Remedial Lesson Prompted by Facebook and Lent

The other day I posted a little verse I wrote years ago which was about how not to pray. It appears that almost no one looked at it, but I do hope that the couple of people who said that they liked it – actually got the point. My little verse was about good people who cared about others but who really didn’t believe that prayer could radically change anything. They seemed to think that really, everything good that happens has to happen because good people step up to the plate and help out in times of need and take casserole dishes and offer rides– rather than pray that God would HEAL our friend, Raise the dead, etc.

I wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t step up to the plate & help others – I’m only saying that we are NOT God and there are things that God can do which we cannot. When we pray – we are talking to God and we need to be straightforward and truthful.

If you want to reread it, you can find it here: When the River Won’t Flow: Prayer

As to Facebook, I can’t tell you how many people with whom I am friends ask for prayers. People that are religious and people who are just in a bad place or know someone in a bad place often ask for prayers. But what I find interesting are their friends’ reactions to their requests. Many people write back and say that they are “sending prayers your way” or similar words.

What is wrong with that? What are prayers? Prayers are when we talk to God. Scripture tells us that we may talk to God, we may actually ask for things. Prayers aren’t just warm fuzzy feelings like “I care about my friend & I want her to get well.” That isn’t bad. That is something you can write or send to your friend. But in scripture when we are taught about prayer – we are taught some specific lessons about prayer.

Look at the prayer that Jesus gives to his disciples as a lesson in how you pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.

Quick notes:
We are told to address our prayers to God Our Father. So it makes no sense to send our prayers to our little friends. We need to pray to God Our Father for our friends. So rather than tell our friends we send them our prayers – it is more appropriate to say that our prayers are ascending i.e. they are going UP to God (who is in Heaven)!

The Lord’s Prayer – asks for specific things:
• Thy will be done, on earth, As it is in heaven. (i.e. God’s will and purpose – not ours!)
• Give us this day our daily bread.
• And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. (We ask for God to forgive us – but He reminds us we also need to forgive others!)
• Lead us not into temptation,
• But deliver us from evil.

What’s more, we can have the courage to ask because God is Lord of all and King of Creation:

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.

Now there are many other kinds of prayers. Some we pray at different times of the day. My Nana Miley taught me these two:

Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer:
I give thanks unto Thee, Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ Thy dear Son, that Thou hast protected me through the night from all danger and harm; and I beseech Thee to preserve and keep me this day also, from all sin and evil; that in all my thoughts, words, and deeds I may serve and please Thee.

Into Thy hands I commend my body and soul and all that is mine.

Let Thy holy angel have charge concerning me, that the wicked one have no power over me. Amen.

Martin Luther’s Evening Prayer:

I give thanks unto Thee, Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ Thy dear Son, that Thou hast this day so graciously protected me, and I beseech Thee to forgive me all my sins, and the wrong which I have done, and by Thy great mercy defend me from all the perils and dangers of this night.

Into Thy hands I commend my body and soul and all that is mine.

Let Thy holy angel have charge concerning me, that the wicked one have no power over me. Amen.

Now, I am going to ask my readers to please say a prayer for my husband and me.  He needs healing.  We have been working with excellent doctors — but my husband is hurting badly and needs healing.  Please say a prayer and ask Our Father in Heaven to Heal my dear husband, Ron.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart! 

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Prayer

Embarrassment
before the Lord
when holiness around us rings
we dart and weave and pray,
not asking God
to right a wrong or cure an ill at all
but less offensively,
to let us use this prayer platform
to amplify a need,
that we might just address
if we were made aware.
“God make us mindful.”

We could send fruit, or hold a hand,
and when death comes,
arrange some meals.
We might indeed show empathy for want and
offer rides when illness strikes
if we were made aware.

To dare to stand and pray
that He will heal the sick,
or raise the dead
protect and keep us
and with His Holy Angels wrench us free from peril:
This is gross presumption.

Less offensively
we might just address these issues
if we were made aware.
Amen.

