Deer

Easter morning 1998, I was in a bitter, angry mood, certainly in no emotional state to go to church.  My husband Terry was due to be admitted to the hospital the next day in order to donate a kidney to his sister.  I was scared and, as often happens when people are fearful, I covered my fear with anger.  But I headed down the driveway on my way to church, only to encounter a deer who emerged from the trees into my path.  The deer stopped midway on the driveway and our eyes locked.  Time seemed to stand still.  I have no idea how long we engaged each other.  But when the deer continued across the driveway and I resumed my drive to church, my spirits were lifted.  I arrived at church, buoyant with Easter joy, somehow mysteriously at peace. 

            From that time forward, deer became something akin to holy for me.  I was more attentive to them when I saw them grazing on our property or when we observed them when we travelled.  Some of my favorite places are Peaks of Otter where deer roam the grounds freely and Zion National Park where our room provided us a ringside seat to these creatures enjoying leisurely breakfasts and quiet suppers on the grounds of the lodge. 

            In 2009 my father, who had come to live with us, began to deteriorate after a stroke.  I had left my job as a hospice bereavement counselor to be home with him but it became apparent I needed to call on hospice services myself.  On a hot July day I drove to the office and signed up my father to enter the program.  On the return trip home, I uttered a silent prayer for some sign, some message that I would have the courage to get through what lay ahead of me.  I remember thinking, “If only a deer would show its face.”  Though mid afternoon on a hot July day is not a likely time for a deer to appear, I watched for one as I drove home. 

            When I arrived, the young woman who had stayed with my father while I was gone immediately asked “Do you often get deer around here?”  Startled, I said, “Why do you ask?” She replied “Because one just came to the window and stayed for the longest time.”  I fell into a chair, near breathless, choking back tears. 

            Truth is, though we often see deer around our property, never had one come to the window.  I longed to see the deer that had come to the window for myself.  A few weeks later, as my father’s death was clearly imminent, I woke early and sat in his apartment that was attached to our house.  I began to mentally construct what I thought I might want to say as a eulogy.  Once again I longed and wished for the appearance of the deer that now symbolized assurance and peace to me.    As I did, lo and behold, a deer came to the window.  Mesmerized, I watched as she ate some leaves just beyond the windowpane.   I wanted Terry to see her too but I didn’t want to disturb her.  Eventually she made her way around the house.  I alerted Terry and we were able to share the experience of watching her at a small pond outside our screen porch.

Regardless of how you respond to my unusual experience, I hope you will always feel a certain reverence for deer.  For me, they truly are “something akin to holy.”

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: “Plant-based deer on the menu”  Dip triangle shaped shortbread cookies (“Petticoat Tails” or alternatively Nutter Butter Cookies or Keebler Vienna Fingers) in melted chocolate, attaching pretzels for antlers, mini chocolate chips for eyes and red hots for noses (or if you prefer plain, use icing or melted candy to attach antlers, eyes and noses) .  No deer were harmed in the making of this recipe! 😊

Trees

As we have been sheltering in place, I have been especially grateful to live in the midst of trees; not just any trees, but the trees that have surrounded us for nearly 30 years.  They feel like old friends, knowing family stories, holding our history in their roots.   Terry grew up on this land.  I can close my eyes and imagine him scampering around the woods, doing chores on the farm, hiking White Oak Mountain up against which our home is built.

These sturdy companions harbor so many memories:

Arbor Day in 1991, daughter Jenna brought home an Ash tree seedling when we were just in the process of building our home here.  Terry showed her how to plant the tree and she followed the instructions with the result that the tree has matured over the years.  Other Ashes have been birthed from the seedlings of her Ash. 

When we built the house, Terry was adamant that we preserve the trees, taking down only those absolutely necessary for the construction of our home.  I have a memory of walking with him in the woods when he pointed out a particular tree (out of hundreds on the property) and said with such devotion and in absolute sincerity, “This is my favorite tree.” He seems to know them intimately.

Years ago, with our woods as witness, Terry and I stood surrounded by friends and celebrated our tenth anniversary with a ceremony renewing our vows.

These staunch sentinels also stand as the silent caretakers of the pets who have crossed “the rainbow bridge,” sheltering the animals laid to rest beneath their protective branches.

So embedded were our woods in Jenna’s consciousness that when she went off to college in Texas, she called home a bit distressed: “They don’t have any trees here!”  Indeed, they do seem to invade our spirits, even inspiring poets.

