They rang the bell. Twice. Then they knocked. They weren’t going away, so I opened the door. I could see copies of “The Watchtower” in the hands of one of the men. Ugh, Jehovah’s Witnesses! Maybe I could quickly blurt out, “I’m Catholic!” and slam the door. But I didn’t.

Instead, I listened to their spiel. And you know what? It was sweet, all about bringing God’s will in heaven to our earthly plane. Of course, we are bound to have doctrinal differences, and my view of God’s will being done on earth almost certainly does not strictly adhere to their vision. But it was nice, being near people who cared enough about their spirituality to slog door to door, undoubtedly facing plenty of rejection.

I understand rejection — or at least apathy. It is difficult to be a spiritual person in a consumer-driven, “might equals right”, “he (and I do not choose this pronoun thoughtlessly) with the most money rules” society. And it’s terribly difficult to keep putting yourself out there, knowing most people won’t listen or care…that they may, in fact, think that you’re a fanatic, or worse, just loopy.

I asked the Witnesses how they deal with rejection. It did not seem to get them down. “Some people just don’t understand,” said the retired minister. “But remember, Jesus could not get everyone to understand, either. He was simply happy with those who did get the message.”

Eventually, they moved on. On to face slammed doors, a mass of “no thank you’s,” and similar reactions. Having a blog and a radio show, I don’t get to actually see the slammed doors or hear the polite excuses, but I know they’re out there. I sometimes hear the more virulent responses, the ones from those who not only think I’m loopy but actually dangerous. But even that is a rare thing. Mostly, I live in a void, not knowing if anyone hears me at all.

And you know what? I can live with that. But is sure helps to know that I’m not alone. You don’t have to proselytize to show your spirituality, but it sure doesn’t hurt to let the world know you exist, that you and your faith are not going away. Keep knocking, people. Keep knocking.

One of my guilty pleasures is celebrity magazines. I recently saw a picture of Renee Zellweger, and heard snide comments on social media about the plastic surgery she seems to have had done. Then, a picture of Bonnie Bedelia seemed to show that she’d had work done on her face as well – I thought, she looks like Jennifer Grey, version 2. By that I mean, after Jennifer Grey had her nose fixed, she no longer looked like herself anymore.

But it would never occur to me to make rude comments about them. And I wondered why it is that people feel that they can mercilessly mock celebrities about plastic surgery.

They’re not cartoon characters, devoid of feelings. They read what you’re writing, and it hurts. They care about what others think. And that’s what led them to do this to themselves in the first place.

They’re really not some different breed of human being, living on starlight and moonbeams. They’re you and me.  Whatever it is that we think will make our lives better, our worlds prettier, our struggles more bearable, we do it.  Through the years, I’ve dyed my hair with a canary yellow streak, tried Zumba, gone to Weight Watchers. You name it, I’ve tried it.

In a way, we’re really painting the wrong canvas. It’s not how we look to the world that really matters. It’s how we look at the world.

If we think that everyone is only a sum of their parts – that women are only valid as long as they are young and beautiful and men, as long as they’re strapping and rich – we don’t live in a world that welcomes us. In some ways, we don’t live in the right neighborhood in our minds.

Light yourself up from the inside, and everything you look at on the outside is more beautiful. No nips or tucks necessary. Going under the knife won’t set your life right. The constant care and feeding of your soul is what makes you whole.

I read the message with a tight chest.  This particular nasty-gram (hate-filled e-mail) questioned my parenting skills and whether or not I considered the sacrifices other people have made for me.  In short, I was called out as heartless, self-centered and entirely self-absorbed.

What brought this on?  I told someone I wasn’t available to help with something on Wednesday afternoon.  Never mind that no help was needed until Thursday, I still got a nasty-gram.

The rest of the day Sunday was lost to stewing over the situation. How could she say that?  Is that really how people see me?  Lord, please don’t let my son end up in prison.  Cause that’s what happens if you’re a bad parent, right?

