“Are you a teacher?”

The Uber driver had looked at me in the rearview and asked the question.

“No, but everybody asks me that. Must be the cat’s eye glasses,” I said. “I did teach ESL years ago.”

“Really? How’s my English?” he asked.

“Not bad,” I said.

“I’ve only been here four years and I’m always trying to improve my English.”

“You’re doing fine,” I told him.

He said, “It’s more important than ever to blend in. Trump is making my life harder.” He felt the difference in the last year in the way people look at him, talk to him. “They think I’m here to cause chaos. I’m just trying to feed my family, y’know?”

Just like everybody else.

Last week in the news, police in Nice, France, were filmed forcing a Muslim woman wearing a burkini to disrobe on the beach while other sunbathers watched. A person on the scene said that some even applauded. A local official said that if people don’t feel safe, or are offended by someone’s outfit, it needs to be addressed. It’s a risk to public order, he said.

Thong bikinis and speedos are okay, but a fully-covered woman is a public crisis.

But what I want to know is this: what’s the difference between a burkini and a scuba suit?

Everybody has biases. One of mine concerns t.v. reporters wearing casual clothes. It seems every female reporter is wearing a tank dress to show her toned arms, and every male reporter on a news scene is wearing skinny jeans. You’d think they just came from a nightclub!

Of course, I know it’s just a matter of taste, and it’s my own hang-up. No need to hassle them, as happened when this weather reporter was told while live on-the-air that she needed to cover herself up.

Just as the Uber driver profiled me as a teacher, we can choose to view others through the filter of faith. Ah! Another blessed, beloved child of God on the road of life.

And maybe, just for today, the fashion police can take the day off.

birds-nest-1170007_1920Last week, our instructor ended yoga with a quote that really grabbed my attention. It wasn’t that she ended the session with a quote. That’s something she always does.  This one, from Martin Luther, was just especially appropriate.

“You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

Some people say that Luther was talking about jealousy and envy.  Others broaden the meaning to any negative thought.  Me?  It’s another way of thinking about the negative thoughts that fly into my monkey mind.

It doesn’t matter whether I’m relaxing at the end of yoga, listening to the sermon, knitting, or trying to center myself in prayer.  My monkey mind is everywhere.  It darts over here and remembers what I need to pick up at the store.  It skips over there and remembers something I forgot to do.

Most often the things it flits toward are the negatives, the things that I’m trying not to let consume me. Today, as you read this, my son and a friend are swimming 2.4 miles to support research into cancer cures.  It is a lake swim through open water.  They’re going to be with college and Olympic swimmers but I’m a mom.  I worry.  Then there’s my upcoming dermatologist appointment.  What is this weirdo spot anyway?  Is it the Big C?  What happens if this latest candidate for choir director doesn’t pan out?  And what the heck did Rick mean by that nasty comment anyway?

Yep, the nasties sure can flood in but it’s my decision whether or not they get a place to stay. It is all too easy to focus on those negatives.  It is also easy to chastise ourselves for these thoughts.  Or I can make a choice.  I can do what we learned in yoga. Yes, your mind will wander.  Yes, even negative things will pop into your head. When it happens, don’t judge.  Just gently brush them aside.  In yoga, we return to our focus on our breathing.

Actually, that’s not a bad place to focus in general.  Breathe out the negative, breathe in and think about God’s love for us.  Breathe out the anger, pull in some of God’s peace.  Breathe out the worry, and breathe into God’s comforting presence.

The birds will fly over, but I don’t have to help them build a nest.

–SueBE

This week, a comment on one of my past posts really grabbed me by the throat. It was from a nouveau ami français, Michel Fauquet, who explained that the French word for “mercy,” misericord, derives from the Latin for “heart dare.” Well, knock me flat.

Mercy is often considered something for soft-hearted folks. Wasn’t “no mercy” part of the evil Cobra Kai bylaws? (That’s a “Karate Kid” reference, by the way.) To show mercy is to show humanity, and, ultimately, humanity is pretty soft and squishy. Right? Nope.