Here is a favorite I discovered by Michael S. Glaser*, titled “The Presence of Trees”:

I have always felt the living presence
of trees

the forest that calls to me as deeply
as I breathe,

as though the woods were marrow of my bone
as though

I myself were tree, a breathing, reaching
arc of the larger canopy

beside a brook bubbling to foam
like the one

deep in these woods,
that calls

that whispers home

*Glaser was Poet Laureate of Maryland 2004-2009

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: Take a picnic out amongst some trees.  For an easy and elegant dessert, cut the top off a strawberry, put it on a skewer, add a bite size brownie, a marshmallow and a second strawberry with the top cut off.  Repeat for the number of skewers you want to take to the picnic.  Lightly drizzle with chocolate or take some chocolate dip to the picnic if you like.  Enjoy the trees and the treats!

The Language of Nature

The contemplative Trappist monk Thomas Keating wrote that silence is God’s first language. I would posit that nature is the second.  

  Lately we have had balmy breezes coming off the tropical storms. For me they have been like an orchestra: soft strains of strings, followed by rousing stanzas of woodwind, brass and percussion, as the gusts build, reach an apex, then fall to a reverent hush.    Indeed, the Irish poet John O’Donohue described wind as the first music. Summer evenings crickets and cicadas join in the chorus; fireflies fill the woods with their tiny lanterns of hope.

A flaming red and gold sunset fades into pastels and then into deep luxurious blue.  Night settles on the woods and the whispers of night creatures begin to fill the air, sometimes punctuated by the hoot of the owl or the howl of the coyote, the “timpani” among the forest musicians. 

When Terry and I lived on the lake, we would sometimes sleep on the dock. After a day filled with the sometimes near-frantic activity of boats and jet skis, the lake would relax into night.   Stars would tiptoe into the sky to join the moon and we would be rocked to sleep by the gentle gliding of the water.

Though sometimes driven inside by discomfort before morning, we would often find  ourselves wakened by sun’s first rays and the early conversation of birds:  “How’d you sleep?” one might say.  “Oh the baby kept me up!  And now he’s hungry and I better get busy finding some worms!” I could imagine another responding.  😊

I have seen photos of hospitals in the influenza pandemic of 1918, with lines of beds moved outside so that sick people could get fresh air and sunshine.  We can take a page out of that playbook and immerse ourselves in nature, which speaks to us in the language of peace, of healing, of 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: Summer Treat.   Make some fruit kabobs: cut favorite fruit into bite sized pieces and line up on a skewer (bananas, grapes, strawberries, raspberries). Serve cold.

Meet Biet

Biet was a winsome eight year old in South Vietnam in 1968.   She was one of a group of children my husband Terry encountered selling cokes to soldiers to earn some money.  Biet was especially engaging, with bright eyes and smile, and she always sold the most. She would call “Honcho!” to Terry as soon as she saw him coming.  Naturally, he garnered quite an entourage.

The children liked to follow him back to his camp.  Terry permitted them to stay awhile and would share any extra rations with them.  But he would eventually tell them “Di di” meaning go on.  But one day Biet, was adamant in her refusal to go, saying “No di di, honcho.”  Terry, as he describes it, was unwilling to get into a struggle with an eight year old girl in front of his men.  She was allowed  to stay and from then on she was permitted to come and go as she pleased. 

In the beginning of their friendship, her English was not very good.  But after several weeks of tutoring she was capable of carrying on a meaningful conversation in English.  She expressed much anxiety for Terry’s safety.  Out of that concern she gave him two Buddhist icons to wear around his neck for “protection.”  He wore those religious symbols around his neck for the remainder of his time in Vietnam.

The last day before Terry was moved to a new assignment, he arranged to go with Biet to see her mother.  He gave her mother money to buy Biet an “ao dai” (a traditional Vietnamese female dress) to wear to school.  He hoped to emphasize to her mother his hope that Biet would attend school.  That was his last time to see Biet. In his memoir, he writes he did not fully appreciate how much he would miss this spunky little girl.  One can imagine that loss was mutual.

Woodrow Wilson once said “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”

I am also reminded of the quote from The Little Prince: “The tender friendships one gives up, on parting, leave their bite on the heart, but also a curious feeling of a treasure somewhere buried.”

Such enduring friendship is indeed a treasure.  Just as that relationship anchored a soldier and a little child in war-torn Vietnam, our deep connections support our wellbeing when we travel difficult roads in uncertain times.

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:  Vietnamese Snack, “Rice Paper Rolls” (Goi Cuong): fill rice paper wraps  with pork, shrimp or tofu; add ingredients like lettuce, vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, mint garnish or other vegetables. Dip in peanut sauce.

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 😊