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You’ve heard it before:
that tale about the two sisters.
One relevant moment with a fairy and wham! —
Each time they open their mouths, out fly judgments:
Flowers and jewels for the good sister,
snakes and stones for the bad one.
Let us forsake the topic of practicality:
You could chip a tooth on a ruby,
not to mention choking on a toad.

I have lived this story and so have you.
When I breathe a discordant word,
I might as well expel an asp.
But put words of thanks on my lips,
and suddenly —
a spray of petals, bright diamonds,
a shining array of good and gracious.

It is time to decide your gifts:
Which sister will you be?
For me, I give thanks:
for shoes in the closet,
for heat in my home,
for food so plentiful,
I think of dieting.

O God, O Provider of all,
make of my words
all that is precious,
all that is holy:
May I return to you your gifts
in rose-hushed prayer
and sparkling praise.

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Coat crib and Hat and Mitten Tree (2010)

One coat, one pair of mittens, isn’t much. Added with the gifts of others, many will be warmed.

Every day, when we bring in the mail, there is another envelope.  Someone is asking for money.  Help the orphans.  Help the homeless.  Help the hungry.

As much as I want to help, the need is overwhelming.  I freeze up.   I know I have a lot to be grateful for, but in the face of so much need, how can I really help?

Last weekend my son participated in Scouting for Food.  One Saturday, the boys drop off bags and ask people to donate just a few cans.  Just what you can.

What most people don’t realize is how these little bits add up.  The Saturday after the boys drop off the bags, they pick them up.  It always takes a bigger crew of bigger boys this second week and when the numbers rolled in this year I found out why.

They collected over 2 million food items.  That’s right.  2,000,000 plus.  That’s the highest total they’ve reached in five years.  Think of all the food pantries that will be helped.  Think of all the families who will have food on their tables.  The boys collected over 2 million items because people like you and I each gave a few cans.  No single bag looks like much but taken together they are quite a haul.

This holiday season open your heart.  Listen for God.  Then pick a charity.  Focus on a particular cause.  Then, give what you can.  Maybe it is just an afternoon spent packing boxes at the local food pantry.  Or a single toy.  Or a coat.

One toy and one coat don’t look like much.  Neither did one small bag of cans.  But taken together our small donations can do a lot of good for those in need more than ever now that the weather has turned cold.

–SueBE

Heavenly Father,
I am one small person in a world with so much need.
I am one small voice crying out to you.
Help me hear Your call.
Help me see where I can help.
I understand it is not my task alone.
I understand that, with others, I can do what You ask.
Amen

My horoscope for today really spoke to me.  “Oh, what the heck. Haven’t you held on to this long enough? Sure you have.  Look at your present, and forget the past.”

And I tried to think of the present and the hopes I have for this particular day, but my mind kept flipping back to yesterday.  Yesterday was a hard day. I won’t go into it and bring you all down because today is a good day.  I had to let it go. Yesterday is in the past.  Even whatever happened this morning is already in the past.

Sometimes we might think of life as all or nothing.  But I have this huge problem hanging over my head!  Or, there seems no answer to this long-standing, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking issue.

Maybe it’s about taking human bites.  Keeping in mind that we’re all human, we’re all trying. About assuming that everyone else is trying their best, even when your teen-age son shines you on as you ask him to get up.  “I’m up,” he says, curling up even deeper into the warm blankets, eyes sealed shut.  You stand over him, arms akimbo, and start to seethe.

“Honey?”  No response.  “Time to wake up, sweetie.”  After a few minutes, there are signs of life. “Huh?”

“You fell back to sleep honey.  Time to get moving.”

“What do you mean, Ma?  I was up the whole time!”

Count to ten, self.  Breathe, woman!  Let him think he was up, as long as he’s up now.

In fact, let them all see the world as they see it.  Let the people delude themselves if they need to.

Don’t let it change the hope you have for this day.  Today is a good day.

Things you read in the news can make you cynical.

Like John Edward, the former presidential candidate who cheated on his wife with Rielle Hunter, a campaign photographer.  At one point, in an interview with ABC news, the network said that Mr. Edward “made a point of (saying) that his wife’s cancer was in remission when he began the affair with Hunter.”  As it turned out, it wasn’t true.

