Thursday, April 19, 2012

Did You Miss Easter?

I stopped by the car repair shop to check on Scott, a mechanic, whose best friend and partner for over 30 years died unexpectedly before Easter. Her daughter found her mom one morning in her easy chair cold and blue. Scott shared that they had an unusual relationship. They fought like cats and dogs but respected each other very much. He said that it was hard and that he had lost his faith in God. He had his doubts about his faith, his God and why did this have to happen.

My response was simply: “you are not alone.” When the love of my life died over thirty years ago to cancer I screamed at God for nine months. The pain of lost is real and not imagined. When our loves are gone, we feel empty and washed out. I was angry with God that He took my best friend away from me and how was I ever going to survive.

In these moments, it the faith of others around us, our ancestors who come to our rescue. So Scott goes on to share, “you might think this is crazy” and I respond, “Go ahead try me.” It seems that two weeks before his girlfriend died, she shared a dream with him. She dreamed that her grandmother had come into her apartment and told her “not to worry that grandma was alright and everything is fine.” She did not want to share this vision with to many people thinking that she was off her rocker. So Scott wonders was God trying to tell her something before she died.

How many of us have felt a real experience with our ancestors who came back to reassure us that they are at peace?

Later that day, my hair stylist who has cut my hair for over thirty years shared that it will be a year this May when her mother died. One day in the basement, she was thinking about her mom when she suddenly felt a powerful experience in which her mother literally came inside of her. She did not feel sick or afraid, but a feeling of peace that her mother was telling her that she was present in her life and would never let her daughter feel alone. Later that day, out of the blue her sister calls her on the cell phone to share that something weird happened and she was feeling strange and awkward. Early in the morning which turned out to be on the same day her sister was in the basement, she too felt her mother calling out to her and telling her that she was fine and not to worry.

What do you think about these revelations? Are we all delusional and need to see our shrinks? Or maybe it just might be God reaching into our hearts and inside our bodies to reassure us that Jesus is truly risen and so are all our loved ones.

As Kathy shared, maybe we do need to feel the pain of lost for a while, but what is that compared to an eternity in heaven with the ones we love. I call this an act of faith that can boost our morale and recharge our energy whenever grief takes a hold. Easter takes place every day in our life when we trust in the word of God.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect: “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends whose loved ones have come back to us in our dreams, into our bodies, to touch our doubts with hope and peace. Comfort us in our sorrow, and give us the courage to believe!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lord, Why Do You Receive Them?

A wise father knows what it means to forgive --his young adult child had died in his sleep while camping with the family, but the autopsy revealed drug overdose. This father offered three somewhat earthy bits of practical advice that are worth sharing.

He said, "I'm not very good at spiritual discipline, but after being called by a friend to practice what I preach, I sat alone in my study and made believe I was a priest in the confessional. I said out loud, 'Drug dealer, in the name of God, I forgive you.' I felt kind of foolish at this creative hypocrisy, but it did get the juices of forgiveness going. Oh, a year later when my son’s friends drove past my house I had to go through the whole forgiveness process again. Forgiveness by fallible creatures is repetitious." That's real wisdom. For us weak creatures forgiveness indeed turns out to be a repetitious affair.

The second bit of wisdom he offers is this: "Don't forgive too fast." By that he doesn't mean to harbor lingering revenge. He means that we have to allow time for the hurt to surface, for the hatred to be visible and recognized and acknowledged to the point when perhaps we can say out loud, "I hate you." It is only when the hurt, the enemy, is out there and regurgitated that we can feel its full impact and come to terms with forgiveness. That's what our friend means by saying, "Don't forgive too fast." Otherwise our forgiveness is too shallow. It hasn't grabbed sufficiently hold of the evil.

And finally he gives this delightful advice: "It's good to remember that when you pray for your enemies it doesn't automatically make them your friends. They are still your enemy. They're still out to get you. They still hate your guts." And he adds for emphasis: "They are still your enemies and you'd better guard against them because they might wallop you when you're down on your knees." But that's their problem.

And yet, despite our Lord's example and his command to forgive, there are people who cannot bring themselves to offer forgiveness. And there are people who cannot bring themselves to accept it. Some people get so caught up in their own guilt that they cannot accept forgiveness, even from God. They feel there is no hope for themselves either in this world or the next. They spend their time hugging their guilt to themselves, thereby blocking out the forgiveness of the Christ who is on record for forgiving others.

What does Christ say to those who cannot bring themselves to forgiveness? Those of us who have caused so much hurt in this life. God says,” Come forth, you who are drunk. Come forth, you who abuse. Come forth, you who know no shame.” And we shall all come forth without being ashamed, and we will stand before him. And the wise will say, and the learned will say, “Lord, why do you receive them?' And he will say to them, 'I receive them, oh wise ones, I receive them, oh learned ones, because not one of them ever thought himself worthy of it.' And he will stretch out his arms to us, and we shall fall down before him, and we shall weep, and we shall understand all."

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice, he heard my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 116:1-3)

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who desperately need your mercy. May we be willing to surrender our need for resentment and bring peace to those who have hurt us.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Knuckles in Paradise

Two days before Easter, a grandson asked me to come to the cemetery to bury his grandmother. This young man shared these memories of this woman of faith with the big knuckles.

