Journey of Compassion

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
– Hebrews 13:2, NRSV

I waited to board my flight from Seattle to Nashville. I was looking forward to four hours of solitude, the kind I love in an airplane seat on a long flight.

As I neared my row, I saw a woman already seated in the middle seat. A beautiful scarf draped her head and body; her hands were busy with prayer beads. I realized that she had little English and was not familiar with the ways of airplane travel. My irritation quickly turned to compassion as I noticed her discomfort at being stuck on a plane in the middle seat between two strangers.

The young woman in the seat by the window helped plug in our friend’s cell phone to charge and explained that the phone would not work in the air. We showed her how to find and secure her seatbelt. When she needed to go to the restroom, I walked her to the back of the plane, opened the door for her, and held her scarf.

We learned through little bits of words and gestures that she was traveling to Tennessee from a Sudanese refugee camp in Kenya. She was going to be with her daughter who was in Tennessee … or maybe Kentucky.

About halfway through the flight, I pulled up the flight tracker application that showed where we were on our flight. We “talked” about how much longer we would be flying (two hours). How far we still had to travel (1000 miles or 1600 kilometers). I dragged the screen to show Africa and, between us, we found Sudan and Kenya on the map.

She told me, “In English you say, ‘Good morning.’ [In my language] ‘Salam Alaikum.'” I said to her, “Salam Alaikum.” And she smiled.

I saw her later at the baggage claim. She was in a wheelchair pushed by an airport employee who spoke her language. She told him that I had been helpful on the airplane. I said that I enjoyed traveling with her.

Later, I realized that I never learned her name. But I hold her in my memory, my heart, and my prayers. May God bless her journey to this new place so far from her home. May God bless her healing from whatever traumas she has endured. May God bless her life, her family, her journey. Salam Alaikum.

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
– Deuteronomy 10:19, NRSV

Coming Full Circle

  

Every year, as a Clergy member of the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church, I travel to Colorado for Annual Conference. This year I was delighted that the conference was held at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. Not only is it one of the most beautiful settings in the world, it is a place important to my family, a destination for a yearly pilgrimage when we came to Colorado for summer vacations. 

 
Our family’s Colorado roots came from my dad’s two summers of working in the kitchen at the Y-Camp when he was in college. He fell in love with these mountains and, when the chance came to purchase a run-down cabin in the mountains the year I was born, he and Mom cashed out a $1500 life insurance policy and bought the place. 
 
When I sat in Hyde Chapel the other day for our clergy session, I remembered attending church there while we were on vacation. (It seemed much smaller than when I was a child.) I remember Dad being invited to preach there one summer. 

He wrote about it in our cabin’s log:

August 13, 1968
I had the privilege of preaching at Hyde Chapel at the YMCA Camp near Estes. It was an experience I have secretly entertained a hope for. It was fulfilled through Dr. Finis Crutchfield’s recommendation to the selection committee.

As I sat in the chapel I thought on all these things with gratitude. Thank you, Dad and Mom, for this gift, this legacy that has brought me such joy and happiness and meaning. I’m grateful to be a member of this conference in this place which is my spiritual home. 

Enter the Stillness

cook stove

I sat in the kitchen in the early morning and entered the stillness that comes with this place, this little cabin in the mountains. The stillness is not silent — the river roars below me, the hummingbirds buzz outside the window. I hear the chips and squeaks of the chipmunks and ground squirrels looking for breakfast.

I thought about the episode of “On Being” I listened to yesterday. Krista Tippett interviewed Pico Iyer about “The Art of Stillness.” Iyer talked about his need to find stillness after a lifetime of travel and movement. I long for that stillness, that “not doing” … and this is one of the places that I find it.

I remember that on our family vacations here, Dad would get up before anyone else and get a fire started in the cook stove. (We didn’t have another stove to cook on and the stove also heated the water.) By the time others got up, the kitchen was open for business. We ran from our cozy beds through the freezing cabin to the warmth of the kitchen and a breakfast of pancakes or hash browns and eggs.

This morning as I sat in the same chair Dad would have sat in. It struck me that he must have longed for and found the stillness of those early mornings here in the kitchen, just as I do today. A tiny, sacred sabbath space before the day begins.

Quiet my anxious mind
And open my heart.
Let me find the quiet place
And meet you there.
Amen.

Presence of the Saints

2015-05-06 07.07.07

Among the many blessings I received at last week’s 5-day Academy for Spiritual Formation on the Psalms was the presence of a friend who knew my paternal grandparents, Ida Mae and Holt Richardson.

