The Lord's PrayerI find myself yet again asking for a prayer.  A dear friend is facing her third battle with cancer.  When we were in our twenties, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer of a very rare, aggressive kind. She came through treatment wonderfully.  Then 5 years ago, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Again, we prayed and yet again she came through the treatments better than we had dared hope. Recently, her energies ebbed. She was often short of breath. Again, she went to the doctor.  This time around it is a rare blood disorder that invariably leads to leukemia.

For those who love her, this is an especially difficult time and I don’t just mean her illness.

For the most part, we are a prayerful group but facing this battle yet again many of us are at a bit of a loss. What do we say?  How do we pray? “Hey, God. It’s me. Again. Look, I’m getting a little sick of this.”

Okay, that’s not it. But how do you pray when the words don’t come? When you’d rather just flop down on your face in the middle of the bed?

Here are three things that have worked for me in the past week.

  1. Ask for prayer. I know it sounds like a cop out, but ask friends for prayer.  Admit that you don’t know how to pray about this yourself because it is just too much.  Your friends will get it. They’ve been there themselves. They’ll hold up everyone involved.
  2. Resort to a time honored prayer. We all have prayer that we’ve memorized.  I love the Prayer of St. Francis. Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love . . .  Another favorite is the Jesus Prayer. Jesus, have mercy on me, the sinner.  At times like this, when someone is desperately ill, I turn to the Lord’s Prayer. May thy will be done.
  3. Pray through song. I know you expected this one from me and here it is. When I’m at a loss, I turn to music. So many of our hymns are also prayers.  In fact, my choir has sung several arrangements of the Prayer of St. Francis. Sing through some of your favorites. They speak to you for a reason.

There are times when it is all but impossible to pray.  Ironically, these are also the times in which prayer is vital. Maybe one of these ways will work for you.

–SueBE

Lent is nearly over. Holy Week is finally coming into view over the crest of the hill. Our slogging days are almost done.

Most of us think of Lent as a trying time. By the time you get to the end of it, you ought to feel pretty beat up — rent in two by anguish for your sinfulness; exhausted — spent — by self-denial. Not me. I’m flying high these days.

The watchwords of Lent (notably, wait and watch) can place us in a state of cautious anxiety. But let’s look at them another way. Wait and watch! A miracle is about to happen! Jesus is about to defeat death with a spectacular roundhouse punch. And then, guess what? We all win. (Say it like Oprah:) You get a resurrection! And you get a resurrection!

It’s as if a complete stranger won the lottery, then offered you a huge cut for no particular reason. We don’t deserve life after death. Nothing we can do in life can make up for our sinfulness. And yet, in the end, we don’t have to do anything. Life eternal is handed to us. All we need do is follow Christ. He is the ultimate generous lottery winner, only he didn’t do it through luck — he did it through humiliation, suffering, blood and death. He did it so we don’t have to.

Let us spend the last remaining days of Lent basking in a love so big, death could not contain it. As the line goes in one of my favorite movies, “I’ve got wings and I’m going to heaven…baby!” Won’t you join me in celebrating?

The winter of Ash Wednesday
becomes the spring of Easter.
And we like, like lilies,
turn our heads
Godward
inexplicably saved
from our greatest foe.
We shall not be cut down,
but grow ceaselessly
in heaven’s green forever.

As you may know, I’m from Jersey. I’ve told a few choice “Joizey” jokes in my day, and they always get a laugh.

But if you try to knock New Jersey in my house? Oh, heck no.

I’d tell you to make like a banana. And split.

Make like a tree. And leave.

Make like a shepherd. And get the flock out of here!

It’s like this. You know how dysfunctional your own family can be. But they’re still your family. You might give your sister a hard time, sure. Goffa Bids (Jerzese = God Forbid) anybody else does it.

Likewise, I feel defensive when I hear anyone knocking religion. Even though I don’t belong to a particular church myself, my faith is the hinge of my life, and prayer is the door.

But lately, I’ve seen things in the news that make me wonder if certain churches didn’t get the memo – you know, the one about doing unto others. They may have missed the class on compassion, and they’re giving all of us who are spiritually inclined a black eye. The litmus test for a person of faith is simple: if you don’t treat people well, you don’t know God.

Take this church (please!) in Knoxville, Tennessee, with its billboard designed to offend those who believe everyone is entitled to equal rights.

Or this one in San Francisco, California, with shower sprays that aim out toward the front of its church building. Not to put out fires, mind you; no, they’re used for the sole purpose of discouraging homeless people from sleeping there by drenching them with water.

The great Thomas Merton said, “The fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.” And these churches may really believe they are following God’s leading by driving away those souls already feeling disenfranchised.

