On Being Mortal

Reader’s Poem: Being Mortal

Book Cover--Being Mortal--Atul GawandeDeath is not failure.
Death is normal.

Sooner or later
independence will become
impossible.

Medicine has transformed
life into a long,
slow fade.

The trouble is
we expect more from life
than survival.

When life’s fragility is primed,
goals and motives
shift completely.

True freedom
is being the authors
of our lives.

Help people have
the fullest possible lives
right now.

Butterfly--Fundy Bay--Canada--photo by Julie McCartyFace mortality together
and preserve the fibers
of meaningful life.

Courage is strength
in the face of fear
and hope.

Enable well-being
—the reasons we wish
to be alive.

________________________________________
Atul Gawande. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters Most in the End. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014. Reader’s poem by Samuel Rahberg.

After I finish a good read and before I tuck it away on the shelf, I like to spend some time synthesizing what was most important to me. I use the author’s own words, varied only slightly, and follow the themes that speak most strongly to me at this time. The reader’s poem above remains a summary and serves only as my own interpretation, so I take responsibility for any deviation from the author’s original intent. Even so, may it be a helpful reflection for others and an encouragement to read a fine book in its entirety.

 

Sam Rahberg is the Director of the Benedictine Center , spiritual director, and writer who offers ministerial support to both lay and ordained Christian ministers.  Sam has experience in parish education and administration and holds a master’s degree in theology from Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. Visit Sam at www.samuelrahberg.com .

 

 

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Advent Devotional Dedication and Gratitude

Advent 5Each year, I write the Advent devotional as my way of giving back to my faith community that fills my life with so much love, peace, hope and joy.  Last year we did excerpts from the devotion each day on this blog.  This year, each day’s entire devotion will be posted here.  The devotion in its entirety can be found at Complete Advent Devotional Link

This year I have dedicated the devotional to three friends whose journeys have embodied everything that goes in the container called faith .  I also have to say thank you to the people who help me along my devotional way.  Below is the dedication and gratitude pages from the devotional.

Dedication

“I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;
With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.”

***

Gratitude walks with me every day.  I think it always has because I can’t remember a time without it.

Okay, maybe the year my mom insisted I be a Dutch girl for Halloween, wooden shoes and all. I wanted to be Superman.  My fingers got slammed in the car door as I tried to get that crazy multi-layered skirt in the door without the shoes falling off my feet.  I may not have been hand in hand with gratitude that day.

I have a sign in my writing room that says, “You cannot be grateful and bitter.  You cannot be grateful and unhappy.  You cannot be grateful and without hope.  You cannot be grateful and unloving.  So just be grateful.”  The author is unknown but I’m pretty sure it was scripted by God.

He will be our peaceThis year, I have been blown away by the upbeat spirits of three friends faced with harrowing winds.  Their smiles are not manufactured, their peace is not manmade, their steady faithfulness tethered by a strong belief in prayer is powerfully real.  Micah 5:5 says in part, “And he will be our peace.”   I know this is true because I have seen it in the eyes of my friends.  These three have been my stalwarts of grace, a bottomless sea of buoyant belief that has made my own faith bolder and are my sweet inspiration for this devotional.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jen and I

Jennifer has been a friend for a long time.  She lives in California, I’m in Minnesota.  We don’t talk daily.  Often we go months without speaking.  She gave me a figurine many years ago that sits on my kitchen counter.  It’s an angel, tiredly leaning into the crook of a star that says, “Believe in your dreams.”  It nudges me when I’m slipping in the muddiness of life.   There is a scripture in Thessalonians that says that we should encourage each other and build one other up.  That’s Jen – everybody’s cheerleader.  Even when we tease her about it, she refuses to be any different.

