Irony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judgement vs Compassion

I have encountered several situations recently where compassion would have been the charitable response.  Judgement so easily comes first.  I would love to say these were all judgements other people made.  But even ministers are capable of tripping over judgements.

 I got a voicemail from someone looking for a minister to marry her and her fiancé.  Were they a local couple?  No, they were “travelling around and ended up in Montana.”  Some other plan had relied on a relative to arrange for the wedding but that had fallen through.  My first reaction was more of curiosity.  What was the story here?  But I also thought, Really?  As a pastor, I take the authority to perform marriage ceremonies seriously.  This struck me as something of a lark.  I felt a little offended:  Don’t ask me to bless something that is less than full commitment. 

Then I thought back to my own first marriage, how it was all about “being married,” not about being committed.  Who am I to judge?  Even if that were not the case that when I took those vows, I was less fully invested in what marriage would involve, it was still not my place to judge.   Judgement reinforces our sense of superiority; puts distance between us and those folks with whom we don’t want to be identified.

Certainly, in today’s milieu we are in need of some means to build bridges.  Although I don’t have any foolproof remedies for this, I am intrigued with folks like Daryl Davis, 63 year old black man who has successfully engaged Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis.  As reported by Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times in June:

“Davis began to work on answers after he graduated from Howard University and joined a band that sometimes played in a Maryland bar that attracted white racists. Davis struck up a friendship with a K.K.K. member, each fascinated by the other, and the man eventually left the K.K.K., Davis said.

One of Davis’s methods — and there’s research from social psychology to confirm the effectiveness of this approach — is not to confront antagonists and denounce their bigotry but rather to start in listening mode. Once people feel they are being listened to, he says, it is easier to plant a seed of doubt.”

So perhaps we can at least pause when our first impulse is to judge and seek to at least consider an alternative response.

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 BonusAccidental Courtesy | Film about Daryl Davis Meeting KKK …

https://www.pbs.org › independentlens › documentaries

Small Town Living

              I grew up in a small Oklahoma town, about 9500 population.  Until now, that was the smallest town I had ever lived in.  My new home isn’t quite 2,000.  Some folks who have seen my photos on Facebook have commented that it looks like we live in “Mayberry,” that we seem to have stepped back in time. 

              There is a sense in which this experience does indeed feel like we have entered a time machine.  As a kid, I walked everywhere or rode my bike.  Growing up, Main Street was the focus of the town. Little shops lined the streets.  Lew’s Drug boasted a soda fountain along with medicines and merchandise.  Link’s Drug, the competition, was across the street.    Security Bank where my mother worked was on one corner.  The National Bank was one block down.   The town was on the Chikaskia River, a tributary that eventually becomes part of the Mississippi River.

              In my new home, I can easily reach on foot any place in town I want or need to go.  Main Street is a central “shopping district,” so to speak, where one can peruse little shops, go to the bank or the florist or the auto parts store.  Sadly, the drug stores with soda fountains have mostly disappeared from American culture.  But we do have a Whistle Stop Café and a Chinese restaurant.  And our town is right on the Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri River.

              Here is the pivotal difference in the two experiences:  Growing up, I knew or knew of most of the folks living there.  When I was downtown, inevitably I encountered people with whom I was familiar.  In my new home, I am perpetually aware that I am a newcomer.  People are friendly enough, but I am an outsider.  I met with two pastors of nearby Congregational churches, one of whom I was meeting for the first time.  She asked where I was from.  When I replied “Tennessee,” the other pastor gently teased, “Can’t you tell when she opens her mouth? That lovely accent!” (I am thinking, “What accent??”)

              So as we move on from our known experience to the unfamiliar, we can be certain that change will bring some discomfort.  I am enjoying so many aspects of my new life.  But I don’t like being “the new kid on the block,” aware that other people have deep roots and longtime connections here. I am challenged to consider these folks “ friends I just haven’t met yet”  and  reminded of the old adage “to have a friend, one must be a friend.”

