A New Rhythm

Life has rhythms and cadences. Rhythms are comforting and soothing. Predictable. It is their predictability that makes them meaningful. Music, rain drops, bicycle pedal strokes, a child’s laugh, heart beats, firing pistons, lapping waves, foot steps, chewing, breathing, chanting, dance steps, hoof beats, skipping rope, swim strokes, clock chimes, labor contractions, sunrise and sunset, and prayer.

The rhythm of prayer speaks to generations of hearts. The rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer, unchanged for millennia:

     Our Father/ who art in heaven/ hallowed be thy name/ thy kingdom come/ thy will be   done/ on earth/ as it is in heaven/ give us this day/ our daily bread/ and forgive us our sins/ as we forgive those/ who sin against us/ lead us not/ into temptation/ but deliver us from evil/ for thine is the kingdom/ and the power/ and the glory/ now/ and forever/ amen.

While in Guatemala, worshiping at an indigenous Mayan church, I recognized the beautiful rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer during the service. The cadence was slightly different, but the rhythm, the rise and fall of the voices and the accented words, were familiar in the unknown language that surrounded me. My mother taught me this prayer, using the rhythms of it to break it into memorizable chunks that my five year old mind could remember. A familiar, comforting rhythm of voices, of connection and cadence with generations of pray-ers.

That is why a change in the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer startled me one day when worshiping with friends at their church. I was so startled that I stopped praying, opened my eyes and looked at my praying neighbors who prayed as if there was nothing unusual about the change of the rhythm of their words!  What prompted their departure from the familiar rhythm? Love.

Love and determination to include a man who offered them the opportunity to change their rhythm so that he was included in their communal prayer. Love and the willingness to make an accommodation to include a man whose words of prayer were echoes of the words they prayed. Love and the knowledge that the presence of this man and his prayers enriched their community. Love and a desire to be the whole Body of Christ.

Our Father/father/ who art in heaven/ in heaven/hallowed be thy name/ thy name/ thy kingdom come/ come/ thy will be done/ will be done/ on earth/earth/ as it is in heaven/ heaven/ give us this day/ this day/ our daily bread/ bread/ and forgive us our sins/ us our sins/ as we forgive those/ forgive those/ who sin against us/ against us/ lead us not/ not/ into temptation/ ‘tation/ but deliver us from evil/ from evil/ for thine is the kingdom/ kingdom/ and the power/ Power/ and the glory/ glory/ now/ now/ and forever/ forever/amen.



Where Hospitality Begins

We think you will find this personal story shared by our guest blogger Marketta Gregory inspiring and thought provoking. Marketta shares her gentle and insightful words at http://simplyfaithful.com/ .

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us…” – Romans 12:6When my mama talks about her third pregnancy, she always says that she knew something wasn’t quite right. “It’s nothing,” my daddy would say — right up until the doctor saw that I was blue and fading fast.
Mama had been right. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck and arm, and I was choking.
As my parents tell it, the doctor never said a word or asked their opinions, he just reacted as a man sworn to save lives. He got me out as fast as he could, knowing that he might be causing nerve damage in my neck and arm.
Later, he would tell my parents that my arm might not ever grow or move on its own. “But, I figured you wanted her alive,” he told them.
So, my parents took me home to my two older sisters and they waited and watched. Two months and three weeks later, I moved my right arm. I could move my wrist and wiggle my fingers, according to my baby book. By six months, I was crawling — not on all fours like most kids, but I could sit and scoot with my left arm. It was progress.
Eventually my arm did grow, although it’s still a little shorter than the left. I can lift my right arm almost to my chin but my wrist seems to always be bent under a bit, something that has forever bothered me in photos.
One of my earliest memories is of having my picture taken in front of a wagon wheel that was almost as big as I was. The photographer had me rest my right arm on top of the wheel and then tried to flatten out my wrist. Within a second, it had bounced back into its U shape. She tried again. It bounced back.
The older I got, the more sensitive I became to being different — and the more determined I became to fit in. Of course, that’s hard to do when you play trombone and have to use your foot to reach seventh position or when you have to swallow your pride and ask a classmate to sharpen your pencil because the sharpener is mounted too high on the wall. Still, I managed, and I even learned a little in the process.
Ironically though, I never knew what my birth injury was called until my late 20s, when pain in my arm made me seek out a specialist in Erb’s palsy. While I was waiting for that appointment I wrestled with my arm in a new way. What if there was something that could be done now to help my arm?
Would I change it if I could? At almost 30, would I re-teach myself to tie my shoes? Would I discover that I’m not left-handed after all?
No, I decided.
I wouldn’t.
I had my arm to thank for my entire world view — a set of values that helps me empathize with others; a set of values that says there are many ways other than the “normal” way. I was fine the way God had made me. And isn’t that where hospitality begins?
We begin by knowing we are welcomed by God and then the welcome grows.

