Powerful words imageWhen Eric Clapton fell in love with Patti Boyd, it inspired him to write the classic rock song, “Layla.” This would be a romantic story, except for the fact that the love of his life was married to his friend, George Harrison, at the time.

Somehow, in the song’s lyrics, Clapton was able to spin this situation into something positive.

“Tried to give you consolation when your old man had let you down,” he wrote.

It almost seems noble, when you hear the tale told that way!

That’s the power of a euphemism.

Many years ago, I worked at a pharmaceutical company, and there was a hostile takeover. My department was eliminated, along with thousands of other employees, but oddly, the company referred to the mass lay-offs as an “optimization.”

That was exactly the opposite of what those of us who were let go experienced. It surely didn’t feel optimal to us.

Here’s one time no euphemism or hyperbole is needed: God is Love.

It’s not a cliche’ or a play on words. It doesn’t stand for something else. This phrase says exactly what it means.

People may not always live up to their hype or keep all of their promises, but love? Heck, it:

  • Never fails
  • Is patient & kind
  • Covers a multitude of sins
  • Casts out all fear

To sum it up, it makes the world go ‘round.

Powerful words, indeed.

Human, Harmony, Dove, Humanity, Silhouettes, GlobeJust this week, I led a Bible study class on hospitality and compassion.  When we finished, one of the ladies was almost in tears.  Her granddaughter and great-grandchildren just moved back to the state.  Her grandson-in-law looks like a biker – tall, inked, long-hair, bandana. But he’s the best father she’s ever seen.  They want to come to church with her but she’s put off setting up a date. “Some people will look down their noses at him.”

“Well, they better get the heck over it. He’s family and we all adore you. Tell them to come.”

“But not everyone is like you.”

Thank God. I’m far from perfect. I’ve got a temper that one Grandmother claimed was Irish while the other insisted was German. Wherever it came from, I’ve got plenty of it. I spend a surprising amount of time wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. And there is virtually no one that I won’t boss around.

What I don’t tend to do is get caught up on how a Christian should look.  If you want to wear K-mart polyester or a snazzy suit, I’m okay with it.  A man with long hair isn’t going to faze me but neither is a buzz cut. I’m not going to slut shame or comment on your conservative pants suit, but I might ask you to sing in the choir, hand out bulletins or help me move a table. It’s that bossy gene. That said, I’ll also welcome you in and there’s always a pot of coffee on.

My friend was right. Everyone isn’t like me. Lori has her ever hopeful nature. Ruth is the best at helping us remember to laugh.  Me? It’s God’s house and I’m going to welcome you in with a bit of hospitality.

And, while you’re here, I may ask you to lend a hand. After all, God’s given each of us a gift to share.

–SueBE

“We all got together and picked a new name for you,” my boss — many years ago — popped her head in my door to tell me. “It’s Virginia.”

“You are aware,” I replied patiently, “that I am a married woman?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “But you just seem so innocent.” It wasn’t a compliment.

Years later, a woman at the hair salon spontaneously burst out with the following: “Your eyes are so innocent looking!” I thanked her, but pondered whether or not I ought to have.

Nowadays, I view things differently. See, I always thought that the goal of any life was to do something — to add something to one’s repertoire that caused sensational good in the world. If I did this thing I was meant to do, I reasoned, I could die in a state of grace.

But maybe it isn’t about adding so much as it is about refusing to subtract. Let me explain. When I was born, my mother wrote me a letter. In it, she noted how much I looked like her — except for my eyes, which held such innocence. She prayed that I would always be this way, untouched by the evils of the world.

Though I like to think of myself as a woman of the world — and certainly I have endured and/or witnessed things that are not easy — I do retain a streak of naiveté. I expect that others will be honest with me because I will be honest with them. I believe that people will not want to do hurtful things, that only hurt people do hurtful things. It always shocks me when I witness someone doing harm purely for the fun of it, or without seeming to care. How can such a person be that way?

I once complained to a superior that I had been promised something by a colleague and was disappointed that he didn’t mean it. Why would he say something he didn’t mean? “Are you stupid?” she asked pointedly. Well, maybe I am. Or maybe I have retained a quality that God (and my dear mother) wanted me to retain: A certain purity. A certain innocence.

