Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent Grace

I have been blessed with time for contemplation this Advent, a luxury my pastor friends do not have in abundance. I am scheduled to preach again the Sunday after Christmas, a low Sunday (meaning there will be low attendance), and I need to get to work on my sermon as that time is fast approaching. But for now, I am grateful for time to contemplate the rich meaning of this season as once again we wait for the arrival of the Christ child, the incarnation, God with us. I think I have been focused more intently on baby Jesus this year because we have a new baby in our family again, our youngest grandson, born earlier this year. He is such a sweet baby that I have thought often about the Christmas carols singing baby Jesus’ praises, like “Away in a Manger” where  “no crying he makes.”

We have also been blessed yet again by a change that grieved me at the time, but has turned out to be a blessing. Our sons decided several years ago that instead of drawing names at Christmas and buying unnecessary gifts for the adults in our family we should focus on the children. It was hard to give up buying Christmas presents for my sons after so many years, but now I am grateful for the extra time to spend breathing in this season rather than battling crowds at the mall.  Grace sometimes comes in unusual form, and it can be hard to recognize initially. But I have been trying to practice gratitude more consciously, and that discipline has opened my eyes to the many blessings in my everyday life. I have learned that grace abounds, especially in this time of Advent.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, October 10, 2013

In the Midst of Drought

             I am slowly regaining my health after almost a month. It has been a challenging time. Only now am I beginning to realize how bad I have felt. I know why I got sick--a rare occurrence most of the time. The exercise regimen has boosted my immune system, so I have been remarkably healthy over the last couple of years. But the stress of the last couple of months as my husband has faced serious health challenges has been enough to undermine my health as well.

In the midst of this drought of good news, I have coped, not well at times, but coped nonetheless, as best I could. I learned years ago that lying curled up in a fetal position may help momentarily, but the problems that bring me to that point still exist and must be faced. So mostly I have learned, with God’s help, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that there will be mountaintop experiences again as there always have been in the past.

In the midst of such a drought, I cling to my normal routine if at all possible: morning pages and devotions with the Jesus candle lit before me on the kitchen table, looking out upon the ever-changing view through the windowed wall along the back of our home: birds at the feeder and water station and the changing scene as we move from winter to spring to summer to fall to winter again. The view provides evidence of the reality that my dad referenced in one of his frequent sayings, “Life goes on.”

I turn to God and my faith community at such dark times. The familiar blessing of the liturgy and life in a community that loves me helps heal my soul. I walk the labyrinth at St. Francis Episcopal Church and marvel at how that ancient practice of leaving my pain and sorrow in the center at God’s feet always restores my soul. I exercise to ease the stress and to help me sleep. I spend time with family and friends, play with my grandchildren, and look for reasons to laugh.

Mostly, I have learned to reach out for God’s presence in the darkest times, knowing in my bones that God is there, even when I hurt so much I cannot feel the divine presence in the midst of my personal darkness. I dread the dark times in life. Even when they have passed once more, I am wise enough after this many years of life to know they will come again. Life happens to all of us.

If there is any blessing in the drought times of life, it is learning more fully to appreciate the times when life flows abundantly and anything seems possible and to know looking back how much my faith has grown and how much I have been strengthened during the drought times.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Morning Joy

My heart continues to be weighed down by the news of violence streaming in from Egypt and Syria as well as other places in the Middle East. I find it hard to wrap my mind around the loss and the pain suffered as a result of so much violence and destruction. I was especially saddened by news of the burning of churches in Egypt. Even though I know this is not the first time such a thing has happened, nor will it be the last, I still wonder what kind of person burns a house of worship. Any house of worship.  Maybe we people who gather for worship regularly present a more powerful threat than we realize. With our current electronic connections around the world, events elsewhere can provide a visceral punch to the gut almost as they are happening. Fortunately, at least on occasion, good news also travels quickly. I saw a picture of people worshipping on Sunday in Egypt in their burned-out church, and I read a proclamation by the Secretary-General of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt that reminded his readers, “the Church is not buildings and bricks; but is the people of God who must testify about God with energy and clarity. Though some church facilities have been destroyed, still these congregations remain alive and vibrant, fulfilling their purpose to the fullest.”

Psalm 30 says:

[4]   Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones,  
          and give thanks to his holy name.  
[5]   For his anger is but for a moment;  
          his favor is for a lifetime.  
     Weeping may linger for the night,  
          but joy comes with the morning.

