Featured

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. 😊

Cardinals

Christmas Day a cardinal “joined us” as we ate brunch, by which I mean he could be spied out in the woods outside our dining room window.  (I count that as joining).   My mother had a great fondness for cardinals and both my parents loved to watch birds.  Beyond the sliding glass doors of their dining room, they maintained a bird bath and bird feeder.  My father could make bird calls.  Sadly, all of these things I failed to appreciate at the time. 

            Since Christmas I have explored the topic of cardinals.  On one site I found the comment that “The male Northern Cardinal is perhaps responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird.”  Further it was stated, “Cardinals don’t migrate and they don’t molt into a dull plumage, so they’re still breathtaking in winter’s snowy backyards.  In summer, their sweet whistles are one of the first sounds of the morning.” The female Northern Cardinal is one of only a few female songbirds that sing, sometimes while sitting on the nest.  This perhaps gives the male the information of what food to bring. 

            A few years ago a friend of mine had an experience with a cardinal that seemed totally inexplicable: the bird kept attacking her window every day. I learned in my reading that this is not unusual.  Males and females will both do this, attacking windows or car mirrors or shiny bumpers.  This happens most often in the spring or early summer when they are defending their territory from intruders and mistakenly identify their reflection as another bird to defend against.  Most often these attacks subside as the aggressive hormones subside but there have been instances of this going on for months.  In my friend’s case, when the bird persisted, she eventually named him “Red Fred” and began to value his presence.

            Beliefs about cardinals have generated folklore: “Cardinals appear when angels are near,” for example.  I learned that in Native American lore, the number 12 is considered lucky.  It is believed the person who sees a cardinal will have good luck coming at noon or at midnight or within 12 days.

            We may have “good luck” but our creatures, birds and otherwise, are more and more vulnerable as wetlands and forestlands are destroyed, and vast changes in weather patterns wreak havoc.  May we value what we have and contribute what efforts we can to preserve these gifts of nature.

 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:  Safflower seeds, black oil sunflower seeds, and white milo are among Northern Cardinals’ favorite seed choices.  In addition to large seeds, they like crushed peanuts, cracked corn and berries.  Small chunks of suet are recommended in the winter.

A Bridge to History

We live on a farm that was Cherokee land.  The remains of a burial ground lie as silent testimony to an earlier time.  On the farm next to us sits the house of Chief James Brown.  The owner of that property has tried unsuccessfully to get it listed as an historical site. When we hike on our land, I feel a connection to the Cherokee, to the sacredness of where my feet tread.   That connection feels most powerful when we walk by the creek that meanders along the property line 

A large log has fallen across that creek at the site where there was once a bridge.  My husband tells me that at one time  the school teacher for the local children lived across the creek and in 1917  the community built a bridge to enable him to easily walk to the school.  There are so many associations here to the past, both to that of my husband, who grew up on this farm, and to the many people who preceded his family.

At one time much of the land in this area belonged to one relative or another of my husband’s family.  Once I was buying a mattress and the salesman noted our address.  He said that he lived in “Georgetown Landing,” a subdivision on our road.  I replied that had once been my husband’s grandfather’s farm.  I was startled by his immediate apology!  He said his company had transferred him and he had had to make a decision quickly about housing.  I was touched by his concern that the subdivision might represent a loss to me.  However, I am aware of more than one dispute between parents and adult children on this road over land being sold for subdivisions.

In a sense, I myself grew up on a “farm,” though it was a new subdivision when my family moved there when I was eight.  It never occurred to me that it had been a farm, though our backyard adjoined a large farm.  I remember my mother would give me sugar cubes and apples to feed the horse that would come to the fence looking for a treat.  Years later I drove to that former neighborhood. The farm that I had grown up next to had become filled with homes.

So we cross bridges from one era to another.   Always there are those who have gone before us, to whom we owe so much.  As the old proverb goes, “We drink from wells we did not dig and are warmed by fires that we did not build.”

