Thoughts on Prayers

Thoughts on Prayers

image by Coco Parisienne on Pixabay

During my final year of commuting to work, I passed by the same young teen waiting for his school bus. He was a lone sole at that bus stop. The thought that I should pray for him popped into my head one day. So I did, calling him Bus Stop Boy in my mind since I didn’t know him.

It became a habit for me to offer a short prayer for him as I drove by. And then I wondered, “What if I am the only person on earth praying for this child?”

Most often I don’t feel as if I am good at praying. I feel I am lacking; that there are others who pray more fervently or more genuinely. I suffer from Imposter Syndrome in my prayer life.

It likely won’t surprise you that among the many books on “how to pray,” there is one in the “dummies” series called appropriately enough, “Christian Prayer for Dummies.”

The author offers an acronym so readers can remember the four parts of an effective prayer:

ACTS

Adoration Praising God the Almighty
Confession Verbalizing and asking forgiveness for the sins we have committed
Thanksgiving Remembering to be grateful for all we have
Supplication Asking God to watch over us and care for our needs and the needs of others that we name; seeking God’s healing grace for those who are ill in body, mind, or spirit

While I poked gentle fun at Prayers for Dummies, I actually like the ACTS reminder. Although I feel more in touch with God when I follow the acronym loosely and not as if I’m at the grocery store checking items off my list.

One of my favorite true stories about prayer concerns my friend Sherry. She had been having horrendous headaches for months. One day while shopping, she saw a man who, from the rear, bore an uncanny resemblance to her dad.

When the man turned, however, he looked nothing like Sherry’s father. The two exchanged pleasantries, and then the man asked if he could pray for her because she seemed upset. Sherry agreed and bowed her head as the man touched the exact area on her head where a brain tumor would successfully be removed one month later.

She said the touch brought her chills (good ones) from her head to her toes. A prayer from a complete stranger—and how she needed the prayer at just that moment.

After my friend Linda was diagnosed this spring with stage IV ovarian cancer, I found a prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy. I amended it to include Linda’s name and sent it to mutual friends and other prayer warriors I know. I’m sharing it here and asking you to not only include Linda in your own prayers but forward it on to others.

May God heal Linda, body and soul. May Linda’s pain cease. May Linda’s strength increase. May Linda’s fears be released. May blessings, love, and joy surround Linda. Amen.    

Here’s the tough question: What about when our prayers aren’t answered the way we want? When the child doesn’t recover from the disease, when the elderly parent’s first slip into dementia rolls into an avalanche, when car wrecks, freak accidents, and people with weapons take our loved ones from us… what then? Why were our prayers to watch over those we love not fulfilled?

Life isn’t easily understandable. And I don’t have the answers. Certainly, I have questioned God’s wisdom myself.

