This scripture was posted on an inspirational blog that I follow, B is for Blessed, and it really took hold in my soul.

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:14 (NKJV)

Today is my 50th birthday, and this phrase resonated with me, since some say that our best years are behind us. You might think, it’s all downhill from here! As it happens, that’s not actually the case.

Turning fifty is supposed to be a milestone, but as it turns out, it’s just another day on the calendar. As I look back on my life, some of the true milestones flew under the radar, such as that moment a few years ago when I realized how important it is to figure out what you don’t want in life – that’s how you draft the map in your mind to your soul’s sacred space.

Milestones are stepping stones, like bricks on the path toward the life you want to create.

The upward call says it all. Keep pushing toward a goal. Have a sense of purpose. Indulge your passion. Even if you’ve got health issues. Keep going. Even if you don’t know how to get what you want out of life. Start stepping.

Moving in any direction is better than standing still. Get up. Get dressed. Get to work. If you stay rooted to the spot you’re sitting in, you’ll have no incentive to expand your world. If there’s a mountain in your way, get your hard hat on. It’s time to dig out of the trenches.

One of the keys to making progress is not looking back. Re-playing bad scenes from the past is like paying admission to see an awful movie you hated the first time.

Never forget as you navigate this world that you’ve got a silent partner and a hotline to heaven called “prayer.”

I say, onward and upward. It’s not about the calendar, it’s about the calling. It’s not about the “days of yore,” it’s about what’s in store.  No matter your age, keep the faith: the best is yet to come.

Last week, Lori wrote about Cecil, the famous Zimbabwean lion killed by an American dentist/big game hunter. I have to admit, when I saw the first post, I thought it was a hoax. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that this man would do this and photograph it.  I still don’t get it, but I sure didn’t predict all of the repercussions.

When a friend posted about Cecil, someone commented on her post. How could she possibly care about this lion and not about all the poor aborted babies?  What kind of a monster is she?

Still trying to sort things out, she posted about how strange it was that people thought you could care about only one issue at a time. Why couldn’t she care about trophy hunting and something else?  Someone commented on that post, slamming her for comparing trophy hunting to the PTSD suffered by Black Americans who live as a hated minority. Round and round it went.

What do you say when emotions run so high?

As an introvert, I know that coming up with the words myself is out of the question. Put me on the spot, make me feel like a target and, at best, I’m going to freeze. At worst, I’m going to say something snippy or mean just to get whoever it is to back away and leave me be.

The best that I can at times like this is take a deep breath and let God speak.  Often it takes more than a deep breath to find that Christ-filled center. I know people who seem to find it at a moment’s notice but I am not one of those people.  For me, it takes time.  It often takes a bit of quiet and perhaps a bit of music like this anthem.  Because truly, it is the best that I can hope for when feelings run high or at any other time.  God Be In My Head.

–SueBE

Golden rule, schmolden rule. It comes down to this: In absolutely every situation, love ought to rule. If you have a decision to make, choose the more loving path. If you have something to say, let it be said lovingly and with love as its sole content. If you have the chance to intersect your life with the life of another, whether person or animal, let that intersection be of, with and about love.

I didn’t say it would be easy.

Unless you live under a rock, you know about Cecil the lion, who was lured out of his protected territory and shot by an American dentist (whose name I will withhold, though it’s all over the news), so the magnificent beast’s skin and head could adorn the surfaces of said dentist’s Minnesota home. This wasn’t a case of hunting for necessity, for food. It was acquisition at the cost of a life. It was a bad, bad thing.

The man who committed this act is certainly feeling its effects. Social media will do that. He has shut down his practice, issued an apology, and is generally lying low. He has received both death threats and vituperative scrutiny of his manhood. I understand these reactions; I felt them, too. Social media provides an outlet for rock-throwing unheard of since Biblical times. I admit it; I tossed my pebble with everybody else.

