Are we in trouble?

Hiking has changed in the last 40 -50 years. We used to get a guide for the areas we wanted to hike. The guide would tell us where the trailhead was and then narrate the hike. I remember my father reading the description of the trail from the guidebook. “Follow the brook for two miles through a pine forest before ascending a steep rocky trail for one mile, etc.”

Now there is an App. So I downloaded it. The App connects to google maps and guides you right to the trailhead. At least that is what is supposed to happen. I started driving following the directions of the App. My screen lit up with a question. Do you want to take a shortcut? Without even hesitating, I pressed yes and continued following the directions which took us to a deserted road in the middle of nowhere. There was no trailhead in sight. The map said we were there but “there” was a dirt road in the middle of a steep hill with ditches instead of shoulders on the side. Even with our Jeep Wrangler’s tight turning radius, I didn’t think I could turn around. We stopped, set the emergency brake, and got out to find the elusive trailhead.

There was a deep rumbling sound and I saw a huge dump truck climbing the hill. He went roaring by us and then at the top of the hill he slammed on his brakes and screeched to a stop. The door flew open and the driver jumped out and started running down the hill.

Uh oh, I thought. We are in trouble. We shouldn’t be here, we are parked illegally, this is someone’s private property, why did I buy that App? Was it because I pressed shortcut? All I wanted to do was take a lousy hike? Is he going to yell at us?

We watched as the driver slid to a stop on the heels of his work boots. He bent down and picked something up and held it over his head like an athlete who just won a gold medal. It was a bag of garbage – a French fries container, a hamburger wrapper, a plastic cup complete with a straw sticking out of the lid, all falling out of a torn bag.

The driver had stopped to pick up trash.

The driver of this very large construction vehicle obviously on his way to a job had stopped to pick up someone else’s trash in the middle of nowhere.

Who does that?

We watched him jog up the hill with his trash, climb into his truck, and drive away.

We stood there, the trailhead forgotten as we looked at the pristine landscape surrounding us giving thanks for the steward in the dump truck who took a few minutes to keep it that way.

I Can’t Imagine

There is no image for this post that could possibly express the anguish I feel.

I can’t imagine why that young man shot ten people in the Top’s.

I know what the reporters say. He drove from just outside of Binghamton and targeted African Americans. It was a racist act of hate. I’m sure it was.

I can’t imagine what happened to this person that made him drive hundreds of miles to shoot innocent people at a grocery store,

I know there are people who encourage violence and use every means of communication to inflame young minds generating the emotions that cause them to take heinous actions.

I can’t imagine what he was thinking as he drove.

I know we need to all work together to take action. We need to decide what action to take. Everyone needs to get involved.

I can’t imagine what the victims families are going through today. How does a trip to the grocery store result in death?

I know the lives of the people in the community are changed forever. The horror of not feeling safe. The idea of being targeted.

I can’t imagine how he went from someone’s baby boy to a toddler, to a boy, and then a shooter.

I know I will support anti racism training, leadership development for youth, and policies that work toward creating a peaceful and just society. We need to work together. We have to stop the rhetoric that tears us apart. We need to be open to hearing one another. We can’t just write about it.

What specific action will we take?

Too much stuff

We had to empty out our kitchen recently since we are having it remodeled. It’s humbling to realize how much stuff we have.

I’ve watched both seasons of the “Home Edit” on Netflix. We are a nation with too much stuff. No matter how large the home, closets, and cupboards are bulging. Mine included.

This remodeling of the kitchen presented an opportunity to let stuff go, give it away, or repurpose it. The first step is the edit step and the majority of people have trouble with this step. I keep thinking about the one piece of clothing I gave away because I never wore it and then the perfect event happened six months later and I really wanted that dress back. Just that one experience makes me second-guess giving anything away. The second reason, I don’t want to let anything go is the sentimental value I attach to objects. For example, I bought this pitcher in the Netherlands because I needed a pitcher. At home, I have six pitchers. How many do I need? All the others have memories attached as well. Which one do I get rid of? I’ve been told to keep the one that sparks the most joy but none of the pitchers spark joy for me but I do need a pitcher! Round and round I go.

I have made a discovery about myself. It takes me two iterations to edit. On the first pass, I am quick and decisive. My husband watches me fill boxes and as soon as they seem full he runs them out to the truck and he’s off to the donation sites.

I’ve met some wonderful people on “Buy Nothing West Webster” Facebook page. They come and take away my stuff and are elated. It’s easy to offer up my 40-year-old furniture that is still in great shape.

The second pass is tough. I hem and haw over little things that I haven’t touched or used in the past two years. I just like having some of this stuff.

On the Home Edit show, they have a saying, you can have the stuff or you can have the space. I want space.

