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 soul 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

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

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.

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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” 

Beautiful Sounds Are In The Ears of the Hearer

Ears

Image by Skeeze on Pixabay.com

To paraphrase a favorite line of poetry, “Even after all this time, I can still hear the sounds of him not being here.”

When a family member, a favorite someone, or even a beloved pet dies we remember him or her in countless ways.

Many people believe that sight is the strongest sense. And considering the studies of learning styles that indicate over half of us are visual learners (65%), I lean toward believing that sight does indeed play a huge role in how we remember people, events, places, and things.

We look at photographs or view videos of the people we miss. We continue to scan their Facebook page or other social media accounts, recalling what it was they posted while alive. We stare at the “things” they left behind, wanting to remember always the significance of each object.

Yes, the sense of sight plays a huge role in our remembering someone who has passed from this earth.

And even though I am part of that 65% group who leans heavily on vision skills for learning and remembering, sound is also pivotal to my recalling the essence of the person.

My son Tim’s joyous laughter and the way he would draw out the greeting, “Hello, Mama!” as he bounced through the door…

The harmony of noise my mom Bertie made as she worked in the kitchen whipping up simple but delicious meals and baked goods…

Beautifully sincere conversations my aged mother-in-law Rosalie had with God as she lay in our guest room bed…

The sound of a spoon hitting an empty peanut butter jar as my brother Bud finished that last tasty bite of his favorite treat…

My elderly Aunt Gerri opening her door and announcing to my sister and me, “I don’t know why you girls keep wanting to visit an old lady, but I’m so glad you do!”…

And yes, even the sound of Riley’s tags as they jangled together when he trotted along and the snuffling sounds he made as he scavenged the ground for early morning smells…

All these might seem like ordinary sounds but to me, they tie together precious memories.

And then I started wondering what sounds people will remember about me after I’m gone. That’s probably a good exercise for everyone to consider. Because I sure as heck don’t want anyone to recall me as constantly complaining or as someone who spewed negative words about others.

I’m pretty sure that keeping this idea about the sounds I’ll leave behind will help me be a better human being.

How does that sound to you?

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Inc.com article on learning styles

An interesting concept that Researchers found out that different music frequencies stimulate the human brain and the outcomes are incredible. In this video, the frequency of 48 Hz might stimulate far memories and also crying.”

NOTE: I had a better experience just listening to it rather than watching the letters float by on the screen since typos got in the way of my just releasing myself to it. Yes, I am that person.

The Best Wedding Present Ever

wedding present love

Photo by Pixabay.com

What wedding gift did you last purchase? According to TheKnot.com, here are a few of the gifts most wanted by newlyweds today. (Personal aside: I’m thinking the brides had at least a 95% say in the gift choices.)

Williams-Sonoma Glass Bowl Set, Calphalon Classic Cooling Rack, Pyrex Easy Grab Bake ‘N Store, The Cellar Selene Cake Dome, Martha Stewart Cupcake Carrier, CorningWare French White Bakeware 

Registries make it easy for those of us needing to choose a present. And of course, the talented folks on Etsy can craft practically any personalized gift for the happy couple. Cash and gift cards are always appreciated as well.

But what if you could give a gift that no one had ever given before AND that blessed not only the intended newlyweds, but continues over fifty years to bless countless other people taking their marriage vows AND has generated over two million dollars in donations to charitable organizations?

Noel Stookey did just that in 1969.

I know most of you are asking an important question. Who the heck is Noel Stookey? His full name is Noel Paul Stookey, and during the time that the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary were together, he went by his middle name of Paul. Because Peter, Noel, and Mary just didn’t have the right ring to it.

When his fellow singer Peter Yarrow wed Marybeth McCarthy in October 1969, the best man Stookey sang a song he had written for them. While Stookey is a Christian and intended the song to convey his beliefs, he wanted to honor his friend’s Jewish faith as well.

Stookey has been quoted as saying, “The melody and the words arrived simultaneously and in response to a direct prayer asking God how the divine could be present at Peter’s wedding.”

And that is how The Wedding Song (There is Love) came into existence. (You can listen to two versions in the links below.)