But I do know that it’s at those very worst times in our lives that we need the prayers of others. Because in tragedy, we need to be lifted up in love and empathy, to know that no matter what, we are not alone and that we are indeed loved.

~~~~~

Please take two minutes and listen to Sarah McLachlan’s lovely rendition of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

The prayer of St. Francis

Five Bucks, Two Hours, and Three Minutes

Five Bucks Two Hours Three Minutes

Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

Legendary Stanford professor Tina Seelig posed the following assignment to teams of students in one of her classes: How profitably can a team run a (very) short-term business with $5 in seed money?

The team could spend as much time as they wanted in the planning stage, but could actually “operate” the business for a total of just two hours. They had from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday evening to complete the project because by Sunday night Seelig expected one slide from each team detailing what they had come up with.

At Monday’s class, each team had three minutes to present their project to the class.

After you read the question in bold, I want you to stop and close your eyes to consider your response: What would YOU do to make money with five bucks, two hours, and three minutes? (Go ahead. Close your eyes and think creatively. I’ll be right here when you get back.)

If we’re being cognitively lazy, we might say to use the $5 to buy lottery tickets and hope for the best. (The older we are it seems the easier it is to jump on the first answer that comes to us.) Seelig says another common response when she poses the question to adult audiences is, “Set up a lemonade stand.” But how much lemonade could you sell in two hours? There’s not much profit there.

The creative responses from her students will blow you away.

One group, recognizing the frustratingly long wait at college town restaurants on Saturday nights, booked early reservations for two at a number of the restaurants. As their expected arrival time got close, they’d approach couples at the end of the line and sell their reservation for $20 each. If the restaurant had handed out pagers to the folks in line, the team now had another spot to sell to people who were farther back in line. Within the two hour period, this team generated a few hundred dollars.

Knowing how many bicycles are used on campus, another team bought a tire pressure and a pump for air. Setting up in front of the student union, they offered to check bicycle tire pressure for free, and if it was low, charged $1 for adding air. Then when they saw how grateful students were to have this service so handy, they asked for donations instead. They too made a few hundred dollars in the two hours.

The highest profit generated by one team was $650. Before this team did anything, they evaluated what resources were available to them: five bucks, two hours, and three minutes. They determined that the $5 and the two hours would restrict them; both are very limiting. The students recognized that the most precious asset in their hands was the three-minute timeslot.

They “sold” the three-minute slot to a company that wanted to recruit the students and created an infomercial for that company. That is what they played during their three-minute presentation time.

Seelig says she used this exercise to demonstrate what you can do with an entrepreneurial mindset. But she wanted to make sure her students learned that financial reward isn’t necessarily the primary value over everything else. So the next time she ran the exercise, instead of $5, the students received ten paperclips. (She had been inspired by the story of Kyle MacDonald, link below.)

If you want to read how her students assigned amazing value to paperclips, you’ll just have to buy Seelig’s 2009 book What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20.

~~~~~

Seelig’s website

Kyle MacDonald story

Make New Old Friends

old friend

Image by Wallula on Pixabay

Isn’t deep conversation with a friend fulfilling? It nurtures the soul. It leads to stimulating thoughts. It can help us understand others better.

In talking with my friend Jen today, I learned she grew up in an Army family. They moved every single year until she was a teen. She now thinks those early years played a part in molding her into feeling like a loner who is insecure about what may come next. And that’s understandable because it’s hard (especially when you’re a kid) to build lifelong friendships when you know people less than twelve months.

When I asked Jen if I could write about her story, she agreed but added that she recently met another “Army brat.” That woman was affected by the constant shuffling in a way quite opposite to Jen. When they first learned they had similar backgrounds, the woman exclaimed something like, “Wasn’t it wonderful to always be on the move, meeting new people, having different experiences?!”

Hearing that story reminded me that various life circumstances impact each of us differently. We know that’s true if we draw on our rational brains. But too often we take the lazy way out and lapse into thinking that everyone should respond to issues just like we do. And if they don’t, they’re “wrong.”

My personal belief is that much of the negativity and hostility going on today is due to a lack of empathy. Wikipedia defines empathy as, “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”

Instead, too many people automatically jump to judgment, blame, point fingers, and instantly spew forth opinions from their own frame of reference.

My only link at the end of this post is an old favorite of mine by Brené Brown. It is less than three minutes long. Please watch it, even if you’ve seen it before.

That topic of childhood friendships popped up today because I had mentioned I’m still close with my oldest friend (we’ve known each other since we were toddlers) as well as with my best friend from high school. And I noticed the wistfulness on Jen’s face as she shared that lifelong friendship was an unknown experience for her.