Life is less stressful when there is space. I had four sets of measuring cups, 6 scotch tape dispensers, lids that had no matching pots, and don’t get me started on the plastic storage containers and lids. I consolidated and found out that I might enjoy cooking.

My son and daughter-in-law are getting rid of all their stuff. They sold their house and they bought a twenty-two-foot trailer. They plan on living in it indefinitely with their five-year-old daughter and two dogs. They are letting go of everything they own from their house except what will fit in a 5′ X 5′ storage container and their trailer.

My husband and I lived in a 30-foot RV for five months. I told my son, you’ll figure out what is most important to you. It’s not the stuff.

Bobo Used To Rob Banks

This is a picture of Bobo at his 70th birthday party.

I took him to Wegmans a few days after he had gotten out of prison. He had to sit down after he walked through the chip aisle. “There are so many different kinds it makes my head spin,” he said. He was stuck in the men’s room trying to figure out how to turn on a faucet that had no handles until he saw another man stick his hands underneath and the water magically appeared.

It took forever to find him an apartment. No one wanted an ex-con in their building. Finding a job was even harder. He interviews fine, my friend said, he just looks bad on paper. I guess thirty years behind bars for felony murder is a tough hurdle for most employers.

But the Bobo who went into prison was different than the man who came out. The man who came out had changed the lives of more than ten thousand kids. This was not the scared straight program, this was Bobo’s program.

It started because he decided to attend Bible study. The scripture worked on him like rain on a rock. He began to feel a call. He didn’t want others like him to end up in prison.

He got sponsors like Xerox and other corporations to pay to bring kids from inner-city Rochester to Attica. Bobo said, he would sit them down and start telling his story, how he robbed banks and how he got caught and how someone lost their life because of his robbery. I didn’t shoot him but my actions caused him to get shot. He told the kids.

The corporate sponsor would provide a bag lunch for the kids. Bobo would grab a sandwich out of one kid’s hand and start eating it. He would give his prison meal to the kid. It was effective.

I had Bobo talk to our Summer of Opportunities high school youth. The boys were riveted. Bobo talked about how difficult prison is and how there is no freedom. He did not volunteer any details about his bank robberies but he did tell the youth that they could ask him any question they wanted. They were more curious about prison.

Bobo was one of the most authentic people I ever met. He was open about his life, he was incredibly sorry about the pain he caused others, and even though he was granted his freedom, his life didn’t get easier. His only daughter died from a drug overdose. Bobo’s kidneys failed and although he got a transplant, the kidneys didn’t last long.

I went to see him in the hospital when he was dying. He was so gracious and in awe that I had taken the time to visit. He had no real inclination of how he had transformed me.

It doesn’t matter who we are or what we may have done in our lives, once we say yes to God, God will open up a way to minister to others.

The Unwanted Visitor

Nothing can prepare us for the experience of loss and grief. We may think we know how we are going to react but we don’t and it is different for everyone.

Grief is the unwanted visitor that hangs around outside listening to the unthinkable news being delivered. It may wait a few minutes but then it charges the door and envelopes us. Eventually, we become so exhausted that we don’t see grief and it sneaks off into a corner and may even leave for a few hours but then it’s back banging on the door. We open it, recognize it and slam the door. I can’t, we think. Not now. Leave me alone.

Grief slinks away, looking over its shoulder mouthing I’ll be back when you least expect it.

We are out doing something perfectly ordinary like grocery shopping and we run into grief in the coffee aisle. It’s kneeling in front of the coffee studying the different packages and springs up as we notice the Dunkin Donut package of whole beans that our loved one used to plunge his nose in and take a good long sniff. Tears stream down our face, our hand frozen in mid-reach for the bag of coffee. Kind people ask if we are ok. We nod and move on leaving the coffee bag on the shelf.

People visit, bring food, send flowers and grief hangs around the periphery. We are so busy, we miss grief’s face in the crowd. Weeks go by, we are still numb going through the motions wondering if we will ever enjoy anything again.

The doorbell rings. It’s grief. We open the door. What do you want? They stand there, head down, shoulders slumped, hands in their pocket like a sullen teenager that wants to be noticed. Fine, we say and invite grief in for a chat.

Grief settles in on the couch. They sip their coffee waiting. We don’t want you around, we say. We’ve had enough. You need to go. We want our life back we scream.

But grief keeps showing up. Sometimes it’s for morning coffee, sometimes it’s at 3am, and sometimes it’s in the middle of the afternoon.

When we invite grief in we notice that grief lays down on the couch and we have the sudden realization that they are here to stay like a house guest that just doesn’t leave. Grief seems to have matured through the weeks and one day during morning coffee, grief reminds us of a wonderful story about our loved one. We find ourselves laughing along with grief as grief points out the time we got our father a beer when he was mowing the lawn complete with ice cubes. He said he wanted a cold beer. We watched him chug it and then throw the cubes on the freshly mown grass. He never said a word but just thanked us and continued mowing. Laughter ends in tears but they are happier tears.

