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A-Manifesto-for-A-Simple-LifeLate Saturday night, I saw a post on Facebook.  “A Manifesto for a Simple Life.”

It isn’t a Bible verse or a religious saying but it is powerful stuff.  I’ve seen the evidence.

Over the last few weeks, even amid the unrest in our immediate area, we’ve repainted the dining room, refinished the floors and moved out some of the furniture. The clutter is gone and you can walk around the entire table.  That’s right.  All the way around.

What have I noticed about this leaner, meaner dining room?  It’s where we want to be.  I’ve taken to printing manuscripts out and rewriting in the dining room. My son does his homework in there.  My husband sits and reads in the adjoining living room.  That’s where I now knit.

This de-cluttered space pulls us in.

What does this have to do with simplicity and prayer?  Amid protests and riots and screaming headlines, I’ve found it very difficult, if not impossible, to pray.  I’m just to full-up with the misery of it all to pray.  I’m blocked with emotional clutter.

But as we’ve opened up this space in our home, I can move away from the television and the computers.  As I spend time away from the roar, I decompress.  I breathe.  And as I breathe, I pray.

Have you been having trouble praying lately?  Then think about what might be cluttering up your heart and mind.  Maybe you’re in conflict with a coworker or there are problems at your child’s school.  Maybe you are frustrated because you’ve jammed up your schedule to the point that you’re late to everything.

I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy, but find yourself a spot that is uncluttered.  It might be a bench outside your office building.  Or you might sit on the ladder leading up to your kid’s play fort.  Find someplace uncluttered that you can just be.

Take the time to breathe.  As you breathe out, give your heartache and frustration over to God.  As you breathe in, pull in His Grace and His Love.  Don’t wait until you have a free hour.  Start with a free minute or two.  Spend this time breathing.  Spend this time with God.

You’ll be glad that you found at least a few uncluttered, simple minutes.


A man wrote in, asking Dear Abby for her opinion. Should he go on a family cruise without his girlfriend, who can’t come along?

“You and Caitlyn are adults in your 40s… you should be mature enough to discuss this with her without involving me.”

Oh, snap! Somebody’s got a bee in her bonnet.

Another letter writer, a plus-sized woman, asked Abby’s opinion about wearing a bikini at her mother’s house.

“While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks of your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.”

Hey now! Little tact wouldn’t hurt here, Miss Bossypants.

The thing I’ve always admired about Dear Abby is her compassion and common sense. But lately, it almost seems to me that someone else has taken over for the real Dear Abby.  Perhaps her cousin, Dear Crabby.

This version of Abby is judgmental and carping. She’s been terse and snappish lately, and I’ve never noticed that in her columns before.

But then, I suppose as human beings, we go through phases.  Different versions of ourselves.  Sometimes we present our best self to the world.  At other times, not so much.

I’m so glad God isn’t like us in this regard. He never changes with the times or waffles in the wind.  If I’m going to seek counsel anywhere, it’s going to be deep in the heart of scripture. It’s on my knees in prayer.

In the meantime, when dealing with nosy people giving you bad advice in a mean-spirited way, all you need to do is remember that you are completely – and eternally – loved.

And as for Dear Abby? Well, maybe it’s time for her to retire to Boca.

Riots and terrorism and abuse.  How can we hope with these things in the world?

I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t easy.  In fact, some days the world weighs me down, but I’m lucky.  I’m in the choir.

What does that have to do with luck or hope? Today we are singing Be Thou My Vision.

More than a song, Be Thou My Vision is Prayer with a Capital P.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Our choir director prayed this with us Thursday during rehearsal.

I’m asking You. Be my vision.
Be my vision when things are well in my world. Be my vision when things are dark. Be my vision when I am tempted by the things of this world.
Whatever happens, Lord, light my way.
May I see the world and the people in it as you see them.

Sung with this in mind, this anthem lifts your heart toward God. You lift up your listeners as well.

Through song we can share His Blessings with a broken world. Thank you, Lord.



Alarming news abounds. Look at Ferguson. Look at the Middle East. The Children’s Defense Fund recently published a report that states the following horrifying facts: The United States, though first among industrialized nations in military spending and number of billionaires, ranks SECOND TO WORST in child poverty rates (only Romania is worse) and dead last — WORST — in protecting children against gun violence. How is this okay? (Answer: It’s not.) As usual, I turn to poetry to loosen my emotions. Please, everyone, treat each other with kindness. Okay?

There is ice here
and snow and sere
desert; there are children
(all colors) and guns,
explosives. The world
is cracking under the weight
of itself.

Lighter hearts can lift
(like helium) the gravity
of evil; open ears and arms
can hold the load so it
is never too heavy
for one person to bear.