At the end of the first worship service, Sharlyn said to me, “When you began the opening service by singing, I thought of your grandmother.” Grandma taught high school music classes to Sharlyn in the little school in Lenapah, OK. Grandpa was the school superintendent. An invoking of Grandma Ida Mae’s presence — in our week, in my music.

It was such a powerful reminder of the presence of those who shaped me and who passed along their gifts to me. Grandma and Grandpa’s gift of music, Dad’s years of shaping and leading the worship services I attended every Sunday, my parent’s commitment to start me in piano lessons in first grade. These wonderful people, these wonderful gifts. Thanks be to the creator!

Have You Ever Been Lonely …

Dad passed away two years ago today. He had been in an Alzheimer’s decline for quite a while and though we knew it was the end, we didn’t know when “the end” would be. I was working at my office when my phone rang. It was Anna, my step-mom’s, number, but it was the chaplain at The Manor who told me that Dad was near the end. They had called to let me speak with him one last time over the phone. I don’t remember what I said other than “I love you.” It was such an act of love and charity for them to reach out to me in that way. As soon as I got off the phone, I made my flight arrangements. While I was waiting for my plane, I got the call that Dad had died.

I’m so grateful for Anna, who cared for Dad with such love, selflessness, and dedication for so many years. And for all those who helped to take care of him and loved him no matter what.

Even after Dad couldn’t remember who I was, he could play the piano. There was one song that he always came back to when he sat at the piano. As he played through his repertoire, he would returned to the song, “Have You Ever Been Lonely.”

I didn’t know the song before I heard him play it. But the words seem so appropriate for his journey.

Have you ever been lonely?
Have you ever been blue?
Have you ever loved someone,
Just as I love you?

By Peter DeRose and Billy Hill
Made popular by Patsy Cline

I asked him how he learned to play the piano by ear. (I wish I could play by ear!) He loved to tell the story about Grandma Ida Mae giving him lessons when he was a little boy. He said he would rather be outside, playing, so he would ask her to play the song and he would memorize it. That saved the time he would have spent practicing so he could go outside with the other kids. And in his last years, that part of his brain still functioned … what a gift. And though I can’t play the piano by ear, I received his legacy of music.

And I’m so grateful.

Remembering Dad

Beth with Dad
Beth with Dad

My dad — Charles H. Richardson — passed away one year ago today. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.

His last years were lived in the darkening stages of the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrank just a little bit more. When I was with him a couple of years ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom and Dad’s wonderful caregiver. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”

I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”

Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”

“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)

“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”

I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”

He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.

We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I had become.

Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?”  And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”

Over the following years, when we talked on the phone, I always ended up introducing myself to him. And he was always delighted to know me, to learn I was his daughter, to learn I was ordained in the United Methodist Church, and that I worked for The Upper Room. It was a wonderful ritual for me and such a gift of affirmation that, even if he didn’t remember me, he was excited about who I was and who I had become.

Today on this first anniversary of his death, I’m sad, but grateful for his life and for the gifts he gave to me. Thanks be to the Creator for the gift of Dad.

Remembering Mom

momMy mom passed away 29 years ago today. I was in seminary in Nashville and she was in Oklahoma. We had learned during the summer that her brain tumor had grown back and was inoperable. My mom wanted me to stay in school rather than come home for the duration of her life, so I decided to become an expert on death. I enrolled in Pastoral Care for the Sick and Dying. I read books like May Sarton’s The Reckoning. I wrote poetry and did art about death and how I felt.

Mom was cared for at home by Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and many, many people from Grace United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. At some point she was moved to the hospital where she lived for several months before she died. (I guess hospice care had not come to Oklahoma yet.) In October of that year, Dad called to say I might want to come to see her while she was still conscious. I flew home, all ready to have meaningful conversations about life and death and whatever Mom wanted to talk about.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it didn’t happen. (Life is funny that way.) Mom couldn’t really talk … at least with words. Every so often she would say a word or two that let us know she was still in there. But she spoke with her eyes and with the squeeze of her hand.

One day, Grandma was there getting Mom dressed, fixing her hair, and putting on her make-up. We were trying to figure out the color of the sweater Mom was wearing. Mom said, “Fuchsia.” (Only thing she said that day.)

I wanted to do death “right.” And ultimately, I realize, I did. I was there with her and she was there with me. We sat in silence or I talked to her. I feasted my eyes on her and felt my feelings. When it was time for me to leave for the airport. I leaned over and hugged her. “I love you, Mom,” I said. She said, “I love you, darlin.” Those were the last words I she spoke to me.

Some weeks after that she slipped away into sleep. And on the 16th of November, 1983, she passed into the loving arms of God. I’m grateful beyond words for Mom.