 April 28, 2014

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Theological Sorrow

As I have written before, because of sickness, we are homebound these days, and we have updated our funeral plans and our obituaries. Not because we are at death’s door, but because we want to make such plans precisely when we are NOT at death’s door.

But I have been kept up nights of late thinking about something I have always planned to have at my funeral — which now seems nearly impossible. So if there are any clergy or professorial theologians around who will weigh in, that would be welcome.

First, please, pardon a little family background.

My maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, became a Lutheran Minister, like three of his brothers. The Rev. George W. Miley served his third call as Pastor of Augsburg Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio, from 1924 until 1941. His last official act at Augsburg was to perform the marriage of my parents in 1941. He headed to Columbus, Ohio, the next day, to assume the presidency of the ULCA Synod of Ohio from 1941 until 1957. He died later that same year. I never knew my grandfather as I was born a year after his death, but my parents eventually returned to Augsburg, which is where I was baptized and confirmed.

After high school in Toledo, I went to Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and then headed to seminary because I wanted to be a pastor. At some point, I was required to go to career counseling to see if I was suited to be a pastor. I believe it was something the Ohio Synod required. When the testing was over, the counselor met with me to explain the results. He told me that I was best suited to be a Roman Catholic Priest. I responded that the outcome was beyond intriguing and asked him why the testing would come out that way. He somewhat sheepishly replied that the examination was weighted in such a way that those more interested in Liturgy and Sacraments came out as priests and those that ranked a little higher in spaghetti suppers and glad-handing came out as pastors. You can’t make it up! I’m sure that explanation wouldn’t sit well with all the very liturgical and theologically gifted Lutheran pastors I know.

I went to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and graduated with a Master of Divinity Degree. I did the required internship and clinical pastoral education. I was approved for ordination by the Ohio Synod of the ELCA. For a variety of personal reasons, I did not pursue ordination. My former husband, the father of our only child, is now Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at a seminary of the North American Lutheran Church.

During her college years, our daughter was confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church. She and her husband and children are Roman Catholics. During my 24 years of living in South Carolina, I was a member of several (ELCA) Lutheran churches. Years later, when my second husband Ron and I moved to Arizona, we joined a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, chiefly because all of the ELCA churches that he had previously attended were too far from our home, southeast of Tucson. We felt very much at home and had an excellent pastor and many wonderful friends at Mount Olive Lutheran Church.  When we moved to Ohio, to get me closer to my brothers, we joined another Missouri Synod congregation, where we also have an excellent pastor and have made some wonderful friends.

Now, returning to the point of this post. Ever since I was a young woman in seminary, I have wanted to have full communion at my funeral service. I’ve attended church all my life. I have sung in church choirs off & on since I was in Kindergarten. Somewhere around eighth grade, I switched from piano to organ lessons and then started substituting for Sunday worship and funeral services. I have long been active in worship planning. Both my former husband and I were chairs, at different times, of the Worship and Music Committee of our liturgical church in Columbia, South Carolina.  Working with the Pastor and the amazingly gifted organist, we helped take that congregation to weekly communion with a common cup.

The draft of my funeral service was first done years ago and has seen a few revisions over the years. I planned the service with many gutsy hymns and full communion.

I have heard the reflections of others speak of the relief or joy of receiving communion at a funeral. It allows people to confess their part in any conflicts that may have existed between themselves and the deceased and receive forgiveness.

But alas, it seems that my wishes are impossible on earth.  I am a member of a church that has closed communion. My daughter and many of my extended friends and family are members of another church with closed communion.  So neither my family nor many of my friends, who are Roman Catholics or NALC or ELCA Lutherans, will be allowed to receive communion at my funeral service.

Right now, as my husband and I deal with issues of health and the frustrations of being homebound Christians, this particular sorrow has loomed large in my mind. I confess it has caused me to shed more than a few tears.

