A direct connection

A direct connection

“Word of God, speak, would you pour down like rain, washing my eyes to see your majesty, to be still and know that you’re in this place . . .” – from the song “Word of God Speak” by MercyMe

[This post was written Oct. 11, 2014] It is a dark and rainy morning in New Jersey. I have an unscheduled day and am enjoying a slow morning – reading the Bible, reading Anne Lamott, listening to the rain and a bird chirping. The rain is a gift, slowing me down and canceling my plans for yard work. I can be still for a while and let the beauty of nature and the love in the words sink into my heart. I thank God that I can pray right here where I am sitting, without having to download a new version of a prayer “app”, without having to sign in to my account, and without first having to charge my phone or tablet or other device. Prayer is an opportunity to connect with God and get my batteries charged, drawing on the food and power of God’s Word and Spirit. “Give us this day our daily bread” is for me today, “Give us this day our time with You, Lord, so that we can get grounded, centered, and ready to be compassion and action in the world.”

Lord, I praise you for your creation, for your nourishing rain, and for the direct connection of prayer. Amen.

Eye-to-eye

“The eyes are the window to your soul.” – William Shakespeare

“Look me in the eye and say that!” is a taunt used in anger or indignation, urging someone seen as cowardly or inferior to repeat the challenge or insult that has been spoken. Looking someone in the eye creates a direct and personal connection; letting someone look into your eyes invites communication, even intimacy. A helpful tip for travelers at friendly border crossings is to take off their sunglasses so that the Customs agent can see the eyes of the travelers. Doing so conveys openness and engenders trust.

I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague from another college at a recent learning community retreat. She and I have known each other for a dozen years, seeing each other annually at this retreat. We usually ask about each other’s families and have a pleasant conversation. This year our conversation became deeper, sharing more of the details of our lives and our histories, our ups and downs. In the midst of a lively, noisy reception we were had a heart-to-heart conversation about our hopes and dreams. I think the turning point was our eye contact. As I started to share more about myself I became aware of feeling deeply moved, and I realized that there was a decision I could make – I could move off to talk to different people, or continue the conversation at a lighter level by changing the subject, or I could look her in the eye and risk feeling the emotions – both sadness and joy – that were attached to the things we were talking about. I looked at her and we held our eye contact, our eyes tearing up as we did so, knowing that it was an unusual moment of connection and grace. The colleague and friend I knew professionally was now a much closer friend. We had given each other the gift of ourselves and our attention, really listening to and hearing not just the words of the other but also the emotions in those words and stories. Strange that eye contact had opened up my ears, but it was more my heart that was opened, the better for my senses to work.

When is the last time you really looked into the eyes of an acquaintance, a friend, or a loved one, holding that eye contact and listening to the emotions behind the words? Try it today for a jolt of connection, a powerful and bold way to give that person a gift of love and grace, an affirmation of his or her importance and worth.

Thank you, Lord, for eyes to really see into the hearts of others, and to let them see me too. Amen.

P.S. – a shout out to Barbara S., whose words of appreciation at the retreat made a huge difference for me, and got me back online!

Inspired by humor

Inspired by humor

Driving home this evening I listened to NPR – as I often do – and was touched and inspired by this story of using humor to reach across cultural differences. A Muslim researcher from Chicago gets some humor training from a Jewish comedienne from New York City. Heartwarming and lovely, thanks to Judy Carter and Dalia Mogahed for their laughter and courage in trying new things!

Seriously (lol), listen to this now – 9 minutes of great radio.

Finding what I’m looking for, or not

I was sifting through the kitchen drawers, looking for the lobster crackers. You know, the shiny silver colored kind you use to crack open the hard shells of the lobster claws (or mixed nuts, if you prefer.) I looked in one drawer then another with no luck. I checked and rechecked. I knew they were there somewhere, as we had used them before. Shiny, silver, . . . nothing. So I asked my friend, in whose house we were cooking the lobsters, to look for them. He dug around in the drawers and found them. One was black and one was maroon, the plastic kind.

