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Monday, October 24, 2011

Practicing the Presence

In the stillness of the morning, I am enjoying the presence of our daughter, Anna. We sit with our laptops, asking each other questions and working. Drinking in this moment, I am filled with thanksgiving and joy as I delight in our daughter. Our four children live nine hours or more in four different directions. One lives in Illinois, one in Wisconsin, one in Georgia and then Anna, in California. Anna celebrated her Dad’s 86th birthday Saturday with a tour to see our cemetery site (a bit unconventional, yet we wanted to share the peaceful place where our names are inscribed. After picking up a birthday dinner we came home to eat and took naps. Awww- the pleasures of 80+ year olds are many.

Anna brought a book written by Mike Mason, Practicing the Presence of People”. An insightful book that presents principles of precisely what I want to do this week with Anna. I learned that practicing the presence of someone isn’t about self, but about the person in the encounter. It is giving one’s self to another by focusing on them in a positive way, being sensitive to them as an individual person.

Saturday, when Anna’s brother, Tim, called, the conversation flowed. Suddenly there was a break. Then Tim said, “I shouldn’t be reading email.” Anna answered, “Oh, and I am still working on cake php programming.” It was by chance I wasn’t sitting at my computer, or I would be multi-tasking as well. That was not ‘practicing the presence’. We laughed and continued our visit.

Is this why so many relationships are not many-splendored but many-splintered? Attention and time is required. Focused concentration is required to be successful without continuous distractions. During that simpler era of the 30’s and 40’s, we had fewer distractions for the eyes and ears to take in. We created our own music or listened to music on a phonograph, changing the record for each song. The Radio was just coming into it’s own. At night we listened to Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Armstrong, The All American Boy and for a chilling time – The Shadow Knows.

Now our eyes and our ears are filled with music and pictures full time through the wonders of electronic world – ipad, ipod, iphone (or is it the me-pad, me-pod and me-phone) computers, HD televisions and video games. These become the only world, the baby sitter, or connection with others simply through the 52 inch Flat Screen. Creating a relationship with another person is crippled because or our addiction to filling our minds with choices others make.

One of the chapters in the book intrigued me. It revealed that “Intercessory Prayer is a primary means of practicing the presence of people…..without love for a person, we cannot pray for him….” Mike Mason continues, “We need to love people first, intentionally, and only then will we know how to pray for them.”

Thus, practicing the presence of people becomes a primary focus and a part of our lives. One friend of mine so exemplifies the ‘practicing the presence of people’, that being in her presence is exhilarating. Why? The descriptions that come to my mind are acceptance, intentional and unconditional love, encouragement, a total ‘being present’ and honor. I always leave filled with love, feeling treasured and a worthwhile person no matter my faults and inconsistencies. There is no condemnation, no scolding, no correction – just love and acceptance.

As I consider her example, I realize what ‘practicing the presence of people’ truly is. Where did this idea come from? Mike Mason writes about Brother Lawrence, a monk who lived around 1610 in Herimenil Lorraine, a Duchy of France. At mid-life he entered a monastery in Paris. He learned that to practice the presence of God, we walk before God simply -- in faith, with humility and with love. We will engage in a continual, silent and affectionate conversation with Our Father. Out of love for Him, we strive to do nothing and think nothing that may displease God. ( "Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4 The word ‘delight’ describes practicing the presence of God as well as people.

In this life we cannot live by distractions alone lessening our thinking about eternal matters. We must have an anchor to hold on to. What do I remember as a child that is steadfast and sure? I remember the prayers and the lives of my great grandparents, my grandparents and my parents. My thoughts go back to the faith that each one professed in Jesus Christ. They practiced the presence of Jesus Christ in their walk with Him. No matter how little or how much they had of material goods, they gave thanks and praise to our Lord.

Their heartaches were borne with thanksgiving for they knew that God was refining their hearts to live for an eternity. They listened, they looked, they embraced suffering, they lived in the moment…each moment. It is a daily choice to let God be God, and people be people. For practicing the presence of each person we meet becomes a sweet challenge of faith, humility and love.

Psalm 16:11
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 18:12
Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning.

Psalm 21:6
Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.

Psalm 23:5
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Psalm 89:15
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, LORD.

Psalm 114:7
Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,

Psalm 139:7
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

Proverbs 8:30
Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence,

1 Thessalonians 2:19
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?

1 Thessalonians 3:9
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

Jude 1:24
 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Who's Who

In 1994, a student recommended me for listing in Who’s Who Among American Teachers. Consequently, I was chosen, and published on page 140 of a 779-page, doorstop-sized book. The print seems even smaller than it did 17 years ago. The purchased book sat on my book shelves – forgotten until today.

Last week I received a phone call inviting me to be published again by the company. They sent an email previously, to which I responded out of curiosity. After all, at 82 years of age, my life is considerably different from 1994.