 

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A Small Lenten Offering

The days of Lent are traditionally a time of contemplation, introspection and, renewal of faith. Beginning with the ashen crosses on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, we walk with the Lord, until we stand, beneath the cross on Good Friday. Then we wait and keep watch, while his body is in the tomb on Holy Saturday.

We weren’t able to attend worship on Ash Wednesday. We are living like shut-ins; in that waiting time between my husband’s emergency room hospital visit and follow up doctor appointments. He has something going on in one lung. The cold weather causes him great distress. We have managed to attend worship just one time since the New Year. We are hunkered down at home with snow everywhere outside. The time is 1:47 a.m. I am typing in our home office; I can hear his coughing in the bedroom.

Where I write But it is Lent. It seemed appropriate in addition to our daily prayers, to do something for someone else. Yesterday I thought of one thing I could do without going out. I wrote three little hand-written notes on note cards. All three of the people I wrote live alone. The first one went to a lady from our former church in South Carolina. The second note went to my daughter’s Godmother, who, with her sister, is soon to take a trip from California to Texas. The third note went to a man from our former church in Arizona, who lives alone and has little family nearby.  It is a small thing. But it was something I could do for others without leaving home, courtesy of the USPS.

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Imposition of Ashes

Bangs held back with a blue barrette
your seven-year-old forehead has the ashes
of the cross
brought home from school.
Still wearing school jumper
blue knee socks fallen down
you leave with me for worship.
The night has turned colder
February still is dark at six-fifteen.

Quietly
we enter the nave
we wait
and read
we look about:
purple paraments
adorned with thorns
and nails
a glaring change from Sunday’s whites.

You hold my hand and nestle close.
I move over to give you room.
You nestle closer and hold my hand more tightly.
Dust to dust.
Ashes to ashes.

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A Diversion

Every once in a while you just need to play hooky. You need to take a break from the hard stuff, from the irritating, bothersome or looming issues facing you and escape. Frankly, the stuff facing us is primarily medical and sufficiently worrisome to merit an escape.

After breakfast and a lovely and unexpected Facebook video chat with my daughter, we headed out to pick up a few needed items at our local Discount Drug Mart. We live in small-town America and this place has a little of everything.

We get back in the car to head home, and my husband suggests that instead of going home we have a picnic. Why ever not?

• It is February.
• We live in Ohio.
• It is brrrr cold outside.

How can this be accomplished? Easy-peasy. We count our coinage and come up with four dollars worth of quarters and a couple dollar bills. Yay!

We drive through that haute couture establishment, McD’s, and order a couple McDoubles and a medium order of fries. We had some ketchup packets stashed in the car which was doggone good because I totally forgot to ask for any.

We head to one of our favorite parks and turn up Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and have a picnic in the car.

Life is short. Sometimes you just need to escape. Even for a little. Even for a picnic in winter.

 

Thank you, RSM for the idea.

Thank you, McD’s for the food.

Thank you, Lord, for the park.

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Death: The Last Laugh

Death. Mourning. Loss. Even when the death is unexpected and comes through some horrible accident, war, or disease and makes our knees buckle, at some point, we need to get back up. Even if death is expected, when we see someone we love waste away or die from old age peacefully in their sleep, we still have to go on with living. If we are parents and our parents die – we need to give courage and hope to our children and perhaps the siblings or friends of our parents. If we are married and our spouse dies – we still have to go on – we have others looking to us for some encouragement.

I’ve written about death before. You can read what I wrote about my dear mother, who lost the love of her life after 52 years of married life – When the River Won’t Flow: A Decision Born of Grief

My parents taught me some valuable lessons about death, but what we learned from my mom has prompted my husband and me to write our obituaries hopefully decades before they are needed. Since we were not grieving when we first drafted them, I can say that our obituaries are a bit colorful.

It also prompted an unusual hobby for me which started decades ago. I collect obituaries. They are all colorfully singular. They cover a broad spectrum: historical, wickedly funny, decidedly weird, and some are just a whimsical delight. All this from someone’s obituary, you ask? Indeed!

