Sophia Grace LeBlanc is recognized for her heroism by Premier Stephen McNeil at a Medal of Bravery Award ceremony. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Congratulations! You’ve won an award. For your efforts, you’ll receive:

  • A pat on the back
  • A piece of paper, and,
  • An uncomfortably close, cringe-worthy photo op with an elected official you’ve never met before!

Did I mention that the “you” in question is six years old? Sophia Grace LeBlanc, who bravely climbed from the wreckage of her family’s crashed car to get help for her injured mother and siblings, received an award for heroism. When she learned that the “award” was just a piece of paper, she spoke her mind.

“I thought because I was so brave, I thought I would get something a little better,” said Sophia.

She had done a wonderful, brave thing, and probably would have liked to receive some toys, or to be taken out for pizza with her friends. A piece of paper? A hug from some random (presumably unintentionally) handsy man? No thanks!

When do we unlearn honesty? Should kids be taught to be quiet, be polite, and tolerate the strange man huddling in for a cuddle? Is it rude to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Setting boundaries is humane. That way, the person who is offending you won’t have to apologize later, and will be educated since they didn’t know they were crossing a line.

Saying what you mean is compassionate. That way, everyone knows where you stand and eventually, the people around you will re-calibrate and reciprocate.

Saying it right at the moment of impact, when someone commits an infraction, is an act of kindness in every direction. That way, you won’t have to bear the weight of that grudge you would have been holding, and your relationships will become more meaningful.

During last Sunday’s service, the pastor discussed Peter’s vision of a sheet descending from heaven (Acts 10: 9 – 16).

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.  He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance.  He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners.  In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.  Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”  The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”

As explained by Pastor Sean, this passage is so much more than permission to lift Jewish dietary restrictions.  It is a call to change. Not only did Peter change what he ate, he took the Word to the Gentiles, a people previously unreached by God.

This vision was an instruction to take the church and make it something new.

For Peter, that meant moving among the Gentiles.  Since most of us are Gentiles, it has to mean something different today. Personally, I think it is a call to change how we move throughout the world.  Previously, Christianity was a tool of conquest.  Come, believe, and we will shape you after our image.

Instead, we need to get to know people.  See them.  Listen to them.  Ask questions.  It isn’t like I’m inventing this.  It is taken from Christ’s own experience.

As he walked the roads.

As he sat in the gardens.

As he ate among the people.

He saw them, heard them, and healed them.

–SueBE

 

Some people dive into life head-first. Others hang back and just dip their toes in the water. I’m trying something new: forging ahead heart-first, the way Mary, Jesus’ mother, did. She could not have known or been ready for what life threw at her — teen pregnancy, raising the Son of God, watching that beloved son die on a cross — but she moved through it, keeping “all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) She could only feel her way forward by trusting in her faith and love.

If life is handing you unfathomable circumstances, mysteries you just can’t unravel, that’s okay. Trust your heart, rather than your head, and take the next step.

When all your soul is cloaked
in darkness as thick as the pelt of a bear
and as unyielding to the touch,
crack open the delicate shell of your heart,
allow it to illuminate what it can.
As for the rest, there is only faith
which of course moves mountains,
but rubble, too, the pebble in your shoe,
the slippery sand sliding underfoot.
The heart touches trouble in all the right places,
moves the wound, stanches the bleeding,
keeps the dike from cracking as we pass,
not with understanding perhaps, but with
the eye of the heart, which witnesses
but does not judge. Understanding will come,
in this or other lives, slowly or like a fist;
it doesn’t matter now. For now, let love lead.

Scrolling through news headlines this morning on my phone, I clicked on an advice column that I enjoy and was surprised by the picture I saw. Normally, you can see the columnist’s face and upper torso in the picture, but today, due to a technical glitch, all you can see is her shoulder. 

This made me laugh. Why, this could be a cottage industry for her — an advice column about burdens we all must shoulder. “Talk to the shoulder!” could become a catch phrase. Her new book could be titled: “How to Carry the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders (and Get a Great Upper Body Work-out in the Process)”!

