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When the fitness club commercial came on, it made me stop in my tracks. Not just because I had a bag of cheese curls in my hands at that moment (I swear, officer, I was holding it for a friend!), but because it featured a very fit young woman – apparently a personal trainer from a t.v. show – energetically endorsing a fitness program called Curves.

“You’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been,” she says to the camera.  The thing is, the set of her face says she’s about to bite your head off!  And at the end, when she says, “Go love your life,” why does she look like Robert Conrad with a battery on his shoulder. That was a dare, tough guy…ya better reconnize!

I feel the same sort of Shiba Inu fear reflex anytime I happen across Nancy Grace, the former lawyer turned crusading/ratings-seeker. I’ve seen zombies in horror movies in a better mood! She once said she’s at her happiest when she gets to speak for the victims of crime, because they deserve justice. If this is what happy looks like, I’m going to sign up for a Deep Dark Doldrum!

Just as Droopy Dog  and Grumpy Cat really aren’t happy, I get the feeling these people are missing the point.  If you’re happy and you know it, please people. Let it at least reach your face.

I looked around the web to find moments of unbridled joy and found this early clip of my state’s CEO, Bruce Springsteen with his E Street Band. At just about a minute in, when the Boss looks over at the keyboard player, there’s no mistaking that joy on his face.

I’m a sucker for all of those army-parent-coming-home videos, but this one is probably my favorite.

Then there’s Sutton Foster and the cast of the Broadway play, Anything Goes, rehearsing, and the cast performing at the Tony Awards in 2011. 

I also love the Odd Couple episode where Felix and Oscar write a song called “Happy and Peppy and Bursting with Love.”

This clip of PSY and MC Hammer at the 2012 American Music Awards has to qualify as a guilty pleasure, for sure.    And I still like that old standby, the Evolution of Dance.

I love to listen to gospel songs and hymns, and one of my favorite is this uplifting song from Joyous Celebration.

Maybe the snarling fitness guru and foul-tempered legal-eagle should watch some of these feel-good videos too.  All right now, dear readers. Go on out there and love your life!  And that’s an order!

Two inches of snow in Atlanta. Polar vortexes. Snow days. Winter has us in its grip, and an icy grip it is. Of course, every winter feels apocalyptic in its way; we tend to let Spring and Summer thaw us into a kind of balmy forgetfulness, only for Winter to return with bitter reminders. Such are the seasons, if one is lucky enough to live someplace with seasons. (I grew up in California, where the seasons consist of “raining” and “not raining”. It imparts a rather unrealistic vision of all things weather-related.)

We also experience, at various times in our lives, a winter of the soul. Hope is in cold storage; the way ahead appears alarmingly icy. It is during these times that we ought to turn to comfort, whether that’s a warm cup of soup or a familiar prayer. Personally, I derive comfort from poetry.

Lately, I’ve been intrigued with the metaphor and connectedness between birds and prayer. (Which is strange, because birds, especially in large number, generally give me the heebie-jeebies.) Both ascend skyward, singing. Both are as natural as the seasons. So, in honor of Winter, please accept the following haiku. And stay warm!

Word of praise takes flight
soars heavenward on bright wings;
blessings fall like snow.

Room for GodDo you leave space for God in your day?

I know. Some days are just plain busy. You hit the ground running in the morning and collapse into bed at night and every moment in between is full. Some days are like that.

The problem is that if every day is like that you probably aren’t connecting to God. And if you aren’t connecting to God you are eventually going to whither. You need that connection!

I’m not going to tell you that you have to go on retreat for several days, although that sure would be nice. And I’m not going to preach about the importance of an hour spent in meditation. It’s really hard to meditate when you are wondering what the kids are taking apart because the fact that they are being so quiet is suspicious.

Instead I’m going to give you 4 ways to connect with God in your daily life.

