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Finding Hope Through Gratitude

I believe in the message of hope. I believe in hope in the midst of despair. I believe when we are despairing, God despairs with us. And that underpins hope, because if God suffers with us, there is meaning in that hopeless experience.

A compassionate God offers us a steady supply of hope, but we do not always avail ourselves of it. Our means to do that is through gratitude. Gratitude is what brings hope into the present moment. Hope may seem a distant promised land but gratitude gives us awareness of the manna we are eating in the wilderness at this very moment.” 

These words were the opening of a paper I wrote for a ministry class some years ago but the words ring as true to me today.  As we wander in the wilderness of Covid 19, there are many for whom gratitude may seem a stretch.  Maybe you have lost a loved one and the virus has prevented having the closure of a celebration of life surrounded by friends and family. Maybe your job has been shut down and you have children to feed. Perhaps you are experiencing deep depression or panic attacks fueled by our present circumstances.  How do you find gratitude within yourself in this present moment?

“In this present moment” is the key.  In this present moment, ground yourself.  Take some slow, deep breaths.  Ask yourself: where are my feet? That may seem silly.  Do it anyway.  Recognize your feet as connected to solid ground (or imagine them connected if something prevents your putting them flat on the floor). 

Ask yourself:  where is my head? What thoughts am I feeding?  Name at least one thing for which you are grateful.  Continue searching if something doesn’t come immediately.  You might look to the book of Psalms or some other reading that you find uplifting.  I have sometimes turned to Psalm 42: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?  Hope thou in God, for I shall yet again praise him for the help of his countenance.” If all else fails, think of someone you can do something for and be grateful for that motivation. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.

            Shalom, Kate

P.S. Bonus healthy snack from Hope’s Cafe:  slice an apple and sprinkle cinnamon on it. Dip it in yogurt. 😊

What Can One Do?

Michael Blassie was an Air Force pilot sent to fly missions in Vietnam in 1972.  It was a time of reduced troops.  At the height of the war in the late 60s, there were 500,000 troops.  When Blassie arrived there were about 25,000 who were stretched to the limit.  On his 132nd bombing mission he was shot down over territory held by North Vietnam.  A helicopter team was sent in to retrieve the body but enemy fire forced them to retreat.

Five months later a fellow named Chris Calhoon, who was responsible for calling in airstrikes, at the urging of some of Blassie’s pilot friends, got approval to send in some South Vietnamese soldiers to retrieve the body.  They returned with some bones but also his wallet and other identifying information.  But given there was no DNA testing at that time, and no way to conclusively identify him by military standards, he was declared missing in action and declared dead.  The recovered bones were eventually placed in the tomb of the Unknown honoring other unidentified Vietnam military.

The story took a turn in 1994 when a former Green Beret called the Blassie family, indicating he believed that the government was not telling all that it knew about Michael Blassie’s remains.  Another three years passed and a CBS reporter in Denver got wind of the story and, while skeptical, decided to pursue it.

The upshot of this story is that there was finally a congressional inquiry and ultimately a positive ID by DNA and return of the body to Blassie’s family. Because of the actions first of Calhoon; the troops he sent in to recover the body; later by the Green Beret who created doubt; and then the journalist who decided to investigate, this outcome was possible.

After learning this story, I heard another one of a fellow who received a call from someone in Ghana, trying to sell “gift cards.”  The person who got the call confronted the caller: “This is a scam.  You are targeting elderly people trying to take their money.  Hank up from this call and call me back.”  And the scammer did call him back and the two made a connection that has persisted through the years.  His father had died and he was trying to make a living to care for his sick mother.  But the connection he made with the man he had called motivated him to change his direction.  He is now working to come to the United States where he wants to pursue a degree in criminal justice.

In these events, I hear a challenge to us to never deny the power a single individual has to impact a situation that might seem impossible to influence. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate.

Hope’s Café Bonus: “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés ( A quote I love!)

Connections

When I was a child, I was entranced by the notion of pioneer times.  I thought I would have liked the adventure of being a pioneer.  There are a lot of reasons I recognize now that I would not have adapted well to that kind of experience.  Being cut-off from easy communication would have been my downfall.  No phones!  No email! No Facebook!  No internet!  Now some people would say, that would suit them fine.  Certainly, the plethora of modern communication does become burdensome and unplugging periodically seems to serve our health.  And yet….

