Friday Five: Festive Forgetfulness

listsThis week I’m hosting the Friday Five over at RevGalBlogPals:

The season of lists is upon us! At least, that’s the way I cope with the many events, worship services, visits and potlucks that squeeze in during this holiday season. So let’s talk about how you cope (or don’t) with celebrating minus the stress.

1. Keeping your ducks in a row: Tell us how you manage the craziness. Lists? That faithful old-fashioned pocket calendar? Smart phone reminders? Wall calendar?

I am a hybrid on this one. I have a large wall calendar in the kitchen that has all of the family appointments, dates and reminders on it. Now that our daughters are young adults, there are fewer things entered on it, but the important ones (when classes are off, family vacation, doctor and dentist appointments) still get written on this calendar. THEN I also enter them on my smart phone to give me a little reminder. Usually I do OK.

Decorating cookies one year
Decorating cookies one year

2. Must-Do Events: What is one event on your list that you look forward to every year and NEVER miss? Not church services — something else that makes the season bright. Bonus points for a picture from a previous year’s event.

Somewhere in the mad rush between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, we have a cookie baking marathon. It depends on other things exactly when we do it (for instance, studying for classes, work schedules and vacation can shift it around a bit.) We make the standard family favorites: sugar cookies, bar cookies, and all kinds of chocolate-added cookies. It’s total havoc but lots of fun.

3. Kitchen disasters of the funny kind: Lighten the mood with one of your best kitchen disasters. What ingredient did you forget to add, or what dish was left to turn to charcoal in the oven? It may not have been funny at the time, but now it always makes you chuckle!

One time I baked an apple pie and forgot the sugar. Of course I used the nice, tart Granny Smith apples because they bake up in a pie so nicely. It was inedible until we peeled back the top layer of pie crust and sprinkled sugar on top of the apples. In my defense, it was after working a 16 hour overnight shift and I was a mom-of-very-little-brain.

4. “Honey, I can’t find the __________!” Every year we turn the kitchen upside down looking for the turkey baster and the cotton  twine for roasting the bird. Do you have a similar kitchen gadget or decorating frustration? Or have you solved a perennial problem and can give us a tried-and-true tip?

I have decided THIS YEAR to bag all of the necessary turkey roasting equipment together and put them IN the large roasting pan when I store it away. Now, how to store the ornament hooks so that I can find them when we decorate the tree… I’ll get back to you.

5. “I’ll never forget…” Tell us about a sweet holiday memory that you want to always ALWAYS remember!

We have a tradition of putting up the creches (manger scene figures) early in Advent. (Yes, I have more than one.) We follow the practice of not putting out Baby Jesus until Christmas morning. Sometimes this meant a mad dash by yours truly before I went to bed to find all the Manger-Babes and put them in place. One year when the girls were fairly young, they made it downstairs ahead of us on Christmas morning, and we heard them exclaim with glee – JESUS IS HERE! JESUS IS HERE! What better way to announce the joy of Christmas!

BONUS: For those of us leading Christmas Eve services, what is on your “MUST HAVE” list for the evening?

I have forgotten these items and am always scrambling, so NOW they are entered on my phone reminder: matches, music, extension cords.

His Name is John.

Recently, I wrote about the man who frequents an intersection on my daily commute. (See the blog post here…)

I saw him again today, and again reached into my lunch and handed him some food. Today it was two peeled oranges and a bagel with cream cheese. And I asked him, “what’s your name?”

He looked up, startled. “John,” he said.

“Well, John, I’ll be watching for you.”

He tilted his head, smiled, and said “thanks!” and moved on down the line of cars.

It’s a cold night here… please remember John and people like him who may not have a warm place to spend the night. I’m grateful for a furnace that works, a warm bed and safety.

I’m DONE.

Sometimes we say it with just a smudge of sarcasm. Just a smidge.

I’m DONE. Stick a fork in me.

This is far different. This moment for me is one of many years of study, working, reading, writing and preparation. Tonight I finished editing and compiling all of the paperwork necessary to apply to become a Board-Certified Chaplain. It means that I have:

  • a Masters of Divinity from an accredited seminary
  • ordination and endorsement from a recognized faith group
  • four semesters (or “units”) of Clinical Pastoral Education via ACPE (Association of Clinical Pastoral Education)
  • working as a professional chaplain and accruing hours
  • writing on how I meet the 30 competencies of a professional chaplain — or try to

Next I meet with a certification committee who ask more in-depth questions about the 100+ pages I have assembled. They will determine if I can be recommended for board certification. That could happen as early as March 2015.

SO now… we wait. And relax. And do a little knitting!

I’m profoundly grateful. This journey has been a long one. VERY long. Yet God has been with me every step of the way, surrounding with with encouragers and friends.

DONEDONEDONE

Thanks be to God.

