February 8, 2021

“Isolation” is now politely called “sheltering in place.”  Controlling diseases that are thought to be highly contagious require placing people where they are unable to spread the sickness.  Today we know the dynamic.  We, though, can put on our mask and run to the store to be with other masked people and quickly grab that which we cannot do without.  We cheat “death.”  In Biblical times isolation was also used for contagious diseases but the most feared was leprosy.  Jesus leaves Peter’s home early in the morning, leaves the people gathering to be healed, and heads to “nearby villages – so I can preach there also.  That is why I have come.”  Preaching sounds a lot safer than dealing with masses of sick people!  So what new lesson do we learn?

         Mark immediately enters the next scenario in chapter 1, a man with leprosy encounters Jesus, falls on his knees and pleads, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  A man with an unclean spirit at the synagogue, a widow with a fever laying in bed, and now Jesus faces an isolated man, condemned to live out his disease who voices our cry, “Lord, if you are willing.”  I listen to women praying a similar prayer to get help for loosing weight.  Their will power has a problem.  We talk about systemic evil like prejudice and hatred in our world but that seems to come back to our heart and will power.  For the leper, no amount of will power or changed behavior was going to make him well.  He needed a divine intervention, a miracle.

         Today as we come to Jesus, our situation may be the lack of will power to deal with our addiction – to food or whatever, or it may be an external illness like a fever, but for some we need a miracle.  Mark 1:41 says that Jesus was filled with compassion, not revulsion, and he reached out his hand and touched the man.  Not everyone receives a miracle but we all receive compassion and God reaches out to all of us in one way or another.  We may face isolation from people but we do not face isolation from God.  We may need to wear masks but that does not stop prayer.  We may be at the bottom of the line for the vaccine but God can still touch us.  Jesus says in this scenario, “I am willing!”  Let those words ring in your heart today – I am willing to be with you, to see you, to touch you, and to care.  Thank you, Lord!


January 12, 2021

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert,

and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. 

He was with the wild animals

and the angels attended him. (Mark 1:12,13)”

Deserts!!  Now there is a topic.  We started our missionary career in a former famine relief camp in northern Kenya on the edge of the Chaldi desert.  I used to say, “I come from the freeways of Los Angeles,” to answer questions about my home and to emphasize the culture shock I was going through.  Deserts are very different from urban settings or rural settings.  Water and supplies are scarce. But that was the home of the people we were establishing an alphabet for and giving an opportunity for literacy.  I wonder what the desert experience taught Jesus and what those desert times might teach us?

         A subtly shocking entrance to our desert life was that the language had no word for “please.”  People came to the door and said, “Give me.”  There was no shame or guilt in asking for help because people lived by community ties.  A warrior would start a day foot trip to cross the desert with only his spear and no supplies.  He knew the person on the other end was obligated to offer hospitality – kill a goat.  Jesus was forty days alone in the desert and the presence of Satan must have offered community – of a sort, at least conversation. Satan chatted with him and “suggested” he use his supernatural powers to short circuit the discomfort of the desert experience.  Community can support but community can also distract! 

         We thrive on community that dispels aloneness, offers support, and affirms us.  How tempting to be recognized as true God by Satan.  How tempting to be “wanted” by friends.  Loneliness hurts.  Sheltering to avoid illness seems very unnatural right now and many refuse to follow the guidelines of social distancing.  We sit with TVs and zoom meetings but somehow it feels less than satisfying, less than a hug. So I reflect on where we find community now.  What drives us to go to a neighbor’s door and beg a cup of sugar or a glass of water because of drought and famine? 

         The desert experience affirms to me that Jesus, true God and true man, who lived his life swarmed by people wanting healing or wanting to test him, that same Jesus also had an extended time alone in a desert, cut off from human support systems.  Matthew and Luke give more texture to this experience.  Turning rocks to bread – deserts test us physically as we hunger and nothing seems to satisfy.  Jump from the temple – deserts test our sense of safety and protection for surely the God of the universe could prevent us from getting hurt.  Avoid the cross and worship Satan – deserts test our resolve to do things properly and not short cut “the rules.”

