Saturday, July 30, 2016

Reflections on the Mission Trip

I have returned from my first Mission Trip in about 5 years.  This was a very different experience for me - not a leader, a grandma to one of the participants and being the oldest one in the group.  I was part of a team from Ohio that went to Christmount in Black Mountain North Carolina for a youth mission trip.  It was a good experience for everyone who participated - including me.

There were two  ways in which I was particularly challenged.  First, I cam to be a helper to Wendy and because of the illness of her daughter, she was unable to participate.  On Wednesday the whole Taylor family left to take Lilly back home.  And thankfully, she was recovered enough to greet us all as we arrived back in Delaware, Ohio last night.  So, I ended up spending most of the working day with Maya, who was too young to go to the work camp experiences.

Secondly, there were definitely issues at home as Chuck called on Tuesday to say that his van was stolen from our driveway.  So, in the middle of what I was doing on the Mission trip, I was talking to him and the insurance company and eventually the police after they recovered the van on Thursday. It was really crazy.

With all that, however, it was a very good experience for me.  My time with Maya ended up being really special.  We did Bible study, a prayer bead craft, walked the labyrinth, journalled and talked about life and family and God.  And while she may be only 10 years old, I felt like we were spiritual companion during that time.  God continues to surprise me in ways that are really beyond explaining.
Here is Maya writing after she walked the prayer Labyrinth

We also had a lot of fun.  We swam every day in the swimming pool, played cards, and took walks.  The first two days, eight year old Luke Taylor joined us and he and Maya were creative and fun together.  I really enjoyed their imaginative play.

Another beautiful part to the trip was being with Addie and watching her interact with the other kids and adults.  She was part of a cabin of 4 girls who worked hard at their mission jobs (like weeding, picking and sorting vegetables) and during their free time liked to sing and dance and do each other's hair. Here is Addie after her hair was done by the girls

Here I am after Addie did MY hair:
Here is Addie and her new friend, Maria.  

Most of all I liked the group experience of being with adults who care enough to take a week out of their lives to be with youth to help them to learn about Christian service.  It is really easy for all of us these days to have a sense of entitlement and forget about the very real needs in this world.  And sometimes we can only see it when we get away from home and in a place that is devoted to opening our eyes to others.

As a grandmother, I am really blessed to have the opportunity to share this kind of experience with my granddaughter.  I can see clearly that this was a real gift to both of us and I plan to offer it to all of my grandchildren in the future.

It is probably better than any toy, electronic gadget or piece of clothing I could buy them.  It is a real opportunity for growth (and fun!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On a Mission Trip

On a Mission Trip

I write this on my cell phone from Christmount in North Carolina. We are on the second workday of a multi church mission trip. As we began the leaders kept saying that we needed flexibility, humility and a sense of humor.  That has surely proved to be true.

I came to work with Wendy with the " little kids" Luke and maya. The big kids go and do mission work in many sites around Ashville and we stay back and do arts and crafts, Bible stories and games. Wendy has done the planning and I am her helper.

Yesterday it became clear that Wendy's daughter was sick and needed to go to the emergency room. She is now in the hospital. So I spent the day with Luke and Maya. Now it looks like Lilly will be in the hospital longer and all our plans keep changing. Flexibility is needed for sure as well as humility as I wait for the leaders to tell me what to do.

So there are - as always challenges for me. I continue to work my way through " the soul of the pilgrim" by Christine Valters Paintner and the last chapter was about the spiritual practice of Being Uncomfortable. She writes that " going on a pilgrimage means releasing our tight hold on our maps and certain directions". That is what is happening here.

I write this now sitting in a messy cabin which has tile floors, concrete walls and iron beds. And in the foreground two children Luke and Maya are working on a sticker book together, they are talking quietly, working beautifully together.  He will soon leave to see his sister in the hospital.There are windows in the cabin high up through which I can see tree branches and leaves.

And I am grateful for this moment and trusting Gods spirit at work.

