This week at the gym, Taylor, our personal trainer, did what he does best. He had John and me push to a new level of activity. We work up to these new levels bit by bit. But when we start something just that much harder, it challenges not only my strength, agility, and endurance but also my confidence. Am I really going to be able to deadlift that weight, hold that plank, lean back and lift my body weight? And yet, somehow it happens – often my first couple of attempts are, well, ugly. I have been thinking about how a human body and a human organization work much the same way. If I don’t exercise and challenge myself, I know exactly what will happen, and you do too. Like a human body, if The KDS stands still for too long and if we resist flexing our organization’s muscle, brain, and creativity, the slow process of decline starts. But it takes such energy and confidence to move ahead. That’s why I thank God for all The KDS leaders who are working hard, striving for that next level and as it says in I Thessalonians 5:11: Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Only One Will I Serve
On April 7, Stephanie and I spent the day at Highclere Castle, more popularly known as Downton Abby. While lined up outside waiting to get in, we noticed that above every ground floor window was the family motto carved in stone. Repeated at least a dozen times across the front of this magnificent house was the motto for all to see and read. It is written in ancient Normandy French and translated reads “only one will I serve”. The guide could not tell us who the “one” was – was it God? Was it the King of England? If Margaret Bottome had anything to say I think she would have settled that ambiguity – to her the Carnarvon family motto could only mean that the one was The One. If you have a European background, it may be possible to find your ancient family motto. My British family’s motto is Nil Desperandum, which, as a child, I thought meant “nothing to spare” but it actually means “do not despair”. If you could write a personal or family motto today what would it be? What would it look like if every family posted its motto in a prominent place for all to see? Our KDS motto is “look up and not down, look forward and not back, look out and not in and lend a hand”. I thank God for a KDS motto that is timeless, unambiguous and inspiring.
Not far from Basingstoke in England, there is a very old, tiny church where Jane Austen’s father once preached. It’s a simple unadorned building with a “porch” area that we would call the church vestibule. Curious markings are faintly visible in the stone work. Scratches in the shape of crosses, symbols of the trinity and other mysterious shapes were etched over 100 years ago by those who came to worship. While those folks are long gone, their tiny marks are reminders of the pleas, prayers and thanksgivings rendered to God. Phil, our guide, told us that the very small wooden pulpit inside the church is thought to be oldest in England and that John Wesley once preached there. I was immediately reminded of Rev. Wesley’s wonderful instruction to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” And then I thought of our members – keep up the good work, KDS members!
Many years ago when I was the Director, Chautauqua Scholarship Department, Kevin Sixbey was a summer employee of the Chautauqua Department of Religion. He and his colleagues organized programs and events for all college aged students on the grounds. Fast-forward 10 years…I ‘m at Chautauqua sailing downhill on my bike when a friendly voice hails me. It’s Kevin. He is now owner of an insurance agency located in Jamestown. As our agents were retiring, Kevin was asked to quote on all our IOKDS insurance needs. With a sharp pencil, a sharp mind and a deep understanding of what we do, Kevin was able to develop a comprehensive and affordable insurance contract. Did I mention that Kevin is a member of the Jamestown Rotary Club? So he invited me to speak at one of their luncheons, which I did. Now a group of well connected local folks are better informed about what we do, about how to help local students with our scholarships and how to offer a week of renewal to their clergy. One of God’s great gifts to us is putting people into our lives who we need.
Christine Dawson, International President
Recently, I learned that according to the LA Times, the average home in North America has 300,000 items. About 10% of us rent extra off-site storage. Regularly my favourite Bible study teacher would ask, “do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?” So, when my church issued a re-purposing challenge I decided to take it up. First, I must find a box or bag ready to receive my donations. On day one, I set one thing into the donation box. Day 2, 2 things and so on. I have set my challenge at 10 days so that on day eleven, I will be donating 55 items. With this challenge, everything I donate has to be in good order and useable by someone else – other than that, it can be anything – clothes, books, household items, linens, tools etc. I don’t have a KDS Thrift Store in my city so I will be taking my stuff to another Christian charity shop. John and I went through a significant downsizing 5 years ago, so this may be hard. On the other hand, I can see things in cupboards and closets that haven’t been used in 5 years. On with the challenge! Care to join me?
It’s the hard part of life’s journey and one that none of us can avoid. Last Sunday Susan Summerbell died after a long, long battle with an unusual form of cancer. She is among the many KDS members whom I miss. I think of those who welcomed me into the Adanac Circle more than 25 years ago – Liz Wilson, Beth MacLeod, Libby Ogilvie and the other dedicated KDS members who passed away too young. I went for a long walk today in the new, crisp snow, often facing into the bitter north wind. I think T.S. Elliot was wrong – April isn’t the cruelest month; for me, at this time, March is. I am grateful for all the strong, brave, talented KDS members whom I have worked alongside. I am grateful for all the KDS members who reach out to the grieving with words of comfort and support. I praise God for His peace and assurance.