Maybe the goal of my life isn’t so much to add but to fail to subtract — to fail to give in to the forces of the world that would turn me jaded and apathetic. Maybe by remaining surprised and hurt by the evil in the world, I am further spurred to reject it for something better. Maybe my eyes aren’t so much innocent, but ever-hopeful.

What quality do you exhibit that should never be quashed? A sense of adventure? The ability to make others laugh? Resilience? Whatever that quality is, don’t lose it. After all, it may be the very thing you were put on this earth to keep.

“Why, if it was an illusion, not praise the catastrophe, whatever it was, that destroyed illusion and put truth in its place?”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Major life events are like tectonic plates leading to seismic shifts. We tend to look back on our lives in a pre- and post-mindset. Life before The Big Thing That Happened. Life after it.

Looking back, there were times in my life in which I was obviously in the wrong… fill in the blank. Job. Relationship. Part of town. State of mind. Size pants.

After all, just because you can squeeze your tuchus into a pair of pants that are actually a size too small… well, that doesn’t mean that they fit. It means you’re squishing yourself into a cage for reasons other than personal comfort.

I’ve come to regard those endings in life as being off-ramps to the place I really wanted to be anyway. That wasn’t home. Those weren’t true friends. I wasn’t myself.

So any time I feel a twinge of regret or nostalgia, I remind myself that I’m not one to pine for what wasn’t mine. That wasn’t for me. I’m better off without it. Now I’m free of what didn’t serve me. Free to find what really works for me. This makes change feel less like a wound and more like a gift.

Having gone through a few things, it made me realize that others are going through things, too, and it might make them cranky. I’m going to remind myself not to take other people’s problems personally.

I can’t imagine what your backstory is, so I’m going to give you a free gift of your own: the benefit of the doubt.

Compassion, not pity.

Understanding, not judgment.

In a nutshell, when I assume everyone is doing their best, things are put into proper perspective.

As for the Big Things That Happened? Well, abrupt endings become another way of saying, Okay, Lord. I’m ready. What’s next?

golden circleI love it when someone challenges me.  Not the snotty kind when someone is rude and it’s all I can do to keep my big mouth shut.  Yeah, I fail at that way too often.

No, I like it when someone introduces me to a new idea that just won’t leave me be.  That’s what Pastor Sean did with last week’s sermon.  In it he mentioned Simon Sinek and how his Golden Circle concept applies to the modern church.

Sinek’s concept is fairly simple. He draws three concentric circles.  The innermost is “why,” next is “how,” and last but not least is “what.”  They stand for “what we do,” “how we do it,” and “why we do it.” Sinek applies his concepts to business.  Businesses that keep why at the center are successful because that is what they communicate – we are innovators, we seek to inspire, etc.

Businesses that don’t focus on why, tend to focus on what. “We make computers. Buy one.”  “We have great gyms.  Join today.”  These approaches are much less successful because they are just trying to sell us some “thing.” They are focused on this thing.  We’ve seen things before.  Meh.

Love, Jesus, Prophet, Holy Man, Christ, Lord, SpiritualPastor Sean took Sinek’s concept and applied it to the Church today.  Many congregations focus on the “what.” In this case it stands for “what we are doing because we are a Godly Church.” We have worship and you should come.  We feed the hungry and you should give. Attend our sausage supper. Come to our concert/service/sale.

Instead our focus should be on the why.  Why do we do what we do?  What core belief is at the center of it all? Look at most church calendars and you might think the central belief is business because we all have a lot going on but that’s not supposed to be the center.  What is? God’s Love. God’s Light. G-O-D.

Once we are focused on the Why (God’s Love), we can think about the How.  He sent us his Son. Why? Because he loves us. He has given us Talents. Why? Because he loves us and we are a part of Him.  He has sent us out. Why? Because he wants us to share this love with others because we aren’t the only ones that he loves.

Once we have focused on the Why (God’s Love) and the How (Christ, talents, sharing), then we get to the what. We should feed and clothe. We should shelter and heal. We should teach and inspired.

