A Hospital Maze, a Labyrinth and a Path for My Father

I woke up thinking, Who in the world would be knocking on my door at 3:00 am? I was alone, so I didn’t want to answer, but the knocking was persistent. If it’s a family emergency, they surely would have tried to call first, I reasoned as I grabbed my phone. Alarmed to see a multitude of messages and texts from my brothers and my mom, I hurried to the door without even checking what the messages said. I let my brothers Steve and Shawn in. They said they were heading down to Tennessee because our dad had another stroke. I was relieved to know it was not worse news.

When we got to the hospital and Mom led us through the hallways to Dad’s room, she kept saying how confusing the hospital layout was. I figured her brain was just as tired and frazzled as her appearance. But as the hours wore on and we attempted to navigate our way to various rooms and facilities, all three of us “kids” laughed in agreement with her – this place was like a maze.

At one point, we went outside for some fresh air and discovered the hospital had a labyrinth prayer and meditation garden.

angel

The labyrinth at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital (Jackson, TN)

Unlike a maze with its dead ends and turn-arounds, a labyrinth is one single path that leads you to the center and then back out. The goal of a labyrinth walk is as follows:

  1. Use the walk on the way into the center to clear your thoughts and release your burdens.
  2. Once you get to the center, you’re in a better frame of mind to pray and/or receive what you need from God.
  3. After spending time in the center, you walk the path out, reviewing and meditating on what you have received.

I returned to the labyrinth that night. I knew it would be hard to lay aside the concerns I had for my dad, but I took a deep breath and began my walk. One way to clear your mind for the process is to repeat a word or phrase as you walk; I had none for the moment. But just a few steps in, I found myself humming the words to an old Kathy Troccoli song: My life is in your hands, my heart is in your keeping. I had my mantra.

I started repeating that first line to the beat of my steps. Soon, I was adding and adjusting words.

My life is in your hands, my life is in your hands, my life is in your hands,

yes, my life is in your hands

My father’s life is in your hands, yes, My father’s life is in your hands,

yes, my father’s life is in your hands

Yes, my father’s life is in the hands of my Father, yes

My father’s life is in the hands of my loving Father,

Yes, my loving father’s life is in the hands of my loving Father

By the time I reached the center, my only prayer was one of thankfulness.

There will be many more prayers to come as we learn the extent of the damage this stroke has caused and watch my dad work through its effects. But the one prayer that serves as a banner over all the rest has been answered. In fact, it was answered long ago, when my loving father placed his life in the hands of our loving Father.

To see more posts about my labyrinth walks, click here.

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A Hint of Life, but Death Is Still in the Background

Reflections from time with God at Zion UCC Labyrinth, Florissant, MO

Reflections from time with God at Zion UCC Labyrinth, Florissant, MO

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” Psalm 27:13-14 (NKJV)

This scripture kept going through my mind after my sister’s death (Janell Joy Bartz, June 5, 1966 – September 19, 2012). Two weeks after her passing, I plugged earphones into my digital Bible to help feed myself the Word at a time I was not feeling prone to read it. I thought it might help me get to sleep (another thing I was not prone to do at that time). Later in the night, I woke up at the exact moment this passage was being read.

A few days later, I was at a labyrinth that I go to for prayer walks. Before going onto the prayer path, I sat on a bench for a while. A line of trees surrounds the labyrinth. I noticed a purple flower bud (Janell’s favorite color) on one near me. For a brief moment, I was comforted. Then, almost immediately, I noticed the very next tree in line behind it was already browning for fall and the coming winter. I thought, “A hint of life, but death is still in the background.”

When I got to the center of the labyrinth and stopped for contemplation, the dead tree was directly in front of me and I became overwhelmed. You see, Janell’s death was preceded just a week prior by the death of a 22 year old cousin who died in a car accident. That death alone had been very difficult to take, not only because he was so young, but also because it was yet another tragedy in my family which has a long history of young deaths, and violence and many forms of chaos and heartbreak.

