Sunday, September 29, 2013

May The Lord Bless You and Keep You

I love Sundays. Church fills me up and satisfies me for about a week. And then no matter how my week goes, great, terrible or so-so, by Sunday I can't wait to go back again.  It's great -- the people, the music, singing along, the liturgy, the sermon, and participating in communion. I love having communion every week. I surely wouldn't want to miss an opportunity to get more of God in me. Ever. Really, it's not enough until the bread and wine are served and the Pastor says: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the gifts of his body and blood strengthen, keep and unite us, now and forever. Amen.
Then to celebrate after the feast, we sing:
Praise to you, O God of mercy; Thanks be to you forever!
Raising high the weak and lowly;Thanks be to you forever!
From of old you loved and sought us; Thanks be to you forever!
Truth and justice you have taught us; Thanks be to you forever!
Strong is your faithfulness, strong is your love, rememb'ring your covenant of life with us.
It makes me feel like dancing.  And then the blessing is pronounced, May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look on you with favor and grant you peace.  
Don't you love it? I do. I fell in love with that blessing from Numbers 6:24-26, more than 40 years ago when Tom and I attended a Lutheran church. Liked it so much, we used it in our wedding. No doubt that's why the marriage lasted these 43 years.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


I retreated this past weekend with 4 other women from our (St. Paul's Lutheran) church to a lovely camp named Lutherlyn, a name as pretty as its picture.

September, in our neck of Pennsylvania, is just beginning to give up the green, but this picture of Lutherlyn from a previous autumn is what we have to look forward to. There are only hints of color now, but dramatic coloration like this is on the way -- count on it!
Looking at pictures from the website, clearly this spot of God's earth is beautiful all year 'round. I do hope I get to go back and see other seasons as well.
Camp Lutherlyn -- fall, winter, spring. 
We packed up our pastor's wife's van with sleeping bags, suitcases, book bags, purses, snacks, and raingear -- the forecast promised rain. I'm happy to say we all fit -- us and our paraphernalia, everything it would take to keep 5 women comfortable and stylish in a campy sort of way for the whole weekend. 
While in line to register women greeted one another, chattering and laughing, renewing acquaintances with people from previous years, hugging long time friends. And suddenly I realized -- as a first-timer, there would be no one here for me to re-connect with. It was momentarily disconcerting, but no reason to be sad. I love making new friends, and I came with 4 delightful gals who made me feel ever so welcome. Still, it gave me pause...because, like the theme song from Cheers says, "sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name..." At that moment I was engulfed in a homesick feeling. I wanted to know someone there -- besides the women I came with. I wanted to greet someone with a hug. Someone whose name I knew. Someone who knew my name... and was glad I came.
Silly me. The homesickness passed as quickly as it came. We all got registered. With packets in hand, three of our group returned to the car to drive our luggage to the location of our cabin. Ida and I chose to stretch our legs with a walk to our assigned cabin. Ida -- Aunt Idy to two of the gals in our group -- is 83 years old and spry as a spring chicken. She and I hoofed it up the hill on gravel and dirt pathways. She, pointing out the dining hall over there and one of the meeting halls down there. Me, taking it all in and trying to keep up. Yes, this was going to be a wonderfully rejuvenating, fall getaway.
I paid little attention to the names of speakers for the weekend and hadn't read the bios in our packet of information. Everything was new to me, the campgrounds, the meeting halls, the cabins, and the people. It was all new, and all good. And refreshing.
Right off I liked the Bible teacher's presentation. There was something familiar about his style and mannerisms. He reminded me of someone, but I couldn't for the life of me think who. The next morning, while he was speaking I glanced at the short bio page, Pastor Blair Morgan, (The Rev. Dr. Blair W. Morgan to be exact). 
Hmmm, I knew a guy named Blair, like 40 some years ago, when I was in Young Life.
He had already referenced his age -- my age.
The bio said he was from Pittsburgh and attended Penn State University. Same as the Blair I knew.
And then he mentioned his years with a parachurch organization called Young Life.
How about that? I kind of, sort of, knew someone after all. When I introduced myself to him he asked if I was married to Tommy or Mike Henning. Tommy. Hardly anyone calls him that anymore, just family and friends close like family. I loved hearing Blair reminisce and use my husband's old familiar boyhood name. We shared stories and asked each other about long lost friends...triggering memories now four decades old.
What a treat to be greeted so warmly, a delight to exchange hugs. Somebody knew my name... and was glad I came.  
No one, and certainly neither of us, has led a completely charmed life, but a blessed life to be sure. Count Your Blessings, don't overlook any -- see what God has done. All weekend long we were encouraged to count our blessings.
In retrospect I've been thinking, I never would have been at this W-ELCA Retreat (Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church) if some pretty difficult trials hadn't come my way last year. Without those trials I'd have missed two blessings: a fabulous retreat and a serendipitous reunion. Like it says in the book of James, "Count it all joy my brothers and sisters, when trials come your way." Yep, count it all joy! Trials today, blessings tomorrow. A foretaste and glimpse of glory to come. 
What a splendidly refreshing time it was with my W-ELCA friends, Kristine, Wylda, Nita, and Ida. You're on my list of blessings girls!     

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunrise, Sunset

I've heard that sunsets at Presque Isle are a wonder to behold. We've only lived nearby for 38 years, I guess it was time to see for ourselves. And yes, it is a beautiful, restful, inspiring thing to watch the sun go down over the waters of Lake Erie.
This picture was from a few weeks ago, Labor Day evening. Tom and I, and a good friend of ours picnicked on Subway sandwiches, strolled the beach, and then parked ourselves on a bench to watch the sky turn all shades of pink, orange, and purple, as the golden sun slowly set. The breeze was damp and cool. The sand still held a hint of warmth. A group of young people splashed in the waves -- laughing, squealing, dunking each other. Pictures can't do it justice and a video would be like watching someone else's home movies. But it was fun, and perhaps we should take it in more often.

