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Looking at my cat, sleeping peacefully this afternoon, I was in awe of his amazing ability to sleep deeply within seconds of climbing onto the couch. That’s a great skill to have, I thought.

Stretch/yawn. Curl up. Down for the count!

I’d love to be able to unplug and decompress like that.

The other thing I noticed was that KitKat’s whiskers are a good four inches across. Man. How does that not bother him? I thought. I mean, I can’t even when my bangs are just a tad too long. And Heaven forbid they grow so long as to fall into my eyes. I will take the scissors in my own hands and chop away. That, of course, doesn’t always end well!

Even though it’s only a few square inches of real estate, those bangs can actually affect my mood for the whole day. I won’t feel quite like myself if my bangs aren’t “banging” as I head out into world.

Isn’t it true that we go to great lengths in caring for our hair, but sometimes forget to put that same energy into caring for our souls?

It may seem like a luxury to sit with the Bible and pray or meditate. We might believe that doing things that light us up from the inside – whether it be writing poetry, drawing in charcoal, sculpting – are mere indulgences, but these things are critical to the care and feeding of your soul.

Sitting in stillness, spending time with God and a cup of tea is a spiritual booster shot. You’ll see things more clearly if you curl up next to the cat and read sacred books that inspire you. It’ll bring back your passion to return to those dreams you held dear in your heart but never pursued.

So why not schedule a sit-down with your own soul and get back to the source of your strength?

It’s as effective as a cat-nap and a day at the salon, all rolled into one!

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photo copyright 2011 Guppydas Flickr

photo copyright 2011 Guppydas Flickr

“May the grace of the Lord, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forever.” I’m used to hearing this in church.  Many weeks this is how Pastor Sean ends the service, sending us out into the world.

So I was a little surprised to read a very similar version in an e-mail. I’ve subscribed to Bible Gateway’s Verse of the Day.  I look for this email message daily because it’s amazing how often it’s just what I need.

What I didn’t realize was that this part of our worship service is based on a Bible verse, specifically 2 Corinthians 13:14.  In this chapter, Paul encourages the Corinthians to pull themselves through difficult times. Then he points out that he has been given the authority by God not to tear people down, but to build them up.

Times are tough.  But you can do it.

Build people up instead of tearing them down. Share with them the blessing of God. Imagine the reputation that the church and Christians would have if this was truly our focus.

Imagine it.  Come on, you can do it.  And, before you go?

“May the grace of the Lord, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forever.”

–SueBE

Pope Francis is in America! Alleluia!

Of course, what he has to say doesn’t sit well with everyone. Someone over at Fox has already decried him as a “false prophet,” because Francis chooses to talk about stewardship of the earth and refuses to withhold forgiveness to those whom a certain segment of inflexible Pharisees think ought to be punished for life. (Hint: The “guilty” are all women. And I put that word in quotes because who am I to judge?) Others, on the most liberal end, complain that Francis doesn’t say enough — about women in the Church, about abuse of children by priests. Poor Francis. The guy can’t win.

And yet he has won, by choosing his topics and sticking to them tenaciously. He cannot be everything to everyone, and he knows this. So he looks to Christ and chooses two places where we humans consistently fall down: In care of the poor and in care of our planet. In both cases, we allow greed to supersede the greater good. And, as anyone who listened to the Pope’s speech to Congress knows, Pope Francis stands for the greater good.

He also stands for the Golden Rule. “This Rule points us in a clear direction,” said Francis in his Congressional speech. “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.”

What does all this mean? It’s simple. If the United States were in terrible turmoil, was a place in which you could not make a living, a place where you were in daily danger of being killed by the government, how would you want the people of other countries to receive you?

If you were chosen as guardian of something that needed to endure for countless generations to come, how would you treat that thing? Would you exploit it for a quick buck now, or treat it with gentleness and care?

If you were a sinner — and we all are — would you want forgiveness? Is there anything that God cannot forgive?

What Francis speaks is Christ-centered, Gospel-centered common sense. Let us rejoice that we have a Pope who speaks for the poor, who challenges those in power, who will not be shut up by nay-sayers who call him a false prophet.