Even though it isn’t always clear what to do in a difficult situation, one thing is certain. Nobody claiming to hold faith has any right to diminish another. I’m no theologian, but I know one thing, as sure as I’m sitting here. God has an open door policy. Everyone is welcome to walk through.

Hospitality means different things for different people.  For my grandmother and her friends, it meant cards and drinks and snacks.  Lots of cards, plenty of drinks and bowl upon bowl of snacks.  Her super clean house always looked like a magazine spread.

Grandma knew her friends and she knew them as well as she knew her family.  Before there was even a word for it, Grandma was a prayer warrior.  She held us up and we knew it.

At this point in the Edward’s household, hospitality looks very different.  The kitchen floor looks like it belongs in a stable. Instead of hay on the floor of a stall, I have zoysia chaff on the floors, both sofas and most of the chairs. Add to that the chip bags, plates coated in pasta sauce and half empty cups that accessorize every room.

For 10 hours, boys from 12 to 16 have been tromping in and out.  They’ve played Nerf and Risk and Xbox. There was something about zombies. With the mess, you would think there were dozens but this time it was only seven.  As I write this, we’ve fed them two meals and will soon be giving several rides home.

I had a whole list of things to get done before I go to bed but 7 boys pretty well take over the house.  When my husband was cooking dinner, I was counseling one on girlfriends, a healthy diet and weight loss. Yes, even boys worry about their weight and I’m going to be praying that he focuses on health and not on the number on the scale.

We discussed swim team and the fact that this summer they will be on two different teams instead of the same one. I know they can handle competing against each other. They do that anyway but we’re worried about the boy who has autism and doesn’t handle change with ease. He’s one of them being moved to a new team while his best friend stays on the other team. I’ll be praying that he find a support group who can hold him up long enough to discover his amazing sense of humor and fair play.

Maybe hospitality here really isn’t all that different. As I pray for these boys, I’ll also be thanking God for the grandmother who showed me how to open my home, get to know someone, and hold them up to God.

–SueBE

There is a very real temptation to constantly focus on what the Catholic Church does wrong. And wrongness in the Church does abound: from statements of non-inclusivity by those who ought to know better to crimes against innocent children. But there are heroes, many heroes, whose praises ought to be sung. Let’s let the rafters shake:

  • For the religious men and women of India, the Middle East and Africa. It takes tenacious bravery to live your faith in regions of the world where 71-year-old nuns are raped and their convents ransacked. There is nothing on earth that can rationalize such acts. God be with these courageous men and women.
  • For our Pope, Francis, who continues to speak with boldness on subjects such as mercy and acceptance and social justice, going so far as to call failure to provide living wages a mortal sin. I am proud that Francis is my Papa.
  • For all the men and women who will become Catholics at the Easter Vigil this year. There are more than 200 of them in the Wichita area alone. My husband is one of them. It takes guts to choose, with open eyes, a faith tradition with such a rich history, both good and bad. Catholicism has been celebrated and deeply maligned, even through the first half of the 20th century, when Catholics were not allowed to teach at public schools, when crosses were burnt on the lawns of Catholics by hate groups, when riots by Lutherans targeted Catholics in major cities across America. The same anti-Christian bias continues around the world. These men and women are taking a real chance in walking away from their previous lives and into the Church: One of the women in my husband’s group is being shunned by her family, who are all Mormons. Additionally, members of our parish have taken significant time out of their lives to act as sponsors to these candidates — my husband’s sponsor is an amazing example of faith in action, deeply involved in parish life and a busy husband and father to boot. This change, this decision to enter the Church, has called for a heavy investment of time and spiritual energy by the RCIA candidates. This is not something entered into lightly. I am so proud of them. While I am eternally grateful to be a “cradle Catholic,” I cannot imagine the fortitude and faith required to take this leap as an adult.
  • To all the good shepherds out there, including our own pastor, who deal daily with budget shortfalls and the pressing needs of their sheep with good humor and holiness. There are an awful lot of them out there. You don’t hear news stories about them. They are unsung heroes.
  •  To all the faithful who struggle with the Church’s teachings yet hang on, hoping for change. To all of us who keep the ship sailing ahead with our work in ministries large and small. And to all people of faith, everywhere, who accept one another and celebrate the diversity of faith around the world and in our own country without prejudice or the arrogance of supposed superiority. Let’s all pray together for a better world. Amen!

 

Grace the no fault state

 

Sometimes I wonder if self-awareness is actually a gift. Sure, it separates us from the beasts of the field, but it also adds hours of stress that can take years off of your life.

