Archives for posts with tag: prayer

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MemDay3It was my husband who found the letters. They had fallen behind a dresser, along with a receipt for the poll tax of 1904 and three war ration books.

They must have tumbled out from my over-stuffed drawer of vintage things that I want to keep but have no idea what to do with. But I recognized them immediately — about a dozen letters from a soldier filling sandbags at checkpoints in Bosnia in 1996.

I don’t remember exactly how I got his address. At the time, newspaper columnists like Dear Abby would publish a general address to send notes of encouragement to men and women in the service. Maybe I got it there or from my cousin who was in the military. All I know is that almost half-a-lifetime ago I sent a card and a soldier replied.

For about eight months we wrote about our day-to-day lives, our families and our pets. I got a glimpse of life in the military and he got cookies and a football to share with his buddies. And prayers. Lots of prayers.

“A couple of days ago one of our soldiers was shot by an intruder. He’s going to be okay, though,” he wrote, adding that another soldier died when a vehicle went off a cliff. “Hopefully, nobody else will be hurt or killed while we’re down here.”

Hasn’t that always been the prayer? Well before the 1904 poll tax and the war rations of 1946? Well before I ever signed my name to a card?

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As we come close to Memorial Day, may we be thankful for those who made the ultimate sacrifice and grateful for all of those who have freely given up basic comforts, peaceful rest and precious time with loved ones on our behalf.

Unfortunately, battles still rage in this bullet-pocked world. May we pray for those who wear the uniform today and those who wear the responsibility at home.

For the leaders of not just our country, but for those around the world, may we pray for wisdom, patience, compassion and courage to do the right thing.

And for my long-ago friend? I pray he made it home safely and that he enjoys this weekend — without any sandbags to fill.

  For years I’ve been a member of a group that raises money for women’s education. We meet monthly, sometimes more, to discuss scholarships and low-interest loans and to hear the stories of women who are changing their families’ lives, bringing business to their neighborhoods and solutions to the world.

Our seven founders – all students at Iowa Wesleyan College in the latter part of the 1800s – wanted to create a group built on true friendship. Now the Philanthropic Educational Organization has become a sisterhood of nearly 250,000 throughout the United States and Canada.

And all of those sisters? In all of those local chapters? They start their meetings the same way and with the same prayer: that all with whom we come in contact with will be purer, braver and stronger for having spent time with us.

That’s a big prayer. A hard prayer. Leaving every one we meet in a better place than when we found them.

The kid with the runny nose who has asked for the iPad at least 28 times before noon. The woman at the Department of Motor Vehicles who tells you – even in the year 2015 – your debit card is not welcome there. That guy everyone brags about at work, you know which one I mean. The person who only likes things that are her idea.

Purer. Braver. Stronger.

That’s an investment, friends. That’s saying I’ll recognize when a policy is out of your control. I’ll see when you are hurting, when you are afraid. I’ll listen to the whining and hear that you really don’t need more technology, you just need more interaction and more time with me.

It means in the rush of the day, I’ll take a moment to really see you. I’ll choose compassion over completing my to-do list. I’ll pick building you up instead of bullying you into doing what I want. I’ll join like-minded sisters and raise millions to offer formal educations to thousands of women – and I’ll know that the fundraising is the easy part.

Purer. Braver. Stronger.

That’s where the real work lies. And there’s plenty for all of us.

spiritual journeySometimes it’s the truth that makes fiction so powerful.

That’s the case with Sharon Garlough Brown’s book, “Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey” ($18, IVP Books).

“I longed for my characters to be windows and mirrors,” Brown said from her home in Michigan. “It is often easier to see true things about somebody else.”

Readers have a lot of truth to see in the four strangers that Brown introduces in the pages of her novel. The four women – Hannah, Meg, Mara and Charissa – meet at a spiritual retreat center and begin to learn the value of community and of spiritual practices like walking a labyrinth and praying the examen.

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Hannah is a pastor on a forced sabbatical. Meg is a widow haunted by her past and struggling with an empty nest. Mara has experienced a lifetime of rejection and now is in a difficult marriage. And Charissa is a graduate student who desperately wants to do what is right.

Their stories and their true-to-life questions unfold as they learn that a spiritual journey isn’t always an easy walk.

“Reading this could evoke some very deep things,” said Brown, sounding a lot like the retreat facilitator in her book: Walking the path toward freedom and deep transformation takes courage. It’s not easy. It’s not linear. …But don’t be afraid of the mess.