We must approach
one another like hummingbirds,
gently avoiding the buzz of wings
and wait, abiding,
for the right instant
to offer nectar.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV

Flipping through channels on the t.v. the other day, I happened upon a show on a local channel called “The Daily Helpline.” The synopsis said, “topics include quarter-life crises; dealing with the murder of a boyfriend; and preparing for a job interview.”

Well!  There’s a diverse palette for you. First off, I never knew there was such a thing as a “quarter-life crisis.”

And then to put, “dealing with the murder of a boyfriend” right next to “preparing for a job interview”?

I thought, what kind of a world are young people coming into, after all?  I mean, just watching this show, who the heck would sign up for this life anyway?

It’s enough to make you think there’s no hope on earth at all.

It made me wonder if it’s possible to impart hope to our kids, to the people we meet.  To the world at large. After all, we have faith in God, and it gives us the fuel we need to keep going. But some of the people we meet have been disillusioned by religion. How can we break off a little piece of the bread of life without being obnoxious?

One of my favorite teachers was Mr. Moffett, a former Jesuit priest with a wicked sense of humor. He allowed us to ponder weighty questions and speak freely, while he remained light-spirited and kind-hearted. Some of my earliest attempts at writing fiction were not very good, but he critiqued them for me on his own time, and was the first person ever to encourage me to become a writer.

Without my realizing it, this teacher showed me what hope looks like. He was truly in the world but not of it. He had so much to deal with – the bureaucracy of the public school system, unruly students, parents who were not happy with their kids’ grades – but he knew that those small moments of humor, and encouraging us to pursue our dreams, would inspire us and gave us hope for the future. And hope really is what makes life worth living. Now, that was a lesson worth learning.

None of us has all the answers.

The Franciscan Blessing that I posted last week was more meaningful than I could possibly have imagined.  I live in a community that borders Ferguson, Missouri.  Our children go to the same schools.  We shop at the same stores.  Our kids swim on the same teams.  My sister lives in Ferguson.

Given this proximity, I’ve had if not a front seat at least a seat in the first tier. As I’ve listened to the media and read peoples’ comments I’ve been amazed at how quick we are to believe that we know the truth even if we are across the country or across the world.  Somehow, someway we know what happened and what was in peoples’ hearts.

I’ve got to tell you even if you’ve read every news story, you don’t know.  You don’t know because they don’t know.  How can they?  The police don’t know the truth.  The witnesses don’t know the truth.

We don’t know because everyone involved in this is deeply and brokenly biased.  They each have a belief.  They each have an agenda.  And everything they see and hear and speak is filtered through this bias.  As I’ve read and listened and watched, I’ve watched the truth bend and flex.

Sometimes the flexing isn’t in someone else’s reality but in my own. The other night as I skimmed headlines, I caught one that said that meditation had been ordered. What can I say? Every now and again, my dyslexia is not only amusing but right on the mark.  Mediation had been ordered (and, it turned out not to have anything to do with Ferguson).

It wasn’t court mandated but think about how much meditation and prayer would help.  People would have to be quiet, if only briefly.  Without all of the shouting and blaming, they would have a moment to turn to God, the source of Truth and Light.

If we listened to Him, what would we hear?  I suspect that for each of us, it would depend on our biases. I would most likely be reminded to respect authority (Romans 13:1-2).  Someone else might be reminded of His command to love and care for one another (John 13:34-35 and (Matthew 25:40).

Actually, no matter what your bias is I suspect that if you took the time to meditate and pray, you would be told to love and care.  It is in these most terrible moments that this call truly becomes important no matter whose broken truth you accept.


Last Sunday’s gospel reading was particularly apt — Jesus walks on the water. Let me set the scene: The apostles are huddled in a boat on a stormy sea, as lightning crackles and thunder rumbles all around them. It is dark. The sea is writhing with terrible creatures determined to suck the boat under and splinter it like a bone in the teeth of an ogre. And then they see someone — Jesus? — walking on the water, just as if he were strolling down the streets of Jerusalem. It must be a ghost! But no, the apparition speaks to them, tells them not to be afraid. Peter, ever the bonehead, speaks up, “If it’s really you, call me and I will walk on water, too.” Jesus does. Peter starts out. But then he gets distracted by the thunder and the lightning and the roiling of the dark forces under the waves, and he sinks. Like a stone. Jesus, of course, rescues him, and once again, the apostles fail to understand the lesson.

Most of us set out on the sea of life with good intentions. But we get scared when the darkness comes. A majority of us will crowd together in the boat and ride out the storm. Some of us will try to walk, but sink. The weight of the world becomes too heavy to carry, and we slip out of sight. And some few of us will take to the water, navigating the waves as naturally as the path to our front doors. How do those people do it?