It took me all day to write a 4 line response.  All.  Stinking.  Day.

For the better part of a day, I wasn’t focused on my family, my friends or my Faith.  Nope.  I was fretting and doubting and obsessing.  And it didn’t do any good.  I realized that when I got nasty-gram #2.  Only this time, I paid attention to that still small voice.

Delete it.

What?  What if there’s something in there I need to know?  I had agreed to help.

This isn’t about you.  Delete it.

I clicked on delete and, amazingly enough, I felt no guilt.  You’ll get this if you’re Presbyterian.  Guilt courses through our veins.  We can be more than a little gloomy.

But this time I didn’t feel it. I felt relief.  I felt light.  It was a very un-gloomy feeling.

Turning the other cheek doesn’t just mean letting it go when someone wrongs you.  It doesn’t mean that you have to give them the unmarked side as a target for the next blow.  You have a third option.

Turn and walk away.  Turn toward the God who loves you.  Turn toward the God who doesn’t want you to hate yourself because of the lies someone has planted in your heart.

God loves us.  He doesn’t want us to hate ourselves.  If there is someone in your life who is making you do that, turn to God.  Draw on his strength and grace and mercy. You can choose to turn the other cheek, walk away, and refuse to engage.

–SueBE

 

I still have a little jewelry box I received at age nine, during a brief stay in the hospital. In it are the small, precious keepsakes of my childhood: a pink rubber cat I got at the dentist’s office, various toys from cereal boxes, incense (it was the ‘70s), a soap shaped like a rose, the Snow White and Seven Dwarves figures from my tenth birthday cake, and a pile of paint sample cards I must have picked up when my parents were painting our new house in Placentia. (It is fortunate that they did not allow me to choose the paint colors, as my tastes seemed to run toward shades with names like “Sun Glo” and “Ultra Purple.”)

What we choose to keep from our growing-up years — and what we discard — interests me greatly. In many ways, our spirituality is built in the same way. Spirituality takes root in the earth of our childhoods, in what we are taught about God and about ourselves. Do we feel loved? Then we can imagine a God who loves us, too. Do we feel safe? This, too, colors our perceptions.

Some of us grow up to reject the precepts of our childhoods. This, it seems to me, has less to do with the reality of God than it has to do with how we were treated by those around us. The most vehement atheists often have childhood traumas attached to faith and religion. (Or they grew up in England, which, with its centuries-old history of religious turmoil, could turn off the hardiest of souls.)

Which moral values and religious teachings you keep, and which you throw away, ultimately comprise your spirituality. Some things I’ve thrown out over the years: The idea of an angry, vengeful God; a God who thinks of women as “lesser” or “unworthy”; a God who only loves and saves a special, select group of believers, to the detriment of everyone not privileged enough to grow up Christian. My God has gotten bigger over the years.

I want you to remember the God of your childhood. Who was God? How has your understanding of God changed? Because I hope it has changed, except in one regard: The joy God gave you, the dizzying sense of greatness and love. I feel terrible for anyone who never had those feelings. But you know, it’s not too late. With God, we can always become children again. There is very little to do but let go. Open your heart and let God in. Of all the things you hold on to or discard, God is the ultimate keeper.

walking in the shoes of anotherI try not to make assumptions when I pray.  This means that when I pray for someone else, I try to leave the way open for God’s Will, not mine.  I try not to assume how to best solve the problem.

That said, every now and again it still happens.

Last weekend, we walked in the Crop Hunger Walk.  The point is three fold: to raise money to solve the problem, to raise awareness and to share the experience.  As the organizer explained, we walk because they have no choice. If someone is suffering from dangerous hunger, they are walking wherever it is they have to go.

But, said my silly brain, isn’t the hunger a lot more important than the walking?  (Cue ominous music.)