As I was digging it had occurred to me that I wasn’t finding them because I was looking for what I thought I would find. I wasn’t really seeing what was in the drawers, just what wasn’t. But I hadn’t stopped long enough to reframe my view. I kept on looking for what I thought I should find!

How often do we do that? How often do we see what we are looking for, instead of what’s really in front of us? When I am looking for it, I can see trouble, bad news, bad luck, or “evidence” confirming my side of the story.  My pre-conceived ideas can lead me see what I want to see, or to overlook something else. And I can be so sure of what I think I know that I don’t stop to consider that my assumptions may not be accurate.

I need to be careful to set my viewing filter to a setting that is less focused on what I think I’ll find, and more on what is there. I need to be more willing to see what’s possible, instead of what I’ve already decided is there.

Lord, open my eyes to see so that I can see all the good that you have set before me. Thank you for your gracious abundance and forgiveness.

Ice cream

Ice cream

I love ice cream and I eat it with some regularity. The cool sweet creaminess is refreshing and delicious, and even the image of ice cream speaks to me of relaxation and enjoyment. I don’t hurry my way through ice cream, taking a long time to lick a cone, or savoring a little bit of topping with each bite of a sundae. When I was very young I made a poster with the heading “ice cream is good any way” and I illustrated it with a cone, a sandwich, and a sundae.

I’ll admit, now that I’m older each decision to eat ice cream usually comes with a bit of debate. Should I have some at this time? When was the last time I had some? What else have I eaten today? What else do I  plan to eat? What else am I willing to forgo so that I can have some? How much exercise have I done? Of course all these questions are related to my weight and my body image and (in last place) my health. Have my good choices weighed out this potentially bad choice? I have it pretty firmly embedded in my thinking that I must earn my ice cream, that it is a reward for good behavior.

I’ll also admit that my relationship with God is somewhat like my relationship with ice cream. Even though the reformed Presbyterian theology is embedded firmly in the belief that all our transgressions are forgiven – that Christ died to save us from our sins, once and for all – I still fall into old ways of thinking. I catch myself thinking that I have to earn God’s grace, that I have to do enough good things to account for the times when I am selfish or competitive or uncaring.

Thankfully, I sometimes short-circuit my questions about whether to have ice cream or not and I just enjoy it! So too I am learning to stop the calculations and equations about earning God’s grace and instead rest in the assurance, the blessed feeling of acceptance, that comes with putting aside the questions and instead believing in what I say. I am loved by God no matter what, and I don’t have to earn that love. I can chose to relax and accept it, enjoying the feeling of refreshment and joy that comes along with it. Amen!

“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” Ecclesiastes 2:24-25.

e-cards and greeting cards

e-cards and greeting cards

After listening to “All Tech Considered” on NPR today I thought I’d re-post this essay from my former blog.  Are you sending Christmas or holiday e-cards or paper cards? It doesn’t matter, it’s the thought that counts! – Anne
I haven’t been a big fan of e-cards. I think it might have something to do with the ease with which they can be sent. This tells you something about my family’s Puritan roots and our adherence to a strong work ethic. (Translation: if it takes hard work, it has value.) My aversion to e-cards also may be related to the fact that they come into my e-mail inbox which I often feel is overflowing already. One more e-mail, I sometimes think, is not what I need!

Today, however, as I started to think about sending Valentine’s Day cards, I thought of how greeting cards might have seemed when they were created. Prior to greeting cards, people sent letters or notes, and they had to come up with the words all by themselves. Greeting cards added pictures, and that probably was a welcome addition. They also added words. What a revolutionary idea! All you had to do was add your name! But I’ll bet that not everyone thought greeting cards were such a hot idea—so impersonal, you know? Someone else wrote the words. All you had to do was buy one, sign it, and send it. And so it goes. New ideas gain traction—slowly at first. Maybe greeting cards were for birthdays first, then cards were added for sympathy, thank-you’s, anniversaries, and weddings. Now you can buy a greeting card for almost any occasion or day of the week. And now I can see how an e-card is no less a message of love than a greeting card that arrives in the mailbox at my house. It has been selected just for me and sent because someone was thinking of me and wanted me to know. Not only that, but e-cards are free! My ancestors would be proud.

