A Little Bit of Heaven

“When we feel certain that the human soul is no longer at work in the world, it’s time to make sure that ours is visible to someone somewhere.”  Those powerful words of Quaker author Parker Palmer just grabbed me this week.  We may want to shrink from our surroundings when we despair that “the human soul is no longer at work in the world.”  But that is the time when it is the most necessary to “make sure that ours is visible to someone somewhere.”

Jesus said the kingdom of God is “at hand”… present and available.  And we are “agents” of the kingdom when we make sure our soul is visible to all those we encounter.  Pretty awesome when you think of it:  in those circumstances when we may feel the most powerless, we remain in a position to demonstrate kindness, compassion, understanding, love. 

One of my favorites, that I return to periodically, comes from Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

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. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.”

Or, as I once read, “If the kingdom of God is within you, you should leave a little heaven wherever you go.” (Cornel West).

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:  Consider where have you left “a little heaven” lately.

Traditions

              Years ago our Thanksgiving tradition involved having the extended family at our home.  I would get up in the wee hours to prepare the turkey for baking.  I am not a “morning person” but I loved the early morning reverie as I basted the turkey:  covering it inside and out with a dry mustard rub, tucking butter pats in between the joints, putting onion and celery in the cavity, placing bacon across the top, laying cheesecloth soaked in olive oil over it to bake it.  Ah!  So moist, so delicious! 

The entertaining was always rather exhausting but rewarding. One year our daughters and their spouses and my nephew and his family were all there.   I remember they were visiting around the table.  I was lying on the couch, all energy expended, too tired to move, but enjoying the sound of their conversation and the sense of all being right in my world.  Nothing better than having our children with us.

Another year, when my parents were no longer driving, my brother drove them out to Tennessee from Oklahoma.  Sadly, our dog died that Thanksgiving morning.  My brother discovered me crying and just folded me into the most tender hug he had ever given me.  My brother’s efforts to get my parents to Tennessee and his sensitivity to my loss were both great gifts.

We have had to adapt over the years as circumstances have changed.  When the extended family gatherings ceased after my mother-in-law died, and our children were often living elsewhere, we began to always do the Grateful Gobbler walk, a fundraiser for homeless services.  Sometimes we celebrated with friends after.  Sometimes we celebrated alone, savoring the day just the two of us.

This Thanksgiving we had an invitation to a church member’s home.  Afterwards, we went to the  Palladium, a local pub which was hosting a community Thanksgiving.  I noticed a woman alone at the bar and decided to reach out, knowing I would want someone to reach out to me if I were alone on a holiday.  I discovered she has been widowed 12 years.  The friends who had invited her to join them had become ill and had to rescind the invitation.  Our conversation led to the discovery that we had both lived in Waco, Texas, and that she is the neighbor of some of our church members.  A serendipity!

Traditions are lovely.  But life evolves. Flexibility is essential to our well-being.

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 recipe to which I refer is “Marie Louise’s Turkey and Gravy” from the Cotton Country Collection cookbook. 

Neighbors

Neighbors

As a child, I lived in a neighborhood in a small town.  In an age when cell phones didn’t exist and the very idea of even young children having their own phone was unthinkable, some folks still might ask to use a neighbor’s phone.  Borrowing a cup of sugar wasn’t unheard of.  If a neighbor was sick, you likely took some soup.  If someone was new to the neighborhood, you took a plate of cookies, or perhaps a casserole.  People behaved in “neighborly” ways.

One of the “rituals” in this Oklahoma town were the gatherings in the spring when there were tornado watches.  We congregated in the neighbor’s storm shelter, where we would catch up on the latest news in everyone’s lives.     I did live through a few tornadoes while I lived in Oklahoma, but there were so many tornado watches that there was never a real sense of danger any of the times we took to the neighbor’s shelter.  These were rather convenient opportunities to get together! 

I have lived in other neighborhoods over the years.   But for last thirty years before we moved here, our closest and really only neighbor, was our niece down the driveway from us.  So now, once again in a small town, we have neighbors. 