Because we can’t always see the bigger picture in life, sometimes the things we pray for really wouldn’t be good for us. Most of us have prayed for money, sometimes even a lottery win, but being filthy rich wouldn’t make you happier; it would make life harder. More taxes to pay. More “new friends” coming around asking for a piece of the pie. 

And that relationship you prayed would be “the one,” but wasn’t? If you have to compromise, accommodate and put yourself on the back burner, that wasn’t a relationship anyway, but a prison term. Why pray for what doesn’t serve you? 

While we see only a portion of it, God sees the whole picture. If he can hold up the whole world, you can rest assured, he’s got a shoulder for you to lean on, too. In the meantime, do what you can to improve your life. Surround yourself with positive people. Do your best at the work you do. Stay healthy and active — and try a few shoulder rolls to stay limber.😊

Not that I was Rasputin or anything, but I have to say that I was someone else prior to losing the vision in my right eye. Looking back, I did a lot of…looking back. I could make myself feel guilty about a mistake I’d made decades earlier. 

Even in the car, I found myself looking back, keeping that eye trained nervously on the rearview mirror. God had to get my attention somehow, I suppose, and decided to poke me in the eye with a sharp stick. A surgery meant to correct a macular hole ended up leaving me without vision in that eye. In a way, it was a metaphor for the larger theme in my life up to that point: You can’t drive your car down the road in reverse.

If I could have full vision again, I would do it in a minute, but having visual impairments has been — wait for it — eye-opening. For one thing, I’ve learned that the world was designed for the elusive “normal” person: someone with perfect vision, hearing and speech capabilities, no medical issues and a perfectly balanced psyche. 

There are various “disability” communities, and each has its own lexicon. In the autism community, for instance, those without autism are called “neuro-typicals.” 

But even within those communities, there are differing points of view. For example, in the Deaf community, for some, a cochlear implant is a godsend. Others take exception to the idea that they need to be “fixed” and refuse the procedure. 

Just as I used to drive down the road worrying about how close the cars behind me were, I also spent time on what-ifs and why-mes that didn’t change my situation. When I got out of that roundabout of regret and let Providence take the wheel, the ride became a lot easier. 

Nobody knows they’re a noodge, do they? I didn’t realize I was one myself until one day when my son was fixing his bed frame and I stopped in to offer “encouragement.” I’d say, “What if you tried it this way?” He’d say, “That won’t work, Mom.” I’d offer, “Do you need a wrench for that?” Finally he said politely but firmly, “That’s not helping. Please stop now.”

My version of “help” was really not helping. Sometimes when you don’t know how to fix an issue, you flutter about, making it even worse. Maybe that’s what’s going on with negative emotions that just won’t let up. 

That nagging voice in our heads that we call guilt really doesn’t see itself that way. In fact, it regards itself more as a quilt, seeking only to cover you with a patchwork of memories so you don’t make the same mistakes again. 

And fear is really a deer, lost in the woods, trying to find its way home. It doesn’t want to harm you; it’s just trying to navigate the unknown alone.

God embedded us with these emotions, so there must be a reason for them. Maybe it’s just to learn that our feelings — and in fact, most of the people in our lives — are trying their best. 

So, I know I’m a noodge at times, but I’m learning to scale back my fluttering and s/mothering of those I care about. Harping isn’t helping. Someday, I’ll be a former noodge. Maybe I’ll do a PSA to help others to deal with people like me. It might even help you as you deal with all those misguided emotions that hassle you relentlessly. Be patient with them, but be direct when need be, as my son was with me. “Move along, now,” you can tell them. “I’ve got this.”

When I saw this quote, I thought of our Christmas Eve service.  We ened the service with each person holding a lit candle.  The ushers turn off the lights but the space isn’t dark.  Instead it glows in the warmth of candle light.  The pastor sends us on our way with a simple direction – carry Christ’s light with us out into the world.

