Friday, September 30, 2011

God is in the Details

I am sitting in my office and waiting for Chuck to come and get me. Somehow or another, I am pretty sure my car keys are locked in the secretary's office and here I am. Waiting.

Which is okay because God is in the details and it is in these moments that give me a chance to breathe, to reflect and to write this blog which I have ignored for a while.

I have been busy with a lot of details which I tend to hate, ignore, avoid. Today our church newsletter got printed - and that involved lots of details on my part - writing articles, making sure I got the dates write, proof reading, calling people to double check what was going on. It goes on and on. And it feels to me like drudgery but it is all so necessary.

We are doing our BIG SUNDAY this Sunday - our "One World" Sunday and there have been lots of details for me to take care of. I am an idea person but unfortunately the follow through involves details to manage and - hardest of all - remember! We are changing the service a little and the bulletin needs to match the ideas in my head.
We are giving away a globe keychain with a prayer attached and all of that needs to be put together. It goes on and on and I am continually trying to remember what I thought had been planned.

But what I have learned over and over again is that the details can really trip me up and they can really make a difference. And maybe the attention to detail that is so important and difficult is also part of God's call to me to slow down and to be patient. My tendency to want to breeze through this stuff keeps me from seeing what is there for me to see - both problems and blessings.

There is a mantra - slow down, take it easy, take your time. God is here - in the details.

Tuesday I had a thought as I frequently do - about one of our long time members of the church and what a blessing she was in the way that she works so quietly behind the scenes. What brought her to mind was that our church was invited to join the community in a clean up of Tamarack Circle which is an area near the church. We publicized it alot. I was in North Carolina and could not go and only recently learned that only two women participated in this project. She was one of them. So, I took a moment - maybe 5 - a wrote a quick note to her thanking her for her servant's heart and the blessing that she was to me and to the church. Today she came up to may and was thrilled - saying what it meant to her that "somebody noticed."

Over and over I learn - God is in the details - the smallest moments if we just slow down and look.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Books, movies, music - Media

I have seen three movies in that last few weeks - "The Help" "Drive" and "The Conspirator."
All good in their own way and each spoke to a different part of me.
Like many people, I had read "The Help" when it first came out and was anxious to see the movie and it was good - but not as good as the book. What I found myself thinking about was that I had lived through this period - not in the south, but in the east - I was probably 14 at the time when the book/movie was set. Little did I realize that our country was going through a real transformation - as both civil rights and the feminist movement came shone a light on the racist and sexist world which was our norm. What I know is that we continue to struggle with both issues - some 40 years later - but it looks different now. But this movie was a really interesting and engaging depiction of a style of living that was in transition.

Chuck and I watched "The Conspirator" on TV (On Demand) This movie was directed by Robert Redford and came out to very little box office interest - but it was a really riveting and powerful film. It was about the trial of Mary Surratt who ran a boarding house in which John Wilkes Booth and her son lived and probably conspired together for the assasination of Lincoln. Her lawyer was reluctant to take the case but eventually came to see her humanity and want to provide a fair trial at a time that the government was more interested in results than justice. I won't give the end away, but it was very good. It made you think about how a country reacts after a crisis that has shaken the nation. Great acting!

The third movie was "Drive." Chuck wanted to see this because Chuck likes car races and the actor - Ryan Gosling was compared to Steve McQueen - one of Chuck's favorites. Chuck so rarely wants to go to the movies that I thought this was a good thing. And what was noteworthy about the "hero" was that he was a man of few words - always good since Chuck has so much trouble hearing dialogue! The film was interesting- very stylized, haunting music, a couple of car scene - not so much that as really graphic blood spurting violence. Both of us were unprepared for the amount of almost casual brutality and blood in this film. As one who LOVED Dirty Harry movies - this was over the top even for me. But more people will watch this movie than "The Conspirator" by far.

Other media that I love are books - not just written and read but also listened to. I just finished hearing another one of the "Cat Who" mysteries on audio and I just loved it. These are by Lillian Jackson Braun and featurfeature a reporter named James Qwilleran and his Siamese cats, Kao K'o-Kung (Koko for short) and Yum-Yum.
They are set "Up North" and in this fictitious environment I find a sense of comfort and there is always a nice little murder to be solved by the cats.

Finally, I want to write something about music. I just visited a 95 year old shut in of our church who wanted to remind me that she loves "The Old Rugged Cross" and every night as she goes to bed, she listens to Elvis sing it. And I just was touched by that picture.

So, media - affects the way we think and feel and sleep.
For sure.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Scattering of Ashes

'My mother died over ten years ago - November 2000 on a Monday morning in Baltimore Maryland and on Friday of that week we had a memorial service and by Saturday her belonging were dispersed and her home was vacated and we never went back to Baltimore again.
8 months later, in June of 2001 we had a committal service at the Outer Banks with her ashes. This was a very special place to her and her ashes were placed beside my Dad's in the cemetery at Southern Shores 2 blocks from their last home together.

