Our Families Shape Not Just Us But our Organizations

With my Mother at her 90th birthday

At our MSA staff meeting just before my recent trip to Australia, we discussed the importance of our families and how they impact our work.

Our families shape not just who we are but also what we are as an organization.

I am very aware of that as I reflect on how my mother influenced my life. I am so grateful to God for her and the ways that she helped shape all I am and do. Even in her death she continues to influence me and shape my work, MSA and the life of others. I am so grateful to the many of you who have prayed and comforted me over these days and for the encouragement from those of you who have drawn strength and faith as I shared my journey.

Here is a complete list of the prayers and blog posts I wrote during this important journey.

Am I Fully Recognized for What I am 

 Tributes to My Mother

 Heavens Gates Have Opened Wide

 Today I want to Go Home

Prayers for the Journey

Tears, Tears, Tears 

Comfort in the Midst of Waiting

Not Embarrassed to Share About Death

It’s Hard to Watch Your Mother Die 

Love Hurts But It’s Worth It


Comfort in the Midst of Waiting

Mum with service dog

I continue to sit by my mother’s bedside. Thank you for your prayers and supportiveness. Particularly appreciate this poem sent to me by Heather Jephcott

You Lord are my place of safety
Since finding you I need no other
Having experienced your shelter
I knew I need look no further

You keep me secure
locked in Your vastness

You are my maker, creator of all
the one whose giant hands
hold this entire magnificent universe

You not only made me
but gave to me a place of safety
a place where I am secure,
locked in this sanctuary
a place of peace, hope, love and joy
you not only hold the keys
but are this place

You save me from the onslaught of the dark
helping me to cope with times of sadness, difficulty
You are the rock on which I build my life
no shifting sand that varies with the days
but solid, safe, secure

You save me from the worst in me
keeping my brokenness for your use
within your kingdom
to remould it into something of beauty
where you are king and I am not alone

You fill me with hope
calmly expressing that you are
all the security I need now and
throughout the eternal ages
this hope glows bright now
becoming stronger, more dazzling
each passing day


Celebrating 90 Years

Cutting the birthday cake

Cutting the birthday cake

Yesterday was my mother’s 90th birthday, a special day of remembering, celebrating and enjoying my family. Tom and I are privileged to be able to be in Sydney for this wonderful occasion. Celebrations like this are so important. They not only connect us to the past and the rich heritage that our families provide for us, they also connect us to the future and the hopes that we have for the time that is to come.

Mum with her "kids"

Mum with her “kids”

Mum with her grandkids

Mum with her grandkids

Mum with her great grandkids

Mum with her great grandkids

Memories that Create Sacred Space.

This afternoon Tom and I head to Australia to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. I have never looked forward to a trip with so much excitement and anticipation. Part of my excitement has been fueled by the memories book I have compiled for her. I know she will be delighted, but what has surprised me is my own reaction. I have loved sharing with my friends, even posted the shutterfly link on Facebook.

Mum’s family boat

Mum - early family photo

Mum – early family photo

The photos go right back to mother’s childhood.

Myself with brothers Nick, Rod and Greg

Myself with brothers Nick, Rod and Greg

Mum and Dad with myself and brothers Nick and Rod

Mum and Dad with myself and brothers Nick and Rod

They embrace my own childhood.

Aroney family wedding

Aroney family wedding

And they include photos of all my brothers and their families.

Myself age 9

Myself age 9

And of course there is my signature photo on Facebook

So why has it been important for me to share? Partly I think because this is a part of my past that few people know much about. It is 30 years since I lived in Australia. Most of my friends have never met my family. Yet they are an important part of who I am. Without them I am not whole. They draw me close to my family, to the friends with whom I share and to the God who has created all of us.

Family memories are important for all of us. They shape our lives and they shape our faith. And they created a sacred space that is as precious as any other place in which we meet with God. Like any sacred space, they should not be kept to ourselves. Memories of our family and upbringing are important to share – even the painful ones – for it is often in this sharing that we find the wholeness God desires for us.


Check out the other posts in this series:

Creating Sacred Space Do We Really Need Churches 

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

Creating a Sacred Space – Stir the Senses

A Garden of Inspiration – A Story of Leo Tolstoy

Symbols and Elements that Weave Together a Sacred Space

Why Being Spiritual may be More Important Than Being Religious by Rob Rynders

What is a Sacred Space?

