11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV

Flipping through channels on the t.v. the other day, I happened upon a show on a local channel called “The Daily Helpline.” The synopsis said, “topics include quarter-life crises; dealing with the murder of a boyfriend; and preparing for a job interview.”

Well!  There’s a diverse palette for you. First off, I never knew there was such a thing as a “quarter-life crisis.”

And then to put, “dealing with the murder of a boyfriend” right next to “preparing for a job interview”?

I thought, what kind of a world are young people coming into, after all?  I mean, just watching this show, who the heck would sign up for this life anyway?

It’s enough to make you think there’s no hope on earth at all.

It made me wonder if it’s possible to impart hope to our kids, to the people we meet.  To the world at large. After all, we have faith in God, and it gives us the fuel we need to keep going. But some of the people we meet have been disillusioned by religion. How can we break off a little piece of the bread of life without being obnoxious?

One of my favorite teachers was Mr. Moffett, a former Jesuit priest with a wicked sense of humor. He allowed us to ponder weighty questions and speak freely, while he remained light-spirited and kind-hearted. Some of my earliest attempts at writing fiction were not very good, but he critiqued them for me on his own time, and was the first person ever to encourage me to become a writer.

Without my realizing it, this teacher showed me what hope looks like. He was truly in the world but not of it. He had so much to deal with – the bureaucracy of the public school system, unruly students, parents who were not happy with their kids’ grades – but he knew that those small moments of humor, and encouraging us to pursue our dreams, would inspire us and gave us hope for the future. And hope really is what makes life worth living. Now, that was a lesson worth learning.

None of us has all the answers.

The Franciscan Blessing that I posted last week was more meaningful than I could possibly have imagined.  I live in a community that borders Ferguson, Missouri.  Our children go to the same schools.  We shop at the same stores.  Our kids swim on the same teams.  My sister lives in Ferguson.

Given this proximity, I’ve had if not a front seat at least a seat in the first tier. As I’ve listened to the media and read peoples’ comments I’ve been amazed at how quick we are to believe that we know the truth even if we are across the country or across the world.  Somehow, someway we know what happened and what was in peoples’ hearts.

I’ve got to tell you even if you’ve read every news story, you don’t know.  You don’t know because they don’t know.  How can they?  The police don’t know the truth.  The witnesses don’t know the truth.

We don’t know because everyone involved in this is deeply and brokenly biased.  They each have a belief.  They each have an agenda.  And everything they see and hear and speak is filtered through this bias.  As I’ve read and listened and watched, I’ve watched the truth bend and flex.

Sometimes the flexing isn’t in someone else’s reality but in my own. The other night as I skimmed headlines, I caught one that said that meditation had been ordered. What can I say? Every now and again, my dyslexia is not only amusing but right on the mark.  Mediation had been ordered (and, it turned out not to have anything to do with Ferguson).

It wasn’t court mandated but think about how much meditation and prayer would help.  People would have to be quiet, if only briefly.  Without all of the shouting and blaming, they would have a moment to turn to God, the source of Truth and Light.

If we listened to Him, what would we hear?  I suspect that for each of us, it would depend on our biases. I would most likely be reminded to respect authority (Romans 13:1-2).  Someone else might be reminded of His command to love and care for one another (John 13:34-35 and (Matthew 25:40).

Actually, no matter what your bias is I suspect that if you took the time to meditate and pray, you would be told to love and care.  It is in these most terrible moments that this call truly becomes important no matter whose broken truth you accept.

–SueBE

Last Sunday’s gospel reading was particularly apt — Jesus walks on the water. Let me set the scene: The apostles are huddled in a boat on a stormy sea, as lightning crackles and thunder rumbles all around them. It is dark. The sea is writhing with terrible creatures determined to suck the boat under and splinter it like a bone in the teeth of an ogre. And then they see someone — Jesus? — walking on the water, just as if he were strolling down the streets of Jerusalem. It must be a ghost! But no, the apparition speaks to them, tells them not to be afraid. Peter, ever the bonehead, speaks up, “If it’s really you, call me and I will walk on water, too.” Jesus does. Peter starts out. But then he gets distracted by the thunder and the lightning and the roiling of the dark forces under the waves, and he sinks. Like a stone. Jesus, of course, rescues him, and once again, the apostles fail to understand the lesson.