 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 Cafe Bonus:

See the source image

Roadmap

Inward/outward, an online site that is an outreach of Church of the Savior in Washington D.C., offered a post in December 2018 that has remained with me ever since.  The author wrote: “To keep my equilibrium, I have to remember the way I have come, and who brought me here, to help keep me grounded.”  She then outlined a “roadmap” for herself for the coming year. 

              If the year 2020 has left you rather “dizzy,” after the roller coaster ride it has been, perhaps the New Year offers the opportunity to consider what will help you “keep [your] equilibrium,” in the coming weeks and months as 2021 unfolds. 

              The book Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage describes shedding normal routines, breaking “with normal predictability in a very specific way: not to fill life with other activity, but to empty life of former activities.”  If nothing else, 2020 forced that break for me.  Sheltering in place separated me from most of the people in my life, from social activities, from most of the responsibilities I normally carried out.  Initially, I frequently was signing up for all kinds of things being offered online.  But I recognized that was becoming burdensome.  The empty space that had been created was valuable.  I didn’t want to fill it up.    

              Since our return from caring for our grandsons, I am back to regular walks.    I savor them now.  I always enjoyed it. But I think I didn’t realize how much that was integral for me. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, the author of Without Oars, took time out to do a pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago in Spain.  “Walking is usually the most inefficient way to get from one destination to another,” he wrote. “But it frees one, even in subconscious ways, from the obligation to get everything done fast.  It also opens an entirely different view of the physical world.”

              I am reminded of a similar experience my brother described.  He was crazy about cars.  One of my earliest memories is of an old car he had acquired that was parked out in front of our house.  Sometime in his adult years he joined a car club that took trips in their Model Ts and Model As.  He loved the difference in driving very slowly, what one felt and noticed at a slower, more relaxed pace. 

              May we, as the opportunities arise to resume our usual activities, be vigilant to maintain some inner space, that more sedate pace that can help us to maintain our equilibrium, which contributes to our own wellbeing as well as to what we have to offer into the world around 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:  Just a reminder:  Walking can help burn calories; strengthen your heart; help lower blood sugar; ease joint pain; boost immune function; boost energy; improve your mood and extend your life.  😊

Heritage

Holiday meals in my home were pretty standard. My mother did not like turkey so we always had baked ham, accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravy, the ubiquitous green bean casserole, corn—and my mother’s cranberry relish.   Many years I have gotten up in the wee hours to bake turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.  I love stuffing, sweet potatoes, many dishes which never graced my mother’s table.  But when the holidays roll around, I never pass up making my mother’s cranberry relish.

              In graduate school, my field instructor gave me a copy of a poem called “Bitter Rue” which described how each generation passes down “a cup albeit an altered brew.” In my career as a therapist,  I sometimes gave a copy to my clients. Once I accidentally gave away my last copy, thinking I had another at home.  Years later I wanted to pass it on to my daughter, hoping it would have meaning to her.  I actually tracked down my former field instructor asking her if she had a copy.  She did not, nor did she even recall it.  But she was teaching and put her grad students on a search for it.  They were never able to track it down either.

              Since I was not able to recover it, I decided to write my own, Bitter Rue II. My daughter was about to turn seventeen in Germany, where she had spent her junior year in high school and would soon be returning home.    Along with articles, quotes and bits of wisdom I had gathered for her over the years, intending to give her when the time seemed right, I sent my poem to her.  She had lived through my divorce from her father and it had left its scars which the poem reflects.

              Born of my body,

              Born of my soul,

              Did I look to her

              To make me whole?

              I wanted her

              To have her life.

              But moored to mine,

              She felt such strife.

              And loosed from mine,

              She had no home,

              No safe harbor

              From the storm.

              I would have spared her

              If I could.

              In fact, I’d promised

              That I would,

              Disregarding

              What I knew,

              That she would drink

              The bitter rue.

              Passed on from Betty

              Down to me

              And now to her:

              It’s history.

              The bloodline

              Surely isn’t pure

              And sometimes

              We must just endure

              To find the beauty

              Midst the pain

              Inhabiting

              The family name.

