Thursday, March 22, 2012

Seeds of Happiness

A daughter was struggling to take care of her sick mom. Her mother needed a surgery and a pre-opt appointment was made to take her mom to see the doctor. This daughter called her sister and asked her to help take their mother to see the surgeon. However, her sister's response was that she was too busy and her mother should change the date of the surgery. Her sister was outraged and disgusted with her sister’s response. This daughter daily cared for her mom and all she wanted from her sister was help to take their mother to the appointment. What was she thinking? Why do we act so heartless?

Research tells us that the key trait of happy people is that they have a purpose. In short they “invest” their lives in something. During times of family illness taking care of our parents can seem a bit of a tall order. However, if you ask a “happy” person, how they are in life, playing hard too get is not one of their traits. rather, they will enthusiastically tell you of something they’re at or doing. It could be work, or maybe investing time in helping their parents through difficult times. All in all, as they will explain, it really seems to give them life. The essence of their happiness seems to be giving more than receiving.

It does seem that we are genetically coded to “flourish under fire” to quote the title of a recent book by popular psychologist Maureen Gaffney. She contends that we are meant to have well-being, meaning and purpose in our lives. Agreed, but how do we achieve this. Basically by dying to self and living for others. Something needs to switch this on.

Jesus speaks of a grain of wheat dying. What happens there? Inside every seed is an embryo that has a root going into the ground and a shoot going up. It also has an “on” and “off” switch. The time and soil temperature must be right before the “on” switch allows oxygen in water to come into the seed. When it takes in water, it expands, breaking the seed coat and producing sugar and proteins and ultimately fruit.

Something like that needs to happen to us. Maybe the outside conditions are not ideal in our faith community, in our family, in our life. Perhaps we are a dried up shriveled seed - but we are destined to grow and flourish.

We approach Holy Week. Next Sunday you may see your community gather in a different space outside the Church to mark Jesus entrance into Jerusalem. Perhaps you will bring your own green branch. As you cut it off this week from the lifegiving shrub it belongs to- consider this; what ways are we cut off from the life giving power of God. In Jesus we have someone worth living for and great enough to die for. Or are we like the amateur gardener, who bought the seed packs with those beautiful pictures of flowers…on those same seed packs. The seed, which was never immersed in soil, lie shriveled and dormant within its paper coffin. It would be terrible if our true epitaph at the end of life were to be a similar “returned unopened.”

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and does not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater. (Isaiah 55:10).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends to help us open our seed packages and share the abundance of our life with those in need of your life giving understanding and love.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spiritual Mentors

I opened my basement doors for Steve to back in his truck who was going to install a water conditioner for our home. After he opened his van, he turned and asked if he could ask me something about religion. On his way to our farm, he got a call from his wife that a neighbor had died last night. This neighbor was Ariel, a member of his church where Steve was a deacon.

Ariel was Steve’s spiritual mentor. Ariel taught by example. He worked hard on his farm, raised his crops and animals and took care of his family. Ariel had his share of farming accidents and lost the use of his shoulders. He struggled with the daily chores but got by for you see farmers are a stubborn and a proud bred of people. Stubborn yes, but generous to family and friends and fiercely faithful to their religion.

Ariel was Dutch Reform who practiced his faith by coming to church every Sunday, saying his prayers to himself, tithing according to the good book and working hard on the farm. He was not outgoing and he did not join any committees.

Steve grew found of Ariel and started coming over to visit. He noticed that Ariel was physically hurting so he took some cords of wood from his tree farm, and brought them as a gift. One tradition Ariel practiced was high tea; Steve was invited to this time honored tradition when Ariel took a break to enjoy some Earl Gray and sandwiches in the afternoon. It was at these special moments that Steve noticed another side of this hard working farmer and witnessed a faith he grew to love and admire.

Steve understood that Ariel was not comfortable in his old church that had a change of heart. He just wanted to come sit in his pew and be quiet with the Lord and go back and tend to his fields. Steve was an experienced Navy veteran who for over 20 years was use to living in chaos. Their church wanted to be a community that love one another and cared for one another. This concept made farmers like Ariel uncomfortable who were use to being independent and taking care of themselves. Yet, this morning Steve wanted someone to listen to his story about a friend and fellow parishioner who had gone to heaven but would be greatly missed by his spiritual apprentice.

I asked Steve if being a deacon in his country church was different than when he serving on board ship in the Navy. ‘Oh, yes!’ he said emphatically. ‘In the Navy if I said to my fellow shipmates, “We are all shipmates of one another on this boat,” they would just nod their heads in agreement as if to say that everyone, even the most simple, understands that. But when I say that same sentence to people who live on the farm, they look at me as though I am proposing some crazy theory.