Yesterday, some challenges arose, so I marinated, stewed, and pressure-cooked my psyche about what’s going on in my life. Well the reason my son has that issue – still! – is because I was toofill in the blank, lenient, strict, emotional, sick, pre-occupied – to be a good mother all the time.

I blamed myself in my head for things in general. Finally I realized God is the one who made my son who he is, and there’s no way in the world I would ever, EVER have the gall to blame God for our troubles.

So why do I continue to throw acid at myself in this way? I wouldn’t do it to God, who created me as well, so where do I get off criticizing this child of God? Who just happens to be me.

I read an article about divorce and the fact that certain states are considered “no-fault” when it comes to ending a marriage.

In truth, the only real, bona fide no-fault state is this one:

Grace.

God’s in charge of everything we see, and things we can’t see, like gravity, atoms, uh… Spanx. You know, all of it. Things we hide – and that hide our figure flaws. Our past, secret dreams we harbor but tell no one, “morning face.” These things are no secret to God.

If God decided that your son should have flat feet… poof! Or maybe, splat! It will be so.

If God decided that you should have “child-bearing hips”… poof! (Better give that a double whammy) Poof, poof! Perhaps even, bada-boom, bada-bing! You – like me – will be, shall we say, wide in the ride. (I just made that one up! Hope it becomes a thing. Looking at you, social media!)

If God made you and your children, there is no reason to question why things are so. Of course, you should try to improve the things you can improve. But blame doesn’t make things better.

Give yourself a break. You weren’t put on this planet to obsess over things you can’t change right now, if at all. You were meant to find the joy in the journey. Take a deep breath, step back, and release the Impossible, the Unsolvable, the Ugly-Cry-Dramas into God’s hands. It’s like an instant Disaster Relief Program, coming to your aid. Living in the state of grace is like finding your way back home again.

In her last post, Lori wrote about seeing God at work in our lives.

Sometimes it is easier than others. When my friend’s stage 4 cancer disappeared, we sang praises to God. My cousin just had a healthy, wonderful baby girl.  Thank you, Lord!

But there are other times that seeing God isn’t so easy.  My local community is again in turmoil.  After the City Planner and Police Chief resigned in the city of Ferguson, people again took to the streets in protest.  The night before I wrote this, two police officers were shot.

These officers weren’t arresting a robbery suspect.  They weren’t answering a domestic call.  They were standing in front of the police station to discourage whatever nonsense people might decide to get up to.  One of them was shot in the face.  The other in the shoulder.

At times like these, it is very hard to see God.

Just before the turmoil started up again, I got a message from my editor.  Would I be interested in writing about a headline topic?

Of course.

They need a book called “Black Lives Matter.”

Normally, when I work for this publisher, they give me a list.  “We need books on these ten topics. What are your top three choices?”  Not this time, this time they gave me a specific topic.  Not ebola.  Not GMO.  Not ISIS.  Black Lives Matter.

I e-mailed my editor.  “Do you know where I live?”

“No. Why?”

The truth of the matter is that I’ve been struggling to truly hear what everyone has to say. There is so much hate and so much anger that it is hard to listen.  I’d much rather pull into my shell.  I know that things won’t change unless we listen, but still. . .

I could have been assigned a book on any one of ten different topics.  I got “Black Lives Matter.”  Even when it makes me squirm, I will have to listen to both sides.  Even when I want to tell them both to hush and go away, I will have to listen.  But when I do, I will have the opportunity to put together a book to teach young readers.

Who but God could pull this off?

–SueBE

If TV and movies have taught us anything, it’s that the person you seek — whether it’s a fiendish murderer or some luckless gal’s soulmate — is always the one you least suspect. That good-looking, solid, nice-as-pie guy? He will be discarded in favor of the man our heroine claimed to hate and has bickered with for a full 90 minutes. The FBI agent? Actually a KGB spy in disguise. It’s gotten to be such a common ruse, the astute watcher can guess the outcome based on the premise that whoever-dunnit will be the person who appears most ridiculously unlikely to have done so.

We apply this principle to pop culture, but seldom examine its application to our own lives. When we make that big sale, land that elusive account, garner the attention of a significant other, whom do we look to for praise? Ourselves, of course. When we bungle the big sale, lose the account, get dumped or overlooked, whom do we look to for the assignation of blame? Probably someone else. Maybe ourselves. But what if, in every instance, we are wrong? What if, all along, it really is the one we suspect the least — God?

Sure, we sometimes remember to thank God for the good things in our lives. It is easier to see God as the engenderer of positive things, less easy to see God’s presence in things like war, death or tragedy. But The One You Least Suspect has a hand in all things, all ways. You may not see it, but it’s there.