Lord, thank you for prayer, which is the epitome of fast, free, loving communication. Amen.

Prayers for people, pets and property

Prayers for people, pets and property

As Hurricane Sandy churns its way north through the Atlantic Ocean heading toward the New Jersey coast, I am in a hotel in Indiana getting ready to participate in an assessment conference. Some people may prefer to be in the middle of a hurricane than in workshops about assessing student learning, but I am looking forward to the professional development.

Keeping my mind on assessing student learning will mean that  I have to put aside my fears and worries about how my loved ones will weather the impending storm, how much water will be in my basement, and when I actually will get a flight home.  So I turn to God and admit my fears, which is a scary thing to do because it allows me to truly feel the impact of those fears and it reminds me of how helpless I am to control what will happen with the hurricane. I know that it will happen and that it will be big, but I know that God will be with us all during and after the storm, and that God is much bigger than Sandy.

I will let go of my fears for now and hold on to the promise of the rainbow. And when my fears return, as they undoubtably will, I will turn again to prayer and the assuracne that God is with us always.

God of power and love, keep my family and friends safe, watch over our pets and all your creatures, and keeps our homes, schools and businesses safe as well. Amen.

The soaker hose

The soaker hose

“But the Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Recently I was debating about whether to turn on my soaker hose in the front yard. It has been extremely hot and dry for the past month so the plants definitely needed water. But I thought about how the soaker hose might not be enough because it doesn’t get close to some of the geraniums I’d planted this spring. I didn’t want to spend the time to water those separately, so I caught myself thinking that maybe I wouldn’t turn on the hose at all.

What?! I may not be able to do all the watering so I wouldn’t do any?? That makes no sense, yet that’s what I was tempted to do. Tempted, as in temptation, as in a lack of resistance to the voice of doubt (the voice of laziness?) telling me not to even try. And it almost sounded logical! Why start a job if I may not be able to complete it? Why put forth a bit of effort if it may not be enough? Thankfully, I caught myself entertaining this bit of twisted logic and I went outside and turned on the hose.

Where else in my life does this thinking show up? When I think about exercising or house cleaning, or on a larger scale when I think about how I can make a difference in addressing the issue of poverty, or trying to influence our political process. Will my five dollar donation make a difference? Will an email to the Senator make a difference? One thing is for sure – no action will not make a difference.

Where do you stop yourself before you even get started? What action can you take today to push back at the temptation of inaction? I encourage you to shut down the voice in your head that says it won’t be enough. For today, it will be.

Lord, with you all things are possible. Help me to take one step toward what you want me to accomplish today. Amen.

Hanging the Laundry to Dry

Hanging the Laundry to Dry

God said to Noah: “So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks.” Genesis 6:14-16

Am I really being instructional or just being picky? This was the question that went through my mind as I hung the laundry on the clothesline, remembering times when I had told my kids to help me, then told them exactly how to hang each garment. The ways that they were hanging the clothes on the line would accomplish the task of drying the clothes (and wasn’t that the point?) but it was not being done according to my methods, which of course had been honed by years of perfectionistic precision.

These musings led me to reflect on how God instructs us. In Noah’s case, our records show that God told Noah to build an ark of specific proportions, and to fill it with his family and specific numbers of every animal on the earth. As far as we know, God didn’t add lots of specifications about how to build the ark, and God didn’t go on to remind Noah to pack all the other items that would have been necessary to equip the ark and its passengers for a long voyage. God laid out the big picture and left the details to the person chosen for the job.

I know that drying laundry doesn’t compare to building an ark, but my lesson for the day is that when I am asking someone to do something, I should choose a person who is capable of doing the job,focus on the bigger picture, and back away from the details. Yes, there is a time and a place for intervening with instructions if things are going awry, but I need to allow other people to do the job in ways that may be different than mine. Their ways may be better or they may not be, but it might not matter in the long run. Do I want dry clothes or do I want to be right about how I like to dry them? Do I want my kids to figure some things out for themselves and feel competent or do I want to do the job myself?

Lord, when I get too caught up in the details, help me to keep the bigger picture in mind. Amen.