The problem started with my shoes. They may be good walking shoes but they are good for walking on a treadmill or a concrete floor.  With elastic bands instead of laces, they don’t tie tightly and your feet slip, especially when you walk downhill.  About half way through the three-miles, I knew I was in trouble but half way through three miles means that you have to walk just as far to get back.  I’ve never had blisters of any consequence before but this time I had one the size of a half-dollar on the ball of each foot.

At this point, I understood.  The people who experience dangerous hunger are also going to have badly fitting shoes, possibly bad foot health and more.  They may be in misery, but they are going to have to walk regardless.

Which matters more – the hunger or the walking?  At this point, I know better than to assume.

–SueBE

When I was nine, my best friend Teresa and I decided to count to one million. My family had recently moved, so we kept track of our progress through breathless play dates and eager letters: “I’m at 21,345!” “I’m at 33,590!” I knew Teresa would never lie about her progress — she was scrupulously honest, and I took care to track my count by making hatch marks in a spiral notebook, one mark for every hundred. We never got much further than one hundred thousand; I suppose constantly counting in one’s spare time became tedious, especially as I got acclimated to my new school. It was with misgiving that we decided, jointly, to quit.

Some things are practically impossible. Even if one approaches a task with great enthusiasm, the uphill climb may prove insurmountable. And then there are miracles, those wondrous earth-movers that can propel you from the “low thousands” straight up to a metaphorical million in one fell swoop.

I believe in miracles. (As I’ve said dozens of times, anyone with asthma must believe in them. How else to explain the panic of drowning, drowning, drowning, and suddenly emerging, porpoise-like, back to breath?) But miracles don’t always turn out the way we want them to. They are chimeric little things, insisting on their own mystery, only sometimes conforming to our wishes.

This does not make them any less miracles. I feel certain that miracles are softly showering us all the time; we simply don’t notice. We’re too busy under our umbrellas of busy-ness and rote activity (work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep) to take heed of the plethora of wonders landing like roses at the feet of an operatic diva.

Today, I want you to pay attention. Look up from your computer, your plate, your rake and see them: See the miracle of changing leaves, of toiling insects (do you suppose they recognize the miracles that are us, looking down at them?), of the gift of breath, warmth, love. Take heed of miracles. There are millions of them out there, right now, waiting for you.

kids' book cover image

Living in the past isn’t just a weight on the soul, it actually puts your present on pause so that, in a spiritual sense, you’re neither here nor there.

This is my fervent prayer today: O Lord, allow us to release ourselves from the prison of past pain.

There really is no warden, no actual iron bars. Just the notion that we can only go as far as this confined space because of things that have happened to us.

Just the imaginary lines that hem us in and hang us up.  We think:

  • If we’ve been hurt before, by anyone, perhaps no one can be trusted.
  • If we’ve tried to pursue a long-cherished dream, and it didn’t work out, maybe that was our only shot. No point in trying again.
  • If we’ve been told we’re too – fill in the blank – □ old □ young □ sick □ poor □ fat □ thin □ ethnic □ timid □ hyperactive □ quirky…we have nothing to contribute in life.

We limit ourselves with labels to the point that we no longer even try. But there’s no need to set down roots in a patch of poison ivy.

So let’s dig into this thing that happened to you. You must know in your heart that you didn’t deserve that. Whatever it was, it wasn’t your fault, so it’s okay to let it go.  It doesn’t belong to you. It belongs in the past, where it can’t hurt you anymore. It belongs to God, who is “close to the broken-hearted and … those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18. It belongs in the sea of forgetfulness, so drop it in and let it go.

Free up space for God’s grace to enliven your life and settle into your soul. Free yourself from the prison you’ve never felt at home in anyway. Release the pain of the past, open your heart to what’s possible, and you’ll find yourself. Free.

silenceThis week, I tried something new in terms of prayer.  We are looking for apartments for my father, wrapping up my son’s swim season, visiting dad in the skilled nursing center, and I’m researching and writing a book. Me? Busy? Nah?

