Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Seek the Joy Shining Within

Sitting on my desk is a poster collage of eight pictures. They are photographs of my dad ranging from infant to his years in school, the military, and at the University of Illinois. My grandmother gave them to me shortly after his death. I must admit to feeling remarkable joy at the opportunity to see him, even if only in snapshots, at a time in his life that I otherwise would never have known.

The tragic truth of our life is that I only remember my dad as being ill and struggling daily against early onset Parkinson's Disease. My memories with him are tainted at some level. While I fondly remember his love, wisdom, faith, and sense of humor - I also recall vividly that his face so deeply often reflected a sense of dreams and strength that were to be lost. By the time I was in grade school, my parents knew the path they must travel and how difficult it would be.

This is why these particular pictures mean so much to me. They show my dad as young and vibrant, smiling in joy and dreaming of a bright future and a story yet to be written. In one picture, with him wearing his military uniform, his smile is one of genuine laughter and his demeanor is peacefully relaxed. To be honest, I don't remember ever seeing that look in his eyes during our lives together. It serves as a reminder to me that my dad was defined by God's light that shone in his soul, not by some miserable disease that so often dominated his outward appearance.

I have learned through the years to see through people's pain and struggles to what is deep inside. Every person that has graced the earth has been placed here by God, whose light shines somewhere in their heart and soul. That light may shine brightly for all to see, or it may be clouded over by some illness or hardship. Sometimes that light is even dimmed by the darkness of our world. But it is there, abiding deep within each of us, because God's hands have molded us all and God's heart has willed life into every soul. Thus, we are challenged to see through all walls that divide and all darkness that seeks to hide the grace that truly defines our character. We are challenged to remember that every person we ever meet, regardless of their current plight or path, has at some time or another in life known what it is to laugh, smile or even giggle. We are challenged to understand that hidden behind whatever mask time has placed upon our face, stands a child filled with God's light and a hope for new life every day.

I am deeply blessed to have been raised by parents who were staunchly firm in their faith and hope, and who lived the love that God had placed in their hearts. Illness may have stolen some of my dad's dreams, but his joyful smile will forever have the last word. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Reflections of the Past


"For now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."    1 Corinthians 13:12

My life is but a reflection of that which I only partially know, and a window into a future I can only imagine. It is your desire, O Lord, for all of this creation, through all times, to be interconnected in one web of life that cannot be broken. Thus, I have come to know, at least in part, that my life can only be truly seen as a reflection of what was and as a window of what is yet to come.

I am a reflection of maternal grandparents who worked their farmland, caring for plants and soil. Today, my yard is full of trees and gardens which I have planted and nursed to life and growth. My love for creation was planted as a seed generations ago, and has grown in my heart just as it did in my grandfather's heart so many decades ago. The land around me is my sanctuary, filled with my prayers, my blood, my sweat, and even a few of my tears. I stand for a moment to appreciate the landscape before me, and I envision my grandfather doing the same with his crops seventy years before in a different place and time. It is an image that elicits a smile upon my face and a peace within my soul.

I am a reflection of my paternal grandfather and great-grandfather, who tended to buildings and used their gifted hands to create and provide shelter for others. While I am not as gifted as they, I have so often answered the call to disaster response in recent years. I have stood side by side with people whose homes we are rebuilding, and who in some ways remind me of my grandfather and great-grandfather. I have installed insulation and drywall, all the while thinking of how they did this every day of their working lives. They may not have directly taught me, but it is their presence within me that beckons me to this restorative ministry.

I am a reflection of my parents, whose faith never wavered amidst devastating health problems at early ages. My mom never lived long enough to see me begin seminary, and my dad may not have understood enough by the time I enrolled, but their faith and love nevertheless shone brightly in my heart the day I was ordained. In a way I cannot understand, my faith is really their faith that lives on and continues growing in this world, even if they now see face to face and know fully even as they have been fully known.

I am a reflection of my grandmothers, my aunts and uncles, and even some Sunday School teachers along the way. I serve others as these role models first served me. I offer love even when I am not expected to. I sacrifice when I do not need to. I teach, because I was first taught. There is nothing I say or do that wasn't planted deep within the fabric of my life long ago, and cultivated by the winds and storms of time.

I realize now that I am blessed to be a reflection, even if only a dim one, of such a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before me. I am a reflection of their light shining into the world. I am a reflection of their love that made this world a slightly more beautiful place while they were here. I am a reflection of their faith that never waned, but instead grew as they came to know you, O Lord, a little better every day. I am a reflection of their hope for future generations of their family to come.