              Redemption comes,

              When, empowered,

              No longer do we

              Fear and cower,

              But face the truth,

              What’er it be,

              And weave our own

              Life’s tapestry:

              A legacy

              For those ahead

              Who will surely

              Need new thread.

              (Kathleen Emerson Stulce)

              Yesterday I made my mother’s cranberry relish—with the slight modifications I have made over the years. 

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: In soft whisperings from the heart/The child within offers you always/The thread of your truth./May you cherish that child, trust/That voice and weave that thread/Richly into the fabric of your days.—-Anonymous       

Wishing you and yours holidays that enrich your spirit and your “tapestry.” 😊

Home

 On a particularly wintry afternoon in the Oklahoma town where I grew up, I have a clear memory of feeling so grateful as I walked home from school, that I was going to a warm place:   I could rummage in the kitchen to find a snack; my dog would be there; my family would have dinner together later.  Home meant security. 

              I stumbled onto a site for the organization National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, which since 2008 has held a poster contest for children ages 5-18 living in affordable (which is to say public) housing.   Participants enter a drawing depicting what their home means to them.  From the hundreds of entries received from around the country, three judges choose 13 winners to be featured in NAHRO’s “What Home Means to Me” calendar.

              When I watched Places in the Heart in 1984, I loved the cast and the story where Sally Fields’ character is widowed when her sheriff husband is shot.  She then soon discovers that their farm is about to be foreclosed on. With courage and fortitude, she manages with her young son to forge a little “family” to include the banker’s blind nephew (who the banker foists on her to give her some income) and a straggler who comes looking for work. This unlikely little band of folks manages to bring in a crop against all odds and save the farm.   At the time I was living in base housing on Offutt Air Base and had no thought of ever living on a farm myself.  But now that I do, I have come over the years here to love the connection to the earth, the seasons of the crops, the woods which surround our property.

              Living for the past three and a half months in a huge complex in Maryland while caring for our grandchildren, I was deeply aware of the separation from our home.  Sometimes I felt more the absence of my belongings: books I couldn’t put my hands on, my meditation space, my clavinova piano.  But I recognize something else, something I saw reflected in one of the NAHRO posters from 2019. That focus was a tree, roots deep in the ground.  The branches were bare, backlighted by a subtly colored sun.  But two of the branches bent to form a heart in the middle of the tree.  I think of how rooted I feel here and how from love we created “home.”

              We have discussed selling—home too large, property too much to keep up.  Eventually, I expect I will be in some other space.  But if and when that time comes, may the earth, the woods, embedded in my core, and the love I have known in this place, sustain me wherever I may be.  

              And whatever and wherever home is for you, may it be a place where love resides.

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: Two recommendations:  If you have never seen or haven’t watched it in a long time, consider watching Places in the Heart.  To see the artwork from the NAHRO poster competition, go to http://www.nahro.org.

Culture and Economy

              In the time we have spent caring for our grandsons, we have watched our fair share of children’s shows. I have been impressed with some of the very good programming that is available.  At the same time, I am just astounded how the commercials are geared towards making children into consumers.  I recognize that to some extent this has always been so.  But in the early days of television, commercials were shorter and were focused on not only toys but things like children’s toothpaste and household items a mother watching might use.

 Children today are bombarded with commercials that go on and on, all in lovely pastel colors and glitter.  I saw one this week with a clear message about consumerism: two beautiful little girls with baskets full of yummy looking cookies walk over to a playhouse where a child “shopkeeper” greets them. They each give her a cookie and in exchange she gives them each a new baby doll.  They walk back to their child-sized table and chairs and sit wreathed in smiles with their baby dolls.

This topic seems particularly poignant at the holidays.  Children and adults alike are assaulted with commercials advertising not only “perfect gifts,” but also, at a deeper level, “perfect connections,” couples and families so enjoying one another’s company.  The ads seem especially cruel in a year when Covid 19 creates barriers to shopping and get-togethers, and has left many empty spaces at the tables of those who have lost spouses, partners, parents, children, friends to this virus.   