Grandma was not only a farmer’s wife but she also a farmer. She worked right alongside him on the dairy farm. Her routine day on the farm began at 3am every morning. She would grab her three kids and head out to the barn for the morning milking. The little ones would continue sleeping in the hay while the cows were being attended to. When this grandmother went to the nursing home, she would tell people to look at her big knuckles and then say: “My grandmother told me to never learn to milk a cow and so what do I do? I went right to the barn and learned how to milk a cow. Now look at these knuckles that I ended up with.”

Grandma learned how to drive the tractor when her husband was bailing hay. She even learned how to butcher the chickens when the family needed food for the table. When her beloved spouse died, grandma continued to work a large garden and she mowed their two-acre property by hand. Though she had a riding mower parked in the garage, she preferred to use the old-fashioned push mower. She continued to cut her own lawn until she was in her early 80’s.

Later in life, grandma found a new hobby, a wood-burning stove. She would feed that stove at all hours of the day and night and took great pride in maintaining, splitting and stacking her own wood. She had truckloads of wood delivered every fall to last the winter months. However, one time her grandson came out to stack some of the wood for her. After growing tired from the long day of stacking, the grandson promised to return in a few days and finish the large pile. When he came back, grandma had finished it all by herself, one log at a time. At age 80, she went to the doctor and he noticed a bruise on her leg. When he asked what it was from, she said that a chunk of wood had hit her leg while spilling logs. The bewildered doctor looked at her 90-pound frame and asked how in the world could she be splitting wood at her age. Considering that a silly question, grandmother answered, “Well, with an ax!” How else would one split wood?

After grandfather died, grandma memorized the 23rd Psalm for comfort and started reading the Bible. She would get up at 3am and read her Bible for four hours at a time. Her bible was well worn and held together with duct tape and when she could no longer see so well, she would have her grandson read the bible to her. Her grandson shared that she worked very hard on the family farm. She never took a vacation and her priorities were her faith and her family.

The Gospels assure us that the resurrection was physical, real, not just some hallucination inside the consciousness of believers. After the resurrection, we are assured, Jesus' tomb was empty, people could touch him, he ate food with them, and he was not a ghost.

Notice that after he rose from the dead, Jesus was seen by some, but not by others; understood by some, but not by others. Some got his meaning and it changed their lives, others were indifferent to him, and still others understood what had happened, hardened their hearts against it, and tried to destroy its truth. For this grandmother, she read in her bible that Jesus was alive and she chose to believe. Perhaps milking those cows that gave her those big knuckles gave her the humility and faith to simple believe. What do you believe?

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4)

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who celebrate Easter with their family and friends. May our service to God and neighbor give us the knuckles that bring peace of mind and hope that we will see all our ancestors including grandma again in Paradise.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Feeling Crummy

I just finished cleaning the house after a wonderful celebration with family and friends. However, while vacuuming leftover crumbs on the floor, I ’m thinking how some of my new parishioners are feeling a little crummy. It’s no one fault. Misunderstanding happens in every family and faith community. There are moments when we lose our temper and need to vent. That’s the way God made us. Sometimes we need to let off a little steam. But what’s more important is what follows next!

So while I’m vacuuming the crumbs and feeling a little crummy myself. Here is my prayer for all those moments that catch us off guard.

“Father, forgive them, forgive me… when I feel misunderstood. You understand more than anybody this feeling of not being understood and rejected. You came to bring forgiveness of our sins, those irritating remarks that drive our family, relatives and parishioners nuts. Now send your spirit to calm and heal our misunderstandings. After a breath of fresh air, let us think what really matters. Getting our way, being right or getting back with the people, our family and friends who matter most in our life.

You taught us by your life that we need to say, ‘I love you.’ So when something breaks, we need to fix it, when it hurts, we need to figure out a way to heal the wounds. Sure, it’s a bother and we would prefer to say that we are in the right and we deserve more respect. But come on now, how much respect did Jesus receive dying on a cross like a criminal. God knows how we are feeling when misunderstood. But from the cross, remember these words.

‘Father, forgive them they know not what they do.’ We need to stop the hurtful words and hurtful thinking that prevents us from coming back and feeling close with family, neighbors, in-laws and the church.

What an amazing Father we have in heaven, who created us with all our flaws, listens to our groaning and whining, yet still wants us around for eternity. He must be nuts!!!”

When we are ready to heal. Go back to those people, your neighbor, co-worker or fellow parishioner and tell them we were not at our best. We prayed about how God hung on that cross in silence bearing the weight of our misgivings, foolish whining and selfishness. In this silence of the heart comes a spirit of forgiveness that heals the soul and makes things right with God and one another.

So this Holy Week, if you really want to make a difference in your life. Who needs to hear from your lips, “I’m sorry and I love you.”

I love this prayer for Holy Week and recommend that you pray it often: “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (Psalm 130:4).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that you give us the strength to “bury” all our hurt feelings. Let us be your willing servants who listen to your voice of mercy and kindness all the days of our life.