I like the promise that the dark night of weeping and despair is always, in God’s abundant grace, followed at some point by renewed joy. Good to remember, even in the midst of horrific violence and anguish when joy is not even a distant memory. With God all things are possible, even joy in the morning.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, August 13, 2013


                My husband and I go to a local gym that is part of our city’s parks and recreations department. This is not the fast-paced gym for the serious weight lifters, but a place where local firefighters come to stay in shape, along with seniors and young couples with children. Because we go regularly, we have become acquainted with the other regulars. The ones in their 80s are the ones I most admire. When I talked to one such woman about her faithful gym routine, she said if she did not keep doing it, she would not be able to move. I suspect she, like many of the regulars, also goes to participate in the community that has formed there.

                Two of my favorites among the regulars are Bill and John, identical twins, now in their 80s. I have gotten to know them well enough that I can tell them apart. I try to imagine what it might have been like to attend the local high school with these two. They regularly stop to tease me and my husband. They tell me they are flirting with me, and I respond that I am glad someone still thinks I am worth flirting with. They kid my husband about the local health care system where he works. Like any large institution it has its problems. The gym is too quiet when Bill and John are not holding court there.

                As I have gotten to know these two better, I have learned that like many of the happiest people I know, their good natured approach to life has been forged in experiences that have included suffering. Bill lost his first wife, and has remarried. John’s wife has Alzheimer’s and has been in a nursing home for almost 15 years now. He told us yesterday that he goes to feed her lunch every day, even though she has not recognized him for a long time. He also said her caretakers have told him it is time to think about hospice. He is struggling with that because he is concerned they will not let him continue to feed her. My husband and I assured him that would not be a problem. He’s thinking about it.

                I have been thinking about our conversation with John since. What an amazing example he models of faithfulness to his wedding vows. I doubt most young couples think about such a necessity when they promise to be faithful and love each other until “death do us part.” I know I didn’t. I wonder if I will have the strength and courage to do so myself if life presents me with that kind of challenge. I have been thinking a lot about faithfulness lately as I’ve prepared to preach again at my home church. As I have thought back over my life and the life of our congregation, I have seen much evidence of God’s faithfulness. John has demonstrated faithfulness himself in his quiet devotion to his wife. What a blessing to know someone who is living such a life.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Just for today

I have a difficult relationship with computers. I have learned how to use them, and we coexist, for the most part peacefully. But not always. I sometimes rant in frustration that I hate computers. Of course I could give them up, but I won’t. I want to be able to function in this century and to continue to have a relationship with the wonderful young people for whom computer technology is as normal as breathing. My theory is that my brain is already crammed to the rafters with acquired knowledge that is no longer of any practical use, such as how to hand crank an ice cream maker, like the antique White Mountain Freezer that now sits abandoned in the garage. I tell myself that is why I struggle as I continue to shovel new knowledge into my brain at an ever increasing pace.

But just for today, I am most grateful for this computer and for the amazing connections that are possible now because of modern technology. I was able to talk via Skype yesterday with a young friend in Nicaragua. I had not talked with her since she moved back home, and I have missed her. We became friends after agreeing to practice Spanish and English conversation together. She is the most patient teacher I have ever known, smart, kind, funny and forgiving. We laugh a lot at our mistakes as we learn together. What a blessing to see her beautiful face and have another dual language conversation. We even discovered a benefit to Skype that was not possible in our in-person conversations. We can send instant messages with the correct spelling of the words with which one of us is struggling. !Que milagro!  What a miracle!

Today, my heart is lighter, and I can’t stop smiling because I was able to talk with my friend again. It was good to see her looking well and to have a virtual tour of her home. I am grateful to God for blessing me with her friendship and for the opportunity to continue to talk with her and learn to better speak this language I have come to love. God is good. All the time.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The End of theWorld