A great gift to us have been our neighbors across the street and down a few houses, who sometimes invite us for coffee, and to whom we sometimes extend the same invitation.    They have made us welcome in many other ways, including us in activities at their home, introducing us to their friends, making us aware of opportunities in the area.  I have no doubt if I needed something, they would do their utmost to help me. 

 We are blest with others locally who invite us to do things.  Pastor colleagues have reached out to me.  We just returned from a trip to Tennessee where we were reminded of how much we appreciate longstanding friendships there. 

At this time of Thanksgiving, when folks make special effort to express gratitude for life’s blessings, I am most grateful for friends like these, for the friendships over the years that have enriched and sustained me. 

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: I discovered there are some funny quotes about neighbors.  For example:

To get a roaster clean, send something like baked apples in it to a neighbor. Neighbors always return pans spotless, and you won’t have to use a blow torch on it like you usually do.  Phyllis Diller

But the sweetest one I found was this: What are we doing in this world, and why are we here, if not to contribute to the wellbeing of our neighbors?  St. Mary Euphrasia

Happy Thanksgiving!

Disruption

                  What a ruckus!  Everywhere you turn in this town, the roads are torn up, closed off, impossible to know from one day to the next which roads are open to get where you want to go.  Old water pipes are being removed and new ones put in, a good thing in and of itself.  Perhaps we won’t have to deal with the burst pipes every winter as in years past.  But now progress is disrupted by the recent snow, which continues to fall.  It is a rare conversation lately that doesn’t include some reference to the roads.     

  Perhaps we could use a few reminders:              

 1) This is a “first world problem.”  How many people live with disruptions that have much more serious consequences for their well-being?  We could be  Ukrainians trying to stay alive in the midst of war.  Or  refugees fleeing extreme violence in our country.  Or someone who is stranded in an abusive relationship with no resources.  Or ( and I only learned this this week) we could be residents in our local nursing home, which suddenly announced its closing and intention to get all occupants out before Thanksgiving.  

And 2) disruption is a part of life and sometimes a necessary one. 

And 3) good can come of disruption.  For example, no one would like to repeat the covid pandemic.  But after years of trying to raise the minimum wage, employers were forced to raise them in an effort to secure their work force. 

                  Some have succinctly described this:

“ Trust me, you can’t change anything without causing some degree of disruption. It’s impossible, that is exactly what change is. Some people are uncomfortable with the disruption that change causes, but the disruption is necessary if anything is going to change.” Afeni Shakur

“Change is inevitable and the disruption that it causes often brings both inconvenience and opportunity.”  Robert Scobie

While I admit I have groused right along with most of the folks in our little community and these reminders are for me as much as anyone, I find some gratification in the bond that this disruption has offered.  We all are experiencing the problem to one degree or another.  We share our frustration.   At a time when so much division exists, there is some little blessing in this “opportunity”  to unite in our common “misery.”

 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: Where do you see opportunity in the midst of some disruption affecting you? 

Time Traveler

Probably 6 years ago, for my birthday I received from my daughter, a “Skylight,” one of those devices which scroll through photos that are sent to it.  I recall when those first came out that I thought they seemed, I don’t know, frivolous? One more bit of excess in one’s life? Over time I have become a true believer. Every time I catch a glimpse as I walk by, or those times I actually sit for a bit and watch my life played out before me, I feel blessed.  Photos of our travels, of family gatherings, of our grandchildren, our friends, our animals, pass before me like a delightful parade.

              Rather ironic that I thought of this as excessive.  What is excessive are the dozens of photo albums, as well as loose photos from over the years, currently stored in our shed where we never see them.  My brother gave me all of my parents photographs after they died, which only added to the hundreds (likely thousands) of ours already filling storage tubs.  I have made albums, I have sent some to family, I have discarded many that were poor quality or were unidentifiable.  

              On the other hand, I recognize the value of these images, how some moments of our lives are captured to be re-experienced whenever the occasion arises. Routinely at family gatherings, we have dragged out all the photo albums to share once again the memories they contained.  It has been said “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving.  What you have caught on film is captured forever. It remembers little things long after you have forgotten everything.” (Aaron Siskind). Or as Neil deGrasse Tyson has so aptly put it: “Photography is a form of time travel.” Thank you, Neil.  We are in your debt for that eloquent description.