Encouragement as Hospitality

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. Thessalonians 5:11 ESV

There is a neat tradition at Heritage Christian Services. For over 15 years, the individuals at all of the day habilitation programs in the Buffalo, New York area set adise a day to intentionally go out and encourage someone in their neighborhood or faith community. This day of encouraging is in addition to routine volunteering that they do on a weekly basis in the community with Meal on Wheels, food shelters, animal shelters and much more.

One year each person made a care basket for their faith community leader with yummy cookies, music and gifts. The individuals at their work places boarded their vans and traveled to each of their faith communities. When they reached someone’s church or synagogue the person rang the door and handed the basket to their pastor, priest or rabbi. They shared with them how much their faith community leader had encouraged their faith and thanked him or her as they handed them a beautiful basket. One Pastor almost cried and said he had a difficult week and how much this act of kindness made his day!
Another pastor said she saw her friend walking up to the door of the church and felt like sunshine was coming her way. She had just lost her dog the day before.

There is nothing like surprising someone on an ordinary day and letting them know how much they mean to you.

This group of individuals were able to bring hospitality to the very people that share it with them every week and it was a delight!

After their day of encouraging the people from each day program got together with each other to tell their stories, share a meal, dance, sing and have a devotion of thankfulness together.

Contributed by Diane Sturmer, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.

A Happy Heart Offers Hospitality

“A happy heart makes the face cheerful” Proverbs 15:13a

Mark Bruinsma, one of the founders of Heritage Christian Services was an incredible example of hospitality in his faith community. Mark had Down’s syndrome and had an amazing impact on his faith community. He was a world changer. Even years after he entered heaven, I have met people that shared that Mark was the reason they came back a second time to visit the church.

Mark was known to take time to give a big smile and a warm hug to each person who came into the lobby of his church. He also took time to ask questions to learn about each person he met! He had a neat way of making people feel welcomed and valued. People said they wanted to experience more of the faith community that Mark represented.

This winning combination gave Mark the role to welcome new visitors for decades. This joy was also seen when he would lead the choir and congregation in his favorite song “How Great Thou art.” Many said that Mark’s happy heart and cheerful smile drew their hearts toward him and brought them into a closer relationship with God.

Contributed by Diane Sturmer, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.

Hospitality to Strangers

Will Rogers, iconic American film actor from the 1950s said, “A stranger is a friend I have not met yet.” This stranger who is a potential friend could be the person passed on the sidewalk, the man or woman standing next to you at the bus stop, the new family that moved in down the road or the person seated in a wheelchair behind you at church. The basics of initiating a relationship include a smile, making eye contact and giving a greeting.

Let’s do some imaginary role-playing. Imagine that it is Monday morning and you are standing at the bus stop when a stranger stands beside you. Politeness requires a greeting. Hellos are exchanged, the bus comes and the day continues. Tuesday morning comes at the same bus stop. The stranger is again waiting for the same bus. Hellos are again exchanged, perhaps with a non-committal comment about the weather. Wednesday and Thursday the same greetings are exchanged. The Friday greeting includes a comment about the upcoming weekend. When the second Monday of the two people at the bus stop arrives the greeting is more natural and eye contact is established. What is happening? A relationship is developing. It may never be more than two people greeting each other at a shared bus stop, but it has the potential to grow into a connection, then an acquaintance relationship and possibly a full blown friendship.