What I learned from this was how helpful it is to have a service well after the death of a loved one. When we lose a loved one the grief goes on (and on) well past the time of the funeral. And what a gift it is to be able to Recognize the grief and to share our feelings and memories with each other.

When Lisa died last January she left instructions of what to do with her ashes and for her it was to "scatter" them in several p,aces that were sacred to her. ...Sedona, Disneyworld, her parents pond in the backyard and Hilton Head. And at Hilton Head, not just one but 2 places- a favorite lagoon and, of course, the beach.

Yesterday, we fulfilled her wishes with a ceremony of scattering the ashes. And Lisa truly gave us a gift in all of this. At the Lagoon we began with listening to a song, Followed by a reading from Lamentations and then we lit 4 candles - for grief, for courage, for memory and for love. Followed by a reading we shared memories of Lisa. What I had learned from my own life was that as time goes by different memories emerge and the loss can seem harder over time and not easier. It was good to have this time of sharing.

We had 6 sand dollars which had been bleached and represented Lisa and her faith for us. There was one for each of us and one for Lisa.
When I opened my purse, one was broken and this was Lisa 's. We placed it in the tree by the lagoon as a marker and there was the spot that Trixie and Fred scattered ashes into the lagoon.

As I stood there in that beautiful and very green setting, seeing a little gator in the water, an egret in the distance and families riding bicycles
Nearby, I felt that we were doing exactly what Lisa would have wanted. We ended this ceremony with a poem by Emily Dickinson followed by a benediction.

Then we walked to the ocean. it was there that I shared a reading that used the imagery of a bird flying into the heavens. Fred and Trixie went into the water scattered the remaining ashes up and in the ocean. After that we took time by ourselves for reflection, walking or just sitting at the beach. I found myself watching the birds soar and thinking about freedom and how God wants us to find freedom as we turn ourselves over to God. Of course, we are all "works in progress," "on the journey," "in process
What I believe and trust is that something does happen within us and among us through a morning like this. We are freed a little bit more as we share our grief, tell the stories of the ones that we love and miss, allow God to speak to us in creation and pray.
We ended our time forming a circle and praying. God blessed all of us as we scattered the ashes of our beloved Lisa.

God is good. All the time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I am with you

Sitting on the balcony overlooking the harbor at Hilton Head listening to Kim's I Pad play "I am with you on the journey."

I am watching people slowly old man in a striped shirt, a young mom in gym clothes, a worker in a light blue shirt and a black head scarf. And I they know that God is with them on their journey? How often do I KNOW God is with me?

What first struck me about Hilton Head was the money...did I mention the yachts in the harbor? There is something daunting about these large, white, pristine and seemingly empty boats in the harbor. Do the people who inhabit the yachts know that God is them on their journeys?

Last evening we got to go out of the harbor on the " Mystique " an boat trip that is available to members of the Harbor Club. We drank wine and talked and looked at the sound, the homes and condos and the pelicans. A beautiful evening.

In the midst of it sharing about our lives...Fred and Trixie and their recent loss, but other grief and struggles came up. Because of course, even in the times of recreation and relaxation, of yachts and evening cruises there is all the stuff of life.

After this we went to a restaurant on the dock sitting outside and listening to the local musician. At one point he was playing "By by miss American pie and we all joined in the chorus. We seemed to be led by s group of about a half dozen women of my age or older who were feeling no pain, so to speak. Anyway, it all felt fun and free.

Now I don't know how it happened but one of the women came over with a glass of champagne for Fred. Then Fred shared why they were here for Lisa. Then two women came over and shared their stories of the loss of daughters....tears and grief shared among strangers in a most unlikely place.

And I sit there in awe of God's presence in our midst. "I am with you on your journey" and rich or poor, old or is hard but God is good.
And with us.

Remembering Lisa

I write this from the balcony of our condo at The Harbor at Hilton Head. This is the last daym of a short and wonderful time down here.

I had not been to Hilton Head before and it is different from the Outer Banks in many ways - the trees, the bicycling, the yachts, the hidden streets - but it still is a beach and a vacation place.

One of the reasons we are here is because it was a special place for Lisa Baluk and one of her last wishes was that some of her ashes would be scattered here. And that will happen this morning. We will have a little worship service at one of her favorite spots - a lagoon and remember her and leave some ashes on the site.
The we who have been here are Kim and Pat and me who are part of the healing team ( and " team Lisa ") from our church...and Trixie, Lisa's mom. And yesterday morning Fred, her Dad joined us

I have found myself remembering her quite a bit since I have come here.
Yesterday we biked to the beach and I had an image of her biking beside us wearing a little pink cap.
I could not get over the number of monarch butterflies I saw at the beach and literally every time, I would think of Lisa who loved butterflies.
She would talk about taking walks and having butterflies greet her and accompany her. That is what yesterday felt like to me.