I am glad that I grew up before social media became a thing. Nowadays, any foolish thing anybody does is promptly recorded and preserved for all time. It never goes away. I would not want to be judged on the single, stupidest thing I ever did. No one would. But people are, every single day, on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.

I am not excusing the gentleman in question. What he did was reprehensible. But who am I to throw stones? If love is really the law, why are people’s lives devastated because the public decides to play vigilante? The woman taken in adultery was owed her stoning, by ancient Hebrew law. But Jesus said no. Jesus made it clear that, whether the mob in question is on line or in the angry, vengeful flesh, only God can be the final arbiter of guilt or innocence. Only s/he who is without sin may cast the first stone.

I believe in karma, and to some extent, the justice system. But I believe most fervently in God. In the end, it is up to God to judge us, whether our crime is catfishing or lion-killing. Online or off, God sees us, sees our deeds, knows our hearts. What this hunter did will catch up to him. In the meantime, we should follow the rule of love and put our stones back into our pockets. We may certainly condemn his actions. But we must not condemn his person. Not if love is the law.

 * With apologies and deep gratitude to The Suburbs, whose song by the same title has been a fave of mine for more than 30 years.

In 1990, there was no such thing as accessibility for people in wheelchairs. The Americans with Disabilities Act was still an idea, and jarring action was needed. Word spread, and soon, disability rights activists made a shocking visual statement: they crawled up the steps of the capitol building, demanding that this law be passed. They stood up while on their knees.

In the 1950s, African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens. At the end of a long day on the job, Rosa Parks couldn’t take it anymore and refused to go to the back of the bus. She stood up while sitting down.

Memory Banda knew the path her family chose for her included marriage as a child bride in Malawi. Preparation for the wedding included an unthinkable ritual in which an older man deflowered her. When her own people encouraged this atrocity, she stood up and wouldn’t lie down.

Sometimes the right thing to do when you’re being held down is to stand up. Change doesn’t always come through “proper channels.”

It’s been said that for every problem, there’s a solution, but for those living without basic needs or those not being treated properly, the in-between time can be a living hell. It can also be a time of growth; a period in which change is gestating.

As people of faith, we bring our troubles to God. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6 NIV) This is the time of abiding.

But there comes a time when we are expected to act. Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 NIV) This is the time of deciding.

It takes a decision to do what’s right. Small things, like checking on an elderly neighbor in a heatwave. Larger things, like what the Miami Coalition for the Homeless is doing: helping homeless people right on the streets with food and medication assistance.

There’s a time for abiding and a time for deciding. The time in between? That’s life.

I don’t know what it is about me.  Introvert though I may be, I seem to invite intrusive questions and comments from strangers.  I’m amazed at how many of them are about my son. When I was pregnant, people would ask me what he was going to be. “I don’t know. I haven’t met him yet.” I know it sounds rude but I was mystified. And it’s probably just as well that I didn’t try to guess because it is clear that God is the one that chose his talents. Me?  I’d have done a few things differently.

In many ways, we’re a lot alike.  We’re both introverts who genuinely like people to a point.  When we’ve had enough, we’ve had enough.  We both love movies and books and super heroes and gaming and animals and science and history.  That’s a lot of common ground, but God also gave him interests and talents that are entirely his own.

One of his all-time favorite Scouting experiences was Pack and Paddle, a leadership training course that required him to spend a week backpacking and canoeing.  Me? I have a house. Why would I sleep outside? After the zombie apocalypse fine, but for fun?  No, thank you.

Then there’s swimming. He adores swim team and the sense of camaraderie. Water is his element and he’s actively swimming from early June until mid-November. Although parents are required to work only one swim meet, I usually work more like 6.  I’d rather be on deck and close to the action in spite of everything.

This summer, someone told my son that he’s lucky I love the water.  “She’s always here.”

These assumptions may confuse me, but my son laughs. “You’re kidding right?  She hates water.”

The thing is God created us as two very different people.  My son loves things I don’t — swimming, camping, and rock climbing. But that’s okay. You will never find him knitting, crocheting or writing. We each have our God given talents.