Or the New Jersey couple accused of abusing Sammy the dog.  The man in this case told local media initially that he had found the dog on the side of the road in deplorable condition and made himself out to be a hero.  “Who would do that to a dog?” He said, playing to the camera. Turns out, he would.  He and his estranged wife had owned Sammy for nine years and had left the dog malnourished and unable to walk.  

Let everyone else see the world the way they see it.  Even if they’re not telling you the whole story, you tell your own tale.  Even if somebody isn’t quite the real deal, you know what’s true.  Faith, family, friends.  Perseverance, purpose, prayer.  The things that light you up from the inside are the things you should always focus on.  It’s what will get you through the hard times and give meaning to your life. As we say in Jersey, I’m not pulling your chain when I say this:  today is a good day.

surpriseLast week, we had the first meeting of our pastor search committee.  One of the men brought a list of things that we need to remember as we go through the process.  It includes obvious things like seek God (#1) and pray (#2).  Item #3 surprised me although it shouldn’t have:  Be open to God’s surprises.

I laughed out loud.

Recently, our church hired a new choir director.  We, the members of the choir, knew exactly what we wanted.  No, not wanted.  We knew what we needed.  This person had to be an excellent musician and vocalist, able to play the organ and piano, and direct our choir as well.  Obviously, our ideal candidate would have to be middle aged, at the very least, to have all this experience and also to get along with our older congregation.

God has an amazing sense of humor.  He sent us Zack who can coax hymn after hymn out of our quirky pipe organ.  He can sing our various parts, switching from one to another without missing a beat, while signaling each section when to come in and drop out.  Then there’s the added bonus – he’s a teacher, talented in explaining to us how to bring out a fuller sound, how to blend and much, much more.

The surprise?  He’s in his mid-twenties.  We are his first church choir.  His talents in working with 7-year-olds seem to work just as well on us.

Yes, we realized that he was the right candidate for us but this decision was slow and painful in coming, because we knew what we needed.  Laugh all you want.  God knew better.

Think about this throughout this holiday season.  How often do you plan the spontaneity and possibly the Spirit out of your celebrations?

I know, I know.  It takes a certain amount of planning to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table, cards in the mail and gifts bought, made and wrapped by Christmas.  Without at least some planning, things don’t get done.

But, in the upcoming weeks, remember to check in with God now and again.  Take time to pray.  Listen for His still, small voice as you go through your day. You may think that you know exactly what needs to be done but be open to gentle nudges from above.  If you accept the surprises He sends your way, I promise you, the results will be amazing.

–SueBE

In a spirit most ecumenical, my husband and I went to our local Temple’s “Deli Day” fundraiser last Sunday, where we ate tender, spicy corned beef, mouth-melting brisket, crisp potato latkes and strudel so tartly delicious, I have never met its peer. Everyone was exceedingly nice. Yesterday, my friend Alice opined that she often pictures a beleaguered-yet-serene God as looking a lot like The Buddha — an admission she fears will get her excommunicated one day. Why are we so hesitant to embrace religious practices and cultures other than our own? What’s to feel guilty about?

As early as the 1950s, Thomas Merton (fangirl alert!) wrote about the need for Catholics (and others) to embrace “Oriental” spiritual practices. This does not stop me from hiding the cover of the haiku book I’ve been reading during my hour of Perpetual Adoration. To me, it is an ideal book for prayerful contemplation — God in the movement of the seasons, the struggle of the poet to state such magnitudinous ideas in such succinct ways. Still, there’s a part of me that worries what Father might think if he caught me with it. It’s not exactly the work of St. Paul, though my husband might argue the writing’s better. (He doesn’t care much for Paul’s style. I’m okay with it…except for the portions that were added post-Paul by a small-minded monk who thought Paul was just a little bit too free in his praise and support of women. But I digress.)

What’s so wrong with building a spiritual portfolio the way one might order from a Chinese restaurant — a Peking Duck here, a Mu Shu Pork there? Just because I identify as Catholic, can’t I take away nuggets of wisdom from other faith practices? Because I do. And I can’t help thinking it’s a healthy practice.

Some would like to believe that their chosen religious iteration has it ALL — the complete package of answers, practices and meanings. I just can’t get behind that. It’s a wide world out there, and it stands to reason that God has sprinkled God’s wisdom all over the place. So while I stand with Catholicism, I don’t think it’s the be-all and end-all of spiritual wisdom. It’s why I love reading SueBe’s and Ruth’s posts — it’s good to get a different view on things. It’s enriching. It makes one richer, in a spiritual sense.

