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createSummer is an exhausting time for me.  I’m a tried and true introvert.  I need my quiet time.  My quiet time keeps me sane.

But school is out and my son is a competitive swimmer.  Swim meets are not only full of people, but also full of sound – starting pistols or sirens and lots and lots of cheering.

Sometimes it is more than an introvert can stand.

My solution?  A new knitting project.  I’m making an A-line tank top with braided shoulders.  I’m not very far yet – at this point the shirt is less than two inches long.

While I can’t knit when I’m working a swim meet or interacting with my son’s friends, I make time every day to retreat into a world made up of bright green yarn and circular needles.  It enables me tighten my focus to just that point in front of me where needle crosses needle and pulls the yarn through.

As I focus, I let my mind wander.  Sometimes I consider the events of the day. Sometimes I pray.  Lately, I’ve been praying for my son’s swim mates as they leave the pool.  Other times I pray for family and friends.

Lately, I’ve been knitting while I wait for swim camp to let out.  I sit in the car for 5 minutes and create.  Just sitting and being with yarn and needles gives me the time and space to open myself up and hear. It gives me the room I need to breathe.  And by the time the kids come out of the pool, I am ready to greet them with a kind word and a smile.

If you are feeling stressed, find something to do with your hands.  One of my friends weeds her garden.  My mother got out her sewing machine.  Tighten your focus and let your mind go.  Listen and feel. When you are done, you may discover that He has planted a seed in your heart.

–SueBE

I saw a new doctor last week, and while I was being poked, prodded, and otherwise probed, it dawned on me: We regularly have a professional check out our physical well being, but seldom (if ever) do we inquire into the health of our souls. But how does one go about doing a soul-check? Here are a few ideas. Please feel free to contribute your own!

  1. Examination: How is your conscience feeling? Any lingering guilt? Are there issues, addictions, emotions you’d like to put out of your life? Who help you with these problems? Perhaps a member of the clergy or a psychologist would be of benefit. Or maybe you just need a good listener to bounce ideas off of. Maybe you can find someone who struggles in a similar way and make a deal to work on yourselves together. There is strength in numbers, after all!
  2. Resuscitation: Is there someone whose forgiveness you badly need? Contact them immediately! Is there someone who you need to forgive? Do so, whether in the quiet of your heart or in person. Let go of past hurts. Breathe out the bad and breathe in a new start.
  3. Everyday Health Practices: What can you do to give your soul greater sustenance? Maybe you could set up a time for quiet prayer or meditation. Perhaps reading a good spiritual book (the Bible, for instance) every day, when you first wake up in the morning or before bed at night, would be a way to bring energy to the day or closure before rest. I appreciate the hour I spend in our church’s chapel every week. I read, pray the rosary, recite prayers. Sometimes I just listen to my own heart. It’s a peaceful practice, and couldn’t we all use more peace in our lives?
  4. Setting up a Problem List: My doctor created a list of my major health issues, including allergies, asthma and osteoporosis. Where are your weak points: Charity, mercy, forgiveness? Are you open-hearted, embracing of others who differ from you? Do you judge or condemn others? These are all problems of the spirit. Don’t dwell on them; just make a list and start to work on the places you fall short. Awareness is the key. You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.
  5. Give Yourself a Gold Star: Don’t just concentrate on your failings. Pat yourself on the back for the things you get right. I am a big fan of water; I seldom drink anything else. Good for me! What are your particular talents? What in your spiritual life comes easily to you? These things are important. God made you as you are, with your particular strengths, to serve good in the world. Knowing your talents can help you identify ways to do this most effectively.

The health of our souls is every bit as important as that of our bodies. But we often ignore our sick souls; they don’t cause us to limp or cough. They don’t itch or ache. All the more reason for us to check in our spiritual selves from time to time! An undiagnosed disease can kill you. An undiagnosed soul-problem can wreak havoc, too — mentally and physical, socially and personally.

We are both body and spirit. Let’s remember to take care of both.

 

During the past month, there were some ups and downs in my life.

  • My car was recalled, and stayed in the repair shop for over a month. 
  • Somebody ran over my mailbox in the middle of the night.
  • The mortgage and maintenance of a house is too much for someone with a disability, so I realized I’ll need to re-locate.
  • After years of separation from my husband, I finally filed divorce papers.

On the other hand:

  • I found an honest auto repair shop.  They treated me like gold and went the extra mile for me. 
  • I got to know the people at the post office – they never sit down, and have to be stared at by a long line of customers awaiting their turn, but still maintain a positive attitude.
  • In my search for a new place to live, I realized that I’m actually kind of a small town person, although I presently live in the hustle and bustle of New Jersey. It made me think I should keep my mind open as God makes a new home available to me.
  • I reluctantly attended a court-mandated session for people getting divorced and realized that, even though my ex moved out years ago and we’ve long since worked out custody and support, I’ve got nothing on paper to document it. Without this session, I’d never have gotten these loose ends wrapped up and finalized once and for all.

So I realized that maybe every cloud does have a silver lining and that God’s grace will always show up on time.  It’s easier to believe this after the fact, of course – while you’re going through it, all you can see is the storm.  But I’ve come to realize that even on a cloudy day, the sun is shining somewhere in the world. I’ve just to got to sit tight till the rays turn my way again.

surpriseHave you ever wondered what it is that God wants you to do in a given situation?  Why you aren’t hearing him?

Sometimes, I think the moment isn’t right to receive an answer.  Other times, I wonder if we aren’t being open enough to hear him.

I am on the committee working to hire a new pastor for my church. The first thing we had to do was fill out the paper work that candidates looking for a job in our presbytery would see. That meant 15 or so detailed pages about our community, our church, and our mission. What does God want us to do?

Amazingly, we all agreed on one thing.  God doesn’t want us to continue doing the same old same old.  The time is ripe for change.  We need to come up with new ways to interact with and serve our changing community.

Yay!  We got so excited when we realized that we all agreed.  God wants us to change.

Then we stared at each other. How does he want us to change? Who does he want to lead us?

Wow.  Now is the time for us to trust.  Now is the time for us to be open to God’s surprises in our lives.

It sure isn’t easy.  I find myself inching forward, fighting the urge to look back over my shoulder to the old ways, the comforting ways and the ways that are familiar.

Stepping through the gate before me is going to take some guts, but I have the comfort of knowing that I’m not walking alone.  He is leading me if I will only follow.

–SueBE

childrenAs I was reading some blogs this week, I spotted yet another post about setting a good example for your children.  “Be careful what you do,” warned the blogger.  “They’re paying attention.  They are going to learn from you.  This means that if you want them to be Godly, be a good example.”

That’s true, but if all you do is lead, you may be missing an opportunity to learn.

No one was more relieved than my family when the school year ended a few weeks ago. With it we had a break from the bullying problem my son has endured throughout the school year.  Unfortunately, both boys are on the same sports teams so we only had a few days respite while the other boy was out of town.

Still, a few days in peace is a few days without conflict. We talked about the situation and prayed.  What should we do?

The day the other boy was due back, my son sat down at the breakfast table.  “I’ve really missed him as a friend. If he’s done with whatever his has been, I’m willing to be friends but just at practice at first.”

Fortunately, I had food in my mouth because my first thought was neither polite nor godly.  Really? After all the grief that child has caused?  Is that smart?  Still, if my son was willing to bury the hatchet, it was his choice. I wasn’t coming around fast but I was determined not to aggravate the situation.

After dropping him off, I ran a few errands.  Of course, because that’s how my luck runs, I ran into the other mom. I could pretend not to see her or really and truly bury the hatchet so I asked about their trip.

Would I have done this without my son’s good example?  I’d love to say that I would, but I doubt it.  Avoiding her would have been too easy.

Fortunately, when I’m too stubborn to hear the truth, God calls in the troops and send me lessons through my son. I do my best to be a good example, but I’ve also learned to pay attention when he has something godly to say.

–SueBE

So I was at the dentist’s office, getting my teeth cleaned (isn’t that how all great stories start?), when the dental hygienist told me about something strange that had happened to her. It occurred some years ago, back when her four boys were all teenagers — and acting like it. On a particularly brutal day, when typical teen moodiness, aggression and hijinks seemed at an all-time high, my dental hygienist decided she’d had enough. While driving down Douglas Avenue, she paused in front of Blessed Sacrament Church. I’ll let her tell the rest: “Suddenly, a dove, a white dove, appeared in front of my window, silhouetted by the sun, with light all around it. It flew along next to me for several blocks, and I was overcome with a feeling of peace.”

I was dazzled by this story, not just because I’ve personally driven down that stretch of Douglas Avenue 10,000 times since we moved to this town with nothing appearing in front of me except jay-walking Catholics, but by the almost cinematic perfection of it. A white dove surrounded by dazzling light? Check. A miraculous change of attitude? Double check.

I found myself envious of this woman’s experience, envious of such a dramatic show of God’s love and concern for all of us. Most of us don’t get gifts like this. But we do experience God’s love. We just see it in more subtle ways: In the beauty of nature, in a smile from a stranger. Still, wouldn’t it be nice to get a dramatic dove story — just once in our lives?

Of course, I wouldn’t know a dove from an albino pigeon. And if something — even the Holy Spirit — suddenly appeared in front of my windshield, my reaction would more likely be a shriek than anything else. Maybe that’s why I don’t get dove-moments.

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about miracles. Why do they happen? How do they happen? I can’t pretend to know. But I can muse on it. So here goes.

Miracle

You can shout, stomp your feet.
Or hone yourself to holiness,
thin and translucent as a paper saint.
Sometimes it will come.

Other times, it arrives,
like a perfect snowflake
on the collar of your coat,
unbidden.

