My Great Grandmother’s Quilt

My great-grandmother made this quilt. She would have been my grandchildren’s great great great grandmother. I remember her, she died when I was eight years old. I’m sixty-four now.

The quilt is obviously old, there are holes in it and ragged edges but to me, it is a piece of history. The quilt pictured was made for my brother. I have one just like it in pink. I treasure them. As a quilter myself, I know how much effort went into cutting out and stitching together all these hexagons. It was a labor of love but no one else cares. To the rest of my family, it’s an old quilt that is falling apart.

I think about how much meaning we project onto physical objects. They can represent far more than just the physical object. The quilt represents my great-grandmother anticipating the birth of her two great-grandchildren. She lived into her nineties which was quite a feat back in the sixties.

I have told stories about her to my children but it’s not enough. They are busy making their own memories with the people in their lives.

It’s hard for me to think about that quilt getting thrown out after I’m not around to protect it. I’m trying to learn to let go but I have a soft spot in my heart for people who take the time to make beautiful things for others.

The spiritual life is about letting go. I realize that my great-grandmother is a part of me and maybe I enjoy quilting because of her. I don’t need to worry about the quilt, I can continue to enjoy it, look at it, give thanks for it, and then let it go. It’s not the physical object, it’s the memories that are important. They shape us.

Instead of trying to pass on the quilt, I want to pass on the gift of creating. I hope one of my grandchildren will learn to knit, sew, and quilt. I hope they will know the joy of giving a handcrafted gift, one that will be treasured.

Stories

I

I’ve been making some observations about the people in our neighboring RV. We’ve been here a few nights and I see them occasionally coming and going.

I told my husband. The woman next door is a traveling nurse. Her husband was a policeman who got injured on the job. She nursed him back to health. They fell in love and got married. He travels with her in the RV as they go from place to place.

My husband was incredulous! Wow, they told you all that? No, I said. I saw her get out of a car around dinner time in scrubs. I saw him riding around the park in a three-wheel motorcycle with a police sticker on it. He had a limp.

We make up stories in our head. Just ask Bene Brown. I’ve read all of her books. In one book she describes a moment when she and her husband are swimming across a lake. She gets angry because he seems to be ignoring her and she thinks it is because she doesn’t look as good in her bathing suit as she once did. This is the story she makes up in her head. He is concentrating on trying to finish the long swim. He was focused on swimming and not her suit.

I am now conscious of the stories I make up. In the past, I would make up stories and tell them to myself so much that I began to believe them. Now I ask myself, is this a story I am making up? Or is this story really true? When the story involves other people, I have learned that I need to ask other people what is going on and not rely on the story I am making up.

We may have made up a story about ourselves and God. We may have made up a story about what God is like. Maybe we have taken an aspect of our image of God from our childhood and carried it into the present that doesn’t reflect what we have learned about God as an adult.

The Bible consists of stories about God in the context of the times and through the lens of the authors. We read them in our own context with our own lens. I have discovered through the classes I took in seminary and through the scholarly commentaries I have read since, that we have to put in the work in order to stay true to the real story.

When we think about our image of God, we can ask ourselves, is this a story I am making up? There are many conflicting views in the Bible which is why it is important to understand the context and the possible author. Thank God we have Jesus who tried to help us understand.

I have embraced one concept for my understanding of God. If it is of love, then it is of God. For in the end there are three things that last faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Staying Warm

I will never take being warm for granted. In 2015, I spent four weeks in Chile studying Spanish and living with a Chilean family. Although it was a modern apartment building, there was no heat. I was there in June which was the beginning of their late fall/early winter. The cold was a surprise every day when I walked into the apartment.

I made an important discovery during that experience. If I waited until I felt cold to put on an extra layer, it would be too late. I couldn’t get warm unless I climbed under the covers with all my layers on and waited for my body heat to catch up. This would take hours. Normally, I would have jumped in the shower but the water was barely lukewarm.

I became hyper-vigilant about the temperature and my clothing layers. When the sun started to go down, it soon became automatic to put on another layer.

What it taught me was not to wait before taking action. That it’s better to try to prevent coldness than try to warm myself up.

This is true in relationships as well. It’s better not to wait but to take initiative. Apologize, make the call, say the prayer, read the scripture, go to church, answer the call, whatever the Holy Spirit is prompting us to do.

It’s easy to let things lapse, get cold, and make us uncomfortable. It takes much longer to find the energy to get warm and restart. The longer we wait, the harder it becomes.

If I let my spiritual practices lapse for whatever reason, I try to jumpstart myself as soon as possible. Now, I look for signs of boredom. Do I need to switch the prayers I’ve been using, insert some hymns, find a new spiritual knitting project, enlist the help of a prayer partner? This is the equivalent of putting on a coat at sundown.

Each Lent as I sit down each day and pray, I’m surprised and grateful for the grace that layers my life before I get cold. It’s available like the coat, we just have to put it on.

Not Belonging

What is my biggest fear besides death and taxes? Not belonging.

I heard a sermon once on the importance of community. The priest started talking about how he had been ostracized by his family and friends because he was different. He talked about the pain of trying to understand why he was different. Hadn’t God created him this way?