         Perhaps today, sheltering is wearing on your nerves and loneliness is knocking at your heart.  Fears about the upcoming inauguration play on our sense of security. Doubts of love, fears about protection, and temptations to expediency keep coming to mind.  Many are demanding that government, health systems, education systems and human organizations resolve the loneliness of deserts in our lives.  Jesus, in his desert experience, found focus in the Word of God and so can we.  We are never alone.  Where will we turn today when we feel like we are in a desert?  We need each other.  May we like, Jesus, find comfort in the Word of God.  And perhaps a call to a friend or an email someone  to encourage!  Blessings. 

On the Eight Day of Christmas

January 5, 2021

“On the eighth day of Christmas
my true love gave to me:

8 maids a milking,
7 Swans a Swimming, 6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree”

Eight maids are milking today.  Coffee shops could certainly use this for a logo.  What are the maids milking?  In Kenya where I worked for 25 years, the young girls could be milking cows if you were rich, but also goats, or even camels.  The milk provided the protein for the morning “chai” or tea that gave strength to work through the day.  Milk is the food that helps babies grow when they are helpless and cannot eat adult food.  So the connection of these eight maids to the eight beatitudes found in the Gospel of Matthew 5:3-12 is challenging. 

         Jesus lists eight “Beatitudes” or blessed states but they are not what we expect, “ Blessed are -the poor in spirit, -those who mourn, -the meek, those who hunger after righteousness, –the merciful, -the pure in heart, -the peacemakers, and -those persecuted.  Most of us would not choose any of these “blessings” except perhaps to be blessed with peacemaking and mercy.  None of us would choose to be a helpless baby (ask the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled who would long to contribute and are crying for milk – not the whole cow!) but we do want to have eight maids doing our work for us so we can have our morning tea or coffee.

         The eight beatitudes are each followed with a “for they shall be…” outcome.  Mourners shall be comforted.  Hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied.  Persecution for righteousness sake leads to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Does “the ends justify the means” or do the beatitudes remind of us a basic principle we must remember?  When we perceive ourselves as infants, challenged and unable to meet the challenge before us, the journey of faith leads to a blessed goal.  The beatitudes remind us that the difficulties and longings of this world are working for us to carry us to fulfilled existence, even as milk feeds the baby and helps the child grow.  That does not make the problems of this world “good” because evil is evil but it does affirm that “God works all things together for good,” walks with us helping us as maids help their caretaker, and is leading us to maturity. 

         Today is not the end of the journey; we are in process. We are not alone (eight maids – the community), and we are growing.  So how does that apply today?  I ponder where I might need milk to sustain my soul and encouragement from those working with me.  Is one of the beatitudes giving direction to your prayers this month or perhaps pray a different beatitude each month!  Let’s also not forget to look outward and think about whom we might give a “cup of water” or glass of milk to.  Who in our life is struggling and perhaps discouraged that we could bless?  Blessings are received and blessings are given by True Love who is working “all things together for good,” for our growth.  Open my eyes that I might see the beatitudes at work in 2021!

He Made Me Feel Beautiful

May 20, 2011

Sr. Wantabee had her last day at the hospital for awhile yesterday. She had one request for a chaplain. A lady with some sort of joint problem, operation, and now sitting in a wheel chair was wanting to talk. Her story touched Sr. Wantabee’s heart. She, at age 56, had been married 8 years. She had two step children and a son whom she had at age 29 and raised with the aid of her parents. She met her now husband on-line when such things were first coming in and finally summoned the courage to fly to our city to meet him. You see, she was 300 pounds at that time. He had been widowed after 17 years of marriage and left with two children. It was ‘love at first sight.” And then she reflected and said “He made me feel beautiful.”

Lord, may all the encounters I have make the other feel beautiful! Amen.

