How to feel wanted and needed

IMG_2660Sometimes people ask me to tell them about my most interesting interviews. They get really quiet, expecting to hear me rattle off a list of famous names that I’ve scratched down in my skinny reporter’s notebook.

But the people who come to my mind first are the ones whose names you probably wouldn’t recognize. There’s the boy in Oklahoma who donated bone marrow to save his little brother’s life. If I remember correctly, he was about 9 when he became one of my heroes. And there’s the woman here in Rochester, NY, who walks the streets helping prostitutes and the homeless get the medication they need as they battle AIDS and other diseases. What others turn away from, she looks squarely in the eyes.

Then, there’s the late Rev. Elmer Schmidt. When I met him several years ago, he was living at the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse in Brighton, NY. He had most recently served at St. Anne Church in Rochester. That is, until the Parkinson’s stole so much of his health.

By the time I met him, the disease had taken most of his voice. He spoke only in whispers — between long breaks for breath — as he told about his stiff and stubborn hands and his crumbling legs. His thoughts were still there, but it was hard to concentrate, he said, and hard to bring them out in to the open.

I got the impression that he normally wouldn’t have talked so much about his illness, except that I had asked. You see, at the time, Pope John Paul II was suffering from the same disease and there were some who thought the pope should step aside. I was there to shake hands with the disease, so to speak, to be close enough to describe it to my readers. But what I shook hands with that day was life — a life altered, to be sure, but a life still adding others to its prayer list.

“It helps you to feel wanted, needed,” he told me that day, still ministering from his wheelchair. “You have to feel needed or you fold up.”

I often think of him, there in his simple room willing his facial muscles to let him smile. I never knew him at what others might consider his best, but I’d argue that I met a man that day determined to serve God and others regardless of his circumstances.

When I pray for God to wrap his arms around those who are suffering, sometimes my mind drifts back to that interview. And I ask God to slip a little joy in with the comfort. Amen.

Old letters and new prayers

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?


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.

That all would be purer, braver and stronger

  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.

For when you want faith to be more than a subplot

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.

Sensible Shoes #6453

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 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.

When your questions need time — and God — to find answers

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.

Why we stay through the storms


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.

Creating our family’s own book of prayers

prayer book1At each meal, we hold hands and pray. Our 5-year-old, Benjamin, always volunteers to lead and the rest us of tag on prayer requests and mentions of gratitude. But recently, one prayer request was weighing so heavily on me that I requested Benjamin add it to his beginning — that we all pay special attention to my best friend’s health.

I told the boys how Ang is having trouble moving, how her limbs are stiff and she’s in pain. How doctor after doctor has had no solution to offer.

We often have a running prayer list on the chalkboard but two of our family members are not yet reading. So, this time, I asked Ang for a recent picture, and we began our family prayer book. It’s just a simple $1 album and photos of those who are on our hearts, but it’s helping all of us feel included in the prayer list.

How have you helped children pray?

Do you have a prayer request? If so, there’s room in the album…


Artists needed: Will you help with journaling pages?

St Michael's 2Dearest readers,

Could you help me with a little project? I think several of us are feeling emotionally drained, maybe even a bit dry in our creativity, so I have this plan to focus on hope in the days leading up to Easter… this plan for us all to journal and create and inspire one another during Lent.

St Michael's 3So, I’d like to invite artists of all abilities to design journaling pages that readers can download.

And my writing friends, would you consider what you might contribute on the art of sharing your soul?

Photographers, do you have pictures of hope — or suggestions of how we might capture hope in pixels or on film?

Musicians, what should we listen to as we prepare our hearts for Easter? Dancers, what can we do to move toward hope?

I’ll share more details soon, but if you are interested in helping with this project, please let me know by Jan. 10.

Thank you for considering it!



When your friend loses everything — and then gains blessing after blessing

Tina wanted to wait until her new home was unpacked to send pictures, but who can wait to tell the good news?

Tina has everything she needs.

“I have an entire bedroom set — even a washer and dryer,” she told me as she unpacked and settled in to a borrowed home. “We still need a couch and a love seat but those are coming in another week. We may have to buy a hot water tank, we’re not sure… oh, wait, no we won’t. Dad just said he’d buy one for us if we need it.”

In the week since the wildfire, her voice has grown stronger and our conversation has gone from worry and uncertainty to celebration and gratitude.

“People have responded like crazy,” she said, still in awe of how folks opened their hearts and their homes to help her. Now, when she and Lee return from their honeymoon they’ll have a two-bedroom house waiting for them. “God is great,” Tina said.

And they’ll know that they aren’t starting their new lives alone.

We’re all standing with them.


“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” — Matthew 25: 35-40 (NIV)