Her breast cancer diagnosis in her mid 40’s last year was a sucker punch for us all.  The woman is vivacious, spirited and energetic.  Cancer tried to take that away from her just as her husband tried to take away her cell phone when she was in the hospital.  Cancer and her husband had a lesson to learn.  She has discovered how to fight for herself, for her health, for her life, for her family.  But it’s not a bitter battle.  Her battle plan is her faith, laced with a strong conviction in the power of prayer.  Part of the plan rests in a gentle acceptance of every possibility.  Her cancer will not define her and she resists every limit it tries to put on her.  She has a robust family life, raising three teen boys and filling her home with extended family.  Her career is manifested by helping people, teaching people, inspiring people.  I have loved this woman for years but this last year has given me a keen appreciation of what she means to me.  The depth of her faith has powered mine deeper.

***

Greg and I have been friends for a long time too but I’m convinced we met in heaven before we were born.  To look at us, you’d never know we shared a soul.  He is a black, married, gay man from Louisiana.  I’m a white, married, straight woman from the Yankee netherlands.  We finish each other sentences as we teach together, can share ideas with a look and know each other’s heart intimately.

Greg and Paul

Paul and Greg

When I learned he had stage 4 colon cancer, I wept.  Then he told me how this was going to go.  Replace my tears with prayers.  Firmly focus on his recovery as nothing else was acceptable.  His mom, his grandmama, his kids, his husband and his siblings had all agreed that a large part of his treatment was going to be positivity and powerful prayer.  The doctors could bring on the medicine for his body but we were doing all the soul work.  His sister started a GoFundMe Page and sold t-shirts that read, “Life Him Up!”   When you look him in the eye, you know his belief in the power of prayer and God’s healing strength goes all the way to the inside of his big toe.   When fundraising became critical so he could get into a highly expensive treatment, we all prayed and shared his story endlessly.  An anonymous donor contributed all the necessary money for the treatment.   When he told me the news, his smile, the joyfulness in his voice, the gratitude for a stranger’s generosity, the sense of God, resonated in my soul and brought chills to my skin.

***

We have known Amber since she was a teen.  She took a GED and turned it into a law degree as a single parent and a captain in the Army.  Last year at this time, she was thrilled to pass the bar and begin her law career.  Tonight, she is sitting in a Denver hospital in the NICU, watching over her daughter Hannah and grieving the loss of Hannah’s conjoined twin Olivia.

Amber Tristan Savannah

Amber, her son Tristan and daughter Hannah

The unexpected pregnancy last winter didn’t change her plans to build a law firm and a great life for her and her 6 year old son.  She was prepared to go forward, with or without the baby’s father.  When the baby became babies became conjoined twins, the father favored termination of the pregnancy.  Amber soldiered on alone, despite medical diagnoses that said her daughters would never be viable, that she was endangering her own health and the proclamation that they wouldn’t deliver her babies in their hospitals.  Her inquisitive, brilliant mind allowed her to understand all the medical terminology flung around by doctors all across the country, comprehend the legalities and ethics of the decisions the medical community had to make and find the one place in the country that was willing to give her daughters a shot at life.  But one abiding belief carried her beyond it all.  Amber believes pugnaciously in the power of prayer.

When she was no longer able to work and terrified she wouldn’t be able to support her son, she launched her GoFundMe page.  We shared her story with our own circles.  And the power of God swirled up a miracle on my Facebook page.  Once Greg learned that the anonymous donor was going to cover the cost of his treatment, he chose to shut down his own GoFundMe page.  Upon learning about Amber and her babies, he turned the spigot of his circle’s prayers and funds onto Amber.

His loving and happy generosity, in the midst of his own crisis, reminded me of a scripture a Sunday school teacher taught me in elementary school.  I could only remember part of it but the internet remembered the rest for me.  2 Corinthians 9:7 says “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  Greg’s spirit, joyfulness and quiet peace has brought me to my knees in gratitude for his presence in my life.  In days, Amber’s fund grew from a couple hundred dollars to thousands.  The love and caring of strangers for this young woman we love like a daughter filled me with a joyful hope.  God, again, proving to us that love shows up when we believe and pray.