Well, Jen, while we’ve known each other for only seven or so years, I’m making you a promise: I’ll be your friend for the rest of our lives. So from this point forward, you have a lifelong friend.

~~~~~~

Brené Brown’s classic take on empathy

Oh Give Me A Home

Give Me A Home

Image by Pixabay

Little House on the Prairie premiered on television as a pilot in March 1974. It was picked up as a series by NBC later that fall and was a successful show for nine seasons. According to the website LittleHouseOnThePrairie.com, the show has been on television for more than 40 years, still showing on channels INSP and COZI TV. And it’s also still being broadcast today in more than thirty countries.

The show was, of course, based on the children’s series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The authenticity of her stories rings so true since she wrote about what she actually lived. She was born in a log cabin outside of Pepin, Wisconsin in 1867. As a child, her pioneer family moved throughout the Midwest following work and farming ups and downs. They lived in Walnut Grove, MN for just two years before a failed crop prompted them to move again. But Walnut Grove was the prairie town setting on the TV show.

Because of the disruption of the frequent moves, the Ingalls children learned much at home and attended local schools when they could. Her mother (“Ma”), having been a school teacher, placed strong emphasis on learning, reading, and music. Laura herself became a teacher when she was fifteen.

As soon as she received her teaching certificate in 1882, she began teaching at a one-room schoolhouse called Bouchie School about a dozen miles from home. The show kept true to real life when a character named Almanzo Wilder appeared as a family friend who was recruited by the Ingalls to pick up Laura on Fridays from Bouchie to bring her home for the weekends. Love was in the air, both on the airwaves and in real life. They were married in 1885.

Laura credits her father Charles with teaching her the “lyricism and pacing of storytelling.” Affectionately referred to as simply “Pa” in the books and the show, Charles Ingalls wanted to give his family a better life. Laura says that her father’s pioneer aspirations provided her writing with not only content but its “shape and thematic focus” as well.

Wilder’s first attempt at formal writing was an autobiography titled Pioneer Girl and was intended for adult readers. But it was rejected by publishers, with one calling it uninspiring. Wilder then spent several years reworking the idea of telling her stories and ended up with a series of children’s books, each one telling about their family’s little house in their current prairie town. Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932. The series came to be collectively called the Little House books.

Laura Ingalls Wilder died at her home on February 10, 1957, just three days after she turned 90 years old.

I’m sure that Ma and Pa were quite proud of what Half-Pint (her father’s nickname for Laura) had accomplished.

~~~~~~~~~~~

What seems to be the authentic site

Little House in the Big Woods for sale on Amazon!

 

Front Porch Lessons, Part 2

Front porch lessons

Be still and see what comes to you.

As noted in last Tuesday’s post, so many lessons came to me as I sat on my porch in the early morning that I needed to turn the idea into a two-part post. And again, these are my photos, not professional ones.

Front Porch lessons

The Hellebore, better known as a Lenten Rose, blooms before nearly everything else. I snapped the photo above this past March. The foliage stays a beautiful dark green all year, but the blossom itself fades from bright to pale as you can see here.

Beauty comes in all shades and intensities; time, whether seasons or years, does not make a plant or a person less beautiful.

Front porch lessons

Last year I bought two of the same gorgeous perennial; one for me and one for my best friend. Hers did remarkably well and recently she couldn’t wait to show me how large an area hers now covered. Mine died over the winter…or so I thought. As you can see here, a revitalized portion appears to be growing from underneath a rock. It’s possible to thrive in difficult situations.

We (humans, cats, dogs, lizards, skinks, etc.) tend to seek out light. Yet I have learned to appreciate the play of sunlight and shadow. I’ve taken other photos of this angel dog statue, but I believe this is my favorite. Sometimes when we can’t see perfectly, we need to look a little closer or a little longer and we end up absorbing more than we would have.

Wouldn’t it be great if our stepping stone paths in life were straight? And oh to have a clean path…no dirt that spilled over from the last rain storm. Let’s not forget brightly lit so we can see what’s coming next. But life, much like the stones that will lead you to my front door, is often curvy, dirty, and in shadow. With all its imperfections, life is what we have.

Finally, a word about this tiny-pathetic-Charlie-Brown-looking tree. It was a gift from the funeral home that helped us with the arrangements when Tim died in 2008. The sapling came with a note instructing us to plant it in Tim’s memory. So we did, but it never prospered. Some years the deer nibble on it. Other times it appears to be dried out. Nothing we do seems to make it better or worse. We even planted a replacement evergreen close by, agreeing that this original just wasn’t going to make it another season and that we should dig it up.