But most of all – we should Love.  Why?  Because His Love is at the center of it all.

–SueBE

How did you learn to pray? I can’t honestly remember. I can recall my babyish list of people to bless, including “grandma, great-grandma and Auntie Myrt” — long since gone from this earth. Why did I pray for the elders on my father’s side but not for my mother’s father, alive until I was seven? At what age did I give up kneeling?

Lately, I’ve been thinking that my prayer life could use some radical change. I’ve been sticking to a formula for too long. Besides, any words I use seem minuscule and shabby compared to what I hope to convey. Maybe human language isn’t really built for prayer. And anyway, doesn’t God know our hearts better than we know them?

I’m not advocating that you cease praying. Prayer can lead to great self-knowledge. But maybe we need to consider whether our prayers are really for God…or for ourselves. What sort of prayer would please God? I’m not entirely sure, but if I had to listen to the human race in supplication day in and day out, I know what would please me: a little silence. Hence, the following poem:

I could, I suppose,
dispense with formalities:
words once bubbled from childish lips
no longer suit. Still.
How can I hope to bridge our mighty gap?
The words can’t come —
I haven’t learned the language.
I settle on syllables like unbuttered bread,
toddler words: “cat,” “dog,” “mama.”
I’d have to shed my heavy tongue
to speak the words I mean.
And there it is — revelation!
Perhaps my prayers are best silent.
Instead, I will throw open my heart;
You will read it.
I will not murmur, even when
You touch the painful places.

Oh! So Your Phone Does Still Work Image

By the time I eventually moseyed over for a visit, my mother would have at the ready some carefully curated quotes, knowing full well that, as soon as I arrived, I’d be planning my exit.

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail,” she’d tell me, nodding. “What’s past is prologue!”

I would just shrug, which only led her to say:

“Youth is wasted on the young!”

She’d throw a Latin phrase my way and, like the former teacher that she was, expect me to respond with the correct answer.

“Panacea?” she’d demand.

“Cure-all,” I’d respond dutifully.

“Gallia est omnis divisa…?” she’d tilt her head at me.

“…in partes tres,” I’d say, barely stifling a yawn.

She’d share her pet conspiracy theories as well. “Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s works,” she’d exclaim, even as I tuned her out. “Known fact!”

After I left home, I could barely get through a visit with my mother. She smoked like a chimney. She’d stockpile every bit of bad news and tale of woe to aim at me, like a missile full of misery. I didn’t realize until later that it was her way of trying to prepare and protect me from things that might go wrong. “Forewarned is forearmed!” she’d say, finger jabbing the air.

20160410_210755_001 (1)

After her passing, I learned that, no matter how old you are, when your parents pass away, you feel as if you’ve lost your moorings. Looking back on old, poor-quality photographs, you realize that your mother had a whole life before you were even born, and now that she’s gone, you ‘ll never get to hear those stories.

Dear readers, if you’re lucky enough to still have your mother in your life, I’d like to gently and gingerly nudge you to spend time with her while you have the chance.

Heck, I think I’ll come at you like the
New Jersey Mama Bear that I am, and say it like this:
So, what, it would kill you to call the mother who gave you life?:)

Coffee and cake at a cafe′ once a year on Mother’s Day are all well and good. Being fully present and hearing with your heart? Priceless.

Prayer, Love, Woman, Gratitude, Thanks, ReverenceTake a deep breath. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

I’m never sure what to expect out of this particular holiday.  I have been the oldest woman in my family for something like 12 years now. But I’ve got to tell you – the matriarch thing has never worked all that well for me.

This year in particular I find myself approaching the day with caution. My son is a high school junior and he’s facing some big decisions.  Okay, they aren’t life or death but they could be life defining.  Could be.

You see I’m not really sure that I buy into that.  I don’t think that God gives us one chance and one chance only to be the people that He means for us to be.  Read the Old Testament and you’ll see that he gave the Tribes of Israel opportunity after opportunity.  It wasn’t one chance and then the ground opened up and swallowed them.  Nope. They had a many opportunities to find their way.

