Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

“Those people are idiots!” she said as soon as she got in the car. “They don’t know how to run a business.” My neighbor’s car was in the shop, so I picked her up from work one day.  “They messed up the schedule and asked me to stay later so I stayed till 4.  Now those jerks want me to stay till 8 and I refused.” She was talking about the managers at the drug store where she worked. “They said they won’t have anyone to work the register.  I said, ‘Guess what? Life ain’t fair.’”

It was only a few minutes’ drive from the drug store to the street where we lived, but it seemed like an eternity. I love my neighbor dearly, but this is the story she always tells about life, in one form or another.  Life isn’t fair.  Everyone else is an idiot. She’s not happy.

After a while, you have to realize that if you spew venom all the time, you’re also sitting in a pool of venom.  You can’t come out unscathed if you’re swimming in poison all the time.

You have to re-train your brain to stop focusing on the negative. The only way to do that is to tell a different story.

If my neighbor were really asking for advice, I’d tell her that she’s clinically depressed and really needs professional help.  I’ve told her this before and she agreed, but didn’t take the next step to see a counselor.

But she’s not asking for advice.  She’s playing the only tune she knows.  Life is bad. I’m not happy.  It’s someone else’s fault.

We’ve all been through dark days, that’s for sure, but the only time I think about hard times I’ve been through these days is to say a prayer of gratitude. The challenges were not a test, but training – a way of building resilience muscles and authenticating my compassion bona fides so it isn’t a hollow claim to say, I know how you feel.  I’ve been there. It seemed like it would never be morning again.

God always showed up to walk with me, but at one point in time, I didn’t see Him there.  I was laser-focused on what was wrong, the pile of stuff in front of me.  I can’t do this alone!  I don’t have enough! Why does this always happen to me? If only I had taken a breath and looked behind me, I would have seen that God always had my back.  All I had to do was tell a different story. I just had to close my eyes, put my hands together in prayer and sing a new song.

As always in the summer, I’ve spent hours and hours at the pool – knitting during swim practice, cheering during meets, and volunteering with other parents.

If you’ve ever watched a meet full of young swimmers, you’ve seen them turn their heads one way then the other.  They aren’t turning their heads to breathe.  They’re looking for the competition.  Who’s in first?

It really is natural.  They just want to know how they’re doing, but the problem is that each glance slows them down.  How do I know?  As soon as they break this habit, face forward, and swim, their times drop, drop, drop.

Young swimmers aren’t the only people who check out the competition although they may be the only ones doing it in the pool.  Whether you are glancing around to see if your child is the only one wiggling during the school program, sizing up dishes at a pot luck to see if yours is being consumed as fast as the rest, or trying to get a glimpse of someone else’s numbers at the weigh in, you are comparing yourself to others.

The problem is that if you’re ahead, you often wind up feeling smug. Too bad not everyone is as good a cook, parent, or dieter as you.

If you’re behind, envy may crowd its way into your heart.  Why can’t your child be so pleasant?  Your crust so flaky?  Your butt so small?

I don’t know your situation so I don’t know if you should be trying for a better covered dish or a smaller behind, but I do know that God doesn’t want us strutting around feeling smug or sulking by the sidelines.  He wants us to reflect His Love and Light into the world.

The thing is – it is much easier to do this if we are paying attention to Him and not to how we stack up against the competition, whether the contest is real or only in our heads.

Quit glancing to the sides.  Instead, look to Him for the inspiration you need to shine His Light, His Love, and His Mercy into the world.  When you do, you’ll notice a big, big difference.

–SueBE

I’ve got to tell you, I’m getting a little fed up. From a survey that reveals that American voters believe Jesus would come down even more conservatively on social issues than they themselves do (voting against same-sex marriage, for instance) to the closed-minded nastiness I read in the comments section of virtually every religious-themed internet article…well, I simply despair. We’ve got it all wrong, folks.

Anyone who believes that Jesus would respond with anything less than complete mercy and love — in any situation — is DEAD WRONG. Children emigrating to escape crime and poverty? Jesus would be there with his arms open wide to embrace them. Two people wanting to sacramentally celebrate their love and commitment? Jesus would be on hand to preside. He’d probably provide the wine for the reception, too.

As usual, in times of trouble, I turn to poetry.

Mercy

Mercy is Christ’s mantra (it
is mine, too).
Mercy is the bigger picture.
Mercy is the wider door.
Mercy admits it does not know
everything, or everyone’s heart,
and chooses to walk with compassion instead
of blocking the path to this one or that.
Mercy admits all comers.
Mercy takes a chance.
Mercy opens its arms, bleeding
on a cross and says, “You too,
and you.”
Mercy does not pass judgment.
Mercy does not cease.
Mercy is Christ’s mantra (it
is mine now, too).

