Archive | March 2016

Congratulations to My Great Niece Mollie

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Mollie at her first gymnastics meet at age 6

I was inspired and I learned a lot last Saturday – actually 2 Saturdays ago. It was a great day!

Prior to that Saturday, I had never been to a gymnastics meet. I guess that doesn’t make me a very good great aunt, since my 17-year-old great niece Mollie has participated in gymnastics since the age of 6. That Saturday Mim and I decided to take the opportunity to watch Mollie compete at the State Gymnastics Meet being held in Madison at the Alliant Center.

I knew Mollie always liked to run and jump and turn summersaults. I remember watching her demonstrate her skills when she was still a toddler. On Saturday, we were able to see how those skills have developed.

I said I learned a lot on Saturday. I learned that gymnasts perform and compete in four different events – bars, beam, floor, and vault. Without going into details, I concluded that bars and floor are the most fun to watch, the most graceful. Beam and vault are the scariest to watch. I admit, I was scared for everyone competing in every event. I can’t imagine having my body do any of the things they all do with such strength and grace.

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A still shot of Mollie performing on bars.

Watching these incredible gymnasts perform brought back humble memories for me of tumbling in gym class when I was in grade school and high school. One of the things we were required to do was run, jump, and turn a summersault over someone lying on the mat. Then over 2 people on the mat. Then 3. Then 4. Believe it or not, I managed to be successful – until it was 5 people on the mat. My head landed on the fifth person, and then my body didn’t follow through quite right, and I ended up with a very stiff neck. As I recall, I even missed a couple days of school nursing my neck, although I never saw a doctor about it. Fortunately, by the time I got back to gym class, we were finished with that exercise, and the class had moved on to rope climbing – which I simply refused to do. I wasn’t going to climb up a rope to touch the ceiling of the gym. What if I fell and broke my neck!? I got my only D in all my years in the Cambridge School System for my non-performance in gym class that semester.

My great niece Mollie is very different from me. I’m sure she could have tumbled over 5 bodies by the time she was 3. I think she must have been born with springs instead of bones, considering how she can flip her body around. But besides being born with springs, she has worked really hard training her body to do what she and her coach want it to do. Her daily routine for years has been to go to her gym in Madison to work out for a couple hours after school – every single day.

944877_1655880611344242_714344027203013612_nThe result of her dedication was becoming Number 1 in the state of Wisconsin for gymnastics in 2016. She placed first in all 4 events, which also meant she was first overall. We were all so proud of her.

What made me the proudest was the way Mollie and the other gymnasts all treated each other. During the Awards Ceremony at the end of the competition, Mollie’s name was was the first one called because she had placed placed first in the first event. She climbed up to the top spot on the platform and was given her medal. When the 2nd place winner was called, as she climbed up to the number 2 spot on the platform, Mollie reached down to give her a big hug. The same for the 3rd place winner. Everyone seemed genuinely pleased with each others’ accomplishments. This behavior was repeated for each award for each event. Similarly during the warm-ups and competition, all the gymnasts hugged and cheered each other on. Kindness was on display everywhere throughout the meet.

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Mollie’s kid sister Gracie declaring that her “gold” medals really aren’t gold, but impressive nonetheless.

Although Mollie is still a junior in high school, this will be her last year to compete in the state gymnastics championship. She has received a full athletic scholarship to the University of Kentucky. She will speed through her senior year of high school to graduate in December, and start college and gymnastics at Kentucky in January 2017.

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Mollie with her proud parents.

But she’s not quite finished with competition for this year yet. Her next meet will be in St. Louis for Regionals, and depending on her status there, she may go to Nationals at Fort Worth. (She’s competed at Nationals the last two years.)

I’m truly excited for Mollie. And I’m proud of her gymnastic skills and accomplishments. I was amazed to watch her on Saturday. But most of all, I’m thankful that she’s already learned so much about kindness.

KINDNESS is my special word for this year, and I’m delighted to see it popping up all over. Last week I blogged about kindness in end-of-life care. This week I’m blogging about kindness in gymnastics, and specifically as demonstrated by my great niece Mollie. Who knows where I’ll see another amazing demonstration of kindness next… I think I chose a great word to focus on this year!

P.S. I’ve attached a youtube video below that shows Mollie in action.

A Day to Think

Floe-Marian faces 2015Last Friday morning, bright and early, Floey and I had quite a discussion. This is how it went.