Mercy takes strength. It is a dare of the heart, and not an easy one, either. It may be the greatest dare we ever receive. Do you dare have mercy for those on the margins, for immigrants, for Muslims, for those who make different choices than you might? Do you dare to open your heart and listen to views that oppose your own? Do you dare to be potentially changed by what you hear?

The following reflection is a part of my own constant struggle with mercy:

Let my heart rule my hand.
Let mercy pervade, seeping
as water onto paper,
blearing lines, bleeding letters,
softening words into
mounds and crosses,
untended graves for
faint, forgotten faults.
Smoothed like creases on linen;
a note written in a foreign hand,
indecipherable, and, in any case,
unread.

On the news this morning, the anchor said there was an update on the passing of Popeye Conprince. There was an in-depth report about the circumstances of his death, and apparently, drugs were involved.

I paused for a moment. He said it as if this was a public figure, one whom we all should know.

Maybe he’s royalty from another country?

Am I so out of the loop that I don’t know this person? Should I Wiki him?

I wrote down what the anchor said and parsed out the words. Oh!

Pop Icon, Prince! For Goodness’ sake.

In a previous post, I wrote about the time I heard a radio program on NPR about noted Tejano politician, Juan Seguin, and I thought they were saying, “Once Again.”

Is it my hearing? My synapses short-circuiting? Information overload?

It may well be that we’re all so used to doing several things at once that we’re never fully paying attention to anything.

There was a commercial for a cooking spray years ago, and when I heard it, I thought for a moment it might be an incendiary device. The announcer said, “get Nuclear Pam, today!” What he really said was, “get New, Clear Pam, today!” Well. That’ll put a kick in your souffle!  More heat than Sriracha!

Maybe life is really a game of Password, with someone feeding us clues as we try to figure out what the right answer is.

I wonder how often the true meaning of words actually gets through all of the static in our lives.

One of the more light-hearted examples of misinterpretation is the story of “Scary Lucy.” A sculptor was commissioned to make a likeness of Lucille Ball, and his finished product looked more like the zombie version of our favorite redhead. He said it was his twist on the episode of I Love Lucy in which Lucy pretended to be a statue. Fans were outraged, and another sculptor crafted a much more pleasant version of Lucy.

As for me, I’m going to make a concerted effort to really listen this week. Maybe if I stay fully plugged in, I’ll hear what the world is saying!

sari skirts

2 of my skirts

I have some strange attitudes about how I spend my money.  I prefer to support companies whose values are comparable to my own.  This doesn’t mean that I look for companies that purport to be Christian.  Too often the leadership within these companies waves the Bible around while treating one group of people or another like trash.

Instead, I look for companies that take care of the planet as well as my fellow human beings.  One of these companies is Darn Good Yarn. They not only reduce the trash going into landfills but have also created jobs for women in India and Nepal.

The funny thing? I first looked into this company because I knit and crochet but I still haven’t placed my first yarn order.  Nope, I ordered a set of sari silk wrap skirts.

The skirts are made out of sari silk fabric remnants.  Examine a skirt closely and you can see how pieces of fabric were sewn together to make a piece long enough for a skirt.  As I wrap and tie and straighten, I imagine the woman who stitched it together. Her work at one of the cooperatives that supplies these skirts allows her to support herself and her family. Using sari remnants means that these glorious pieces of fabric stay out of the landfill.

The company also sells ribbon yarn cut from sari fabric as well as natural yarns hand-made in small batches. The yarns are created by women in Nepal and India. I haven’t decided yet what to buy.  I may end up joining the monthly yarn club.  Until then, whenever I drape myself in one of their skirts, I say a little prayer for the women who created it as well as those who are helping them support their families.

–SueBE

PS. If you shop with a company that helps people or the planet, recommend it in the comments so we can all support them.