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 example, this photo was taken at sunset on the farm we sold in August 2021.                                                                                           

Probably 6 years ago, for my birthday I received from my daughter, a “Skylight,” one of those devices which scroll through photos that are sent to it.  I recall when those first came out that I thought they seemed, I don’t know, frivolous? One more bit of excess in one’s life? Over time I have become a true believer. Every time I catch a glimpse as I walk by, or those times I actually sit for a bit and watch my life played out before me, I feel blessed.  Photos of our travels, of family gatherings, of our grandchildren, our friends, our animals, pass before me like a delightful parade.

              Rather ironic that I thought of this as excessive.  What is excessive are the dozens of photo albums, as well as loose photos from over the years, currently stored in our shed where we never see them.  My brother gave me all of my parents photographs after they died, which only added to the hundreds (likely thousands) of ours already filling storage tubs.  I have made albums, I have sent some to family, I have discarded many that were poor quality or were unidentifiable.  

              On the other hand, I recognize the value of these images, how some moments of our lives are captured to be re-experienced whenever the occasion arises. Routinely at family gatherings, we have dragged out all the photo albums to share once again the memories they contained.  It has been said “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving.  What you have caught on film is captured forever. It remembers little things long after you have forgotten everything.” (Aaron Siskind). Or as Neil deGrasse Tyson has so aptly put it: “Photography is a form of time travel.” Thank you, Neil.  We are in your debt for that eloquent description.

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 example, this photo was taken at sunset on the farm we sold in August 2021.     

                                                                                      

Small Town Slice

The aroma is heavenly on Wednesday mornings at the Senior Center.  Except for the last Wednesday of the month, when birthday dinner at noon preempts cinnamon rolls at 9, folks gather for this sweet start to their day.  The rolls don’t always come out right at 9, so we sit chatting, waiting like little birds chirping to be fed.

This past Wednesday I arrived promptly at nine, anticipating a senior center cinnamon roll and fresh coffee to warm my tummy on a cold Montana morning. The smell that greeted me was not fresh bread, but roast beef being prepared for the birthday dinner later.   Alas, I had forgotten it was the last Wednesday of the month.

However, a couple of other members had also forgotten.  One of them was George, a Columbus native, born in a little house behind the EUB church, delivered by his grandmother, “the closest thing this town had to a doctor or nurse back then,”  nearly a century ago. 

George happily shared stories of his life in this area.  In 1959, married with two small children and another on the way, their home burned to the ground.  They slept that night in the car, George totally devastated, unable to see how they would go on.  But the community rallied, helped him rebuild.  While their home was rebuilt, they lived in shack like quarters, initially without plumbing or electricity.  George was resourceful, having taught himself the plumbing and electrical trades.  His daughter laughed that they were the only place around with a lighted outhouse. 

George took his two little sons with him when he worked, said from an early age, they were never without a tool in their hands.  One became a plumber and the other an electrician here in town.  I realized one son was someone I am aware of in the community.  I made the connection to his daughter when he mentioned she is in the nursing home due to cerebral palsy.  She joins us when our church offers a service at the home on the third Friday of each month.  Now I will be able to tell her I have met her father. 

These little connections sweeten life like delicious cinnamon rolls!

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 senior center here is well supported by the community.  I learned recently that many of the other small towns around are limited in the days they are open and the meals they serve.

P.S. The movie I mentioned last week that I hadn’t been able to locate about the peace reached in Ireland, I discovered is “The Journey.” Worth watching!

The Ulster Project

The Ulster Project

Some years ago, as a therapist at a mental health center, I was part of a team that led a group for Irish students brought to the United States to give them some respite from the war within their country and to foster understanding, communication and the potential for reconciliation between the Catholics and the Protestants.

The troubled and tumultuous history of Northern Ireland is well documented,
and was played out in newspapers and on television screens across the globe.
At the height of the violence, known as “The Troubles”, the Ulster Project came into being. Every year since 1975 the organization has been working with teenagers in Northern Ireland and the United States, to educate them and develop them as leaders to effect change in their communities.