He ran away from home and ended up living on the streets until he was found by a priest who reassured him that God loves what God has made and therefore he was loved by God. Years later, he became a priest in order to pass that message of love and acceptance along.

Imagine having feelings as a child and telling the people you love most in the world how you feel and having them be horrified.

People feel most comfortable around people like themselves. We may say we celebrate diversity but diversity is challenging. Whether it is race, gender identification, sexual preference or fill in the blank, it can be hard to be accepting when we don’t understand or we can’t relate.

One of my son’s friends came out as non binary and uses the pronoun “they”. I had a hard time remembering to use the pronoun. It sounded incorrect because I thought of they as a plural pronoun rather than a pronoun for an individual. However after spending time with them, I had a better understanding of why “they, them” was a good choice.

I’ve always felt like I belonged. I have family, a church community, and other groups. I have never been ostracized or shunned for my identity. I can’t imagine what that would be like. Don’t we all have a need to be accepted and loved?

One of the many reasons I’m Christian is because Jesus was so accepting and reached out to those who were ostracized and shunned. He spoke with people that no one would speak to or touch.

We have a lot of labels that we use today to let others know who belongs and who doesn’t. If you are from the opposite political party then you don’t belong, if your skin is a different color than mine than you don’t belong, and if you are LGBTQ, then you don’t belong. This is NOT what Jesus told us about the kingdom of God. In the kingdom, everyone belongs.

We all know people who may be feeling ostracized or shunned for any number of reasons. We need to keep reaching out and reassuring them.

Do not fear, you will always belong.

What do we fear?

I saw this doe early one evening last summer. She seemed surprised to see me walking in her field. We both stared at each other, her big brown eyes giving me the once over. She decided I wasn’t a threat and kept eating grass occasionally glancing up at me to see what I was doing.

I wonder if that is what humans do. Give each other the once over and use clues to decide who is a threat and who is not. I’ve always been too trusting. I think everyone wants to good and loving toward each other. I know that’s not true, it’s what I want to believe.

I was close friends with a man called Bobo who spent thirty years in prison. He was a bank robber. During one of his robberies, a policeman fired his weapon killing a man. The bank robbers were charged with felony murder. Without the bank robbery, the policeman would not have had to draw his weapon and the stray bullet would not have killed the man.

When I met Bobo, he had found Jesus, was remorseful about his life, and he had talked with over 10,000 young people who had come to the prison. This was not the “Scared Straight Program” it was just Bobo telling the kids why they should not choose a life of crime. He was a compelling speaker.

Bobo told me people operate out of fear. Fear is the cause of secondary emotions like anger, he said and intense emotions make people do stupid things.

And then he told me that “Fear not” is the most repeated command in the Bible. Jesus was always telling the crowds not to fear. If only we would listen to Jesus..

Fear is the emotion that kept us safe back when humans were living outdoors trying to keep actual wolves at bay. Fear is different now.

Lent is a good time to examine our fears. At this time in our lives, what are we most afraid of? What would happen if we obeyed the commandment to fear not? What would be different?

How are you, okay?

When people ask you how you are doing, you can always tell what answer they want to hear. If they say, “how are you, okay?” Then just tell them yes, you are doing okay. Your clue is at the end of their sentence. They are prompting you with the right answer. If someone says simply, “how are you?” Then you can give them the “real” answer.

I have found that many people just don’t know what to say to someone in crisis or grieving. The first step is to let them tell you the story. Ask “what happened?” Did someone squirt you with silly string???? Listen as they tell the story. When people have experienced any kind of trauma, they want to tell you what happened. Even if you are the twentieth person to ask. It helps them process the event.

All we can do is listen and acknowledge what happened. Instead of saying that must have been horrible, we can ask “what was that like for you?” Let them describe it. Our response is “I’m so sorry that happened.” “I’m sorry you are going through this. How can I help?”

Just having someone listen to their pain can be such a relief. The worst thing we can do is try to say something that we think may make them feel better. There are times when nothing anyone says can make us feel better. We just need to feel the pain and have people around us who can be in that space with us.

I was visiting a friend in the hospital and she told me she was dying of brain cancer. I violated my own pastoral rules and blurted out “Oh Donna, what can I do?” Obviously there was nothing to do but be present to her but I was desperate to “do” something. She was an amazing woman. She looked at me seeing my pain and said “you can give me hug.”

If we ask someone how they are doing, we should be willing to listen no matter what. After all, we are made in the image of God.

Body in Motion

The beauty of motion

A body in motion stays in motion and we are meant to move. Walking or running can put us in a state where our internal censors are lowered and our true thoughts can bubble up to the surface. I think it’s because the oxygen from the blood is needed in our muscles and the brain can’t push down the thoughts we may be attempting to ignore. I have absolutely zero scientific evidence for this but I have experienced thoughts coming up when I’m out walking or running.

My dad died in May and it wasn’t until I was running through the woods in the fall that the grief finally came out. I had started to train again for a 10K. It was October, the leaves were breath taking and I was reveling in the fall air when my grief hit me like a ton of bricks.