Cart precedes horse: I often find myself with the physical symptoms of worry — a sick stomach, jitteriness — and have to stop myself to wonder, “What am I worried about?” It is ridiculous on the face of it, and more so because I claim to be a woman of faith. Faith ought to preclude worry, no? Still, there it is, jangling my nerves, causing my foot to jiggle in a way that was once (truthfully) interpreted by a psychologist as “a desire to run away.”

What to do with this (often misplaced) worry? After all, all the worry in the world won’t change things. Nor is it my job to do the worrying — I know darned well that God’s got things in hand. Still, as long as there are ways for the world to disconcert us — from floods in Louisiana to earthquakes abroad — there will be worry. How to deal with it? As usual, poetry leads the way.

Peace.
I say I want it
but only after
the itchy blanket of worry
has its way, binding my
legs, making itself heavy on
my body.

Why can’t I skip
straight to peace —
forego torment and
allow the excellent swell
of God to buoy me up?

The sky has never fallen, yet
I crane my neck and cry, “It might, it might.”
Be at peace, little chicken.
The whole of the world will not swallow you
as long as you send your terrors
to heaven, and watch them dissipate
like breath in cold weather, like clouds.

Clean and Clear PostAlways Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Don Miguel Ruiz
The Four Agreements

So I was in the kitchen washing dishes yesterday, when, for reasons unknown to me now, I started to think of a time years ago when I made mistakes as a mother, and it left me feeling sad.

How could I do that? I asked myself. Before long, I was in tears, still scrubbing away at plates.

At just that moment, I noticed some marks on the wall where the trash bins used to be kept. There were little flecks of debris that I’d never noticed, as this wall was behind a door we always kept open.

The garbage can was gone from that spot. All that was left was the residue.

Just as the things I was beating myself up about were well in the past, and all that was left was the regret.

It isn’t here anymore, I said to myself, wiping down the wall. It’s been removed.

Odd as it may seem, I felt that God was speaking to me through the grungy grime!

The things we can’t forgive ourselves for are echoes from a bygone era. If we’ve truly changed our ways and have brought it to God in prayer, the only thing left to do is release it. Not forgiving yourself is like saying God doesn’t know best. If he’s forgiven you, there’s nothing left to forgive. It doesn’t exist anymore.

When I was done with the dishes, I realized that I felt lighter, as if a burden had been lifted. As I cleaned in the kitchen, my conscience had cleared. I did my best at the time, I reminded myself, and I’ve learned to do better over the years.

Well. Laundry is next on my to-do list. I wonder what life-lesson I’ll learn from fluffing and folding?

coloring and prayerFor many of us, simply slowing down long enough to pray is tough. We plan to sit down and pray. We mean to sit down and pray. I don’t know about you but as soon as I sit down, the phone rings, the dryer buzzes or the cat decides that one of the houseplants needs to be un-potted.

It helps when I have a bit of motion to focus on. Sometimes I use my prayer beads, counting out my concerns bead by bead. Sometimes I pray as I weed the flower beds, pulling up crab grass runners while I send up blessings for whoever needed that fire truck that just went past. Lately, I’ve been praying and coloring.

First, I read a blessing in Beth Richardson’s Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me. I have a thing for Celtic blessings. I don’t know if it is the focus on the everyday, lifting our mundane tasks up to God for blessing. Or maybe it’s the repetitive nature that yields a song-like feel. They tend to be simply worded and straightforward.

Then I pull out a handful of colored pencils and flip open my coloring book. I may be the slowest colorist in the world but that’s okay. It gives my busy hands and my monkey mind something to do while I pray.

Today, I colored in violet bands of water and asked for blessings on the educators who are setting up a new school in our district. Right now, it is one class but next year it will be a gifted middle school. I colored in blue bands of water and asked for blessings for the teachers and the staff and the students. Next came green water, both in bands and surrounding the fish. As I colored, I asked for blessing for those who know God and know how much he does in our lives. I asked for blessings for those who deny God because they think they are in control. I also prayed for those who simply have no clue that God is out there.