Life in the Thin Places

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It was a sweet moment.
Prayers said,
Tissues dampened.
Hugs given.
A life well lived,
And love given freely.
God’s Spirit wrapped us
in a gentle wave of sadness.
Good-byes said
And a blessing given.
I find it both a blessing
and a privilege
to do this work
called chaplaincy.

Thanks be to God.

Raking Leaves: An Exercise in Gratefulness?

leaves

 

That, my friends, is the culmination of about 2 weeks worth of raking, mulching, composting and bagging some of the leaves in our back yard. 16 containers/bags of leaves! Both compost bins are stuffed to the max (twice). With the weather forecast heading to below-I-don’t-wanna-know later this week, I decided to try and make a little headway.

I don’t mind yard work, as a rule. It’s a great excuse to be outside. We have multiple bird feeders, dens of rabbits and the occasional fox, hawk and possum. In the middle of suburbia, there’s a lot to see.

This year I realized how lucky I am. I am physically able to rake my leaves. So many of my patients are exhausted, unable to handle the smallest of chores around their homes. Laundry, groceries, cooking and cleaning are beyond them. They are dependent on friends or pay out large chunks of cash.

So as I raked and stuffed each bag, I thought about them. Named them. Prayed for those who help them. Each time I hauled another bag to the curb this afternoon, I wondered who would be handling their leaves and (too soon) shoveling their walkways.

I walked my labyrinth afterwards, letting my body cool down from the exertion. So much to be grateful for… and I am.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2

Everything on earth
has its own time
    and its own season.
There is a time
for birth and death,
    planting and reaping…

Tchaikovsky – The Seasons – Autumn

The Crumbs from the Table: Food for Thought

Shrimper coming in with a catch to St. Helena Island, SC
Shrimper coming in with a catch to St. Helena Island, SC

One of my favorite parts of our annual beach trip is getting stuck on the drawbridges.

Yes, really!

Sitting between sea and sky, water on all sides, and no way to move, I  can turn off my car’s engine and just drink in the loveliness.

Last August, as I sat and waited for the traffic to move, I watched with amusement as the last shrimper chugged along through the channel, followed by a crowd of seagulls. They were fighting for the best positions in the air over the back of the boat as the chum (unwanted fish and aquatic life of various kinds) were tossed out into the ocean behind them. This was a seagull’s dream – a rich scavenging area. Add to that the small fish and other food that can be churned up by the  boat’s propellers, there was plenty for easy pickings.

But the birds that amused me the most were the ones that had been hanging out the whole time at the docks. I could see them sitting on the end of the piers, the prime piles occupied according to some sort of seagull ranking. As the catch was off-loaded and the shrimp cleaned, those birds had a front row seat to the leftovers. The late-comers (who had followed the boat) were chased off by the larger, seemingly healthier birds.

Then I thought of the story of the Canaanite woman and her encounter with Christ in Matthew 15

Jesus left and went to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon. Suddenly a Canaanite woman from there came out shouting, “Lord and Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is full of demons.” Jesus did not say a word. But the woman kept following along and shouting, so his disciples came up and asked him to send her away.

Jesus said, “I was sent only to the people of Israel! They are like a flock of lost sheep.” The woman came closer. Then she knelt down and begged, “Please help me, Lord!”

Jesus replied, “It isn’t right to take food away from children and feed it to dogs.” “Lord, that’s true,” the woman said, “but even dogs get the crumbs that fall from their owner’s table.”

Jesus answered, “Dear woman, you really do have a lot of faith, and you will be given what you want.” At that moment her daughter was healed.

Matthew 15:21-28 (Common English Bible)

There are those who, either by reputation, power or rank always have a seat at the table. And then there are many who are outsiders, left to beg for the essentials of daily life. We provide food almost begrudgingly, it seems. Or it seemed that way to me.

This week in my commuting around the county to visit my patients, I went by the same intersection four times in  one day. The same man was there, walking up and down the median strip on his crutches, one leg amputated below the knee. The sign around his neck said simply, “Hungry. God bless.”

I didn’t know what led him to that point, but I knew I had plenty of food, and he didn’t. I didn’t want to give him money.  (It’s a matter of principle, I don’t know how the money will be spent.) But I had my lunch in a cooler on the seat beside me. I had food.

The first time I was stopped on his side of the street, I offered him a bottle of water and some peanut butter crackers. They were “extras” I had on hand in the car, usually for when I forgot my lunch. I’ll be honest. I felt pretty good about it. I patted myself on the back and drove on.

But later in the day, he was still there panhandling. It had rained and was cool and breezy. All I had left were two small clementine oranges, the perfect, sweet treat at the office as I finish up my charting for the day. As I handed them over, he looked in at me and said, “Fruit? It’s been a long time.”

