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Our church women’s circle is studying the Beatitudes. Last night, we discussed:

Matthew 5:6
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Luke 6:21a
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

Luke 6:25a
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.

Margaret Aymer, author of our text, Confessing the Beatitudes, explained that Christ wasn’t talking about the hungry, but the famished. As a part of Rome, various Palestinian foodstuffs were taken away to feed this booming metropolis. With the best food funneled away to Rome, what remained became even more precious, far beyond what these people could afford. These hungry were on the brink of starvation.

And the well-fed in Luke 25? These weren’t simply people with enough food on their plates. These were the people who took from those who couldn’t afford to give. These were the people who were never satisfied no matter how much they possessed. The gluttons.

When we learned this, you could see shoulders sag with relief. We aren’t guilty because we have enough to eat. We aren’t gluttons.

Or are we?

In a world where so many have so little, the US consumes 49% of the world’s resources. Think we might be just a wee tiny bit justified? Think again. We make up only 4% of the world’s population. Four percent consuming forty-nine percent. If that isn’t gluttony on a national scale, what is it?

What can we do about it? My family focuses on the fact that pulling new resources from our Earth potentially damages the Earth and also takes these resources away from someone else, someone who may have a need greater than ours. To address this, we avoids spending on new items when we can get something used. This means checking Salvation Army, Goodwill and Value Village whenever possible. But before we do that? We post a message on Freecycle to see if someone has what we need and wants to get rid of it. It doesn’t sound like much, but we’ve been able to find science books, picture frames, candle sticks and food storage containers. We’ve given away a refrigerator, a wading pool, two bicycles and scads of toys.

What suggestions do YOU have? One step at a time, we can move back toward God’s path.


105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
107 I have suffered much;
preserve my life, LORD, according to your word.
108 Accept, LORD, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
109 Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
110 The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
111 Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
112 My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.

I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time strolling through the Book of Psalms.  Inevitably, I end up there when I’m looking for a specific topic to write about.  It may be because some of the Psalms are written in a “woe-is-me” tone, and sometimes, I wear that color well!

When you look at Psalm 119, starting at verse 105, everything you need to know and to let settle into your soul is in the first two lines.  And then comes the suffering and the sackcloth and ashes.  But I am in torment!  Everybody’s out to get to me!

The other day, I mentioned to SueBE what I referred to as an odd phenomenon. I told her about some of the challenges I’d been through of late and said, “God put me through a lot.  He also got me through a lot.”  I decided maybe it should be called the God Phenomenon.

So I’ve been trying to understand the purpose of hardships.  Is this some sort of “Outward Bound” for the Soul?  Perhaps there’s a specific number of trials and tribulations we’re required to go through before we reach the state where God says, “Okay, you’ve learned your lesson.”

I’ve decided to let myself stew in this quandary for a brief moment each day.  To actually time myself and let the “Whys?” fly.  Then I make myself let go and let God.  After all, there really is no benefit to paranoia or anxiety.  It only chips away at my personal peace and really doesn’t affect the outcome.  It is what it is and God’s still in charge.  Think I’ll get back to being blessed and let more blessings find me.

So far, 2012 has been fraught with First World problems. Let me tell you what I mean. The year began with the ignominy of being ignored by servers in two separate restaurants. Everything I did seemed to go wrong: glasses spilled, recipes spoiled, appointments missed…just getting out of bed resulted in catastrophic bruising. “When is this year going to get better?” my husband and I railed. Like I said — First World problems.

To put things into perspective, try viewing the petty trials and tribulations of your life next to the very real suffering that occurs every day in Third World countries. Things like starvation, epidemic illness, government death squads. Makes the washing machine breaking down seem pretty darned insignificant, doesn’t it? Yet we do like to complain about our First World problems. We let them get us down. We let them set the tone.

It’s all very human of us. Just look at the Psalms. “O God, my God look upon me: why have you forsaken me?” cries Psalm 21. “All my enemies whispered against me…they determined against me an unjust word,” bemoans Psalm 40. Of course, the Israelites had bigger problems than 21st century Americans do, by a long shot. Still, the sentiment is the same: No one likes it when things go wrong.

It would be simplistic to say, “pray your troubles away,” yet it makes a salient point. Prayer begets patience, and patience is the only thing that’s needed to wait out our problems. Because things do get better…and worse…and better again. It’s all a part of God’s Providential plan. If we could just see the bigger picture, maybe those little inconveniences of life wouldn’t get us down.

Or maybe they still would. And that’s okay. Without First World problems, what would provide the prodding we require to stay in contact with God? As for me, I am greatly thankful that my troubles are of the First World variety. I am certain God knows that, weak as I am, I could hardly cope with more.

“Count your blessings.”

We tell our kids to do it when they complain about all the wondrous things every other child on the planet already has. We tell our spouses to do it. And maybe even our friends, but how many of us have ever actually done it?

I can’t say that I’ve done it, as in past tense, but I am doing it and will continue to do it throughout 2012. Why? Because I took the challenge issued by Ann Voskamp on her blog, A Holy Experience.

Voskamp is a pro at spotting the joys in every day life, from the bench where she keeps her prayer journal to watching her husband plant a field. But finding her own gifts from God isn’t enough, she wants us to find ours too. Thus the challenge.