Celtic Spirituality – What Is The Attraction?

In the Barren Places: Finding Sacred Space for the First Time – James Rempt

A Tree My Most Sacred Space by Ryan Harrison

Sacred Buildings by Lynne Baab

We are Raising the Roof.

Sacred Space – Listening to the Trees by Richard Dahlstrom

Sharing a Sacred Space by Daniel Simons

Practice Resurrection – Plan a Party for Your Mother

Together with my Mum - Australia 2011

Together with my Mum – Australia 2011

Last night on Facebook, I posted that I had just booked tickets for Tom and I to go to Australia in June to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. I was amazed at the response, not just the “likes” it received but at the comments by those who remembered special times with their own mothers and fathers. One person shared about taking her mother to Israel when she was in her 80s. Another mentioned that she is heading to Sweden to celebrate her mother’s 85th birthday. Another grieved the fact that she had lost her mother when she was still young and had no opportunity to enjoy the celebrations we are relishing.

When my Dad died nearly 4 years ago, I made a commitment. I decided that I would head down to Australia twice a year to spend time with my Mum. It has not always been easy. The flight is long and gruelling, the work doesn’t stop while I am away and the financial pressure sometimes has me questioning my decision. But the fruit of these visits is immeasurable. The special memories of these last few years are more than I could ever imagine.

Time spent with loved ones needs to be a priority in our lives. If we are too busy or too stressed to party with family and friends then we need to question our priorities. The kingdom of God begins with a great banquet feast and I think that every time we gather with friends and families we catch a glimpse of what that will look like.

Maybe it is not your mother that you need to plan a party for. It could be a friend you have not seen for a long time. Or it could be for your colleagues and co-workers. Or for your neighbours. Celebration is at the heart of God’s kingdom. Jesus’ critics complained that he spent too much time partying – eating and drinking with friends. And he enjoyed that wedding at Cana so much that he made it even more fun for people by turning water into wine. Unfortunately too much partying is not often a criticism people accuse Jesus’ followers of much these days.

So take some time this morning to think about how you could plan a “resurrection party” for those you know and love. What would you need to let go of to free up the time necessary to make it happen?

Everything Will Happen, Just Slow Down and Wait an Advent Reflection by Bonnie Harr

Brian's Note 3

Today’s post in the Advent series Let Us Wait As Children Wait, is written by Bonnie D. Harr. Bonnie is a singer, poet, psalm-writer and artist, clothed in the vocational garments of a clinical nurse specialist and Christian psychotherapist. She is known for her work in creating healing spaces and possibility places within the context of brokenness, or for those challenged in life by disease, relational struggles, spiritual complexities and unanswered questions. Bonnie  lives with her husband near Pittsburgh, PA.


Brian's Note 1

At a time just before Christmas when we were rushing around preparing for the larger family to gather for all the December birthdays — his included — my only son, approaching his birthday, clutched my hand and said, “Slow down Mommy, you’re going too fast to be my best friend today!  Everything will happen, just slow down, and wait with me.”  His words literally stopped me in my tracks!  Sensing a larger than life moment, I asked him then, “What will we do if I slow down?”  His answer was simple and profound.  “We’ll light candles and drink our sparkling apple cider out of your special glasses and wait.”

I was in the middle of cleaning out the hall closet to prepare for the arrival of guests who would need a place to hang their coats.  I looked at the blue-eyed towhead before me and knew there was nothing in this world more important than lighting candles and drinking sparkling cider from my good crystal glasses with this child.  A deeper glance told me that the years were passing all too swiftly, and that someday soon I might long to have a candlelight chat with a grown son who might not want to have one with me.  I turned out the light in the hallway, and the light in my heart simultaneously affirmed that I was making a right choice.

I got two champagne flutes down — my very best — and the bottle of sparkling cider I had been saving for the celebrations. I sent my child to the drawer where candles are kept, asking him to select his favorite two.  He reminded me we needed four of them and a fat one for the middle.  “It’s mine and Dad’s birthday coming up,” he said, “but Jesus’ birthday is the big one.  I want to light His candles!”  And so, four unmatched candles and a fat one, found their way onto our dining room table, as my child sorta-kinda reminded me that three of the candles should be alike, and one different, but we didn’t have three alike!

