Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

Whether you are trying to tell your own story or share life’s absurdities, one of the most vital skills we posess is our ability to listen to each other. It really doesn’t matter what I’m trying to communicate if no one will listen.

And a big part of listening is responding. It can be a simple nod of your head. “Yes, I hear you.” Or a shrug. “I don’t have a clue.” Or, if someone isn’t making sense, it might mean asking a question.

One day last week, I got a cryptic text. “Is it okay if we use items from the craft fair?” Since I’m in charge of part of the church craft fair, I knew this was most likely from a church member. But who? All I had was a number.

“I could text back – who is this?” I said aloud.

“That would be rude,” said my husband.

“Asking who it is would be rude?”

He nodded.

Pfft. How could asking for more info be rude? Nope. If I wanted to be rude, I’d just ignore it. Instead I clicked the phone icon.

In moments, Caryn and I were laughing. “Your name is in my phone. Why wouldn’t my phone tell you who was calling?”

In a few moments, I had saved her number with her name and I knew what she needed. We discussed work and her daughter’s health problems. I promised to continue praying.

Whenever we don’t agree with someone or don’t immediately understand what they are saying, it is easy to pull back and ignore them. Whatever. Not my problem. And that’s on a good day. On a bad day we argue and we shut each other down.

But God gave us ears to hear not only his word but each other. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other about everything, but it only takes a moment to listen and to nod. “I hear you. I hear what you’re saying.”

–SueBE

My husband and I had just parked our car at the grocery store. As I got out of the car, I glanced into the car next to me. A quite normal-looking man (conservative haircut, wire glasses) had a large can of baked beans in one hand; with the other, he was scooping beans out of the can and into his mouth.

I was a little gobsmacked by this.

Two days later, still processing the incident, my husband asked where I wanted to eat lunch. “I don’t know,” I said. “We could drive to the grocery store and eat baked beans out the can with our fingers.” Deadpan, my husband looked straight into my eyes and replied, “We would need a nicer car.”

Sometimes life is so absurd, you just have to laugh.

Funny thing, life.
It hands you a joke
disguised as drama,
as awkward as an equine in an overcoat
trying to check out a book at the library.
You could weep at the incongruity,
or seize on the strangeness
and laugh yourself hoarse.
Stop trying to solve things.
Throw back your head.
Throw up your arms. Give in to the odd experiment
that is the universe.
When you’re in on the joke,
God will entrust you with things
you’re too wise to know now.

gray concrete building
Picture of an archaeological site in which various people are digging.

As I was reading an article about the extinction of homo erectus, I realized that somebody is going to tell your story one day, long after you’re gone, and they may get it wrong.

A group of archaeologists at Australian National University who were researching the species, Homo erectus, concluded that the reason they became extinct is that they were lazy.

“They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves,” said Dr. Ceri Shipton, lead researcher behind the new theory, in a press release. “I don’t get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn’t have that same sense of wonder that we have.”

Retroactive snark. That’s a new one! Even if you asked Judge Judy for a ruling on Homo erectus, I’ll bet she’d take a pass. “Throw rocks at people from the stone age? Not me, pal.”

For a group of scientists, these folks seem awfully petty. But I suppose pettiness has been around since the dawn of time. In fact, even cavemen must have had to deal with critics. “That not how you make fire, Irv. Must put more oomph into it.”

The way the Homo erectus story was framed also varied, with some online outlets reporting it as fact, and others as conjecture. One conservative UK tabloid even ran the headline, “Homo erectus went extinct because they were lazy!” Yikes!

So, don’t wait for anyone else to tell the world who you are and what you stand for. Tell your own tale now, while you still can. Don’t wait until you’re a fossil in a field only to have some snarky archaeologist (snarkyologist?) talk smack about you. Tell it in living color, in gruesome detail, in pretty pictures, in mellifluous music, in your own way. Then, when you’re an ancient artifact, you’ll give that snarkyologist who finds you a lot to talk about.

I’ve been wondering for some time what God has planned for me and whether I am, in fact, mulishly resisting his call. I think my hearing is adequate. I say, certainly, that I am willing. So why do I remain standing alone, the wall at my back, watching others in the dance? Perhaps my partner is waiting for the right accompaniment?

Turn your will to music;
teach my heart to dance.
I will move to the tune of your making.
I will follow your footsteps as you lead.
I haven’t the grace you gave the stars,
pirouetting ever heavenward,
nor the artistry of angels,
nor the simple step of saints.
My raw parts hold no rhythm,
yet you call me to perform.
Here. I hold out my arms,
angled to envelop you.
Let us take up the tune
together.

two coffee lattes in yellow cup with saucer on brown wooden table
Picture of two cappuccinos in sunny yellow cups with heart-shaped froth in them on a dark-brown wooden-slat table. Next to the cups is a small picture frame, and inside it are the words, “Inhale the future, exhale the past.”