Now let us imagine that the ‘stranger who is not yet your friend’ is the person who is sitting in a wheelchair behind you at church. Imagine that the pastor/priest says it is time to exchange a sign of peace or to greet those around you. You turn around to exchange a handshake with the person behind you and see that she is seated in a wheelchair. What do you do? In the matter of a split second your mind races around: It would be rude to ignore her; it looks like her right hand is pulled up next to her shoulder so how do I shake her hand; should I speak loudly to be sure she can hear me? Remember, she is just another person, just like the stranger from the bus stop. Start with a smile. If she cannot extend her right hand wait a brief second to see if she extends her left hand and if she does than follow suit. If she does not reach out to you than you can still make eye contact, smile and exchange a greeting of peace with her. Now imagine that the service is ended and she is still sitting behind you. How would you interact with her if she was not sitting in a wheelchair but was just a stranger behind you in church? Smile, make a comment about the weather or the sermon, exchange a handshake or hug and then go home for lunch. That is how you should interact with the stranger sitting in a wheelchair. To create a more comfortable environment for her you should sit down next to her or face back-wards from a seated position in your seat. This places both of you on the same eye level. Introduce yourself. It is very appropriate that part of the after church conversation includes asking the stranger how you should exchange the sign of peace with her next week if she sits behind you again. If she has a friend or family member with her it is polite to include them in the conversation as well, but remember that they are two distinct persons so do not address the friend and exclude the person in the wheelchair. Unless the person in the wheelchair shares with you that she has a hearing loss and needs you to speak loudly you should not speak loudly or exaggeraterate your enunciations. The need to utilize a wheelchair for mobility does not mean that a person has other disabilities such as deafness or intellectual disabilities. A relationship is developing. It may never be more than two people greeting each other at church, but it has the potential to grow into a connection, then an acquaintance and possibly a full blown friendship.

Hebrews 13:1-2 “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertangels agels unawares.”

Written by Lida Merrill, Director of Spiritual Life, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.

Undeserved Hospitality, A Reflection

Hebrews 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Have you ever held a door open for someone, whether it was at church, at the grocery store or anywhere out in the community? What about giving someone a smile that you didn’t know, giving up your seat, paying for groceries or a meal for a stranger? Daily we should be ready to show hospitality to anyone we come across. In Hebrews 13:2 it specifically tells us not to neglect to show hospitality to strangers because we could be entertaining angels.
In places of worship, greeters are placed at the main entrance to greet visitors and members of the services. They show hospitality by peacefully smiling and saying hello to those who enter in the building. Ushers lend a hand to those who need assistance coming in and for those who need to find a seat. Both positions in church are the eyes, hands and feet of Jesus. When he first met his chosen disciples, Jesus first greeted them. With perfect peace, he asked them to follow him. Then Jesus taught them in the way that they should live and how to treat others. Everything that Jesus instructed them to do was all in love. Being hospitable is also done in love. When Jesus laid his life down for us, he did the greatest, loving, hospitable thing for us even though we didn’t deserve it.
Contributed by Joe Starling, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Heritage Christian Services

Come Unto Me, A Reflection

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matt 11:28
What a wonderful spirit of hospitality Jesus offers to each of us. Jesus’s words let each of us realize how important it is to have a place that presents us with an opportunity to feel welcomed, loved, safe, peaceful and at rest from the cares of everyday life.
This is exactly how I feel when I spend time with the people that I support at Heritage Christian Services. There are lots of “Hello,” and “Glad to see you.” Hugs, hand shakes and offers of a seat also abound. Everyone extends hospitality to me: “Come join us.” “Are you staying for lunch?” “When can you come to dinner?” “When can we go out together?” “What’s new with you?” “Let me tell you about my day.” “Will you pray for me?” “May I pray for you?”
Yes, hospitality is truly a part of the environment here at HCS and I am so grateful to be a recipient of it on a daily basis.
Contributed by Gilda Goings Spiritual Life Coordinator

A Story about Neighborly Hospitality

Two days of constant snowfall and freezing temperature made for a frigid wintery weekend. The neighbor was overwhelmed of the snowfall. As he continued to shovel his way out, his neighbor, Joshua, walked over to assist him. With much surprise, the neighbor looked up and said, “Thank you for helping me.”  Joshua replied, “I don’t mind, we’ve met before, but I don’t remember your name.”  The neighbor introduced himself as Bill. “ I’m Joshua, but everybody calls me Josh” Joshua said.