Regularly John and I go for an urban hike, walking about 5 kilometres. It’s a must that we stop at our local coffee shop. One of the regulars is a large man who, from all appearances, has not had an easy life. “His” table is the one nearest the bathrooms – not a place that most would choose to sit. To access the bathrooms you have to punch in a code. This gentle giant has given himself the job of telling customers the code and assisting those who can’t seem to get it punched in correctly. In return, he receives many thank yous and smiles. This isn’t the type of man who usually would garner much positive attention. He is a shining example of how gentleness expressed becomes gentleness received. Sometimes we are prone to confusing gentleness with weakness and we might even assume that a gentle person can be easily overridden. That’s not been my experience. My gentlest friends are also some of the most determined. To treat the world with gentleness requires strength of character. I thank God for His unending gentleness.
Ever since my hair turned white, young people hold the door open for me. In the old days of my feminist leanings, I would have felt somewhat put out by that. Now I just appreciate it for what it is – a small act of kindness. Those small acts – a gesture, a word of encouragement, go a long way to making an ordinary day become a great day. The KDS acts of kindness thread their way through our Circles, Unions and Branches. Whether it is sewing pillowcase dresses, or knitting plastic mats, or delivering meals-on-wheels or visiting the sick and the shut-ins, or caring for gardens, or donating funds, thousands of acts of kindness are improving our communities. Sometimes members will lament that they are no longer able to do all that they once did. Yes, that is happening to us all. Still, we can find a dozen ways every day to share the natural well-spring of kindness because we know the source of that kindness. Praise God, kindness is contagious.
Christine Dawson, International President
Honestly, how many times have you used the word, forbearance, in a recent conversation? I’m guessing not many. Yet this wonderful word conveys an important idea – the idea that includes patient self-control, but is greater than mere tolerance. It means extending understanding and empathy to those who disappoint or anger us. It means feeling the burdens of the other person while at the same time gently holding each other accountable for words spoken and actions taken. Your KDS leaders have the awesome responsibility of creating our very best future, which by necessity, will be different from our past and our present. It will upset some members; excite some members, and perhaps engender indifference in others. In all situations, it calls for forbearance.
Several years ago a quick-witted friend said, “Never pray for patience because the Lord will give you many opportunities to practice it.” Patience is in short supply in a world of constantly changing technology, increasingly crowded roadways, a culture that encourages us to always be first, and to chase after an endless variety of consumer goods. Have you noticed that underneath impatience is anger? How many times do we find ourselves thinking “This line is too slow, or this change will take something from me, or that idiot driver cut me off, or my stupid computer just crashed” – the seemingly never ending variations on the theme of “I can’t get what I want, when I want it, in the way that I want it.” How are we to help ourselves and help our fellow KDS members when they are angry, impatient and negative? Dallas Willard, the brilliant Christian author, wrote “Find a person who has embraced anger, and you find a person with a wounded ego.” So, whatever situation you find yourself in, pause and re-think the situation through the lens of empathy. Stay self-aware of your own ability to create hurt through angry words and constant criticism. Take a deep breath and remember that wounded people wound people, pray for patience and thank God that He is not impatient with us.
All around me I see disruption in people’s lives. Cherished family
members are gone, illness is challenging others, and the news is
constantly filled with decisions that affect millions of people – it all
seems unsettling, to say the least. As a result, many are searching for
I suggest that obtaining our own peace starts with the way KDS members are
giving it to others. In our Circles we walk alongside those who are
grieving, helping them to find peace. As members of Branches, some are
working to bring peace and comfort to those in retirement homes and
seniors housing; others bring peace and support to families though summer
camps and children’s hospitals. There are many other small local projects
which members’ support that helps those in need to reach a level of
comfort and peace.
At the international level, we offer some financial peace to about 100
students who receive our scholarships. We bring college-aged scholars to
Chautauqua where they absorb the practice of civil discourse and peaceable
close living with students from many places; we offer a week of peace to
clergy and spouses during Clergy Renewal Week and we provide accommodation
to many visitors to Chautauqua who could not otherwise afford to come.
Many remark on the peaceful surroundings.
In the midst of all the noise and racket of daily unstoppable disruption,
we must continue to do all we can to create pockets of peace for others.
In the process, we will discover that peace returns to us.
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