Kim and I were on the water together and she told me that sometimes she found sand dollars as she stood in the water. And we both started to get some - feeling them with our toes and bringing them up to the surface. We thought they would be a good addition to our service today. They could have a symbolic significance. We ended up with 6 of them - one for each of us and one for Lisa.

When we got back to the room and googled "sand dollar" we read about the "legend" of the sand dollar which says that you can see images of the poinsettia, the star and the lily on it. Lisa died on January 2 which was in the season we call Christmastide with a clinging cross in her hand. And so these sand dollars DO seem so appropriate for today. We have washed them and bleached them and soon when it is daylight will lay them out on the balcony to dry them.

This time away has been very renewing for me and a time to be away from my regular responsibilities at church. But I am never away from God and this amazing gift of life. The abundant life that is found through loving and remembering and honoring important people in our lives.

Lisa Baluk was only 32 when she left this earth, but she touched my life and others in more ways than she knew. She brought me into relationship with Fred and trixie which has greatly blessed me. But most of all, her life and death has shown me clearly that life is more than what we experience on earth..
We are truly spiritual people having an earthly experience.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It isn't Funny

This is what a woman said to me.....over and over again.
She was lying in the hospital bed, having trouble remembering why she was there.
She would start sentences with ...."the doctor said" and then she would pause and try to put her words together.

Her frustration and confusion are hard to watch.
But she was very clear about this: the doctor would come and make jokes and "it isn't funny" "it isn't funny". "it isn't funny"

It isn't funny to be recovering from surgery and confused,
It isn't funny to have your children deciding where you are going to live
It isn't funny to not be able to even sit up on your own.
It isn't funny
What it is is sad, and hard, and maybe even tragic. This is not what she or any of us expect but it often happens as we get older and weaker. We can have money and loving family, but we still may end up frail, dependent and waiting for someone else to make the decisions about our future.
I think of the scripture from John where Jesus says that "when you were young you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.". John 21:18 Just today when I learned that one of our church members was moved to a different nursing home because her children thought it was better for her than Oakleaf which is next to the church. and they might be right....these are all tough decisions.

I think of the scripture from Paul : Rejoice in the Lord, always, again I say rejoice.".
I sit by her bed, hold her hand and pray. I give thanks for this moment of communion between two women of faith. Her mantra "It isn't funny" ceases and she looks peaceful with her eyes closed. It is time for me to leave.
I may not be laughing or rejoicing, but I am present.
To bear witness to her story today.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


One of my ministries is visiting people - in their homes, in the hospital, in nursing homes.

I have just returned from a 5 minutes visit to one of our shut ins. Fortunately she is at the nursing home up the street and when I went to see her she was asleep. I touched her and softly said her name. And then waited. I touched her again - actually several times - on the hand and the arm. And again spoke her name louder and she slept on.
Sleep is so precious to me - I know I need more sleep and have trouble getting to sleep and then wake up too early and cannot get back to sleep. So, to wake this precious woman out of a sleep seems really wrong, so I leave a card and leave.

I said a prayer in the room and wonder if it matters to her that I was there. Or if she will be disappointed that I did not speak louder or touch harder. It is always a difficult call. But I will be back.

Over the years I have learned that the visit I do is very important - to both of us. I have learned to talk less and listen more. Part of the visit is to create a space for her (or him) to share their story. And it is always a gift to hear a part of a person's story. Sometimes it is the same story - but often I hear different parts. Sometimes I think about taking notes so that I will remember for later (like a funeral???) but actually I have given up on that. My memory is getting worse and I have decided that the visit is enough. The moment of my presence with the person which is actually the three of us - me and them and God. That is enough.

My remembering for later is not necessary. It is this moment of sharing the stuff of life that is enough. I have cried with widows over the loss of a son during world war 2, heard stories about their childhood during the depression, learned about long ago divorces or babies who died. And of course, I hear about the present difficulties which may include parthritis, incontinence, and fears about memory and their future. My dad used to say "Old age ain't for sissies" and my visits remind me of that. There are folks that keep going and keep caring about their families and the world. Of course, I wonder how it will be for me when it is my turn to be the one visited.

The other part to the visit is the prayer - which is usually at the end of my visits and often signifies the end. The prayer can surprise me as the words that come to me are often not my words but God's words. The prayer can bring tears to our eyes as I am able to call upon God's healing and life giving presence. God is "in this very room" and we know it.

What I have learned over the years is that the visit is usually not an intrusion. (that was always my fear in the beginning years of my ministry) - it is usually a gift to them. When I visit shut ins in their homes I call ahead to make an appointment and then they have the gift of anticipation - because sometimes I am the only visitor a person may have all week. Sometimes people actually prepare cookies for the visit - and I like it, regardless of my diet - I like it.

I have heard colleagues in ministry complain about these visits to the homebound, but I have to say, that they really one of the best parts of ministry.

So, she is asleep and I will be back. Because in our visiting, we really do share the blessing of God's presence with us.