  1. Put on lotion. Yes. Put on hand lotion. You can’t do anything until you rub it in anyway. While you do, consider the ways that you see God’s hand at work in your life.
  2. Coloring with the kids. Drawing while you pray is one way to meditate. While the children color, you can color too. You can illustrate your favorite prayer or draw pictures that remind you of the people who are on your prayer list.
  3. Walking. Walking prayer is one of my favorite ways to pray. I started doing this walking my son to grade school. Admittedly, I didn’t pray until after I dropped him off but I had the ten minutes it took me to get home.
  4. Folding laundry. Mowing the lawn. Shoveling snow. Pulling weeds. Washing dishes. Do you get where I’m going with this? Tedious jobs keep your hands busy but let’s your mind turn to God. While you wash the dishes, pray for the health of those you just fed. Pray for those who grew, harvested and sold the food. Pray for those who don’t have enough to eat. Washing dishes can be tedious which makes it a perfect task to lose yourself in prayer.

Yes, some days are busy. Those days may not give you much time to spend with God but you can make space if you try. A few seconds here. Ten minutes there. Connect with God where and when you can on those busy days and it will keep you going until you have time for a more meaningful conversation with Our Father.

–SueBE

I recently read an article in which a woman dismissed belief in God as “magical thinking.” She preferred the world of science, of certainty. I took the words in. And then I thought, “Wow, what a fundamental misunderstanding of faith.” I’m sure the author would not have appreciated this take-away, but there it is. Belief in God has nothing to do with magic. Mystery, yes. But not magic.

Trying to explain faith is a lot like trying to explain love (not a coincidence since God = Love). Why does love happen? Why does it endure? Who knows? Certainly trying to justify belief in an all-powerful, all-good God presents similar conundrums: Why does God allow disasters to occur? Why does God let children die? What kind of God slaps his Chosen People in the face with a Holocaust?

Those are tough questions, questions centuries of scholars and saints have struggled to answer. I fully understand if someone doesn’t find these answers acceptable; they were, after all, formulated by fallible beings for fallible beings. God has not given us the real answers, and for good reason. Like Tom Cruise in that movie everybody quotes, we can’t handle the truth. It would be like trying to explain calculus to toddlers.

The truth is that believing in God demands not magical thinking, but a radical acceptance of mystery. Science cannot explicate everything. In fact, when it comes to faith, it cannot explicate anything at all. Mystery permeates human existence. That faith in God exists at all is a mystery. Yet it has endured, in myriad faces and guises, over all of time and history. Belief in That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Thought precedes and supersedes any scientific theory one can conceive.

I don’t know how to explain why bad things happen to good people, why those we love die young or tragically, why storms ravage and earthquakes consume. It’s not my job to explain, or even to understand. And if that’s your sticking point, I can only say this: I’m sorry. Not everything is explicable. Some things are mysteries. Human beings are fated — by our very humanity — to living with mystery. All the science in the world can’t fix that.

But guess what does help? You guessed it: Faith.

At the check-out line at the store a few years ago, a woman from the back of the line came and stood in front of me, hands on hips.  “Let me tell you something.  It’s people like you who make it hard for the rest of us.  This is an express check-out line. You have more than twelve items!  There are rules, you know!”  It actually crossed my mind to count the items in my little handheld basket out loud so that she – and the rest of the line – could see.  I only had ten items. But I could see that didn’t matter to her.  She was looking for someone to pick a fight with. She really had her cranky pants on this morning!

It took all the restraint I had in me to bite back the retort:  “Oh.  Forget to take your medication today, dear?” I landed on, “Yeah, that’s helpful,” and I waved her away dismissively. I realized that maybe, perhaps, possibly…she really did need some type of medication.  It just wasn’t normal to stand there, fuming, wringing your hands and muttering because you think (mistakenly) that someone else has too many items for the express lane.

I couldn’t help myself though, on the way out – I said, “Have a nice day, Miss!” with a very sunny smile, and I semi-saluted (not the middle finger/Jersey variety) as if I was in the military.  She said, “I will have a nice day!  Because I know how to follow rules!”

Sometimes you realize in Technicolor that you can’t help everyone.  It sounds terrible, but you have to realize this and just walk away.  My mild comebacks were not very mature, and I’m sure, only reinforced her persecution complex. In her mind, she was trying to make things right but ended up doing it the wrong way.

It reminds me of the way I gave my mother a hard time about her smoking habit.  She passed away years ago, but I remember how we went around and around through the years, with me trying to get her to quit, and her trying to get me to realize that it was her only vice, and in some ways, it was all she had to get her through the day.  If I had realized that I would lose her so soon, I would have stopped criticizing, because that’s what it really was.  The effect of my harping on her, every single time I saw her, was the equivalent of the effects of smoking cigarettes.