I have been thinking long and hard the past couple of weeks about Chapter 8 in the book of Amos in the Bible as I prepared to preach on the first twelve verses. The benefit of the lectionary is that it forces me to stretch myself by digging deeply into Biblical passages to which I might not otherwise pay much attention. That is also the challenge of preaching from the lectionary. Some texts are particularly daunting, and this one definitely qualifies for that title. Where do you find the good news of the Gospel in a rant about earthquake, flood and piles of dead bodies? More importantly where do you find good news in the prediction that there will be a famine of the word of God and that no matter how hard we seek that word, we “shall not find it.” I struggled with this one, but ultimately I found hope in Amos’ promise that God will hold us accountable for how we treat others. Like a good parent who enforces the family rules so we know where the boundaries lie, this passage assures us that God is who God says God is.  God caring enough about us to enforce the family rules is a form of love—tough love—but love nonetheless. God expects us to care for others, especially those who are weak and vulnerable in our society: the poor, the disabled, the children, the aliens in our midst. And God will hold us accountable if we fail in that assignment. This is a God whom we can count on. Knowing we worship that kind of God is good news.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Unappreciated Blessings

I returned recently from my second medical mission trip to Waslala, Nicaragua. Once again I struggle with the challenge of reentering life here at home. I find it is the plumbing that poses the biggest problem, both in Nicaragua and now at home. During the two weeks away, I had to remind myself not to stick my toothbrush under the water faucet and not to put toilet paper in the toilet. I also feared letting any water into my mouth while taking a shower. I had an easier time remembering not to drink water from the faucet, perhaps because that is a more intentional act.  On both trips, I have found the plumbing issues more of a challenge than navigating a different culture and speaking Spanish instead of English. What creatures of habit we human beings are. Now back at home less than a week, I have struggled to undo the habits I formed in the two weeks away.

Of the many blessings we enjoy, which are unavailable to our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters, the most important may be those our governments provide that I normally take for granted: clean water, sewer service, paved roads and bridges. Water here at home is generally safe to drink from the tap, and the plumbing works most of the time. Most days I never give it a second thought. But in Nicaragua, safe drinking water is an unknown luxury in the rural areas where we worked. My physician husband noted that clean water would solve many more health problems than all the hard work done by our intrepid group of a half-dozen health care providers, who saw almost 1200 patients in our time there.

Indoor plumbing is also a rarity in the areas we visited. Most homes, and even many public facilities such as schools and clinics, have latrines. On one trip, Marlon, our bus driver, stopped at a home beside the highway and asked if his passengers could use their facilities. The family graciously agreed, and we trooped into their backyard to use the latrine. As I waited my turn, I tried to imagine stumbling across the back yard and up the steps regularly. Not an attractive prospect. As the trip resumed, we talked about the wonder of anyone simply opening their toilet facilities to two dozen strangers.

Other blessings I take for granted here at home include paved roads and bridges, which also impact health care. Many patients seen by our medical team walked hours for care. Roads make it possible for buses and trucks to reach more places and for an ambulance to reach a regional hospital more quickly. For a woman in labor, that can mean the difference between life and death in a crisis.

As I listen here at home to the endless arguments about the cost of government, I wish I could transport the combatants to rural Nicaragua to experience life without the government services we take for granted. Perhaps then we might find it easier to cooperate to pay the cost of public services. Clean water, functioning plumbing, roads and bridges are great and unappreciated blessings. We would do well to remember that and to give thanks.

Grace and Peace,

Donna Sue

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


We will go to Nicaragua again in a few weeks on our second medical mission trip there with a group from our church. Last year was my first visit to that beautiful country and my first medical mission trip. I returned home changed by the experience, as I have been by previous mission trips. I recognized one such change recently when I was forced to start antibiotics for a persistent respiratory infection. I was grateful for the medicine, but felt guilty as I remembered the hundreds of people who came to the doctors in our mission team for medical care and for the medicines our group provided: aspirin, Tylenol, and antibiotics among others. For many, if not most, of the people our doctors treated, such medicines are not readily available.  We live in a culture that is saturated with drugs, good and bad. And while there are many people in this country who lack access to medicine and good medical care, many of us take pain relief and treatment for infections for granted. I find it hard to wrap my mind around what it would be like to live without the basic medical care I take for granted, a situation common to too many of the world’s people. In spite of the challenges in their lives, or perhaps because of them, I learned from the people we encountered on our last trip to Nicaragua more about how to live joyfully in difficult circumstances. I learned years ago that what we have to bring to the people we meet on our mission trips is helpful, but what they have to offer us in return is priceless if we go with open hearts. My prayer is that I will return from the upcoming trip changed once again and for God’s help in sharing what I learn there when I return.

Grace and Peace,

Donna Sue