When I first moved into my humble house in the suburbs some twenty years ago, I was glad that the neighbors were nice. They would wave hello, and occasionally, we’d chat over the fence of our houses. One neighbor, however, was an older gentleman who always seemed to have a sour expression.

One day, I had to drop off something at a friend’s house. I pulled my car out of the driveway but didn’t close my garage door, as I was coming right back. When I returned a few minutes later, I was surprised to see my cranky neighbor, sitting in the middle of my garage in my lawn chair, looking stern.

“Shouldn’t leave your garage door open, miss. Anyone can just walk in.”

“Apparently,” I said.

He got up slowly, as he had some physical ailments. He explained that he had seen that my garage door was open and wanted to make sure that no one wandered in to take anything.

“You don’t need to do that,” I told him.

“That’s what neighbors are for,” he said.

“No, really. I’d prefer that you not do that. Thanks.”

“It really isn’t a problem,” he said.

I shook my head at him. “It is for me,” I said.

He walked back home, right next door, looking pleased with himself, as if he had helped out a neighbor.

It was as if he didn’t hear me when, in essence, I had said, you might think you’re helping by protecting me from intruders. Newsflash, dude: you’re the intruder. I didn’t ask you to go into my garage, and since you’re cranky and kind of creepy, you’re the one making me uncomfortable. Go away now.

If I’m being honest, this is how I feel when people come to my door to share their religion with me.

SueBE hit it on the head with her excellent post this week. Reaching out to help people with their basic needs – clean water, housing, food – that’s faith that heals. And if someone asks about the church that does such good works? Awesome. To me, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But I’ve had vanloads of Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door almost monthly for as long as I’ve lived on my block. Once, I told them that a blood transfusion had saved my life when my appendix ruptured in my youth. Would they rather I had died, since their religion bans transfusions? Well, perhaps it was God’s will that you should die, and you circumvented it, they said. Okay. Way to reach out with love, pals!

And my beloved cousin (God rest) sent Mormon missionaries to my door routinely when we were teen-agers. I told her to cut it out, but she kept doing it, so we stopped being pen pals. We re-connected twenty years later, and darned if she didn’t do the same thing to me again!

To me, faith is a deeply personal journey. You’d have to have walked in my shoes and experienced exactly what I’ve been through in my life. And still, you might reach a different conclusion. It would never occur to me to show up at your house and try to convert you.

It would be as if somebody has the door to their soul open, and they were waiting for God to walk in and commune with them. And then I show up and sit down in a lawn chair. I say, listen, this is what you should believe. Trust me; I know what’s best for you.

Instead, when God shows up, he doesn’t say, here’s what you should do. He says, here is who you are. You are my child. I am always with you. Come, let us walk the path together.

I’ve learned a few things in my life: never assume you have all the answers, always pray without ceasing, and remember to close that darn garage door. Words of wisdom, learned and earned the hard way!

catalystWhen Pastor Sean told us that he would be sharing the pulpit with a missionary, I cringed. I know that as a Christian I’m supposed to be all gung ho about missionaries and evangelism, but I cringed nonetheless.

Maybe it’s my background in history and anthropology, but when I hear about missionaries I always think “rice bowl Christians.”  In Imperial China, missionaries would come in and offer to feed the poor, but only if they converted. Traditional Chinese called these people “rice bowl Christians” It’s that “I’m right, you’re wrong, I have food, you have hunger” approach to mission that makes me flinch.

Then Sean introduced us to Pastor Juan, the evangelism catalyst for Presbyterian World Mission.

Yeah, I didn’t have any clue what it meant either, so I kept quiet and tried not to draw attention while I listened.  He talked about the Presbyterian Church, as moderates, being invited into Egypt to help create change for the better.

He talked about missionaries going into communities and sitting down and talking to the people.  What are your problems?  What do you need?

He talked about building schools and helping children learn.  He talked about clean water and safe food and housing. His enthusiasm was obvious as he told us about helping people all over the world and in our own communities simply by doing Christ’s work.

Finally, he also talked about people coming to the church.  Yes, they want the education and the water, but they also want to know more about the One who has inspired people to help so much.

The term missionary still makes me cringe.

But the thought of being a Christian catalyst? An agent for change in a troubled world?  That sounds like something I could do.

–SueBE

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is going to be sentenced to death. I can understand how this might bring some people a measure of peace. He does not seem to be repentant, after all. His family suffers from an acute sense of denial. Yet, had I been a juror, I would have pushed for life over death. I guess it all comes down to this for me: The very groundwork of my faith, which tells me I ought not to hurt other people, no matter what. I retrench this idea in myself as though I am speaking to a child:

But what if a person wants to hurt others?
You must not hurt anyone.