“Where were you, Mom? You were gone all day yesterday – from before breakfast till after dinner, almost bedtime. Our friend Kathy was here to take care of Carolyn and Ann and me. She even took me for a couple walks. But I missed you and Mim. Where in the world did you go?”

“Oh, I thought we’d told you, Floey. Mim and I went to the Olympia Resort and Conference Center in Oconomowoc.”

“You went on a mini-vacation, and you didn’t take me along????”

“Not exactly, Floey. Rainbow Hospice Care held its 12th annual End-of-Life Conference there. The theme of the conference this year was Respecting Differences at the End of Life. And they had some wonderful speakers. The speakers were so good I didn’t even get sleepy, even though I had to sit still and listen all day long.”

“How about Mim? Did she stay awake all day, too?”

“Just about. I think I saw her eyes closed once, but just for a few minutes.”

“Well, who were the speakers and what did they talk about?”

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The Rev. Dr. John Touhey

“The opening keynote speaker was the Rev. Dr. John Tuohey. He’s a Catholic priest with a PhD in Ethics, and is the founder and director of the Providence Center for Health Care Ethics in Portland, Oregon. He introduced a four-part model to help in analyzing ethical dilemmas in end-of-life care. He used case studies to help us understand how the model worked and how valuable it could be. He was a great keynote speaker, but he was even better in the breakout session we went to next. We worked through a couple case studies together. One was about a young couple from Saudi Arabia who were in Portland, Oregon for a few weeks to learn English. While in Portland, the woman had a severe asthma attack and could not be resuscitated. In the hospital, she was declared dead neurologically, but her heart didn’t stop beating immediately, and her husband insisted that she be kept alive on the ventilator until he could bring her home to Saudi Arabia. To keep her on the ventilator would mean that a legally dead person would be tying up a critical ventilator and other scarce medical equipment for at least five days, during flu season in Portland. Other people could die because this equipment would already be in use.”

“Wow. That’s a tough call, Mom. How was it resolved?”

“The family was quite wealthy and politically connected. The embassy got involved, and the issue was transferred to a judge in a federal court, who ruled that the hospital must keep the dead wife hooked up to the equipment for the five days until she could be transported home. We had quite a discussion about what was the best action to take ethically. What it boiled down to was balancing the interests of the husband, who in his culture didn’t recognize dead neurologically as being truly dead and the interests of the greater good – i.e., the person(s) who may need access to the scarce medical equipment that was being used to sustain a person who was already dead according to the American cultural and legal definition of dead.

Kindness was a word that came into the conversation a lot. Which course of action would demonstrate the most kindness – to the patient and the patient’s family vs. to the other people who would be affected by the decision.”

“It sounds pretty complicated, Mom. Were all the conference sessions that complicated?”

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The Rev. Ridley Usherwood

“Well, the second breakout session wasn’t complicated in the same way. It was fascinating. The speaker was the Rev. Ridley Usherwood, and the title of his session was Recognizing and Honoring Cultural and Spiritual Beliefs around Aging, Illness, Death and Grief. His ethnic background was Jamaican, his upbringing was British, and his life experiences have been all over the world, being a pastor, missionary, chaplain in the USAF, and now teaching at the University of Wisconsin. This session was really an overview of differences in how people of different cultures view end-of-life issues – African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino/Latina, and Native American. I wished his session would have been twice as long, he had so much to tell us. But a key theme he kept coming back to was kindness, just like in the first session. Given cultural differences, we need to understand how to treat patients and family members with the most kindness.”

“Mom, was this a religious conference? The two speakers you’ve told me about were both religious – one a Catholic priest and the other a Protestant chaplain and missionary.”

“Not really, Floey. It was a professional conference for people who work for hospice organizations or are in some way involved with end-of-life care, like us. These two speakers just happened to be religious. The speaker for our third breakout session was Dr. Ann Catlett. She’s a medical doctor and is currently on faculty at the Medical College of Wisconsin and at UW. She’s the speaker who really made me think the most.”

“Really, even more than the one who talked about the Saudi Arabian couple?”

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Dr. Ann Catlett

“Yes. Even more than that. The topic of her session was End-of-Life Care for the Homeless and Other Marginalized Populations. She’s trying to get a small home set up in downtown Madison where homeless people can live and be cared for during their last few days, weeks, or possibly months of life. Think about it, Floey. Think about what it must be like to be homeless and sick and dying. You don’t have a bed to sleep in at night unless you can get to a shelter early enough to stand in line and hope to get in. You may or may not have a place to spend the day. You don’t have regular meals. You may not be able to see a doctor, but if you can, and you get medicine to help you get better – or at least feel better, you don’t have any place to keep it. And if you carry pain pills with you, you’re very vulnerable to having them stolen from you. I’d never really thought about what it’s like to be homeless and dying before yesterday.”