So let your faith flag fly, all you Methodist-Confucian-Hindu-Sunnis! Feast from the banquet of spiritual delights. Build yourself a faith out of any materials you like. As long as it’s sturdy, who cares?

Holy HolidaySeem a little early for a holiday post?  I thought so too until I realized that the craft and home blogs I regularly read are already peppered with holiday posts ranging from Thanks Trees and roasting pan giveaways to Christmas ornaments and themed trees. 

Then there are the warnings.  “Only 8 more Saturdays until Christmas!” and “How to plan the perfect Holiday meal.”

If you’re already rushing around in a kerfuffle or even planning your kerfuffle, I’d like to invite you to dial it back and think for a moment about the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas.

The first Thanksgiving was a feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  I’m sure it involved a certain amount of planning and cooking and such, but this was a Puritan Thanksgiving.  Puritans were not the flashiest people on the planet.  They didn’t go in for the latest fashions or posh homes.  Simply put, this would not have been a Pin-able celebration.

Yet it had God at the center.

Before that, came the first Christmas.  Christ was born in a stable, a stable behind a full-to-capacity inn in a city crowded with people traveling for the census.  Have you ever been in a stable or barn that is more crowded than normal?  Even if it wasn’t nasty, it was bare bones, simple, serviceable.  Pin-able?  Hardly.

But Christ was there.

Whether or not your plates match isn’t the big issue.  The menu doesn’t have to be perfect.  You don’t have to knock yourself out over gifts, or wrapping or cards.

Instead take some time to walk outdoors.  Get together with friends.  Enjoy the things that bring you close to God.  Make him your Center.  It may not make for a Pin-able celebration, but it will make for a truly Holy-day whether we are talking Thanksgiving or Christmas.

–SueBE

Today, Florissant Presbyterian Church held a hymn festival service.  This means that other than scripture, communion and a hand full of prayers, the rest of the service consisted of hymns.  Music is, conveniently, my favorite way to pray.  This was our opening hymn and one of my favorites.  That said, this isn’t us.  We are, on average, a tad older.

The reason behind this hymn fest is that we got a new hymnal full of songs, like this one, from all over the world.  When we sing songs like this one from Cameroon, we join with our sisters and brothers world wide in Praising the Lord, Alleluia.

–SueBE

Sometimes we tell the truth because it’s already obvious to everyone. Once she realized that she had no chance at all of winning New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, it seemed Democratic contender, Barbara Buono, decided to speak the unvarnished truth.  One issue in her platform was the promise to provide universal day-care, but this week she said, “We didn’t have the resources (previously to fund day-care) and we certainly don’t have them now.” Politicians, telling the truth?  What is this world coming to?!? The fact of the matter is that she – along with the rest of us in the Garden State – had done the math. Governor Christie + Superstorm Sandy (minus a lot of weight via bariatric surgery) = Re-election.

Sometimes we tell the truth by accident. One of my favorite guilty pleasures is watching The First 48, a documentary-style series that follows homicide units as they try to solve crimes within two days of the event.  In one episode, a very large man with oddly long, pointy fingernails sits on his porch and talks to the police as cameras roll.  “I don’t even own a car, so it couldn’t possibly have been me who did it!” he insisted. Walking away from the man’s house, the detective looks at the camera and says, “We never told him the means of death, so how did he know it was a car that killed this victim?”

Sometimes telling the truth can be downright obnoxious, as is the case with a woman in North Dakota who planned to hand out letters to overweight children on Halloween that tells them they need to lose weight. I’ve got a feeling Mischief Night will make a return appearance for some time at her house!

But every once in a while, the truth will set you free.  When this bus driver, known to friends as “Big Country,” saw a woman standing on the edge of a bridge, he pulled the bus over, walked closer to her, put his arm around her in a bear hug and asked, “Don’t you want to come back over to this side of the ledge, Miss?” And she did.  She came off the ledge and prayed with him.  After the police arrived, he got back on his bus, and the patrons applauded.  The videotape of the incident went viral, and rightfully so. We wanted to celebrate this humble hero who stepped up and helped someone in pain. He had the truth on his side, and – I have to believe – God had his back. That’s the kind of truth that won’t steer you wrong.

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