Most of us set out on the sea of life with good intentions. But we get scared when the darkness comes. A majority of us will crowd together in the boat and ride out the storm. Some of us will try to walk, but sink. The weight of the world becomes too heavy to carry, and we slip out of sight. And some few of us will take to the water, navigating the waves as naturally as the path to our front doors. How do those people do it?

I used to think that those who are skilled at walking on water (metaphorically speaking) are so because they never take their eyes off the prize — God. They hear the thunder, see the lightning, know somewhere in the recesses of their minds about what lurks beneath the waves, but they don’t get distracted. They don’t let the water pull them down. This is a simplistic notion. Many things can affect our ability to cope, for instance, illnesses and addictions that sap our strength and change brain chemistry, throwing us off balance. Try walking on water with a millstone like that around your neck.

We mustn’t judge or condemn those who don’t make it. Walking on water is an act of extreme grace. It is a daily miracle. Most of us never have to do it — we just sail along in our fortunate ships. For those who must walk on water, God can be a tremendous resource, a lighthouse beacon, a life preserver. I have experienced this in my own travels. God holds me up.

But I will never be anything but empathetic to those who drown.

Watching the news yesterday, the scroll at the bottom of the t.v. screen said, “Market Crash.”

And I stopped sipping my coffee.

Say what?

I looked outside.  Some macabre part of me was thinking I might see people jumping out windows and others frantically running in the street.

The market crashed? Where was the general panic?

As it turns out, it was an ill-chosen headline.  It actually referred to a hit-and-run driver having crashed into a fruit market.

Phew! I thought. For a minute there, I thought the end was nigh.

And then I heard the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. (Young demographic, please google this reference.)

One woman was killed when this driver crashed into the market.

It really is equally tragic.  One life lost is just as momentous as the whole stock market crashing. For that person, for her family – it really is the end of the world.

Then I read that Robin Williams had ended his life. He brought so much light and laughter into our lives, we never thought he’d leave us this way.

Just as the President announced that we would start airstrikes in Iraq, while at the same time, delivering medical and humanitarian aid, each one of us has a choice.  When we go out into the world, we can bring a bomb or a balm.

Everybody is going through something, even if you can’t see it. Please choose kindness as your default setting. One small word of compassion can make a big difference for those silently suffering through dark nights of the soul. God’s grace is a constantly replenishing resource.  You can give it away and still find your soul filled to overflowing.

I’ve come to believe that tailgaters are lost souls in search of a leader, and this approach has served me well in New Jersey, the most densely-populated state in the country. The minute you leave your own driveway, you have to be prepared for the eventuality that someone in a car behind you will let you know – through, shall we say “auto-body language” – that he or she is in a hurry. Come on, come on!  Haul it, pal!  Get out of the way!

Mobile prayer has helped me with this issue, as has listening to relaxing, classical music. But most of all, I remember that I know the truth. Everybody is going somewhere.  Your destination really is no more important than mine.

I also know a much deeper truth: Everybody has light and dark within them.  It’s just a matter of what you choose to tap into at any given moment.  What you put out into the world is a reflection of what’s inside of you.

In the documentary, “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage,” a fan wanted to get lead singer, Geddy Lee’s, autograph, so she all but climbed over the band’s guitarist, Alex Lifeson, to reach him. Lifeson was not bothered by this interaction – he said, “happens all the time,” and shrugged, but I couldn’t believe the rudeness of that person.

On the flip-side, this clip of Mister Rogers testifying before Congress decades ago to convince them to continue funding public broadcasting is a great example of this truth. He doesn’t let the tough-guy posturing of the senator he’s speaking to change his kind, slow-paced manner at all. Eventually, he wins the man over with his warmth.

I remember once, a woman in a small car on the road behind me was in a big rush. She stuck so close to my bumper that you couldn’t even see the front end of her car.  It was as if she was in the car with me! Oh joy!

