Susanna Wesley – A Mother For the Ages

Susanna Wesley, mother of *John & Charles, was an amazing woman. Born in England in 1669 her seventy three years were lived during a challenging time. Susanna bore some nineteen children in a period of nineteen years. Nine of those children died as infants—including two sets of twins. One baby was smothered by a maid. Another was crippled for life in a tragic accident. Yet, in spite of those losses, Susanna carried on. She was a tireless worker and teacher of her children. She encouraged other’s to teach their children to pray as soon as the child could speak and to reward their children for good behavior.    The story is told that  Susanna expected her children to learn the alphabet within a day’s time. All but one of her children learned to read by the age of five. That must have been the child it took two days to teach the alphabet to.

I’ve often wondered how she managed to do these things.  William Henry Fitchett describes the Wesley children as “a cluster of bright, vehement, argumentative boys and girls, living by a clean and high code, and on the plainest fare; but drilled to soft tones, to pretty formal courtesies; with learning as an ideal, duty as an atmosphere and fear of God as law.”  Every week, each child had an hour of Suzanna’s time, to learn and to talk about the spiritual side of life.

I get tired just thinking of all that this woman did. Yet as I look around me (including my daughters and daughter-in-law) I see examples of modern women, just as dedicated to their children as Susanna was to hers. With rare exceptions, mothers are a breed  who don’t  give up on their children. As a mom, you never stop being a mom. It doesn’t matter if your children are infants, young adults, or parents themselves.   A mother’s concern and prayers for her children never end.

Susanna Wesley had a deep spiritual side. Her husband Samuel was a pastor but it didn’t keep him from Debtor’s prison.  There were no safe guards for the poor and poverty was rampant in England.   Twice Samuel  was sent to prison for nonpayment of debts.   During those periods, Susanna opened her home for Bible Study. Word got back to Samuel that Susanna was bringing disgrace to the parsonage with her Bible Studies which were inappropriate for her, as a woman, to be leading. Samuel got upset and sent a message to stop immediately. Susanna Wesley answered him by reporting what good the meetings had done.   She pointed out that there were only two people who opposed them. Then she wrote, “If after all this you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt . . .  for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before  . . .  our Lord Jesus Christ.” Samuel had nothing more to say on the subject after that.

Susanna was one of those women I wish I had known personally. A woman of faith, a mother to the end and one courageous human being. May her numbers increase.

* John and Charles Wesley are the founders of the Methodist movement.  John was the greater evangelistic, while Charles was a prolific writer of hymns.  His more well known hymns include, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Come thou Long Expected Jesus,” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”

Inauguration – Changing Visions – Changing Dreams

The Domes, Milwaukee Mitchel Park“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”              I Samuel 16:7

Change is always difficult. When it comes unbidden by us, the changes created are more difficult to accept. Today, our country changed hands. President Obama stepped back and President Trump took the oath of office. We have a new president, which one segment of our nation is thrilled is here. Meanwhile, another segment feels a deep loss and fear. In our divided nation we’ve grown tense and uneasy. We do not trust each other or what motivates those whose values are different from our own. We no longer believe in the good intentions of people whose political views are not like ours. Distrust breeds alienation, false assumptions, division and fear.

On this inauguration weekend, it is good to remember that God sees us all so differently. God doesn’t see blue states and red states, Republicans or Democrats. The color of our skin, the place where we live and our wealth matters little to God. No, God looks inside us. God understands what we are made of. God looks into our hearts. God sees into the very center or our being. God knows our dreams, our hopes, our aspirations. God sees the goodness in us and in those we disagree with.

On our coins are printed the words, “In God We Trust.” Today, in the changing of presidents, is a good day to begin praying for our nation and all it’s leaders. For in some way that none of us really understand, God does work through our prayers. Our hearts are touched with the love of God. We find ourselves being changed in our praying. Divisions between people are bridged. Mountains move, in spite of logic, reason and common sense.

So let us pray for the unity of our nation and wisdom for its leaders. Let us pray for integrity, compassion and justice to rule the hearts of all our leaders. Let us pray for minds open to hear another viewpoint, patience to understand another heart and light to see God’s vision for our nation. Let us live the words on our coins and truly trust in God.

Standing at the Door

Samuel Shoemaker, in his poem, “I Stand By the Door,” writes:soft-church

“I stay near the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world—

It is the door through which people  walk when they find God.

People . . . Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only a wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like the blind,
With outstretched, groping hands.
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door
Yet they never find it . . .
People die outside that door as starving beggar’s die,
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter
Die for want of what is within their grasp.”

