Meditations on joy

Wow. I can’t believe that it has been 3 months since I last posted. Did you miss me? I’ve missed all of you but I have to admit that I’ve missed me too.

I’m not going to go into detail about why I haven’t been here. Let’s just say that my reasons are solid and all too familiar because we’ve all suffered loss during the last 2 years. I even lost my true self for a while. It wasn’t a total loss. My sense of humor made an appearance once in a while but my sense of joy and hope? The new me had nothing of the sort.

The self that I was left with got done what she had to do. But she did very few things with a smile.

In all honesty, I didn’t like this new me very much. And then I realized that last Sunday, November 28, 2021, was the first Sunday in Advent. Our minister spoke about joy.

Sigh. (I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.) I used to enjoy Advent and Christmas but this year? Meh. I just wasn’t feeling it.

But what if I could? I really hated the idea of losing my Christmas Joy to the new me. So I spent this week rediscovering my joy. Here is what I did.

Meditative drawing is a prayer technique that involves sitting quietly and drawing, doodling or sketching whatever comes to mind as you consider whatever it is you need to consider. Me? I thought about the things that have given me joy.

As Ruth explained in “The Present Is a Gift,” these gifts don’t have to be big or flashy.

As I sat throughout the week and considered what brings me joy, I realized that I’d squeezed in time for joy during most days. But I didn’t call it joy. I worked on a crochet project. I finished piecing together a puzzle. I made Christmas cards and listened to music.

None of the things that I had done were big. There were a lot of people who wouldn’t find joy doing these same things. But that’s not the point. I had experienced joy every single day. Hello, old me. I knew you had to be there someplace.

–SueBE

Picture of a cup of brown coffee in a small, white, ridged mug, and a pink, puffy pastry on a dainty, flowered plate next to an open book.

Thank you for meeting me where I am, even when I forget to be present. 

As I lumber up, into the day, I feel as if I need to plow through a massive to-do list to earn my keep in the world. 

And, inevitably, every day, it’s the same old thing. Too much to do. Not enough (insert one: time, money, resources, etc.). Crisis du jour appears. 

But today, I received a reminder that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Somehow, even when I feel I don’t have everything I need, “enough” always seems to find me.

Every dollar that comes to me was routed through the Bank of Goodwill/God’s Will. Every time I see a number on my phone that makes me exclaim, ”Well, hello there, dear heart!” — that’s a bonus. 

And when I’m too focused on challenges, I flip the script in my head. There’s a pile of innovative solutions (neé “problems”), and a folder filled with “unpaid bills” that’s actually a map/manual of finding a way. 

Looking back, when I had too much, I used it all up; still, I wasn’t satisfied. Now that I have just what I need, I appreciate it like nobody’s business. 

Thank You for giving me the good sense to be grateful for what I used to take for granted, like the heat in this home. Also, the warmth in this home. A cat who sits next to me as I knit, fascinated by the ball of yarn. Family and friends who check in with me “for no reason” when I just happen to be feeling blue. Food on the table. Bear claws from the bakery. Coffee perking. A tiny pitcher with real cream for that cup of Joe.

Sometimes you just need to look at your life in the clear light of day to see how blessed you really are.

Thanksgiving gives me mixed emotions. Yes, it is a time of joy, a celebration of the Plymouth colony’s first successful harvest. They would never have survived without the help of the Wampanoag (which translates to “People of the First Light”), who showed them how and when to plant and reap the foods that would sustain them through their second winter in America. (During the first terrible winter, nearly half of them died.) But what happened to the Wampanoag tribe after the first Thanksgiving is the stuff of nightmares — illness decimated them, war (with colonists and other tribes) nearly finished them off. It’s enough to dash anyone’s joy.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 for one very important reason: President Lincoln was desperately trying to find something that might bring the divided nation together, if only for one day — one good day. And while the first Thanksgiving probably ran for several days, those were good days, too. Any day spent in fellowship is a good day.

Thanksgiving this year, in many ways, hearkens back to Thanksgivings of old. As a nation, we remain bitterly divided politically. Those on the margins face terrible persecution. But mightn’t we still manage to have one good day together?

Let us meet where the good is,
where the God-in-us overlaps.
In that place of touching, let us find thanks
for that which holds the center,
for the still spot around which history spins,
for what we know of one another,
God-formed and God-blessed.
Let our feasting feed the seeing side of us.
One good day may come, rising in the East
where the people of the first light still linger,
spreading sun, a shared blanket,
passing bread from mouth to mouth.

green ceramic mug beside book
Sepia-toned picture of an open Bible next to a coffee mug on a wooden bench. It is situated next to a peaceful body of water that is shimmering in the sunlight.