My grandmother's hymnal (ca. 1940)

Each month Voskamp posts a handout listing the gifts that you need to capture. I started out listing mine in my prayer journal. So far I’ve included:

  • seeing a hawk
  • the rocker where I sit and knit
  • ham beans and corn bread (comfort food)
  • my grandmother’s Cote Brilliant hymnal
  • the lights friends made us for Christmas
  • the scarf pattern in the book my husband bought me

What prompts could bring such varied answers? Voskamp covers the bases but the prompts that led to the above were a gift outside/inside/on a plate and 3 gifts (old/new/blue). That said, I’m only on prompt seven which I plan to finish after writing this post.

Not only does Voskamp have me counting my blessings more consciously than ever before, she has me looking at the small, the temporary, things that are magnificent in that they are so every day and so very, very real.

Why not start counting your own blessings. List several in your prayer journal each day. You can find Voskamp’s January prompts here on Flickr. Do this and you’ll find that your life is full of more joy than you can hold in two upturned hands.


I’m not sure why this is the hymn I think of when I think of counting my blessings. Perhaps because it is one of the most joy-filled songs I know?


Dear Lord,

So often we focus on our sorrows,
on the injustices of the world,
on the stains and blemishes and scars
marring our homes,
our hearts,
our lives.

Help us to pull our gazes
from these things
that weigh us down.

Help us instead to bask
in Your loving presence
and to turn our minds,
our eyes,
and our hearts
to the many joys,
both large and small,
with which You have peppered
our world,
our homes,
our lives
if only we will see them.


Dear Lord,

Thank you.

Thank you for the blessings
You have poured down
on me and mine.

Thank you for the kitchens,
cluttered, dated and in need of a good scrub,
in which we make the meals
that bless our families.

Thank you for the tables,
nicked and scuffed
and thoroughly used
on which our children do their homework,
around which our families gather,
at which we pray.

Thank you for the songs
in our hearts,
on our tongues,
and pouring forth from our souls.

Thank you for all of this
and so much more.

In your name we pray,

Last week, I pondered the appropriate response of someone of faith to death and dying. I received some wonderful advice (especially from Debbie —, but I felt I needed to keep searching. And it hit me. Of course we know how a person of faith should face mortality: We have the ultimate role model — Jesus.

Jesus certainly had to deal with death and dying, and from Him we can draw some important lessons that just might serve us well. To wit:

  1. It’s okay to be sad. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus reacted in the most human of ways: He wept. Despite the fact that He, more than anyone on Earth, knew what awaited His friend in the afterlife, He wept. And then He did something else — He raised His friend from the dead. Think about it. It is a response so human, so shortsighted (what if Lazarus was happy on the other side?), so nearly selfish, it tells us everything we need to know about mourning: It’s okay. It’s natural. There is no shame in it, no matter how we express it.
  2. It’s also okay to be scared. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, reflected on His own upcoming torture and death, and He was scared. Terrified, in fact. He knew that in three days He would rise, never to experience pain again, but facing the end of His life, He was rightly afraid. Rightly, because it was going to hurt. It was going to be humiliating and wrenching and terrible. Guess what? You’re allowed to not want to experience those things. You’re allowed to be afraid of dying. Jesus was. And we can hardly be expected to be better, or more enlightened, than He.
  3. A better place is waiting, even if we’re not perfect. I have always derived great comfort from Jesus’ conversation with the thief on the cross next to His. The nameless thief doesn’t renounce his former life or confess all of his sins (which may have been many); he just comments to Christ that while he (the thief) deserves what he’s getting, Jesus does not. And Jesus tells the thief the most reassuring thing in the world: “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 43) How’s that for forgiveness, for generosity, for compassion? There can be no greater thread of hope to cling to than those nine words. Sinner that I am, will God not show me the same regard? Will He not show us all the same regard?
  4. All we have to do is the hardest thing: Believe. When Jesus tells the parable of poor Lazarus (not to be confused with his friend, brother of Martha and Mary) and the rich man, He gives away a most telling clue. The rich man, having neglected to take care of poor Lazarus and having wasted his life on wine, women and song, is relegated to Hell. He attempts one last bid: “I beg of you, send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him testify to them so they will not also come into this place of torments.” (Luke 16: 27-28) But his bid is refused. Nobody gets warning. On the flip side, no one gets (debatable near-death experiences aside) absolute proof from the other side that the other side exists. We have to believe blindly, hope in darkness. That’s the conundrum. That’s what makes it so hard to be human. It is truly the work of a lifetime. But at least we have a role model.

“Always do the right thing.”

Up until the end of last year, I used this phrase almost every day to remind my son of what was important.

Then I did what I felt was the right thing, but it had repercussions that didn’t feel so right after all.

I found myself in a funk. One day, my son said to me, tactfully, “Ma, you’ve been telling me to let you know what’s on my mind instead of holding it in. I wanted to tell you… well, you’re all tense lately and it’s bringing me down.”

Surprised by his candor, I realized that he was right.

So when I noticed today that my son was down, I returned the favor of unvarnished honesty:

“Get your zhoozh back, honey. You’re bringing me down.”

So, really. How do you find your way out of a deep, dark funk?

Well, you learn how to “un-funk” yourself.

Do something to change the channel your mind is on. Get up and leave the room if this is where the funk began. Go out. Walk the dog. Listen to Brian Regan (a rare clean comic). Go to the bakery and ogle the cannolis.  Write a haiku. Watch Keyboard Cat.  Watch Nyan Cat. Watch Ella scat. 

It is possible to climb out of a funk, but it takes time. As of this year, I’ve officially retired the phrase, “Always do the right thing,” since “The right thing” is often subjective and elusive. Now when my son asks my opinion, I say, “It’s your world.” As in, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m going to remember that sometimes the best way to encourage someone you love is just to be there. Provide prayer and practical advice and leave it all in God’s hands.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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