I am a reflection of what has been, and a window into what is to come. I am part of a web of life that cannot be broken, because, my Lord, it is your Holy Web of Life. Thus, I thank you for allowing me the gift of being both a mirror and a window in this world to your perfect love. It is an honor, regardless of how dimly or brightly I may reflect on any given day. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Beautiful Night

It is a hot and humid summer evening as I sit quietly on my porch. Yellow Finches fly in and out of the thick branches extending from the pear tree standing so gloriously just a few feet away. These birds call out to one another, maintaining their connection across yards as they dart from tree to tree. It is their culture to stay constantly in touch and never stray too far away from their clan. Also to be heard is the loud vibrating song of a Cicada. I cannot quite place this amazing creature's exact location, but she has no problem making her presence known to me on this late summer evening. She may be the smallest creature to be out and about in our neighborhood, but she is easily the most vocal as well. Meanwhile, a gentle breeze, warmed by the heat of the day and the moisture in the air, occasionally engulfs me while also awakening the leaves on the trees in our yard. It provides momentary refreshment.

The sun is slowly setting now, and the scene gradually shifts from light to dusk, and then to darkness. Clouds transform before my eyes from a dazzling white to a spectacular spectrum of pink and purple. Soon they will be mere shadows as the moonlight makes its initial appearance opposite the sun, signaling a time of rest for some and a time of busy hustle for others. I smile as a lightning bug flutters a few feet out in front of the porch. I am even pleasantly surprised by a little ground squirrel who runs from the cover of one bush, into another just a few feet away. I have no doubt that he is watching me as much as I am watching him. As I sit here, the song of the Cicada is replaced by the croaking of frogs and crickets. In time, I look up at the stars, trying to make out constellations and hoping to even see a shooting star upon which to make a wish. These couple hours on the porch are beautiful. I watch and listen, completely at peace.

The entire time, God is standing by my side. In various moments, I literally feel the Lord's presence, a hand resting upon my shoulder. We watch the creation together. I marvel at every creature and movement, while God proudly soaks it all in as would a parent. This night, within which I live, is a canvas awaiting new artistic creation in the eyes of the Lord. I am but an invited guest, a child summoned to gaze in amazement at the glory that God has unveiled for the world on this particular night. My heart beats so calmly and rhythmically. My soul shines as bright as one of the stars suspended in the heavens above. Joy flows through my veins as I realize just how intimately connected I actually am to the Web of Life which God has personally molded. Gratitude swells within me as I come to a very simple conclusion: I am blessed, and all is well with my soul. With this thought resonating in my mind, a smile forms upon my face as I proclaim in a gentle whisper - AMEN!
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Grace That Leads Us Home

For a moment I stand quietly behind the altar, listening intently for silence to be interrupted. Suddenly my heart jumps as the pipe organ kicks into high gear and grandiose notes fill the room with their glory. A few seconds later, the congregation joins the organ right on cue, and a hymn rises up as a prayer from the voices of our community gathered. "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound..." I will join in shortly, but for just a few words I would rather listen in awe than join the chorus. Somehow, regardless of individual talent, when all these voices rise as one, they always sound remarkably beautiful. I look around and remind myself to soak it all in as we sing. This is the heart of worship, beating in one rhythm with the heart of our Lord. The sounds are sweet and graceful indeed.

"'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved..." My heart pounds away, not out of nerves for being up front, but rather in uncontrollable passion and joy. Grace has taught me that experiencing the interaction between the Holy Spirit and our community in a hymn is far more important than simply singing it. Thus, I observe while I sing. I watch as the sun beams break into the room through stained glass windows. The light is absolutely breathtaking. I feel as the Holy Spirit moves in the room, touching hearts and providing comfort with every note. I see faces, some filled with joy while others hold back tears. In most cases, but not all, I know the personal stories behind those emotions. I am honored and privileged to be welcomed into the personal lives of so many. My heart is at peace, as my soul feels the embrace of God's deep love. Here in this place there is a sense of security I don't always find in everyday life.

"Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come..." As the hymn progresses, I find myself glancing up into the balcony. I can envision in my mind's eye those seats filled with sinners turned saints who have gone before us. It is almost as if their voices faintly join in with our modern day chorus. Generations of this community have gathered weekly in this room for more than 110 years now. So many prayers have been raised here. Final goodbye's have occurred here. Weddings and baptisms have been celebrated here. A somber Good Friday service once was held in this Sanctuary against the backdrop of our nation declaring war that same day. On that particular Easter Sunday, the joy of resurrection was tempered by the fear of young men leaving for the front lines in Europe. On yet another Sunday, this time in Advent, joyous hymns were sung without an inkling that our nation was under attack at that very moment. The emotions that have swelled in the hearts of so many amidst these pews through the years is indescribable, and those emotions echo even today. It is grace only that has brought us safe thus far.