I answered the man’s questions, and volunteered several of my favorite activities – writing and painting. Immediately his enthusiasm heightened and he wanted to put me in the 2011 book as an accomplished retired teacher who still makes a difference. In the course of the conversation, the cost was introduced….$549 for 5 years, $249 for two years and $149 for one year. When I hesitated, he told me all the benefits…being published in the year book – net-working – give others the benefit of my experiences in teaching – and other reasons why I should be published.

When it came time to give my credit card number, I refused the honor. I felt uncomfortable. Why would I want my ego fed in such a way? Things have changed in education, how could I help anyone? Share my “achievements”, such as they are, with others? I don’t know why.

This experience made me truly ponder Who’s Who? Who really makes a difference? In what way can we truly make a difference that lasts past this life on this earth? What constitutes immortality?

The books that we write, the riches we leave, the paintings we create can be destroyed, wasted and torn to shreds. Having my name published in a door-stop will not last. It will sit on a shelf. Immortality is ours through the relationships that we cultivate. First of all, a relationship with our Lord, then a relationship family and with others. The question is, how do we grow a relationship that endures?

Humility, encouragement, loyalty and just plain love grows a relationship. Ephesians 4:2 reveals the secret – “Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Why humility? James 4:6 says, But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

I Peter 3:8 reminds us, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”

Earthly rewards mean little, when you contrast the joys of a loving relationship in a family. One of our children had a comment, when I told about the phone conversation – “I know who you are, you’re my Mom!”

Nothing can replace that joy and fulfilment of family and recognition of being a part of the family. This is one reason that the joy of a church family, too, is so very important. And our church family is exceptionally dear to my dear husband and me. A family is the opportunity to learn to live together in Heaven. Nothing else is as fulfilling.

One of the joys of writing about ancestors who have gone on, is realizing their examples of love and that we will again be together in Heaven. The more we can encourage each other in faithfulness, the more His joy saturates our hearts and lives.

That is more satisfying being published in a ‘Door-Stop’. The immensity of that one book, made me wonder about the size of the Lamb’s Book of Life. What size font is it written in? Is my name written there? Are the names of our earthly family written there?

Remembering our four children sitting around the supper (dinner) table, laughing and enjoying the family relationship, we want it to be so in Heaven…with all the new family members we have not seen on this earth.

I John 3:1 - See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

When I searched for the Lamb’s Book of Life in the scriptures, I found Revelation 20:12 - 
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

And I ask - Who’s Who in the Lamb’s Book of Life?


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Painting a Life!

When did I begin seeing the whole picture? Was it because of all the beauty of the gardens that Dad and Mom planted each year? The pictures of all the bouquets and the gardens are many.

When was it that the verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….” began to have color and shape and substance for me?

Was it when we drove through the vista of New Mexico and California and I traced with my eyes the shape of the mountains where God’s hands created the deep valleys and towering heights?

Was it when I noticed the many shades of green in a grove of trees? The riotous wonder of fall on our street? Was it when I first saw the ocean, and watched the shimmer of color and the mystery of the relentless energy of waves?

I look at the sky and watch the ever-changing kaleidoscope of their shapes and color and know God is omniscient. No matter how beautiful His world is, the best is yet to come..

Some paintings are pure poetry with a style, shades of color that create a life of their own. What makes up a work of art? Is there a set of rules? Oh, yes, there is the choice of medium, composition, perspective, color and proportion. There is more – there is the heart of the painting. Mary Alice Rhode gave me my first lesson in painting….before her death….”It is a matter of shadow and light.” So often I have thought about her words. I realize that without the shadows in our lives, we cannot see the light. When our life seems darkest, look for the light. It is there,

Recently I went to a local rehab for exercise to reclaim a broken shoulder. Each time I went, I saw the works of Jan Ironside. Her use of color energized my spirit. One study of leaves in particular provided a plethora of color in the leaves – green, yes, to which were added yellow, white, and blue. As I studied the painting I saw the back ground that emphasized and projected the leaves. I saw that some of the leaves were behind the leaves that were projected. Some were placed before and some were placed afterward.

When I began painting murals for church for various purposes, I wondered if it would be possible to do. I had no training.

I learned more than applying a brush with paint to a canvas; I learned that we all paint the lives around us into the masterpiece each one will become using God’s colors. Lives are shaped by the colors we apply on the brush to that life. Painting a life is a work in progress.

The scripture shows that before birth God painted each life with His gifts and nurturance. Psalm 139:13-14 - For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearful and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful I know that full well

Just as we leave heart-prints on those around us, God left His heart-print on our lives. We also paint the lives for how we have chosen to live our lives becomes he theme and provides the basis we impart to others..