Brian's Note 2

As our small ritual advanced, the boy decided we needed a sparkling dish, too — something to put a “wee-snack” on.  I invited  him to make the selection, and we ended up with peanuts on the dish between us.  In the soft golden light of it all, he decided something was still missing.  I waited, watching the wheels spin in his mind.  “We need a special doily, maybe one of Gran’s to put under everything.”  I knew this meant digging through the cedar chest to find one of many treasures my mother has crocheted over the years, but off we went together to find the doily.  He chose my favorite of them all, and we came back to the table to undo what we had previously done and place the doily beneath everything.  It was time to light the candles.

“Will you teach me how to light them?”, he asked.  We had a rather firm rule about matches in our home, and we had promised that a time would come when we would teach him to use them correctly. I knew the time had come. It took a while. In fact, it took a long while. I taught; he practiced.  The match did not light. I taught; he practiced.  He was afraid he would burn his fingers — and so was I; I worked hard to not feed his fears.  I taught; he practiced.  He decided something was wrong with the matches, so I struck and lit one!  “WAIT!!!” he shouted. He tried again, to no avail.  Finally, a match ignited. The priceless look on his face, the glow in his eyes, was worth the wait!  He carefully lit one candle, blew out the match and looked at me.  I wasn’t sure what was rolling through his little mind, so I waited.  “Only one candle before Daddy’s birthday on the first of December.  That’s how I remember it.  We have to wait to light the other ones, and we have to slow down and do it right.”

In that moment, I realized that what I had hunched before about three matching candles and a different one, was right. With fanfare created in his own way, my little son was talking about Advent.

As we shared our cider and peanuts that evening, I let him lead the conversational way.  We talked about many things — why we cry when we’re happy and when we’re sad; that peanuts and “even raisins” might taste better from a crystal bowl; why it was okay and yet sad “once in a while” to be an only child; why he was afraid some nights to go to sleep — “it was that movie three years ago on the kids channel” — hmmm…; my pigeon walk — “You do walk funny, Mom, but I think it’s in style now”; and then we got to his point of that particular evening.

“Mommy, sometimes I feel bad because all my friends have really dark hair, and I have this color.  I’m so different.”  I felt it all.  I left my chair to kneel at eye level with him, as I noted the candlelight beaming in his glistening eyes and the golden fire-sheen dancing through his equally golden head of hair.  “I’m so sorry you are hurting,” I whispered.  I waited watching him struggle with intense feelings. “My sweetness, you are different, and you are special — so very special to God and to Daddy and me.  A lot of people have hair like mommy’s, but yours is like the sunshine or the moonbeams.  Yours is how mommy imagines the angels’ hair to be.  It is so beautiful to me.”  He started nodding his head. I continued as he looked right at me with what he calls “almost tears”. “Remember that sometimes being different is very special to someone, or for someone.  When I come to pick you up at school, I can always find your head bouncing among all the others because your hair picks up a different light!  That is so special for me!”

It was his turn to jump off his chair and throw tight arms around my neck. “I love you, Mommy,” he shuddered through his almost tears. He immediately turned around and blew out the candle, went to the wall switch and turned on the lights. “I have to write something”, he said. What he wrote was worth waiting for, keeping and treasuring to this day.  The next day, he followed it up with a post-it note on the refrigerator door, right near the handle.  That note was worth returning to after I dropped him off at school.

You see, everything will happen if we just slow down and wait.  Advent, like my child that day, invites us to do just that.  Our God has written his love note  in a sparkling eyed babe who lights flames of adoration, each time we wait anew, for His return to us again. Let us, then, slow down and wait.                                                                    bharr  © 11/21/12

Waiting on the Trail an Advent Reflection by Jill Aylard Young

Today’s post in the Advent series Let Us Wait As Children Wait, is written by Jill Aylard Young. Jill serves on the board of Mustard Seeds Associates. She lives with her husband Matthew and daughter Grace in Elysburg, PA where Matthew is pastor of Elysburg Presbyterian Church. Jill has an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary and is particularly interested in spiritual direction and formation.

