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.

I’ve been having one of those weeks. You know, the kind where every single thing seems to go wrong, to malfunction, to be (as Ruthie would say) hinky. I sent out an email with an attachment no one could open. I got to the end of yesterday’s chicken dinner recipe and realized I’d left out the chicken. The dishwasher went on a beeping tirade, apparently angry that it was being unloaded by such unskilled hands. The bird feeder fell apart, earning me swift and angry recriminations from formerly friendly feathered friends. Worst of all, we found out that our long-time money manager — a nice, Christian man whom we trusted — had been either criminally stupid or criminally criminal in the handling of our money. One way or the other, he didn’t do his job. And I got to thinking: What a wonder it is that anything works as it should. What a blessing! What a miracle! When so much can go wrong, how sweet it is when it doesn’t.

How good it is:
for hearts ticking true,
seeds splitting, green limbs unfurling,
leaves leafing toward sunny skies.
Things familiar as fall following summer,
April lingering to blot out blue March
like a shadow on a sidewalk.
True things: each branch that holds,
the cloud that does not rain down disaster,
all that clicks, swings, springs,
latches, locks, hooks and shuts,
again and again.
Precise. Predictable.
As ongoing as the love
we lean on when all else goes awry.

Photo by Wolfgang Krzemien on Pexels.com

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17)

This has always been one of my favorite passages because it is so subjective. Approach it in one mood, and you note the breastplate, shield, helmet and sword.

Approach it in another mood and you note the gifts of God. Truth and righteousness. Peace and faith. Salvation and the Spirit of God.

The sermon that accompanied this scripture passage was titled “Put on the Amor of God.” It was supposed to read “Put on the Armor of God,” but spellcheck slipped up and gave us love instead of armor. How perfect for this reading!

Armor or amor, which is the most effective? Last week, Lori wrote about not being able to control how people react when we offer help. Sometimes they welcome our efforts. Other times they bite.

The way that people react to us often has little to do with us and much to do with them. Perhaps they’ve been criticized by a supervisor or crabbed at by a customer. They might have loved ones in the path of a hurricane or have lost comrades in Afghanistan. Their child’s school may not have a mask mandate or perhaps it does.

It is hard not to make assumptions. When we do, we may assume that someone is ungrateful. They are mean. They need an attitude adjustment.

But if you armor yourself with amor, God’s love, it is easier to see a fellow child of God. They aren’t ungrateful but tired or worried. They aren’t mean. They feel unappreciated or forgotten. Maybe they do need an attitude adjustment.

Maybe.

That adjustment is more likely to come from love and light and a place of grace. Take a deep breath and look to God. He’s right there with you and with them.

–SueBE

Sometimes my sweet, sleepy, lap-lying kitten will wake up and bite me for no apparent reason. His mother died before he was weaned, so he’s a little lacking in the etiquette department. Also, he thinks biting is fun. I have come to understand that biting (and clawing) is just something he does. I can correct him (politely) till the cows come home, but it won’t matter. Biting is part of his standard operating procedure.

It’s a lot like people. You can offer help or love to someone and be received with open ears and arms. Or you can be metaphorically bitten. The bottom line is: You can’t help someone who won’t help herself. So then, what does one do as a concerned, empathetic bystander?

Advice not wanted:
shut door, shutter shop.
Still, light steals in under the sill.
What we forget most often is this:
God does not fail us, nor people,
prayer, favor or fortune.
We fail ourselves.
Wake to the abundance of light.
Let it touch you tenderly.
Be willing to grab it though it may burn.
From scalding comes healing,
though you must choose this rougher road.
You do not walk it alone, no matter
what your eyes describe. Look —
there is light aplenty and green growth
for rest. It is enough if only you would know it.

Picture of a chocolate layer cake drizzled with ganache glaze and decorated with buttercream rosettes.

Last week, I celebrated my birthday, and started to think about things I’ve yet to accomplish. I realized that a life well-lived is one that’s in a steady state of grace. 

The contentment that comes from being shored up by grace doesn’t fall on a date on the calendar. It’s not measured by a number on the scale or the dollar amount in your bank account.  

The good life is the sense that you can count on what I call “mundane miracles:” a warm blanket to curl up in. A comfortable cardigan. A pair of sneakers that are broken in perfectly.  

My greatest “creature comfort” is a sweet, tiger-striped cat named Squeaky who trills, chirps and meows his way through the day. He knows when I need a gracious pick-me-up, and he’ll come over and sit near me, nudging my knees playfully.

I’m also truly blessed to have a son who’s considerate. Last week, when he ordered take-out and realized they’d forgotten something in the order he knows I was looking forward to, he looked genuinely annoyed. “Aw man! They forgot the cole slaw!” It was such a small thing, but these tiny grace notes accrue until you realize how blessed you truly are.

All of these things remind me that grace is a steady stream of positivity, unseen but on-scene at all times. Could be that this is God’s way of saying, “I’m here. All’s well. I’ve got you.”

It’s comforting to know, too, that my sisters of the soul, Lori and SueBE, keep me covered in prayer and send lo(a)ve in my direction constantly. I swear, there are moments during the day when I just KNOW one or both of them is thinking of me. 

So, feel free to wish me a Happy Birthday, but as I sit here basking in blessings, gifted with grace, most of the time, I’ve got a Happy Everyday. And I wish the same to you.

You may have heard that all of the cells in your body completely regenerate every seven years; that is to say, every seven years you are a whole different person from the one you were before. This isn’t true of course, but it’s a fun thought to play with. It would mean that I am six people different from the little girl who wore Heaven Scent perfume and thought herself quite grown up. I would be two persons different from the woman who had eleven cats, but three persons divergent from the woman who only had two cats, as I do now.

I imagine my cells flipping over like scales, changing colors, going from green to blue to orange to purple, like a chameleon. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

Most of our cells do regenerate, at various rates. But what about our souls? Do we wear the same one, tattered and mended, or does our soul, like our body, wound and heal, growing (hopefully) more fit and lovely even as our bodies disintegrate?

Do you come
with needle and thread
to mend me in the night,
like a shoemaker’s elf?
Or do I unravel myself,
stretch warp and weft
with sin and sharp words,
only to patch with small heart
and clever stitches?
Will I ever be a garment
fit to wear before you?
I long for lace and finest silk,
but will wisely warm to burlap,
a tougher textile of longer wear.
Perhaps the itch of it against
my skin will keep me aware of it,
keep it spotless and altered to fit
the vagaries of my changing form.
I only hope to wear a worthy gown
when at last we meet.

May be an image of food
Cucumbers from the garden for the food pantry.

Maybe it is because I grew up on stories of service to others. My father and uncles talked about rescuing lost and injured hikers from the Davis Mountains in West Texas. I heard about my grandfather’s work as a lifeguard in Biloxi Bay. And they talked about my Grandmother’s Sunday dinners.

Sunday dinner as service? You know it. The family was poor but there was always room for one more person at the table. Biscuits could be stretched as could the pot of beans and various home grown vegetables. There was always food for whoever came to the table.

These stories came to mind when our pastor recently talked about service. He acknowleged the fatigue that we all have living during a pandemic. Yet, he encouraged us to get out and serve others. After all, our church offers three opportunities a month as we give out sack suppers or boxes of food from the local foodbank.

Admittedly, I didn’t really feel like doing it. It is hot and humid and and and . . .

But my husband got us all in the car and off we went. We spent three hours packaging up sack suppers and handing them out to passers by. We chatted with parents who just needed a break. There was a bus rider with vision problems who needed a bit of human connection. We even encountered one of the mom’s from the swim team my son used to belong to. Serving others helped us connect with our community. That’s #1.

Several days later, I found myself working in the community garden, again beside my husband. With all the rain we’ve been having, every other week we have to pull should-high grass from the various beds. We work for about an hour in the sunshine. We listen to birdsong. We wave to preschool teachers, landscapers and others off in the distance. When we are done, I feel so much more relaxed. Whether I’m packaging up food or working in the garden, service gets me off screen. And, really? How can that possibly be a bad thing. That’s #2.

Last week, our book club discussed Faith by Jimmy Carter. I expected the book to be about his Christian faith, and it was. But it was also about his faith in humanity. And service because, as he explained, how can you BELIEVE and not feel compelled to reach out. Service isn’t essential to salvation, grace takes care of that, but really? If you believe, service is an expression of that belief.

And, that, my friends is #3. Service shows others what you believe.

It’s been almost a week and I have to tell you. I’m finding myself once again drawing inward. It is time to get back out there to serve.

–SueBE

Seems like there are a lot of suffering souls hereabouts. And though my hands hold no skills for restoring health, I can do what I do most often and best — pray for them.

Things are amiss:
bones need knitting,
wounds need stitching.

What we need is a carpenter,
someone with practice,
to mend and straighten,
make right and level.

Enter his shop by way of prayer.
Lie in his calloused palms;
Let him lovingly sort your joints.

Take all that is faulty
and make it well: mended
skins like a bolt of new cloth,
innards intricate as clockwork,
all ticking true time.

Social media can be a blessing. E-mail and this blog enable Lori, Ruth and I to stay in touch with each other in spite of the miles that stand between us. But last week was a blur of tweets and e-mails, heated Facebook posts and more.

Someone in one of the organizations I work with handled a question very badly on social media. She immediately realized what she had done but it was too late. The interaction had been screen-captured and shared. We spent 3.5 hours in meetings in just one day.

By the end of the week, I had little left to give. In spite of this, 400+ emails waited to be handled as did student papers and my own manuscripts. Screen time is unending, but I really needed to seek peace.

So I walked away.

Some people meet God in the kitchen, stirring and measuring and creating nutritious foods. And sometimes I choose this route.

Other people meet God in a box of paints or a ball of yarn. They create with color and texture. And sometimes I choose this route.

But the weather was mild for a Missouri summer. It wasn’t even terribly humid. So my husband and I put on our walking shoes and headed to the Missouri Botanical Garden. This is one of the places that I can go any time of the year and feel the presence of God.

In part, it is because I’m walking among mighty trees and . . . I don’t know. They look like palms or ferns and they are huge! There are pitcher plants and tiny plants with jewel-like leaves. There are gardens of delicious smelling herbs. Bees buzz around bright flowers. This trip there were even wind-blown sculptures on the lake and others shaped like origami throughout the gardens.

And there are people from all sides of the globe, speaking their many languages as they snap photos and point at the wonders before them.

There is no way that I can avoid seeing God. And as I walk and breathe deeply and bask in his presence, I feel the tensions slipping away.

I don’t know where it is that you go to feel the peace and presence of God, but can you do me a favor? Go there sometime in the next few days and refresh your soul. It is to easy to let this slide in the busy-ness of daily life. Take some time in the presence of God.

–SueBE

This is a picture of my mackerel-tabby, Squeaky, sitting on a cabinet in my bedroom, poking his nose through the blinds to wake me up.

When my cat wants me to wake up at the crack of dawn and I’m just not being cooperative, he clambers up onto the cabinet by the window and noisily pokes his nose through the blinds.

He’s sending a message, loud and clear: Is there food in my bowl? If not, why not? Since you’re up now (FINALLY!), are you going to play yarn-toss with me now? Or what?

People tend to do the same thing, but in a different way. They’ll come up with ways to rattle your blinds so you pay attention to them. Or it could be that they’re so involved in their own lives, they don’t realize they’re impinging on yours.

Take my neighbors, for example. Please! I jest, of course. They’re not bad. It’s just that they’ve got rambunctious youngsters who love to play on their backyard trampoline and they do so at full-volume. Today, their grandparents bought them a kiddie pool. Now they’re all screaming at the top of their lungs, splashing around, raising a ruckus and making it hard to concentrate.

But, if you think about it, my cat rattling the blinds to wake me up and my noisy neighbors are actually blessing accentuators. They point out the fact that I’ve got blessings in abundance. 

Normally, the neighborhood is peaceful. That’s why I notice the noise from my neighbors’ kids when it happens. It’s unusual.

Here is Squeaky sitting on the cabinet with the blinds now closed. The lighting from the window makes him look slightly blurry, like an animation.

Usually my cat is cuddly and loving. That’s why I notice when he’s doing something that seems obnoxious, like rattling the blinds. He doesn’t do it often. 

You may not even notice your blessings until something gets in the way of your basking in them.

Having patience with those around you when they get on your nerves will remind you how much you’ve got to be thankful for. 

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