And yet it hangs in there.

Never underestimate the difference a strong desire to persevere can make.

~~~~~~~~~~

2012  Washington Post article on the Lenten Rose 

Front Porch Lessons, Part 1

front porch lessons

I typically use images from professional sites; today’s photos are all mine.

This time of year I enjoy rising early to prepare a simple breakfast that gets transported on an old hammered-silver tray to my front porch. The peaceful morning is a perfect setting for considering what lessons are offered up to me from the garden and surroundings.

Above is a plant whose lovely blossoms open only in the morning. By early afternoon the flowers have enclosed themselves back into a ball. This plant, like me, is a morning person. Sometimes we morning persons feel an edge of superiority over “regular” people. So it’s good to be reminded that afternoon and evening people bloom differently than I do.

In 2004 we planted a small fringe tree out front. So named because of the fringe of silvery white flowers that hang from its branches in late spring, it grows into a rounded form 12-20 feet tall AND wide. So in fifteen years, it became an unwieldy monster. Until my husband pruned the lowest branches, I had no idea of the view it was blocking. The lesson here is that clutter (physical or mental or green) blocks our view. Over time, without our awareness, we lose sight of what’s around us.

About ten years ago a gardening friend gave me a lilac bush. Disappointedly, it never bloomed until last year when one small sprig of lilac showed up. Then this year there were two sprigs! Hmm…I’m hoping that this lilac will mimic the effects of compound interest and grow like crazy from this point on. But the truth found in this slow lilac is that some plants, some people, some ideas, some dreams take their own sweet time to burst forth. And that’s OK.

This tall spindly native Virginia plant needs to be staked and supported. Otherwise the stems, top heavy with flowers, would either bend to the ground or break. The plant doesn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed about needing help. We humans each likely have already needed or will need support at some point in our lives. Follow the plant’s lead; accept help graciously so you can continue blooming.

This hydrangea bush nearest the front porch was once annually abundant with gigantic blooms. Severely decimated by deer some years back, it hasn’t flowered for at least three years. But this summer it’s back, although not in the same luscious way. The flowers are much smaller, but that one bush has flowers of several colors: purple, pink, blue, and white. It makes no sense to think I could demand the hydrangea to be like it used to be. I’m accepting this change graciously because sometimes different can be more interesting than normal.

This was going to be a one-shot post, but the longer I lingered over my coffee the more lessons appeared. So stay tuned for Front Porch Lessons, Part 2 on Saturday. And in the meantime, go sit on a porch and find your own lessons.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Auto-Signature Revisited

auto signature

Image by Andrew Martin on Pixabay

If you’ve ever had a business email account, it’s likely that you’ve used an auto-signature. People set up an auto-signature so that every time they type an email, the system inserts the text they have established as their “signature” at the end of each email. Typically, you would want your full name, your title, the company name, the best phone number to reach you,  your company’s website URL, and your email address.

The last company I worked for was extremely strict about the auto-signature for its employees. We were instructed in EXACTLY what to say, what font to use, and the font size for each line. The auto-signature had to be in the specific order that the corporate office dictated. We were not permitted to add any inspirational sayings or photos.

It was truly a one-size-fits-all signature. Corporate gave a deadline for when the new look needed to be in place. Those who did not comply were called to the principal’s office (HR).

I remember that among the last holdouts was one of the highest-grossing salespeople at the division. His auto-signature consisted of his name and the other usual stuff, but after his actual title, he added a list of nearly a dozen of his (questionable) achievements.

I really wish that I had kept one of his emails so that I could share it with you. But the list consisted of titles something like this:

1999 Shuffleboard Champion on the Top Sales Cruise

2004 Coach of little league team

2007 Winner of Sales Contest, prize was trip to Paris

2008 Member of winning doubles team in city ping-pong playoff

And so on…

He fought long and hard to keep his unique auto-signature, but in the end, he had to comply. He eventually left the company, and now I’m sitting here wondering if he ever got over being upset.

The topic of auto-signature is fresh on my mind because a few days ago I added one to my text messages. Since I don’t text professionally, 99% of my texts go to family and also to friends that I love as though they are family. So my new signature on my texts is XO and a blue heart emoji. Kiss and Hug and I love you.

In case you’re unaware, the text signature doesn’t populate until you send the text. So it’s not like you start to compose a text and there waiting for you is your signature. Nope.

When I was applying for a car loan at the local community credit union yesterday, one of the questions that took me by surprise was: Can you provide the name and phone number of a personal reference?

My first thought was, Wow, how quaint and how sweet. I haven’t heard that question for a while. And my second thought was, Just whom should I name? My priest is on sabbatical, so I provided contact information for Randolph, the assistant priest. Just to be polite, I texted him as a heads-up in case they contacted him.

I hit send too quickly just as I realized that auto-correct had changed a word. Ready to send a correcting text, I saw that XO blue heart emoji was there at the bottom of my message. So I typed an I’m really embarrassed text, explaining about the 99% family reasoning.

Randolph’s response was classic for him—“Happy to be a reference, Happy to be included.”

I was all set to remove my new text signature so that this didn’t happen again. Like when I respond to a text from a landscaper who texted that he’s running late for our appointment. Or people for whom I dog sit very occasionally. Or an old boss who prefers texting to email.

Then I thought, but what if everyone who gets my XO blue heart emoji feels the same reaction as Randolph did: “Happy to be included in the group of people you love.”

And the world needs more kisses, hugs, and I love you messages. So for now, it’s staying put. If someone ends up thinking I’m a kook, who cares?

