Need a boost as this week ends?  Our bloggers are offering help of all kinds, from the practical to the reflective.  There are ways to get support for a knee or give love after an immense loss, ideas for an ending or a beginning, wisdom for a health challenge or an offer of a way to see the world. 

Seeing a tree stump weaving itself in and out of a fence has Deb Mechler thinking about how to begin a new season of reflection.  “On my walk this morning I walked past a fence that used to be obscured by foliage. A couple of years ago the city decided to cut it all down. In a few cases they were too late. Some of the bushes had grown through the fence, and they couldn’t be removed without taking the whole fence down.”  This evokes, for her, the “parts of ourselves we would like to be rid of–old habits, memories, even a relationship or two. But they become part of us. Even if we manage to kill them, their effects remain. Life goes smoothly until KA-THUMP! YEOWWW! You stub your toe on that old stump. In contemplative spirituality, we find that those old stumps are not to be ignored, but acknowledged. The least we can do is remember they are there so we can skirt around them. But eventually we can even come to appreciate them and learn from them.”  She suggests questions like: “What did that part of my life teach me about myself? What are its gifts now that I look back on it? What does the sadness about that tell me right now? How can this actually be of use today?”

Offering a gracious closing comes as a gift from a retreat that Kristin Berkey-Abbott attended.  She shares, about her retreat at Mepkin Abbey, “we had a really wonderful ending to the retreat.  We spent some time on Sunday morning reflecting on what we had just experienced and writing a letter to ourselves.  Our leaders suggested we record three take-aways and then three practices we hoped to institute after the retreat.  They gave us envelopes to be self-addressed, and sometime in the next few months, the leaders will mail our letters.  I’d have been happy with that ending, but our leaders did something much more special.   We gathered in the chapel after lunch for our closing ritual.  We read from our letters.  And then, our retreat leaders read a letter of encouragement they’d written to each individual. That letter will be mailed with the letters we wrote to ourselves.” 

Deb Vaughn is finding support from her new companion, Ugly George, the name she gave her friendly knee brace.  “I’ve learned a lot about Ugly George since March (when I had surgery.) First, all braces aren’t alike. And drugstore braces are not necessarily good for you. (Shout out to my PT to helped me learn what to buy and measured one that fit correctly.)  Second, a brace isn’t good for long-term use, but it can take the load off when there’s going to be extra stress on a joint.” 

After a recent loss in her family, Aileen Lawrimore reflects on the kinds of support that made a difference for her.  She reminds us, “The right thing to say to someone in crisis is usually, “I’m so sorry.” When you find you want to say more, repeat that. After she passed, many people told us Joyce was in a better place as if this was somehow news to us. We know this better than anyone. We don’t need a reminder. That reality fills our brains right beside our grief that is real and lasting. Just tell us you’re sad too and that you loved her. Or just say, “I’m so sorry.” (Then tell us what time you’re bringing dinner.)”  She alos suggests this useful way of supporting people.  “Here’s something: the last thing someone needs during a difficult time is to run out of essentials like toiletries, kitchen supplies, or paper goods. When you provide an assortment of these necessary items, you will be assuring that your friend avoids the annoyance of running out of paper towels or toothpaste later. By the way, I don’t think I ever would have thought of this. Someone brought us a basket of these things and it was wonderful!” 

Pondering the possibility of receiving a new kidney, Kathy Manis Findley shares a fruitful image for our lives.  She has discovered that she lives on the “gnat line,” and her locations will always have gnats.  “No one told me that before I moved here.  Still, there are blue skies and gentle breezes this morning. For a few seconds, I am fully in the moment, fully aware of the blue skies over me and the warm breeze that points my mind to all that is good, to all the things about nature that we can count on…it’s a picture of life —the beauty of blue skies and gentle breezes, right along with the persistent aggravation of gnats buzzing your face. Certainly, life is like that for me. There are every day graces accompanied with aggravations, challenges and sometimes troubles. Life brings days of deep mourning sometimes and times for gladness at other times.” 

What’s helping you out these days?  Holding you up, literally or spirituals?  We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian Church.  She is the author of Meeting God at the Mall

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