Along with this are some of the headstones that go along with the weird obituaries. I recently heard of a lady who told people who had asked for her Christmas Cookie recipe “Over My Dead Body!”  Well, she kept faith with them and had the recipe carved on the back of her headstone!

I have often written about my husband, and if you follow my blog, you may have noticed some posts lately that refer to my fear for my husband’s health, along with my fear of becoming a widow. Well, thank you, Jesus, I have a wonderful husband who has a sense of humor – and we have decided to take a new look at the obituaries that we drafted years ago. I can only assume that they might get a little weirder, now that we are both older.

Since I am a child bride and 18 years younger than my husband – he is well aware that he is to cooperate with the Lord, whom we have asked to grant that my husband lives to 100 years old. That will allow us to have thirty-one years together. Since we just hit our 11th anniversary – we are hoping for an incredible twenty more. Yes, we are hopeless romantics.

For those near and dear to us, whenever the inevitable happens, perhaps this blog post will forewarn you, that maybe you should be sitting down before you read our obituaries. You might want to pour yourself some champagne and grab a bag of Doritos first.

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Valentine’s Day for this High Maintenance Woman

Written while living in Arizona:

A friend of mine asked me what we would be doing to celebrate Valentine’s Day. She hasn’t known us for all that long, nor does she know us too well. I got to thinking about how I could explain it and decided I should try to write it down.

I want the world for Valentine’s Day. The commercials about Valentine’s gifts that you can order over the phone or online, such as a dozen roses with a vase and chocolates, warm, cozy pajamas, large oversized stuffed animals – all of these things leave me cold. Not interested. Don’t want them. I don’t want little things that are easy for someone to send at a reasonable price.

I am a high maintenance woman. I don’t care to have an hour of my lover’s time. I want the whole day. I don’t want to have to put up with mediocre service at a meal out. I want the best. I am very demanding. I want to have the table for as long as we care to linger over our meal – perhaps hours and hours. I refuse to be rushed.

I want a spectacular view – the best view according to our choice of seating, not the choice of the particular waitperson on duty. I expect a beautiful tablecloth. I want privacy. I want flowers. I want quiet background music. I have reason to think that I will get all that I desire.

I am a high maintenance woman, and thankfully, I have a husband who is not only my best friend but the most thoughtful of men regarding the way he treats and cares for me. He knows just how to cater to my exacting desires. He is willing to indulge even my fanciful whims.

Before we leave home, we will need to make some preparations, pack a bag with the requisite belongings. We will need to make one stop on our way to our special Valentine’s meal, to pick up something we want to take along, but that detour complete he will drive us to our destination.

We will park the car, and walk up the path to our favorite picnic table. We will put our beautiful tablecloth on the table, secured by colorful bird weights to help it counter the breeze. On that, we will spread out our delectable Valentine’s day feast, whose main course will likely come from Subway.  Although we love our privacy, we will welcome visitors who are not too intrusive — little ground squirrels, quail, perhaps some roadrunners or other little friends.  I have no doubt that we will have the soft music of the gentle breezes and perhaps a bird solo or choir.  The decor and view will be nothing short of magnificent.  The Rincon Mountains, Saguaro cactus, and early spring flowers.

This has been one of our favorite ways to spend our wedding anniversary.  This year, however, it was a wee bit too cold, and we were not able to indulge this luxury.  So this is how we will celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Even the heavens are cooperating.  The temperatures are supposed to be comfortable sweater weather in the mid-sixties.

This man promised to give me the world. He puts up with my extreme demands every day. Once again, he is willing to do whatever it takes to make his wife a very happy woman indeed.  Despite the fact that I am high maintenance.

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When Only Prayer Will Answer

There is a remarkable young lady who is a friend of a friend of mine, in another state, whom I have gotten to know a bit on Facebook. She often asks her Facebook friends this simple question: “How can I pray for you this week?”

I thanked her and asked her to pray for the health of my husband. Then I asked her how I could pray for her. She responded with a request and a thank you.