Because that’s just what they said about Jesus.

 

“You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.

Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else’s path.

You are not on your own path.

If you follow someone else’s way,
you are not going to realize
your potential.”

Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work

As I read an article entitled, Inmates at California Prison ask Guards to Keep Quiet,  I thought, they did the crime, they should do the time, but it may be that the guards were being loud all night on purpose so that the inmates could never get to sleep. What is the truth? A spokeswoman representing correctional officers declined to comment. (Um…isn’t that an oxymoron?) Both sides see the situation through their own lens and they tell the tale in their own way.

Sometimes we tell a story in our own idiom, and it might not compute for everyone. On the BBC show,  Cybercrimes with Ben Hammersley, the host recounted a crime in which a Brooklyn gang systematically robbed $300,000 from New York City ATM machines on one day in 2013. Hammersley spoke of the moment they were captured, referring to it as a “kerfuffle in a carpark,” and I had to pause the show for a minute. I needed to break that down in my mind.

We’re talking Brooklyn, Ben. They’re called “parking lots” here in the states, and I seriously doubt locals would ever use the word “kerfuffle.”  I know I never have! What is that, anyway? It sounds like something fluffy that you wear, or perhaps dust with!

Somebody is going to tell your story one day, and it might not be the truth as you lived it. If someone made a map of your life, they still might not end up where you are.

Tell your own story now. Walk your own path. Write it down while it’s still true. Over time, details are forgotten and eventually, somebody else is going to presume to speak for you in your silence or absence. Why not be the one to tell the world who you are?

Let’s let the late, great writer, Maya Angelou have the last word on the subject. Speak for yourself and tell it like it is, she said, or you’ll live to regret it.

“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.  There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Hope has been described as a winged thing. It is elusive. It requires continuous fostering, like a weak flame, yet it can shore us up against a mountain of doubt and pain. But what is hope, really? And how does one find it or hold on to it when it seems so very far away?

In Greek myth, hope is the last thing remaining in the box that the curious Pandora opens. Every sort of evil is loosed upon the world, but at least hope is retained. The myth is imbued with a deep truthfulness: Hope is often the last weapon in our arsenal, the last crumb remaining once we realize our entire metaphoric package of crackers has gone missing.

Hope is an awareness of God’s continued presence in our lives, whether that presence is felt through the direct actions of others or merely understood dimly and intangibly. That’s the best definition I’ve got. Some of my friends are hard-pressed for hope these days. Things around them appear bleak. All that I can genuinely offer is a listening ear and faith God’s providential care. I believe in hope. Sometimes this must suffice.

A lot of people have written a lot of things about hope. Here is my addition, a prayer for two friends who dearly need it.

Dear Souls,
the last thing in the box
is the first you require.
Here, take mine.
I keep it in abundant supply,
filed neatly between faith and prayer.
It is cupped in a hand, like water to parched lips.
May God, my provider,
give you much to drink.

 

My son and I ordered Chinese food last week, and the fortune cookie read, “That thing you did recently was a big mistake. Now what will you do?!?”

I realized later the big mistake was ordering the chow mein. Ba-dum-bum!

The horoscope for my sign yesterday said, “Well, you may as well just pull up the covers and stay in bed today! Nothing’s going to work out as planned!”

The only bad thing that happened was that my local farm market had closed down. Bad luck for them, I think, but for me? No Jersey tomatoes today. Whatever will I do?!?

So much of life is about screening out the static in your day. Somebody is always griping about something. It seems that the ones yelling the loudest get the most attention. And often, there’s an “expert” around to tell you how you should be living, eating, dressing…even thinking.

An article the other day told me that my cat probably doesn’t really love me after all. I also read another post that said it’s uncommon for cats to snore. Oh, my stars. Studies have shown, so what’re you gonna do? Guess I’ll have to take their word for it! Feh.

It’s fine to take in information from all sources, but never discount the depth of your own experience. For example, I know for a fact that some cats snore. In fact, my cat snores so much – and in so many different “tones”, if you will – that his full name is KitKat J. Snorington. Because his “thing” is snoring. A ton.