While standing there, staring at the dead tree, I also thought of the many people I was praying for who were dealing with depression, and addictions and … well, many forms of chaos and heartbreak. For many of them, I had been praying a long time.

At that moment, the only prayer I could muster was, “Lord, I need to see someone overcome! To continue to believe it’s possible.”

Then, I remembered the meeting I’d had just that morning (how soon we forget) with the friend I am partnering with to write his life story. His is a story of someone redeemed from the worst of life’s circumstances. It is a story of true transformation that can only be brought about by the power of Christ.

I was gently reminded by God that there are many stories of redemption and transformation out there. And there are more to come. I WILL see the goodness of the Lord – in the land of the living. All of our hope is not just found “in the sweet by and by.” We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to see the heaven’s move on our behalf. There is still hope for deliverance, here among the living, even when death is seemingly mocking us in the background.

Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos – March Encourager’s Devotion

March Encourager's Devotion

Just a quick scan of news headlines can be very discouraging, even downright frightening.

Justice Department finds racial bias in Ferguson police practices

Netanyahu Says Iran Poses ‘Threat to Peace of Entire World’

Iran calls Obama’s 10-year nuclear demand ‘unacceptable’

Target to cut thousands of jobs

Get ready—Fed to cause major turmoil this month

It is hard to maintain inner peace when our world is in such chaos. Yet that is exactly what Christ came to bring us – a peace that the world will never be able to offer us (John 14:27), a peace that defies human understanding and guards our hearts and minds no matter what is going on around us (Phil. 4:7).

I remember a time when I experienced that kind of peace. I was pregnant with my first child, but had been put on 24 hour bedrest due to complications. I was fearful, worried I might be losing my baby. Lying in bed, I read Psalm 91 (NKJV):

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. … He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge … You shall not be afraid.”

Things like this are hard to explain, but as I read that passage, I could just picture God “covering me” and I felt peace in His presence.

My father once shared a story with me about God ministering peace to his spirit when he was going through a bout with cancer. He was driving down the road worrying about life, death, and his family. He had a Christian radio station on and a song called “Silent Partner” by Jessy Dixon began to play. Dad said he started to weep as he was comforted by the idea that God was his partner during that difficult time – a partner you might not always see or hear, but you know He’s there giving you strength and seeing you through.

A few years ago, I discovered prayer labyrinths (you can see prior posts about labyrinths and an explanation of what they are here). The image for this post includes a picture of one of my favorites at Mercy Retreat Center in St. Louis, MO. When my sister passed away in 2012, I was so glad I had found these beautiful places to pray. My time there brings me peace.

I share these stories with you because they show various ways to draw closer to God and attain the peace He promises – Bible reading, Christian music, prayer walks. Other means of finding peace might be through the company of friends and family, through worship services, or through inspirational reading. I have also had art minister peace to me. We might do as Paul suggested in Philippians 4:8-9 and think on anything we can that is good, or lovely, or praiseworthy when we are bombarded with negative news images. Paul also says in Philippians that when you do the things you know are right “the God of peace will be with you.” It is interesting that Paul wrote all this while he was in prison. He had discovered how to have peace regardless of his circumstances (4:11-13).

OUR PEACE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND US.

IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

Now, what does all this have to do with being an encourager? Well, this is a time when those around us are worried and fearful. We will only be able to encourage them if we are at peace ourselves. You cannot lead someone to a place you  cannot find yourself. So, build yourself up in the faith and then go minister to others who need peace.

MAY YOU SHINE AS LIGHTS IN A CROOKED AND PERVERSE WORLD! (Phil. 2:15)

This post is part of the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Accompanying materials for this month’s devotions: Click here for the Bible study for March and here for the answer guide.

The Pain in Peace

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

My husband will be very happy to see I’m admitting this in public. I have a hard time saying I’m sorry when it comes to an argument.