We just need to remember that God knit him together to be one person and He knit me together to be another. The key is remembering that our Creator loves us in our diversity and we need to do the same.

–SueBE

Of late, the popularity of Pope Francis has plummeted, particularly in the U.S. I guess some people (particularly Conservatives) don’t like what he has to say. Which is really funny when you think about it — because there’s nothing that Francis is saying that hasn’t been said before, by Jesus himself.

Feed the poor? Check. The rich man will not get into heaven unless he changes his ways? Check. Blessed are the suffering and outcast? Yep, that too. Honestly, you’d think the Pope was saying something radical. Anyone who’s read the Gospels knows who the real radical was and is. It’s why Jesus was put to death: Instead of leading an army against the Romans, He took the side of the marginalized. He wasn’t what the people of the time expected from a savior. Nor is Francis what you might expect from a Pope. He eschews pomp and circumstance for humility and simplicity. He doesn’t try to be popular.

Just as Jesus riled up the powers-that-be, Francis disconcerts the mighty. As well he should. Who said being a Christian was going to be easy? Anyone who thinks so is barking up the wrong tree (in the medieval sense, where “tree” meant “cross”). It is the Pope’s job to disconcert. That is how change occurs.

And, as ever, we need to change. Thousands and thousands of years post-Christ and what have we learned? We still choose war over peace, division over communion, and money over just about everything else. We still lack in love. We would still crucify Jesus for not being what we want.

If Christ came back tomorrow, I daresay he would be even less popular than Francis, especially in America, a country that many (especially those in power) call “Christian,” a country that claims to be “one nation under God.” Which begs the question: Do we really know what being Christian means?

Look to Francis for answers. And if you don’t like those answers, feel free to be disconcerted. You should be.

The other day, my laptop stopped working. It had no power at all; just a black screen and silence. At the computer repair shop, the technician took out the battery, plugged in the cord and pressed the power button for several seconds. It turned on and I nearly fainted with relief.

He explained that, rarely, a computer may reach a point where there is so much energy being used that it just calls it a day.  It shuts down and leaves town.

Oddly enough, on the day before my laptop died, I had my own it’s-all-too-much moment. Things started to weigh on my spirit and I had quite a cry. Later, I realized that I had been thinking of negative things, some of which had happened years ago.

It was like taking a virtual tour of old, bad neighborhoods that don’t even exist anymore. Like walking through the remains of a factory that makes obsolete things, like Square Wheels, or Maps for Men. (Just kidding, males of the species! Nothing but love for ya.☺)

There really is no benefit in re-hashing things that were unfair, wrong, or hurtful. The people who did those evil deeds will have to answer for their own bad behavior, but you have the right to let go of what’s wrong. In fact, you have an obligation to your own soul to release what doesn’t serve you. Staying locked into that one location in time is like saying, I don’t want to move forward. I don’t want to feel good. I don’t want to live well.

Focusing attention on what you don’t want means you’re not scanning the horizon for blessings already headed your way. It means you might miss the good life that wants to find you, because the bad life of the past has filled the parking spaces earmarked for joy, warmth, and camaraderie.

It may be time to hit “refresh.” Visualize your life, exactly as you want it to be, in living color. Think of it as a palate-cleanser for the soul.

You’ll find that this choice comes in some form every day:

□Lightness/levity

□Darkness/despair

Do you know what happens to misery when you finally decide to obsess less and say yes to what will bless? In no time at all, it has join Elvis, who – as you know – has left the building. Yep, it shuts down and leaves town.

Psalm 100Each morning the lectionary for that day arrives in my email.  It includes two morning Psalms, a Gospel reading, another passage and two evening Psalms.  I have to admit that my favorite part is the Psalms, perhaps because they are prayers.

Recently, I saw a prayer exercise in Alive Now that asked you to rewrite a Psalm as your own prayer.  I did this with Psalm 100.  This is probably my all-time favorite scripture because of the reminder that we didn’t create ourselves.  We belong to God; see the original scripture to the right.