Someone once described understanding God’s movement in the world to the following: A single page of a huge manuscript is torn from a book. The page is battered by wind and weather until it consists of a few legible sentences. Someone finds this scrap of paper, and based on it, claims to understand what the entire novel was about. It is ridiculous on the face of it. So, too, is it ridiculous for us to claim to understand how God works in our lives…or to discount God’s existence based on a similar, crabbed view.

You are a part of God’s divine providence. God has a plan for you and for the world. Perhaps it is time to recognize The One You Least Suspect for having outwitted us all — though I suspect none of us will understand this fully until our deaths. In the meantime, give God more credit, even for those things that seem hopeless or wrong. God has stronger eyesight than we do. God sees the big picture. God will surprise you, whether you expect it or not.

MacBook-Air-On-Table

Instead, You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life. As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending, and I know true joy and contentment.

Psalm 16:11,“The Voice” Bible Version

Before becoming a Freelance Writer, I had many a “day-job.” Some of my best memories from office jobs I’ve had over the years were from times in the break room.

One day, I sat down next to Mike, a health food and fitness buff. He nodded to me and continued carefully unwrapping a clearly nutritious, but aesthetically unsettling, snack.

“Yikes,” I said, before I could filter the facts and muzzle my mouth. “I mean, uh, interesting-looking snack, Mike.”

“I know,” he said, waving a hand as if to say, it’s okay to speak the truth. “Carob chip soy cookie. No sugar. No fat. No wheat flour. All nutrients.”

It looked different from any cookie I’d ever seen before. Kind of grey and lumpy. A bit misshapen.

“Does it …taste… good?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, gnawing on the cookie and the question, “I think if you’ve never had a chocolate chip cookie in your life and… as you eat it, if you remind yourself that it’s good for you… then it’s okay.”

“Not exactly a ringing endorsement,” I said. He nodded and chewed away dutifully.

Another time, I ran into an old work colleague I hadn’t seen in a while and she seemed glum. Back in our break room days, she was witty, warm and so full of life. Then she agreed to an arranged marriage that was beneficial to both her family and her husband’s. I asked how married life was treating her.

“Well, I guess all things considered….if I really think about it… if I had to say one way or the other, it’s … better than being single. I suppose. Yeah.”

If you don’t know that life is supposed to be good, you might accept a less-than life, thinking that’s your only option. Let me break it down like this. If you have to convince yourself that something works for you, here’s a newsflash: it doesn’t.

Being a believer isn’t supposed to be about rules and regulations. Toeing the line so you don’t anger God. Faith is a heart condition. And you are the only one of your kind.

Break the chain of “it’s always been done this way,” or “this is what everyone else wants me to do.” This is your life, and it’s a gift. Don’t put it on the shelf and let it gather dust. Break it open. You never know what a bountiful blessing it might be until you take it into your own two hands and let ‘er rip.

Columba of IonaNot surprisingly, I’ve been reading about how my fellow bloggers are celebrating Lent. As you know, I’m drawn to interfaith dialogue so I was fascinated when I came across a woman who, for the forty days of Lent, is wearing a hijab.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, a hijab is a head covering worn by Muslim women.  It covers the woman’s hair, but not her face.

Jessey is wearing hijab, borrowed from a Muslim friend, as an act of hospitality.  As a blonde, blue-eyed American, she wanted to be fully aware of the hostility experienced by those who are obviously “other.”  So she is walking not in their shoes but in their hijab.  You can read about her experience here on her blog.

Wow.  As much as I support interfaith dialogue, I don’t know that I’d have the nerve to do this.  Not with the things that I’ve heard many of my fellow Christians say about Muslims.

Not that Jessey is without loving support – her husband is 100% behind the decision, obviously her Muslim friend supports her and so do many bloggers who have commented on her posts.  In fact, she’s experienced very little face-to-face hostility.

But, she has also been blasted by commenters who suggest:

  • She is supporting ISIS.
  • She try genital mutilation or acid in the face to truly support Islamic woman.
  • She is shaming Christ and the sacrifice that he made for her.
  • She has, in her ignorance, disregarded the history of Christian women who cover their hair.
  • She is disrespecting Eastern Christians who have been persecuted by Muslim.
  • She is vain.

The part that pierces me is that these people, largely women, for the most part claim to be Christian.  Pray for our enemies.  Bless those that persecute you.  And apparently flame the holy wow out of some woman who dares to go beyond fish on Friday.

May God grant us all the courage needed to heed his call, to follow his star and to walk in Faith where we fear to go.

–SueBE

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