I think of a long-lost friend who tracked me down through an old phone number she got through my high school alumni association.  I recall a phone call I received once as I was just about to walk out of the office at the church I was pastoring in Florida, the caller having somehow gleaned from the internet that I was there.  She had been a client of my husband Terry when she was a teenager and just wanted to convey how well her adult life was going and to thank him.  And last week I discovered someone had left a message on my blog, yet another former client in search of Terry.  These kinds of connections strike me almost like wizardry.

People have applauded us for uprooting ourselves at this stage in our lives to move to Montana, trekking like modern day pioneers to a place where we had no established connections.  And, indeed, this was an adventurous thing to do, when staying put would have been the more reasonable course to take.  But I honestly don’t know how well we would be able to live with this choice were it not for zoom.  This morning we will zoom with a group back home, and again this evening with another group of home folks.  These are weekly rituals.  This is not to say we aren’t making new friends.  But the former ties sustain us.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Connection:  The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.— Brene Brown

When Things Go Awry

I recall a friend years ago recounting her wedding day when she made her way down the aisle with 104 degree temp.  My husband Terry tells the story of a friend whose bride limped down the aisle on crutches at her Washington D.C. wedding.  (Full disclosure:  Terry was the driver of the couple in a pre-wedding celebration that resulted in the crash that caused her injuries. They had been a bit too enthusiastic, shall we say, in their celebrating, and 19 year-old Terry in his diminished capacity plowed into a CIA man’s car.  Amazingly, Terry and the couple remained friends).  Wedding- related or not, we all have our experiences When Things Go Awry.

This brings to mind Winnie the Pooh.  As I languish post-Christmas with a very bad cold, feeling as sick as I can remember in a very long time, the memory of those hopeful little characters cheers me.  Nobody likes being sick but I resent it:  I had Things To Do.  But even the gloomy Eeyore was full of wisdom for When Things Go Awry.  Witness:

              “It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.”
                —Eeyore

And here is one that rings so true as I seek to remind myself of what I am thankful for in the midst of Nyquil and cough drops and Kleenex:

         “After all, one can’t complain. I have my friends.”
               —Eeyore

Friend Meg brought all manner of medicinal remedies and a big container of chicken soup.  Multiple people checked in on us (as Terry is sick now too).  With the help of friends, I think I have secured someone to blow off the next round of snow that is due to start soon.  I’m feeling better even as I write this! 

Blessings in the New Year.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:Flu Season Ginger Honey Lemon Tonic: 1 cup water

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger (or more to taste), peeled and coarsely chopped

1/2 medium lemon

1 teaspoon honey, or to taste

1 ounce whiskey (optional)

Place the water, ginger, lemon juice, and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat until heated through. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a mug and add the shot of whiskey, is using.

The Christmas Dress

Years ago, my husband Terry and I took two foster children, we’ll call them Kevin and Amy, a teenage boy and his 9 year-old sister.  As I have often said, this was a lesson for me in my limitations.  Amy was a real challenge for me.  She had a talent for somehow taking moments that were going well, everyone enjoying themselves, and just behaving in some way that spoiled the pleasure and peace.  Looking back, I recognize I allowed it to be bother me in ways that made the situation worse.  And I certainly understood that the behavior was a defense to avoid attachment to our family that must have seemed disloyal to her birth family.   But that didn’t minimize my angst at the time.

One Christmas I had cut out some Christmas outfits for Amy and our daughter, we’ll refer to as “Jeanie.”  One night after the kids were in bed, I went downstairs to sew these outfits.  I was so angry with Amy, I went to sew with the intention I would finish Jeanie’s skirt and jacket and Amy’s would just have to wait till maybe I felt more inclined to do so.  But what did I do? I picked up the fabric I had been working on for Amy and started sewing on it.  I thought, “Well, I will finish this seam and then I will complete Jeanie’s outfit.”  Nope….my hands continued to work on Amy’s skirt even as my brain was saying to stop and work only on Jeanie’s.  I remember watching my hands like they belonged to someone else.  What in the world was happening?  How could I think one thing and do the exact opposite of my intention? This experience felt sort of other-worldly. 