Amber’s tenacious belief in the power of prayer and her soft spoken gratitude brings fortitude to my own faith.  I really thought my faith was lock, stock and barreled solid.  Her gracious example, in the face of every parents’ worst fears and then some, caused me to challenge myself to go to a deeper place with God and allow my vulnerabilities to live in that relationship.  In turn, it has brought me to a more candid place with the world about my faith and my heart.

***

This devotional is dedicated to Jen, Greg and Amber whose commanding faith has graced my heart.  It is in memory of Olivia, whose face I came to know and Dedicationrecognize in sonograms and who sits on the crook of a star in the heavens, watching her sister, brother and mom, whispering, “Believe in your dreams.”  It is in honor of Hannah, a feisty little spirit whose determination to live should propel us all to gather up piles of gratitude for each breath we take.  I am blessed to have them in my world, to inspire and challenge me in my faith and how I show up in the world.  They have changed me, changed my heart, changed my life.

 

In Deepest Gratitude

Gratitude 3“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.”  ~William Shakespeare

A tremendous thanks to Pastor Kris for believing in me enough to let me continue to do this Advent devotional.  I have no formal education in religion or ministry.  Yet, she agrees to my doing this work of love each year.  Her example this last year, celebrating and grieving her mom, teaches much about grace and grief.  Easter is tremendously fortunate to have a woman of her insight, faith, compassion and joie de vivre to lead us.

And to Cindy Wilson, who does so much more than make this devotional be a printed page or a web link.  Even when facing her own hurdles this year, she championed me through the writing.   Her photos, her humor, her gentle spirit encouraged me in ways big and small.  To know Cindy is to smile.  The God in her is amazing.

Lastly, to my husband Chris, who journeys with me, ever supportive and always kind.  He makes strangers laugh and inspires those who know him with his gentle and helpful heart.  When you look in his soul, only love resides.  This fall, as I undertook the writing of this devotional, I became seriously ill and was hospitalized for nearly two weeks.  Every day he was there, filling the sterile hospital room with his warm strength.  When I was home, he cared for me with a heart only God could plant.

Each year I learn how much I don’t know in the writing of this devotional.  I discover songs and artists that slam my heart with love.  (Don’t miss Christmas Eve’s song.)  It strengthens my faith, builds my commitment to letting the God in me see the God in others and opens my eyes and soul to the many ordinary miracles that fill my each and every day.  It changes the eyes through which I see this world.

With much love and a humble thanks to all.  May you have a blessed and rich Advent.

thank you

Thank You Lord”  Thank You Lord song link

I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.

For all you’ve done in my life,
You took my darkness and gave me your light
Thank you, Lord
You took my sin and my shame,
You took my sickness and healed all my pain
Thank you, Lord

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.

Perseverance

By Pastor Brandon Newton

Over 8,500 runners completed the Twin Cities Marathon this past weekend. I am in awe of their perseverance. I much prefer shorter runs and anything farther than five kilometers has my body gasping for air and my mind giving up. On October 11th, my sister will run the Chicago marathon.

My sister is an inspiration. She recently took up the challenge to run the marathon and is, by no means, a distance runner. I say this lovingly, remembering that the last marathon she ran was around ten years ago. However, she set a goal to run and has worked hard in training. I will also mention that in addition to her rigorous training she works far more hours a week than she gets credit for and dashes her two active sons to activities. I’m proud of her beyond words and wish I could be there to see her cross the finish line.

The marathon my sister ran around ten years ago. From L-R: Kelly Kohlhaas (family friend), Stacia Newton-Drover (my sister), me, and Chase Drover (Stacia's husband)

The marathon my sister ran around ten years ago. From L-R: Kelly Kohlhaas (family friend), Stacia Newton-Drover (my sister), me, and Chase Drover (Stacia’s husband)

Since I can’t be there to cheer her on, here is a poem about perseverance that I believe might apply to whatever race you are running in your own life:

 

“Don’t Quit”  

 

When things go wrong as they
Sometimes will;
When the road you’re trudging
Seems all uphill;
When funds are low and debts are high
And you want to smile but you have to sigh;
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must,
But don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns,
As every one of us
Sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about when
They might have won
Had they stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the
Pace seems slow.
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the cloud of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far.
So stick to the fight when
You’re hardest hit.
It’s when things seem worst
You must not quit.