~~~~~~~~

Good advice for creating an email auto-signature

Billy Joel Nailed It

Billy Joel Nailed It

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

I want you to label your friends. No, not in a bad way. Take some time and think deeply about your core group of friends and pose this test to yourself: Identify the aspects that each good friend possesses that prompts you to hold them close to your heart.

Ponder this for a while. Don’t let yourself settle for a quick non-specific response such as, “He’s just so nice,” or “She’s a great person.”

And then tell each friend why you’re so happy they are a part of your life.

Yes, even if you’re NOT a mushy-gooey person who enjoys sharing deep feelings, you need to do this. And here’s why.

Linda, a very close friend of 50+ years, is in the midst of an extremely serious health crisis: ovarian cancer. Besides having a dedicated husband and loving family, she is blessed with a wide circle of friends from her librarian/teaching days, neighbors from both their Florida and Pennsylvania homes, people who know or work with their grown children, and many other outlets including a group of high school friends of which I’m a part.

Linda recently shared that the one bright spot in this scary situation is that so many people in the circle of her life have reached out to her with cards, calls, texts, emails, and visits. She said she was completely unaware of how much she means to all of these people, and how wonderful it is to actually know it NOW.

Another friend made the same type of comment after a healing service for her was held at church. How amazing it is to be told what you mean to many “someones”! One person commented that too often we wait for someone to die and then we tell those appreciative words to their surviving family. Yes, at a loved one’s funeral it’s comforting to hear, “Your mother stepped in to help me when I really needed it.” Or “Your father once gave me advice that changed my life.”

But it’s sad when the words have gone unspoken to the persons themselves.

Linda is one of my most faithful blog fans. So publically, here’s what I’m telling Linda:

Linda, no one has ever made me laugh like you do. You make every story funnier. Even though it takes a long time for you to finish telling a story (because we’re both laughing so hard), you are my favorite storyteller ever.

You remember what’s important to other people. Even now, at a time when it’s not easy for you to even take a breath, you remember how much my dog Riley meant to me and you ask how I am doing without him. 

You are a source of encouragement and inspiration. The night before you left for college and I was staying behind, you convinced me that I could learn to cook by walking me verbally step-by-step in the dark how to make mashed potatoes. You are a big part of why I blog. On a Christmas card some years ago, you encouraged me to write a book. I didn’t get that far, but from reader comments, my writing means something to others. If it weren’t for you, this blog wouldn’t exist. 