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Homeless Jesus Statue

Floey’s eyes filled with tears and she sniffed a little. “Mom, that makes me feel so sad for those people. Is there anything we can do to help them?”

“I don’t know, Floey. That’s why I said the last speaker made me think the most. We’ll need to keep informed about the progress she’s making toward getting an Adult Family Home for homeless hospice patients set up in Madison. Dr. Catlett told us about Joseph’s House, a home like that in Washington, D.C. She spent some time there last year learning all that she could that might help her do something similar here.

“Floey, can you guess what key word Dr. Catlett kept coming back to in her presentation?”

“Well, Mom, by the way you asked the question, I bet the word was kindness.”

“You’re right, Floey. Dr. Catlett said that when her own dad was dying, she asked him what was the most important thing he ever learned from his dad. Kindness was his one-word response.”

“Hey, Mom. Kindness is your word for this year, remember?”

“I sure do. I couldn’t believe that every speaker yesterday came back to that word as being central to their topic.”

Floey responded, “Kindness is a good word for all of us to think about. While you were gone yesterday, all of us at home were kind to each other, even if we didn’t spend the day talking about it. I guess that’s what’s most important. I’m glad you had a good day, even if I missed you. I guess it’s important to spend time thinking about the need for kindness in our world, and what we can do to help meet that need.”

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Solving Problems

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Unfortunately, I don’t have my “Sunday School Papers” any more, but this is what they looked like.

As a child, I went to Sunday School faithfully at 9:45 every Sunday morning from the time I was 3 years old. I don’t remember much from the first few years. The earliest memory I have of Sunday School was sitting around a small table with all the other kids while the teacher told us a story. Then she sometimes gave us a picture to color or another craft to do, like folding construction paper into a basket or something else. At the end of the hour, the teacher gave us a “Sunday School Paper” to take home with us – basically an 8-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper folded in half like a booklet. The front page was covered with a full-color picture that illustrated the Bible story of the day. The rest of the “Paper” was the story itself. I loved getting my “Sunday School Paper” to take home with me. My mom read the story to me again before bed that evening.

I thought about my childhood Sunday School memories one day last week because I read a Bible story designated in the “Christ in Our Home” devotional booklet published by Augsburg Fortress (following the revised common lectionary). It was the story of Elisha and the poor widow from 2 Kings 4:1-7. I don’t remember reading or thinking about that story since I heard it in Sunday School back in the 1950s. I remember clearly the picture on the front of that week’s “Sunday School Paper.” (See below for a similar picture.) Here’s the story in The Message paraphrase.

One day the wife of a man from the guild of prophets called out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead. You well know what a good man he was, devoted to God. And now the man to whom he was in debt is on his way to collect by taking my two children as slaves.”

Elisha said, “I wonder how I can be of help. Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Well, I do have a little oil.”

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The picture on my “Sunday School Paper” looked a lot like this.

“Here’s what you do,” said Elisha. “Go up and down the street and borrow jugs and bowls from all your neighbors. And not just a few – all you can get. Then come home and lock the door behind you, you and your sons. Pour oil into each container; when each is full, set it aside.”

She did what he said. She locked the door behind her and her sons; as they brought the containers to her, she filled them. When all the jugs and bowls were full, she said to one of her sons, “Another jug, please.”

He said, “That’s it. There are no more jugs.”

Then the oil stopped.

She went and told the story to the man of God. He said, “Go sell the oil and make good on your debts. Live, both you and your sons, on what’s left.” [2 Kings 4:1-7 MSG]

Once I got beyond the Sunday School memories, I started thinking about this story from the perspective of how God solves our problems for us.

Typically, my first approach to solving a problem is to try to look at the situation rationally. What are some possible solutions? Which solution is best, given the circumstances? And then, how can I go about implementing the solution? If I were in the situation of this poor widow, I’d try to reason with the lender, appeal to his mercy, and try to barter some services that my sons or I could provide over time. This assumes, of course, that I would have the power to negotiate – a rather unrealistic assumption for a woman in Bible times (actually in our times, as well, if the villain in the story is an institution like a bank or the IRS). Relying on my own approach, I’d probably lose my sons.