Jill on the trail with her daughter Grace

Jill on the trail with her daughter Grace

“In their hearts human beings plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Prov 16:9

I was eager, even joyful, to share with our four year old daughter Grace the Sierra Nevada mountains.  For the first time since our honeymoon, Matthew and I – this time with my dad and Grace – had come to visit one of my favorites places – Mammoth Lakes, CA. On several occasions during my childhood, my family had vacationed there in the summer. In my young adulthood I had visited yearly from the Los Angeles area with friends and even retreated by myself.  On every Mammoth visit there had been an anticipation in my heart – a waiting and yearning for God – for a moment of deep connection.  It sometimes took a while, but each time my spirit had been refreshed as I hiked into the alpine beauty.  I longed for the same this time.

On the second day of our visit, my dad and I took Grace with us on the Barrett/TJ lakes hike  – only a mile long, but steeper than I remembered. On this hike my dad and I were given the challenge of waiting. Though both of us were appreciating the beauty along the way, and even the adventure of a bear siting near the beginning of the trail, we were focused on reaching our destination of the two lakes. Grace, however, in her very preschool way, was not at all focused on an end point or goal.  She was finding much to love right in front of her – walking across a log over and over again while practicing her balancing skills, watching the creek water flow under the bridge, and building little rock towers each time she plopped down stubbornly on the steep section of the trail.  We tried all forms of persuasion to coax her up the trail from enthusiastic exclamations about the lake to “follow the leader” games to promises of being nearly there, even resorting to picking her up and carrying her.

Once we made it to Barrett Lake we decided that this would be the final destination for Grace, even though TJ was the larger and more dramatic of the two lakes. And there at little Barrett lake, Grace slowed us down.  Grace and I sat on some rocks by the lake and had a snack, looked around for interesting sticks, and even dipped our feet in the icy glacial lake water like I used to do as a kid. Then at her prompting the three of us walked around the lake to get to a snow patch on the other side. She marched, hopped, and played with delight in the snow. We even found some bear paw prints.

Later my dad mentioned that Barrett lake was one of the highlights of the Mammoth trip for him. Because Grace slowed us down he got to take more time for photography around the lake and appreciate its simple beauty.

Along with the important parental challenges of how to navigate the clashing of my daughter’s will with mine and of being patient and fully present with her, this experience reminded me of lessons I still need to learn about spiritual waiting. As I wait for God, I get focused on destinations – experiences I want to have of the Spirit’s presence, specific changes I want for our lives, evidences I want to see of God’s hand in the world, longings that I want fulfilled, etc.  I can get so preoccupied with and even spun up about these things that I miss what is right in front of me.

Perhaps the kind of waiting God calls us to is the kind that involves sitting down right where we are on the trail and enjoying God’s gifts, like a preschooler would. Maybe then we can let go of our restless drivenness for a while and just hang out with Christ, our hiking guide. Then as we trust him to lead us ahead on the trail in his time, especially through the steep patches, we just might find some unexpected delights.

May it be so for us this advent.

Let Us Wait As Children Wait by Jon Stevens

Today’s post in the Advent series Let Us Wait As Children Wait, is written by Jon Stevens.Jon is a 4th generation farmer with roots that go deep into northern Ohio soil.  After years selling large mailing machines up and down the west coast for European companies, he returned to his love of the land and the life it can give. Jon, together with his wife Elaine runs The Open Gate Farm on Camano Island. As well as that he’s heading out in faith to share his love of the land with those who need it most…children at risk and their caregivers through Growing Gardens for Life.

Waiting for a bite

Waiting for a bite

Waiting requires believing.  If we don’t believe, then there is nothing to wait for.  That coupling of belief and waiting is captured in the Bible when we are told, “Be still and know that I am God”.  If we don’t believe in God, then there is nothing to be still for, no knowledge and insight to wait for and we may as well return to our war games, greed, and political fantasies.

We have to be taught what to wait for, we have to be given a taste of the meal to come.  When a child comes into the kitchen to find out what’s for dinner, what will be filling their plate at the table tonight, we will often give them a taste.  And this is what God does for us in Advent.  We get little tastes of the feast of fellowship with Him which Christmas will carry to our table.

Just as we teach the children patience by giving only a taste and not the full meal, so God is teaching us patience by setting Himself down in our world of space and time and we must wait for Christmas to unwrap the full present of His presence with us.  Just as a child may seek more than a taste, may seek to satisfy their hunger now, we too will find that only a taste of what is to come may have us wanting more of God right now.  But on that day when our child within gets to open the present of a deeper relationship with all three sides of our triune God, when that day comes we actually get to sit and feast with our King, the meal has gained more meaning, has better flavor, will satisfy more fully, and will change our lives more for our having waited like a child.  And when we finally get to savor the flavor of God’s grace, we will be even better able to be His hands and feet in this hurting world.