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: “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”—William Butler Yeats        *        “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friendship

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.— Henri Nouwen

IN APRIL 1998, TERRY GAVE A KIDNEY TO HIS SISTER CONNIE, ATTEMPTING TO SAVE HER FROM POLYCYSTIC KIDNEY DISEASE.   THE OPERATION WAS A SUCCESS AND BOTH TERRY AND CONNIE WERE INTIALLY DOING WELL.  BUT SILENTLY A STAPH INFECTION ATE THROUGH THE ARTERY INTO CONNIE’S  KIDNEY AND SHE DIED WITHIN A FEW WEEKS OF THE SURGERY. 

              MY FRIEND ELAINE CALLED ME WHEN SHE HEARD OF THE DEATH.  “IS THERE ANYTHING I CANDO FOR YOU?” SHE ASKED.  “OH, ELAINE,” I SAID, “PLEASE BAKE US A LOAF OF BREAD.”  NOW FOODWAS THE FARTHEST THING FROM MY MIND AT THAT MOMENT.  WHAT I WANTED WAS THE IMAGE OF ELAINE, KNOWN FOR HER BREAD BAKING AND HERB GROWING, KNEADING THAT BREAD, PUTTING SOMUCH LOVE FOR TERRY AND ME INTO THAT LOAF—-THEGRACIOUS OFFERING SHE WOULD MAKE FOR OUR COMFORT.

              IN JULY 2009, MY PRECIOUS FATHER WAS DYING.  MY FRIEND ANN CALLED ME AND SAID “IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO FOR YOU?”  AND I SAID “OH, ANN, WOULD YOU BRING ME A CINNAMON CRUSTED BAGEL AND A CUP OF HAZELNUT COFFEE FROM PANERA’S?”  IN THIS CASE I WAS THINKING ABOUT FOOD—-I WANTED THE SWEET TASTE OF THAT BAGEL AND THE WARMTH OF THAT COFFEE  TO INFUSE NOT JUST MY TASTEBUDS BUT MY SPIRIT, COMFORT FOOD.  EVEN MORE THAN THAT I WAS COMFORTED IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT AT THAT MOMENT ANN WOULD HAVE MOVED HEAVEN AND EARTH IF NECESSARY TO BRING ME THAT BAGEL AND COFFEE—OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT I HAD ASKED.  AS I WAS ABOUT TO LOSE THE FATHER WHO WOULD HAVE MOVED HEAVEN AND EARTH FOR ME, I WAS BEING SUPPORTED BY A FRIEND WHO WOULD DO THE SAME.

AND THOUGH I SPEAK OF FRIENDSHIP IN TIMES OF GRIEF, THERE IS SO MUCH TO BE SAID FOR THE PLEASURES OF FRIENDSHIP DURING GOOD TIMES.    I HAVE SHARED COUNTLESS CUPS OF TEA AND ENDLESS CONVERSATIONS WITH MY FRIEND DIANE.  I HAVE MET UP WITH MY COLLEGE GIRLFRIENDS FOR REUNIONS WHERE WE GABBED LATE INTO THE NIGHT.  I SHLEPPED MY PORTABLE SEWING MACHINE FROM TENNESSEE TO NORTH CAROLINA MULTIPLE TIMES WHERE MY FRIEND MARY HELPED ME CONSTRUCT T-SHIRT QUILTS.  I COULD GO ON.  SO MANY FRIENDS. SO MANY GOOD TIMES.

              YOU MAY NOTICE THAT NONE OF THESE ACTIVITIES WERE ELABORATE.  FRIENDSHIP ALLOWSFOR THE SIMPLEST THINGS TO BE SO SATISFYING.  WHAT A BLESSING.

