At this time of year, one would expect to read a post about thanksgiving — that is, about giving thanks for the blessings and bounty of one’s life. My contribution is a little different. I am grateful this year for pain; specifically, the pain in my left knee, of which I am reminded every time I cross my legs. I am grateful because this pain reminds me, over and over again, just how harmful, corrosive and painful passing judgment on others can be.

Years ago, I broke my ankle in a dramatic and gymnastically spectacular fall down a short flight of steps. I also injured my opposite knee at the same time. My employer, a generous man who worried about my well-being, sent me to his doctor, a specialist, to make sure my ankle and knee were well attended to.

My husband came along — I couldn’t drive with my cast, and I wanted his loving support (as I do in all matters, great and small). The doctor was polite to my spouse, but downright curt with me. When I described my knee pain, he grabbed the offending joint and wrenched it, hard. I shouted in pain. “Well, you might need surgery for that down the road,” he said.

My ankle had lost a triangular-shaped piece of bone. It still aches terribly in the cold. And my knee still bothers me — not enough to pursue something as radical as surgery, but just enough to remind me about how that doctor treated me. I was mystified by it at the time, and for a long while after. And then it came to me. This was the same doctor that my boss had sent other employees to, only these employees were dear to him for other reasons: Specifically, he was dating them.

What must that doctor have thought of me, sitting on his examination table, holding my husband’s hand? He must have thought me the worst of harlots, the most shameless of hussies. No wonder he was so brusque.

He was dead wrong, of course. I was, and am, an excellent worker, but I am also the most loyal of spouses. Yet in one stroke that doctor judged me guilty and meted out justice in a bedside manner most unbecoming to his profession.

Strangely, I am grateful for the pain left behind because it reminds me what judgment does to others. Judging is hurtful. It is not my place to judge anyone, nor is it theirs to judge me. I also think God gave me this experience for a reason. I can be overly judgmental, pointing fingers mentally at what I perceive as others’ spiritual flaws…without remembering that these flaws are not my business; they are God’s. My responsibility is for my own flaws, to tending my own soul’s garden.

And if I ever need reminding, I can just cross my legs.

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In the news recently, a football fan wearing her team’s jersey was being given the game ball by one of her favorite players. Before she got hold of it fully, a fan of the other team swiped the ball right out of her hands. The video went viral and social media lit up in outrage.

And here in New Jersey, a man’s family home is being taken from him by the government under eminent domain. Even though almost half of the casinos in Atlantic City have folded over the past months, the city plans to use his property for casino area re-development.

These are just a couple of examples of people trying to take what isn’t theirs. It happens in life, and often, all we can do is shake our heads. We’ve all been there.

Others may try to:

□ Steal your joy

□ Shake your faith

□ Give you grief

There should be a term for that. It’s the opposite of having an “Attitude of Gratitude.”

Maybe we could call that a “Plateful of Ungrateful.”

Or a “Bad Case of Buzzkill.”

No matter what you call it, the important thing is to inoculate yourself against this type of infectious ingratitude.

With the holidays coming up, I know we’ve all got a relative or two with this sort of affliction. Make your own psyche as precious to you as your child’s or your spouse’s. If grumpy Aunt Martha was trying to bring your loved one down, you’d most likely intervene. Do that for yourself as well. Suddenly remember you wanted to check the weather for tomorrow and leave the room. Or go help grandma in the kitchen if your brother-in-law starts you steaming like a latté, talking about politics and disparaging your religion.

I’m giving thanks this year that I’ve made the commitment to safeguard my own mind when faced with the Soul-Drainers of life. Don’t stand idly by when they come at you, fangs drawn. Put them on notice: find other prey, Psyche-Suckers! Take your hat and your bad day with you when you leave. And please back away from the pumpkin pie. I already have dibs.