Holy Lord,

Here us as we praise you from many lands.  Help us remember that you are the Creator.  You made us all.  We are all part of your creation.  We did not create ourselves. We owe what we have and are to you.

Blessed are you, oh Lord – the source of all that is good, the source of saving grace, the source of Truth for all mankind yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Amen

That doesn’t look much like the original, does it?  I tried to “translate” the Psalm verse by verse but the end result was repetitive and disjointed feeling.  It was only when I took notes about what the Psalm meant to me and set aside the original that I could create my prayer.

It would almost certainly be easier to simply read the Psalms with a Holy Father at the beginning and an Amen at the end.  But somehow, I don’t think it would resonate as deeply with me as does this prayer inspired by a Psalm.

What about your favorite Psalm?  Would you rather pray it as is or create a prayer with it as an inspiration?

–SueBE

I’ve always thought of myself as possessing unlimited imagination, a riotous garden abloom. But just as weeds choke young flowers, so anxiety seizes me from time to time, strangling creativity before it can blossom. I get scared, see. And nothing does that more effectively than conflict.

My problem is that I want to be liked by everyone. But no one can be. People are far too variable in their affections, oscillating from fast friendship to loathing, allegiances twitching like a needle on a seismograph. Knowing this does not help; I still want everybody to be happy all the time. And where two parties’ happiness is diametrically opposed — aye, there’s the rub.

Simple answers present themselves: God loves me. Being loved isn’t my mission in this world; doing good is. You can’t make everybody happy. None of these truisms helps me sleep at night. (Okay, maybe the first one.) I am a perpetual middle child, always seeking harmony, always on edge.

All of which is to say that I have nothing to say. I cannot hold up any platitudes for you to embrace. I am all out of stories illustrating God’s Providence in the world. And you know what? That’s okay.

Being empty is also a state of being ready to be filled. And even in my darkest hours, I know this is possible, as I have been filled endlessly — to overflowing — by God’s movement in my life, over and over again. To say it can happen is to acknowledge that it will happen. And so it does.

Conflict will come and go; people will always resist the urge to let their gears mesh smoothly, often for very good reason. All I can do in these times is offer a place of peace. And when all peace has been drained from me, I can frankly and freely offer my empty cup to Christ. His peace is flowing like a river. He will always have some to spare.

NH-Pluto-color-NewHorizons-20150713

The scientific community celebrated this week as an unmanned probe flew close enough to Pluto to take clear pictures of the planet.

But some were asking the question: Why spend money on the space program?

People here on Earth are hungry, they say. We need real-world projects funded. For instance, almost half the population of India and over a million Americans live without indoor plumbing.

How can we justify space exploration when so many problems exist here on the planet?

Like so many things we can’t explain to naysayers, it really is a leap of faith.

In my teen-age years, I spent some time as part of a Pentecostal church. On Sundays, there was quite a lively service, complete with congregants “speaking in tongues” and getting “slain in the spirit.”

Often, I’d look to my left and right, and see people in pews with heads tilted back, and they were just gone. They had a faraway look, and, if you spoke to them at that moment, they wouldn’t have been able to hear you.

What were they looking at?

This summer, the Grateful Dead will hold its final tour. The fans can’t always put it into words, but the swaying of their bodies and the joy on their faces says it all. The band speaks for them with their music. Troubles are put aside, and everyone agrees to get along and get lost in the moment.

What are they hoping to find?

We’re all looking for something that gives life meaning. Connection, community, kinship. Purpose, passion, promise. That place in the world where you feel at home. That place inside where you feel hope.

“We explore because we are human and we want to know. I hope that Pluto will help us on that journey,” said Stephen Hawking.

In other words, if we reach for the stars, we might find out something about ourselves in the process. We’re not so much traveling far into space as we are deep into the soul.

What are we looking for?

Does it matter? As long as we keep the faith and keep looking, with anticipation, the journey really is the destination.

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