Many namesWhen our women’s circle met last week, I wasn’t quite prepared for the tiny tantrum thrown by one of our members about that night’s lesson.  “You’re going to hear from me.  She started with that pray and it isn’t even to Jesus or God.  It makes me throw up in my mouth when I hear that.”*

I read the prayer, but I didn’t remember being offended.  Admittedly, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to what I call God in prayer.  Even through all my whining and informal prayers, I tend to call him Holy Father or Heavenly Father.  I cringe when someone calls him Daddy God. It just seems so . . . hippy dippy. Hint: As contemporary as I can be, hippy dippy is not a compliment.

Still, I know that when they pray, not everyone calls God the same thing that I do.  They pray to:

  • Adonai
  • Ruler of the Universe
  • Lover of Justice
  • Elohim
  • Jehovah
  • El
  • Theos
  • Our Creator
  • Lord of Might
  • Our Comforter
  • Ancient of Days
  • King of Kings
  • Lord of Hosts

What was the name of God that opened the prayer?  Holy One.

The reality is that not everyone calls God the same thing.  The name that they use depends on where they grew up, when they grew up and their circumstances.  A woman who had an abusive father, might not be comfortable calling our loving God, Father.  Someone who works in education might prefer Teacher, as Christ was called by his disciples.

And does it really matter what those around us call him?  The important thing is that they talk to Him, they spend time with Him, the hear Him.  Instead of being judgmental, we might ask them why they use the name that they do and then listen and hear their answer.

–SueBE

I’m sorry. I’m writing to you today, not knowing where (or even if) you are living. I hope you are. I hope things turned out well for you, that you got clean, had a family of your own, sought help for your demons. I was just a child then, and I suppose I didn’t know any better. But I’ve been holding this apology in for a long, long time.

I remember when your parents borrowed my dad’s reel-to-reel cassette player. You had recorded a message for them from Vietnam, where you were fighting. You were probably just a kid yourself. Then, you came home. Neighborhood gossip said you’d picked up a heroin habit during your tour of duty. I watched you sit outside, on your parents’ front lawn, in your green flak jacket and play your guitar. And I was terrified of you.

I thought you might kidnap me and force me to take drugs, and then I would jump out a window to my death like Art Linklater’s daughter did. I didn’t know she was actually sober at the time, that Linklater had lied about her death because suicides can’t be buried in Catholic cemeteries. I believed in “Go Ask Alice,” and the “Blueboy” episode of Dragnet, where kids who took drugs just once ended up dead or burbling idiots.

You were just a young man who had seen too much, too soon, and if you shot up or smoked pot to cope, who were we to judge? Heck, you may not even remember me. Let me remind you: I was the little girl who, on her way home from kindergarten class, caught sight of you and immediately began running, as if you were evil incarnate. I’m certain I looked frightened. And what had you ever done to me? I remember dreading that you might be outdoors, scared that I wouldn’t see you until too late. You were my childhood bogeyman.

Would it have changed things for you if I had stopped and smiled? If I’d listened to your music? Did you notice me, and if you did, did it hurt you? For a long time, I’ve been sure it did. For that, I am sorry. You fought for our country and came home to an atmosphere that was solidly set against you. I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know that you were just another kid trying to figure things out the best he could. I didn’t know how badly you must have been hurting, to use drugs as a coping mechanism. No one talked about PTSD in those days.

If you are out there somewhere, please hear me: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I’m sorry. I wish I had been kind to you.

Perhaps this apology means nothing to you or to anyone. But I needed to do it, for the good of my own soul. I’ve prayed for you many times since those days. Wherever you are, I wish you peace. Please forgive me.

 

As I was making my son some Ramen, we sat in the kitchen and chatted. I told him the story of the first time I ever cooked anything for his father, some twenty-five years ago.

Oh yes. It was Ramen Noodles.

So I told my son that back in the days of yore, I made his Dad the Ramen, poured in the little seasoning packet, and put it into a bowl.  At that time, Ramen wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, and I had never had it before. I looked at the package. It showed a bowl filled with noodles, but I didn’t see any broth in the picture.

