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spiritI’d never claim to be a Bible scholar, but I read about the Bible, and I read my Bible.  Sometimes, without my understanding why, something I read sticks in my head.  Last week, I read a Guidepost article by Debbie Macomber in which she discussed the role that 2 Timothy 1:7 plays in her life.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7

Then a few days later, I found out that I’m losing a job.  As a freelance writer, this happens every now and again.  A magazine folds, a company closes, or a new editor comes in and wants to build her own stable of writers.

It happens, but it’s never a good feeling.

The next night, I had a women’s meeting at church.  Normally, I ask for prayers for other people, but tonight, the verse from 2 Timothy popped into my head.  Now was the time to be bold and put myself out there.  I asked for prayers.  The next night, I asked for prayers from a few of my friends in choir.

And, do you know what happened?  I didn’t feel exposed.  I immediately felt surrounded by God’s love.  One friend recalled another time I had been through this. “It’s never easy but you’ll find something.”  Another friend had a humorous cat post on my Facebook wall before I even got home. I suspect she did it before she even pulled out of the church parking lot.  Hugs and prayers and a good laugh go a long way toward holding you up.

There is power in prayer and I immediately felt that warmth of God’s love through my fellows.

What about the self-discipline mentioned in the verse?  This week I’m going to be sending out even more of my work and making contact with more editors.  Something good will come of it. How do I know?  Because I’ve already had an e-mail from an editor.  I don’t know the details yet but something good is coming and it only happened because, in the past, I’ve had the self-discipline to get my work done and out.

You may not immediately understand why a verse speaks to you, but pay attention and don’t be afraid to ask for prayer.  It is one of the most powerful tools that we have.

–SueBE

“Ms. Williams, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but…With this test result, we think the most humane option would be to put him down,” the vet said to me over the phone last week.

I suppose I didn’t even realize that this really was my cat until I heard these words.  After all, I’d scarcely succeeded in getting this stray cat to trust me enough to come near.

Reluctantly, after a long conversation and phone calls to family members, I agreed that they should euthanize my cat. I sat alone for an hour, beside myself and in tears.  Then the phone rang again.

Apparently, the senior veterinarian had disagreed with the prognosis. He said he wouldn’t euthanize this cat. It wasn’t necessary, he said, and it wasn’t right. This isn’t the sort of condition that requires such an extreme measure.

I was so relieved!  So glad I’d get to bring my semi-cat home.  He was still semi-stray, since he insisted on going out every night. It worried me, because sometimes he’d come back with scratches on his face. Once, he came back to my door in the morning with gasoline on his back, as if he had slept next to a car or a lawn mower.

Even with this good news, I was still consumed with guilt.  Just the day before, I was thinking of asking the vet if they knew of an organization that could help me find Kitkat a “forever-home.”

You see, I’d been trying for months to get the cat to stay inside with us, learn to use the litter box, and just be part of the family.  But night after night, Kitkat would wake me with loud meows from the sunroom – sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning – and demand to be let out. He did spend the whole day snoozing on a comfy armchair, but at night, he was outta there.

To be honest, it was really exhausting trying to take care of this cat, my house, my son and myself, since I was diagnosed with progressive MS. Chronic pain is my constant companion, along with neuropathy, spasticity, balance and gait issues. Add to it all a sweet but skittish kitty, and I sometimes felt it was more than I could handle.  He had to have things done in a certain way, and any minor change would send him running to the door.  If there was a noise he didn’t recognize, he’d hide behind the couch.

This cat is kind of a hard case, I said to myself.

But if I really think about it… couldn’t God say the same thing about me?  After all, I don’t trust people easily – if at all (I mean, I am from Jersey!)  I’m kind of a loner and not open to new situations.  I have my own way of doing things, and I’m not about to change my ways at this stage of the game.  I have quirks aplenty, such as an aversion to crumbs on the kitchen table.  I cannot, will not eat until I clear those crumbs! And I need to have my chapstick and box of tissues near me at all times.

Does that sound a bit persnickety?

Just like my cat.

I had to remind myself that this cat had really come a long way from the days when he skulked around the perimeter of my yard, scrounging for food.  It took the better part of a year before he came close enough for me to pat him.  And when he finally did come near, he purred like a motorboat’s engine.  It was loud and clear.  He was making the effort as best he could.