I love you the same as I have loved you all these years, and I pray that the cancer is on its way into remission even as I type these words. 

Yes, Billy Joel nailed it; you have a way about you. And everywhere you go, a million dreams of love surround you…everywhere.

  ~~~~~~~

Billy Joel singing live “She’s Got A Way About Her” 

Kermit Was Right; It Isn’t Easy Being Green

It isn't easy being green

Our mini Shrek collection

In keeping with the concept of giving an experience instead of a material gift, my husband and I attended our local community theater’s presentation of Shrek the Musical last night.

You might find it odd that a ticket to the show was an early Father’s Day present for my husband. But, well, I’m just going to come out and say it: My husband loves Shrek. He has seen all the Shrek movies numerous times. And just like anyone who is crazy about a movie, he knows most of the lines. And inserts them into a conversation when he feels it’s appropriate.

“That’ll do, donkey.”

As we walked from our car to the theater, my husband asked, “Are you SURE this isn’t just for kids?” Because there were a lot of children in the line. And this particular production was performed by Fauquier Community Theater’s Youth Theater. Shrek himself begins college in the fall, while Fiona and Donkey are still in high school.

Is small-town community theater perfect? No, and that is part of the charm. For example, as one Shrek solo was timed to start, the music failed to play. Shrek waited maybe two seconds and then sang it acapella. The audience vigorously applauded our approval as he belted out the final note.

The girl sitting to my left was around twelve. She appeared mesmerized by the entire production. Sitting on the edge of her seat, face uplifted toward the stage, eyes wide, a huge smile plastered across her face—her obvious joy filled my soul.

Today I watched a couple of clips from the 2009 Broadway version of Shrek the Musical. It seemed a little fake to me. Yes, I know it’s the story of a green ogre, a talking donkey who falls in love with a dragon, and (!SPOILER ALERT!) a princess who turns into an ogre at night. So of course it’s not real.

But the pour-out-your-heart enthusiasm of those young actors last night let me shelve my rational beliefs for a couple of hours. I’m hoping that I looked just as bedazzled as the young girl next to me.

And after all, who wouldn’t enjoy having a talking donkey for a best friend?

~~~~~~~~~~~~

“That’ll do, donkey” clip

“Do you know the muffin man?” clip

A Legacy Revisited

legacy

Image courtesy of David Zydd on Pixabay.com

I often hear people talk about “leaving a legacy.”  And I believe they mean what important accomplishment of theirs will stand the test of time. In other words, they want to identify what individual success they will be remembered for long after they’re gone.

The word didn’t start out with that meaning. The legal meaning is property or money bequeathed to someone in a will. Another meaning is that of heritage which is defined on Wiktionary as “a tradition; a practice or set of values that is passed down from preceding generations through families or through institutional memory. ” And in university-speak, legacy means a person who is the descendant of an alumnus.

I’m surprised that the more contemporary definition of individual legacy hasn’t been officially accepted since it’s so widely used.

Oprah Winfrey tells the story of the time she was reprimanded by her long-time friend and mentor Maya Angelou. Oprah was over-the-top ecstatic about having established a girls’ school in South Africa. She was enthusiastically sharing the details with Maya and concluded with, “This school will be my greatest legacy.”

But Oprah said that Maya stopped her right there and said: You have no idea what your legacy will be. Because your legacy is every life you touch. It’s not one thing; it’s everything.

When we are feeling less than (and I believe we each go through times like that), we need to remember Maya Angelou’s words. We may not be rich or famous or have a world-class education or run international companies, but my gosh, think for just a moment. Really, I want you to think about the lives you yourself have touched with kindness or encouragement or gratitude or generosity or any of the dozens of other positive traits that exist.

Trust me on this: Your legacy will be absolutely amazing.

~~~~~~~~

Oprah’s commencement speech on legacy

Oprah Winfrey sharing the legacy story