And then the show was over. The sun called it a day -- at least for our part of the world. Somewhere else the sun was rising, ushering in a brand new day. Sunrise. Sunset.

That reminds me. During communion this morning, our pianist tickled my ears and heart with "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow." She always has a connection between the church calendar day, or a particular current event and the tune she chooses to play. As I took communion I pondered...why this song?

Maybe because the Scripture was about the lost sheep and the lost coin. In Sunday School class we discussed losses and being lost. There were tears as stories were shared, wonder at how God met individuals in times of need and devastating loss, hope in hearing how a heavenly Father drew near bringing comfort and peace.

A loss is sad and being lost is scary.
Just thinkin' about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs, and the sorrow 

Finding something gone missing, or being found yourself is reason to rejoice.
I just stick out my chin and grin and say... 

But -- perhaps she chose it as her prayer for the people of Boulder, Colorado, where rain has brought flooding and havoc. Dear God, let the sun come out for people ravaged by rain. Help them hold on until the sun comes out again.
The sun 'll come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there'll be sun. 

Every tomorrow won't be cloudy. Keep watching the sunsets, knowing that the sunrise will come tomorrow, and some of those tomorrows will be beautifully sunny. Pray for those who are having cloudy days. Pray for those who can't see the sunshine. Pray that the Son of God will shine on them.

In peace, in peace, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.
Help, save and defend us, O God.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Last Lily

I don't have roses or I'd post the last rose of summer. But Tom noticed one day lily still hanging on, and even a tiger lily, so he captured them with the digital camera. But these photos make me a bit sad.

It's truly the last of them. I pulled the barren stalks from all the others, cut the long-since done flowering stems of my hostas, pulled out dead ferns. My cone flowers are in sad shape, begging to be cropped.  Soon a frost will drain the life out of the dahlias and black eyed susans... and it all makes me so very melancholy.

Of course it doesn't take much to make me melancholy. I come by it naturally. The passing of time, and troubles of life, and oh woe is me. If I don't watch out that's where I'll stay. I'm one of those people who needs many, many happy reminders.
  • This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
  • Be joyful always.
  • Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.
  • Ask and you will receive that your joy may be full
  • For the kingdom of God is not a matter of... peace, and joy...
  • Hope brings joy
  • Count it all joy...when trials come your way
  • A joyful heart is good medicine
The beauty of nature reminds me to "go out with joy and be led forth in peace." That happy verse can set me to singing even on a difficult day! And if I just open my eyes and enjoy what's before me...yes the flowers will fade and the grass will die, but there's a new season coming with splendor all its own.

Beauty in the last lily of summer
The wonder of a colorful dragonfly
                                                    Another day to play in the pool with a little person!


There's much to enjoy, so much to rejoice in!
A friend's facebook post this week made me put melancholy aside and smile:
Everything will be okay in the end.
If it's not okay
it's not the end.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Building Bigger Barns

 Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” from Luke 12:13-21

Then follows a parable. You know... the one about the farmer whose harvest was so plentiful there wasn't room in his barn to store it all. So he thought and he thought and he thought -- and I'm guessing it came to him in the middle of the night, "I know, I'll tear down my barn and build a bigger one!"

Brilliant?  --  No.

It should have occurred to him to give away his surplus and feed the hungry. 

Oh wait, that's the point of the story. That's what was supposed to occur to us. Jesus was telling a parable, a story in a story that could change the listener's life. It's a message to you and to me. Go ahead, take it personally -- and I will too. There is no denying my life is one of abundant excess -- not wretched excess, mind you, but abundant for sure. And here I am pondering my own generosity.  

Sadly, I find, I come up short.  Left to my own devices I'm not generous enough. But, I haven't begun to consider tearing down this old barn to build a bigger one. So that's a good thing, right? Right. Still, it's not good enough. This weighs heavily on me.

Tom is approaching retirement (16 months, 3 weeks and a day or two -- but who's counting?) and we are wondering what's next. This house and barn are too big, but it would be foolish to tear them down and build smaller. We could build a smaller house and repurpose this big one. It could go back to being the family summer home/hunting camp. It could be a retreat center, bed and breakfast (although there's not a lot of demand for that around here), an event venue...lots of possibilities.

The possibilities include us staying here and enjoying this home that has been renovated over the years with sweat, blood, happiness and tears. The upside of staying put is we could consolidate our living space, downsize without really downsizing, making this place more elder friendly and better suited for sharing with family and friends. 

Every decision we make becomes part of the story of our lives...sort of like one of those books where you get to choose your next adventure. I was going to say choose your own ending, but really no one gets to choose that. Even the rich man with the abundant harvest, he had no idea that his life would be required so soon. He built bigger barns, but never partook of the goods he stored up in them.

 "This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves
 but is not rich toward God."

I hope in all my planning I won't be like the well-blessed farmer who was greedy. I know that life does not consist of the abundance of possessions. It consists in the abundance of intangible blessings: love, grace, mercy, and compassion. If I'm going to give something away, perhaps this is a good place to start. I can give what's been given to me so many times over: love, grace, mercy, and compassion. If one thing leads to another, and one act of kindness leads to the next, maybe I'll find myself being more generous in other ways too. So, yes, this is a good place to start.

Although it wasn't a decision made from the heart, we shared the abundance of our garden with Mrs. Rabbit and her children this summer. Clearly, allowing her to help herself came from neglect and stupidity rather than compassion and grace. But letting her, along with Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter live? That was truly an act of mercy. 

It's a start.