“Any discipline that has to do with human behavior needs to take into account how humans think and how society, history, and context shape this thinking,”  Asli Demirquc-Kunt, host of the 2015 World Development Report on Mind, Society, and Behavior, stated.

“It is a challenge to engage in the spirit of Advent,” I wrote some years ago, “when the prevailing message, the insistent chant from the airwaves, seems to be that it is our patriotic duty to shop, to keep the economy moving forward.”  When we worship at the altar of the Economy, in a manner of speaking, we sell a bit of our souls to the devil.

Terry and I agreed not to buy each other gifts this year. We plan a very quiet Christmas, sitting by the fire, reading, listening to music. The nature of this year lends itself to being reflective.  I hope in some small way this minimizes how society influences this season.  May you find those means that make this a more peaceful, less commercialized experience for you.

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:  The World Bank is made up of 189 member countries, staff from more than 170 countries, and offices in 130 locations. The World Bank Group is a unique global partnership:  five institutions working for sustainable solutions that reduce poverty and build shared prosperity in developing countries.

The Blue Sweater

Perhaps writing about Giving Tuesday last week triggered a memory of reading a book some years ago titled The Blue Sweater.   The author described having had a blue sweater she dearly loved in her early teens, even writing her name on the tag to stake her claim to it.   But one day a boy at school made fun of it.  She went home complaining to her mother who took her to Goodwill, where she was happy to be relieved of it. 

              Fast forward ten years or so.  Having been deeply affected by the genocide in Rwanda, she went to Africa with youthful ambition to “save the continent.” What she discovered was “some of the worst that good intentions, traditional charity, and aid can produce:  failed programs that left people in the same or worse conditions.”

              Out jogging one day while there, she encountered a young boy wearing a blue sweater that she quickly recognized as her own.  He was only about ten and the sweater hung so low on him that it hid his shorts and only his fingertips poked out of the sleeves.  He didn’t speak French and she didn’t speak Kinyarwanda.  However, she managed to communicate to him she wanted to look at the tag.  Sure enough, there was her name!

               “The story of the blue sweater,” she wrote, “has always reminded me of how we are all connected.  Our actions—and inaction—touch people we may never know and never meet across the globe.”

 With a background as an international banker, she knew the power of capital and markets and politics and recognized how the poor are often excluded from all of those.  In 2001, at the age of 39, she established Acumen, a non-profit impact investment fund that seeks to change “the way the world tackles poverty by investing in sustainable businesses, leaders, and ideas. “

Her “can do” attitude was refreshing to me in the face of the many obstacles to addressing poverty.  I am re-reading the book and exploring more about the Acumen fund.  If you are so inclined, the book is a worthwhile read. 

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:  Rwandan mandazi are little African donuts, a little less sweet than the American variety but have hints of cinnamon, cardamon and coconut.    They are found all over Africa by different names like Dabo or Dahir.  Crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, they are often made in the shape of a triangle.  For the recipe, go to www.internationalcuisine.com/rwandan-mandazi.  😊

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday, begun in 2012, was created by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation, with the intent to create a day that was all about celebrating the generosity of giving, an antidote to the consumer culture. Each year since, the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving has been designated Giving Tuesday. Though information for the first year is incomplete, $10.1 million was collected through Blackbaud, a leading software company powering social good. 

              In my FaceBook memories this week, I found a post from 2017 where I had just heard on the news that the amount spent on gifts between Thanksgiving and Christmas was expected to be 682 billion (“with a B”) dollars. By comparison, the amount collected for Giving Tuesday in 2017 turned out to be $274 million (with an M”) dollars.  The reality is that Giving Tuesday has grown each year.  Since its inception nearly 2 billion dollars has been raised for various nonprofits. 