Steve noted that a characteristic on the farm is that dogma of individualism which makes it almost impossible for people to realize that we are members one of another, that we are meant to live in community, that our need for another is not a weakness but a divine gift. To live in community whether on board a ship, or in a country church or at home with your family can stretch our limits. Love is a decision.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “But with you is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (Psalm 130:4).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that you help us all feed the hunger to be more generous with our time and be present to those in need of our comfort, our forgiveness and our compassion.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Be Patient and Pay Attention

One day a little girl asked her father, "Daddy, what is God like?" The question sounded innocent enough--until the father actually tried to put his answer into language that a five-year- old could relate to. Finally, he gave the answer for which fathers are famous: "Go ask your mother." She went to her mother with the question, "Mother, what is God like?" The mother soon realized that she had no adequate answer for her daughter either. She said, "Honey, why don't you ask your Sunday school teacher?" The little girl went to her Sunday school teacher with the same question, "What is God like?" The teacher said simply, "Why don't you ask your father or mother?" The little girl thought to herself as she left, "If I had lived with God as long as my father and mother and Sunday school teacher, I think I would be able to tell a little girl what He is like."

How would you answer this little girl’s question? Is God like your best friend who listens to you on the phone when something bad has happened in your life? Or, is God like the co-worker who pats you on the back after you completed a project before a deadline. Maybe, God is like your parent who smiles and takes your pictures while you were performing on stage at a school play. Or, maybe God was like your mom who coached your lacrosse team and encouraged everyone on the team to do their best.

What God really wants from us is a change of heart, a change of direction in the course of our lives through good works. And good works do not begin overseas somewhere in Africa or Asia, or even in some poor inner city area. Good works should begin in our own families, in our own neighborhoods and in our everyday lives. They begin with the little things-- the kind word, the encouraging pat on the back, or being willing to listen to someone pour out their heart. These small acts of kindness are of far more weight than an envelope in the offering plate or a prayer for a missionary overseas. How often we long to do the great things for Christ, but overlook these daily critical signs of faith that should be our way of life.

Yesterday, I was blessed to listen to a wonderful Sonshine Friend who poured out their heart about a situation in which they felt rejected by her partner’s family. The pain and hurt of years of rejection had made her feel dark and empty. What is God like at this moment? Someone who has patience and pays attention. I did not have any clever psych-babble to make her feel better. But I listened and simply paid attention to her concerns for someone she loves very much but feels misunderstood.

What does the Lord require of each one of us is to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. God is like our mentor who reminds us to make kindness our second nature.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” (Proverbs 1:33).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who daily bring Your kindness into homes, offices and communities. Help us to be more patient and pay attention to reach out, to touch, and to enrich the lives of others.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Looking Over

Two friends were walking down a country road. One was really troubled. He was expressing his doubt about God, about His goodness, "I don't know what I am to do with all this trouble and worry" he said. At that moment his friend noticed a cow looking over a stonewall. "Do you know why that cow is looking over the stone wall?" he asked his friend. "No" was the reply of the troubled friend. "I will tell you, because the cow can't see “through the wall.” He went on to say that that was what you must do with your wall of troubles. Look over it. Look above it.

My spiritual director, a retired college professor whose faith I admire very much shared his personal experience on the way to the operating room. He began his email with this comment: “Did what? You were once again my ‘hospital buddy’! I had a miracle that God bestowed on me at this time. I was more than a bit worried as the date for my operation was drawing near as the surgeon indicated a sense of urgency as the earliest available date he could get me into the hospital was over two weeks and he was trying to move that date up if at all possible so my prayers were a bit more urgent right up to the morning of the surgery.

At that time, I thought of Jesus words when He taught us to pray "The Lord's Prayer" and he said that we should not go babbling on as our Father knew what we needed and we should just trust in Him. At that time my prayer just became "Father, Thy will be done to me as you will it. I put all of my worries and my concerns in Your hands and know that whatever happens here is Your will which I gratefully receive." Ever since that moment, I have felt the greatest sense of peace and well being. So, not only is my corporal body on the mend so is my spiritual body being strengthened.

To every Sonshine friend - no matter where you are, what country you are in, "look over your problems" How? By faith. The same faith my spiritual mentor prayed before his surgery that will enable you to look over and above every trouble to God who is your help. Remember, always, God sees over the fence of your life.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “You have delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.” Psalm 54:7).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that there are many sermons seen and not heard. For those, I thank you. I ask a special blessing on their eyes, that they may lift them up and over.