A week or so I read about using meditation as prayer. Instead of simply trying to empty your mind, you think of it as spending quiet time with God.  No requests.  No pleas.  Just be.

My wants and concerns are all pretty obvious right now – help Dad get through physical therapy, help us help him find an apartment, help us all work together, help me find time for my son and husband, etc.  I can fill more prayer time than I can possibly scrape together.

So why pick now to try this technique out?  Because I’m sick of feeling on edge and rushed.

Several times this week, I found the time to simply sit with God.  These times come in the morning when no one realizes I’m home by myself.  (High school starts really early, earlier than most people assume.)  So I sit and I take a deep breath.

I’ve done yoga so I know how to breathe.  I exhale all the way, emptying my lungs.  Then I wait a moment before breathing just as slowly back in.  I try to focus on one simple thought.  “Here I am, Lord.”

Try to focus.  That should tell you something. Focus and I have a dicey hit or miss relationship.  Sometimes I pull it off for 30 or 40 seconds.  Sometimes even less.  No matter how often I have to force my focus back to simply being with God, I do it.

What did I accomplish?  I can’t say that a host of epiphany rained down on me.  I can’t say that I have a new understanding of myself or my place in God’s Creation.  Who knows.  Any of that or something else altogether different may come in time.

What I did take away was a renewed sense of calm.  I felt more peaceful than I would feel at any other point throughout the day.

Whether or not you have specific needs, why not try to simply breathe deeply and spend some quiet time with God? You may not come away with any big answers but renewing your sense of peace and calm is surely worth a few minutes out of your day.

–SueBE

Have you heard? The synod of bishops (basically a “sampling” of bishops from all over the world, plus some other folks) is meeting at the Vatican to discuss “Family.” I could make a joke here about a large group of celibate men discussing marriage and family, but I won’t, because some very serious issues are on the table, including, divorce, annulment, gay marriage and more. The bishops are talking. People are talking.

Will the Church change? Can the Church change? Hope abounds, even as the Supreme Court has begun striking down laws that prevent gays and lesbians from marrying. Are we on the brink of a new awareness, a new embrace of people who have been marginalized for years? I surely wish it so.

The Catholic Church moves more slowly than the rest of the world, and understandably so. We must be cautious that we are not undermining the rich, deep and beautiful foundations of our faith. I completely understand trepidation. I do not, however, understand excluding people from the life of the Church based on marital status or inborn characteristics such as sexual preference.

My sister was married for more than 20 years. Then, one day, her husband came home and announced that he didn’t love her and never had. What does one do with a declaration like that? She is divorced now, but if she were to meet and marry a good, loving man, she would — as things currently stand — be denied access to the Eucharist, the very life-giving heart of Catholic life.

Of course, it is less likely that a person would be shunned for being remarried than for being gay. Many of us have heard about the two men who recently got married and were asked to leave their parish (of which they were active members) unless — and this is a big unless — they promptly got divorced and signed a paper saying that marriage is only right, honorable and sacramental between a man and a woman. That’s not a choice; it’s blackmail.

Some of the comments I read regarding this case made me angry. Some merely bemused me. “So leave Catholicism and become an Episcopalian!” wrote several observers. Don’t they understand that people like me, whose Catholicism is in their blood and bones and woven so tightly into the fabric of their lives that it is quite inextricable, cannot leave the Church? Will not? Must not? “If you don’t like it, leave,” has never been a cogent argument to me. I am Catholic. I am the Church, the Body of Christ. I can no more leave Catholicism than I could tell my arm to drop off my body and onto the ground. And why should I — or anybody — have to?

I pray that the synod of bishops will hear what faithful Catholics are saying to them. I pray that they will work to include those who have been excluded, to fold them back into the fold. The world changes. Family changes. So too must our thinking — and the Catholic Church’s.

Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise.

Jeremiah 17:14 NIV

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