Thank you for making me practice…

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My piano.

I sat down at her piano and started to play…

Joy to the world, the Lord is come… O come, O come, Emmanuel… The first noel the angels did say… What Child is this who laid to rest…

She sat in her wheelchair and listened, eyes bright and focused. She hummed a little, tapped her foot. Her caregiver looked over at me and nodded with happiness.

“More?” I asked her.

“Oh yes… please! And can you sing?”

I started playing some more…

“O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining!
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.”

My fingers fumbled a little. Blame it on bifocals, or a lack of practice, I didn’t always get the key signature right. “Oops! Sorry! 5 flats!” I said. “That should be D flat!”

It brought back memories of my dad hollering correcting notes from the other room. His perfect pitch was annoying at times. How many hours did I practice? More than I wanted to, for certain.

But that day in her living room, watching her smile with such contentment, I said a silent thank you to my parents for making me practice all those years ago.

Friday Five: O! Christmas Tree!

3dogmom over at RevGals writes:

It’s been a week of wrangling with the Christmas tree at our house. Multiple strands of new lights were strung carefully on the tree for big impact, but here and there malfunctions and blackouts occurred. On the third day we still don’t have fully functional lights, which is problematic mostly because until that is resolved, nothing else goes on the tree.

In light of that (no pun intended) I thought The Christmas Tree might be a good launch pad for today’s FF. So…

1) Real tree, or “fake?”
For years we did the “parking lot tree” or went to a “cut-your-own” farm. Not. Worth. The Hassle.

About 10 years ago, we converted to “fake” trees. About 3 years ago I got a “pre-lit” tree. Honestly, it has been easier. Since I loathe cleaning up pine needles (because, honestly, who do you think was the person who did the clean-up?) I am happy with an artificial tree. Call me unChristian. Whatever.

2) White or colored lights?
Our pre-lit tree is covered in white lights. Outside, it’s a variety of colored lights!!
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3) When do you put up and take down your tree?
We put the tree up during Thanksgiving weekend when our daughters are home. It varies when I take it down. I like to leave it up until 12th Night.

4) Tell us about your favorite ornament (share a picture, if you can).

Oh my goodness… so many. There are hand-made ornaments from our daughters at various ages, and some beautiful etched glass made by one of my sisters.
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5) What goes on the top of your tree (again, share a photo, if possible)?
It’s an electric star that was on our family trees when I was growing up.

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Bonus: Are there traditions about decorating your tree that you’d like to share?
When the girls were born, I started collecting an ornament for them every year of their life. They each have a box of decorations now for their homes (when they start decorating them). I started doing this because the first year I got a tree in my apartment, I had NO ornaments. I made a bunch, but they were really not that pretty. Every year I try to find something that represents what we’ve done as a family. Sometimes it’s shells from the beach. Sometimes it was related to their Halloween costume (hence the dinosaur ornament and a ballerina). Together as we decorate the tree, they put on their ornaments, and then we fill up the space with the many ornaments I have left. Even when they take their personal ornaments, I will still have plenty!

It was a ballerina year!
It was a ballerina year!
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Frank Lloyd Wright ornament (left) from a trip to Falling Water. The aspen leaf (right) is from a family vacation to Colorado.

Oh – the bottom of the tree is decorated with cat-friendly ornaments. Usually we find two or three that have been “repurposed” as cat toys.

No one knows how this happened...
No one knows how this happened…

Lessons from Ferguson

The news from Ferguson, Missouri touches a nerve. More than ever, I am aware of the ways in which my family of origin has shaped my human experience. I am blessed and privileged. To say anything less, or to make assumptions that I “understand” is both presumptuous and (dare I say it?) sinful.

As a chaplain, I have had several encounters in the hospital ER that remind me how fragile human life really is. Car accidents. Heart attacks. Drug overdose. Suicide attempts. Gun violence. Those are the extreme, headline-grabbing type of incidents.

Then there are the more commonplace that occur due to lack of access or engagement with the health system, or perhaps denial on the part of the patient. Raging infections. Impacted bowels. Cancer in advanced stages. Psychiatric illness. Neglect and abuse.

Each encounter backlit a problem that is systemic in our culture. Each incident caused a sudden weaving of a stranger’s life into my own. Over and over I heard the phrase, “Why is this happening to me?” I noted an unjust indictment against God: “If God is a loving God, why….?”

I can’t answer for God. Truthfully, there are days I do not really understand how God is working in the world. I walk on with faith and hope that the God I worship does care, does see each life as having value and does an overarching plan for the Universe.

Solidarity march for Michael Brown in response to the Ferguson grand jury decision from Flickr via Wylio© 2014 Fibonacci Blue, Flickr | via Wylio

When I read about the uproar in Ferguson, I am frustrated. I am angry. I feel powerless (and I am among the faces and races that have the socioeconomic power). Most of all, I grieve. I know that I do not really understand “what it feels like.” I remember that I have not experienced the pain, the prejudice, the anger, the wall of silence.

I remember sitting with a family member once, the matriarch of the family, waiting with her as the police detective interviewed her and then accompanying her to see her young son’s body. He had been shot in the heart at close range and was dead on arrival to the Trauma Center.

Her pain was visceral. Her family’s loss was palpable. The detective, the admissions clerk, the charge nurse all responded with efficiency, and I think they were sad that it happened. But the never-ending workload caused them to briskly move to their next tasks. It must have felt like no one cared. She turned the full force of her anger on me… and I had to agree with her that things were not going to be “OK.” In fact, I told her, they never would be.

Acknowledging her pain and my privilege didn’t fix things. But it did give us the space to move on, together, with a deeper awareness on my part that I understood far too little.

Ferguson Solidarity March NYC 11-25-14 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2014 A Jones, Flickr | via Wylio

This lesson from Ferguson doesn’t sink in easily. It isn’t comfortable. It drives conversation into depths that define one’s understanding of the abuse of power, lines of communication and the reality of racial prejudice. If we are going to learn anything trom Ferguson, Missouri, it is simply this:

We must walk through this together. And with God’s help.

That night in the ER, the grieving mother and I began that journey. We sat together, letting the tears come and go. Softly and with wavering voices, we sang a hymn. It has become my anthem to accompany sorrow, fear and the big Unknown.

I do not understand fully but that does not stop me from listening, from grieving, and from praying for change. Not One More Life lost to gun violence.

 

Precious Lord, take my hand.

Lead me on, let me stand,

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn…

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on through the night…

Precious Lord, take my hand,

Lead me home…

© Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey

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.

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…

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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.