                           (Author unknown)

 

Pastor Brandon Newton is executive pastor at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minnesota.  

little Aylan

Last Wednesday I woke to find images on FaceBook of a lifeless little Syrian boy lying on the shore of a Turkish resort town. His image stole my breath, and left my heart heavy in grief. The photograph captured his sweet innocence in perfect contrast with the atrocities of the evil that is the islamic state.

If I could melt away all that surrounded him, the cold sand and rocky beach, the waves of the sea washing over his sweet face, his soaked clothes and shoes-if only. In my minds-eye I see him lying in his parent’s bed warm and dry, air filling his little chest allowing it to rise and fall sweetly as he dreams of toy trains and running beside his big brother.

mašinkaThe world soon knew his name-little Aylan. He was three years old. We knew his story as well. His family spent $4,000 to board a small boat off the coast of Turkey with the hope of reaching Kos Greece, and a new life in Europe. Tragically-as if his story was anything else-after his family payed the smuggler $4,000, no money remained for life jackets. The small boat capsized and Aylan perished along with his mother and five year old brother.

Syrian refugees have a piece of my heart. Aleppo, Syria is my husband’s birthplace. Birthplace, I must premiss, but not his ancestral home as he is often quick to point out. His family also endured incredible atrocities at the hand of radical islam. His grandfather, and great-grandparents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Also refugees, they settled in Syria and Lebanon in 1915. It’s been 100 years since the Armenian Genocide-sadly it seems little has changed.

A few months shy of my husband’s eighteenth birthday his family set out for a new life in the States. My Pauly is the best storyteller. Over our marriage he has shared so much about his childhood. Stories about growing up in a Christian neighborhood in Aleppo. Stories we all can relate to, even if our stories are an ocean away. Stories like sneaking out and taking his dad’s car for a midnight joy ride with his buddies-who needs a license anyway. Girls, bicycles, birthday parties, corner ice cream shops, more trouble than his parents would like to know-he has painted a colorful picture for me describing a group of young boys with life to burn.

Recent reports say that half of Syria’s population is now displaced. Half. Most of Paul’s childhood friends left Syria in the same way he did, now more than two decades ago. But some remained-who knows were they are now.

SIRIA_-_LIBANO_-_aleppo_devastataThe Armenian Catholic Church, his family’s church home, where he served as an alter boy was destroyed by a bomb this last April. The Church dated back to the 15th century and housed relics and icons including a painting from 1703. His neighborhood has been a hot spot for violence, as it has been home to Syrian Christians for hundreds of years.

The building where he grew up was also bombed-destroying homes on the top floor. Families still occupy the floors below the damage. Who knows what each day feels like for those living beneath and amongst the rubble. My Paul has my heart, and I can’t help but think about what his life would look like had he stayed. These are the things I ponder.

…and now with the image of little Aylan, now it seems I have a picture for my heavy heart.

Jesus, Please Come…  Revelation 21:4  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”


Consider joining me in supporting World Vision in their efforts to help Syrian Refugees.

Mindy Lynn Hilo and her family have been members at Easter for eleven years. She is a conformation mentor and a regular contributor to Easter Prays. “little Aylan” was also shared on her personal blog, embracingcharlie.com.

Held in Tight

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

kalnik 044When my husband and I were first married he drove a small transportation bus. He really liked his job. He came home with all sorts of stories-most of which involved how tenacious people are. He brought people to work each day-people who could have easily decided that things were just too hard. He enjoyed his riders company.