Brown, who has a master’s of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and is a pastor and spiritual director with the Evangelical Covenant Church, paints faith as a relationship that grows and stumbles and strengthens, as something more than merely a subplot to life.

And you’ll find a bit of her in each of the main characters, especially Hannah.

Brown had been wearing herself out in service to God and to others since college, and she rarely took time to enjoy and rest in God’s love for her.

“We first moved to Grand Rapids for my husband’s job,” she said. “I wasn’t on staff at a church. I didn’t have an office. I didn’t have a title.”

That season lasted three years, and it helped her untangle her identity from what she did for God and tie it more securely to how God cares about her and about all of us – the single line of truth that makes this work of fiction so meaningful. So authentic. So worth reading.

Sharon Brown

Sharon Garlough Brown

To learn more

“My hope is that this book will help readers go deeper into a life with God and deeper into a life of community,” Sharon Garlough Brown said, which is why she offers a free 80-page companion guide to “Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey” at www.sensibleshoesclub.com. The guide essentially serves as a 12-week devotional and spiritual formation primer.

About the Simply Faithful book club

Joining the Simply Faithful book club is easy. Just pick up a copy of “Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey” and participate in the community conversation. Talk with friends. Read it at church. Share your comments on social media. Connect with us.

Then, on Monday, Aug. 25, log on to the Simply Faithful page on Facebook and meet the author, Sharon Garlough Brown. She’ll start answering questions at 8 p.m. EDT.

I remember the day my sister told me. I was sitting at the dining room table in the chair closest to the stairs when she leaned in and said she was pregnant and that I was going to be an aunt. I was 9 so I knew what that was — and what it was like to have my cheeks pinched and be asked what grade I was in at family gatherings.

Within minutes I had started carrying my toddler-sized teddy bear on my hip to practice for the baby, and I had decided I would be a different kind of aunt. I’d know what grade my niece or nephew was in, and we’d always be close and have things to talk about.

20140414-203315.jpgWhen DeWayne arrived that June, I did my best to keep my promise. I learned how to hold him and carried pictures of him in a sailor suit in my wallet. I worked with him to learn my name and taught him commercial jingles that my sister really didn’t like for him to sing in public.

But one day, when he was probably between 2 and 3, he come to our house with a cold. His little eyes were watering. His nose was clogged, and for the first time, I couldn’t make him laugh no matter how many silly faces I made. This was something we’d just have to wait out, my mama said, let time do its work.

DeWayne, at 2, helping me read.

I tried to hold on to that when the phone calls started coming, the kind where you hear DeWayne’s wife is in the hospital and she and the baby aren’t doing well. The second call that tells you it’s too early, too risky, and the third call that says the precious baby is here, crying and pink.

I tied four ribbons on our makeshift prayer tree that night, one on the very edge of each of the tallest branches. I wanted my prayers of thanks to be the highest, most visible, ribbons on our tree because gratitude is an important prayer all its own.

We were in the clear, I thought, until the final phone call that made me want to snap the ends off those four branches of the prayer tree. The call that had me packing for Oklahoma.

Soon I was sitting at DeWayne’s table dividing up the Starburst candy like he was 10 again. There, among the reds and the pinks, we shared the sweet and the bitter. We talked of God and empty cribs and barren souls. Of leaving ribbons on trees even when you don’t feel thankful at the moment. Of questions that cut deep through the layers of religion and struck the essence of faith.

Some questions didn’t find their answers that day, or the next. But some things can’t be rushed. Sometimes we have to let time and God do their work.

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I come from a place that’s no stranger to storms, a place where Mama restocked the storm shelter each spring and where schools — from kindergarten to college — have tornado drills.

We prepare because we know the rain and wind will come. The tornado might not touch down on our house or our town, but it will surely blow and threaten. We will need to take cover. We will need to find the strongest place in a building or dig shelters deep into the earth. We’ll bow down and cover our heads. And wait.

Others wonder why we stay in a place where our very air twists and destroys. But we know that storms are everywhere. Ice. Floods. Fires. Earthquakes.

No place is immune, and so we stay. We help each other, and we rebuild.

Sure, we’re scared and we’re cautious, but we’re home.

*I don’t know how to credit this picture. It’s being passed around Facebook, and I really wanted to share it here.

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