It’s not that I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. I’m a firm believer that both sides have usually fallen into some form of error when embroiled in an argument – if not from the outset, most definitely once the battle begins.

And it’s not even that I don’t feel sorry for something along the way. At the very least, even when I feel like I’m 100% correct in my original point of contention, I’m always sorry we’re fighting. And I’m sorry the other person has been hurt in the process of airing out our grievances.

Here’s where my hang-up with “sorry” comes in: I can’t stand the thought of it being issued prematurely. I refuse to make an apology until I feel like my voice has been heard. I dislike the idea of a peace treaty that comes from either of us not having said what we’re really thinking and feeling. For me, a peace that stems from sugar coating or backing down from a perceived truth is only temporary. The issue will inevitably come up again because root issues were never really resolved.

I share all of this, not because I think I’m right or justified in this approach to conflict mediation. Rather, I put all this out on the table as an introduction to processing the quote from Jean Vanier. Here, I will share how I am working through the challenges presented in the quote, with the hope that the lessons I’m learning will also be seen as applicable to those who are praying for peace and justice in Ferguson, Missouri and beyond.

The quote really challenged me to think through the idea of what I’m willing to lose in an effort to pursue peace. Now, I’m still working through the processing of this, but here’s what it looks like so far:

Contemplating the loss of certitudes – Am I willing to admit I may be wrong? If I am, then the resulting action would be to listen more closely to the person on the other side of the debate. Instead of only listening for signs that they hear my point of view, I will listen more closely to theirs. What hurts are they expressing? What feels like injustice to them? What valid points are they bringing to the table? Instead of only seeking to be understood, perhaps I should ask questions about their history and what has led them to the conclusions they are expressing.

Contemplating the loss of comforts that shelter and define me – Am I willing to get out of my comfort zone and explore this issue from the perspective of “the other”? Am I willing to probe my own heart and see why I think saying “I’m sorry” is equivalent to saying, “I’m wrong”? Why does the withholding of my apology bring me comfort and a sense of security? Am I willing to give up that security in order to pursue peace? Why must the apology only come at the end of the discussion? Perhaps mingling in a few sincere apologies along the way would bring a level of comfort to the other person and foster truer, more effective dialogue. After all, I’m not just sorry after they’ve acknowledged my points. I’m sorry at various points in the discussion, so why not throw it out there as it’s occurring instead of waiting for them to earn it? (Darn! This is a difficult thing to admit.)

Contemplating the loss of hurts that shelter and define me – As difficult as that last area of contemplation was for me, this one is even harder. Am I willing to let go of my hurts? Holding on to my hurts shelters me from being hurt again. Will I risk all that in order to restore relationship? How does my hurt define me? Not just this hurt, but all the past hurts that feel similar to this one. Is it fair to bring all that baggage into this current conversation? It seems reasonable to allow both sides to acknowledge those hurts as reasons for their current stance on the issue and to promote understanding. If, however, I’m unwilling to release my grasp on those hurts … well, then I’m still in self-preservation mode and not yet working towards relationship preservation.

“Peace is the fruit of love, a love that is also justice.” In seeking peace and justice, which of the losses is hardest for you to take?

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18 (NASB)

Positioning Yourself to Hear

Positioning Yourself to Hear

I went on a prayer walk in a beautiful garden. This particular prayer path (a labyrinth) winds around in a way that brings you past the same spot periodically, but with varying degrees of closeness and different points of view. So, I passed by the same small waterfall fountain several times. I began to notice that while I was on the backside of the fountain, even when I was only a few feet away from it, I could barely hear it at all. But when just a few more steps put me on the front side of the waterfall I could hear its beautiful, refreshing sound very clearly. I wrote the following in my journal: Same fountain at all times; it’s just my positioning which determines if I hear it and receive the peace-bringing, life-renewing sound of it.

I also wrote this prayer: Lord, help me to stay positioned with you in front of me and my face towards you that I might experience the fullness of what you bring to me and have an ear to hear what you might say to me.