My favorite story, once while parked and waiting for his next scheduled pick-up a group of clowns got on his bus. Yes—clowns, red rubber noses, floppy shoes, full clown make-up in either sad or happy faces, all of it. This group of developmentally delayed young adults were not on his schedule. While doing his best to explain that he wasn’t the driver they had been waiting for, and that he was sure another was on the way, one tearful young lady refused to get off. That’s all it took. Moments later he had a clown revolt on his hands. He had to call dispatch and explain that he had clowns on his bus, some angry, some sad, some who were painted happy but had now become sad, and nobody was getting off, and what was he supposed to do now? Not my point at all-but how do I keep the clown revolt story to myself?

Some things stay with me, with more profound reason.

He had just as many riders whose challenges were not developmental, but physical. He came home one evening haunted by an exchange he had earlier in the day. After strapping a quadriplegic man’s chair into the bus’s harness system, the man asked him if he had pulled the straps as tight as possible. He asked if he wouldn’t mind doing it once more, pulling each strap as tight as he could. The man looked at him apologetically, explaining that he had been thrown from a vehicle the day he became paralyzed. No ride had ever been the same since and now he needed to know that he was held in tight.

Sometimes we need to know.

My 13 year old daughter spent much of the past school year with her cell phone almost always in hand (sometimes I wish I could chuck that thing-or give it to a group of clowns). Somehow she even worked texting her friends into her already time pressed pre-school morning routine. One morning late Spring she received a text like none she had ever received before. It wasn’t about who was crushing on who, or what she should wear that day. This one was different. One of her friends had tragically woke to find her Mom lying on the floor. Just like that. She hadn’t been ill, she hadn’t hurt herself, she was just gone.

DSCN2610I drove home from work that evening anxious to see my girl and hold her tight. As I drove I thought about how things had shifted for my daughter a bit that day. She’s my oldest child, and here was a moment I couldn’t shield her from. This heartbreak was inside of her circle-not mine. I guess things had shifted for me a bit too.

I walked into the kitchen and put my arms around my girl, tight. With each moment my embrace intensified. I needed her to know she was held in tight. Sometimes we need to know. I closed my eyes and thought about the wheelchair bound man from so many years before.

We chatted about her day. We talked about how fragile life can be. We talked about how her friend’s life would never be quite the same again. We talked about the ways in which she could be a good friend. We talked about prayer.

This will likely stay with me too.

Let us hold onto one another ~ “Father please shower us with the capacity to hold on to one another in all that we face, knowing that the troubles of this world are indeed temporary, knowing You have overcome the world. In this give us peace. Amen.”


Mindy Lynn Hilo and her family have been members at Easter for ten years. She is a conformation mentor and a regular contributor to Easter Prays. “Held in Tight” was adapted from a post on her personal blog, embracingcharlie.com. Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.

 

Humility, Headstones, and Headless Corpses

Parenthood is crazy hard sometimes. In part because children hold your heart hostage in the most beautiful and frightening ways. Being asked the really difficult questions by people who call you Mommy, that’s when things feel especially slippery. I do my best, but honestly sometimes I wonder who is teaching whom.

In Matthew 18 the disciples came to Jesus and asked “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”. In verse 4, with a child upon His lap, Jesus answered by saying, “So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Humility. Humility and the greatest in the Kingdom. How do I lead them?

Ever notice the beautiful way a child can simply accept circumstance in spite of adversity?

From my book, Embracing Charlie (circa 2010, Charlie’s question of his “crossed-up” tubes is in reference to his congenital heart defect-Transposition of the Great Arteries)

file0001330232053 Riding in Cars ~ We were out for a drive through the city, my babies and me. The day was sunny and fresh. With the windows down, cool air blew through the Jeep’s cab. A voice from the back interrupted our cruising music: “Sophie, why did my tubes get crossed up? I mean, how did that happen to me?” My finger promptly hit the off button on the radio. Charlie was five, and he preferred to ask the big questions of his big sister first. I suspect he figured he was more likely to get it straight from her. I was on edge. I hoped she would answer him well. He believed her every word. If Sophie said it, then it must be true, because she was eight and she knew lots of stuff.