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 QUOTES I FOUND THAT I ESPECIALLY LOVED: “She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.— Toni Morrison

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” —-Albert Schweitzer
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/friendship-quotes

Self Compassion

As a therapist, I saw many people who evaluated themselves in very negative ways.  Seeking ways to help them re-evaluate their perceptions, take corrective action where needed  and develop “healthier self-esteem” was part of treatment.

              An approach being advocated by Kristin Neff, PhD, emphasizes increasing self-compassion instead of focusing on building self-esteem:  “The self-worth from self-compassion is much more stable over time than the self-worth that comes from self esteem because it’s not a judgment of good or bad.  It’s just being kind to yourself.”    

              In my therapeutic role, I often gave handouts of “My Declaration of Self-Esteem” by the late Virginia Satir.  But I think her document could accurately be titled “My Declaration of Self-Compasssion.”  She wrote:

“In all the world there is no-one else exactly like me.

Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine because I alone chose it.

I own everything about me; my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or to myself – I own all my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes, because I own all of me.

I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me and other aspects that I do not know, but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and for ways to find out more about me.

However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I can see, hear, feel, think, say and do – I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me.

I own me, and therefore I can engineer me – I am me and I am okay.”  

We are often encouraged in these divisive times to be kind to others.  May we remember as well to offer kindness to ourselves. 

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 you recall the Saturday Night Live Skit of “Stuart Smalley” played by Al Franken.  Franken published a book in 1992 of Stuart Smalley Daily Affirmations full of the humor of that character, humor being one of those life-giving qualities that can help us stay grounded and kind towards our own humanity.

Time

            August 15 I noticed my calendar was still on July.  For me, perhaps for you as well, there has been a sense of timelessness during this period of Covid 19.  Usually, there have been markers over the course of the year such that even when time seems to be “flying,” I still have a perception of “in February we took a trip to (fill in the blank); “in May we had a big celebration for (fill in the blank); and so on.  When one day is often much like the one before it and the one after it, time seems to lose its meaning.

            Steven R. Covey says that you can spend time on useful things or useless things.  However, if you consider the term “investing” instead of “spending,” he suggests you will invest it in something that has meaning and value for you.  I have wondered how we will look back on this period; will it seem to have been “lost time,” nothing gained, or “valuable time,” well “invested”?

            Given that at this point it appears that we could be restricted from our normal activities for some time to come, this would seem to be an excellent time to take stock. Imagine yourself a year from now.  What would you like to look back on?

            Covey wrote about making a personal mission statement, stating that “Whatever is at the center of our life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom and power.”

             Just before New Year’s 2019, I came across a similar idea in a post from inward/outward where the writer suggested making a “roadmap” for the year ahead.  The writer began her roadmap with the words: “To keep my equilibrium, I have to remember the way I have come and who brought me here, which helps keep me grounded.” She then enumerated the things she would rely on to stay grounded and centered.  She concluded with these words: “This is just my road map– always being updated in the moment, as the spirit directs.”

            What will keep you grounded and centered through this period?  What will it take to look back a year from now to say “I grew through this time and I take satisfaction in how I managed this opportunity”?

            Blessings as you continue the “covid journey.”

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 share a poem that helped center and ground me:

Rumblings

                                                There are rumblings in my soul.

                                                The earth cracks open:

                                                Lava spills out

                                                Across the landscape of my life,

                                                Warming me/burning me.

                                                There are rumblings in my soul.

                                                The earth cradles me,

                                                Even as it shifts,

                                                Moving me in some direction

                                                I strain to perceive.

                                                There are rumblings in my soul.

                                                The earth propels me:

                                                Whether I stumble or find sure footing,

                                                I am sustained.

                                                There are rumblings in my soul:

                                                Prophets of the earth,

                                                Foretelling change to come,

                                                Change erupting even now,

                                                Gift of the universe.

                                                            —-Kate Stulce

                                                            Written October 2002

                                                            Sante Fe, New Mexico*

                                    * Descriptive of the spiritual journey I have experienced,

                                    which was only beginning to evolve when I wrote this poem.