But what if that person wants to kill others?
You must not hurt anyone.

But what if that person wants to kill ME?
You must not hurt anyone.

It is not an easy lesson to apply to daily life. When we hurt, we want to hurt those who caused the hurt. Simple. But just as kicking the desk you accidentally bumped into exacerbates the pain of no one but yourself, so does striking back at an enemy. It lowers you to your most bestial level. It suffocates your soul.

Nonviolence against oppressors may be the more painfully patient route — often it does not see results in a timely fashion — but it has worked for some of the greatest historical figures: Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi, even Muhammad himself. (The Arabic word for nonviolence as a life decision is, in fact, islam.)

I am reading a book about the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by Labor leaders. In many ways, this case resonates with the Tsarnaev case. The perpetrators in both cases felt that their deed was a necessary protest. In the Times case, the protest was on behalf of the working man. Harrison Gray Otis, the publisher of The Times, was (by all accounts) a particularly odious individual who — like many capitalists of the time — cared only for profit. (By that, I mean profit at any cost — even the health and well-being of his workers.) He was vehemently anti-union. The bombing killed 21 people, and did nothing to advance the cause of Labor. Rather, it set it back. The men behind the bombing received jail sentences, despite the fact that plenty of people wanted them to hang for it. Had my loved ones been among the dead, I might have, too.

But that would not be right. We must learn this, to our shame, over and over again. I do not look forward to the endless appeals that Tsarnaev is likely to make. I would rather say, “We are not like you. We do not kill.”

Because killing is always wrong.

Picture for Karma Post

Today, I noticed a husky trotting around the outside of my house to the fence in the side yard. It took me a second to realize that it was a neighbor’s dog named Karma. Many years ago, whenever he got out of his yard, he would cheerfully bound over to our fence and gaze lovingly at my dog, Sheena. Her tail would wag and they would “play-bow” to each other on opposite sides of the fence. After a few minutes of this sweet interaction, Karma would trot off, heading happily toward home. Sheena would watch him wistfully, never taking her eyes off of him until he was well down the road out of sight.

My Sheena has been gone for four years now, and I have to admit, seeing Karma again brought a tear to my eye. That’s Sheena, in the backyard in the picture, above.

Still, it made me happy that someone else remembers my girldog and thinks of her as fondly as I do, even all these years later. I said to my son, this sounds like the opening line of a novel: that was the morning that Karma came back.

And of course, it made me think of how we remember the people and pets we love after they’re gone. I’ve often felt that I didn’t fully appreciate them while they were here. But in the moment, with all the obligations and family-raising and bills to pay, we did the best we could.

The visit from an old four-legged friend reminded me not to grieve anew every time I think of those I’ve lost, but to remember the warm, fuzzy things: Sheena’s playful spirit and unconditional love (for me and for muffins!)

The way my father used to stand outside the garage of their house when I was coming over for a visit, where I’d pull up my car. I used to think it was his way of chiding, “You’re late!” but it was really his way of saying, “You’re the highlight of our day! Couldn’t wait for you to get here.”

My mother, quoting a favorite funny line from an old sitcom I’d never seen (“Azusa, Anaheim and Cucamonga!”) She’d also ask me every single time I’d visit, “Hey Ruth, have you got gas?” She meant in the car but I’d always punch my stomach and say, “Just a bit of agita, Mom.” She’d pretend to be exasperated with me, but she was smiling.

My cousin, Elaine, who even at our age (well into our “cougar” years) had a crush on actor Jason Momoa, and would send me email updates about his latest projects as if I was his biggest fan. I still wasn’t sure who he was until he had a role on Game of Thrones.

It was a crystal clear spring day when Karma came back. Everything was still and cool. There was no particular seismic shift in the planet. Just a small, sweet poke from Providence to be thankful for the people and pets I’ve loved and lost. Even though I don’t have a photographic memory, today, I was blessed with a photogenic memory. Beautiful times were all I could remember.

Recently, a friend told me that he is looking for a new job. Would I pray for him?

“Of course!” That’s what I said aloud, but that’s not what I wanted to say. No, no, no!

The chances that this friend will find a new job here are pretty slim. He is probably going to have to move far, far away. The reality is that what is best for him isn’t what I want.

The same day, joy oh joy, I found out that one of my son’s favorite teachers is leaving. He hadn’t told anyone, but his job was posted on the district web site. This teacher is also a friend and I knew I should pray for him. I knew that but at this point I was just in a mood.

Hint: When I say that I am in a mood, I do not mean a good mood. Honestly.