Like so many other people, I’m going through a divorce, and the process has really been slow-going. The other day, I went to the Family Court office to pick up some papers and sat next to a lady who was in obvious distress.

Her stomach growled and she said, “Oh! Excuse me.”

I told her not to worry; “It happens to all of us.”

“Especially to moms,” she nodded.

And she paused, leaned toward me and added, “Especially to worried moms.”

Normally, my modus operandi is to encourage people and listen to their stories, but I had a recent realization that there are some things better left in the past.  Sometimes you can’t move ahead until you release the baggage holding you back.

My usual response to this woman telling me she was a worried mom would have been to say, “Oh, dear.  Are you worried?  Tell me what happened.”

My new approach was dramatically different. “Oh, dear.  Are you worried?  Don’t worry; it will all work out.”

She looked at me sharply, almost annoyed, responding with a disbelieving, “mm-hmm,” as if to say, no it won’t.

Up until recently, I’d let people tell me their troubles, thinking it might be cathartic for them.  As it turns out, when we commiserate with others, it actually prolongs and perpetuates problems.  It doesn’t help to tell everyone you meet a long list of your cares and woes.

Luckily, I got a leg cramp and had to walk it off, and strategically stepped away from this lady, but I overheard her talking to the woman on the other side of her.  There was a very long and sad story with graphic details. They talked intensely for twenty minutes and even exchanged phone numbers and emails.  In a way, they’d made a pinky-pact of sorts, to sit together and pick at soul-scabs until they bled again.

I was so glad I had stuck to my policy: I don’t commiserate anymore.  I’ll co-joy with you any day, but I won’t willingly co-sign your agreement to marinate in misery.

It took me years to learn this lesson, but now I know it in my bones. The only way to solve a problem is to do everything that you know will help and then release it, completely entrusting it to God. Traveling light and partnering with Providence is the only way to go.

RosesAs much as I love that phrase, we all know how hard it can be to cultivate.  It is just so easy to focus on the things that go wrong and the people who annoy us.

On Saturday, my husband and son came home from Scout camp where they learned a new technique to cultivate this attitude.  It is called Roses, Buds and Thorns.

At the end of the day, each person shares a rose (what went especially well), a bud (something that will grow into a rose in the near future) and a thorn (something they’re feeling prickly about).

We’re already using this at home.  I have to admit that it is going to take some practice.  Or  maybe I just shouldn’t call a “Rose, Bud & Thorn” meeting when someone is telling me how horrid his perfectly good day has been because I won’t give in and let him play on the computer after 9:30 (house rules).

Regardless, it has led to some interesting conversations.

“I’m glad that we have lots of candidates for pastor.”

“Wait a minute.  I’m on that committee.  That’s my rose.”

I was surprised that my son’s rose today was the sermon by our guest pastor.  Not the response I expected from a 15 year-old boy.

Try this technique with your own family.  It will help you learn to look for what is good as well as good that is coming and you’ll learn a lot about each other in the process.

–SueBE

So there I was: spending my weekly hour with God, a practice we Catholics call Perpetual Adoration. In our little chapel there is always someone present; the monstrance holding the consecrated Eucharist must never be left unattended. My hour is on Friday, and provides an ideal time for reflection.

In this case, fighting post-prandial wooziness and shivering in response to the overzealous air conditioning, I found myself asking: Believing as I do in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, knowing that he is here with me, what should I ask Jesus? The answer came back quickly. My question would be, “What can I do for you?” And I knew just what he would reply: “You already know. It’s all in the book.”

The “book” is, of course, the Bible, and specifically, in the words Christ himself spoke. In these words we get all the direction we need for living our lives. So if, like me, you’ve ever asked what you could do for God, here are just a few ideas, culled from Christ’s own words:

  1. Give to those in need.
  2. Divest yourself of things: You don’t need them.
  3. Practice the Beatitudes.
  4. Speak of Jesus to other people.
  5. Love your neighbor. All the time. As much as you can.
  6. Follow Christ’s example.
  7. Trust in God.
  8. Forgive, forgive, forgive.

There’s more, of course — much more. It’s a lot like having a textbook that includes the answers to each chapter’s exercises in the back. Christ’s words are there for us to access; he gave us the answers we seek. All we have to do is read them. We’ve got the book. What more do we need?

 

 

stainlessAs much as I enjoy using things with a “past,” like my grandfather’s magnifying glass, I have to admit that my grandmother’s silver chest remained in a basement closet, ignored.  I told myself it was because on those special occasions when I might bring out the good silver, I just don’t have time to polish it.

That isn’t the whole truth.