The weekend before Thanksgiving.  You might expect to spend this time contemplating your many blessings and thanking those around you who figure in this count. knit

Or you might live one city over from the infamous town of Ferguson, Missouri where a police officer shot a teen age boy in early August.  In that case, you’d spend the weekend before Thanksgiving asking if anyone had heard anything – indict or no, protest or no, riot or no.  You could spend your time trying to read something into every word and every silence . . . or not.

Frankly, many of us who live in the area are sick of it.  We’re sick of the controversy, the expectations, the misunderstandings and the misrepresentations in the media.

I spent the day at the Florissant Presbyterian Church craft fair and book sale.  I spent the day with people who find ways to share what they love with others.  One woman does sewing machine embroidery that is so intricate it looks like a painting. What an amazing way to bring cheer into someone’s home! A man turns the most beautiful wood into bowls.  Simple and utterly amazing.  I watched a tiny boy of about four catch a woman’s display as it started to slide off the table and then scoot back to mama’ side. Teens and toddlers, grandparents and couples, come together in community.

These are the things for which I will be giving thanks all through the holiday weekend – a wide variety of people living, loving and working side-by-side.   Heavenly Father, thank you for helping me see.

–SueBE

 

When I first started blogging, I wanted to augment my work here with a blog devoted to Emily Dickinson, a deeply spiritual poet with whom I find a friendly resonance. I wanted to call my site “An Admiring Blog,” a take on a line from Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?” But the name was already taken. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from musing on her work. I wrote this poem with Dickinson’s “The Mighty Merchant” in mind:

Choose your cross.
Pick the size and shape.
Mull over wood grains.
Perhaps I can help?
Peter, you know, chose to go feet-first.
Some saints I know like their crosses
perfectly square.
But don’t let me sway you.
Your choice should be tempered
by the size of your soul.
There are those who carry mahogany
as lightly as balsa,
others with twined sticks, twigs really,
who bend under the weight
like make-believe martyrs.

Let me tell you a secret:
You will always choose the cross you know.
Its contours are familiar, the upright beam
settles easily between your shoulder blades.
Oh, you claim to hate it,
but over the years you’ve learned
to heft its weight. A new cross
can be wily — green wood
can bend and wriggle like a viper
you only thought you understood.

All crosses are vouchsafed,
guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Don’t fret, dear Consumer!
You’ll scarcely notice:
A carpenter I know
will take an end.
He has experience with these things.
You have only to ask.

When my son was in grade school, a teacher wrote two words on the board: “Boisterous” and “Timid.” She told the class that these are the two personality types, and went around the class, saying “Boisterous” or “Timid,” as she pointed at the students. This really frosted my cupcake, and I was about to call that teacher and give her a piece of my ever-loving mind.

But I had to cool my jets as I realized that my son and the other students weren’t bothered by this teacher. “That’s just how she is, Ma.” And I realized that maybe he had learned something. Adults don’t always have their facts straight, and you can’t let someone else’s opinion diminish you.

It was clear that he also knew that the teacher was a “personality type” as well. She was a bit flaky, went off on tangents and was sometimes in her own world. Wow. People like that! Ha ha! Oh wait. I’m like that, too.

It was also a teachable moment for me. I was about to step in, as I’ve always done, to protect my son’s precious psyche. Well, he didn’t need me to charge in like the cavalry then, and he surely doesn’t need it today, at sixteen years old. He’s a young man now.

I’ve been so used to being my son’s advocate that I forgot something. He’s already out there in the world. He sees how it is. By trying to “protect” him, I’m impeding his ability to navigate the world in his own way.

The best thing I can do is keep him covered in plentiful prayer, and trust that I raised him well enough to make the right choices in life. Stepping back is never easy for a parent, but it’s the only way our kids will be able to step up and walk the path on their own terms. My son’s not a boy anymore. It’s about time for me to get out the way and let the man through.

snowI had to laugh when I read Lori’s post.  “Winter has murdered fall…”

That’s definitely one way to put it. I’ve seen flurries twice this week and its only mid-November.  The sky has been gray all day and we’ve got snow, real snow, in the forecast for tomorrow.