The course of this puzzling event resulted in my working steadily until Amy’s outfit was completed.  I then started on Jeanie’s, still marveling at this sense of my heart and brain being out of sync.  But I began to be aware that there was a lesson for me involved in this experience.  I recalled the verse from Ephesians: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.”  Whether you embrace Christianity or not, you likely can recognize the importance of acknowledging that we ourselves have often behaved in ways that required someone else to forgive us.  Acknowledging that is humbling and allows us to forgive others when our inclination might be otherwise.

Let us make this a season of healing.

Wishing you a joyous holiday season.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Small Town Living

Our church sits next to the original building called, appropriately enough, The Little Stone Church.  It is sometimes rented out for showers, weddings, other events.  Last weekend it was rented for a craft show.  I went over to introduce myself and the organizer said, “Oh, yes.  I’ve heard all about you.”  The next day I conducted a memorial service where I was introduced to someone from out of town.  She said,“I’ve heard a lot about you”….Small Town Living

              We live close enough to the church for me to walk to work.  This week we had snow.  As I walked to work, I encountered someone blowing snow off what I assumed was his driveway.  I laughed and said, “I need to send you down the street to my house.”  He said, “Where to you live?”  Startled, I gave him my address.  “You live two doors down from my mother,” he replied.  I asked what he charged and he said, in a tone that bordered on embarrassment, “Oh, just whatever you want to pay me”…..Small Town Living.

              The next day I went back to pay him.  When I knocked at the door, to my amazement, Dick, a church member, answered.  It turns out the snow blower is a neighbor, who blows off the snow and shovels the sidewalk for Dick in return for some of Dick’s home-grown vegetables…..Small Town Living.

              I was told when I moved here that helping one’s neighbor is characteristic of this ranching and farming area.  If a farmer or rancher has encountered some problem or disaster, neighbors help out, knowing next time it could easily be you.  And you know that when your time comes, they will just as quickly come to your aid. 

              This awareness that we have some responsibility to others and that we engage in some mutual benefit by serving one another, seems to me to be lost in our current milieu.  So much of what is wrong in the world, boils down to a person or group of persons or a corporation, deeming their needs or desires supersede anything or anyone else’s needs or desires. 

              Years ago I read the book The Navigator, a novel with detailed a group of people who decided to establish their own colony, with no rules.  Anyone could do whatever they wanted.  They discovered this was really untenable.  There had to be some ground rules that made living together in community possible.  Rugged individualism is one thing.  To totally disregard the needs, rights and well-being of others is a totally different thing. May we seek always to be good neighbors and to cultivate community.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  If you google “Cultivating Community” you will find a group in Portland, Maine, organized to support ” teaching people sustainable farming practices and connecting them to the community through our food hub.” They “support and manage diverse urban growing spaces, enabling community members to grow their own food within city limits.”  They also “increase access to local, healthy foods for low-income consumers, providing affordable produce through CSA shares, farm stands, and mobile markets.”

First Snow

This week we enjoyed the first snow in our newly purchased home.  What is it about snow that just seems to invoke walking in it, playing in it, getting cold enough to go inside and get a hot drink and a good book?

            As a reader who prefers historical novels and mysteries,  I had been searching for a book that would really capture my attention.  Just in time for the snow I discovered Amor Towles’ book The Lincoln Highway.  I had not come across his works before and got curious about him. His personal story I found quite fascinating.

As reported in Time Magazine, September 29, 2021, Towles started writing in first grade, and years later at a Yale seminar was taken aside by Paris Review co-founderPeter Matthiessen, who saw a talent the two made a pact to cultivate. So when Towles broke the news that to please his father, a banker, he was going to work in finance, his mentor was “furious.” America’s finance industry is notorious for skimming the brightest minds from every field. “The people I’ve seen go to Wall Street do not come back,” Towles remembers Matthiessen saying. “So you should assume that at this moment, you have turned your back on writing for the rest of your life.”

Towles would occasionally see Matthiesen and be reminded of his writing aspirations.  After his decade in the world of finance, he concluded that if he didn’t resume writing he would reach 59 “bitter and a drinker.”

His first book, Rules of Civility, was well received and was followed by an even bigger hit, A Gentleman in Moscow. His latest, The Lincoln Highway, is set in the 1950s, opening  with the release of Emmett from a Nebraska reform school, after serving time for the accidental killing of a bully. His little brother has discovered a stash of postcards their mother sent after she abandoned the family and which were never shared by their now deceased father.  Towles searched out vintage post cards and framed his story around the boys’ intention to follow the path of their mother’s postcards across the Lincoln Highway.