IMG_6751I watched him in my side mirror as he moved down the line of cars… And then I  realized as I drove away I had been giving him crumbs, so to speak, from my table.  I’d give him the parts of my meal that were not things I cared about. They were the least of what I had. But giving him something I had reserved for myself… I had given him a seat at the table.

It was, indeed, food for thought.

As the last leaf falls…

IMG_6762

As the last leaf falls,
I bask in the shorted hours of sunlight,
soaking up the rays
that so quickly shift to twilight.

As the last leaf falls,
I watch the squirrels rush for food
and stuff the tree tops full of leaves
against the autumn winds.

As the last leaf falls,
I stop to catch the leaves,
dying, yet full of color,
drifting down in a backlit haze,
painting the ground with gold.

As the last leaf falls,
I remember that life is sweet
and the memories I made in the shade of that tree
will warm my heart and soothe my soul
until slowly, comes the spring.

Long Days. Restless Nights.

The last two days have been long. Long and full of hard tasks. I don’t mind the hard work… It’s what I’m called to do.

Maybe it was the dark and hairy commute home after seeing my last patient. Maybe it was the emotional stress. But I didn’t sleep so well last night.

I started home last night after prayers at the bedside of a sweet saint. Earlier in the day I met with another family and made funeral plans. And I talked with still others about the reality of saying “good-bye” before many more “hello’s” go by.

I sat in traffic. I creeped and crawled my way home. For a good 15 minutes, my speedometer looked like this:

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Yeah. That was fun. There ought to be a rule about how many minutes your car can be in “park” on an interstate…

So what do you do? I flipped on the news and traffic station, and the announcer said, “Pick your lane and stick with it.” I mulled that one over. For several hours.

Perseverance. Determination. Focus.

“Pick your lane and stick with it.”

Keep trying. Listen to that still, small voice. Know yourself and do what you do best.

“Pick your lane and stick with it.”

Even when it’s frustrating. Even when you’re misunderstood. Even when (especially when) you aren’t sure what’s next…

“Pick your lane and stick with it.”

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it is?

Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care
If so I can’t imagine why
We’ve all got time enough to cry

- Chicago

Today was my first day keeping tabs on the time since we ended Daylight Savings time over the weekend. Every time I looked at a clock or my watch, I didn’t know if it was set correctly or not. Every. Stinking. Time.

My car is set ten minutes fast so that I get places on time. (Yes I know that I know I’ve set it ahead– it still helps.)

My alarm clock sets itself automatically once I sync my phone to it. It’s so smart!

My phone is always correct, assuming that I remember to charge it.

IMG_6744But the piece of jewelry I wear on my wrist… who knows? The ‘extra’ clock in my office? probably not. So I spent today checking the time on my phone, and then setting (or confirming) the time on the regular timepiece. It got a little comical when someone asked me the time and I pulled out my phone.

“My kids do that all the time,” she said. “It drives me crazy!”

I nodded. “Yeah, mine do it as well. But it just so happens that today, I don’t know if my watch is right or not. But I know my phone is!”

Sometimes when I walk into a room and see my patients, they have no idea what day it is, or even the time of day… Is it after lunch or before breakfast? It is Tuesday or Friday? And who is this friendly visitor, any way?

On a day full of appointments, meetings and tasks, I moved from one to the next. Time flew. And I kept wondering, “what time is it?”

I was reminded today of one of my overseas experiences that taught me about our modern obsessions with the clock. My host country called it “tick-tick time” — we Westerners were so caught up in what the clock said. They, on the other hand, were more interested in the events and people around them. Time itself was not important in the grand scheme of things.

On a day like today, when I never knew the time (until I looked at my phone) I realized how much healthier that is.

Tempus fugit said Mrs. Shinn from The Music Man.

She was so right.

Stick-in-the-mud

A recent stroll through my labyrinth revealed this:

A true "stick-in-the-mud"!
A true “stick-in-the-mud”!

Somehow, the silver maple dropped a branch and it landed upright, stuck in the mud. We had several days of hard rain, and the combination of that rain, a pretty heavy branch, and gravity resulted in my day’s object lesson.

Circuit after circuit on the labyrinth, I saw that stick. I remembered a poem by Shel Silverstein:

Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

In chaplaincy, we sometimes talk about “re-framing” an event or situation. We provide the opportunity to see things from a new perspective. Not in a “Pollyanna” sort of way, but with the intent to free up what “has always been” to what it “could be.”

It’s not easy.

I neither want to minimize fears and legitimate concerns, not suggest that something is “wrong” with an individual’s thinking. But I also want to educate, to promote “possibilities” that might not have been considered.

“I wonder if you’ve ever watched someone else deal with this…” I might begin… “I wonder if you’ve thought of this diagnosis having a different outcome.”

“I wonder if…”

What I want to give up on completely, God has a way of invoking possibilities. I just have to take the time to see them

Faith. Life. Family. Cats. And Chocolate. Always Chocolate!

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