"The Lord has promised good to me; His Word my hope secures..." I now look up at the banner that hangs in the back, proclaiming that God is good and that God's steadfast love endures to all generations. Many men and women have stood behind this altar before me, proclaiming the Love and Grace of the Gospel. Several others have been empowered here to go out into the world as leaders of this Church. I fully realize and understand that none of us has earned the right to be here. Indeed, at times we all have fallen miserably short of the life we are called to role model. Yet, my hope is secured in God's promise to gift me, and every one of us, the talents we need to make a difference in this world. Thus I stand here in a secure hope, even when darkness seemingly prevails.

"As long as life endures..." As these words cry out with unbridled passion around me, my mind and heart return to my calling to lead. I may stand at this altar, but I am no more important than anyone else gathered with us today. Truly anyone in this room could lead us into the Creeds and Prayers. I am, however, very aware of the blessing that is my Call. I have been given the opportunity to listen to and watch our community in the same way they watch me. I see, in these moments of song, how we who are many members somehow come together into one body through the love of God. I speak the words of a hymn while observing intently their impact upon our community. I seek intently any glimpse I can find of the Spirit flowing amongst us. I open my heart to feel these moments, and I often wish they could last forever. I am at home here, and it is grace that has led me every step of this journey. Thanks be to God. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Thursday, July 28, 2016

In Memorium

Twenty years ago, this very evening, I was asked the worst and, simultaneously, most formative question of my life. A doctor was asking ME if I was prepared to give the order to stop Life Support. In those few dramatic moments, all sorts of thoughts raced through my mind. Perhaps the most pertinent of which was, "How can someone ask another person to make such a decision?" I wanted so desperately to have one last conversation, perhaps to apologize for the answer I was about to give. Maybe I just wanted to say 'thank you' one last time for immeasurable love and blessings. Quite possibly, I wanted to ask her what she was experiencing as life's final curtain drew closed. Regardless, my conversation was no longer with her, but with a nurse and doctor, and my role was to serve as their patient's voice and advocate.

I gave the most rehearsed answer I could have. "Her life, soul and spirit are with God. This is just her body. She wouldn't want this. I have to let her go." With that, the transition of my mother, Karen L. (Blume) Mikyska, from this life into resurrected life was complete.

That night, twenty years ago, I sat there in a daze, as the child who to this day still resides somewhere in the depths of my heart cried out with a loud, "NOW WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?" Today, I will say that you never 'get over' a loss, you simply learn to adjust to life as it now is. In these two decades, I have married my soul mate, become an ordained minister, raised two kids, and grown deeply in my relationship with God. I now understand what Paul first told the Corinthians, "Love never ends." Honestly I could be sad today, but rather I am thankful for a love and faith that has informed my life, my family, and my vocation.

I learned so much from my mother. I learned to always open your door for everyone, whether they are simply visiting or whether they are in desperate need. God intends for us to share joy, and God never fails to hear our cries. Sometimes we need to laugh, and sometimes we serve as God's answer to another's cry for help. Either way, it is our calling to have an open door. I learned to love, because hate takes too much out of your soul. I learned to accept, because none of us are perfect. I learned to value others, because they are of value to God first. I learned to persevere, because God is ever at my side. I learned to live my life in relationship to others and God, because that is God's ultimate will for us all. In some ways, I even learned what it means to be pastoral, from a woman who never saw herself as such. Simply put, I learned more than I could have possibly realized back then, and likely more than I even understand now.

On this night, twenty years ago, I mourned a loss, while the person I grieved celebrated her birth into new life in Christ. The contrast doesn't seem fair. My tears of pain flowed as deeply as I assume her tears of joy may have. Still, on that night, which seems to have been a lifetime ago, and now some twenty years later, her love and blessings remain here with me. So, on this date that I commemorate as an anniversary, and that she perhaps celebrates as a birthdate into blissful resurrected life, I choose to remember that love and blessings are eternal gifts. Thanks be to God for a life well-lived, for love freely given, for lessons taught, for laughs shared in joy, for tears shared in pain, and for a mom whose faith and hope live on in her little boy's heart. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The View From Inside

This past Friday, I found myself standing at the base of a waterfall, looking upward at the beauty of so many tress while enjoying the refreshing sensation of the mist literally embracing my whole being. Around me stood my extended family, three generations gathered together as one body representing two American states and part of Europe, with the kids joyfully playing near the glorious falls. Language barriers, and any other walls of division, could not stand against such joy and love. It was one of those moments in life where you want so badly to stop time and just stand there for as long as you wish. Those few minutes were filled with love, joy and beautiful glory.