As I look at this picture I wonder if  it is a metaphor for this experience.
     There is mess here
      There is the material needs and ordinary work

But most important - relationships that development and grow in the midst of confusion and mess and

And above it all the beauty of creation which is For me, a sign of Gods presence and power.
So .... We pray for healing for Lilly and strength for her family and continued growth for all of us as we practice our faith in strange places

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Home Again

I have had trouble getting back into this blog  after returning home from vacation.

We had a family vacation in Hilton Head and it was more family than had been together in a long, long time.  In addition to being with all my daughters and families, I got to be with both of my brothers, their daughters and family, Brett's dad and step mom and my cousin.  There were 26 of us in all and it was - for me - the best vscation ever. 

I savor the memories
  • Of seeing Chuck in the water floating on a noodle EVERY day
  • of watching all the grandchildren in the water and pool just playing and laughing together
  • Playing "Splendor" (a new and fun game) EVERY day with Audrey and my niece Gillian and her friends
  • Of gathering every day under Brett's dad's tent and visiting with everyone
  • of a fun and funny family talent show that ended my niece Hannah reading the first chapter of her soon to be published book Home Field
  • Of sharing coffee in the morning and wine in the evening on the balcony with my brother Geoff and Vicky
  • Of lunches out with daughters and husband and grandchildren
  • of just being in a place of beauty and seeing the wonder of sand and sea and pelicans and gulls and loving it all.
So we are home and we come back to reality.  My brother is wading through a church conflict, others are struggling with relationship issues and the news is full of stories of shootings and political posturing.

But I come back happy to see Ginger and to re engage with the responsibilities and the reality of my life.  I continue to be part of a "Pilgrimage" group that meets weekly as we read through The Soul of a Pilgrim.  It speaks volumes to me about the lessons of receiving the gifts that God has for us.

And the receiving is big things - like a long awaited and planned vacation - but also little things like the flowers in my front yard and a friend that calls and invites me to walk in the woods.  My hope always is that I am - finally - starting to wake up and see and receive this abundant life.

Here is a prayer/poem from the book that speaks to me.

Give up your endless searching
Lay down your map and compass,
And those dog-eared travel guides.
Rest your weary eyes from so much looking,
Your tired feet from so much wandering,
Your aching heart from so much hoping.

Lay down on the soft green grass
Wet with morning dew, and watch as
The tree heavy with pendulous pears
Bends her long branches toward you,
Offering you perfection in every sweet bite.

Give up the weight of knowing,
For the reverence of quiet attention
And curiosity, for the delight of
Juice that runs in generous streams
Down your chin.

From The Soul of a Pilgrim
By Christine Valters Paintner

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

I wonder as I wander

That is one of my favorite songs of the Christmas season. 
   Here is the first verse: 
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

Today I spend time with the word "Wander" whose dictionary definition is: to walk or move in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way.

As I continue to slowly read - (wander through?) The Soul of the Pilgrim I am spending time with the whole idea of "The Practice of Making the Way by Walking. " I have learned some new words:

Perigriatio - the call to wander for the love of God
Apavia - which means roadlessness - walking when you don't know where you are going.

What I realize is that wandering does not come easily to me in reality.  I like to have a destination, a plan and a schedule.  Even when I walk at Sharon Woods, I like the path that I usually walk because it is so clearly marked and feels safe. That is who I am. It is hard to trust the unknown and the new - the frontiers.

Christine Vaultner Paintner writes:
 Sometimes when I am working with someone in spiritual direction, I hear the longing from them to know the path God is calling them to, to have some certainty they are making the "right choice."
This way of thinking about God is limiting.  I have come to believe that God does not call us to one particular path that we scrutinize and discover.  God calls us to the fullness of living which can be manifested in a multitude of ways.  We have to listen closely for what is truly life-giving and there lies the struggle.  We resist trusting ourselves.  We tell ourselves stories about why we should stay stuck."