What color is love, or peace or joy? What shades of pigment are kindness, gentleness and goodness? What strong color is patience or self-control? For these are on the palette that we apply to the lives around us. Yet it is easy to muddy the colors and find we have applied the colors of hate, envy, anger, dischord, free will, impatience, rebellion, misunderstanding

Whether we leave heart-prints early on and become the background of a life, still, we have brought a luster and depth to that life if we have chosen the God-palette.

With a painting, you don't have to go back and paint it again. Joni Mitchell

This certainly applies to how we apply paint to those around us – there are no ‘do-overs’.

Psalm 27:1
Of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 63:3
Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.

(Another link to Jan Ironside -


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Comforter

Our three sons came in out of the cold and readied for bed. The favorite cover was the comforter that their Great Grandma Suderman made of squares of corduroy. Each corner held a yarn knot, with the ends sticking up like bits of fuzz, tightening the warm batting in the quilt.

That was years ago, the last time I remember seeing the quilt was when the Combs brothers were in high school. One of the brothers told me that the quilt was warm and their favorite cover. It was a comforter. It pushed away the anxieties of the day and wrapped them in its warmth.

What is it that causes us to seek comfort in this world? Why do troubles of this world demand comfort?

The definition of comforter is ‘one who comforts’, a quilted bed cover, a narrow long woollen neck scarf. Those are the three ‘this world’ definitions.

Several years ago I received a package from Linda, from China. It contained a scarf that her hands created for me. When I want a bit of warmth and when I need some comfort, I wear that scarf. It is like a long distance hug. And I see the giver’s hands creating this gift for me in my mind.. This scarf, an ordinary piece of clothing, creates more than physical warmth.

So often in life we hurt and feel a deep physical pain in different parts of our bodies. We are discouraged during those times, the demeanor of our care-giver provides comfort. And that comfort leads to hope of recovery. And that hope brings peace in our hearts.

When families are separated through death, a great sense of loss envelopes that family. When my Dad died, Mom found comfort through words. She wrote in a spiral notebook, called the “Dear Poppa Journal”. When I came home, I read her descriptions of pain and suffering. I knew the tears she shed when she gave away Dad’s clothes, sold his twin bed, watched the garden grow without anyone to share it with and watched the Martins in the evening flock back to the bird house that Dad made. As I look back to the memories, I know that what she wrote about has helped me deal with her death 20 years later.

Sometimes life chills us to the bone. It is then that bright sunshine warms us through and through on a crisp fall day. That sunshine comes in a variety of caring ways. Caring ways of a caring person provides the sunshine that the hurting person needs.

The extraordinary ways we help others is through the ways we are gifted and we give without knowing that we give. I know of one woman whose whole being is ‘giving’. Last night I watched her hold a baby in her arms, I watched her visit with the young mother. Her gift is encouragement and love for others.

Questions pave the way to comfort. Asking questions to understand another’s walk, brings a bridge of empathy between two people. And a stranger becomes a friend. Friendship begins with a smile and a commonality. Comfort begins with sharing love, an experience, or filling a need.

As I thought about the word, comfort or comforter, at midnight one night this week, I was drawn to the filing cabinet. It is a filing cabinet filled with the words that Mom wrote. I wondered if she had considered the meaning of comfort/comforter. What a blessing to know what Mom thought in her own words. It is like having a conversation with her even though she is gone. I might not have listened before, but now, what a blessing. What a comfort!

One of the definitions of the Comforter is The Holy Spirit. Beyond the comfort of words and the lives we have known -- through Christ we have The Comforter that Jesus sent. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, guides us and leads us in this life to be what Jesus intends for our lives. We can choose to ignore this inner Comforter, or we can talk with the Comforter and find peace.

Praise! What does praise have to do with The Comforter? Praise, acceptance, hope, rejoicing, forgiveness and encouragement are the warming threads of The Comforter. The Comforter, The Holy Spirit, is God’s Presence within us.

The chilling threadbare characteristics that chills us are envy, discouragement, hatred, criticism, bitterness, and unforgiveness. It is impossible to praise God when these characteristics are torn places in the hearts.

From the Mom’s filing cabinet I found this poem that she wrote:

God Knows Best

If I could push ajar the gate of Life

To stand with God where the future I see

I could interpret all my doubt and strife

And every mystery would have a key.

But not today! Then be content, my heart

God’s plans, like lilies pure and white, unfold

I must not tear the petal-leaves apart

For time alone reveals the hearts of gold.

And if through patient toil I reach that land

Where tired feet, with sandals loosed, may rest

I shall behold and clearly understand

To say, “God knew exactly what was best.”

Psalm 23:4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 119:50My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.

Matthew 5:4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

2 Corinthians 1:4
 Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

John 14:1Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God ; believe also in me. (My favorite verse)

John 14:16And I will pray to the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;