Whenever I get stuck in a creative process like writing a sermon or thinking of something to write for a lenten meditation, I go for a run or a walk and some idea springs forth.

Our bodies were made to move. A doctor told me this. She said we were meant to be moving all the time because we come from hunters and gatherers. We had to move to collect our food.

I had gone to the doctor because I had bunions on my feet and they were making it hard to walk without pain. The doctor was my age and a runner. She gave some good advice. All of us will experience some kind of pain as we age. All we can do is manage the pain.

I was fortunate. It only took some corrective foot inserts to manage my pain.

The doctor also said, don’t stop moving. It’s hard to move again once you stop. A body at rest remains at rest. Although rest is important, we need to move. Movement helps us process, reflect, and allows what may be buried underneath to bubble up. Only then can it be healed.

Publix

We’ve been traveling around in an RV and every town we have visited in the past three weeks has a Publix Grocery Store. When I’m shopping I have to stop and think about where I am because all of the stores are laid out the same. I’ve commented about this to several Cashiers and they have told me that not all the stores are alike but I guess I have been lucky.

We pulled into a new town today that is 200 miles away from the last place and when I walked into Publix I knew where everything was. It didn’t take me long to shop and it was comforting to go into a place that was familiar. I’ve been in 8 different towns with 8 different Publix and I can walk to isle 4 and know exactly what I’ll find.

Just a few shorts weeks ago, when I was still at home, I walked into my grocery store and everything was in disarray. Why are they moving everything? I wondered. It was incredibly irritating. I thought, maybe I’m getting old but there is no need to change everything around. It took me much longer to shop and I couldn’t find a thing. When I asked an employee, they told me it was so that all of their stores would have the same layout and then people could shop at any store and be familiar with the location of their favorite item. Who needs that, I thought. Well, apparently I do!

This grocery store perspective made me realize that I can be narrow-minded when faced with an inconvenience. What about all those out-of-towners who have my grocery store at home? Maybe it helps them out when they are on the road.

When we are connected to God through prayer we may be better able to ask who is the change is serving? No matter what is happening, whatever irritation we might have, it’s good to stop and take a look at what is going on from another perspective.

We get stuck in our perspective, our own context, and when faced with change, we can’t always see what good it will do. The spiritual life is about opening up our perspective, letting go of judgment, and observing. This is the beginning of spiritual transformation.

Using our Gifts

Knitted UrkrainianFlags by Bonnie

A friend of mine is using her knitting gift to make Ukrainian flags that people can wear as pins. Symbols are incredibly important because they keep our level of awareness high.

We all know what the pink ribbon symbolizes. We see it and we think about breast cancer, we think about those we know who have endured it and those who died from it. The pink ribbon is a reminder that there is work to be done. People are still suffering and dying from breast cancer. Seeing the pink ribbon may remind us to make a donation to the breast cancer foundation.

These knitted Ukrainian flags do the same thing. They are a reminder that over half the children in Ukraine have been displaced, that people are suffering, and dying needlessly. Right now there is a high level of awareness of the suffering but as time goes on and another news story hits the wires, the sense of urgency about Ukraine could wane. This symbol can help keep our attention from wandering and remind us to take some kind of action.

I have worked with Rural and MIgrant Ministry for almost twenty years as a volunteer. This organization has helped migrant workers work to advocate for farmworker rights, worked with migrant youth on leadership skills, and helped rural women become healthy and independent. Apples are a 2 billion dollar industry in upstate NY and those who pick the apples work long hours for next to nothing. They live in fear of being deported and are desperate to help their children find a pathway to citizenship.

Everyone enjoys their favorite apples from New York but we forget about the suffering of those who pick them. I’m working to raise money for RMM and seeing the Ukrainian flag has reminded me that symbols help to raise our level of awareness and spur us to action. Isn’t that why I wear this gold cross around my neck?

There have been countless people who have made pink ribbons, purple ribbons, flags, crosses, poppies, and other symbols to create awareness of situations that need our attention. Let us not forget.

For more information on Rural and MIgrant Ministry go here:

http://ruralmigrantministry.org/

Slowing Down

Lent is a good time to intentionally slow down. I don’t mean slowing down because you’re stuck in traffic, I mean choosing to find some time to leave the traffic behind. Many of us operate at a frenetic pace. We have to go from one thing to another to get it all done. This is especially true of families with young children. Children are a 7/24 responsibility.

What most of us call “downtime” is essential for our mental and spiritual health. Jesus withdrew from the crowds in order to pray and recover.

Mark 1:35. It was very early in the morning and still dark. Jesus got up and left the house. He went to a place where he could be alone. There he prayed.

Luke 5:16.  But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

When we give ourselves the gift of withdrawing, stopping our frenetic pace to sit down and just stop, we can finally connect with God. For those of us who no longer have the responsibility of young children, we can give that gift to parents. We can offer to be with children even for just a 30 minute period. Any time period can be refreshing.

How do we slow ourselves down? How can we help others let go and relax? How can we give each other those Jesus moments?

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