Tag Archives: Life Stories 2016

To Marge, In Grateful Thanks

She was a retired high school chemistry teacher, a reader of Bonhoeffer, and someone whose later years were filled with enough wisdom and love to pray for the people who would harm and kill others rather than foster and bless them. She spoke and wrote with love and intelligence. For the past eight years, she blessed my life as a companion in study and prayer. Even when she moved hundreds of miles away a few years back, she remained in my heart.

Marge O’Brien was kind enough to share her thoughts with me in many conversations. She was also kind enough to do the same for anyone who read my yearly Advent Devotional. With grateful thanks, I share her words with you:

Psalm 126; Habakkuk 3:13-19; Matthew 21:28-32

Though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the field yields no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Habakkuk was a prophet in the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE. It was a time of great turmoil in Jerusalem and of many great injustices in the world. In many ways like in our own world, the question arises, “Where is God’s justice?” Why do the poor suffer while the powerful go unpunished for their misdeeds? Why do bad things happen to good people? Perhaps we ask the wrong questions. Is it up to us to criticize God? Or is it possible that there is something else going on?

Perhaps we have a role in bringing God’s kingdom into our world. Over and over again, in both the Old and New Testaments, we are reminded that our God wills a world of righteousness and justice, a world with compassion for the poor and the sick, a world of peace and love. Sometimes we are depressed by what we see in the events of our time. We feel helpless to make things better. Habakkuk foresaw great troubles coming to Jerusalem in the form of warring nations. He knew that times were going to be rough. “YET I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!”

There are times in our own lives when we feel helpless. We do not have control over what is happening. Jobs are lost. Relationships fail. Illness consumes us or someone we love. YET, in all of the sadness and violence, God is beside us, loving us, guiding us, helping us. As we look back on some of the dark times in our life, so often we see God at work picking up the pieces for us and helping us get through to a brighter side of the darkness.

And there is the answer: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, with us always. In the darkness or the light, as Julian of Nowich reminds us “All shall be well.”

Lord Jesus, let our minds rest in your Word, so that when doubt and grief would overwhelm us, faith will open our eyes to see your hand at work in our life and enable us to turn toward the future with hope and toward each other in perfect charity.” A Prayer from St. Augustine.

Offered on December 13, 2014, by Marge O’Brien, retired teacher now worshipping at St. David’s Episcopal ChurchIn North Chesterfield Virginia, steadfast pray-er, child of God.

In Memoriam

It’s a day to remember those who died. Graves with fresh flowers, parades in small towns, and patriotic songs. For the first time, my father is remembered rather than remembering. My mother, sister, brothers, and aunt will each honor the memory of my father.

Years ago, I gave him a couple of books by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Ethics and The Cost of Discipleship. We had a few conversations about Bonhoeffer’s life, especially his participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Was this against his faith (he had been in favor of Gandhi’s non-violent approach to change)? Was Bonhoeffer wrong to condone assassination, even participate in its attempt? My father didn’t think so. His comment:

“He had to choose between killing a murderer or allowing a murderer to keep killing. He did what he could live with and paid the price for it.”

We had many other talks about God and living in this imperfect world. On this day of remembrance, I thank God for seeing in my father a living Christian faith. It was an honor to know him.

Giving Up?

A friend of mine decided in her late 20’s that she didn’t want kids. She just couldn’t see giving up what she wanted to have a child. She had a certain order to her life, with enough time to devote to work, husband, and hobbies. She had more than enough money for a comfortable life, home and vacations included. Another life, especially a young one, wouldn’t fit into the life pattern she had created. While she enjoyed playing with my two sons when they were young, she didn’t want high chairs and pediatricians and diapers and plush toys. It’s been almost two decades since then, and she hasn’t regretted her decision.

If I hadn’t had children, would I regret it? I don’t know. I’ve always thought of children as bringing something into life, not taking something away. I changed my life pattern when they arrived, but I didn’t lose it – I just added more people.

I don’t think any of us were put on this earth for the sole purpose of having children. Life is too big for such a limited view. Mostly, I think we are here to be a delight to God and others, whatever that involves. Children or no children, that’s a truth I’m not willing to give up.

Photo on 11-6-15 at 11.09 AM

A New Mother’s Day

For the first Mother’s Day in fifty-five years, my mother won’t get a card or flowers from my father. She won’t join him at the kitchen table for an early morning coffee, and they won’t watch birds and squirrels run around the yard from the back porch. For the first time, my mother is a widowed mother of four instead of a married mother of four. The story of her life has a loss that wasn’t there last year.

I will do the usual Mother’s Day things this Sunday: send my mother something, call her and my sister to wish them a wonderful day, and spend time with my two sons and husband, Dave. As is our tradition, I will pick dinner and dessert. I will relax while my sons set the table and Dave makes the meal. We will enjoy an hour over good food, and I will open cards and presents. As always, I will be surprised and touched by what each of my sons and my husband chose for me. Later, I’ll say a prayer of thanks for the family I was born into and the one that grew out of my marriage.

Next year, my older son won’t be home from college in time for Mother’s Day. In five years, my younger son may be living too far away to come home for a weekend in May. It will be a new chapter in my life story – something my husband, sons, and I will live into as we turn the page of our current one.