But that’s how a lot of people view the decisions that teens have to make.  Inhale or say no?  Abstinence or safe sex? College or military? Make the wrong choice and you are doomed!

Next year is my son’s last year in high school.  He’s working on his schedule and trying to decide what he wants to do, what he wants to study. I’m not sure he’s struggling all that hard to make these decisions, but I do get the feeling that he is struggling to make his decisions heard.  He’s struggling to earn a little respect.

Me?  I’m struggling to give it to him. I pray for wisdom.  And I’ve asked other people to pray that I find this wisdom.  Yes, there are decisions that he is making that could have a huge impact. I should weigh in on these decisions.  But there are a lot more that seem big now but in the long run . . . not so much.

Lord, grant me the wisdom to know one from the other.
Lord, grant me the courage to keep my mouth shut.
Lord, help me to remember that it is only in silence that I can hear You.
Amen

Wisdom.  That would be the best thing I could receive this Mother’s Day.

–SueBE

A [choose one: a) genie b) fairy c) angel d) pink unicorn] suddenly appears right in front of you and asks, “If you could be anything, what would you be?” I imagine most people would choose a word like “rich” or “powerful,” or more specific words like “a pro football player” or “a rock star.” Who on earth would pick a word like “holy”?

Holiness gets a bum rap, mostly because few of us understand it. Holiness doesn’t separate a person from others; it draws people together. Holiness doesn’t demand complete self-abandonment. Holiness empowers total self-integration. To be holy is to be whole.

Imagine being wholly yourself — using all of your gifts to their fullest extent, allowing your personality to fully bloom, pursuing your passions utterly. That’s all part of being holy. Holy people aren’t partial people; they are the complete package. They know themselves, yet push themselves to always be more. When you meet a holy person — and so few of us do — you know it.

But holy people also embrace their holey-ness, that is, their brokenness. They know where they are lacking in physical and spiritual gifts. What they can work on, they do. But what cannot be changed, what is innately “holey” in them, they know to nurture. They love themselves, warts and all, as God loves them…and they extend the same love to other “holey” people. And let’s face it — we’re all holey.

If you’d asked me, back when I was a kid, what being holy looked like, you would have got a rather bland picture: Someone looking terribly serious, saintly and silent. I no longer think that. To be truly holy, one must constantly reach for action verbs — words like share, give, work, labor, protect, bless, and love. In other words, holiness is hard work. That may be the reason so few of us bother with it.

I am blessed to know a few truly holy people. They are the kind of people you want to be around. They seem at peace. They are attuned to others but don’t neglect themselves. People naturally gravitate toward them. And with good reason. Holy people are remembered, even centuries after their lives, not because they were dull do-gooders, but because they were vibrantly alive — vibrantly themselves.

Holiness is worth pursuing. Tell that to the next pink unicorn you meet.

path“In my heart, I just know that I’m going to be rich someday,” she said, with a faraway look in her eyes.

A friend had stopped over for a brief chat, and what she’d said really gave me pause.

It occurred to me that every one of us harbors a secret wish like that one – that, something rightfully ours hasn’t reached us yet, but it will. And once it does, all of our problems will be solved.

There’s a fine line between the firmament of faith and magical thinking. God isn’t sitting around, waiting for us to finally just ask already for that winning lottery ticket. There really isn’t one specific, out-of-this-world thing that will solve all our problems.

We think if we can finally get our hands on that one “open-sesame” thing we can finally:

  • Pay off the bills
  • Lose weight
  • Find true love

Or to sum it up…be happy.

But, of course, all of these things come with their own particular set of problems. If you do win the lottery, chances are, you’ll spend most of your money on things you really don’t need. Relatives will come out of the woodwork, asking you to bankroll their pet projects. And of course, the taxman cometh.

Maybe that one elusive thing can be accomplished over time, the way we pay off a bill. We could do one little thing every day that takes us from standing still to moving forward.

The American Delusion is that we’re destined to win the lottery, be an overnight success, or discover buried treasure at the beach.

The American Dream is appreciating the blessings you currently have, and taking whatever baby steps you can toward your soul’s goal. You’ll be amazed at how many times God shows up to walk with you when you light out on that path.

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