I used to think that those who are skilled at walking on water (metaphorically speaking) are so because they never take their eyes off the prize — God. They hear the thunder, see the lightning, know somewhere in the recesses of their minds about what lurks beneath the waves, but they don’t get distracted. They don’t let the water pull them down. This is a simplistic notion. Many things can affect our ability to cope, for instance, illnesses and addictions that sap our strength and change brain chemistry, throwing us off balance. Try walking on water with a millstone like that around your neck.

We mustn’t judge or condemn those who don’t make it. Walking on water is an act of extreme grace. It is a daily miracle. Most of us never have to do it — we just sail along in our fortunate ships. For those who must walk on water, God can be a tremendous resource, a lighthouse beacon, a life preserver. I have experienced this in my own travels. God holds me up.

But I will never be anything but empathetic to those who drown.

Watching the news yesterday, the scroll at the bottom of the t.v. screen said, “Market Crash.”

And I stopped sipping my coffee.

Say what?

I looked outside.  Some macabre part of me was thinking I might see people jumping out windows and others frantically running in the street.

The market crashed? Where was the general panic?

As it turns out, it was an ill-chosen headline.  It actually referred to a hit-and-run driver having crashed into a fruit market.

Phew! I thought. For a minute there, I thought the end was nigh.

And then I heard the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. (Young demographic, please google this reference.)

One woman was killed when this driver crashed into the market.

It really is equally tragic.  One life lost is just as momentous as the whole stock market crashing. For that person, for her family – it really is the end of the world.

Then I read that Robin Williams had ended his life. He brought so much light and laughter into our lives, we never thought he’d leave us this way.

Just as the President announced that we would start airstrikes in Iraq, while at the same time, delivering medical and humanitarian aid, each one of us has a choice.  When we go out into the world, we can bring a bomb or a balm.

Everybody is going through something, even if you can’t see it. Please choose kindness as your default setting. One small word of compassion can make a big difference for those silently suffering through dark nights of the soul. God’s grace is a constantly replenishing resource.  You can give it away and still find your soul filled to overflowing.

I’ve come to believe that tailgaters are lost souls in search of a leader, and this approach has served me well in New Jersey, the most densely-populated state in the country. The minute you leave your own driveway, you have to be prepared for the eventuality that someone in a car behind you will let you know – through, shall we say “auto-body language” – that he or she is in a hurry. Come on, come on!  Haul it, pal!  Get out of the way!

Mobile prayer has helped me with this issue, as has listening to relaxing, classical music. But most of all, I remember that I know the truth. Everybody is going somewhere.  Your destination really is no more important than mine.

I also know a much deeper truth: Everybody has light and dark within them.  It’s just a matter of what you choose to tap into at any given moment.  What you put out into the world is a reflection of what’s inside of you.

In the documentary, “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage,” a fan wanted to get lead singer, Geddy Lee’s, autograph, so she all but climbed over the band’s guitarist, Alex Lifeson, to reach him. Lifeson was not bothered by this interaction – he said, “happens all the time,” and shrugged, but I couldn’t believe the rudeness of that person.

On the flip-side, this clip of Mister Rogers testifying before Congress decades ago to convince them to continue funding public broadcasting is a great example of this truth. He doesn’t let the tough-guy posturing of the senator he’s speaking to change his kind, slow-paced manner at all. Eventually, he wins the man over with his warmth.

I remember once, a woman in a small car on the road behind me was in a big rush. She stuck so close to my bumper that you couldn’t even see the front end of her car.  It was as if she was in the car with me! Oh joy!

We both arrived at the UPS store.  She seemed not to recognize me as the person whose car she was tailgating down that long, winding road, and we entered the store. I got on line and waited to buy stamps. Great.  Now she’s on line behind me.  Gonna tailgate me here in person too, lady?!?

Out of the corner of my eye, I scoped her out.  She seemed fine, if a bit distant – but that’s how we all look when we’re around strangers at the store, isn’t it?

I happened to glance at her shoes and realized that she had found a way to match the unusual turquoise of her outfit and earrings to her shoes.  I thought that was quite an accomplishment, so I threw caution to the wind.

“Your shoes match your outfit exactly,” I said, with a guarded smile. “How did you do that?”

She smiled broadly and said, “Oh! Thank you for noticing! It took a lot of effort, but I like all my things to match.”

We chatted about inane things for a few minutes as we waited on line and I realized again what God has shown me through the years. In the right circumstances, everyone will show up as their best self. But in the anonymity of a car, or online in chat forums, negativity seeps out.

Isn’t it amazing how we don’t give a second thought to the feelings – or safety, for that matter – of the person whose car we are tailgating, but we go to great lengths to look good for strangers?

Maybe with all the clothing-makeover shows on t.v., we could crowdfund a Make-under Show.  Get past the surface, under the skin and into the soul to see how we’re really treating each other. All that matters at the end of the day is the Golden Rule. And – confidentially, I got this from a Very Reliable Source – everything goes with that color.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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