Coloring and Celtic blessings. One keeps my hands and mind just a bit busy. The other directs my prayers. I’m not sure who I’ll be showering blessings on tomorrow but I know I’ll find inspiration in Christ Beside Me.

Maybe the combination of coloring and blessings will work for you as well.

–SueBE

A friend of mine reacts to stress in a particular fashion — she cleans. Instead of channeling negative emotions into negative behavior, she polishes, vacuums, dusts and mops. This week, her house is spotless. (It’s been a bad week.) Call it therapeutic behavior. I call it a spiritual practice. Bear with me — I’ll try to explain.

When times get tough, I bake. Pies, cakes, cookies, custard, you name it. Not to toot my own horn [sound of honking], but I’m good at it. Mind you, I react badly when asked to bake, or worse, forced to bake. But baking by choice — that’s my go-to for troubled times.

Baking is calming. Spooning flour into a dry measuring cup, sweeping the top with a knife…combining spices, butter and sugar…watching liquid batter rise into edible solid…I find these things soothing, and sometimes just-this-side of miraculous. When I bake, I commune with my patron saint, St. Lawrence, patron saint of cooks (he was roasted to death on a grill but kept his sense of humor). I participate in creation, albeit in a small, sugary way. I labor with my hands to cleanse my mind and heart of worry. What could be more prayerful than that?

Monks know the value of work as prayer, and of prayer bearing real, tangible fruit. When I have finished my labors, I have something to show for it. Granted, these things are not good for me or my waistline. I’ve tried giving away my baked goods — to cancer patients, to my local parish — but more often than not, I’m stuck with the results. There is nothing quite like the prayer of my banana bread…there is also nothing particularly healthy about it. But to not bake would not only cause increased consternation, it would be burying my gifts, hiding my lamp under a bushel basket. What would God think of that?

I heartily condone any practice that brings a person peace — whether that’s yoga or meditation or German chocolate cake. I wish my prayers were less caloric. But I praise God for the ability to summon serenity with a few teaspoons of vanilla, a pinch of nutmeg, and a rounded spoonful of baking powder.

Over the weekend, I took a deep breath and suddenly was in so much pain, I doubled over. The doctor on call said it was something called “pleurisy” and told me to go to the ER.

My son drove me to the hospital, and, on the way, I mulled over what this mystery condition was all about. Could it be the plural version of leprosy?!? Something that sounds like a fancy French dish can’t be a big deal!

Two stern-faced nurses, one male and one female, started to disrobe me and put electrodes on my chest for the EKG. At least buy me dinner first! I thought.

They put an oxygen tube over my nose, started an IV line, drew blood and wheeled me in for a chest x-ray.

Finally, one of the nurses smiled. “Love your cat socks,” she said. Another one laughed and said, “How great!” and pointed to her jacket, which had a pawprint design on it.

Another nurse, Marielle, asked what I did for a living, and it almost occurred to me to say I’m a professional patient of late, but told her about my writing gigs.

Her parents only spoke Tonga at home, she told me, but she really tries to speak English like a native. Her “friends” corrected her all the time, and she said that she sometimes  confused “was” and “were.”

I was impressed with her because she worked in the ICU of another hospital in our town on weekdays, and at this hospital’s ER on the weekends. She’s already achieved so much, but what makes her feel less accomplished is her grasp of the language.

The nurses focused on my cute cat socks, even though all the while I was thinking, I look and feel like forty miles of bad road. They didn’t see what I saw.

Marielle focused on her perceived language issues, even though all the while I was thinking, she’s young to have accomplished so much in her career. She didn’t see what I saw.

When I got home that night, I prayed for all the nurses who had taken care of me, and that we could all see each other through God’s eyes, healing each other with kindness.

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