This morning I saw just how easy it is to share this light with others.  A young man walked into the local diner. He wore worn jeans, a faded shirt and taped work boots.  It would be easy to judge.

A man walked up to him and asked about his trade.  The young man lit up and told him about his landscaping work.  Then he posted about it and thanked this man and his parents for respecting him working with his hands.

Someone passed a light to him and he passed it on.  Christ’s light and love moved from one to another and through the community.

As you move through your day, periodically hold up your candle.  Look a those around you in the Love and Light of Christ.  Then find an opportunity to share this light.  Many tiny flames can push back the darkness.

–SueBE

Crossed wires. Chaotic interference. Misunderstandings. Bad intel. Instead of seeing things clearly in 2020 (yes, that’s an optometry joke), we seem to be struggling with miscommunication. Some of this derives from how we say things — using texts and social media tends to obliterate shades of meaning like inflection and sarcasm. But part of the problem is the simple rise of noise: Everybody’s talking, but no one is listening. And even the people listening aren’t really hearing. What can we do about it? Let’s start by uncrossing some wires.

Being human is getting us nowhere;
it is time for us to be animals again.
Let go of your body, settle into fur,
into feathers, into exoskeleton
and antennae, into scales, scruff
and haunches. Purr when you’re happy.
Growl when angry. Pester like a fly
until answers emerge. Most of all,
stop touching words as if each is a
thistle. Land on them as blandly
as a bee, touching lightly, springing
from petal to petal. Open your heart
to the simplicity of winter sleep,
tucked in together with no more
motive than merely getting through it.
Share your den with the whole wide world,
wordlessly, remembering our common blood.

How does social anxiety start? For me, it happened in grade school, when I first realized that being different in any way seemed to give some kids license to pick on others. I have red hair, freckles and glasses. Nuff said? Nowadays, I love my hair, but at the time, I wished I could blend in and be a brunette. I started to speak less often, not wanting to call attention to myself, and developed anxiety in social situations. 

As I got older, I realized that most people are so inside their own heads that they weren’t even thinking of me or anyone else. If someone wanted to make me feel bad about myself, it was usually a reflection of something going on in their own life. I came to the conclusion, “That’s their bad day.” It didn’t have to be my bad day, too.

There are so many types of anxiety that many are known simply by their acronyms: OCD, PTSD, GAD. When I was stuck in an awful job and a failing marriage years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). As I look back at the person I was, I don’t even recognize her. I haven’t felt that way in over a decade.

I’ve found effective relief-valves, such as meditation, with the HeadSpace app, support groups, round-loom knitting, and at-home cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. I’ve found ways to work around my visual impairment and MS to volunteer my time and talents in whatever small way I can. Having a project and a purpose every day when I wake up has improved my quality of life. 

Re-charging your batteries when your soul needs fuel makes it possible to keep powering down the road of life. And partnering with Providence can keep you on the right path.

Hey, everybody! Who’s fired up for the new year? Who’s ready to take 2020 by the throat and wrest it into something beautiful, profitable and astonishing?

Not me. Maybe not you, either. But guess what? That’s okay. Most of us don’t have a grand plan. We just keep on keeping on, as they say. This year, let’s be kind to ourselves. Think of all of your daily “yeses” as practice for the big “yes” coming for us all one day, down the line a smidge or a half-century. Whether 2020 is our best year yet matters less than whether we do our best with it, day by day.

No one’s ever ready
for the great not-yet.
You take it as it comes,
like eating an elephant,
bite by bite. The enormity
of the task must be blurred, blunted,
or else you will see nothing but
endless road ahead. Instead,
focus on the odd flower that
punctuates a field, the stray
dog at your heels, the friend
you espy from afar. Small steps.
The now of it. The real feel
of stones on feet, of air coursing
through you, the weight of your bones.
Let each step fall gently. Be prepared
to choose another route. Most of all,
be kind: to your feet, which bear you up,
to your companions on the road,
to the power that prompts you
as you walk each day into
marvelous, maddening newness.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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