This haunting poem brings back vivid memories of leaving the Emergency Shelter at Simpson United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, one sub-zero winter day. My family had helped at the shelter that night. On the way to the car, one of my children drew my attention to a man finding refuge in the doorway of the church. He had a single blanket wrapped around himself as he lay huddled for warmth in the bitter cold. Throughout the night he had lain there, outside of the warmth of the shelter within.  He had been “outside the door” while fellowship, warm coffee and hot chocolate, a place to sleep and the security of being in a warm room, lay inside. He had missed out.

There are many people who “miss out,” who “miss the door” and the message of God’s love, acceptance, forgiveness and grace. When I ask people about their faith and what it means to them, I hear words about God being present. They talk about care and other expressions of loving compassion, found in their faith community.

Samuel Shoemaker used to invite people to experiment with Christianity. He invited them to surrender as much of themselves to as much of God as they could accept at that time in their life. He encouraged them to pray and open their hearts in honest dialog with God. I would invite you to do the same. Experiment with the Christian faith. Start a journal. Write your prayers in plain and honest words. Open your heart to God through your honesty. Be willing to go where God leads.   What I know to be true is this – God always hears our prayers and the groaning of our hearts – God wants no one left outside the door.

* Samuel Shoemaker a portion of his work ” I Stand by the Door” (Paraphrased)

Sustained by The Prayers of Friends

My prayer list started almost thirty years ago, when the United Methodist Clergy in my state were asked to make a list of twenty names of colleagues and pray for them. That became my Sunday morning prayer list. Many names have come and gone through the years. Some have joined the “great cloud of witnesses”* the author of the book of Hebrews speaks of. Others have been added along the way. Some were bumped to make my list more manageable. A few have been on that Sunday morning list, since it was created.

In all that time, I have never told anyone about the people on my prayer list. The list has been modified in the past year to a daily list. I was thinking one day how the people on that list have no idea they are being prayed for by me. Then I started to think about the people who prayed me through the crisis times in my life. When my two youngest children were hospitalized in their infancy, I turned to our prayer chain at the church. Later, I asked specific people to pray for me during times of difficulty. At each church I served, I would mention in a newsletter article, how I coveted the prayers of the community of faith. Months later, I would make a hospital call, and find the person I was calling on mention, she or he was praying for me. When a need in a church arose that I could not share with the church, I would go to the Upper Room Living Prayer Center and make a request there.** I will never know the people who took the time to pray for those needs.

I think on that great day of reunion in heaven, when we all gather together. We will be surprised by whom it is that has been praying for us during the various seasons of our lives. I suspect, we will be humbled by the prayers of people we found no time for. We will be surprised by the concern of others we had no perception cared about us, and find joy in the loving prayers of good friends.

When a face comes into your mind, a person slips into your thoughts and you do not know why – then, it would be a good time to say a prayer, knowing that God has need of you and the prayers you have been given to pray.

*The writer of the Book of Hebrews, after giving examples of people of faith recorded in the scriptures writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

**The Upper Room Living Prayer Center is a part of The Upper Room, an interdenominational ministry connected with The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Discipleship.

The Mystery of Prayer

Last summer a group of us worked our way through the book, “Marks of a Methodist.” John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement. The book was based on his Five Marks, one of which is “to pray constantly.” That brought up a considerable amount of conversation about how anyone could possibly do that. Not having any special knowledge of the workings of John Wesley’s mind, I can only conjecture just what he was trying to say about prayer. As one person kept asking, “How can you do all the rest you have to do, if you’re praying constantly?”

I know that when one of my children is having trouble or mired in a crisis, the concept of praying constantly isn’t hard to fathom. Prayers flow quickly and frequently through the day when I’m worried about a loved one. I think when the scripture teaches us to “pray without ceasing” as it does in I Thessalonians 5:17, that it means to have an attentiveness to the world around us. It means to be conscious of the gentle nudges God gives, to open our hearts to love with God’s love those who we encounter. I think it means to pay attention to the hurt and pain in our world and pray for those impacted by that pain. I think it means to dream God’s dreams and to pray those dreams into reality.

There is a lot about prayer that I don’t understand. What happens in prayer is a mystery. We are encouraged, strengthened and loved in prayer. Both in the praying and in the being prayed for. I don’t know how or why I should be able to sense another person’s prayer for me, but I do. There are times when I’m baffled by a situation in my life, and in the time of prayer come to a moment of resolution and peace. Thoughts flow into my mind and spirit. I decide to take in a retreat I was avoiding, and discover grace in that decision.