We both arrived at the UPS store.  She seemed not to recognize me as the person whose car she was tailgating down that long, winding road, and we entered the store. I got on line and waited to buy stamps. Great.  Now she’s on line behind me.  Gonna tailgate me here in person too, lady?!?

Out of the corner of my eye, I scoped her out.  She seemed fine, if a bit distant – but that’s how we all look when we’re around strangers at the store, isn’t it?

I happened to glance at her shoes and realized that she had found a way to match the unusual turquoise of her outfit and earrings to her shoes.  I thought that was quite an accomplishment, so I threw caution to the wind.

“Your shoes match your outfit exactly,” I said, with a guarded smile. “How did you do that?”

She smiled broadly and said, “Oh! Thank you for noticing! It took a lot of effort, but I like all my things to match.”

We chatted about inane things for a few minutes as we waited on line and I realized again what God has shown me through the years. In the right circumstances, everyone will show up as their best self. But in the anonymity of a car, or online in chat forums, negativity seeps out.

Isn’t it amazing how we don’t give a second thought to the feelings – or safety, for that matter – of the person whose car we are tailgating, but we go to great lengths to look good for strangers?

Maybe with all the clothing-makeover shows on t.v., we could crowdfund a Make-under Show.  Get past the surface, under the skin and into the soul to see how we’re really treating each other. All that matters at the end of the day is the Golden Rule. And – confidentially, I got this from a Very Reliable Source – everything goes with that color.

FranciscanEvery once in a while, I find a prayer that simply rings true.  From the first word to the last, I know that it is mine.  One if the Prayer of St. Francis of Assissi.  The second is this Franciscan Blessing.

My husband and I often joke.  Are we redneck liberals?  Liberal rednecks?  The reality is that we don’t entirely fit in anywhere.

When politicians talk black and white and easy answers, I squirm.  Sending children and teens back to the horrid situations they risked life and limb to flee?  No, that doesn’t work for me.  That said, I don’t believe that wide open borders are a solution either.

As a family, we support a variety of programs that work to help people where they live, to better their lives, to better their situations and to better their societies.  We’re just crazy enough to think that in doing this we can change a life and, through one life, the world.

The programs that we suport include but are not limited to:

TEAM Food Ministries and St. Louis Area Food Bank.  These are two organizations that work in our area to feed large numbers of working poor.

Presbyterian Disaster Relief.  This is the branch of the Presbyterian Church that goes in and helps with shelter, food and medicine whenever there is a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or other disaster.

Heifer International.  This is a family favorite.  Heifer is one of the best organizations for “teaching a man to fish.”  Not only do they provide people with stock (goats, cattle, chicks, ducks, bees, trees, wool producing animals, etc), they also educate.  Each family that is helped in turn helps another family and so one. Communities are rebuilt.

Yes, the headlines are awful but there are many people working quietly out of the spot light.  They are working to feed and shelter and educate.  Me?  I’ve always considered myself just a touch crazy — crazy enough to think it will work.  But according to the Franciscans, I’m not so much crazy.  I’m blessed.

In turn, I can take His Blessing and pass it on to others.

–SueBE

Last Saturday night, as my husband and I drove to church, a thought occurred to me. I am this person now. But in an hour, I will be someone else. That’s how transformational a regular religious practice such as going to Mass (or service, or whatever you call that particular hour in your particular religious sect) can be. It isn’t for everyone. (I’m assuming. Otherwise churches would be a lot more crowded, the way they are on Easter or Christmas.) But maybe it should be.

There are a million reasons to attend Mass: to spend an hour with God, to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, to be a part of a like-minded community, to regularly nudge or reawaken one’s faith…I suppose the list is as varied as the individuals filling the pews. And even if none of those reasons strikes you as relevant, there’s one that should. Go to church, if for no other reason, than to sacramentally experience life.

There are posters, Pinterest pins and slogans everywhere that say things like, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room!” Or “Life is either a grand adventure or it is nothing!” People seem fond of these slogans. We like to celebrate life; hence our affection for birthdays. But how do we live this notion on a daily basis?

Going to church regularly is one way to celebrate life. You are there with people who share your faith and, hopefully, your beliefs and morals. The ritual of Mass (or service) is soothing, yet allows for contemplation and new insights. And if you tune in, really tune in, it can be an hour unlike any other in your week: It can be an hour that you really feel, really experience. It can be life-changing.