For Good

April 14, 2011

Sr. Wantabee is having to do reading for her chaplaincy program. She finished The Healing Connection which is a sociological approach to counseling focusing on connections, disconnections, and the relational images or rules that frame our interactions – excellent even if a feminist. Now she is on to Forgiveness for Good by Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford. It too is an excellent book talking about all our pet grumps, grievances, and wounds as planes circling our control tower and taking up too much air space in our minds. Something goes wrong, we take it personally, we blame that for other things in our lives and then create a grievance story. Sadly true and she stands convicted. We all have little rules about how we think life ought to work and when it doesn’t work the way we think it should, we have problems. Some rules we have no power to enforce.
Can Sr. Wantabee develop a habit of forgiveness? She had an opportunity yesterday to try it out. She was in a patient’s room chatting away and getting ready to pray and leave as she had to be at class. As the husband and wife started to bow their heads, the wife said, “Oh, here’s our pastor.” and indeed there was the visitation pastor, looking all spiff, seniorly and male. Sr. Wantabee immediately deferred to his relationship with the family and started to scoot on her way. He graciously, declined and asked Sr. Wantabee to pray which she did. As the wife reached for Sr. Wantabee’s hand, she heard the male voice start to boom forth with the closing prayer.
Immediately the doubts rose. I’m a woman and not good enough. My prayer was insufficient. I’m outclassed. As she wrestled with herself all the way to the elevator, well, actually all the way to the car, she had to reflect. Was he intending to insult me personally? Of course not. He doesn’t even know me. Does he have the right to pray? Of course. Are two prayers ok? Of course. Is he a male chauvinist? On what basis would I say that? Was my prayer honest, genuine and a reflection of how I understand reality? Yes. It is not within my power to control who prays. Prayer is good. I was true to myself and my God. Move on.

“I Want My Mother”

April 12, 2011

Sr. Wantabee was paged to ICU right after the death of an 86 year old lady who passed with congestive heart failure. The daughter was there and had come racing down the hall at the alert that her mother was in crisis. Sr. Wantabee entered the room to sit with the daughter who was distraut. Her husband was on the way. What do can be said in the face of death? Many things, of course, but they all stand hallow. Your mother is no longer suffering. Your mother loves you. Your mother… All are hallow. The woman wailed from the bottom of her heart, “I want my mother.”
It is true. Death is never welcome. Death is seldom welcome. Death leaves relationships unfinished. During Lent we reflect on the death on the cross, the need for it, the pain surrounding it, and the promise of the cross that death does not have the final say. Thank you Lord.

I Never Thought It Would End This Way

April 11, 2011

Yesterday Sr. Wantabee was on a 24 hour call at the hospital. That means 8-5 going from room to room to hear stories of woe asking for prayer, coming home to collapse and watch Amelia, and then mindless knitting to the Oldies. Mingled among the visits in the ICU to comfort the grieving of age-mates whose parent just died or an age-mate whose wife was intubated, came visits with what felt like more than my fair share of visits with 89, 87, 91 ish little ole people who had been married for 60 plus years who were in the hospital with failing bodies while their spouse of the same age was on a different floor or in a different insititution dying. “We never thought it would end this way.” The humiliation of living in a body that doesn’t respond like it did even thirty years ago and now such basic things as eating, pooping, peeing are being inspected by an entourage of people coming through. “I have no dignity left,” said one little old lady as she raised her gown for the aid to check whether her various bags were emptied.
We all at some level cry, “I never thought it would end like this.” I did not plan to be fat. I did not plan to have arthritis. I did not plan for my child to struggle with migraines. I did not plan… or want… The list does not end.
The text for this Sunday was the raising of Lazarus. One sister, Martha, meets Jesus and says, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Do I detect a note of anger, frustration and pain. Jesus, you are my friend and I thought it wouldn’t end this way. The other sister, Mary, meets Jesus and cries, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Do her tears present the despair that she feels when faced with death. She too did not think it would end this way. We join Mary and Martha somewhere along the spectrum of their cries going from anger, frustration to despair with our cry, Lord, we didn’t think it would end this way.
We all rather envision a Notebook ending. Maybe we have Alzheimers but we will be beautiful and loved. Maybe our spouse will have Alzheimers but we will be handsome, charmin, reading the story of love and adventure. And we will die in each other’s arms, quietly, together, in the night, grieved by a crying audience at the beauty of our passing. Sigh. Now back to reality.
Jesus meets Martha’s anger, not with rejection because we know that “Jesus loved Martha” but with a challenge. “Do you believe that I am the resurrection?” Jesus meets Mary’s despair not with condemnation but with tears, “Jesus wept.” I never thought it would end this way, we cry. And Jesus responds, “I am the ressurection and the life. He who believes in me will never die”