Mim confesses that when she is in a terrible situation where she doesn’t see any solution, she finds herself wishing the antagonist dead. She would never do anything to make that happen, but she just wishes that they would somehow die accidentally or of natural causes. She realizes it’s just wishful thinking, and if she were in this poor widow’s situation, her approach would have the same result as mine – she’d lose her sons.

374549_origThis widow had a much better approach, which is probably why the story found its way into the Bible. She went to Elisha, a man of God, for help. Elisha and God had a simple solution for her – get her sons to round up lots of empty jugs, and fill up all the jugs from her little flask of olive oil, and then sell all the oil to pay off the lender. God would keep the oil flowing until all the jugs were full.

This solution focused on God and God’s people helping the widow meet her needs. My solution and Mim’s solution focused on addressing the demands of the lender, a subtle difference.

As I think about this story from the perspective of the widow, the message is clear – TRUST GOD. Obviously, God loves the widow and will take care of her. She just needs to ask for help.

When I think about the story from the perspective of Elisha, one of God’s people, the message is just as clear, we need to HELP THE PEOPLE WHO NEED HELP, whether it’s making donations to a food pantry or helping out in a homeless shelter. God’s people need to be available to those in need, just as Elisha was.

The picture on my “Sunday School Paper” told a very important story. I’m glad I was reminded of the story last week.

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An image to remind us that God will supply everything we need… and perhaps, sometimes we may need to serve as God’s hands.

 

 

Stories and Feathers

IIMG_0777 was sitting at my desk thinking about what to write about for my next blog post, and my dog Floey trotted up to me and sat down. “Hey, Mom, can I talk with you about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately – ever since my last grooming?”

“Sure, Floey. What’s on your mind?” I looked at her and smiled. “You really are a pretty dog, Floey. Even though you’re mostly white, you somehow manage to stay clean, despite the snow and slush all around. Even your new turquoise neck scarf from the groomer still looks clean. And the beautiful pink and turquoise feathers the groomer put behind your ear are still in place.”

Floey grinned at me and looked right in my eyes. “Actually, that’s partly what I want to talk with you about, Mom – the feathers. Remember, when you adopted me you learned that I was born on an Indian reservation in northern Minnesota.”

“That’s right, Floey. I remember. Animal Rescue and Veterinary Support Services (ARVSS) rescued you and all your brothers and sisters when you were six months old and brought all of you down to southern Wisconsin to find new homes.”

Dakota-Sioux-American-Indian-Pictures3“Yup. I’m really thankful that ARVSS rescued us and that you and Mim adopted me. I know that I’ve become part of just the right family, the one the Great Spirit had in mind for me when I was born. But back to my story… Two weeks ago, when Denise, the groomer at Bark of the Town, put these two feathers behind my ear, I started thinking about my Indian heritage. You know, Mom, getting my first two feathers is a really big deal.”

“Wow, I didn’t know that, Floey.”

“I know you didn’t. You said the feathers looked cute on me, so I know you like them, but I also know you don’t know the significance of them. You don’t know the Indian stories behind getting feathers, and that’s what I want to talk to you about.”

“That’s wonderful, Floey. I’d love to hear your stories.”

“The most important thing to know is that a feather is a symbol of bravery and courage. A young Indian is given their first feather when they have done some courageous act that qualifies them to be considered an adult. They get another feather each time they do something outstanding. I guess I earned my first feather for being brave around the hair dryer, and my second feather for keeping up my courage and good nature while my nails were trimmed. I was so proud when I walked out of the groomers wearing these two feathers. I feel like my bravery was recognized and I’ve been honored appropriately. I feel proud, and good about myself. I feel like I’m proudly wearing my first symbols of adulthood.”

IMG_0774“I’m glad you told me all about this, Floey. I never would have guessed the significance of these beautiful feathers that you are wearing so proudly. I was actually a little surprised that you hadn’t rubbed them off over the last couple weeks.”

“Oh, I’d never do that, Mom. I’m so happy to wear these feathers, and to think about the stories of my heritage. It’s important for me to tell you these stories so that we all understand each other better and so that our stories will never be forgotten.”

“Oh, I agree with you, Floey. Being a storyteller is one of the most important things we can be. One day last week I ran into a friend of mine who was having a bad day. She was discouraged in her job of caring for someone with Alzheimers disease. She felt emotionally exhausted and totally unappreciated for her efforts in trying to care for this woman. You know what brightened her mood and lightened her day?”