One of the signs for me of a good book or movie is that the characters become real enough that I care about what happens to them as the story unfolds.   He definitely creates characters that engage my interest in their lives and fortunes. 

I anticipate I will have many snowy-days reading opportunities.  And snow or not, I wish you many occasions to indulge in a good book.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Some of the postcards Towles gathered:

Tempus Fugit

“Tempus Fugit”—Time Flies…..how well I know!  A year ago we were about to wrap up a near four-month stint of caring for our grandsons.  I returned to supply preaching while trying to figure out how to search for a call during covid.  Then when I least expected it, I got a call to, of all places, Montana, where I had never even considered going. Suddenly we were selling our house and moving.  Then last month we bought a house and so we have moved from our apartment into a home—right at the church season of Advent!  To complicate matters, we were without internet for a week and my printer crashed.   

All this is to say, Hope’s Café has been neglected!  I return to you today with the recognition that likely everyone reading this shares the experience of life being disrupted in ways you didn’t anticipate.  So I count on you to “give me some grace,” as I am fond of saying. While in the Christian tradition, grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, another definition is “an extended period granted as a special favor,” the response I am seeking for my delay. 

So, in return for the gift of your grace, I offer this:

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.

Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.

Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong

Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside

When you can finally live
With veracity
And love.

Hafiz is a divine envoy
Whom the Beloved
Has written a holy message upon.

My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
And God?

What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred

This is the time
For you to deeply compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But Grace.

Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is sacred.

– Hafiz

Hope’s Café Bonus: There is a PBS piece  from September 2019 on Joy Harjo, which I could not seem to copy the link to and make it work.   Ms. Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and has been the United States poet laureate.    She is from my native Oklahoma and later taught at my alma mater in Knoxville, TN.  Among many youtube videos of her, there is one available of her reading her poem “Grace.” I would encourage you to check it out.  😊

Welcome Home

This phrase “Welcome Home” has so many meanings for me.  I can recall, as an adult returning to my childhood home, how eagerly my mother greeted me at the door…..and how many times I have experienced that as a mother myself, greeting my daughter’s arrival….and now son-in-law’s and grandsons’. 

 I think of all the evenings years ago when my husband and I walked up the driveway to view our house under construction.  I vivdly recall how I experienced walking in for the first time after everything was moved in.  Now as we cart loads to the house we are about to move into, I feel a sense of welcome when I enter. 

There are other meanings for me.  At one time I volunteered for “Welcome Home,” a hospice program that served impoverished folks who had no funds for hospice care, a blessed endeavor.

In the midst of boxes and memories, I came across today the leaflet from the funeral of my father, (another hospice patient whose final months were in our home).  I share this reading that was included. 

                                                                     To Those I Love

“When I am gone, release me, let me go.

I have so many things to see and do.

You mustn’t tie yourself to me with tears,

Be happy that we had so many years.

I gave you my love.  You can only guess

How much you gave to me in happiness

I thank you for the love you each have shown,

But now it’s time I travel on alone.

So grieve awhile for me if grieve you must

Then let your grief be comforted by trust.

It’s only for awhile that we must part

So bless the memories within your heart

I won’t be far away, for life goes on

So if you need me, call and I will come.

Though you can’t see or touch me, I’ll be near

And if you listen with your heart, you’ll hear

All of my love around you soft and clear.

And then, when you must come this way alone,

I’ll greet with a smile, and say, ‘Welcome Home.’”

For those for whom the holiday season is less a time of “celebration,” and more a time of grief, of loss, of depression; I pray that there is a space of respite from the burden of the holidays and a sanctuary where your heart is at peace, a place of welcome and of home. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  For me, a warm drink goes a long way towards soothing my spirits and my mother’s Cranberry Juice Punch lends a festive touch regardless of mood.  This memory of my mother making this in her percolator (remember those?) makes me smile.  This is the recipe she copied for me: 

“9 c. cranberry juice cocktail; 9 c. pineapple juice; 4 c. water; ¾ c. brown sugar; 6 whole cloves, stick of cinnamon.