“Well, buddy, I guess it just happened like that. They must have got crossed up when you were in Mom’s belly,” she said, giving it little thought.

“But why? Why did they get crossed up?” he questioned again.

“I guess that’s just how you were made, Char-Char,” she answered. Moments of silence passed in the back seat, while I held my breath in the front.

“Mommy?” he called out, throwing his little voice to the Jeep’s front. It was a “listen to me” plea, as if I hadn’t been waiting on his every breath. “How come my tubes got crossed up, how come?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, buddy. I don’t really know how that happened. Things like that just happen to babies sometimes,” I said.

“Well, did something like that happen to Sophie when she was a baby? Were her tubes crossed up?” he questioned.

“No, sweet boy,” I softly replied. We drove along in silence, letting our thoughts drop where they may. It wasn’t the first time he’d asked.

“What are all those things?” Charlie said, breaking our silence once more. He was pointing out his open window at the hundreds of stately headstones tightly packed next to one another beyond the white, cast-iron fence of a grand old cemetery.

“That’s where all the dead people are,” Sophie said. See, she did know lots of stuff.

“What? Where are they?” he questioned.

“They’re buried under the ground, and those big crosses and stuff have their names on them,” Sophie said in her “I know stuff” matter-of-fact way. I looked back at him in the rear view mirror. His face was covered in question, eyebrows raised like Come on, there’s no way all those things have dead people under them?! But Sophie had said so. . . . More silence, more processing.

“Mommy, your friend Kelli died because she didn’t wear her seat belt, right?” Charlie said, moving on.

“Well, yes, buddy, that’s right, she died in a car accident,” I answered.
Then, using the Arabic word for “Grandma,” Charlie asked, “Mommy, why did Teta Jacqueline die?” His wheels were really turning now.

“She was old, honey, and sick. Remember, she had a disease that made it hard for her to breathe?”

“So are Kelli and Teta Jacqueline buried over there under the ground?” he asked.

“No, hun, they’re not buried in this cemetery. There are lots of cemeteries all over in different places. People are usually buried near the city they lived in.”

When Charlie learns something of interest, he’ll share it in a rather theatrical way. With the white iron fence disappearing in the distance behind us, he extended his hand toward the cemetery and announced, “You see all those dead people, Sophie? You see them? All of those dead people have their heads chopped off!” I shook my head reflexively, as if to rattle his sentence loose and knock it out. I was certain I must not have heard him correctly.

“What? No, they don’t!” Sophie replied.

“Oh, yes, they do, they totally do! You see, Sophie, when you die, your soul goes to heaven to be with Jesus. But only”—great dramatic pause on only—“your body stays here. So, your head gets, well . . . chopped off.” He said it dramatically, making a cutting motion with his hand across his neck.

Conversations rushed back to me, and now they made perfect sense. Charlie had repeatedly asked me what happens to you after you die, and each time I’d tell him, he’d look at me with the most bewildered expressions. Repeatedly I’d said to him, “Just your body stays here, but the you that makes you you, that place in your heart called your soul, it goes to heaven to be with Jesus.”

And so, we spent the remainder of our sunny drive discussing how you actually don’t get your head chopped off after you die. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t steer the conversation away from headless corpses. I was forced to admit that there was the possibility that somebody buried in that cemetery died because their head was chopped off, and they, in fact, would be buried without their head attached.

Crossed-up tubes, headstones, and headless bodies—you can’t prepare for this; I was just along for the ride.

Jesus, we call on You ~ As we face the crazy hard challenges of this life, may the beautiful humility that each of us carried as a child uncover itself again and bring us peace. Amen.


Mindy Lynn Hilo and her family have been members at Easter for ten years. She is a conformation mentor and a regular contributor to Easter Prays. Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.