But the Youth Group is also having a chili luncheon for a fund raiser.  Each family is supposed to bring two desserts.  What will happen with the fund raiser if we get inches of snow as predicted?  Will the kids meet their goal? And who will eat all those desserts?  People may very well stay home.

What to do?  Bake and hope for the best?  Or buy a gallon of milk and prep for the worst?

The reality is that although God may know what tomorrow will bring, we don’t have a clue.  We obsess.  We worry.  We fret.  And I’m not just talking about the weather either.

I’m not going to say that I’m always excellent at this, but I try to leave it in God’s hands.  Instead of fussing, I do what I can do with the understanding that God has a plan. I may not know what it is, but God who is merciful and just — he knows.

The first thing that I did, in spite of the grey skies, was buy daffodil and crocus bulbs.  They will add some color and verve to God’s world come spring, which will come in spite of all our hand ringing.

Then I made rice crispy treats and baked a pan of brownies.  If there aren’t enough people at church to eat all the desserts, I might have a little something to bring home and nibble while I decide where to plant the bulbs in preparation for spring.  Only God knows exactly when it will warm up but I can do what I can do – have Faith that even if snow falls tomorrow, spring will come.

–SueBE

The leaves that started to turn are off the trees. Winter has murdered Fall with icy fingers. Or skip the poetics: It’s cold out there. On Monday, it was 72 degrees. On Wednesday, 25. We never did get an autumnal blaze of glory. Tulip-lovers are planting bulbs with gloved hands, wondering how they lost their window of opportunity so quickly. Rarely have the seasons changed with such brutal rapidity.

Still, there are warm moments: The Pope has announced that Vatican bathrooms will be outfitted with showers for the use of homeless people. The Supreme Court upheld gay marriage in Kansas, opening the door for a longtime friend of mine to officially cement her relationship with her beloved partner. Thanksgiving approaches and folks online and out in the world are expressing gratitude, collecting for the needy and just generally upping their spiritual game.

Let us not be dismayed at the freeze, meteorologically or metaphorically. Faith is all about seeing the good among the wicked, the single flower in the snow, and hanging on to it with all one’s might. Some might ask why. I prefer to ask why not. Why not take every little bit of goodness and roll it up into a ball and stash it in your pocket to keep you warm against the chill of bad tidings, war and injustice?

My spirituality makes some people nervous. How can I believe in God when X, Y and Z are happening in the world? How can I stay with a church that excludes, that cannot take a step forward without groans of protest and threats of further retreat? The answer is: I don’t know; I just do. Somewhere, in the small, still center of myself, I know what I know. God is love. I need to be in a place where change can be effected. Goodness will triumph in the end.

When winter winds blast you, why not stand with those who are trying to keep warm, whether through good deeds or religious faith? I know my choice. Come on over — our love will keep us warm.

Mayor DeBlasio of New York City was interviewed about residents still re-building two years after Superstorm Sandy. He said they’d sent out 100 checks to families in the Build-it-Back Program, as compared to none earlier this year.

It made me wonder. Sure, if you compare your tiny accomplishment to nothing, heck, it seems to be something. I think we need to set the bar a skooch higher.

On a bottle of juice, there were the words “20% less sugar!” and I thought, as compared to what? A big bag of sugar?

Paula Deen was embroiled (pun alert!) in controversy last year when she revealed that she’d developed diabetes. This celebrity chef made meals with tons of fat and sugar, but she seemed to feel it was unrelated to her health condition. Once, she put a whole stick of butter in a recipe, saying to the camera, “This time we’re cutting back on the butter; normally I use two sticks!”

I guess it’s all about your frame of reference.

And isn’t it true sometimes that we pray, not really expecting God to move on our behalf? It’s possible we’re unconsciously comparing Him to people, some of whom promise things and never deliver.