What do you call something that hangs around your neck, weighs you down, and clings like a parasite every day as you live your life? Please don’t say your spouse! I jest, of course. No, the answer is: pain from the past.

Maybe one day, scientists will discover that regret, guilt and shame are all forms of the same invisible substance that sucks the life out of you at the molecular level. Let’s give it a name, using the first two letters of each word: “Regush.” The way I envision it, this substance has the motility of plasma and the diffuse nature of vapor. 

Slights and daily difficulties normally bounce off you or pass through you, like water through a porous teabag; however, when there’s a build-up of Regush in your psyche, that negative energy sticks to you and slows you down. It’s as if the past has stayed with you and lodged itself into the cells of your soul.

The way to alleviate Regush is to do unto yourself as you do unto most others: give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

You did your best at the time, and you’re actually a different person now.

When you fully believe this to be true, you’ll start to treat yourself better in the here and now. Forgive yourself for what wasn’t your fault anyway. God has forgiven you for what actually was your fault. 

Regush (regret, guilt and shame) really is a thing of the past. Get past the past by loving yourself as you love God, and as God loves you. As for what you did when you didn’t know any better? Forgive it so you don’t have to re-live it.

Tree frog behind my ficus.

With the weather warming up slightly, my son and I love to have the windows open in the evening. Nights still get chilly but I love the cool air. And I had to laugh. I could already hear the cree cree cree of tree frogs.

I always laugh when I hear the frogs. I grew up maybe two miles from here. We never heard the frogs. It wasn’t until my husband and I bought this house that I heard their nightly calls. Cree cree cree.

The funny part? I thought they were some sort of bug, maybe a cicada. When I’m clueless, I don’t fool around. I don’t know how long we lived here before I mentioned it to my husband. “Bug? What bug? I can’t hear it over the frogs.”

Since then I’ve spotted them in my neighbors grapevine that grows on our fence. We’ve even found them in the house a time or two and often in plants on the porch and patio. Cree cree cree. I love my tree frog neighbors even if at first I was absolutely clueless.

I was reminded of this when a friend posted about the vaccination clinic she periodically works. The numbers of people coming in have seriously dropped. “I guess the rest of you just don’t care.”

Or it could be that the National Guard has been holding mass vaccination clinics that serve 100s of people at each event. And FEMA is using a sports facility where they have vaccinated almost 9000 people. I went to a local pharmacy because it is closer and more convenient.

It seems like so often we assume we know things. My experience must be your experience. Isn’t that true?

But really, only God is all knowing. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure of much except the call I hear each evening, cree cree cree, isn’t a bug. It’s a frog.

–SueBE

As any horror aficionado knows, those title words signal the apex of panic for our poor heroine: The maniacal “crank” caller that has haunted her all night has been revealed to be in the very same house as our terrified victim! (Aside: I never understood this trope. This was used back in the olden days of landlines, so it’s not as if the killer could be calling on his cell phone. Is he using a second landline in the same house? Most houses only had one. And how does he know what number to call? Is he close friends with the owners of the house? This is never explained to my satisfaction.) Recently, these words caused something of a spiritual panic for me.

Last Saturday night, we went back to church. I was hesitant, but I knew the bishop was about to lift the dispensation for missing mass, and since both my hubby and I are vaccinated, I figured…what the hey. Our parish is not new; it was built in the 50s. The ventilation is poor on a good day. And lo and behold — at least a third of the folks in the church were eschewing masks. And singing. Let me tell you, I was scared.

And judgmental. Even with my vaccination, I know infection is still possible. How could anyone be in an enclosed area with a large group of people and not wear a mask? How could our pastor allow singing? All of these thoughts so overwhelmed me, I did not feel the emotion I ought to have felt at receiving Eucharist after more than a year. I should have been buoyant. I wasn’t.

And then I realized: The call was coming from inside the house. In other words, it was me. I was preventing my own enjoyment of the celebration of the Eucharist. I was the problem. I was the deranged killer.

There is a time to hang up the phone. A time to realize that you’ve done your best to keep yourself safe and that you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. So enjoy what you can. Move into the world and try to experience it without terror, especially where your spirituality is concerned. We need the normality of that connection in our lives. We need the strength of that bond to lift us up and out.

We can’t hold ourselves captive. God wants us healthy, but God wants us happy, too.

This past week, I took two webinars from Hollaback! That exclamation point isn’t just me being excited. It is part of their name. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this organization, their goal is to help end harrassment in all its many forms.

A friend of mine mentioned the organization to me. She’s Korean and has had to put up with a bucket load of nonsense lately. A lot of people are stressed and strained because of the pandemic and sometimes this stress and strain comes out in the form of racist harrassment.