To pray constantly, opens a portal between us and God. In prayer we are led to love one another. Something in us changes when we pray. Letting God into our heart and spirit touches a part of us held as sacred space. Maybe, what all of us need is a little more prayer. Friends holding us in prayer and each of us praying for those in our circle of care. What the world needs is each of us, praying for God’s dream for our world to be made real. Jesus said it another way, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

Looking for Some Good News – After a Week of Collective Heartache

After a week of collective heartache, I have been looking for some good news. So, I was grateful when I learned today that former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer is no longer visible on any scans. I needed to hear something positive in the news after days of updates on last weeks shooting in San Bernardino, California. Aside from the constant question of just what was behind the attack, which is now labeled as Terrorist, I’ve been troubled on a very different level. Maybe if we weren’t in a presidential election cycle, politicians would be speaking with more care. I would hope they would speak with more wisdom. I don’t recall another time in my life when a group has been stigmatized the way the Muslim community is right now.

In the past year we have had a young white man go into a black church, in search of black people to kill. We have had a white man go into a Planned Parenthood Clinic and start shooting. Neither caused a collective bashing of all racist young white men nor of all fundamentalist Christians. Last week we had a Muslim couple who had been radicalized go to a Christmas Party that one of the shooters was to attend, and start killing. We immediately started the rhetoric about all Muslims being bad. At the same time we told ourselves these shootings have nothing to do with our easy access to guns. Fear causes us to lose our perspective. It causes us to forget our faith and our heritage as Christian people.

The problem with this kind of talk is that it stirs up hate . . . Hate that wasn’t present before. Just like the shooter in Charlestons’ Emanuel African Methodist Church was twisted as he listened to others blaming black people for society’s problems, our rhetoric about Muslims will cause another troubled mind to decide to take out his or her frustrations with the world, on the Muslim community. It has, in fact already happened. Back in February three Muslim college students were shot by a radicalized white male, except no one referred to him that way. We’ve used the term mental illness most often with our shooters.

It’s an easy way to avoid telling ourselves the truth. Last week it was a couple who were radicalized into ISIS supporters. Next week it will be another cause behind a shooting, or tomorrow, or the next day. The truth is that we make it far too easy for confused or troubled people to buy guns. We have way too many guns available for angry or distraught people. We make it easy for terrorists to get guns. We have guns enough to last for generations without making another one. We have turned our guns into gods and we have worshiped them instead of the living God.

For months I have been praying both for the world to come together to defeat ISIS and for sensible gun laws to get passed. I cannot resolve either of these issues by myself, but what I can do, is to pray and join my prayers with others who are also praying. The good news is that God is not done with the universe. God is not done with us. God still hovers over the waters of creation. God sent one to live among us, to show us the way to life. We call him Emmanuel, God with us. For this I give God thanks.

An Apology for a Former President

New York Times Columnist, Nicholas Kristof, recently offered an apology on behalf of the media to former President Jimmy Carter. Carter only served one term as president. It was a time of rapid inflation. World oil production was cut back because of the Iranian revolution leading to shortages, long lines at gas stations and high prices. The media never really took to Carter. His Southern background wasn’t a mix for Washington insiders. Jokes about peanuts were frequent. His presidency was covered by the media in a way that indicated that the Georgia peanut farmer, belonged back home on the farm.

But life for Carter since the presidency, has been an amazing story of living life with significance and meaning. Nicholas Kristof ended his July 9, 2015 apology to Jimmy Carter saying, “We in the snooty media world owe him an apology.” He pointed out that this former president has improved the lives of more people, in more places in the world than any other recent president.

From the time I first heard that former President Jimmy Carter led a Bible Study at his home church in Plains Georgia, it was on my bucket list of things to do. Which is how I found myself in that little church on a Sunday morning in June of 2012. Then, age 87, the former president was just back from monitoring the election in Egypt.

I discovered that Jimmy Carter exudes joy when he shares his deep faith. The day I visited, his Bible Study was based on the book of Matthew, that section where Jesus’s disciples ask him how to pray. Jesus in turn taught his disciples the prayer we know of as the Lord’s Prayer. Carter said he believes that when Jesus told his disciples to pray the words. “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus was asking them and us to envision the world God wants for us. “It certainly,” he said, “would be one of peace.” Then he told us what he has come to believe, that “peace cannot come apart from forgiveness.”

Carter said that the years of his presidency were those when he prayed most fervently with the most emotion because he felt an obligation to the American people to not make a mistake. Given political realities, we could argue about the success of his presidency, but I’ve always admired the way he chose to live after he left the white house.

Instead of sitting back and resting on some quite significant accomplishments in life, he decided to take that segment of life left to him and do whatever he could to make the world a better place. He created the Carter Center with it’s mission to “Wage peace, fight disease, and build hope.” He has frequently been invited to monitor elections around the world, to insure the integrity of those elections

He left us the day I visited with these words, “Our prayer should be to find out where we fit into the universe.” I think that last piece is one that is a lifetime quest. Where does God want us to fit into the universe? How does God want us to serve in this stage of each of our lives?