T Bones

March 12, 2011

When a drunk driver comes out of nowhere and hits the side of your car, the saying is “I was t-boned!” I think it means I was the steak and you were the knife. A patient of Sr. Wantabee’s was t-boned. The drunk driver died instantly but the lady, the receiver, was pried out of her car two and a half hours later. She cried because now, two years later, she is still having operations to repair her broken body and her head has never been the same. She shared about her many injuries, her many operations, and the despair that her life was a burden to her husband. Sr. Wantabee cried in her heart to hear the story. Would this woman ever know her value even if she cannot achieve her potential? She goes to psychiatrists and yet her mind does not work. Sr. Wantabee encouraged the woman to find a spiritual director. Healing is a complicated process and knowing God’s perspective is crutial. Lord, lay your healing hand on my friend.

Little Boy vs. Ole Lady

March 5, 2011

Sr. Wantabee sat down to breakfast with her 3, almost 4 year old grandson. All five people were playing out their agendas through Sr. Wantabee’s mental space. “Oh my gosh, the kid is jumping shadows! I have to get my breakfast and get downstairs before the sun triggers a migraine!” “Oh, is that MY breakfast! (and there went her French toast)” “Mom, I’m almost ready to leave, are you ready?” Sr. Wantabee colapsed in her chair to eat her cold cereal. The grandson asked, “What’s wrong Grandma?” She replied as the real answer was to hard to explain, “Nothing. I’m just a little ole lady.” The grandson recognizing the lie, replied, “No Grandma, you’re not little. You’re big.” Sr. Wantabee sighed, looked at him and said, “You’re right. I’m big, you’re a little boy.” Grandson is sheer three year old honest responded, “No Grandma, I’m not a little boy! I’m a big boy. I don’t pee in my pants!”
Sr. Wantabee laughed and reflected on the incongruities of life. An old woman calling herself “little” and a “little” boy calling himself “big”. In the spectrum of life, is there ever a point where we admit reality? Or do we always talk past each other in our attempts to be who we want to be


February 26, 2011

Sr. Wantabee is back at the hospital again and busy. She met a little ole couple who processed with her the grief about the suicide of their beloved son not so long ago. The father shared that the Bible does not say anything about suicide and Sr. Wantabee had to reflect. Is that true?
Sr. Wantabee went to her concordance and suicide is indeed not listed as a specific word used in translation. But the reality of suicide is not denied. Saul fell on his sword. Elijah prayed that God would take his life. Judas hung himself. Stephen shared his faith knowing he would be killed. The fate of none of these men is talked about.
Saul did not want to be alive to see his body played with by the enemy. Women today after ravaged by the “enemy” will commit suicide rather than live with the shame and humiliation and memories of what the “conqueror” did or might do to them.
Elijah just ran out of steam. He had done the great miracle of Mt. Carmel, praying for fire on his offering, praying for rain, but in the face of the threat of Jezebel, he ran and caved in. How many of us “cave in” in the face of threats. God was there.
Judas could not live with the guilt of his actions. Different cultures have different names for the taking of a life in the face of failure. It is expected.
Stephen, the martyr for the good of the cause, is another very famous cultural theme. We honor our soldiers and policemen who put their lives on the line for our safety and for their belief in what they represent.
Suicide is indeed a complicated topic. I pray I am never guilty of judging another’s motives or diminishing the pain for their survivors who loved them.