Grief becomes a shadow following behind us where ever we go but they are like a professional detective keeping us in sight but trying not to let us know they are there. Promises were made with grief. They can continue to live with us as long as they quit sneaking up in the worst moments, behave when company is around, and don’t bother us in public. We promise grief that we wouldn’t ignore them and that we would sit down with them on a regular basis.

Grief is our constant companion. Not one we would have chosen but one foisted upon us. It may not be the visitor we want but grief visits anyway so it is good to invite grief in for a talk, get acquainted, and set up some ground rules.

I lived without grief for many years. Yes, I experienced small losses but it wasn’t until my father died that I met grief at the door. We have an understanding, grief and I. For the most part our relationship works. We are comfortable with each other.

The Season of Easter

Easter is not just a day, it’s a season in the Church year and it lasts for fifty days. It’s a great time to think about how to live as people of the resurrection in the world today.

Every Monday I will be posting a meditation about living in the Easter Season. Thank you for reading and supporting my posts this past Lent. Come back next Monday for the first of the Easter Season posts!

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, the day of resurrection. There is always resurrection. That is our Christian hope and our experience of the creation. Each winter, out of the cold, brown earth, new growth emerges.

The interesting thing about the resurrection of Jesus is no one recognized him at first. It was only after eating the fish for breakfast or when he broke the bread that people understood who he was. He had changed. He was different.

Resurrection does not mean going back to the way things were before the loss. Resurrection means a new life is coming out of the cold dark earth or rising up out of the ashes. Resurrection is a new life, a different life.

Resurrection life also carries forth the scars from our life before. Jesus offered up the scars on his hands and feet so that Thomas would believe. Somehow I thought the resurrected body would be perfect but no, it carries the scars of our lives. We may have scars but they don’t keep us from having a new and abundant life.

We say that life has changed not ended. We know that love never dies and we know that nothing separates us from the love of God. This is what we celebrate today.

Holy Saturday – The Void

Holy Saturday is the in-between day. It is the time Jesus was laying in the tomb, where the disciples were trying to process the horrific death of their savior. How hopeless they must have felt. The person they had followed the last few years, the person they had put all their hope in, was gone forever. They were left alone to cope with a world that had destroyed the one who had come to proclaim a new kingdom based on love.

They were left empty and unfulfilled.

I presided at a woman’s burial. I was the only one there. The funeral home had come and unloaded the casket at the graveside. The gravedigger stood and watched them place it on the canvas cloth strips over the hole. There was no artificial grass hiding the dirt. I took out my prayer book. The gravedigger said he would be back after lunch to finish the job and I could take my time.

I said the usual prayers and then I sat near the casket wondering who this woman was. The funeral home said a man from California had called to make the arrangements. The woman had died alone at home, the funeral home had been called, I had been called, and here was the casket.

It was a Holy Saturday moment. We believe that we see the face of God in all people. Here was one of God’s people that had faced death alone and we had been chosen to accompany her to the tomb.

I waited for the gravedigger to come back from lunch. I prayed as he lowered the casket into the grave “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

In my own life, I know there is time in-between those moments of loss and resurrection. They can be long periods of time to the point where we may not think any resurrection is possible. But sometimes we just need to wait through the darkness for the first light, the first fire of Easter that will illumine a new path for us. We are people of hope and even when it seems like no one cares, perfect strangers arrive and accompany us even to the grave.

Good Friday

When I was young, no one worked on Good Friday. Businesses were closed and people went to church. I remember sitting though one very long service. I wanted to leave but my grandmother told me that we needed to stay to get the sadness out. What sadness I wondered? My Grandmother had been preparing all week for the big Easter dinner. There was a ham soaking in ginger ale, scalloped potatoes waiting to be cooked in the refrigerator, and a green bean casserole. I was happy thinking about the family getting together.

Everybody has sadness, she said. When we come to church to mourn the death of Jesus, it allows us to feel our own sadness. We know God is sad about people killing his son so we know God understands what it’s like to be sad. God knows what it is like to feel devastated, hopeless, and alone.

“But doesn’t Jesus get resurrected?” I asked. “We don’t talk about that on Good Friday.” She said. “The disciples didn’t know what was going to happen. We need to be like them. Let it sink in about what happened to Jesus and why.”

“Why did those people kill Jesus?” I asked.

“They were afraid that the love he showed the people would make the people rise up against them and they would lose their power. The tried to kill that love by crucifying Jesus.”

They tried to kill the love of God?

“They tried to kill the love of God. They wanted to exert their power over the people and their land. So they killed Jesus in a horrific and public way. Instead of fighting back, he went to the cross to atone for all of us.

Let that sink in.”

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