Eventually, my niece convinced me to run through the falls to the other side. I have to admit that the raw power of the water crashing down on rocks all around us made me a little uneasy. However, she (the teenager) assured me (the adult) that we could do this, and all I needed to do was wait until I saw her hand poke through the falls from the other side, and grab it! Somehow Megan's faith dissipated my fear. Moments later, I was sitting with her on a rock inside the water fall! The roar was deafening as water crashed all around us. Our whole universe as we sat there consisted of only the small space we were cramped into, as we could neither see nor hear anything from the outside of the falls. It was amazingly bright in there, as the light pierced through the waters flowing fiercely past us. The light's ability to pierce through and into this darkness amazed me. I found myself marveling at the rocks around us which bore the scars of years of repeated beating from the water. Megan had such a joy filled smile on her face, while I sat there in complete awe of what flowed just inches in front of me. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever experienced. When we finally slid out through the falls, the sensation of so much raw power and weight as the water pounded down upon me for just a split second was beyond description. These are moments I will forever cherish.

I will cherish the embrace of a family gathered from afar in such love and joy on a summer afternoon. I will cherish Megan's willingness to grab ahold of my hand and pull me through an obstacle in the same way any of us would gladly do for her. I will cherish the view of the waterfall from its base, as I realized that God's baptismal waters flow with similar glory and power from God's throne and into my heart with each breath I take, embracing and refreshing me daily in the same way the mist of this particular falls embraced and refreshed me on this one hot summer day. I will cherish the momentary view from inside the falls, where the world and all its problems disappeared from sight and sound, even if for only a minute. This is, I believe, how God experiences me - from deep inside my being, in a place where only God can dwell. It is a place that is hidden from, and protected from, the chaos that is the world.

I will eternally be thankful to God for such a day. I am thankful for the gift of love shared amongst family. I am thankful for the joy that is possible within our hearts when all this world's worries are pushed aside. I am thankful for glimpses of God's glory and power that stand on display for all to see. I am thankful for the waters of baptism that flow around us and embrace us. I am thankful for a moment in which I could see the purity of what lies deep within the falls, far removed from the chaos swirling outside in the world. I am thankful for the understanding that it is not the darkness of our world that can reach the beauty dwelling deep inside each of us, but rather only the light. I am thankful for a day filled with love, joy, glory and awesome wonder. I am thankful, and for this I say only - Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Calm In Every Storm

Some years ago I was sitting in the Youth Room of a church where I was serving during my seminary studies, and I opened the floor to the kids to ask anything they wanted to regarding God and their faith. One particular young lady, who I always hoped would go to seminary herself someday, raised her hand with the first question. At the moment, I found myself thinking, "Oh good - this should be a really thoughtful question for us to start with." Little did I know just how thoughtful! She proceeded to ask why God, who loves us so, allows 'storms' to occur in this world and in our lives. As she asked, I could just see the little twinkle of a tear in her eyes.

I remember looking at her for a moment, and slowly collecting my thoughts as the room went perfectly silent and all eyes turned to me. Needless to say, there was something much deeper dwelling beneath her question, something that would not be unearthed in the relatively short time we had together as a group that morning. So here I sat, with about five minutes to answer one of the deepest theological questions imaginable - and I needed to put it in terms teenagers could understand too! Truly, I had no real answer to give her. So often my life had been thrown into the swirling winds of a storm as I stood there powerless to stop it. All I knew at the time was that this world can be chaotic and even evil, but that God always stands by our side in love through it all, and I had somewhere along the line learned to accept this in my own life. It was the best I could do.

The young lady looked at me for a second or two, and then said, "So, bad things will happen, but God loves me and hears my prayers no matter what. OK!" Amazingly, she really was alright with this as our conversation continued, as were the rest of the kids too. I was absolutely astounded. After they left, I sat there asking myself the next logical series of questions, "So why am I not alright with this answer? What is it I am looking for that is so much deeper than they are? Is God's simple presence in my life enough for me?"

One of the most difficult lessons we learn as children, and again later as parents, is that a mom or dad cannot take pain away from their child - they can only comfort their child with their unconditional love when the pain hits. They can teach their child, love their child, embrace their child, and even give their life to protect their child in extreme cases - but pain is inevitable for the child. Life, and this world, has its storms. When I look at God, I realize that my Lord does teach me, love me unconditionally, embrace me daily, and has even been willing to experience death for me. So maybe I don't need God to fix everything in my life, but rather it is simply God's Love that I must experience.

Today, I boldly proclaim and accept that I am loved by my God, who stands by my side daily seeking conversation and relationship with me. This presence and this love is the very miracle I pray for in the eye of every storm. Somehow, in a way that I may not even completely comprehend, it truly is enough for me to get through each approaching storm. Thanks be to you, O God, for being the calm before, during and after every storm I face. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska