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Oh, son.  Angel I love. Light of my life!

Mom here. AKA, the Noodge. The Inquisitor. The Eye-roll Evoker!

Son, it’s about time that you and I have a heart-to-heart. Before you get all verklempt, no.  I’m not talking the Birds and the Bees. (Or, as we say in Joizey, da Boyds n da Beez.)

Nah, we’ve already done that.  Earned myself a good dozen eye-rolls with that lovely little convo. I’m talking about a serious sit-down about Big Stuff. Like, What You Want Out of Life. Every young bird has to leave the nest eventually, and once they do, they learn how to fly.

You’re going to have to support yourself someday, so here are your options:

□ Marry into Money. (Just joking. We mustn’t be so shallow! Unless you are and you do. In which case, buy me a little cottage with your wife’s bags of dough. XO♥)

□ Invent an App for Gullible People with Expendable Cash, like Stripper Name Roulette (using the name of your first pet and the street you grew up on.) Mine is Sheena Orchard.

□ Take aptitude tests online and figure out what you’d like to do for a living, with this one caveat: it should be something you love to do. Keep in mind that the old saw is true (no, that’s not me, shnookums. I’m the old bat! An old saw is a cliché.) If you love what you do for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Remember to treat people the way you’d want them to treat you. This is called “the Golden Rule” and you’ll recognize when others do it by the way they shine and sparkle. Respect yourself as well. Always do the right thing.

Treat your body as the temple it is – you’ll be driving that vehicle for the rest of your life. So fuel it up properly and maintain it so it lasts a good long time. A healthy body and a positive attitude will take you far.

Now remember: no matter how old you get, you’ll always be my baby boy. And no matter where you go, I’ve always got your back. I believe in you. Believe in yourself.

Go out and conquer the world now, son. And don’t forget to call me every once in a while! If I don’t pick up, I’m probably at Bingo, so just leave a message. Remember always, you are blessed, beloved and believed in. Be about it now.

You’ve got this.

Love, Ma.

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I’ve always been both fascinated and horrified by the story of Lot’s wife.  For those of you who don’t remember the story (Genesis 19), God allows Lot and his family to flee the city of Sodom before it is destroyed, but they are warned not to look back.  Lot’s wife looks back, someone had to do it, and she’s turned into a pillar of salt.

Wow.

As a kid, this story really freaked me out. One mistake.  No second chances.  No grace.  Pillar of salt.

As an adult, I’ve come to suspect that Lot’s wife did it to herself. Things had been going downhill in Sodom for a long time.  It was not a nice place and the destruction was coming, but God gave her a chance to escape.  He gave her an opportunity for a new beginning. Instead of moving boldly toward, she looked back.

It doesn’t say so, but I suspect this wasn’t a simple glance.  This was someone whose focus was on the ‘then’ vs the ‘now.’

How often do we do this to ourselves? Whether the problem is flagging membership in the contemporary church, the effectiveness of our schools, or gun violence, we go on and on about how things used to be.

I didn’t realize how debilitating this could be until my son said something the other day.  “When people go on about how bad the schools are, and they’re talking about my school, or how pathetic the church is, and this is the church I go to, they make me feel awful. I’m there. I’m doing my best, but somehow I’m not good enough. I’m not giving up on them but they’re pissing me off.”

He wasn’t talking about people who aren’t part of the school or part of the church.  He was talking about people on the inside. Instead of looking for a way to blossom and grow, like Lot’s wife, we look back. Do it too long and we’ll be stuck that way.

It isn’t an easy habit to break, but it helps that I live with a teenager.  With some serious eye rolling on his part, I manage to get myself turned around and looking for the Path that will lead me to where God would have me go, the path to a new tomorrow.

–SueBE

Whoever said April was the cruelest month never met May 2015. Weather reports that make Chicken Little sound like a meteorologist: “The sky is falling!” Bad news from all corners. A general air of distress.

God sees it all. But God sees more than we do, too. Consider the old canard (I paraphrase): What the caterpillar considers the end of the world, the butterfly calls life. Or something like that. Yeah, it’s not a big comfort to the caterpillar, but it speaks to what God sees. God is a big picture person.

Consider a masterpiece of pointillism, like Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Focus in on the face of one of the figures, Ferris Bueller-style. Skin becomes dots of tan, brown, pink, white. We are those dots. Yes, we are each eminently important, but what we all comprise together is more so.

What each of us dots considers a tragedy may be only a tiny portion of what an overview might show us to be a miracle. Don’t get me wrong. God loves each and every one of us dots. God loves us in our infinite, dotty uniqueness. But God can see further than we can.

What if IS is just a dot in the bigger picture of Islam? What if — long view — they don’t matter much because what they say and stand for is a distortion of the faith they claim to embrace? What if death is a blade of grass among millions? How tragic can our tragedies be when put into this kind of perspective?

 One of my favorite Laurie Anderson songs talks about a dream she had about a horde of people, each crying out, “Look at me! Look at me!” It’s what we dots do. We want our triumphs to be recognized, our hurts to be acknowledged and nursed, our differences to be celebrated. This world is not a great place for that.

But God sees. God sees and loves each tiny dot, while also seeing the masterpiece we are a part of. Because of course the work of God is a masterpiece! We forget that sometimes by wallowing in our own bad patch of happenstance.

I’m not saying you ought not to feel sad sometimes, or angry, or hurt. I’m not saying that what happens to you doesn’t matter. I’m merely suggesting that as awful as the “right now” is, the long view might be just fine. Great, even. Give your burdens to God and watch what happens to them.

God doesn’t expect us to see what God sees, and that’s a good thing. But God wants us to know that God’s-self is on the case. God’s looking at the big picture, and it’s lovelier than any work of art on earth. Sometimes it helps to remember that.

When I first moved into my humble house in the suburbs some twenty years ago, I was glad that the neighbors were nice. They would wave hello, and occasionally, we’d chat over the fence of our houses. One neighbor, however, was an older gentleman who always seemed to have a sour expression.

One day, I had to drop off something at a friend’s house. I pulled my car out of the driveway but didn’t close my garage door, as I was coming right back. When I returned a few minutes later, I was surprised to see my cranky neighbor, sitting in the middle of my garage in my lawn chair, looking stern.

“Shouldn’t leave your garage door open, miss. Anyone can just walk in.”

“Apparently,” I said.

He got up slowly, as he had some physical ailments. He explained that he had seen that my garage door was open and wanted to make sure that no one wandered in to take anything.

“You don’t need to do that,” I told him.

“That’s what neighbors are for,” he said.

“No, really. I’d prefer that you not do that. Thanks.”

“It really isn’t a problem,” he said.

I shook my head at him. “It is for me,” I said.

He walked back home, right next door, looking pleased with himself, as if he had helped out a neighbor.

It was as if he didn’t hear me when, in essence, I had said, you might think you’re helping by protecting me from intruders. Newsflash, dude: you’re the intruder. I didn’t ask you to go into my garage, and since you’re cranky and kind of creepy, you’re the one making me uncomfortable. Go away now.

If I’m being honest, this is how I feel when people come to my door to share their religion with me.

SueBE hit it on the head with her excellent post this week. Reaching out to help people with their basic needs – clean water, housing, food – that’s faith that heals. And if someone asks about the church that does such good works? Awesome. To me, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But I’ve had vanloads of Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door almost monthly for as long as I’ve lived on my block. Once, I told them that a blood transfusion had saved my life when my appendix ruptured in my youth. Would they rather I had died, since their religion bans transfusions? Well, perhaps it was God’s will that you should die, and you circumvented it, they said. Okay. Way to reach out with love, pals!

And my beloved cousin (God rest) sent Mormon missionaries to my door routinely when we were teen-agers. I told her to cut it out, but she kept doing it, so we stopped being pen pals. We re-connected twenty years later, and darned if she didn’t do the same thing to me again!

To me, faith is a deeply personal journey. You’d have to have walked in my shoes and experienced exactly what I’ve been through in my life. And still, you might reach a different conclusion. It would never occur to me to show up at your house and try to convert you.

It would be as if somebody has the door to their soul open, and they were waiting for God to walk in and commune with them. And then I show up and sit down in a lawn chair. I say, listen, this is what you should believe. Trust me; I know what’s best for you.

Instead, when God shows up, he doesn’t say, here’s what you should do. He says, here is who you are. You are my child. I am always with you. Come, let us walk the path together.

I’ve learned a few things in my life: never assume you have all the answers, always pray without ceasing, and remember to close that darn garage door. Words of wisdom, learned and earned the hard way!

catalystWhen Pastor Sean told us that he would be sharing the pulpit with a missionary, I cringed. I know that as a Christian I’m supposed to be all gung ho about missionaries and evangelism, but I cringed nonetheless.

Maybe it’s my background in history and anthropology, but when I hear about missionaries I always think “rice bowl Christians.”  In Imperial China, missionaries would come in and offer to feed the poor, but only if they converted. Traditional Chinese called these people “rice bowl Christians” It’s that “I’m right, you’re wrong, I have food, you have hunger” approach to mission that makes me flinch.

Then Sean introduced us to Pastor Juan, the evangelism catalyst for Presbyterian World Mission.

Yeah, I didn’t have any clue what it meant either, so I kept quiet and tried not to draw attention while I listened.  He talked about the Presbyterian Church, as moderates, being invited into Egypt to help create change for the better.

He talked about missionaries going into communities and sitting down and talking to the people.  What are your problems?  What do you need?

He talked about building schools and helping children learn.  He talked about clean water and safe food and housing. His enthusiasm was obvious as he told us about helping people all over the world and in our own communities simply by doing Christ’s work.

Finally, he also talked about people coming to the church.  Yes, they want the education and the water, but they also want to know more about the One who has inspired people to help so much.

The term missionary still makes me cringe.

But the thought of being a Christian catalyst? An agent for change in a troubled world?  That sounds like something I could do.

–SueBE

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is going to be sentenced to death. I can understand how this might bring some people a measure of peace. He does not seem to be repentant, after all. His family suffers from an acute sense of denial. Yet, had I been a juror, I would have pushed for life over death. I guess it all comes down to this for me: The very groundwork of my faith, which tells me I ought not to hurt other people, no matter what. I retrench this idea in myself as though I am speaking to a child:

But what if a person wants to hurt others?
You must not hurt anyone.

But what if that person wants to kill others?
You must not hurt anyone.

But what if that person wants to kill ME?
You must not hurt anyone.

It is not an easy lesson to apply to daily life. When we hurt, we want to hurt those who caused the hurt. Simple. But just as kicking the desk you accidentally bumped into exacerbates the pain of no one but yourself, so does striking back at an enemy. It lowers you to your most bestial level. It suffocates your soul.

Nonviolence against oppressors may be the more painfully patient route — often it does not see results in a timely fashion — but it has worked for some of the greatest historical figures: Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi, even Muhammad himself. (The Arabic word for nonviolence as a life decision is, in fact, islam.)

I am reading a book about the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by Labor leaders. In many ways, this case resonates with the Tsarnaev case. The perpetrators in both cases felt that their deed was a necessary protest. In the Times case, the protest was on behalf of the working man. Harrison Gray Otis, the publisher of The Times, was (by all accounts) a particularly odious individual who — like many capitalists of the time — cared only for profit. (By that, I mean profit at any cost — even the health and well-being of his workers.) He was vehemently anti-union. The bombing killed 21 people, and did nothing to advance the cause of Labor. Rather, it set it back. The men behind the bombing received jail sentences, despite the fact that plenty of people wanted them to hang for it. Had my loved ones been among the dead, I might have, too.

But that would not be right. We must learn this, to our shame, over and over again. I do not look forward to the endless appeals that Tsarnaev is likely to make. I would rather say, “We are not like you. We do not kill.”

Because killing is always wrong.

Picture for Karma Post

Today, I noticed a husky trotting around the outside of my house to the fence in the side yard. It took me a second to realize that it was a neighbor’s dog named Karma. Many years ago, whenever he got out of his yard, he would cheerfully bound over to our fence and gaze lovingly at my dog, Sheena. Her tail would wag and they would “play-bow” to each other on opposite sides of the fence. After a few minutes of this sweet interaction, Karma would trot off, heading happily toward home. Sheena would watch him wistfully, never taking her eyes off of him until he was well down the road out of sight.

My Sheena has been gone for four years now, and I have to admit, seeing Karma again brought a tear to my eye. That’s Sheena, in the backyard in the picture, above.

Still, it made me happy that someone else remembers my girldog and thinks of her as fondly as I do, even all these years later. I said to my son, this sounds like the opening line of a novel: that was the morning that Karma came back.

And of course, it made me think of how we remember the people and pets we love after they’re gone. I’ve often felt that I didn’t fully appreciate them while they were here. But in the moment, with all the obligations and family-raising and bills to pay, we did the best we could.

The visit from an old four-legged friend reminded me not to grieve anew every time I think of those I’ve lost, but to remember the warm, fuzzy things: Sheena’s playful spirit and unconditional love (for me and for muffins!)

The way my father used to stand outside the garage of their house when I was coming over for a visit, where I’d pull up my car. I used to think it was his way of chiding, “You’re late!” but it was really his way of saying, “You’re the highlight of our day! Couldn’t wait for you to get here.”

My mother, quoting a favorite funny line from an old sitcom I’d never seen (“Azusa, Anaheim and Cucamonga!”) She’d also ask me every single time I’d visit, “Hey Ruth, have you got gas?” She meant in the car but I’d always punch my stomach and say, “Just a bit of agita, Mom.” She’d pretend to be exasperated with me, but she was smiling.

My cousin, Elaine, who even at our age (well into our “cougar” years) had a crush on actor Jason Momoa, and would send me email updates about his latest projects as if I was his biggest fan. I still wasn’t sure who he was until he had a role on Game of Thrones.

It was a crystal clear spring day when Karma came back. Everything was still and cool. There was no particular seismic shift in the planet. Just a small, sweet poke from Providence to be thankful for the people and pets I’ve loved and lost. Even though I don’t have a photographic memory, today, I was blessed with a photogenic memory. Beautiful times were all I could remember.