So I was wondering aloud what the latest ache on my body meant…arthritis? A fissure in a bone? Some kind of new mystery malady that hasn’t yet been discovered and will have to be named after me?!? It could be anything! 

Luckily, I was with my physical therapist, who’s got a good head on her shoulders and her feet firmly planted on the ground. (Let’s explore those phrases for a moment. Who has a bad head on their shoulders and is levitating? I’d like to meet them. Hm. Or maybe I wouldn’t!) 

Anyway, she said, “Always start with the simplest thing first.” So it turns out that I slept funny. Another phrase to explore. Since I consider myself an undiscovered talent in the world of comedy, ladies and germs, I always sleep funny! Ba dum bum. Is this thing on? I’m here all week!

I’ve come to realize that experiencing trauma as a child can imbue your worldview so that you end up seeing catastrophes in every minor event in your life. How’s that for an abrupt change from a light-hearted blog post to an in-depth exploration of the psyche? But so much of life is a combination of light and dark. Joy and pain. 

Somehow, the muscles you tone while lifting heavy burdens are the same ones that help you hold onto what brings you joy. You come to appreciate the people who light you up when they walk into a room. You realize that small comforts (your cat, old movies, fresh-baked muffins) are a big deal. You learn that if you don’t loosen your grip on the injustices you endured, your hands won’t be open to reach for blessings that want to find you.

You have to clench it to carry it. What if just for today, you loosen your grip on it and leave it in Higher Hands? When the past crosses your mind today, just say this: “That was then.” Today, all is well.

white house under maple trees
Picture of a white house with forest-green and red trim, with a tree in front on the right side, and a white picket fence. There are autumn leaves of gold strewn on the ground.

If home is where the heart is, why do we spend so much time away from home? Most people are at work all day so they can make money to feather their nests. And then they’re never there!

Even with all that effort, they can end up feeling at loose ends, as if they still haven’t “arrived” yet — even when they’re home.

So I wonder: is there some kind of metaphysical map somewhere that tells us how to get “there” — wherever “there” is?

What if you could order “the good life” online?

e-Bay’s “You Complete Me” Package:

  • Neat and tidy house in the suburbs
  • White picket fence
  • Perfectly-coiffed spouse
  • 2.5 semi-well-behaved children 
  • Fluffy the dog, optional

“Best You Yet” Medical Makeover:

  • Liposuction is first, then we’ll strategically remove internal organs you’re not using (appendix, a rib or two, spleen). 
  • Next, that portion of your brain you never really put to good use will be trimmed. You know, that part with “logic” and “reason” in it.😉 
  • Act now and we’ll throw in a free set of Ginsu knives!

But the truth is “the good life” is closer than you think. 

My friend, Tina, said to me, “Enjoy this day. It’s the only one we have.” And she was right as rain! The past is a ghost and the future is a fantasy. So what should we do on this only day we have? This one right here, that the Lord has made.

Well, the Biblical answer is “Rejoice and be glad in it.” 

What if that was the key to life? Here’s a hint: it is!

No matter what’s piled up in front of you, just remember Who’s behind you. God’s got your back, so keep looking ahead. Travel at Godspeed and you’ll arrive “there” right on time.

Shelley Flannery and I became friends over matching shoes. This was back in first grade, when such things were not only possible but probable. We both wore red Mary Janes on the first day of school, and that, as they say, was that. It seemed a perfectly reasonable basis for a friendship, especially as the first thing I’d ever read (two years earlier, in my sister’s first grade primer) was a story about two girls bonding over having worn the same red dress to school. First grade primers are never wrong.

Finding common ground gets harder as we grow older; instead, we become focused on differences. Yet just the other night in the grocery store, this occurred: a man tapped my husband on the shoulder, and when he turned around, the man quickly apologized, saying, “I’m sorry; I thought you were my friend.”

To which my husband responded, “I’ll be your friend!” And the two shook hands. Maybe it can still be that easy. Maybe if we search out the things that unite us instead of the things that divide us, there’s hope for us yet.

You cannot find
what you do not seek.
Keep to what you know at heart:
We are all of us moving sacks of miracles,
made of the same well-trod dust.
Nothing plumed, furred or scaled
can know us better: know the feel of air
sluicing through our nostrils, the taste
of fruit (honey-smothered summer),
the way our bodies feel in flight.
Let us stumble over serendipity,
and finding it, delight in it.
Come, find yourself in the last place
you’d ever think to look,
in the body you do not know,
in the immanent place
our souls converge.