Mix together and perk in coffee pot (or put spices and water in pan and boil to get flavor—then add other ingredients and heat.)  Serve hot.  Spices I listed are just an estimate as to amount.  You might like less cloves and more cinnamon.”  😊

Irony

About three years ago I began to have some difficulty with my right leg.  Periodically I would get severe cramps in it, unlike any leg cramps I’d ever had.  Peripheral artery disease was ruled out in 2019.  I didn’t get a diagnosis and I dropped the matter.  In 2020 when the problem evolved from cramps to pain that was becoming more and more frequent, I decided to pursue this again.  Knowing that I was likely going to be accepting a pastorate and wanting to get the procedure taken care of before moving, I got a referral to a vascular clinic.    But there was a delay after the ball was dropped in the office where I had completed testing and gotten a diagnosis. Then, though insurance approved it, Medicare denied it.  The day before the movers came in August to move me to Montana, where I had in fact accepted a call to serve a church, I received a call.  The news? That Medicare had approved the process on appeal! Great—except that the move was about to ensue. 

So, now established with a new doctor in Montana, I began the process anew.  I got a referral almost immediately.  The new office was extremely efficient.  And, biggest surprise of all, the nurse practitioner  spent nearly an hour with me!  I got much more in-depth information than I had received in my pre-move appointment and was very impressed with the nurse practitioner.

I am reminded of the Sufi story “Good Thing, Bad Thing.  Who Knows?” which I first heard years ago.  The farmer’s horse runs away…oh no!  Then it returns with a second horse….oh good!  Then the farmer’s son falls off the horse and breaks his leg….bad thing!  Then a war breaks out and the son is ineligible for the draft because he is physically not able….good thing!  He doesn’t risk worse injuries or death.

I was so disgusted when I wasn’t able to get the surgery last summer. (Bad thing!) Now I am much more comfortable with the care I am getting.  (Good thing!)

When we look back at our lives, we likely all can point to experiences such as these.  In 2010, my position was cut from a hospice job I loved and expected to continue to retirement.  I was truly devastated.  But that led to my path towards ministry and a position I deeply love.  And my hospice experience is valuable in this new vocation. 

Ironic as some twists can be on our journeys, all these experiences contribute to the tapestries of our lives.  Think of it as “irony as gift.”

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: “No problem comes to you without a gift in its hands.”—Richard Bach

The Milk Run

This week I had the distinct pleasure of helping with the milk delivery to a rural school, K-12 in Raplje, MT.   The son of one of the church members, Viv, is the superintendent at this little school and she offered to do the weekly milk run. She and another church member, Mary, invited me to experience this. 

Rapelje was originally called Lake Basin due to its geographical landscape, but in 1913 it was named after J.M. Rapelje, who was one of the heads of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Rapelje was first established as a town where local railroad workers of the Northern Pacific Railway would live in the late 1800s. As more people began to work at the railroad, the town grew bigger in both size and population. They had multiple establishments such as a hotel, a grocery store, a town hall, a K-12 school, and many other things. A post office was established in 1913, and the four grain towers (which are still there today) were put in business. A railroad destination point, Rapelje developed into a reasonable town with a number of grain elevators, its own school district, an evangelical church, a cafe, and later a violin shop and clothing business. I learned that the mother of Mary, who grew up in the Raplje community, was the one who opened the café and who rented a little apartment at the back of the café to a couple who offered violin lessons.  

In 1980, the railroad was taken out of Rapelje, and the population declined, as well as sales and business. Businesses and residents of Rapelje largely dispersed from the town over the following decades. The hotel burned down, the town hall was removed, and the grocery store was closed. I saw the building that had housed the café and the site where the bank had stood.  Curiously, the vault still sat in a vacant lot, a lone survivor of the long- gone bank building.

So what remains is the church and the school—those two basics deemed necessary to establish every little town.  The church looks well- tended.  The school is an impressive three story- brick building, housing 60 children from kindergarten to grade 12.  An art class at some point had covered the walls in murals with a woodland theme.  On the arch over the stairway was painted “Raplje Park.”  The atmosphere was bright and cheerful. The teachers and staff I met were so very welcoming. The cooks had painted the kitchen in school colors to brighten it up. I had a sense of melancholy for what is lost without small towns, farm communities, and the people who love them and keep them alive.

 May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: “Living in a rural setting exposes you to so many marvelous things – the natural world and the particular texture of small-town life, and the exhilarating experience of open space.”

– Susan Orlean.