Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A New Day Always Dawns

A man sits in his living room, staring out the window - perhaps at the birds flying around the trees or at the moon slowly making its ascent. He sees them, but he is really looking deeply and longingly at something else. He is looking at his own past, the story that he has written and the path that he has trodden. He knows this chapter is quickly closing.

There was a time where he ran around fields as a little boy filled with energy and excitement, playing between his chores on the farm. His older sister had often cared for him many of these days. In some ways, she was his first friend in this world. He loved this place, and his family, but his land and family would soon be torn by the horrors of war. Thus, as a teenager, still but a child really, he embarked upon a long journey that would take him halfway around the world. His aunt had taken him in, and his uncle had arranged for him to learn a trade - as a chimney sweep. As years passed, he had married and been blessed with three children, one of which died young in an accident. For most of his life, he had written to his older sister, and even visited home a few times to see her and her family - until a wall, both physical and ideological in nature, had cut him off once and for all from his childhood memories and his beautiful sister. Sitting here this night, he missed his wife, the love of his life, who had died a few years earlier. He missed his daughter. He missed his homeland, the farm, his parents, and his big sister. Now all that was seemingly left for him was to reflect on a life of hard physical labor, loves that had been lost to both death and the division of this world, and his current loneliness. He no longer had room to dream, but rather only reminisce as darkness fell. The old man would not see the dawning of a new day.

He may or may not have understood this on a spiritual level, but a new day does always dawn. The light a new day brings doesn't necessarily remove or replace the darkness, but it does shine into it. Life adjusts and new dreams form, even in the strongest and most dreary of storms. Forty-three years after that lonely night, some of his sister's descendants would stand face to face with some of his own descendants in a Chicago airport. His hopes, dreams and prayers were answered, even if they had come to fruition long after he had left this world.

His story makes me wonder sometimes, how many of my prayers for my own life will be answered for my children or grandchildren instead. I wonder in what ways I am sowing seeds here and now that will be harvested far beyond my actual sight. All I know for sure is that the old man sitting in that living room that evening continues to have dreams come true, even to this very day, because God never stops listening to our prayers and gazing into our dreams. In God's kingdom, a new day always dawns, regardless of how heavy the darkness is that falls into our lives. And so I choose to never stop dreaming, because I know that God will never stop interacting with my soul. Thanks be to the God who breathes life into us and is eternally living in relationship with us - and thanks be to the God who dares to dream along with us. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sacramental Moments

Quietly and peacefully, I sit on my front porch late at night. Gently the leaves wave in the cool and damp breeze. Overhead, clouds race across the night sky, silhouetted as they pass in front of the bright moon. In the distance, insects make a variety of diverse noises, each one unique in sound and pitch. I watch a ground squirrel peek around the corner of the garden wall, spot me sitting there, and quickly dart off in another direction. Soon he will return to again ascertain if the cost is clear, and his reaction to my continued stoic presence will be the same yet again. Over in the next yard, around a cluster of evergreens, I can see the shadow of a creature moseying along. By the scent wafting my way, it is obvious that she is a skunk out hunting for food, and I smile as she calmly turns toward me for just a moment before continuing on her nightly exploration. Finally, a yellow leaf falls at my feet, as my deciduous brothers and sisters begin to prepare for their long rest. I take another deep breath, and sigh. I am tired, but I could sit here all night content in the world as it moves around me, only occasionally acknowledging my presence. Moments turn into minutes, and minutes pass into an hour. I find myself cherishing my visit into God's calming creation this night.

In so many ways, these occasions are sacramental for me. I experience grace in the silence. I experience peace and wonder in comradery with creatures I normally ignore. I experience hope as I sense just how much beauty exists in the world around us if we only choose to see it once in awhile. I experience God's love as I feel such a mystic presence sitting by my side, appreciating as a Creator that which I appreciate simply as a participant. I am a child here in these moments, and every care is put on hold for another day and time. I have time to worry tomorrow. Right now, though, I feel the joy of God's presence among the glory of all creation. This is holy and sacred ground, because God has placed every life here in this place, bringing us together on this evening with righteous intention.

Thus, in the darkness of an autumn night, I am again baptized as the moisture in the air engulfs me and the breath of God swirls around me. In the moonlight, I receive God's grace-filled presence as if kneeling at a communion rail, my eyes filled with wonder, my heart beating in a peaceful rhythmic union with all life around me, and my mind simply soaking it all in. This is the night the Lord has made, and I have been invited to participate. A sacramental progression has begun. Slowly the day and all its worries are washing away. Slowly this day is fading into a distant past. Soon a new day filled with hope will dawn to bring forth new life. But for now I sit in the stillness, and feel the joy of God's company. Not a word is said, and my soul rests quietly. This is the most impactful moment of prayer I have ever experienced. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

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