Is this noodles? I asked myself.  I thought it was soup, but based on the picture, maybe it’s just a noodle side dish.

I drained out the liquid.

Serving it to my then-husband, he looked puzzled.  “Something is missing here….” he said, explaining that it usually has broth in it.

My son laughed as I told the story.  Now, back in our time, I finished making his Ramen and poured it into the bowl. I handed him a spoon.

“Something is missing, Ma,” he said, smiling.

I had forgotten to pour in the seasoning packet!  Dagnabbit.

So I admit it.  I often order out or bring home meals from food places in our town. My son will actually get a better meal this way, with all of the ingredients included.

I used to feel guilty about this. But now I see that I’m doing the best that I can with the hand I’ve been dealt. My MS affects my memory and my cognitive abilities. For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled to get my side dishes to be done at the same time as my entrée.  I remember once during a dinner party years ago, forgetting the two-cups-of-water to one-cup-of-rice ratio and reversing it. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t seem to master this skill that is so important in the life of a family.

Cooking, gathering over the meal, savoring tasty dishes.  It just isn’t something I’ve ever been able to do well. Some people who don’t do well with plants have a black thumb.  I guess I’ve got a black oven mitt! I’m sure Martha Stewart would look at my caved-in casserole, shake her head and say, “I’d rather go back to jail than have to eat this! It’s a bad thing.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that everybody has something to deal with. Don’t give yourself a hard time for what you can’t do; focus more fully on your gifts, and give that your all. Do your best to work around shortcomings – black oven mitt and all – and trust that God will take care of the rest. And put the pizza place on speed dial.

peaceful protestHow do you react to adversity? For me, it all depends. I’m a Christian. I like to think of myself as a pacifist. Yeah, I know. Me? A pacifist? With my temper and sharp tongue?

It’s what I like to think. I didn’t say it was particularly realistic.

The problem is that when I curb my tongue, I often go too far. When I try to dampen down my response I often don’t react beyond a thought in my head. “Wow. That was racist.” I think it, but that’s as far as it goes. I’ve gone beyond pacifist straight into passive.

Unfortunately, passive is just as bad as losing your temper. When you’re passive, people make the assumption that certain things are acceptable.

Yesterday we had a swim meet. An away meet, we found ourselves in a community that is less diverse than our own. Yes, non-whites are there but in low enough numbers that the whites still live in denial.

As they left the building, a swimmer on the other team put on an ape mask. “Oh, it’s just a mask. He didn’t mean anything by it.” Really? Then why did he wait until his coach couldn’t see him?

Our swimmers got the message loud and clear and the adults in our group immediately got to work settling our swimmers down. These boys are close. They may give each other grief but if you insult even a handful of them, you’ve insulted them all. We kept them out of trouble but was that all we should do?

Did I want to be passive about this or peacefully protest?  It took time to calm myself down enough to communicate effectively and then to convince myself that really, I had to do something.  I know God wants me to protest injustice but why me?  Why couldn’t someone else do something?  Because, I’m an adult, I saw what happened and, I know it’s wrong.

I opted for peacefully protest.  I don’t know who the coach is, but I’ve sent an e-mail to the principal of the school. It took me some time to compose a polite message that still said what I had to say loud and clear — This is not acceptable.  I protest.

–SueBE

114H (1)Any time people see me on a regular basis, I’m limping. Or I’ve got gauze around my arm from an infusion. Or I’m using a cane – sometimes even crutches.

So when they see me, their natural instinct is always to tell me about their own illnesses. Of course, they mean well. They believe that by doing this, they’re showing concern for my well-being. But honestly, I’m not too fond of the fact that I’ve come to symbolize pain to them.

When I think about it, I really don’t know anything meaningful about them. I see the cashier at the store once a week, and I know about her infirmities in great detail. But what of the dream in her heart, perhaps it was to be a dancer in a ballet troupe? Or maybe she wanted to own a little flower shop, selling peonies and zinnias. Why is it that tragedy and turmoil have become the “greatest hits” of our lives, when somebody asks us who we are?

