Remembrances

This week has been filled with remembrances.

 Sorting through years of accumulated photos, I came across so many of folks I dearly loved, now gone.

 Editing my husband’s memoir of Vietnam as he works through writing chapter after chapter, I share his sense of loss— so many lives lost, so many lives irreparably damaged. 

Listening to the reports of covid 19 deaths, and the vignettes of some of those who have died and the families and friends they left behind, I find myself with a grief that feels universal. 

How fitting that this has also been the week our country honored Memorial Day and I turned another year older.  Should come as no surprise that thoughts of grief and loss, aging and death, have hovered around me like so many invisible companions. 

The scriptures often speak of life as fleeting.  James 4:14 reads:”…..yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

But we also know that such awareness of our mortality, when we pay attention and honor it, can enrich our lives in the present.  A friend spoke this week of a near death experience that caused him to evaluate his life, rethink his priorities and make needed revisions.  While certainly not the case for everyone, I have noticed on Face Book how many people during this time of covid 19 shutdown, have spoken of enjoying richer time with their children, appreciating a slower pace, experiencing a reluctance to resume what had previously seemed a quite normal and acceptable routine.

Unquestionably in this time there is loss and grief, both personal and worldwide.    But what an opportunity we are being presented to reassess, to regroup. We are challenged to be creative, resourceful; to appreciate our lives and the people in them; to open our eyes and spirits to recognize the gifts in this moment. 

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. Hope’s Café Bonus:  If you are craving a sweet, you might try Strawberry-Chocolate Frozen Yogurt Bark.  Mix 3 c. whole milk plain Greek yogurt; ¼ c. pure maple syrup or honey; 1 t. vanilla extract; 1 ½ c. sliced strawberries; ¼ c. mini chocolate chips.  Line a 10×15 baking sheet with parchment.  Spread mixture and top with sliced strawberries and chocolate chips.  Freeze a minimum of 3 hours. When solidly frozen, remove and break or cut into pieces.

Even In Your Darkest Hour

“Even in your darkest hour, I will not abandon you….even in your darkest hour, I will not abandon you…..all is well…all is well….don’t let go of hope.”  These were the words floating from the radio when I awoke one morning in the early weeks after my father’s death, when I could barely bring myself to get out of bed.  At that time a local radio station played meditative music on Saturdays and Sundays from 7 am. to 8 a.m.  I clung to every word of the song, grief washing over me, as I prepared to face another day without my father.   A few weeks later on a Saturday morning as I lay in bed, I breathed a prayer to hear that song again.  Like a little oasis in my mourning, the song came on, blessing me with a measure of comfort.  I called the station and learned the song was from a John Adorney album called The Fountain.

              I heard a beautiful story on the radio this week of a nursing home in Germany that serves dementia patients.  The staff sought to address the issue of the occasional “escapee” who would become disoriented and believe he or she was due at home.  One actually got out and found her way to a home 20 miles away where she had formerly lived, now occupied by another family.  As employees brainstormed, one idea thrown into the mix  was to put a nonoperational “bus stop” in front of the nursing home.  At first this seemed a ridiculous suggestion to the management and staff of the facility.  But as they considered it further, it seemed worth the attempt. 

              They did in fact put a fake bus stop shelter out with a bench for waiting.  Immediately they began to see benefit from this.  One woman was so agitated she could not be calmed.  They allowed her outside to “go home” and she took a seat to wait for the “bus.”  A nurse sat on the bench with her, a comforting presence, and eventually the woman calmed down, forgot that she had come out to make her way home, and willingly went back in to have some tea with the nurse.

              What if, in our own disorientation in these times of confusion and uncertainty, we could imagine ourselves sitting at the “bus stop” with A Comforting Presence? Might we, too, sense that, even in our darkest hours, we are not abandoned…..all is well…don’t give up on hope?