His 1993 Guidepost article tells how Noel’s wife Betty helped him change the pronoun wording just an hour before the wedding. At the ceremony, after the song was over, Noel figured one and done. No one else will ever hear it.

But then a few weeks later at one of their concerts, Peter Yarrow asked Stookey to sing the song as a solo. He was taken aback, feeling he couldn’t share something that belonged to the couple. But Yarrow insisted, saying that his wife was in the audience and please, wouldn’t Stookey sing it for her.

So he did and the audience loved it so much that he continued singing it at their concerts for the remaining time the group stayed together.  Soon after the trio took a long leave from performing concerts, Stookey recorded a solo album and included The Wedding Song.

But since he felt the song was God’s creation and not his, he didn’t want to assume the rights to it. According to the Guidepost article, “In the end I set up a foundation to oversee the publishing rights and to receive all my income as composer. Any money the song earned could then be distributed to worthy causes. To my amazement, shortly after the album’s debut, “Wedding Song” was released as a single and almost immediately went into the Top 30.”

This song has been played at weddings all around the world and continues today to be counted as a time-honored love song. ThoughtCo.com lists it as one of the top ten classic songs to sing at weddings.

Various artists have recorded their own versions of the song, but to me, there is nothing like the original. A sweet simple song accompanied by chords from an acoustic guitar is sometimes all you need to feel the love.

~~~~~~~~~~~

A remastered copy of the original version of the Wedding Song (There is Love)

And years later at the 25th anniversary concert in 1986, Paul (Noel) Stookey is again singing the Wedding Song (There is Love). OK, he can’t hold the notes quite as long, but I mean, watch the man’s face. Really…there IS love!

Noel Paul Stookey’s article in Guideposts from June 1, 1993

The song even has its own Wikipedia page!

Welcoming the Sun

welcome the sun

Woman Welcoming The Sun (stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany)

One of my favorite wall calendars of all time featured photos of some of the stained glass works of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933). As Macklow Gallery eloquently states on their website, Tiffany “forged a unique style that combined superb craftsmanship with a love of natural forms and brilliant color. His luminous glass designs combined technical innovations with the highest artistry, infusing everyday objects with beauty inspired by nature.”

I am most fond of the Tiffany work called Woman Welcomes the Sun, pictured above.  A few years ago, in going through some old files, I came across a beautiful piece of writing about welcoming the sun. I immediately knew I had to combine the two. The framed combo hangs directly above my writing desk.

Being unable to cite the source of the writing, I have hesitated about sharing it with you. If you’ve been a reader very long, you know I go to great lengths to avoid plagiarism. I have no idea where I first read the passage because it’s been many years.

I have searched online using the first line, bits of its phrasing, and even the word “verities” because how many times do you come across that word in a year? Note: Grammarly refuses to recognize it as a word. I even searched a quartet of words (verities, solace, realities, serenity) that are contained within the writing. And no, it didn’t even pop up on “Quote Investigator.”

(By the way, according to an online dictionary, a verity is “a true principle or belief, especially one of fundamental importance.” The peak period for the word being used was between 1850-1950, so perhaps the quote or essay is beyond the copyright period anyhow.)

So with those acknowledgments of my efforts and my statement that I am NOT the author, here is the bit of literary inspiration I read every day.

As the sun is rising on this new day, look to it well.

Today alone is life.

In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of existence…

the stimulus of thought, the glory of action, the awareness of beauty,

the serenity of meditation, the impulse to achieve,

the healing power of laughter, the warmth of gratitude,

the solace of loving and being loved.

Yesterday has passed on and is now but a memory.

Tomorrow has yet to be born and is only a formless vision.

But today, lived to its fullest in our relationship to our faith, makes yesterday a memory of happiness and tomorrow a vision of hope.

I hope you have a magnificent tomorrow.

~~~~~

Macklowe Gallery biographical information on Tiffany

 

Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine

Photo by Norma Thatcher

Non-English speakers learning our language face a common hurdle: idioms.

A strange word in and of itself, an idiom is defined as “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.”

So cats and dogs are not literally falling from the sky with the raindrops, when I want you to wait you don’t actually have to hold the reins of horses, and great-aunt Matilda didn’t physically kick any bucket as she took her last breath.

