You can help to bring hope

20141010 map of middle eastYou can help the church in the Middle East to keep bringing hope and healing to those suffering from war and oppression.

Please watch the video, and if you are moved, please donate through one of the links below which are special accounts through my church, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

Thank you. God bless you. May he hear our prayers for peace.

ECOs in World Mission designated for partner churches:

Iraq – Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in Iraq:

Syria – Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon:

Gaza – Ahli Arab Hospital (Episcopalian Church of the Holy Land):

A walk in the dark

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I need to clear my mind of the jumbled thoughts that cram it up at times, I go for a walk. I can look back in the past fifteen years especially and remember some of those times and those walks.

I remember one I took on the evening of May 17, 2001. I had come home to find a letter in the mail to me from one Steve Burgess. Presumably it was an answer to one I had sent him three days before. Instead of ripping it open to read in that moment of anticipation and wonder, I set out on an hour’s walk to clear my mind of the worst possibilities. I took the dogs with me for company and just walked and walked through the neighborhood, down to Elmwood Park, up through UNO and back. Upon returning home, I took a deep breath and opened the letter. The end of it said something like, “Why don’t you call me when you finish this.” I did. It was life-changing as the next night I went on my first date. Ever.

About seven months later, I took another long walk. It was the morning of December 22, a Saturday. I headed out the door with a mind so full of joy and amazement that I needed to expend the energy. I could have easily driven the eighteen blocks to my dad’s apartment to tell him that his daughter said “yes” to Steve’s proposal, but I walked instead. Actually, I’m not sure my feet really touched the ground, but that’s love, isn’t it?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASteve and I went to the Czech Republic twice to be with the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren in 2007 and again in 2008. We had a great experience getting to know about our brothers and sisters there in the reformed church, whose beginnings go back to Jan Hus, a reformer 100 years before Martin Luther. At a beautiful church property in the Krkonoše mountains near the Polish border, we had a hike with our team. As we hiked through the forest and along a tumbling stream, I couldn’t help but think of Jana. Jana’s home and heart were in the Colorado mountains and she had walked paths like this so many times. My heart just broke for the fact that her life wasn’t there any more. She was back in Omaha dealing with the reality that her life had gotten smaller due to the seizures which had struck her and sent her back for more emergency neurosurgery. She could no longer hike the mountain paths along tumbling streams as the wind’s song through tall conifers played above and around her. I stopped by that stream and just wept. I found walking by myself away from the group was the only way I could find communion with Jana in her loss and try to absorb this moment for her.

I took another one of those head clearing walks last night. Some days communicating with Jana is hard. Her logic is not our logic. In trying to help her to simplify ordinary tasks, Steve and I have a tendency to push her places she doesn’t want to go. Nor should she have to, but we push anyway. We sometimes push her to the point of tears and it tears my heart apart to see this once headstrong, confident, stubborn woman, broken to this point.

My way to deal with it last night was to put my shoes on and walk. No, I didn’t want Steve to come. No, I didn’t have the company of two four-footed friends as we don’t currently have any. I just went, trying to dump the pain and the hurt by walking.

I noticed a small American flag kicked to the curb in a puddle. It lay there in stark contrast to the one flying high on the flagpole at Memorial Park.

I walked by our next-door neighbor church on my way up to the park. It’s a hurting place now, with both pastors gone. On my way back home, there was an ambulance and fire engine stopped in front, lights flashing. I hope whoever needed them at a meeting that was going on there last evening is fine this morning. But I couldn’t help but think of the irony of emergency vehicles in front of this church in need of rescue and healing.

I noticed that in the dark of seven o’clock in Omaha’s early fall evening I couldn’t tell what colors were blooming in the rose garden of the park. I had just walked there a few days before in the afternoon, and all the colors stood out. But not at night. They all just blended together into a dullness that looked like my heart felt.

It was more of a walk of lamentation.

I came home after that. I’m not sure my mind was cleared of anything. It was just empty. And maybe that was what I was after. Emptiness for just a few moments before I could sleep.

I woke up this morning like every morning. Steve kissed me good-bye. Jana said “good morning.” We had our breakfast together and I took her to the print shop. Normal life returned. A clear mind to start the day. No worries. No drama. No tears. A fresh start.

And it is kind of funny that the verse that comes to mind on a morning like this after an evening like that is from the book of Lamentations:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (3:22-24)

Truth. Truth. Truth. That’s where I’m walking today.


Healing garden in the rain

A number of years ago, a wonderful family in our church provided funds for the creation of a healing garden on the north side. It’s just a beautiful spot now. The trees and shrubs have matured so well. We have the sweetest gardeners here at West Hills who give such care to our gardens, and they have masterfully kept this one free of weeds. It’s a spot to sit and read, or pray, or contemplate. God always seems so close in a garden. I love to wonder at his creation in this one, and my gardens at home.

God has been good to us in Nebraska this year with rain. Even now, on the last day of September as we should be creeping into the bright colors and then browns of fall, the rain is coming down and everything is as green as that beautiful green of spring. In that healing garden today, it is no different. That beautiful soothing place is like an oasis and even in the rain it beckons me. “Come sit. Come pray. Come share what is on your heart with God. He’ll meet you right here.”

Okay, so it’s raining, so I didn’t go out there. But it didn’t stop me from taking the moment looking out the window to share with him that I am indeed in need of healing.

God bless Sr. Joyce Rupp today! Her devotion in “Fragments of Your Ancient Name” for September 30 reminded me that “I need relief from my burdens.” I need healing from their weight, and I can take that right to my Father:

Alleviate what bothers me
About certain aspects of my life.
Lighten the burdens I carry
In my concern for others’ woe.
Allay my fear of the future
And what it might bring to me.
Smooth the rough edges
That irritate my reckless mind.
Reduce the tension of my troubles
As I place greater trust in you.