Originally known as “The Irish Children’s Project,” The Ulster Project had its origin in the imagination of The Reverend Stephen K. Jacobson, D.Min. He became rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Manchester, Connecticut in 1974 and soon discovered that 30% of the local community traced their ancestry to the town of Portadown in Northern Ireland. They came to Manchester to work in the Cheney Silk Mills as weavers. St. Mary’s parish had been organized by immigrants from St. Mark’s Parish in Portadown. Fr. Jacobson had been active in the American civil rights movement and was appalled by what was happening in Ulster. The year was 1974. He asked himself if the people of Manchester might make some small contribution for the cause of peace and reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants; in Ulster and in Manchester.

A year earlier he had become acquainted with The Reverend A.T.Waterstone, rector of St. Catherine’s in Tullamore, Republic of Ireland. Jacobson had advertised in The Church of Ireland Gazette inviting clergy to exchange pulpits with him in Middlebury, Connecticut. As a result, Waterstone spent two months in America and Jacobson spent two months in Ireland. The collaboration expanded from there.

The Ulster Project is based on a simple idea of sharing experiences. Catholic and Protestant teenagers are hosted by American families of the same religion and with a teenager of the same age and gender. In this manner, friendships are created immediately to provide a safe and trusting atmosphere. The teens meet daily in structured activities designed to foster trust between the different cultures represented in the project.

Though the Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement, came about in 1998, the Ulster Project has continued.  The agreement is so named because it was reached on Good Friday, 10 April 1998. It was an agreement between the British and Irish governments, and most of the political parties in Northern Ireland, on how Northern Ireland should be governed. The talks leading to the Agreement addressed issues which had caused conflict during previous decades. The aim was establish a new, devolved government for Northern Ireland in which unionists and nationalists would share power. The two main political parties to the Agreement were the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), led by David Trimble and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), led by John Hume. The two leaders jointly won the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize.

Margaret Meade was right: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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:  An excellent 2021 movie is Belfast, set in the early years of “The Troubles.” There was a movie I watched a few years ago about the secrecy of the negotiations between Trimble and Hume that was quite fascinating, but I have been unable to search it out.

The Love of Your Fate

I came across a quote from Joseph Campbell in relation to a Nietzche idea that had impacted him.  I was stopped in my tracks by Nietzche’s thought-provoking words.  Consider this:

“Nietsche was the one who did the job for me.  At a certain moment in his life, the idea came to him of what he called ‘the love of your fate.’ Whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, “This is what I need.”  It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge.  If you bring love to that moment—not discouragement—you will find the strength is there.  Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life.  What a privilege!  This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow.’”

I can think of many situations that if I were in them, I would have a hard time “bringing love to that moment.”  When we were defrauded by our business manager, whom we had trusted for 17 years, and were forced to close our business, I prayed for her every single day for the following year.  I don’t know that that qualified as “bringing love to the moment.”  I considered it as protecting myself from becoming bitter.  Maybe if I had considered it as “bringing love to the moment,” it would have been an even more powerful action.

I can think of examples of situations where people brought love into the equation in difficult circumstances.  Some years ago in Atlanta, a woman was taken hostage in her apartment by someone who was running from law enforcement.  She very gently talked to this young man, encouraging him about his life and about not acting in ways that were destructive to himself and his future.  She succeeded in convincing him to turn himself in.

Or I think of the true story told in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, where the struggling salesman, Chris Gardner, is left by his wife and remains the sole parent caring for their preschool son.  Behind on the rent, he is evicted and left homeless while still responsible for the child.  Despite obstacle after obstacle, he manages to get through an unpaid internship with Dean Witter and becomes a successful stockbroker.

When I explored his back story, I learned that he had had a dreadful childhood: an absent father, an abusive stepfather, stints in foster care several times.  Despite that, his mother had positive influence.  He recalled her telling him “You only have yourself to depend on.  The cavalry ain’t coming.”  She encouraged him to never give up.  So both Gardner’s mother and later Gardner were able to bring love to their circumstances.