Still, I managed to pray. How do you pray when you want to pray for people to get it together and quit making you sad? You remember that you’re a grown up and that what you want may not be what’s best for other people.

Dear Lord,
I’m not sure what to say. Please help him grow into the person you would have him be and go where he can best do your work. And, God? Please give me the strength to not be a whiner about the whole thing. Thy will be done, Lord. Thy will be done.
–Amen

I have to admit, I’m always hesitant to tell God how to fix a problem. I tend to suspect that my instructions will be in my best interests and quite possibly not in the best interests of those for whom I pray.

As a Mom and a friend, sometimes I just have to get with it and pray for what is truly best for someone else even when it makes me a little blue. Thy will, not my will, Lord.

–SueBE

It is the Mobius strip of faith: God is most present to us when we are most present for ourselves. Easier said than done. Most of us can scarcely afford to be present: We are too hard at work doing, our every waking moment a list to be dutifully checked off. The only time our souls get taken out of mothballs is for a few flickering seconds a week, perhaps during church services, perhaps in a moment of astonishment at what spring has wrought, perhaps in a loving embrace.

The medical community has voiced alarm at the amount of time most of us sit during the day. Sitting raised blood pressure, they warn. Desk workers suffer heart attacks at a higher rate than active workers. So goes it with our souls. Used infrequently, they wither. It is only in their regular exercise that we find peace.

How does one exercise one’s soul? Through the act of being present. Present to the world around us, to our bodies, to other people, to God. In other words: Wake up, you sleepyheads! Rub your eyes! Get out of bed! All this stuff that’s happening around you is just that — stuff. The focus you bring to it, now that’s living.

Imagine taking one day during which you are forced to provide an intention for your every action. The results would either stultify or stun you. Yes, a lot of what we do is born of practicality: earning a living, eating, drinking, sleeping when tired. It is easy to begin to believe that all of that stuff is a life. It isn’t. Life boils down to the moments that you decide to see, to experience, to be here now. And when you show up, surprise! You’ll find God was waiting for you all along.

Today, I’d like you to ask yourselves the following questions (based on a TED talk by Hank Green): Who am I? What do I do? Who do I do it for? Who benefits from what I do? Don’t like the answers? Change them.

Dare to awaken to even a portion of your own life. You will find yourself there; but what’s more, you’ll find God.

Most mornings, I’ll fix myself a nice, piping-hot cup of coffee, but today, I poured myself a tall glass of Whine. I was out of coffee pods, and wouldn’t be able to have my coffee. Well, how do you like that?!? I said to no one. I promoted myself to head of the Complaint Department and huffed for a minute. What a bummer! Now I can’t start my day right!

Luckily, I realized the whole little drama was self-induced, and quite ridiculous. It only lasted a few seconds, really, and – thankfully – no one was there to witness it or post it on YouTube.

In a way, what I was doing was Stressing over Blessings. Here I am, in a house in the suburbs, standing in the kitchen next to a refrigerator filled with food. Still have my leftover lemon garlic chicken from the crock pot last night. It was awesome, if I do say so myself. We’ve got running water, beds to sleep in, computers and TVs to keep us entertained. What is there, really, to complain about?

Maybe there was Someone there to witness it, and that’s how I came back to my senses. Never underestimate the power of providence. Keeping the lines open to Heaven with perpetual prayer is more than keeping your karma clean. It’s the connection that brings you back to yourself, to your senses, to the good life of blessings. Because your “yes life” is always there until you start focusing on small slights and you say “no” to it.

Last week, there was minor outrage over a wheelchair-bound contestant on The Price is Right winning a treadmill, which she couldn’t use. But the winner herself really was a winner. She had a great attitude and said she’d just use it as everyone else did – as a clothes rack.

So in life, when stuff happens, don’t take it personally. It’s just the luck of the draw. It’s not God, removing his favor from your life. It’s not a black cloud or a voodoo doll, or a gremlin bursting your bubble. It’s just a moment, and it too, shall pass. As a character on The West Wing once said, sometimes, there’s no victims; only volunteers. Now that’s a tour of duty you don’t want to sign up for!

My Mother's Day may not be your cup of tea, and that's okay.

My Mother’s Day may not be your cup of tea, and that’s okay.

Mother’s Day is a tricky topic. I’ll admit that this is my 3rd attempt to write a Mother’s Day post.  Part of this issue is that, for me, Mother’s Day is a mixed bag.