One class was on bystander intervention. The other was on de-escalation. And, yes, this does have something to do with prayer and religion. Hang in there.

The class on bystander intervention focused on helping the person who is being harrassed. You can do this by distracting everyone which helps break the tension, by speaking to the person who was being harrassed, or by speaking directly to the situation. One of the things that the presenters asked us all to do was to evaluate the situation and your reaction to it. Not everyone can step in because, having experienced harrassment, they spiral to a negative place.

I have to admit, I was looking sideways at this. Why? Because intervention and speaking to the situation fall right into my skill set. I am almost always willing to step in and help someone who is being picked on. Because of that, I was a tad bit impressed with myself.

Then the next day, I had a class on deescalation. In this class, we learned how to speak directly to the harrasser, how to empathize without agreeing, how to redirect. Again, they asked us to evaluate our own reaction to what was going on in various video clips.

It was humbling. Why? Because I learned that I cannot deal with the harrasser. Because of my own experience being harrassed, I’m not going to de-escalate. I’ll do just the opposite because at best I’ll be defensive. At worst, I’ll be aggressive. It was humbling but with Hollaback! I’ve learned that this is just the way I am because of my own experiences. I need to recognize that and focus on what I can do.

Last week, Ruth, Lori and I were discussing Ruth’s last post. We talked about how the pandemic and all it entails is a lot like alcohol. The stress and strain intensify our personalities. Thus the increased harrassment.

But before you step in to help, take a look at yourself and your gifts. God has given us each a variety of talents. The harrasser isn’t the only person dealing with the stress and strain of a pandemic. Know what your gifts are (and what they aren’t) and you are more likely to be able to help.

If you are interested in learning how your gifts can help, check out the training Hollaback! offers. If nothing else, you may learn why you react the way you do to stressful situations.

–SueBE

white petaled flowers
Close-up picture of pink and yellow flowers

I got my “Fauci Ouchie” last week — that’s internet-speak for “COVID-19 vaccination” — and, as we waited in the line of cars for an hour, I reflected on how the world has changed. And how, in some ways, it hasn’t changed at all.

By now, we’ve all got the precepts of pandemic-prevention down pat. 🚩Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Maintain social distance. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Learning the ropes took some time, but most of us adhere to these life-saving rules.

But, try as you might, you may still encounter someone who is just looking for a reason to get in your face and into your space. You want me to put on a mask in a grocery store? Them’s fightin words! That’s the part of life that hasn’t changed at all. People who want to blame others for their own unhappiness.

Anyone who’s ever had a baby or owned a pet knows the secret to staying in your own airspace. You’ve got to change a diaper? Change the litter box? Breathe your own air. Put one hand over your mouth and use the other hand to attend to the task. Sometimes you’ve got to hold your nose to get things done. 

Don’t engage with anyone who’s on a mission to cause misery. This doesn’t just apply to anti-maskers, but to any random thorns in your side you may encounter. Breathing your own air is a practice that will still be useful post-pandemic. Why?  Because there will still be things that people are arguing about. Stay in your own sacred space. We’ll all breathe a sigh of relief once the pandemic is over, but until then, take care of yourself and breathe your own air.

My office is (mostly) a normal place. Sure, there are maybe too many model cars. I wouldn’t recommend opening the closet. And yes, there is a poster of a guy who looks a lot like Ted Allen of “Chopped” smiling benignly from the wall behind the door. No, it’s not Ted Allen. It’s Estes Kefauver.

Estes Kefauver was a politician from Tennessee. Among his noted accomplishments: He took on mob corruption. He took on big Pharma. He was the running mate of Adlai Stevenson, who (until recent times) was the winner of my personal award for “Best President We Should Have Had But Didn’t.” Why does Mr. Kefauver grace my office wall? That’s complicated. What’s more important is the slogan on the poster: “For All of You.”

Nowadays, it’s nigh-unto impossible to get anyone to do anything for “all of us.” Wearing masks, for instance. Taking a vaccine. Listening to reason. Just when exactly did “the common good” become none of our business?

Today, look into your heart and really examine what you would or would not do for “all of us.” Estes Kefauver, for instance, died in 1963 after a heart attack on the floor of the Senate, representing the good people of Tennessee to the bitter end. Jesus was crucified. And you? And me?

It is easy to love a pear,
hip-heavy as an old auntie,
golden, flecked, sweet to eat.

Harder to love a lemon,
seedy, hard to swallow,
still: sharp with possibility
to sweeten and refresh.

Until I can love a durian fruit —
see past the bared fangs of its rind,
snub its scent (compared kindly
to sewage or rotting flesh),
taste on my tongue its gummy innards —

only then can I name myself
ready to tackle the harvest
of a higher order:
the fruit of the tree of humankind.

Archive

Have a Mary Little Christmas

%d bloggers like this: