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I thought about calling this
“Season of Loss,”
but Autumn knows better than I.

Leaves leave the tree
with no sense of loss;
they russet, spiral, spin away
freely. Autumn air catches them
at their gilded best.
There is no regret.

The maple does not pine
to be evergreen,
but disgorges her foliage in bunches,
in great, crunching piles,
like an heiress, heedless of her jewels.
There is no sorrow.

That which bore will be barren
soon. Fall does not weep for Winter,
no more than Winter laughs for Spring.
They circle round like dancers,
each season a waltz.
There is no ending.

Holy Father,

It is easy to pray for those who obviously need your help.

I know to hold up those who are visibly troubled, crying their needs out loud.

But there are those who hold their hurts much closer.

They carry on, step by step.

Please open my eyes to the one walking beside me in silent sorrow.

May I see him through your eyes, and come to love him with your heart.

Amen

silent strength“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about.”

When I first read this quote last week, it stuck in my mind and wouldn’t let go.  I’m only beginning to understand why.  The lesson came through a group of chlorine soaked teenage boys.

My son has been on the high school swim team for almost three months now and thanks to practices, swim meets and lots of driving, I’m getting to know quite a few young men who were previously unknown to me.  It isn’t surprising that I often find myself praying for one or more of them.

I pray for the would-be bully who isn’t getting any traction with this group.  He is obviously a troubled soul.  I pray for the seniors who will be starting college next year.  I pray for the exchange students who are struggling to study in a second language while learning all new customs.

When I spot a crossroad or a need, I pray for those who are there.

I also give prayers of thanks for the seniors who have taken the goofy freshman, including my son, under their wings. They have helped these younger swimmers learn the ropes not only of high school athletics, but high school in general.  There have been numerous lectures on which girls are bad news, stay away from the drug users, and get those grades up.

When I see someone doing good things, I give thanks.

But what about those boys who swim well and get good grades, but don’t stick out in any way?  One boy on the team walks past me every day.  He’ll nod if I speak to him, but he won’t ask for a ride when no one is there to pick him up.  Pouring rain?  40 degrees?  Not to worry.  It’s only a three mile walk and he’s done it before.  After all, that is probably how things have been since his mother died of cancer.

I only found out that last bit very recently.  Now, when I don’t know what to ask for someone, I pray that God may give them strength and that my eyes will be opened to any need I can address, even if it is as simple as a ride home in the rain.

There are so many people quietly persevering all around us.  They aren’t drawing attention to their sorrows or their triumphs.  In fact, it might take some study on our parts to even spot them.  But they are there and they too need our prayers and our compassion.

–SueBE

One week after my father died*, the world lost another great guy. Though I didn’t know him very well, I can honestly call him a friend. He was always kind, thoughtful and deeply considerate. He’d suffered for well over a month before his death. The final diagnosis was — get ready for it — West Nile Virus. He was not infected while gallivanting about the pyramids, mind you. He lived in Southern Indiana. Please, think about this. I want you to understand the enormity of it: A super-nice guy was bitten by a mosquito in Indiana…and died a horrible death. Now, I get stung by mosquitoes all the time. They love me. But I never once considered it more than an annoying itch. Death never once entered my mind. Why should it?

Do I seem bitter? I guess I am. The randomness of the whole thing has gotten under my skin. (Like a mosquito’s proboscis, am I right?**) It just seems so very wrong. Unplanned. Stupid. Where is the movement of Providence in a death like that?

Which brings us to the four toughest words in our, or any other, language: Thy will be done. We say it all the time in The Lord’s Prayer. But how much do we mean it? Aren’t we always hedging our bets — thy will be done, except—? Thy will be done, only don’t forget about—? Thy will be done, but could you just do this one thing first? Or this, my favorite, thy will be done — but not that. That should not be done. Not only do we have no right to say these things — God doesn’t, after all, owe us anything — what good does it do us? Human beings have amply demonstrated their inability to run their own lives with anything resembling focused intention. We should be glad to give our will over to God. But we aren’t.

The pastor at our church recently said that we should not pray for things we want. We should pray instead that our wills be molded to God’s. We should want what God gives us, however hard that is. It shouldn’t be so difficult. God wants us to be happy, after all. God loves us. And God is a big-picture person, in a way that we cannot be. God’s got the bird’s-eye view.

A person in mourning can’t see the greater purpose of a death like my friend’s. But I have to believe that there is one. Because even if there isn’t, I’d rather live like there is. That’s where faith lives and breathes. I’d rather live believing that Someone Out There sees the whole puzzle than think for one minute that solving this thing is up to me. Life is too short, and eternity too long, to believe otherwise.

So here it is: God’s will be done. Go ahead. Bring it on. I won’t even brace myself for it. (Okay, maybe a little.)

*I refuse to use euphemisms like “passed.” Or worse, as one woman put it, “She lost her father.” I didn’t lose him. He died. He’s not pining for the fjords, for crying out loud. (That’s a shout-out to Monty Python fans, by the way.)

**Sorry. I can’t seem to stop using humor as a shield.

Move Your FeetToday Pastor Carol introduced us to a South African proverb I had never heard before.  “When you pray, move your feet.”

According to this proverb, it isn’t enough to pray for change in the world.  You can’t just pray for a job, you have to apply for work.  You can’t just pray that the sick will be healed, you have to work for health care for those who don’t have access.  When you pray that the hungry will be fed, you should also pick up additional items for your local food pantry.

Sometimes moving your feet when you pray is very literal.  Last weekend, the youth at our church participated in the St. Louis area Crop Hunger Walk.  After passing on our monetary donation, we put feet to our prayers.

For a mile, we walked and drew the attention of homeowners, business owners and those driving the streets of one of the more affluent areas in our community.

Whether you literally walk to help answer prayer or pick up a hammer to build a home or bag groceries at a food pantry, move your feet and take Christ into the world.  It is the only way it will happen.

–SueBE

Christ has no body

Depending who you ask, there are either five or seven stages of grief. Having recently become an expert on this topic (unwillingly — my father died exactly three weeks ago), I think I can boil it down to three stages, especially if the grieving person is a spiritual one.

Stage One: Acceptance. You think you can handle it. Sure, you’re sad, but you know your loved one is in heaven. You’re a religious person; you know God has taken your loved one to a better place. You cry, but you expect to. It’s okay.

Stage Two: Complete chaos. You’re angry. But not at God. Your spirituality won’t allow it. But you’re still mad. At whom? Not your loved one. Maybe you’re angry at Death. But Death isn’t a real entity. You’re stuck with feelings that you don’t know what to do with. So you yell at people on television, like those snotty folks on any given HGTV show who MUST have granite in their chef’s kitchen, although neither of them cooks, and a walk-in closet just for shoes, because why not? You’re sad, too, so sad you think you’ll never get past it. Some days, you just want to stay in bed with the covers over your head. But you’re embarrassed to say so because who wants to deal with a depressed person? I know people who went back to work the day after they lost a loved one. Why can’t I pull it together?

Stage Three: Acceptance again. You don’t get past it or over it so much as you get through it. And hopefully you gain a little wisdom in the process. Like this: Everybody grieves differently. Don’t let anyone tell you how to do it. You have to do whatever it is you need to do. But do listen to the advice of others: One friend told me, “Just cry whenever you feel like it. Even if it’s inopportune. Don’t hold it in.” I’m taking that bit of advice, probably to the consternation of others. I saw an older man in a white jacket the other night at a restaurant and nearly sobbed aloud. Because my dad had a white jacket. Stupid? Silly? I don’t much care.

Right now, I’m still firmly mired in Stage Two, with glimpses of Stage Three every once in a while. And I can say with some authority that grieving is hard, even for someone who considers herself a spiritual person. You’d think it’d be easier. You’d be wrong.

One of my friends says she knows her mother better now than when her mom was alive. She gets signs from her, the kind of signs you read about in Guideposts magazine: “My dad loved butterflies, and one day when I was thinking of him, a butterfly landed on my hand!” Maybe those things happen to other people, but they haven’t happened to me. (Unless the guy with the white jacket was really an angel, which I find difficult to believe…unless angels really like salad bars.) As much as I’d like a sign from heaven, I haven’t got one yet. Maybe I never will.

Grief tests you. It tests the things you believe in the most. And though my inner being is rocked by chaos, I haven’t lost sight of the things I believe. I’m holding onto them because I know they will get me through this. Whether there are seven stages or three, I’m going to get through it. Because all those things I said and thought at Stage One? They’re the truth. I’m counting on it.

In New Jersey last week, gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono visited a school that had been devastated by Superstorm Sandy.  The newscaster said, “That 80 year old institution is badly in need of repairs.”

As he was speaking, the camera showed a close-up of Ms. Buono, who, while no spring chicken, certainly doesn’t appear to be an octogenarian.

Cut back to the anchor, looking sheepish.  That didn’t come out right!

Early in his career, the CEO of New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen and his musicians were introduced as “Bruce Springstreet and the E Steen Band.”  Hardest working guy in rock and roll, and they can’t even get his name right?

The Chevrolet Nova didn’t sell well in Central and South America, leaving the carmaker’s executives puzzled.  Finally, someone figured out the problem.  Apparently, in Spanish, “No va” translates to “it doesn’t go.”

Isn’t it also true that even we, as people of faith, might say something we intend to be positive, only to find that it’s taken as an affront?

“I’m praying for you.”

Just as SueBE said in her insightful post earlier this year, this is meant as a helpful thing when we say it, but sometimes it can come across as pitying, or even insulting.  They may think we’re saying, you obviously don’t know what the heck you’re doing, so I’m going to ask God to intervene!  If they’re not on the same wavelength in their faith-life, maybe it’s best to pray for them silently.

“God chastens those He loves”

Well, perhaps, but God also embraces, encourages and emboldens those He loves.  When somebody is going through a hard time, it’s best not to blame the victim.  Saying something like, I’m here if you need me is simple but welcome at a time like that.

And that rule of thumb we learned in grade school – when in doubt, leave it out – also applies to well-intended platitudes that may turn into sour grapes and hard feelings.  Being there during dark days is the best gift you can offer a friend. Showing up and being supportive, even if it’s to sit in silence and hold a hand, speaks volumes to those we love.

shut up and prayI’ve blogged before about praying when you aren’t sure what to say, but I recently encountered a new issue.  This time I knew what to pray.  The problem was what I might say before I got around to the prayer.  To put it mildly, I was tempted to say something snotty.

I know a wide variety of people.  Some of them are Christian, some of them aren’t, and some of the people in each group of obnoxiously outspoken.  Among the non-Christians this often takes the form of how bigoted, narrow minded and scientifically impaired Christians are.

Do I need to point out just how much I love these comments?  Sure, they can point to Christians who are each of these things, but I can point to Christians who are anything but.

Then, about a week ago, one of these outspoken non-Christians posted a prayer request.  I skimmed past it before it registered and had to make my way back up the list of posts.  A friend was barely clinging onto life.  Please pray.

I’d love to say that my first reaction was “Yes, I’m praying.”  In all honesty, it took a minute to get there, because I never thought I would see this woman make a prayer request.  It took a minute for my brain to process that this wasn’t something else negative about religion or Christians, but I did eventually process it.

I’d love to say my second reaction was “Yes, I’m praying,” but I wasn’t there yet.  My second reaction was more like “wow, that’s nervy.”  And I so very badly wanted to point out the irony or this request.  My fingers hovered over the keyboard.

I’d love to say that I heard that still small voice telling me to behave myself.  Truthfully?  It may not have been there but it wasn’t all that small.

I’m sure I heard enamel pop off my teeth even as I put my fingers to the keyboard and typed, “I am praying…”

Even as I was processing all of this, I knew that pointing out how bizarre her request was would have only made her defensive.  There’s no chance she would have seen the error of her ways or been drawn to God.  And if there is no way a statement like that is going to help, I may as well admit that it would have been harmful.  It would have been one more bit of evidence about how intolerant and narrow-minded Christians are.

So I kept my mouth shut, although it was a struggle, and I prayed.

It’s been about a week and the man we were asked to pray for is much improved.  No, he’s not entirely well, but he’s off the ventilator and doing much better.  Prayer is, after all, a powerful thing.

And maybe, just maybe, this woman has now seen the power of God even if Christians still tick her off.

–SueBE

What I want to talk about is (a) special quality of my people.

I believe it is the most important.
It is our most unique gift. It is perhaps the greatest gift we can give.
In our language this quality is called dadirri.

It is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness …

When I experience dadirri,
I am made whole again.
I can sit on the river bank or walk through the trees;
even if someone close to me has passed away,
I can find my peace in this silent awareness.
There is no need of words …

It is just being aware …

Our Aboriginal culture has taught us to be still and to wait.
We do not try to hurry things up.
We let them follow their natural course—like the seasons.
We watch the moon in each of its phases.
We wait for the rain to fill our rivers and water the thirsty earth …

We wait on God, too.
His time is the right time.
We wait for him to make his Word clear to us.
We don’t worry.
We know that in time and in the spirit of dadirri
(that deep listening and quiet stillness)
his way will be clear.

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann – Aboriginal Elder
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