I’ve got a theory. I think we actually receive answers to our prayers every time we pray.

The answer is either:

□It’s on its way

-or-

□Something better is coming

After all, winning the lottery might not actually provide you with what you truly seek:  happiness. God knows you’re not asking for this specific thing, but what you believe it will bring.

The beauty of praying to the One the Bible calls “the Most High God” is that you’re not praying with your hands, you’re praying with your heart.

So I say, you might as well aim high with your prayers. You might be surprised at the blessings that come your way.

praying for helpRecently, something happened that brought this joke to mind.

A religious man sat on his roof during a huge flood.  A man in a boat rowed by and yelled “get in!” 

The religious man shook his head.  “No, I have faith in God.  He’ll send me a miracle.”

When the water was to his waist, another boat came along.  “Get in!”

“No. I have faith in God.”

When the water is up to his chest, another boat comes by but still, he refuses to get in because he knows God will send him a miracle.

As the water reaches his head, he hears the thump of a helicopter.  They throw down a ladder but he won’t climb in, still waiting for God.

The man drowns and when he sees St. Peter, he starts complaining.  “Why didn’t God send me a miracle!?”

St. Peter shakes his head.  “Why are you fussing?  He sent three boats and a helicopter.  What more do you want?”

What made me think of this was a request that I got last weekend.  Our church hosted an event for Presbytery and one of the organizers asked some of us to bake a dessert and bring it in.  She had already purchased the mixes and added a card with directions (when and where to drop off).

“Can you do this for me?” she asked as she handed me a lemon cake mix.

“No, this is deadline week but I’ll see if Dan or Jared can help.”

I’ve never seen someone snatch back a mix so quickly.  She wasn’t about to let my son or husband help in spite of the number of mixes she was still carting around.  Apparently, she doesn’t know who makes most of our fudge and cookie dough at Christmas.

But it made me think.  I’ve got a work load right now that while a blessing is also heavy duty. It means that I need help with things around the house, things that I normally do myself.  When I pray to God for the assistance I need from my family, it will help if I haven’t already made up my mind exactly what form that help will take. That mindset will leave me cradling an arm load of mixes as the flood waters rise.

–SueBE

“If you give God a hair, he will give you a mountain,” said my friend on the phone. She’d just finished telling me about something that happened to her on a recent trip. She’d been arguing with her sister, and decided to choose peace instead. She swallowed her anger and let tolerance prevail. Then she walked to a local church where what I can only construe as a miracle occurred. I won’t describe it because I don’t want to water it down — or subject it to skepticism, which, Good Readers, despite your best intentions, you’d be destined to color it with. I myself briefly fought against my own tendency toward eye-rolling incredulity. But I believe my friend. (And for all of you in the “pictures or it didn’t happen” crowd, there are pictures. It happened.)

But the miracle isn’t the point here. It’s about how generously God loves us. My friend made a tiny step away from her usual pattern of combativeness, and was lavishly rewarded with a life-changing moment. Imagine that! Imagine what might happen if you were to change in a larger way!

We all have things we’d like to change about ourselves. I’m not talking about the size of your waist or your wallet. I’m talking about your soul. We all have flaws we need to work on. But just like proud parents encouraging a baby to take his first steps, God encourages us in our journeys, too. When we wobble, he provides support. And when we take a tenuous step, he cheers. If we happen to do the unimaginable — traveling, say, from a distant land of spiritual rejection, squandered potential and sin and back into God’s arms — that’s when the real celebration occurs. Fatted calf? Check. Magnificent robe, rings on every finger, and a party for all our friends? Check, check, and check again.

Don’t believe me? I understand. It’s easier to live in skepticism than to make the improbable journey to belief. There’s a lot more evidence for skepticism than there is for belief. Just go on-line for ten minutes. You’ll get your fill — and then some — of negativity. But if you want something better, something different, all it takes is the slightest movement. A single hair. You’ll be surprised at the mountain you receive in return.

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