And I’d come a long way too.  This time last year, I was in the hospital, recovering from an MS exacerbation.  When I came home, I couldn’t feel my feet, as I wrote about in an earlier post.  I didn’t bounce right back immediately; no, it took patience, time and a veritable village of health care professionals to help me literally get back on my feet.

If God had thrown up his hands and thought, that woman is such a hard case! …where in the world would I be? No, He didn’t give up on me. He was there all along.

So I’ll keep trying to make this persnickety semi-cat feel at home here, and I’ll keep in mind that even hard cases (like me and Kitkat) deserve a loving family and a good life. I’m grateful that God gave us both a second chance. Pardon me now, while I go let the cat out.

It’s been a tough Lent: full of loss and anguish. Today, I lost the uncle I adored; later, I had to put my sweet cat Smudge to sleep. I am aware that I am walking the way of the cross. Every loss I feel, every sadness each of us experiences, is a mere drop in the pond compared to the sacrifice of our savior. Jesus walks before us, always, and carries the brunt of the load. Here’s a poem to help us remember.

INRI

At first, it is a relief;
you are off your feet.
The first nail is bloodless,
threaded between the bones
of your hand and the blue veins.
Painful, yes. A shock.
The second should be easier,
a known hurt.
It is not.
The pain bangs in your ears
so that you hardly notice the feet.

It is worse when they stand you up.
The flesh tears, the bones snap
like twigs, like a bush ablaze,
crackling, roaring,
the blood now throbbing I AM, I AM.
You shift your feet, standing as best you can
on a nub of wood. Otherwise, your hands
would tear like tissue.
Body exposed, arms spread — how you long
to pull them in, to cover yourself.
Below, they see only a parody of welcome, an invitation
to poke and prod you, like devils
in this burning place of judgment.

They roll dice for your clothes,
made by your mother probably,
the thread spun from wool lovingly,
the last things you own.

She is there, too, her round face
flushed with heat. She wants to wail,
to rend the skies with her wailing.
Your eyes warn her: She is of no consequence
to them now, a woman, a beast,
but if she disturbs their games
they will beat her.
They long to beat her.
It is tiresome to wait for you to die.

In the end, they must break your legs.
In the end, they must pierce you with a lance,
offer your parched lips vinegar,
one last practical joke.
You cry for what seems furthest,
most distant,
and then you die.

They will be startled
by the sudden darkness.
They will be afraid of the answering call
from the sky. But they will not understand.
No. Not yet.

With the attic fan on, I can no longer hear the heavy metal music over the Xbox as they battle zombies, insurgents, and Sith.  They may be back in the dining room rolling dice, warring against trolls and looking for treasure. 

I’ll find out the next time that I’m down that way to refill my coffee cup.  I know more or less what they’re up to and I can always put a bug in someone’s ear when they need a reminder. I try for a happy medium; I don’t micromanage but, except for an occasional run to fetch another teen or more food, I’m here and they know it.

I realized this today when I looked up to find one of them lurking just outside my office door. One word from me and he had taken a seat in the other desk chair, settling in for a lengthy chat. He even offered his services, as well as those of the other boys, to help me clean out a bit so that they’d have a bit more room in here.

I may not have had my office in mind, but that’s what I try to give them — room to be themselves in a world that is busy trying to shape them even as they grow and change into men.

When I hold them up in prayer, I first thank God for bringing this particular horde into my son’s life and into my home. They eat enough for a small village, but it is a blessing to have them here.

I pray that they have the courage and the strength to find themselves amidst the clamor of other people telling them who to be and, all too often, who not to be. I shy away from fix-it prayers (Lord, make him see . . . make him do . . .). How can I fix them when I don’t know what God has in mind for each of them?  Instead, I pray that they be comfortable enough in their own skins to be themselves and to let other people do the same.

Then I give them the space to move and yell and eat and even settle down in my office for a chat. That said, I should probably do a bit more picking up in here so that there’s space for more than one of them at a time. After all, someone did put a bug in my ear.

–SueBE

 

Holy Father,
So many things come into my orbit from day to day.
Help me to see what I should give space in my life
and what I should release so that it may benefit someone else.

Glossy magazines and Pins tell me
that I deserve more,
that I deserve the best,
that I have earned it.

Help me turn from this call to acquire.
Help me hear your voice
urging me to take only what I need
and pass on the rest,
as the crowd passed along
the loaves and fishes.
They found that they had
more than enough to share.

