Our Lives, God’s Poiema

Our Lives, God’s Poiema

An  enchanted April is upon us! Here in Colorado, every sun-bright April day where birds are busy and happy and buds are promising to burst, these days are enchanting indeed. And all the more so as we welcome National Poetry Month. What better pairing than springtime and poetry, all in the glow of Resurrection.

Today I smile as I scan an email from the American Academy of Poets. This month they’re celebrating the role of correspondence–letters written and received– in poets’ lives. Their word comes on the heels of a snowy spring weekend last month when, in cleaning closets, I came upon a shoebox filled with letters from a dear friend of the past. She wasn’t a poet, per se, but her correspondence was poetry to me, her life a poem rich in imagery and fascinating in paradox.

I met Betty Rodgers my first or second week in Pasadena. Visiting Knox Presbyterian Church for the first time, I came upon Betty outside the church where she waited each week to welcome newcomers and invite them to sit with her and Harry. She wasn’t on the church welcoming team. No, she just lived welcome. I sat with her that morning and every Sunday after for several years.

Betty and Harry, a retired seminary professor of Greek, had their own small home within a retirement community for church leaders, and many Sundays they invited church friends back for lunch in the community dining room. For Betty, lunch always included a personalized welcome sign on the door of their home (“Welcome Brenda, Carol and Doug! So glad you are here!”), name tags at the dining table, nut and candy treats back home for fellowship time after lunch, a prepared question for circle sharing, and hand-held prayer to close the afternoon. Often Betty would take out her world map and mark the spot of a new guest’s home origin while boasting all the other spots of guests from over the years.

I’m sure I got a letter each week from Betty all my time in Pasadena, and then back here in Colorado until she could no longer write legibly. She wrote to thank me for coming to lunch. She sent the Rodgers’ monthly and year-end highlights. She prayed for me every day and told me so. Betty prayer walked around her retirement community each morning at daybreak. She prayed for those in each home and then for others. She woke early, before her walk, read the Bible and prayed. She sang daily a hymn of the week chosen by her and a sister in San Diego.

And every day she wrote. Letters and letters and letters. Often she wrote more than fifteen letters a day and they went to friends, family, and missionaries around the world. Even to authors she read and enjoyed. Later on, in Colorado, I would work with a writer who had become a long-distance friend of Betty’s  just that way. She remembered each one’s birthday and reminded us of her prayers for us. She used boxes of stationery, loads of stamps, and might tuck in a church bulletin, a bookmark, or a program from a special event she’d attended, always with a name circled or a note about something. And on the outside back of the envelope, along the pointed curve at the seal, she always penned “In Christ Is Peace.”

All this, and Betty was no home-body. She chaired the church Mission Committee, attended Women’s Bible Study, befriended young workers at the retirement center, entertained neighbors, visited the sick, and planned travels to be with family and friends. In their 80’s, she and Harry took computer classes and enjoyed Jeopardy on television.

Harry and Betty had lived all over the U.S. with various churches and seminaries. And they’d traveled the world. Betty had planned, as a girl, to be a missionary to India. She’d left home in the mid-West to travel by train to California for Bible school, and there she’d met Harry. After much prayer, she surrendered her dream of India and married her love. They never had children, and the one country they never made it to was India. Yet their spiritual children were countless; their care for the world boundless.

This dear friend died in 2002, before the advent of Facebook. And so, I have a shoebox of shared love to remind me of this legend of a woman who cared for me, and so many others. As I flip through all the letters and envelopes, here and there a small, hand-written card falls out. Betty’s life theme, tucked often into her correspondence. The acrostic poem she lived:

The Way to Have True Joy,

J for Jesus First
O for Others Second
Y for Yourself Last

JOY–It was Betty’s word. She filled her house with JOY-themed ornaments at Christmas and could tell you each year exactly how many JOYs adorned the room.

“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:24) Betty joyfully gave her life away in every letter she wrote, every word of welcome, every nut tray lovingly prepared, and every 5 a.m. prayer walk. Now that is an enchanting life. That is a life poetic.

“For we are God’s poiema, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

How are you living out the poiema of your life? What acrostic would you choose as a life theme?

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