The dream in my own heart is to find a way to embody hope and not pain. I want to become so connected with positivity and encouragement that those I encounter at the mall or the post office don’t have time to tell me their problems.  They’ll be too busy counting off their blessings for me!

I want to tell them to pack all their troubles in an old kit bag.  Then I want them to drop that bag into the sea of forgetfulness. I don’t want them to carry that bag around with them, as if this is the sum total of who they are. Life doesn’t stop at the moment something bad happened, so don’t make those horrible things the point at which you stop living. The path goes on far beyond the pain.

So please, people.  When you see me, don’t mention that I seem more wobbly than usual. Compliment me on my new purple sneakers! Don’t reel off your aches and pains to me. Tell me about your grandkids and your garden. Talk to me about your most cherished dreams, the wonder of a sunset, that beautiful sonata that lights you up when you hear it.

On this day, when we remember those taken from us on that indelible morning thirteen years ago, there’s something we can do in their memory. Don’t dwell on your troubles. Don’t stay stuck in the past. For the sake of those we lost, let’s live.

At the store last week, I noticed that a big SUV was parked across three handicapped spots – laterally.

I started to walk by, having had to park farther away than I’d wanted. No point in confronting someone who obviously has no consideration for other people. If somebody does something like this, clearly, this is a person who doesn’t give a flying fig about anyone else.

But something stopped me and I walked over to the driver’s window, which was rolled down.

“Excuse me, Miss, but I have to ask you.  Why are you parked across three spots?  Now nobody can park here!” I said.

“Oh, sorry, baby,” she said. “I was just trying to get the shade from this tree. I’m waiting for my disabled aunt, who’s inside shopping. All you had to do was ask and I would move.”

Ask? These are handicapped spots. Perhaps her aunt was disabled, but this lady seemed able-bodied. I’d just come from the infusion center, where I’d had my monthly dose of medication for MS. I had a gauze bandage wrapped around my arm. My feet were hinky and I was really limping that day.

“Grace,” I said to God. I had to walk away, because I was about to unleash on her, Jersey-style. I was about to ask her what the bleep was wrong with her. And what kind of idiot she was. I had to bite my tongue, literally, so I didn’t release this venom into the world.

Waiting for my prescription took about a half hour, and I went back to my car. I noticed that the SUV was now parked correctly, in just one spot.

The lady waved me over and apologized again, profusely. She said that after I spoke with her, a man had come over and yelled at her for taking up three spots.

“I was just trying to get the shade,” she said, looking wounded. “All he had to do was ask. No need to get upset with me.”

I realized that sometimes we may not realize how our actions impact others, and worse still, how our words are heard.

She kept saying, all you had to do was ask, as if saying this would make it better. It would make us understand she’d meant no harm.  But we received it as a slap in the face.  We’re dealing with disabilities here. Why should we have to ask to park in spots reserved for us?

It reminded me that even when we all speak the same language, we may not understand each other at all. As I left the lot, I said a prayer for her and thanked God for helping me to restrain myself from saying things I’d regret. I’m glad grace came right on time and realized that it was true what I’d heard: all I had to do was ask.

MatthewFor those of you who aren’t familiar with Monty Python, there’s a scene in The Life of Brian when the crowd is listening to Christ deliver the Sermon on the Mount.  Unfortunately, people are carrying on and what not. Everyone is having a hard time hearing, so they misunderstand a few key words.  “Peacemakers” becomes “cheese makers” and “meek” at least briefly becomes “Greek.”

I had a Cheese maker moment last week.  When Pastor Carol gives the children’s sermon, she moves among the children, often with her back to the choir.  Allergens abound this time of year and with my goofy ears, I could have sworn she was talking to the kids about the Opossum Paul.

Who?  What?

Fortunately, it only took me a moment to realize that she was not telling our younger set about a marsupial disciple.  Funny as it was, the whole situation has made me wonder – how often do we mishear God’s message?

We are, after all, flawed creatures.  We get things wrong. A lot.  Even where God’s concerned.  Don’t believe me?  Read the Old Testament when they were wandering in the wilderness. Or read the newspaper and see how many scandals involve people who claim to have God on speed dial.