              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:  Immune system tea: Add fresh sliced ginger (three 1 inch slices) and a stick of cinnamon to boiling water. Strain and discard the ginger and cinnamon.  Add honey and lemon. (My mother, another comforting presence 😊, did a version of this with lemon juice and ginger powder anytime I had a cold.  It works!)

When Life is “the Pits”

“Life is the pits.”  Likely you have felt that way at some time. You especially may be experiencing such emotion during this covid 19 pandemic.    Perhaps you’ve tried all your usual methods to cope with a “pit,” and even resorted to those least effective ones like food or shopping, smoking or drinking too much.  If you have strayed from spiritual practices or never developed them, perhaps you have turned to them.  In the best case, you have found what helps you. But there are times when everything seems to fail us and life is, indeed “the pits.”

Frederick Buechner, ordained Presbyterian minister, author and speaker, tells of a time when he was at a low point.  Driving down the highway, a car passed him with a license plate that said “TRUST.” That simple license plate seemed a powerful message to him in that moment and helped him to regain his emotional footing.  He later learned the car belonged to a bank trust officer.  When the trust officer learned of the story, he personally delivered the license plate to Buechner, who placed it on his office shelf as a frequent reminder to ground himself in his faith, trusting that he would be sustained whatever the outcome.

Several years ago I published a book, Dream In Progress.  In it I make reference to Biblical stories of Joseph, placed in a pit and left for dead by his jealous brothers; Daniel put in the pit of a lions’ den; Jonah in the pit of a whale.  We can think of others through the years:  Victor Frankl, psychiatrist and author, who survived four concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau, for example, or John McCain, shot down over Vietnam during that war and held as a P.O.W. for five and a half years.  Our own pits may not be as dramatic but are every bit as real to us as we live through them. 

May we be reminded, as Buechner was, that even in the midst of difficulty we are being sustained.  In the current milieu where trust in the most basic elements– our government, science, journalism— has been nearly demolished, we have the challenge/opportunity to dig deep within for what grounds us; to foster trust, to nurture hope; to be, as Mahatma Ghandi said, the change we wish to see in the world. 

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. When times are rough, try a Hope’s Café Smoothie:  Blend 1 c. vanilla yogurt; 1 c. frozen strawberries; 1 frozen banana; ¼ c. juice.  Enjoy 😊

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. 😊

HOPE’S CAFÉ

Hope’s Café….“where one can always find words of encouragement and a healthy snack.” These words are not original to me but are a line from a play that the children and youth at our church put on in December 2005. The words stuck with me. At the time I was completing three years of lay ministry training along with seven other church members. We decided we would designate a corner in one of the church rooms as “Hope’s Café.” One of us brought a table. One brought café type seating with checked patterned pads on the seats. A church member who was skilled at woodworking made a “Hope’s Café” sign. I put together a “menu” filled with uplifting quotes and articles and invited church members to contribute.

So today I continue in the spirit of those early efforts to give meaning to the words “Hope’s Café.” I write as we are living in these strange circumstances brought on by Covid 19. Ironically, we are both pulled apart as a nation and world as the competition builds for necessary resources and also more connected than ever by this virus. We all struggle to protect ourselves. We all feel the impact of the world economy teetering. We all face the challenge of how best to cope.

Years ago I came across the following quote: “It is not the circumstances in which we find ourselves but the spirit with which we meet them that constitutes our comfort.” There is fear, worry, grief aplenty in this time. It is important that we acknowledge them. But we don’t have to succumb to them. Even as we shelter in place, we can actively seek to bring a hopeful attitude to our circumstances. What medical developments might be discovered? What connections might people strengthen with one another? Might we learn to do with less? Might we find deeper meaning in our lives in a quieter, less busy environment? Pay attention to where your mind and spirit take you. Then redirect yourself as needed to a more hopeful space—your very own “Hope’s Café.”

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

P.S. Bonus “healthy snack” tip: wash and freeze blueberries (spread in a layer)! They are quite tasty frozen 😊