51eT93GoU3L._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_“What, Mom?”

“I was able to tell her about a book that was written by a storyteller who knows all about caring for people with Alzheimers. The book is Creating Moments of Joy by Jolene Brackey. The stories in this book are sure to give my friend greater understanding of the disease and new ideas to help her care for her client.”

“That’s great, Mom. I think you might deserve a feather for helping your friend by telling her about this book of stories. You weren’t exactly demonstrating bravery – kindness, maybe – and I think that counts for earning feathers, too.”

“Thanks, Floey. I guess one of the most important things you and I are teaching each other is the value of sharing our stories. Let’s make a pact – we’ll always tell our own stories and listen to each other’s stories.”

“Good idea, Mom. I’m sure that’s what the Great Spirit has in mind for us.”

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Tap Dancing in Church

you_make_me_feel_like_dancing_tap_dancing_cat_poster-r51004af4ca5e48cf85af6aa87fffa6f0_w2q_8byvr_512That was a first. A woman tap danced to my postlude in church Saturday evening. I was playing a pretty jazzy arrangement of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” on the piano, and I heard some rhythmic tapping. It sounded great, and I sensed a few people gathering together to watch someone near the front of the church. Unfortunately, I couldn’t look up to see what was going on because I had to keep my eyes on the sheet music I was playing. The woman tapped throughout the whole postlude, and then left before I got a chance to meet her. Mim told me it was fun watching her, but she didn’t know who she was. I really enjoyed the percussion sounds that her tapping added to the postlude. I think I had just as much fun playing for her as she must have had by tap dancing.

I wondered what prompted the woman to start dancing. Maybe she tap danced to the postlude because she couldn’t resist the jazzy beat of the arrangement (by Melody Bober – my favorite piano arranger).

Or maybe she did it because of Pastor Jeff’s homily. He talked about having the courage to do what God calls us to do. After all, we are God’s children, and we should have the courage to do what we feel we are called to do. Perhaps for her, she was being called to express her joy, and to praise God through tap dancing.

Or maybe both of the above.

I just finished reading the book, A Song to Sing, a Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice, co-authored by Don Saliers, a theology professor and church music director, and his daughter Emily Saliers, a member of the Indigo Girls, a folk-rock duo known for their vibrant music and social activism. In chapter 2, entitled “A Sound Spirituality,” the authors say,

imagesThe human body with all its senses is the primary location of the impulse to acknowledge the glory and power of God. Rituals, whether sacred or secular, always involve the body and its senses – what is heard, seen, tasted, touched, and given bodily expression in movement and gesture. … Spirituality is not an idea in the brain but rather a disciplined bodily experience that grows deeper with practice. … 

Unless we pay no attention or deliberately suppress our senses, the body is always being touched by music, is always ready to become a musical instrument. (p. 21-22) 

Maybe the tap dancer allowed herself to become a percussion instrument to become a part of the music and to experience its joy.

The tap dancer was not the only person who was touched by the jazzy music at the end of the worship service. Several people talked with me after the service, saying how the lively postlude gave them a physical lift, some extra energy to finish out their day.

The Bible tells us to make music and dance to praise God.

praisehimdancePraise God with trumpet sound, 

praise God with lute and harp.

Praise God with tambourine and dance,

praise him with strings and pipes.

Praise God with clanging cymbals;

praise God with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

[Psalm 150:3-6]

God has given us the gift of music, and has provided some suggestions for how to use the gift.

A couple weeks ago in this blog I explained that my spiritual practice throughout Lent this year is to spend some time alone playing prayerful music on the piano every day. Music is more than a means of offering joyful praise to God. It can be a means of communicating with God, expressing feelings of all kinds. One of my favorite hymns is “My Life Flows on in Endless Song” by19th century American Baptist minister Robert Lowry. Here are some of the words.

55497b4c76534024d9fccb9c960bc7edThrough all the tumult and the strife,

I hear that music ringing.

It finds an echo in my soul.

How can I keep from singing?

Over the next several weeks, in church (and anywhere) we’ll be singing songs like: “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord,” “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” “The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done,” “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today,” “Thine Is the Glory.” The music will help us feel and express emotional extremes as we strive to understand God’s love for us, and learn to reciprocate that love.

Praise God for the gift of music. And tap dancing as one more way of experiencing that gift!

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