Striving to bring love to the moment seems a worthy but daunting pursuit.  Such a different attitude would seem to offer the possibility of some altered results, the “spontaneity of one’s nature having a chance to flow.

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 my favorite quotes: “Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out.”

The Coffee Klatsch

This week we were invited by a neighbor couple with whom we are newly acquainted, to come have coffee with them.  A delightful, leisurely visit ensued.  What a lovely history this tradition of gathering informally for coffee and conversation has. Worthy of being resurrected, might we all agree?

              The term coffee klatsch comes from German Kafeeklatsch meaning “coffee chat,” or literally, coffee(kaffee) plus gossip (klatsch).  When our daughter Jenna was an exchange student in Germany in high school, no matter what else was happening in her exchange family, everything stopped at 4 p.m. for cake and coffee. Two big layer cakes made by the grandmother of the family were the centerpiece of this daily event.  When I visited, I gladly indulged in this ritual. 

              Coffee klatsches were popular in the 1950’s when it was common for women to stay home with the kids. They would gather for mutual support as they enjoyed coffee and perhaps some cookies or coffee cake.   More recently the term has fallen out of common usage.  But the tradition has evolved to become a proliferation of coffee shops with dozens of varieties of coffees and teas where people now gather to indulge in a plethora of drinks and treats. 

              While I have had my share of Starbuck’s and Panera’s—hazlenut coffee with cream and a Panera’s brownie sounds good at this very moment—I wouldn’t trade the experience there for the one I had this week, sitting in my friends’ dining room getting acquainted while sipping coffee and enjoying the pastry they offered.  Already my wheels are turning how I might build on re-igniting the coffee klatsch.  Certainly I look forward to returning the invitation soon.  The connections we develop in these informal gatherings are the invaluable brick and mortar of relationships.

              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 my first effort at a coffee klatsch will include this, a favorite of mine, delicious and simple.  Gingerbread:  Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9 in. square pan.  Mix thoroughly ½ c. soft shortening, 2 T. sugar and 1 egg.  Blend in 1 c. dark molasses and 1 c.  boiling water*.  Blend in 2 ¼ c. sifted flour, 1 t. soda, ½ t. salt, 1 t. ginger, 1 t.cinnamon.  Beat until smooth.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake 45-50 minutes.  Happy eating.  😊

*I have also substituted ½ the boiling water for gingerale, which gives a lighter texture and slightly sweeter taste. 

Witnesses to Life

Today Terry and I witnessed the adoption of two of the children from church.  What a blessing it was to be included as friends and family gathered to share in the joyous occasion.  The circumstances that had brought these children into this family were rather dire.  But here we all were, the two boys most of all, celebrating this event.  I felt caught up into the shared elation, a part of the family network of relationships.

              Being witnesses to life seems like mindfulness intensified, a greater awareness of being a participant in that which you witness.   I have a friend on FaceBook who has full time responsibility for what I understand to be a great nephew.  I do not know what created the situation that made her care  necessary.  But in every post, love just radiates from the page.  I find myself writing comments to her, affirming the love she conveys.  Even in the unconventional, rather sterile world of a computer screen, I somehow feel I am experiencing the gift of participating in this little family. 

              So many times as a therapist I felt like a witness to life emerging from some dark place.  Once, as a very young therapist just starting out, I was working with a depressed woman who browsed in bookstores just to get herself out of the house.   When, after some weeks of therapy, I commented that she was beginning to look brighter, she responded that she, indeed, was feeling better.  She noted that she even had discovered books on the upper shelves! She had been so downcast for so long that she had never noticed anything existed above the lower shelves. 

              Beyond being mindful, I encourage you to think in terms of being witnesses to life.  Pay attention to whether that increases your sense of participation, being vitally connected to that which you witness.

              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:  I recall from my sociology courses, the term “Participant Observer,” a role a researcher would fulfill by actually participating in an activity, not simply observing it.    Witnesses to Life seems to me a richer, though similar, term.  Witnessing Life combines being mindful, for example, of the song of the bird, and feeling connected to the bird and in some sense being part of its song, as well.