Let me be so aware.
Let me see that there is
more than enough to share.

Amen

 

 

I wish I remembered what led me to take up this challenge, but I’ll be honest. I simply don’t recall.  In spite of not remembering how it all began, I decided to write about my project anyway after reading Lori’s post on letting go.  

Each and every day in 2014, I have made a point of letting go of something.  Sometimes it means cleaning off a shelf in the pantry and tossing out all those stale crackers no one is going to eat.  Why hang on to them when every time I see them I simply feel guilty for letting food go to waste?

This afternoon I sorted through a pile of papers on my desk and recycled six articles I read for the paleoanthropology class I took. Why save in print what I have access to online? Besides, when my desk is cluttered, I’m distracted and anxious whenever I sit down and try to work.

Yesterday, I helped my son clean out a dresser drawer.  Three pairs of too-small shorts went into the stack for the church rummage sale. In addition to benefitting someone who can actually wear them, an organized dresser gives him space for the clothes that are stacked on the floor so I can stop nagging.

How does recycling, donating to a rummage sale or otherwise getting something out of my space make room for God? Clutter distracts us. It weighs us down. When we are crowded by things, especially things we do not truly need or use, they are what we think about. They become our focus.

When I let go of clutter, there is more space in my home and in my heart. My home is more God-filled and ready to welcome whoever He sends our way.

–SueBE

I’ve heard it said (from more than one source) that the point of Lent is mortification. No, not the kind that sweeps over you when you flub a presentation or belch in public. Mortification, in this sense, refers to the subjection of bodily passions and appetites via abstinence or discomfort. Flogging and hair-shirts, while no longer in vogue, were once rather handy for this sort of thing, but nowadays, we prefer a more civilized approach: giving up chocolate, for instance, or refraining from shopping.

The point is not embarrassment, but humility, purity; a cleaner, better you. It serves as a way to get in touch with Jesus, who gave up his dignity, his family, his very life, to save us. I applaud self-mortification, but I think we can withstand a widening of definition.

Instead of giving up a thing, why not give up a habit or an emotion? For example, instead of answering a snappish phrase from your spouse with an equally snappish retort, why not say, “I love you”? (Hint: This also works with surly teens.) Instead of fearing new experiences, why not embrace curiosity and hope? And instead of feeling mortified after you flub that presentation, why not tell yourself, “At least I tried”?

Because the point of self-mortification isn’t self-hatred or even a tamping down of self-esteem. It’s about allowing discomfort into our lives in order to live more intimately with our Savior. And I believe I can say with some certainty that his opinion of us is rather high — he died for us, after all.

So, this Lenten season, see what you can live without, whether it’s something tangible or something intangible. Let it go. Offer it up, as they say. You may just find you never really needed it to begin with.

As I may have mentioned a thousand times before on this bloggie, I’m from Jersey.  Do youse gotta prollem widat? As you can see, we have our own language.  I’m from a place that has a bit of a, shall we say, reputation.  We’re not exactly known as a warm and fuzzy place, and we may be perceived as a bit, well, brash, perhaps even veering into… obnoxious.

It doesn’t help that our governor is larger than life (although shrinking, post-bariatric surgery) and has attitude to spare.

Are we in a hurry?  Probably.  Do we have a bit of swagger in our step? I think so. But people from Jersey – in fact, people from Anywhere, USA – all want the same things out of life and, I may go out on a limb here, but hear me out: I think most people have a good heart and want to help others when they can.

A couple of weeks ago, I was receiving my monthly infusion of medication, and my nurse, Rosanne, was taking care of me.  She and all the nurses and staff at the Regional Cancer Care Center in East Brunswick* have been angels to me, making me feel like part of their family.  After my infusion was started, the husband of another patient stopped by to hand me a Dunkin Donuts Munchkin. “Oh, thank you,” I said, smiling, and he nodded pleasantly.  A few minutes later, he returned with the box.  “Go ahead,” he offered.  “Take as many as you want.”  I declined, but he persisted.  “Go on.  The nurses said we could share.”  I shook my head and he stood there, really wanting me to take another donut.  Finally I said, “I’m the one who brought them in!”

I think most people really want everyone to be happy.

There.  I said it!

I know that “Schadenfreude” is a thing now.  And that there are some people who do enjoy watching other peoples’ “fails” on YouTube.

But if given the chance, I think almost everyone will try to make a stranger’s day brighter.