The impact on the spirit when someone tears you down is dehydrating, draining, suffocating, sucks the life out of you… kind of like the impact smoking has on the body. I wasn’t helping my mother with my obnoxious rants.  I was only satisfying my own need to stand on a soapbox and fight windmills.  Just like the lady at the store did to me.

Nowadays, when I want to offer my two cents on how somebody should live, I put those pennies in my own piggy bank.  I don’t think it’s possible to know what anyone else is up against, even if it’s your own family member. I’ll have to assume the best thing I can do for anybody – even a grocery-counting lady with her cranky pants on – is hold my tongue and send up a prayer.  It’s like Kevlar for the soul, and works like a charm every time.

prayer beads

A not fabulous photo of my prayer beads. Sorry! The camera is at the lake with the boys.

I loved Lori’s post, Proverbs and Peace, and planned to answer her question, “What are your favorite spiritual words of comfort?”, in my own post.  But it didn’t happen.

When I booted my computer to access this information, I got this message.  “Error 515: Power supply fan not found.” The machine is under warranty so we’re haggling with HP.

While I waited for HP to get it together, I called Customer Service for a yarn supplier to add another skein to my order since it was listed as “in process” and not “shipped.”  Unfortunately, in process can also mean packed.   No luck there.

When the boys left for their hunting trip, I set about fixing my dinner.  I always make stir fried broccoli when they’re gone because my husband can’t eat it.  Not surprisingly, given the rest of the day, I found some kind of caterpillar building condos in the broccoli.

There are times this would be the icing on an awful day.  Last night, I just laughed.

What made the difference?  This past week, I have made the time to pray each and every morning.  I’m not going to tell you that I pray for an hour or even 20 minutes.  The reality is probably a lot closer to 5 minutes.

But it is five minutes that I sit with my prayer beads.  I start with prayers of praise and recognition of God.  Then I move on to . . . whatever.  Some days I pray for various people I know who are sick or looking for work.  Some days I pray friends who are expecting their first child, or my son who is starting his second semester of high school, or my husband who has to deal with HP.

I don’t take long, but I focus, and I pray.  And I think it makes all the difference in the world in how I deal with life’s little bumps and detours.  IMO it helps because I’m taking time to connect with something bigger than myself.  I’m focusing on something other than myself.  I’m turning outward.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, try to pray quietly just a few minutes each day.  The more overwhelmed you feel, the harder it will be to focus.  That’s why I use prayer beads.  You can also walk a labyrinth or use a fingertip labyrinth.  If you find a way to pray, you’ll see a difference and you might even laugh at the worm in your broccoli.

–SueBE

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Let go, let God. Proverbs work for a reason: They’re brief, therefore easy to remember, and they pack a punch — a whole lot of comfort in just a few, spare words. They are there for us in an instant, stiffening our backbones, renewing our resolve, bolstering our energy. They are language-based healers, a verbal hug.

We need spiritual pick-me-ups. They are our cheerleaders, our home-court advantage. It is not surprising that the Bible is packed with them. Still, like art, they can be found anywhere: printed in books and magazines, posted on Facebook and Pinterest, scrawled on city walls. I say, take comfort wherever you find it. If it makes you happy, take it into your life. You never know when you might need it.

My favorite linguistic comfort food comes from the Bible, the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Wouldn’t we all like to hear those words? What could be better? But I also glean consolation from reciting the first 20 or so lines from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, especially this one: “To Caunterbury with ful devout corage.” (In Middle English it sounds like this: “Full di-VOOT CO-raj.”) “Corage” in this case means “heart.” To have “ful devout corage” is to have a full and passionate heart. And isn’t that how we ought to travel through this world…whether we’re going on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, or just out for groceries?

I admire those people who seem to walk in peace. I am not one of them. Therefore proverbs hold a special place in my heart. As a writer, I love words, in all their myriad uses, but most especially those that bring comfort. I collect them the way other people collect rare stamps or interesting shells. They are money in my pocket, my spiritual reserve. And I’m always keen to add to my collection.

So tell me — what are your favorite spiritual words of comfort?

words of loveToday (Sunday) was the day that we celebrated Christ’s baptism. As part of the Sunday school lesson, my husband discussed Mathew 3:16 – 17 with his class. These verses say:

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The question that my husband asked was this – was Jesus the only one who saw the Spirit of God descending and heard His Blessing? Or was this something that everyone present heard?

As part of the service, we reaffirmed out own baptisms. Baptism by water represents the Holy Spirit washing over us. Today was a chance to contemplate, is this Spirit visible to others in how we live? Or is it something that remains unseen by those around us?

–SueBE

Our cat, Honkee Magoo (please blame/credit my husband for the odd name) isn’t a demanding soul, except in one case: He insists on our turning on the bathroom tap to a trickle and leaving it on all the time. Sometimes he drinks the water. Other times, he just watches it drip, or plays with it. Obviously, this trick does not bode well for our water bill. But Honkee is insistent. He needs that water to be running.

He spent his formative months as a stray, which I believe holds the key to his odd behavior. When you’re a stray, you don’t know where your next meal — or drink — is coming from. The first time we saw him, he was looking for edible garbage outside a Subway restaurant; we coaxed him into our car with cheese. He’s a bit of a wild man, but with a huge, grateful heart. Keeping the water running is — for him — our way of telling him that he will never have to go without again. He will always have his needs met. He will always have a home.

We humans have our needs, too. We need someone to listen to us, and that person is most frequently God. We do a lot of crying out to God, a lot of asking. We need for God to hear us, and to show that God hears us. We need God to keep the water running, so to speak.

So what happens when we can’t hear God, when our prayers seem unheeded, un-listened to? We can get a little wild ourselves. I was a bit angry at God this week for not hearing me: What am I supposed to be doing with my life, because this can’t be it, seriously. Wasn’t I supposed to do something great? Is this mic on? I still haven’t heard back.

It’s okay to be angry with God. We all get mad at those we love. It’s human. But I also know that God hears me. Which makes my inability to hear a response all the more confounding. What is it in me that can’t hear? What am I ignoring, not heeding, not understanding?

The whole situation feels familiar: It’s like me trying to reason with Honkee. “No, I am not going to turn on the water. You have water in your dish, in your fountain. You don’t need this water.” He doesn’t get it. The problem isn’t in the message or in the messenger. It’s in the inability of the listener to comprehend.

I don’t get mad at Honkee for not understanding, just as God doesn’t give up on me for my shortcomings. I turn the water on because I don’t want him to fret. I don’t fret either; I know that the water’s running for me. My faith is not dented in any way. Still, it would be nice to see the water. Maybe I need to work on me?

Honkee has great self-confidence; he struts around the house like a boxer after scoring a knockout. Still, he likes being told he’s a good boy. (Positive reinforcement became a turning point in our relationship, back in his early, feral days.) Maybe if I worked on my own self-confidence and self-love, I’d start seeing my path. It couldn’t hurt.

I guess the water was running the whole time. It just took me a while to notice.

Family PrayerWhenever a new year rolls around, I examine my life for things I want to improve.  One of the things that I targeted for 2014 is my prayer life which has, embarrassingly enough, grown stale.  I couldn’t think of what to do about it, so I pulled my family together on New Year’s Eve for a quick brainstorming session. 

The solution that we came up with wasn’t for my prayer life alone but for our entire family.  In 2014, we are going to focus on family prayer time.  Meeting in the living room (there are no electronics in this room), we discussed the various things that we have each been praying for and those we think we should be praying for as a family.  Then, my husband led us in prayer.

If your family doesn’t have a prayer tradition, you may need something to help you get started.  Here are four suggestions:

  1. An announcement board.  Use a bulletin board to post prayer concerns.  Family members could also pull specific prayers from the board, retreat to a quiet location, pray, and then return the request to the board for the next prayer.
  2. A blessing box. Each family member is invited to thank God for something specific, write it on a slip of paper and add it to the Blessing Box.
  3. A prayer circle.  Everyone sits in a circle.  One person starts the prayer, praying for the person to their right.  That person is the next one to pray, offering up a prayer for the person on their right and so on.
  4. A prayer tree.  When your family prays for something or someone, you hang a prayer flag from a tree in your yard.  Each flag on the tree represents a group prayer.

What does your family do during their prayer time that others might find helpful?

–SueBE

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