She found inspiration for this ten-line prayer from something in the Qu’ran. And the significance of that for me today was something.

In a conversation today at lunch a question came up about one of those worries or burdens that I carry around with me. We were talking about ISIS/ISIL and what they are doing in their rampage through Syria and Iraq. One person wanted to know why we never hear from Muslims in our country speaking out against this perversion of their faith. An Egyptian pastor I know believes their ideology is the real Islam. Yet, he pointed out to me an Iraqi Shia imam who has been arrested in Iran, who preaches something very different from this. Others I have heard from in my travels tell me the same thing: this ideology is NOT the real Islam.

I worry that this ideology is wreaking havoc on people I know and love in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. It’s destroying their homes, their families, their way of life. They are fleeing the lands where their roots go back to the beginning of the church.

And here in this ten-line prayer, inspired by words from a tradition not my own, written by my first grade teacher, who discipled me as a child and inspires my faith even now fifty years later, is a reminder that God is so much bigger than I can imagine.

He sends the rain to reduce the tension of drought. He brings forth the greens of the earth which smooth and soothe the rough edges of my worries and burdens. He carries the weight of my concern for others who are suffering in places so far away. He invites me into that healing garden – even if it’s only a place in my mind because it’s raining outside – and invites my conversation with him.

In days like this, I really need that reminder of healing and where to find it. My heart is broken for a murdered sister. My heart aches with the pain this has brought to my family. And I know that there are countless others in this war torn world that feel this same brokenness in the loss of their family members. And we cry out for justice that is not in our hands, and over which we have no control.

I need to get on my knees and pray. I need to sit in the garden and talk to the healer. And I need to remember that he makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous and it is not my job to decide who belongs in which group.

He tells me to love my enemies and to pray for them too.

During Lent in 2013, I spent those forty days with a Facebook group reading through the sermon on the mount every day. So each day I read through the entirety of those amazing words in the gospel of Matthew, chapters five, six and seven. Some days I settled on certain places and a poem was birthed.

Today, in the healing rain, I just wanted to share this one:

Love Your Enemies: Lent Day 35 Mathew 6:43-48

Ten years ago it started
With shock and awe and blood
An unfounded persecution
of a country misunderstood
They told us it was in response
To the terror of Nine Eleven
But the lies have since been exposed
Forgive us, God in heaven.
For by our laws the “they” is “we”
The phrase is “we the people”
And so we all must bear this stain
Of a war that is blatantly evil.

I pray for this forgiveness
And in the praying know
That across nine time zones there are those
Whose prayers arise also
The sun that rose today for me
Shines also in eastern desert
And when it rains from western skies
It can fall in the east as treasure.
They know these verses that we read
In fact, they heard them first!
May they be prompted to love their enemy
“We the people” who caused grievous hurt.

May we each pray for forgiveness from the other, and in the praying find healing for our broken lives and hearts.

Heart for healing, heart for peace

Heart for the Middle EastIt sits in a small box on my desk, nested in shreds of paper. It’s called the “inner spirit rattle” and it was a gift from a co-worker, a sister, a woman of generous heart and deep feeling. She gave it to me because when she saw it in the gift shop it reminded her of me.

That makes me smile. With it came this little card with a quote from Billy Joel:

I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.

“…an explosive expression of humanity.” What a great visual of the power of music! It meshes with my great manifesto of peace through music. (Someday that billion voice flash mob of a choir will happen. Talk about an explosive expression of humanity…can you imagine the explosive peace? I can.)

So I keep this musical heart rattle next to me on my desk and it brings me comfort and joy because of the giver and reminds me always of how we can encourage one another in this life. There is the sweet tinkle of bells and the soft rattle of its inner stones when I shake it. It’s a quiet music I can make right here in my office anytime.

There is another little card that came with it that says…

American Indians have long used rattles during ceremonies to ensure blessings upon their crops. Use this rattle to help rattle some rain into your life, some rain out of your life, to help rattle your worries away…

I use it to remind me to pray for the people I know represented by the world map just above my head to the left. I pray that peace would rain down like the deluge that came into our yard again last night. That those who have lived as neighbors for centuries in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and other parts of this globe will be able to live that way again soon. That their children would grow up to see tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. That together they will sing songs and make music that is an explosive expression of humanity. That the other kinds of explosions which have destroyed their communities, their homes, their lives, would be forever silenced. Such a rain of peace would be life-giving and life-sustaining.

The prayers that arise from my heart when I look at this beautiful little gift of a rattle are for healing and peace.

I found these words today from Pope Francis, and though they are about Syria specifically, I offer them on behalf of the entire region as I hold my ceramic heart in my hand, and the prayers pulse out with each beat.

A reading from an Angelus homily of Pope Francis

Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice
to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world…
from the one great family which is humanity.
It is the cry for peace!
It is a cry which declares with force:
We want a peaceful world; we want to be men and women of peace …
and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict,
that peace break out!
There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded by what is happening in Syria and by the dramatic developments which are looming.
I appeal strongly for peace …
How much suffering, how much devastation,
how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake …
I think of many children who will not see the light of the future!
With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons.
There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which is inescapable!
Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake.
War begets war; violence begets violence.
What can we do to make peace in the world?
As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love.
All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace.
I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sister who do not believe:
Peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs to all of humanity.
I repeat forcefully:
It is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony with and between peoples, but it is a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue;
This is the only way to peace.
May the plea for peace rise up and touch the hearts of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and let themselves be led by the desire for peace.