I read something fiction -- every now and then talking about the house he's working on. Some mornings I meet my spiritual director, Sister Margaret and we talk about prayer. Most every Saturday Kimberly, Ellen, Susie and I keep one another grounded and connected and whole. And some mornings I sit by myself, read my book and listen to conversations from table to table: two older gentlemen sharing stories of how they met their wives, what's wrong with the Braves and the Falcons and the Bulldogs, how many more weeks of chemo...
Recently we learned that this sanctuary place is closing. For some reason that none of us can fathom, the property owner is raising the rent to the extent that the owners, Mike and Pete aren't able to keep the doors open. Soon Evans will be no more. And my heart is tenderly breaking open. It's been a wonderful sanctuary place for me and my family and friends. I will miss it terribly. This chapter has always been about this place, this place that invites time to stand still for a bit, so our hearts can catch up...
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.