As autumn rolls in with blustery winds and leaf-strewn lawns, I find myself in a contemplative mood. This season, to me, is evocative of change and even sadness. It was in autumn that my father died. Several of my friends are also facing losses and challenges of a deeply personal kind. How we weather the season depends largely on thorough self-care and unflagging support from those who love us. Prayer, of course, always helps, too.


In the autumn of our days,
may all fall softly.
May heartache land lightly,
astounding us with color:
russet, gold, garnet.
Let us note the blue of the sky,
even as it bulges gray with rain.

May we, like the beasts,
gather what we need
in empathy and acorns,
scattered seed and gentle touch
to last the lean months ahead.
What we cannot glean,
let us amply share.

two white and yellow ceramic mugs
Picture of a yellow mug with the words, “So Very Blessed” on it, along with holiday decorations, including a small orange gourd and autumn flowers.

Looking out the window on this beautiful fall morning, I saw that the bluebirds (Indigo Montoya and Azure Likeit) were eating the food I’d put out for the stray cat (Vanessa Vavoom, who’s got a luxurious orange and white, flowing mane). 

At the same time, the squirrels (Steve & Shirley Squirrely) were stealing the seeds I’d put out for the birds.

No matter how you plan, life happens the way the leaves fall. The wind carries them off and they land on new real estate, far from where they started.  Everything changes and that’s the way it’s meant to be.

This is what I was thinking recently, when there were so many things to get done and nothing was going as intended. I wished I could get it all under control.

But wait: that’s God’s job. There’s no way I can get my arms around the world and suspend it in space. Nor can I go back in time and change seminal moments so that I wasn’t deeply affected, even to this day.

But I can be blessed, right where I am. Sit on the couch next to the cat as he basks in his own blessings: a nice perch by the window to monitor the wildlife that dares to populate his yard. Catnip toy to gnaw on. Soft blanket to curl up in. A cool breeze on an autumn day with Mom nearby, working away on her computer. Squeaky has got it good! And, you know what? So do I.

“Good” is being content with where I am right now, while still trying to improve whatever needs fixing.

“Better” is when I trust that God has got my back, no matter how long the road ahead may seem.

“Blessed” is my birthright. The state of being in which I know all is well, no matter what is going on around me or inside me.

All in all, life is good, but it could be better. And it will be, as long as I focus on my blessings and leave the rest in God’s hands.

It is the way of things: Sometimes your prayer life will be rich and flowing, a jar of honey, a full wineskin. And sometimes, it won’t be. These are the dry times. And while of course we look primarily to our higher power for relief, sometimes relief flows through our fellow humans. Sometimes the smallest gesture can make a difference. And this is why I write: to gesture. Similar gestures are always welcome. Right now, I could use a few.

There will be dry times,
sere times,
times when parched prayers
crack and crumble to ash
before they can be mumbled
from lips numbed by dust.
There will be times so arid
rote turns to rictus
and you parch like a mummy
buried in sand, the weight of which
will not yield. When this happens,
remember: there is water somewhere,
a spring underground.
Your body will arch like a dousing rod,
knowing it, sensing it.
If I find it, I will tell you.
If you find it first, please come
with ladle or cup, thimble or thermos.
We must refresh each other
or we will die before we find
the single thing we seek.

body of water during golden hour
Picture of an orange, yellow and purple-streaked sky at sunrise over low-lying mountains and a slightly-rippled ocean.

A tornado spawned by Hurricane Ida hit us here in central Jersey last week, leaving destruction in its wake. We’d received a jarring emergency alert that said, “Take Shelter Now!” at 7:30 PM on Wednesday, so my son, Coleman, and my feline-overlord, Squeaky, joined me in the basement. We stayed there until the alert expired at 8:15 PM and we all went back upstairs. 

Thinking the worst was over, I grabbed my laundry and headed back down to the basement. Halfway down the stairs, I stopped. 

Just like that, the entire basement had flooded. Six inches of water? In fifteen minutes? 

So many things crossed my mind as I dealt with this crisis.

Why is everything going wrong all at once?

It’s not. It’s just another natural phenomenon. No need to take the weather personally.

We’ve been in this situation before. 

What you learn from one major drama makes you better prepared for the next one.

Wouldn’t it be better if I didn’t always have to soldier on through so many challenges alone?

Not really. It’s better to look back on your life and give yourself credit for dealing with challenges and learning to be self-sufficient.

How in the world do Lori and SueBE deal with all the tornadoes in their area?  

They get through it by heeding tornado warnings, getting to shelter with their families, and praying their way through the storm. And through life, for that matter.

So when the storms of life head in your direction, take one thing at a time. Put your hard-earned knowledge to good use. Flex your resilience muscles. Lean on friends for support. Call on God to get you through. Before you know it, the stormy night will pass and dawn will come, bright and clear as day.

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