Recently, a friend told me that he is looking for a new job. Would I pray for him?

“Of course!” That’s what I said aloud, but that’s not what I wanted to say. No, no, no!

The chances that this friend will find a new job here are pretty slim. He is probably going to have to move far, far away. The reality is that what is best for him isn’t what I want.

The same day, joy oh joy, I found out that one of my son’s favorite teachers is leaving. He hadn’t told anyone, but his job was posted on the district web site. This teacher is also a friend and I knew I should pray for him. I knew that but at this point I was just in a mood.

Hint: When I say that I am in a mood, I do not mean a good mood. Honestly.

Still, I managed to pray. How do you pray when you want to pray for people to get it together and quit making you sad? You remember that you’re a grown up and that what you want may not be what’s best for other people.

Dear Lord,
I’m not sure what to say. Please help him grow into the person you would have him be and go where he can best do your work. And, God? Please give me the strength to not be a whiner about the whole thing. Thy will be done, Lord. Thy will be done.
–Amen

I have to admit, I’m always hesitant to tell God how to fix a problem. I tend to suspect that my instructions will be in my best interests and quite possibly not in the best interests of those for whom I pray.

As a Mom and a friend, sometimes I just have to get with it and pray for what is truly best for someone else even when it makes me a little blue. Thy will, not my will, Lord.

–SueBE

It is the Mobius strip of faith: God is most present to us when we are most present for ourselves. Easier said than done. Most of us can scarcely afford to be present: We are too hard at work doing, our every waking moment a list to be dutifully checked off. The only time our souls get taken out of mothballs is for a few flickering seconds a week, perhaps during church services, perhaps in a moment of astonishment at what spring has wrought, perhaps in a loving embrace.

The medical community has voiced alarm at the amount of time most of us sit during the day. Sitting raised blood pressure, they warn. Desk workers suffer heart attacks at a higher rate than active workers. So goes it with our souls. Used infrequently, they wither. It is only in their regular exercise that we find peace.

How does one exercise one’s soul? Through the act of being present. Present to the world around us, to our bodies, to other people, to God. In other words: Wake up, you sleepyheads! Rub your eyes! Get out of bed! All this stuff that’s happening around you is just that — stuff. The focus you bring to it, now that’s living.

Imagine taking one day during which you are forced to provide an intention for your every action. The results would either stultify or stun you. Yes, a lot of what we do is born of practicality: earning a living, eating, drinking, sleeping when tired. It is easy to begin to believe that all of that stuff is a life. It isn’t. Life boils down to the moments that you decide to see, to experience, to be here now. And when you show up, surprise! You’ll find God was waiting for you all along.

Today, I’d like you to ask yourselves the following questions (based on a TED talk by Hank Green): Who am I? What do I do? Who do I do it for? Who benefits from what I do? Don’t like the answers? Change them.

Dare to awaken to even a portion of your own life. You will find yourself there; but what’s more, you’ll find God.

Most mornings, I’ll fix myself a nice, piping-hot cup of coffee, but today, I poured myself a tall glass of Whine. I was out of coffee pods, and wouldn’t be able to have my coffee. Well, how do you like that?!? I said to no one. I promoted myself to head of the Complaint Department and huffed for a minute. What a bummer! Now I can’t start my day right!

Luckily, I realized the whole little drama was self-induced, and quite ridiculous. It only lasted a few seconds, really, and – thankfully – no one was there to witness it or post it on YouTube.

In a way, what I was doing was Stressing over Blessings. Here I am, in a house in the suburbs, standing in the kitchen next to a refrigerator filled with food. Still have my leftover lemon garlic chicken from the crock pot last night. It was awesome, if I do say so myself. We’ve got running water, beds to sleep in, computers and TVs to keep us entertained. What is there, really, to complain about?

Maybe there was Someone there to witness it, and that’s how I came back to my senses. Never underestimate the power of providence. Keeping the lines open to Heaven with perpetual prayer is more than keeping your karma clean. It’s the connection that brings you back to yourself, to your senses, to the good life of blessings. Because your “yes life” is always there until you start focusing on small slights and you say “no” to it.

Last week, there was minor outrage over a wheelchair-bound contestant on The Price is Right winning a treadmill, which she couldn’t use. But the winner herself really was a winner. She had a great attitude and said she’d just use it as everyone else did – as a clothes rack.

So in life, when stuff happens, don’t take it personally. It’s just the luck of the draw. It’s not God, removing his favor from your life. It’s not a black cloud or a voodoo doll, or a gremlin bursting your bubble. It’s just a moment, and it too, shall pass. As a character on The West Wing once said, sometimes, there’s no victims; only volunteers. Now that’s a tour of duty you don’t want to sign up for!

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