Part of it is also how her silver came to me after she died.  As is so often the case, we were cleaning things out and sorting. Who would get the silver?  The china?  The crystal?  Where is her dinner ring?

A female relative popped the chest open, then she pursed her lips. “You take it.  We don’t want it.  It’s just plate.”

As much as I wanted it, simply because it had belonged to my grandmother, now it somehow felt like it was worth less.  I was getting the discards.

Today, I was getting something else out of the closet and pulled down the chest.  Laying it on the freezer, I opened it up, amazed at the lack of tarnish.  I’m still not sure how it kept its polish because it’s been down there for over 5 years, but just seeing it made me smile.  At first I thought that we both had it wrong and that it might be stainless, but then I saw the label inside the chest.  Community Plate.

It might be plate, but it isn’t worth less.  Why?  Because as soon as I opened the chest, I remembered Christmas dinner, Easter, birthdays, the table always set with this flatware.  I remembered the love with which my grandmother opened up her home.

My grandmother was a deeply devote woman who made room in her day for her family, her friends, and prayer.  She often reminded me, that we are all forgiven, even the people who annoy me.  We have all been cleansed because of Christ.

I need to remember this as I go about my day, so that I don’t harshly judge the driver who ignores my right-of-way or the teens whose conversation is too loud in church.  I need to remember this as I remember the boy who bullied my son and the relative who only let me have something precious because she didn’t want it.

We have all been cleansed.  Because of Him, we are all stainless even when we aspire to be silver.

–SueBE

Nobody wanted to be there.  We were mandated by the court to attend this session after filing for divorce, and there was a cacophony of kvetching as we waited for the four hours of suffering to begin.

Then the presenter started talking, and the minute the slideshow began, it was instantaneous: we were all fully engaged. I sat there, trying to analyze what it was about this woman that made us all sit up and pay attention.

Let’s see. She was middle-aged (ditto moi),  somewhat Rubenesque (not throwing scones here, I’m zaftig myself) and she had to use a cane to navigate the room (as do I, at times).

The subject matter was dry, but she had a stage presence and a wicked wit. As I looked around the room, I noticed that the men in particular were really attentive. One actually looked as if he was in love with her!

What in the world is it about this lady?  I wondered.

I came to the conclusion that she was gifted. I realized that it’s an intangible x factor that I call “zhoozh.”  Not your size.  Not your age. Not your occupation. Not the degree certificates you hang on the wall.

Nope.  It’s the zhoozh.  The thing you bring that sets you apart but somehow connects you to the rest of the world.  Uniquely you, but universal.

In the evangelical world, I’ve heard it referred to as “anointing.” Others say that someone is “filled with the Holy Ghost.”  In our everyday interactions, it really may just be as simple as someone having a cheerful spirit.

Someone asked Joel Osteen why he doesn’t focus more on theology and exegesis of the Scriptures.  He answered that he didn’t feel it was his “gifting.” It’s good to be so self-aware that you know where your talents are, and instead of focusing on what others do well, you can pour your energies into your own gifts.

Even though we may not all be stars on a small stage, as this woman was, we can surely do our best to lift up those around us with our faith-filled optimism. It can mean the difference between just getting through the day and realizing that life is an amazing gift.  With the right attitude, it’s all a wonderful adventure.

createSummer is an exhausting time for me.  I’m a tried and true introvert.  I need my quiet time.  My quiet time keeps me sane.

But school is out and my son is a competitive swimmer.  Swim meets are not only full of people, but also full of sound – starting pistols or sirens and lots and lots of cheering.

Sometimes it is more than an introvert can stand.

My solution?  A new knitting project.  I’m making an A-line tank top with braided shoulders.  I’m not very far yet – at this point the shirt is less than two inches long.

While I can’t knit when I’m working a swim meet or interacting with my son’s friends, I make time every day to retreat into a world made up of bright green yarn and circular needles.  It enables me tighten my focus to just that point in front of me where needle crosses needle and pulls the yarn through.

As I focus, I let my mind wander.  Sometimes I consider the events of the day. Sometimes I pray.  Lately, I’ve been praying for my son’s swim mates as they leave the pool.  Other times I pray for family and friends.

Lately, I’ve been knitting while I wait for swim camp to let out.  I sit in the car for 5 minutes and create.  Just sitting and being with yarn and needles gives me the time and space to open myself up and hear. It gives me the room I need to breathe.  And by the time the kids come out of the pool, I am ready to greet them with a kind word and a smile.

If you are feeling stressed, find something to do with your hands.  One of my friends weeds her garden.  My mother got out her sewing machine.  Tighten your focus and let your mind go.  Listen and feel. When you are done, you may discover that He has planted a seed in your heart.

–SueBE

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