Clearly we get things wrong on a regular basis even when we are insisting how righteous is our cause.

Fortunately God knows just how hard-of-hearing we can be.  Because of this, he reinforces his most important message to us by repeating himself again and again.  Yes, you have to listen carefully, past the noise of the opossum, but if you do, you will hear His most important message – a message of love.

–SueBE

My friend Maria, who grew up in Taiwan, tells the story of how she learned the complex process of writing in Chinese. Her mother, a woman who greatly valued education, stood behind her and, holding her daughter’s hand, directed each stroke of the pen, painstakingly forming each symbol in all its individual beauty. Her daughter learned through muscle memory, through the act of someone else directing her movement.

It is the same way, Maria says, that she learns from God. “All God wants us to do is submit to Him and He will take the ball and run with it.” It’s true. My friend’s writing lessons would never have succeeded if she had tried to form the letters on her own. She had to let go and allow her mother to do the work. It is the same way with God. The harder we try to direct our own spiritual path, the more we fall away from God.

As anyone who has tried — and failed — at a physical task knows, our bodies cannot be forced to do obey us. You may want, mightily, to return that tennis serve, to catch that soaring orb, to hurl your body backwards through space, and still be unable to do so. And doing a back flip is a cinch compared to controlling our destinies, spiritual or otherwise. It is when we admit that we are not in control, that we really shouldn’t be, that we can allow God to truly move us, to form the letters that spell out our spiritual journey.

Submission to God may be the hardest task we’re ever given. Oh, it’s easy enough to say, “I submit my will to God.” Then we instantly wreck it by going on our merry way, making deals, bartering, demanding, trying to make something of ourselves, when God could be doing all the work for us. And what’s more, God’s plan is infinitely better than our own.

I will admit it: I am a do-it-yourselfer. I am a trier. I believe in results garnered through great personal effort. I am uncomfortable with the idea of allowing transformation to happen in its own time. I’d much rather it happen in my time. So much for submission.

It sounds oxymoronic to try to let go, but that’s just what I need to do. My effort needs to go into relaxing into God’s guiding arms. No timetables. No expectations. Just a willing hand, holding a pen. And maybe, just maybe, through me, God will create a thing of beauty.

And the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, Samuel! Samuel! Then Samuel answered, Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.

Samuel grew; the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.

1 Samuel 3:10 and 3:19 AMP

Ah, adolescence. My son and I go round and round – with me constantly saying, “What did you say?  Would you please speak up?”

I think, he’s a teen-ager, and teen-agers notoriously do not enunciate!

He’s thinking, Mom’s gettin’ on in years, and old folks just don’t hear well!

I don’t know. Maybe we’re both right.

But really. Are we even speaking the same language?

This clip on YouTube, “Shoot Christians Say” made me laugh. It pokes fun at how we tend to over-use specific language for Christian concepts. We try to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world by using phrases such as “secular” for those who don’t believe as we do. But then again, even when you know the language, there are nuances and colloquialisms that elude us.

This clip of Tony Randall and Jack Klugman on the Mike Douglas Show from the 1970s is a great example of the disconnect between what the stars of “the Odd Couple” are saying and what the closed captioning transcriber is hearing. At one point, at about 2:13 on the clip, Jack Klugman was talking about “my barber” only to have it captioned as “Obama.”

Years ago, I dated a guy I’ll call “Guy.” :) At a gathering one night, his brother told me he “used to beat people for money.” I was shocked by this and confronted Guy.  “Your brother told me you used to beat people? For money?” He laughed and shook his head.  “It’s a saying. It means I didn’t pay people back when I borrowed money from them!”  Just another colorful New Jersey phrase, causing confusion.

Luckily, when we talk to God, we don’t need to worry about being misunderstood. It’s what’s in your heart that really matters.  So if you’re a manicurist and you forget to specify when you say, “please help me to find a job,” He knows you don’t want a position as a forklift operator.  I’m so grateful that God speaks all languages and sees right through to the soul.

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