So, here I am facing myself and how hard it is to let go and allow God to do the leading instead of my own ideas of what I should be doing.  And to be honest - what I "should" be doing always lies in the direction of accomplishment - doing.  Instead of trusting, yielding, waiting - allowing God to be the potter and me be the clay.  All of this is kind of abstract, but that is the morning ruminations. I share one more reading from the book which says what I struggle with in a much more concrete way.
This is what it is like to yield:
  to finally feel that place of tightness - your left shoulder,
 the crick that has been in your neck for as long as you can
 the hard point between your eyes - soften,
 and all that is left is the
 overwhelming desire to dance,

 to stop resisting the endless and aching grief over a thousand
  small losses, and the one great loss of your own deepest dreams,

 to fall into that ocean of tears and 
 find yourself carried gently to shore,
 to feel the soft and trembling belly of your aliveness
 turn upward toward the wide sky
as a prayer of supplication
 and an act of revelation,
 to tumble down a mossy meadow
 blanketed with dandelions and clovers
 and the golden evening sunlight
 and know yourself at home,
to surrender the striving,
 the grasping at what seems so important
 in favor of what is
 essnetial and true

what would it mean to walk away from
all the "to do" lists
and commit to only one thing:
to be

what would it feel like to yield your
own stubborn willfulness
which has brought you so far in
this world of achievement
and allow the things you could never have
planned for, to unfold?

I must end this poem now,
not with wise words for you to carry away
and ponder, but only this:
a reminder of that fierce and endless longing
for what is soft and supple beating in your own
beautiful heart. 


Saturday, July 2, 2016

My Sitting Practice

That is the language that I use these days and I like it.  Every day, I try to engage in a "sitting practice" with God.

I used to use words like prayer, meditation, journaling etc.  Which is fine but often did not describe what was really the discipline that works for me.  It was in reading Grace in Aging that I encountered the idea of a "Sitting Practice."

Kathleen Dowling Singh writes this:
"We need the focused, concentrated energy of awareness that seems only to be cultivated with a daily practice if we wish to walk through the world with clarity and compassion.  We need to carve out the time to sit if we have not yet done so, or carve out more time if we have already begun.  
Sitting - the silent, noble stilling of the body and the mind for the purpose of liberating awareness into beyond-self, into deeper, more illunined consciousness - allows an opening in the limited, limiting paradigm of separate self and only form.

Sitting practice is where transformation is effected, where neural connections are rewired.  Sitting practice is the launching pad for the piercing insight, direct knowing, and the opening of the heart.  It is the base of operations."

My spiritual history is one of irregular and haphazard morning prayer with a box full of half filled journals that go back 30 years as a witness to my desire for  and resistance to relationship with God.  I am finding so much more freedom in the idea of a "sitting practice" than I ever have had in devotions, prayer and certainly meditation.

What is interesting is that my "sitting practice" usually includes all of this but it is much more fluid.
Lately I come in the morning to my back porch and just spend time breathing in and out and looking at the trees, birds, squirrels and waiting.   At some point I may pick up the latest book that I am reading and then often after that I may do some journaling.  Sometimes I close my eyes and meditate, sometimes I write prayers of supplication, sometimes I use prayer beads.  But I sit with God in deepening awareness and appreciation.

The other day as I sat there I found myself thinking about the problems of one of my daughters and beginning that analyzing and supposed problem solving that I do so well.  I felt like I heard God saying to me - "Is this the way you want to spend this time?"  And I lifted her to prayer and let it go.
And I realized that my sitting practice is like an hour of spiritual direction when I  - as directeee - decide what I want to talk about and how deep I want to go.

So, I keep learning that this sitting practice can be a time of distraction or real communion.  As I write this, I do not want to give the impression that I am always in a place of spiritual connection because I can't control that.

But what I can do is be intentional about time and place to be - just be - with God.  Hoping that God is guiding me, opening me, healing me as we spend time together in the morning.