Lessons From a Nomadic Childhood by Lynne Baab

Today’s post in the series Let Us Wait As Children Wait is written by Lynne M Baab.  Lynne is the author of numerous books, including Sabbath Keeping, Friending  and  Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. She is a Presbyterian minister who teaches pastoral theology in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Child on beach

My father was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, and we moved 12 times in my first 15 years. Almost all the moves took place in the summer. We would arrive at our new home a week, a month or even two months before the school year started.

It was hard to find new friends in the summer. In the absence of friends to play with, the days and weeks and months of summer in a new place seemed endless. I knew I would make friends once school started. I knew there had to be girls like me somewhere in my neighborhood who would be willing to play with me. I knew I wouldn’t be lonely forever.

But it was hard to wait. I played with my brother. I visited the library and checked out stacks of books. In elementary school I played with dolls on my own, and in junior high school I swam at the pool by myself. And I waited.

Early in my life I learned the skills needed to make new friends. I had to. Those skills were essential to the gypsy life the U.S. military gave us. I learned quite young that if I didn’t want to be lonely, I had to force myself to reach out to others. And I learned that reaching out usually paid off. So as I waited each summer, I wasn’t afraid that I would be lonely for the whole next year. I wasn’t afraid that the loneliness would last forever.

But those long hot days often felt endless. As a fairly young child, I learned to feel the signs that summer was drawing to a close. Even when the August days were hot at noon, I could sense that the days were getting shorter and the nights cooler. When I felt those changes coming, I knew my loneliness would soon end.

Years later, when my children were elementary school students, and then young teenagers, I often found myself depressed in the summer. One summer day my younger son blurted out to me, “Of course summers are hard for you. You moved so many times as a child during summer, and you were so lonely when you got to the new places. Of course those memories influence your summers now.” I gaped at him, astonished at his wisdom as a twelve or thirteen year old.

But I don’t remember being depressed during those endless summer days of childhood. I remember being bored and frustrated. I remember getting tired of playing with my brother. I remember the need for endurance and inner strength for the waiting. I remember that I felt certain I would be able to make friends once school started.

The waiting I experienced most summers as a child sheds some light on the waiting we experience as we anticipate our final adoption as children of God and the redemption of our body and soul. We wait with a combination of certainty and frustration. In Christ, our future is secure. But the waiting is sometimes really, really difficult. Endurance and inner strength matter.

Each of us has to discover the places where we gain the resources that nurture endurance and inner strength. For me it’s mostly prayer: out loud intercessory prayer with my husband and others, prayers of thankfulness, and various forms of silent prayer such as examen, lectio divina and centering prayer. The Sabbath and the Psalms also play a big role in helping me find endurance and inner strength in Christ. Where do you draw near to God and find endurance and inner strength for the waiting? Go there often.

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2011

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving day here in the U.S. I love this opportunity to gather with friends and family and give thanks. We are so generously blessed yet rarely take time to thank the God who provides so abundantly. The following prayer I wrote this morning as I reflected on the many blessings of my life. It is adapted from other prayers that I have written throughout the year.

God may we pause in the busyness of this day and listen to your quiet whispers,

May we look back with gratitude,

May we look forward with anticipation

May our hearts respond with thankfulness, and our lives respond with praise.

God may we live fully in the wonder of this moment,

Our eyes open to see in every sight a cathedral giving glory,

Our ears unstopped to hear in every sound angels singing Alleluia

May we enjoy each cathedral moment before it bursts, giving thanks and seeing God.

God the fulfiller of enduring promises,

God the sharer of abundant love,

God the giver of eternal life,

For all you are and all you have done we praise and thank you today.

God of the bountiful and ever giving heart,

God of the generous and overflowing spirit,

God who gives enough for our own needs and abundance for every good work,

For the wonder of your harvest that never runs dry we praise and thank you today. 

God whose love never gives up,

God whose forgiveness never says no,

God whose mercy never lets go,

For the hope and promise of your presence we praise and thank you today.

May we always savour what each moment holds,

May we live always in the promise of God’s love and faithfulness,

May we ever trust in the One for whom all things are possible,

For all that was, for all that is and for all that is to come,

We praise and give you thanks Lord God Almighty,