You will flick it away.
Or you will let it melt on your fingertip,
watching solid turn to liquid,
its own little miracle,
and you will know:
Sometimes for a moment
we are each extraordinary.

worshipIf you think that my word for the overwhelmed person is stress, think again.  We all have enough of that, thank you.

No, my word is worship.

The reality is that some stress is unavoidable.  I just finished a contracted job, writing a high school level book on the ancient Maya.  From first contact to delivery of the finished product, I had 6 weeks.  I’d love to say that there were no difficulties but you can’t take on a project like that without some stress.  But it wasn’t as bad as I expected.

We ate a lot of quick and simple meals. People who asked me to take something else on got a firm NO.  Some of them had to hear it more than once, but I can repeat myself quite well.  I am a mom.

But I also didn’t cut myself off from other people.  I met a friend for lunch.  I did things with my family including scouting events and school events.  And I still went to church.  That said, my pastor was surprised to see me there 7 days before the big deadline.

“I’ve been reading your posts on Facebook,” she said.  “I thought you’d be home working.”

If I had done that, the stress would have been much worse.  Worship provides me with time away from the day-to-day.  I don’t have to look at the laundry that isn’t folded, the pages left to write or the messages I need to return.

Our services include some quite time to simply sit and be with God.  For these few minutes, I could sit and be.  I could sit and listen.  I could absorb.

And, last, but not least, worship provided me with the prayer and music that turns my focus back to God.

If you are feeling stressed, worship.  It may mean something different for you than it does for me, but it will turn your focus to Him and open your heart and soul to his Love.

–SueBE

Women are riding a brief tide of empowerment. In the aftermath of the Elliot Rodgers murders (and other world events), people are talking openly about sexism, misogyny and the plight of women around the world. This is a good thing.

But why am I bringing this up on a blog reserved for spiritual matters? Because God is a feminist. (Yup, you read that right.) Ignore the sexist stuff in the Old Testament (which was written by and for men alone). And don’t be fooled by what years of editing have done to the apostle Paul’s letters — I, for one (and I’m not alone), can’t believe that the same Paul who praises several female apostles as being superior to him could be the same Paul who turns around and tells women to be more like plants. Forget that stuff. And forget, while you’re at it, what you think of when you hear the word “feminist.”

Feminists have been figuratively tarred and feathered, defamed as being man-haters; hairy, angry, rude. That’s not what feminism is about. Feminism (and listen up here, especially you millennials), merely asserts that women should have the same rights that men do. Feminism is about the fact that a woman will make almost half a million dollars less in her lifetime than a man doing the same job would. It’s about women in countries around the world who aren’t permitted to vote, or drive a car, or choose the person they wish to marry. It’s about girls being abducted and tortured for the crime of getting an education.

God doesn’t want anyone to be “less than,” to be hurt or subjugated. God is about love. God hurts in response to the things discussed on #yesallwomen. God does not want anyone to be victim-shamed, to grow up afraid, to worry that they have no say over their own bodies. Anyone who loves women — as God surely does — is a feminist.

So now that we’re talking about the problem, what next? Do something about it. Here are a few suggestions: Don’t vote for male politicians who think they know what’s best for a woman’s body. Think about sponsoring a girl in a third-world country through a reliable charity, as I am thinking of doing. (Surprise, honey!) Most of all, don’t let the conversation stop. Just like all conversations about inequality and social injustice, this one needs to continue if we’re going to take steps to really change it.

God loves men and women. And until we stand together as equals, love cannot flourish.

Jesus PrayerOur house is rapidly turning into the hang out for my son’s friends. I work from home which you might think would cramp their style, teen boys that they are. But even the boys who could stay home with no parents and no supervision, end up over here.

The funny thing is that I’ve never had a boy related problem although I have had problems with a parent or two. Once in a blue moon, I’ve had a mom point out that she wouldn’t let this kid or that kid hang out at her house. “He’s a little rough.” “His mother has a past.”

The thing is, I look beyond the sins of their fathers and their mothers. I look at more than their big, gruff demeanors.

Instead, I get to know the boys. The kitchen opens into the family room so I can ask them questions while I’m fixing them something to eat. And God always helps me see them as who they are – His Children.

Given how judgmental adults can be, I shouldn’t be surprised when every now and then one of the boys deiced to test me and see if I’m one of those adults. “Yeah, I’ve only been in the area for a couple of years. When I was in grade school, Mom got into drugs and moved us to Hannibal. Now I’m back with my dad. I hate Hannibal.”

I’d love to say that I came up with something brilliant. That’s what I’d like to say, but I’m not that smooth. “I’ve been to Hannibal.” Genius. Pure genius.

Yet, somehow I passed the test. Although he had to leave briefly after dinner, he came back for three more hours.  He told my son he wants to hang out this summer.  When he left, he shook my hand and my husband’s hand and thanked us for our hospitality.

Many of these boys aren’t perfect, but then neither am I. I just hope that they can hold off judging me. After all, we are all God’s children, flawed but loved. All that God asks is that we love each other in return.

–SueBE

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