Sure, if you just go by the headlines and the nightly news, you’d think most people are miscreants.  But that’s just not the case.  Even though the people doing the wrong thing are getting a lot of airtime, the ones Mister Rogers called “the Helpers” are out there too.  They’re at the Infusion Center in the hearts and hands of the nurses, the pleasant banter of the staff, the patients encouraging each other.

I may be the only person in the world who didn’t watch “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child.  But recently I saw a documentary about Fred Rogers’ life, and he believed that there is always a way to find people willing to do the right thing, even during a crisis.

It doesn’t take much to be kind to someone else.  Even a donut hole that you bought yourself can taste like manna when a stranger gives it back to you. And if we all agree to try it at least once a day – hold a door for a young mother at the mall, let someone onto the elevator first – maybe there will be a cumulative effect and a whole wave of kindness will overtake the world!  Or, at the very least, your day will be better.  It’s the opposite of “Schadenfreude.”  Maybe we’ll call it “Lightenupfreude.” Could that become a thing?  It’s up to you!

*This is where I receive my Tysabri for Multiple Sclerosis.  Just so my friends don’t worry, I don’t have cancer, dear ones.  It’s just the name of the place where I receive my infusion every month.

Sometimes God puts a big dream in your heart, and you survey the breadth and depth of it… and promptly talk yourself out of it.

For years, I’ve had a vision of starting what (in my mind, at least) I’m calling the “Block Project.” I’ve thought of naming it “Here to Help” or H2H.

So many people on my block are unemployed or on a fixed income. Many mouths to feed/bills to pay/never enough. Struggling to get by.

What if, instead of having a Neighborhood Watch, all of the neighbors watched out for each other?  

What if the carpenter across the street used his skills to fix the fence of the widow down the road?  What if she, in turn, gave the carpenter’s daughter piano lessons in a kind of barter/honor system?

What if, instead of talking about Mrs. Jones’ overgrown weeds, someone stopped by her house to make sure she was okay?  And maybe even offered to mow the lawn for her?

What if the guy with the green thumb helped every neighbor plant a tidy little garden, so they could eat well in the summer, and can for the winter? What if people having a hard time paying the heating bill could receive help from a general emergency fund?

But even though I’ve thought about this for years – even going so far as to discuss it with my teen-age son and ask if he’ll be the Computer Tech for the database (what people need help with/the skill set of each neighbor/resources available) – I have yet to do a single thing to put this idea into motion.

I did a little math in my mind and decided that having a disability and no resources meant that this was just a pipedream, but still.  The idea keeps coming back to me. 

It just seems that even though I can see putting my heart into it, how do I put my back into it? After all, I’m limping around from the effects of MS and spend many an hour sick in bed.  How do I even begin?  Where would the money come from? How would you get people to “buy in” and help out?  I guess the naysaying-critic in my mind is asking: Who am I to claim this scale of dream, anyway?

So I thought I’d write a post about this and see what you dear readers think. Any thoughts?  Even if you don’t have an idea about logistics, would you kindly do me a solid (as we say in Jersey) and like this post? Sure, it’s a big dream, but a little encouragement would go a long way. Thanks, dear people!

LentThis past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Most of us think about Lent as a period of self-denial.  Deprive yourself of something you love.  Do this to mirror the sacrifice that Christ made for us all.

I’m all for giving something up, but I have to be honest with myself.  Giving up chocolate or coffee is not going to mirror Christ.  He wasn’t giving up on something that he loved.  He wasn’t giving up on us at all.  He made the sacrifice that he did because he wasn’t giving up on us.

How can we truly mirror Christ for Lent?  Give yourself time and quiet to connect with God.

Once he entered his ministry, Christ’s time was in demand.  People followed him.  They opened up the roofs of houses to get to him.  Sometimes he had to climb on board a boat to put a little space between himself and the people.

If you’re a mom or a teacher or a pastor or someone who volunteers at their church, I don’t have to explain this to you. You get it. As much as you give, as much as you do, there is always more that needs doing.  There is always someone else waiting there with a task for you.

Mirror Christ this Lent by giving yourself time and quiet. Christ periodically took himself away to a quiet corner, often in a garden, to pray. I’m convinced that he did this not only so that he could speak to God but also so that he could listen, so that he could breathe in the peace that God offers to us through His strength.

During Lent, mirror Christ.  Give yourself time and quiet to decompress and connect with God.

–SueBE

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