I know for a fact that Sunday will not be a day to celebrate me and nothing but me, morning to night. Part of the reason is that Mother’s Day and my husband’s birthday have a sneaky habit of coinciding.  Then there’s the fact that my son is coming home from a school trip at 6 am after driving for 10 hours.  He’s going to need to get some sleep and then get some homework done. I’m hoping we can squeeze in lunch out and the latest Avengers movie.

Yes, the Avengers.  That’s my version of a wild and crazy Mother’s Day dream.

Not your cup of tea?  Then don’t pick it up.

Part of the reason that Mother’s Day is a mixed bag is that it means something different for everyone. There are the women who want nothing more than a spa day and a massage.  Me?  I’d rather spend time at the archery range as a family.

Then there are the women who have lost children.  Or have never had children.  Or who have lost their own mothers and grandmothers.  For many of them, Mother’s Day is like knowing someone is about to tear off a band aid.

The chance that we are all going to get a perfect Mother’s Day is pretty slim.  But what can you expect?  Perfection is for God alone.  We, on the other hand, aren’t even close, but that doesn’t change something important.  We may not be perfect, but we are His. He created each and every one of us, different as we are.

There is no one perfect Mother’s Day, because we all need something different out of it simply because we are a marvelously diverse bunch.  And that’s okay, because that’s the way God made us.

–SueBE

Eight years ago, a mystery disease caused me to drop weight rapidly. Trip after trip to the doctor, test after test, revealed nothing. I got down to 116 pounds on a six-foot-tall frame, a weight I hadn’t been since my wedding day. (And yes, I was too thin then.) But what surprised me most about this period were the reactions of those around me. “You look so good!” everyone said. “You look healthy!” Only my wise sister-in-law refused to be fooled. “You’re too thin,” she told me, and those words made me want to cry. She saw me. She saw how sick I was, how worried. It felt redemptive.

When the body is sick, the soul often follows. After all, if you hate your body, how can your soul be at peace? It is the rare saint indeed whose soul flourishes at the expense of her body — like St. Rose of Lima who disfigured her face with lye so as to be unattractive to anyone but God. Or St. Alphonsa, who stepped into a fire so as to ruin her feet…and her chances at marriage.

But most of us aren’t Rose or Alphonsa. If our body is hurting, mentally or physically, it can be hard for our souls to be well. The opposite is true, too. A soul in unrest can be mirrored in the frailties of our bodies. Body and soul are connected.

My friend Robyn suffered in silence from bulimia for almost 20 years before she sought help. Then, and only then, was her soul able to heal. Today she writes uplifting, nurturing prose for others who might be trapped in the same condition. Her soul has healed as her body has healed, and now she passes on healing to others.

That brings me to today’s salient message: If you are hurting, body or soul, reach out to someone. Don’t hide in silence. Don’t be ashamed. And even if no one in your life hears you, God always will. Don’t give up — even if your physical condition cannot be improved, at least you have an outlet, a listening ear who cares. Even that — just that — can work miracles in soul-health.

As for me, whatever it was that was troubling me eight years ago quit troubling me. I’m now overweight, and just as unhappy with my body as ever. I know this weighs (no pun intended) on my soul. So I am focusing my light within. Hopefully, as my soul strengthens, my body will, too…or at least I won’t mind so much if it doesn’t.

Didja ever read a headline and think, someone, somewhere is pulling my chain?

Like this article, that nearly sent me into a Sarcasm Spasm. It’s about a study that shows that more people will survive a tsunami if they – wait for it – walk faster.

This fine post said “Lakewood Grocery Store Closes, Disappoints Shoppers.” Well, sure, especially if you’re actually in the store. I guess you’d be stuck there forever, banging on the door to be let out! At least you’ve got Cheetos to live on.

Then there’s this gem: “Big Mistake When Posing as an Officer: Pulling Up Behind the Real Thing.”

It makes me want to commission a study to prove that you’ll live longer if you stop reading ridiculous news headlines about things that everyone already knows!

Some things really are as plain as day, and we usually know the truth when we see it. But once in a while, we still need a reminder.

Fear, lack, uncertainty… these things are tiny blips on the radar screen of your life.

If news headlines were really telling it like it is, the news would be much more encouraging.

Life seems to be spiraling out of control? Headline of Truth: God is Still in Charge and Troubles are Always Temporary.

Feeling down and alone in the world? Headline of Truth: You are Loved Like Nobody’s Business and Have Never Once Walked Alone.

Things didn’t go well today? Headline of Truth: There’s Always Tomorrow, and Guess What? God’s Got Your Back.

This message brought to you by your aunt who always encouraged you to do your best, your friends who would bail you out of jail at midnight on a Monday, and the One who brought you here to this blog today. Godspeed!

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