Growing up hearing these phrases, we understand what they mean, but we don’t usually stop to think about how these odd phrasings came to be an accepted part of our language.

One of my personal favorites is rise and shine. In researching its origin, I discovered several theories. One source says it originated as a military order in the late 1800s and was considered an order to soldiers to get out of bed quickly and shine their boots; in other words, get up and get ready! Or as Dictionary.com says, shine here means “act lively, do well.”

Bloomsbury International figures the origin is from “18th-century sailor speak.” Back then, the life of a sailor could be harrowing. Besides dealing with hard-to-maneuver equipment, they often faced life-threatening weather, a lack of food supplies, and unsanitary living conditions. The sailors no sooner got to bed than it was time to get up. So the captain coined the phrase rise and shine to “inject positivity and cheer” upon waking.

I wonder how well that worked.

On The Phrase Finder, the experts believe that the phrase alludes to the Biblical reference in the 60th chapter of Isaiah, verse 1. We often hear this verse used at Christmas: Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

Since that verse from Isaiah has always been one of my favorites, I’m voting for this version of the origin.

And as recommended on KingsEnglish.Info:  So in the morning, just as you let the sun rise and shine upon you to brighten your face and give you warmth, so let Christ rise and shine upon you to give you hope and peace.

Stay tuned for Saturday’s post which is a follow-up to this one.

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It turns out other languages use idioms as well. Check it out here.

 

Who’s Afraid of the Dark?

Afraid of the dark

Photo by DhivakaranS on Pexels.com

Fictional character Jack Reacher said something like this when looking out into the dark: It’s what everyone fears, whether they realize it or not…that thought that just maybe there’s something out there that’s going to get them.

Being afraid of the dark is usually a childhood manifestation that appears around the age of two and usually departs by the age of ten.

But sometimes it never goes away.

A 2016 British study showed that 64% of the country’s adults admitted to being afraid of the dark. 36% of the participants said they sense someone or something in the room with them. Many cited fearing something was hiding under their beds. Others said they never left their feet uncovered for fear that something would grab them.

It appears Brits are more afraid of the dark than are Americans; a study noted by Dr. John Mayer indicated around 11% of American adults admit to being afraid of the dark.

Still, that’s a lot of grown-ups sleeping with the lights on and their toes covered.

Although some people use the terms interchangeably, Nyctophobia is the psychological term for having an extreme fear of the night, and Achluophobia is the term for fearing darkness. The differentiation in my brain is that there can be darkness without night. Think of a trunk, a closet, or a basement without windows. Scared yet?

Why ARE we afraid of the dark? It goes back to our earliest beginnings. When the caveman poked out his head by dawn’s early light, he could see if any danger was lurking. During the day he could answer the Big Question: “Is that something I can eat or is it something that can eat me?”

So evolutionarily-wise, fear of the dark was an advantage in that it helped us stay alive for another day.

Even today the oldest part of our brain (referred to as the lizard brain or reptilian brain) assigns a negative connotation to something new or unfamiliar. THAT is why so many of us are uncomfortable with trying something new, whether it’s tasting something we’ve not had before, or taking a class where we don’t know anyone, or interviewing for a different job.

So darkness represents a terrifying unknown because, well, who knows what’s out there? There is very likely nothing, but we may imagine unlimited frightening possibilities.

Sometimes the darkness is in our heads and our hearts. We may have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one or a terrible blow to our self-esteem by a cheating spouse or from losing a job. A debilitating illness of our own or a family member may send us into a downward spiral. We’re frightened of this dark, terrifying unknown and we are fearful of what may be coming after us next.

Just as in actual darkness, we need a spark of light to help us see. The spark may be small, even perhaps short-lived, lasting long enough for us to venture one first step.

That spark is named hope.

Heart-and-head darkness is a prime breeding ground for despair and powerlessness. We simply can’t see any way for our situation to improve. We’re afraid to move for fear of making things worse. We don’t even try to feel our way to safer ground.

But someone sharing a spark of hope can be a lifeline in the darkness.

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

A former post of mine on the Lizard Brain

Article on childhood fears sticking with us

CNN Health article on hope