Who knows when, I’ll wake up on Mother’s Day without my husband, or he’ll wake up without me – a first after years of marriage. One of us will grieve and remember the past; the other will already be in the unknown adventure beyond this blessed life.

Love brings joy and it brings grief. New life enters families and so does death. But this I know for certain: there hasn’t been a single day in my mother’s life that she hasn’t been loved. I’ve been loved in every hour of my life. There hasn’t been a single moment in my children’s lives that they weren’t loved. With all the love surrounding each one of us, surely what comes as we journey through death into the cosmic book of life will be blessed beyond understanding.

Blessings for all mothers, blessings for all daughters and sons. Amen.

Stories in a Larger Narrative

At town meeting the other day, one of the town leaders bragged about how the town’s stabilization fund was growing even faster than expected – a rousing success for everyone. What she didn’t say was that the fund was growing faster because money had been taken from an already underfunded school system and public library, among other things. The town budget looked better, but the quality of education and access to necessary resources through the library were both severely restricted. The larger story beyond the municipal spreadsheet had a different tale to tell about what was good and necessary. What gains a family if its savings account is growing but everyone is hungry?

Narratives within narratives, stories within larger stories. My life’s story is part of the many narratives of my family, my town, my place in history, and my planet. I am not the author, I am not the sole focus of this story that is creation, and I’m incapable of jumping out of my story and seeing the whole book of life. There is more beyond what I see and what I understand, and forgetting or ignoring the bigger story may very well harm others.

May God grant me wisdom to do no harm, strength to repair the hurts I cause, and forgiveness for the harm my limitations bring.

Changing the Narrative

A few years back, dear friends moved hundreds of miles north. Their son was running with a rowdy crowd, heading into trouble. They traded in the seacoast and quick access to Boston for pine trees and ski trails, a large school for a small one. Changing addresses changed their lives, reshaping their family story and their son’s individual narrative. What was a leap of faith years ago is now a wise decision seen in hindsight.

Lead us not into temptation, we pray. Save us from the time of trial, we pray. In changing their narrative, I think God did.

But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:24

Chapters in Another Book

This weekend, I went to see where my older son will live come Fall semester. It’s a beautiful campus in Pennsylvania, and a place where he’ll have many adventures that I’ll never know about. A good friend of mine lives a few miles away from campus, and we stayed with her and her family Sunday night. Life obligations and hundreds of miles kept our visits rare, and most of what I know of her family comes from Christmas letters and occasional emails.

The last time I saw her children in person was a dozen years ago, her husband even longer ago than that. From toddlers to teens, career changes and new houses, there’s very little in our lives that is the same as when we lived closer together. It’s been even longer since she and I lived on the same dorm floor in seminary. Yet, she is still a dear friend and her life means so much to me. I am grateful to be a recurring character in her life adventure, and honored that she is an important one in mine.

I can’t say exactly why a particular person becomes a friend for life. It’s a grace to love and be loved, and a mystery. But I know why Diane is a friend: in her life story, I can read the love of God.


Crossing Paths, Chance Encounters

New Year’s Eve, 1989, I went out with good friends. We were on different paths, but so glad those paths had crossed. We decided to meet in Portsmouth for a glass of champagne every year, as many of us that could.

A few weeks later, Deb began training as a physical therapist; Bonnie continued to build her portfolio for graphic design; Jen moved to Boston and an interior design program; Lauren and I both went out of state – for her a corporate position in North Carolina, for me a seminary program in New Jersey. While each of us kept up with our friends who stayed local when we returned home, distance, schedules, and finances didn’t allow us time together.

In New Jersey, I worked at a Mexican restaurant a short walk from my dorm. Late Friday night before Christmas, Lauren walked in. She was driving back to North Carolina, her brother happened to catch a basketball game in town, and they dropped in for dinner on a whim. We got our holiday toast and a happy reunion – my first and best Christmas present that year. An hour later, we were in our cars heading in opposite directions.

Two days later, Lauren’s mother called me. Would I be interested in working as a counselor for teens in a residence program for a semester? She wanted to fill that position before she left hers as the program’s director at the end of the week. Lauren had told her about our chance encounter. We met the next day, I took the position; she left at the end of that week before I began.

I told this story to my friends over a new year’s brunch. All of us agreed that Jung was right: synchronicity is real. But I think it’s more than just expected and important encounters. Sometimes, crossing paths changes the whole journey. A decision to keep in touch, an unplanned late night encounter, a job leaving and a position filled: my life story would be very different without those crossing paths and chance encounters. Change the story, change the blessing. I’m grateful beyond words for the story I’ve lived – and for the crossed paths that brought blessing into its chapters.

Stories in the Book of Life

The Gospel of John ends with one of my favorite sentences:

But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21: 25)

How many stories are there from Bethlehem birth through Ascension? Millions upon millions, I suppose. One person meets another and their life stories unite, ever so briefly or over many decades. Jesus the man of Nazareth touched so many, Christ the Son so many more when the Spirit moves over the face of creation. There isn’t a single story in creation untouched by Christ because all came to be through him. The Book of Life contains the world: how could the world contain it?

But my story is smaller. Smaller, but connected to so many other stories. The lives of friends and strangers are in the book of my life, and my life is in theirs. I doubt there’s a person alive today whose life isn’t connected to mine through these life stories. Yours included.

In a God created and Spirit sustained world, how could it be otherwise?