They continued to shovel and talk about the weather until they were finished. “Whew! That was a lot of snow we shoveled!” Bill said with an exhausted look on his face as he propped  his shovel in a mound of snow.  “It was a great workout while there’s sunlight!” replied Joshua. “Thank you again, but really, why did you choose to help me with shoveling my driveway and not finish the rest of your driveway?” Bill was still puzzled and wanted an explanation from Joshua. The only contact that they’ve had was a simple hand gesture by waving to each other while getting their mail out of the mailbox. Joshua replied with a smile, while shaking the snow off of his snow pants and boots, “It’s the neighborly thing to do sir. I really didn’t mind at all. Besides, my family and I will get outside in the morning and take care of our driveway since the little ones want to play in the snow and make snowmen tomorrow.”

As Joshua walked into his home, he remembered that he wanted to practice a scripture he read that morning. It was from 1 Peter 4:9-10 that says, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  Quietly he thanked God for the courage and opportunity to open up his heart to show hospitality towards his neighbor Bill.

Contributed by Joe Starling, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.

Hospitable to Strangers

Hebrews 13:2 “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it.” NLT
Reading is one of the joys of life for a man who attends a day program at an agency that supports people with developmental disabilities. He expresses his joy of reading and love for books by reading stories to children at a nearby child care center. As I asked about his experiences he shared with me that he started reading to school children several years ago. He said that he has always been welcomed with open arms and has felt his efforts have been greatly appreciated. He doesn’t do this for the applause or the pats on the back he may receive. He does it for the smiles on the children’s faces. He does it with a servant’s heart and certainly enjoys being welcomed into their world. He does it in such a wonderful way that he is missed on the rare occasions he is unable to make it. Many parts of his story touched my heart but his comment on how welcomed he feels upon arriving was particularly inspiring. The excitement of the children as they greet his arrival, how each pair of eyes and ears are focused on the story being read encourages him. The enthusiasm of the children and staff as they welcome him as their guest motivates his heart. How my friend feels when soaking this all in is called hospitality.

Encarta dictionary defines hospitality as, ‘kindness to visitors; being friendly and welcoming; generous treatment offered to guests or strangers.’ This describes exactly what my friend feels each time he visits. That should describe how we respond when we come into contact with people in need whether they be guests or strangers. If done properly, with the right heart attitude you will provide for another’s need and you will certainly be blessed. Don’t do it for the applause or the pats on the back you might receive. Do it as unto the Lord, with joy in your hearts. Who knows, you may find that you have entertained an angel or at least turned a stranger into a friend.

Contributed by Larry Havlen, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Heritage Christian Services, Inc.

When God’s Children are in Need: Hospitality

When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night. Romans 12:13 NLT

Over the last few decades our culture has become increasingly isolationistic. Many people are uncomfortable saying hello to strangers; few people establish and maintain eye contact with others; eyes and minds are buried in smart phones and other mobile screens and most are not acquainted with their own neighbors. If you would like to be an agent of change in this area don’t lament the fact that it may be true for you and wallow in guilt. Trust God and choose to act upon this wonderful passage that reminds us to step outside our comfort zones and overcome cultural influence to actually meet the real needs of people we meet. We are encouraged to be on the lookout for those who have need of physical sustenance in the form of food or shelter. They could be fellow believers, neighbors or strangers that God has brought into our lives for no other apparent reason.

As Christ followers we are called to reflect His love in the world. The act of hospitality is a tangible way for us to mirror that love. In His earthly ministry Jesus showed His love for others by often meeting their needs when those needs were presented to Him. He gave sight to the blind, gave the ability to walk to the lame, healed the sick and fed the five thousand, just to name a few. But our ultimate need, to be reconciled to God, was met by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The need for that sacrifice was determined before the foundation of the world. He willingly gave His life to meet our need for a Savior. This gives us the opportunity, if we believe upon His name, to have a right relationship to our Creator.

So yes, for us to be hospitable some sacrifice of time and resources will be required as we reflect the love of Christ by meeting physical needs for food or shelter. Such a small price to pay compared to the joy one will receive when one helps a fellow human being in need. Develop the habit of ministering to other people and you will be blessed beyond measure.

Contributed by Larry Havlen, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Heritage Christian Services