 The comment made on the news report I had heard in 2017 was that the spending “would be good for the economy.”  I pondered when the economy became the god we all worshiped.  I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about how the economy works.  While theoretically a good economy is good for everyone, with employers more willing to hire, some people clearly benefit much more than others.  If the worker pool is plentiful, employers don’t necessarily feel any need to raise pay or benefits. 

In the best case, when we look back on this season of Covid 19, perhaps we will recognize we have come to develop a greater appreciation for enjoying simple pleasures and doing with less.  The opposite effect could occur as well:  having felt “deprived” we might become all the more greedy “to make up for lost time.”  May we endeavor to work toward the former and eschew the latter.

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:  When I reposted my FB memory from 2017, I stated that my intention is to make every Tuesday a Giving Tuesday between December 1, 2020 and December 1,2021.  I am considering how I will live out this intention.  Perhaps you may choose to honor it in some special way yourself.  Reminder:  Giving Tuesday will be celebrated this year on December 1.

Ancestors

I am alive because an infant, the lone survivor of an Indian raid, was rescued by neighboring villagers in the 1700s. I remember being stunned when I learned this from my brother’s work on genealogy. To think I might not have ever existed!  But I didn’t consider how many other people would be descendants of that little baby….that is, until I had the following experience.

              I had gone to an assisted living facility to visit a church member who had recently moved there.   She was occupied with physical therapy but suggested I visit her daughter, also a church member, who was in the woman’s room rearranging some clothes.  The daughter had been carrying the burden of her husband’s medical problems, her mother’s physical limitations and the move to the new residence.  Our conversation evolved into things she was missing, to include the work she had put aside on genealogy.  She mentioned relatives in her history with the name of Ragsdale and I said “Oh, we have that name in our family too!” And then she repeated the story of the rescued infant that I had only ever heard told in my family.  Wow! We laughed but were curious if we might in fact be related.  I sent her the information my brother had gathered.  When she eventually had the opportunity to pursue this, she discovered indeed we are distantly related.

              As I think of this now, I wonder how many people I have encountered along the way, never knowing we shared genetics.  Even more important, I think of what it could mean for our communities, our society, our world, if we lived as though we are all connected, part of something larger, that our commonalities and differences are all threads composing a vibrant tapestry. Consider this as you go about your daily encounters.

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 another story of descendants of survivors, read the uplifting story of Nicholas Winton, dubbed the British Schlinder.

Perigrinatio

Spending my days with a preschooler and toddler, I am seeing a lot of information on their learning sites about “patterning,” which, as nearly as I can tell, is a fancier word for what we have always done with children.  Learning predictable patterns prepares children to read and to do math.  But I came across a beautiful devotion which quoted Hildegarde of Bingen from the 12th century who spoke of becoming “like a feather on God’s breath.”  The devotion’s author, Christine Valters Paintner, described perigrinatio, a journey, especially a long and meandering one, not at all predictable.

            In the Celtic tradition, perigrinatio was a special kind of pilgrimage, Ms. Paintner wrote.  The ancient Celtic monks would leave all that was safe and secure behind and take off to find their “places of resurrection,” which is to say, the place God was calling them to settle and offer their gifts.  She reported that St. Brendan the Navigator, a 6th century Celtic monk, took off with 12 other monks in little boats without rudders or oars, trusting the winds would take them where they were meant to go.

            The term “flying blind” comes to mind.  That expression came into being during World War II, when it was used by pilots who could not see the horizon and had to rely on instruments. It came into popular usage to indicate feeling one’s way, proceeding by guesswork.

            In the midst of our current pandemic, we may feel like we are “flying blind.” But I wonder if we couldn’t borrow on the Celtic tradition and frame this period of time as a perigrinatio, a special kind of pilgrimage.  Without minimizing the difficulties inherent in this present moment, perhaps perigrinatio gives us a way to seek meaning in what can otherwise feel like a quagmire of uncertainty.  Does the very lack of predictability present opportunities we might miss in ordinary circumstances?

 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:  Perhaps a feather in some visible place could serve as a reminder to stay open to this“pilgrimage” and its possibilities. 😊