Isn’t this what we all should do? Former next-door neighbors of my parents, decades ago, are still friends of mine (and my husband). These days they live far away in Georgia, but we have gotten together over the years in Georgia and Arizona, and we count them as extraordinary friends. When my husband was recently in the Emergency Room, and I was afraid for him, I emailed and asked her to please pray for my husband and me. Yes, I asked for prayers for myself as well. I don’t want to be a widow.

She wrote me the kindest email back letting me know that my husband and I are on her daily prayer list, and have been for years, by name. What an awesome thing the church is! A bunch of redeemed sinners who carry their burdens and those of others to their Lord in prayer.

I thought hard about a title for this post. I have so many friends who don’t seem even remotely religious, and they sometimes surprise me and ask for my prayers. I should know better. When your back is to the wall, and you don’t know where to turn – you turn to God in prayer. You have a conversation with your Lord.

You may not be eloquent or craft your words in a beautiful lyrical cadence. That is irrelevant. What matters is that you pray. When someone asks you to pray for them, what matters is that you do that. Don’t hesitate. Pray for your friend. Your job is to turn to God. Trust God to answer your prayer.

I am very thankful to have such people in my life. I pray that you have such people in your life who will keep you and those you love, in their prayers.

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Hope for a Divided Country

On Wednesday of this week, President Trump delivered the State of the Union Address. I am reasonably sure that my response to it, and that of my husband, is far different from many of my friends. We thought the speech was very positive, but we particularly enjoyed some of the uplifting moments during the speech when the President told the incredible stories of others. We were glad we watched it in its entirety. I believe that if you missed it, and would like to watch it, you can find it here: The White House, State of the Union

As you may or may not know, one of the pages on my blog, When The River Won’t Flow, lists some books that I believe are worthy of notice and that I’ve mentioned in my blog. Today’s post is about one such book. It tells the true story of two very different people, from entirely different backgrounds and entirely different life experiences who, oddly enough, not only became friends but best friends. I read this book back in September of 2019, and I find myself referring to it time and again.

The book is: Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country and is written by Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy. It was published in 2018 by Tyndale Momentum of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois.

I could not put this book down, and before I had even finished reading it, I bought a second copy to give as a gift. I had long admired Tim Scott, since ages ago when I first got on his email list while living in South Carolina. Trey Gowdy, I only learned about much later, through his cross-examining of witnesses, and his humble but always spot on and direct, sharp intellect and impeccable character. This book talked about how they became best friends despite all the many things that were different about their families, their lives, their academic and work trajectories, and their histories. Yet they became the kind of friends who were there for each other no matter what.

They tell their own & joint stories – but they also show how their friendship and their Christian faith inspired them to help others to do what they have done. They end their book Unified with the first chapter of a newer book, which I have not yet seen, called: The Friendship Challenge which is described as a six-week course on bringing racial reconciliation to your own community.

The Friendship Challenge: A Six-Week Guide to True Reconciliation–One Friendship at a Time,  and is written by Senator Tim Scott & Congressman Trey Gowdy. 2018, Tyndale Momentum of Tyndale House Publishers.

Once in a while, in recent years, I have had friends throw down some litmus test gauntlet, to test whether this or that person is the kind of person of whom they can approve. On a couple of occasions, the litmus test was so insulting and belittling, that I found myself needing to step back and cool down before I could answer. For example, I once had a friend ask me if I had ever really known someone of another race. Really? All my life, I have – from when I was just a toddler, and my parents had house guests, to the present day.  All my life, I have gone to school with and worked with people of different nationalities and races. I think litmus tests are incredibly silly. Instead of trying to see how superior we are to someone else – how about trying to see what we have in common?

Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy have written a remarkable book. I found Unified exceedingly hard to put down. Some of it is told by one, some by the other, some parts speak of things experienced quite differently by each of the men, yet, the connections are amazingly beautiful and worth reading.

When we build bridges, rather than setting traps, there is little we can’t accomplish together. Please, take some time – and check out these books.

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