Maybe we all need to slow down for one hour a week (or more) and not let life just happen to us. Maybe we need to remember that life can be lived intentionally, as it is when one chooses a regular religious practice like going to Mass. Oh sure, it might not be all hearts and flowers. The pastor might say something you disagree with. You might see someone there with whom you have difficulty. But good or bad, the experience can change you if you let it. All you have to do is let it.

One hour a week to transform your life, to change your thinking, to fall in love again with the greatest love you will ever know. It’s worth it.

A dear family member came by to see me the other day and we had a nice visit. But I noticed that, three or four times during our time together, she was furiously texting.

Some would be offended by someone texting while in their presence, but I’m really not offended.  I just wonder.  Where are they?

I mean, in a sense, they’re not really… anywhere.  They’re not visiting with me.  They’re not in the presence of the friend they’re texting.  It’s almost as if – for that moment, at least – they don’t really exist.  They don’t have a “present” as such, just a kind of in-between.  Not really here, but not there either.

It’s kind of how I feel about turning forty-nine years old.  Yep, today is my birthday, so of course, I’ll be sitting in front of a chocolate cake and chilling all the day long. Diets will be on hiatus, of course.  All other obligations will be on auto-pilot.  It’s going to be a “me day,” for sure!

So I hear tell that “life begins at fifty.” Well… what do I till then? I’ve got a year before life begins?  How am I gonna spend my time, waiting for life to begin? It’s like I’m in limbo!  Life is on hold till next year!  Aah!

Okay, I’m back now.  That’s just a saying, you tell me.  Well thank you.  Life begins right where you are, doesn’t it?

So now that I’ve reached this almost-milestone, part of me wants to say, “yikes!” But the truth is, getting older is a blessing.  Sure, I’d like to have more energy, but I don’t really know that I had that much energy, even in my twenties.  It seemed there was so much to be done.  So much I wanted out of life.  I didn’t realize that I had choices, and that, if I’d looked around me, I really had the whole world in front of me.

It didn’t feel that way.  It felt like I had to go, do, move, get out there, get things done, get on the right track.  It may well have all been pressure I put on myself, but I never felt relaxed and positive.  I felt stressed and my soul felt squashed.

Now that I’m older, and have effectively taken myself out of the “rat race,” I feel so much more hopeful. I get to be myself, knowing God loves me as I am and I don’t have to be anyone but me. My faith is a huge part of that sense of optimism, and I’m grateful to God every day for keeping hold of my hand. It’s been quite a journey, and looking ahead, all I see are blue skies. I’d say I’m ready for the next chapter to begin.

words of love“I’d really like to see them loose.  They need a lesson in humility.”

I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear this.  The oldest boys on the swim team can be a bit . . . much.  A few of them are scary tall and they thunder through a crowd like a storm.

But if you get to know them, they are amazing people. I watched one of them beg a little guy to get off the rope and keep swimming when he panicked at his first meet. Another coached a six-year old from the other team, telling him when to dive in and cheered him all the way to the far side of the  pool. Then there was the young man who quit flirting to “borrow” my son’s sports drink when I got woozy in the heat.  The speech that one of them gave at the closing banquet brought not only laughs but tears to a few eyes.

Loud?  You bet.

Brass?  In abundance!

I think the problem is that they intimidate us.  These aren’t the cute little guys that we gave birth to fourteen plus years ago, the little bundles of joy that we thanked God for daily.  For the most part, we knew how to handle them when they were that small.

Now, they’re bigger than we are, they have tons of opinions and believe in sharing those opinions here, there and everywhere.  We aren’t quite sure how to handle them.  When that’s the case, can I make a recommendation? Try to see them as God sees them.  Young men struggling to find their way, to be the men they are meant to be. Like us, they are unsure what the future brings but they don’t have our experience in dealing with that uncertainty.

Failure is what they worry about most.  Instead of wishing it on them, they need us to hold them up to Him in prayer.

–SueBE

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 143 other followers

%d bloggers like this: