photo a dayWhat are you giving up for Lent?

I have to admit I’ve never been wild for this particular practice.  Intellectually, I understand it.  You are sacrificing as God/Christ sacrificed. On one level I get it.  I can repeat the words.  On another level I just don’t care.

In part the problem is that I wasn’t raised with this tradition. As a child, it was carefully explained to me that this was a Catholic practice. The picture that you should be getting here is that this is something they do.  It is not something we do.

As an adult, I’ve never accepted that explanation. I have given things up for Lent in the past when I felt that doing so would help me focus. One year I gave up soda. Lent without soda ruined my relationship with this now too-sweet beverage.

A big part of the problem this year is the loss of my friend. And my father just had surgery. And our choir director quit. And I realized how close my son is to leaving for college. I guess I’m just a tad tapped out.

I’ve been praying again but I’m just not feeling that connection with God. It isn’t Him.  It’s me.  Although that sounds like a break up line, we aren’t breaking up.  We aren’t even having a trial separation.

So how do I go about restoring the connection? My plan is to look for God in the everyday.  I don’t expect it will be easy and I will probably need several dozen nudges.  Because of this, I’m taking part in the Alive Now Lent Photo-a-Day Practice.

Because so many people are visual and actively “looking” for God, the challenge is to look for Him in a particular area each day, take a photo, and share it on social media.  I plan to show mine here.  Where do you to look for God each day?  Beth Richardson, editor of Alive Now, and her team created a list.

I know that reestablishing my connection will take time.  It’s like filling an empty vessel.  But photo by photo, drop by drop, I’m going to seek that connection in the coming weeks.  I know He’s there. I just need to look.

–SueBE

As a child, I imagined a world of eventualities for myself. I would be a famous writer (of course). I would probably live in New York, because that’s where writers lived (or so I believed). When I was terribly young, I accepted the fact that I might marry and have kids, because that’s what people do. By the time I was teenager, however, I’d changed my mind: I would never marry and never have kids. I was a product of the late ‘60s and ‘70s — a proto-feminist, cultural daughter of Ms. magazine and Free to Be, You and Me. I was woman!

The one thing I never expected became the thing I got — a love story of the grandest and rarest sort. I met my (now) husband shortly after my 20th birthday, and married him at 23. We have, in many ways, grown up together. After 31 years together, we are still ecstatically in love. My husband is my best friend, my “happily ever after.” He is one of God’s greatest gifts to me.

Until we were well into our 30s, strangers would ask if we were newlyweds; we still walk hand-in-hand everywhere we go. When I finish a slice of pizza, he cuts me another of the exact size and proportion that I am craving — sometimes comprising just the crust — and when I cut him a quizzical look, he says, “Well, duh!” or “Like I’m a separate person from you!” We engage in mental telepathy on a regular basis, crack each other up with inside jokes that bewilder outsiders. We don’t socialize. We don’t go to parties. We prefer each other’s company over any other in all the world.

I know this is a terrifyingly rare and fragile gift. The idea of losing him, ever, leaves me breathless. I’ve sworn him, on many occasions, to a pact in which I get to die first. Ideally, however, we would die within moments of each other, when we are quite elderly, having lived out one of the world’s greatest romances. You know, the kind of thing they used to write up in newspapers, the sort of phenomenon that still makes a splash on social media.

I can also honestly say that my husband has brought me into closer relationship with God. His decision to convert to Catholicism (having spent most of his life as an agnostic) reengaged me with my own faith, made me fall in love with the Church all over again. My husband encourages me to follow my heart — to give money to strangers, even if they turn out to be disingenuous, to serve a community of women religious despite their geographical distance from us, to pray for other people because he believes my prayers are strong ones. I once heard a priest remark that the primary function of a marriage is to make sure one’s spouse makes it into heaven. If I ever achieve such lofty heights, it is due at least in part to my husband. (Though my mother deserves a big shout-out here, too. Thanks, Mom.)

A former co-worker once dismissed my marriage as “boring,” as compared to her “rollercoaster” of a union (which ended shortly thereafter). I tried to explain it to her: How I married Owen because he is a good person, and, as Socrates once explained, true love can only be love of the good. Good is enduring. Good is of God. Can a marriage really be both sacred and sanctifying? Yes. Yes, it can.

Happy birthday, honey.

Came to a realization the other day. Maybe my job as a mother is to go through life being pleasantly befuddled.

It gives my son the chance to set me straight about what’s cool. How to set up my smart phone. What’s new and exciting in EDM music. Things like that.

So, my son ordered a pair of “distressed jeans” recently, and when he opened the package, I was momentarily fertummelt (that’s Yiddish for befuddled/puzzled.)

“Okay, honey…so…they’re supposed to look like that?”

Cue the teen-age eyeroll.

“Oh, Ma. This is how they’re made.”

I told him that we’d had distressed jeans when I was a teen, also, but the jeans my son bought were all but ventilated. Corrugated clothing must be a thing now. They were so torn up, I’d surmise they were involved in some sort of industrial accident.

Moment of silence, please.

This morning, I woke up with the “Tousled Look.” Not just “bedhead,” mind you – it was like a whole herd of cowlicks, stampeding across my head. Press them down and boing! They’d spring right back up again. Lovely.

But the thing is, when I go to the salon, my stylist gives me a razor-cut, blow-dries and styles me for an hour and I end up with… pretty much the same Tousled Look.

Sometimes, it’s not the circumstances or conditions that affect us, but our attitudes.

Maybe it’s possible to choose to feel good about life the way we choose cool clothes and a flattering hairstyle.

When you shop online, you can select the attributes of the item you’re looking for: price range, cut, sleeve-length, etc. If you don’t want it, you don’t put it into your online shopping cart. You don’t put it onto your credit card. You don’t put it into your life.

If we could do that with our feelings, we’d have a lot more time to actually live well and be happy. Jealousy? Delete from cart! Gossiping? Cross it out. Stubborness? Declined!

As a bonus – it’ll leave us more time to be taught by our kids how out of touch we really are!

hillsWhen we are in the midst of trouble, whether it is illness or the death of a friend, it can be hard not to focus on our agony and our worries.  I tend to hold my pain close, too close to focus on it but also not letting it go. Fortunately, my husband is better at looking into the distance.

My friend died last Friday and although we had plans to go eagle watching, I wanted to cancel. Wouldn’t it be disrespectful? Staying home sounded really good.

My husband took me along when we dropped our son off at his friend’s, but we didn’t turn toward home.  Instead, we drove through the bottoms and between the rivers. We ended up at a historic fort for . . . can you guess? . . . eagle watching.

We stood on the bluff top in the icy wind and gazed up and down the river.  Geese.  A duck.  Song birds. Conservation agents with spotting scopes peered up and down the nearby riverbank.

Then my husband squinted into the distance. He’d caught sight of long, dark wings. He looked through our binoculars. An eagle! It perched in a tree, all but disappearing from sight. We watched the eagle for an hour, periodically scanning the trees for other telltale signs – white heads and flashes of white tails. Each time we looked back, there was our eagle, perched in the distance.

When we went to the wake, we looked at the pictures of our friend rafting, hiking, and at the Grand Canyon. Out in God’s world, sharing what she loved with those she loved.

Finding God and what is good when times are tough can be tricky. Close at hand, you may not be able to see anything but heartache.  But He is it out there, in the distance. All you have to do is spot Him.

–SueBE

I’m not going to lie: January 2016 has been — pardon my French — a crapfest. My last surviving uncle was laid to rest, my friend Mary passed away, my best friend’s brother died — suddenly and without warning — and two of my cats are sick, one near death. My father-in-law has been unwell and in the hospital, and I have cellulitis, a staph infection of the skin and tissue, but neither the doctor nor I know why. Bills are mounting; emergencies continue to emerge. What’d I tell you? Crapfest.

Once, many years ago, I was walking through a “haunted house,” staged for Halloween. Some dim bulb decided to paper over the staircase, and I slipped walking down it. Fortunately, the walls were also lined with paper, with hands groping through cut-out holes, in an attempt to scare people. One of these kindly disembodied hands caught me as I fell and held me up. It was a lesson in an unlikely place.

It is hard, when one is in the dark, to imagine light. And yet I believe that February will turn this impending trainwreck of a year around. Or, more precisely, I believe that God will. In any case, I am moving forward.

What lies ahead may be
a pebble or a boulder,
slope or sheer drop.
It is not for me to know.
Faith whispers only this:
put one foot out at a time,
test the air,
put it down. Repeat.
The light will find you.
The floor will hold you.
The roof will not collapse.
There is a hand
waiting in the dark,
fingers tensing for your touch.
Find it.

⌧ Let the cat out. 😺

⌧ Wake my son up. 😑

Checking things off my daily to-do list, I went through my morning routine.

Hold it. That should be “let out the cat.” And, “wake up my son.”

I remembered what my English professor would write in red pen on my papers: “Keep related words together!”

Any language can be hard to learn, but English seems to break its own rules. For instance, all of these words have “ough” in them, yet each is pronounced differently:  

  • doughnut
  • through
  • enough
  • bough
  • thought

And another thing. Why is it: commit perjury yet perform surgery? I think surgery takes more of a commitment than telling a lie. Don’t you? I mean, who wants a non-committal surgeon operating on their spleen? Just saying.

The whole point of language is communication. To connect with people, to hear and be heard. To create a community and listen to each others’ stories.

In the same way, faith is not about the letter of the law. It’s about grace. It’s not about being a stickler for the rules and making sure everyone around you worships, works and walks the same way. It’s about being a blessing and keeping a positive spirit.

So go ahead. Split the infinitive if you choose. Speak in sentence fragments. Like this one. 😉 Dangle that participle! Use emojis. Alk-tay in-yay ig-pay atin-lay. (Talk in Pig Latin!) Whatever words you may speak, it’s manna from heaven when you say it from the heart. 💗

Tell me your story, in your own words. I’d love to hear where you’ve been.

Old photos in the wooden boxWe need to go back to the good old days. Surely things were better in my grandmother’s day. We were more Christian and things were better then. I hear that a lot. Maybe people expect me to agree with them because I’m a historian. Shouldn’t we want to go back to the good old days?

Um . . . no?

I’m from a family with amazing southern roots. What this means is that I’m from a family of story tellers. I’ve heard about the aunt who died of pneumonia because antibiotics weren’t available yet. There was the corrupt sheriff who shot a man in the back and got away with it. My grandad would shelter young hobos from this same sheriff. Grandad was also in a mine collapse and on a ship that sank. My grandmother and her sisters passed as white to avoid people’s prejudices against their tribe. No one knew what caused polio so my grandmother picked seeds out of the bananas before letting the kids eat the fruit.

Things were different, but I think better or worse depends on your circumstances both then and now. After all, there’s always good mixed into the mess that is life.

My grandmother made a huge meal every Sunday noon and fed any and all of the neighbor kids who were there. Grandad studied geology as a mining engineer and polished purple agate to make Grandma a necklace and earrings I still have. I heard all about the pets from the Jennie the donkey and Martha Washington the goat to a host of ground squirrels and even, for a short time, a rattle snake.

I wouldn’t mind their good times, but I sure don’t want their bad. Maybe that’s why I don’t pray for God to return us to the good old days. That said, I do ask him to lend me just a bit of my grandmother’s patience and strength. There are times I ask for my grandad’s bravery and willingness to stand firm. But most of all, Lord, whatever you send my way, please help me get to the other side and give me the sense of humor needed to spin a tale worth telling.

–SueBE

Cotton, with a nice wide band — the right pair of underwear can make me very happy. It is the blessedness of ordinary things, the kind of things we take for granted, but shouldn’t. We are all, by and large, hugely blessed. Why not celebrate it? Next time you think your life is ordinary, don’t be bored…be blessed. Gerard Manley Hopkins deserves credit for inspiring this poem:

Great thanks to God for the subtle grace of ordinary things,
for ubiquitous bread, striped socks and the blue
bowl that just holds the leftover soup without spilling.
For wool in winter, for aprons and thumbtacks and that pair of shoes
that garners neither attention nor blisters;
for oatmeal and the way white paint looks
good in every room.
Blessed be bland routine that saves us
from the shock of the extraordinary, the daily
tick, tick, tick of working clocks and hearts.
God’s grandest glory can be found
in that which we overlook: the stem
of a cherry, the sound of silence,
the feel of change in a pocket.

Fresh Bloggie Posts 2015.docxMusic adds so much joy to my life, and I like a wide range of genres, but my true go-to song is something of an unexpected gem.

It’s a version of the great gospel song, “I Love the Lord,” by a South African gospel group called Joyous Celebration.

Now mind you, I’m so pale I’m almost pink. So white that you can see my veins right through my skin! In fact, when I get my monthly infusions for MS, the nurse always says, “My goodness! You’ve got great veins.”

“Yes,” I respond, “because my skin is almost see-through!” And I joke that I could put that skill on my resume: great veins. Plus a winning personality!☺

So while this song is from another culture and is partially in a language I don’t understand, I simply adore the vibe of it and the wonderful young lady who sings it, Ntokozo Mbambo.

Of course, I must admit that when I first heard it, I thought, Oh my! She’s getting carried away, adding a lot of ‘verve” to a song that I’d only ever heard as a sedate, low-key ballad. But by the end of the song, I thought, Wow. I feel what she’s singing deep down in my soul.

In the improvised part at the end of the song, she sings, “I came to let you know that with God you can and you will make it.” And it feels like she’s talking to everybody in pain. “Just hold on a little bit longer, hold on, hold on…”

If I ever win the lottery, it’s only right that I should send that singer the money I would have spent on a therapist, because when she sings, it’s a healing session for me.

You can find yourself wondering: does anybody know what I’m going through? And suddenly you realize it. Everybody’s going through something. We can be there for each other, because at one time, it felt like no one was there for us.

Sometimes comfort comes from God through a conduit. It might be another person, a song, a bluebird or a rainbow. Look around: there’s always somebody who’s been through it, ready to remind you of this deep truth. You’ll make it. And when you do, before you know it, you’ll be singing a song for the next person looking for comfort. You can tell them from the heart: this, too, shall pass.

Listen. It’s not just that I believe you can make it. No, I know you can. And you will.

water-boat-pond-lonelyI’ve been trying to write this week’s post for several days.

My first excuse for not getting it done was work.  I’m sitting here with a manuscript with 265 editorial comments. Some of them are super simple. Others, not so much.  Either way, they’re a tad overwhelming and I’m having to force myself to focus on one page at a time, otherwise I freak out. Working a bit here and a bit there, I managed to rewrite two chapters today.

My second excuse was that I can’t find anything good to write about. My friend in the hospital has had a miserable week. I’ve tried writing about dealing with her physical therapists – the kind of people who fill your lungs with water, literally, without telling you what or why or offering a sedative. I still haven’t managed to actually pray about this because I know that asking God to kick someone’s butt is wrong.

Then I thought that maybe I could take a bit of inspiration from someone else. Nope. Not that one.  That blogger’s MLK day song just about sent me through the roof. It’s so upbeat it’s annoying.

I haven’t managed many coherent prayers this week but I know that nonetheless God is with me. I’m may not be saying much but He Knows what is buried deep in my heart.  I know this but it took me until this evening to realize why I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.

I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere, because I’m not and that’s okay. What I need is time to drift, to focus on just a bit at a time and then push away and drift some more. It may feel a bit purposeless but sometimes we need to simply be in His presence is enough.  Eventually I’ll rediscover my purpose as I hear His voice.

Until then, I know He’s with me even as I drift.

–SueBE

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