KitKat snores at the drop of a hat. Eyes open, at times. Mouth open, often. He snores in a singsong tone, or with a guttural growl. Once, I thought someone was talking to me. I actually walked around the room to see what the heck was going on, until I realized my cat was talk-snoring, like a person. Must be a multi-tasker, because he was sleep-running at the same time.

So let the experts write their articles and tell you what they’ve learned. But form your own opinions about how to live. Before long, the pointless punditry may have to find another way to earn a living. PS Today, you will receive an unexpected windfall, you’ll have a good hair day, and we recommend the Moo-Shu.

Worship not performance.

Worship not performance.

We have a new choir director at Florissant Presbyterian Church.  This may not be his favorite line in a year, but right now he seems to often say, “Remember, this is worship, not a performance.”

The first time he said it, I didn’t quite get it.  Of course, it’s worship.  We’re here.  In church.

As I’ve heard this repeated over the last few weeks, my understanding has deepened.

In a performance, the focus is on the artist.  This is me, strutting my stuff.  Look at me!   Hear me!   Aren’t I amazing?  In a performance, you strive for perfection.  People are here, after all, to see what you can do.

That all changes when it isn’t a performance.

In worship, the focus is on God.  Look at Him.  Hear what He tells us!  Isn’t He Awesome? We are no longer the focus but are instead focusing on our Creator, pointing the way for others.  After all, the people seated throughout the sanctuary aren’t there to hear us strut our stuff.  They are there because they want to have a closer relationship with God.  They too are there to worship.

When we perform, the notes and the timing is vital.  So is our annunciation.  The pressure is on to get it down and to get it perfect.

In worship, the message comes to the foreground.  God is the center of the scripture, of the prayers, of the sermon, of each and every song, and of our every action.

How different would the world be if we could just remember that?

–SueBE

Early in the morning, when I still believe in “best,” I ask God to help me approach the day to the best of my abilities. I am lying. What I really want is for the day to mold itself to my needs, to be easy. This is only one of the lies I tell myself — and God.

If we can’t be honest with God, whom can we be honest with? And yet, so very often, we come to God in disguise, speak with forked tongue, and try to whitewash our faults with excuses. God knows who we are down to our very souls. God can never be fooled by our lies. So why do we bother?

Perhaps we are trying to spare our own feelings. In order to maintain our belief that we are essentially good people, trying hard in difficult situations, we gild the lily a bit. We let our emotional state become reality. What I feel is the truth becomes the truth.

It’s time to get honest with God. Instead of saying, “Thy will be done,” perhaps I need to lay myself bare. “If you presented me with a real challenge, Lord,” I might say, “I would probably try to run away from it. But I don’t want to do that. Help me be stronger.” Instead of pretending to be pious by praying for an enemy, maybe I should just admit it: “I don’t like this person, God. But I need to deal with them in a charitable and fair way. I could really use some direction.”

There is no stigma in revealing ourselves to God. God knows us better than we know ourselves. In letting go of our falsehoods and veneers and showing ourselves as the ugly, sinful, broken things we are, perhaps we can find a clearer route to God. God, after all, loves the ugly, sinful and broken. God takes them in, prodigals all, and lays a feast before them.

The first step to ending any unproductive behavior is admitting it. I am Lori, and I am a sinner. Admitting it does not excuse me. It does not allow me leeway. It demands from me a radical change. Here I am, Lord, warts and all. Use what you can of me. Just help me remain truthful with you. A real, deep and meaningful relationship requires it.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

An email from my son’s school last week informed me that, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act, all students’ names would be supplied to military recruiters unless we specifically requested to opt-out.

I sat with this email for a good, long time, pondering.  It just poked at the Mama Bear in me.

Please! I thought, before I cooled my jets. Please do leave my child behind, if you’re including him in being solicited to serve on a battlefield. Heck, what-say you just put us on your “do not call list.”

Instead, let me offer these options. Perhaps he could:

  • Play Twister with a rabid porcupine.
  • Hang glide off of the roof of our house into a pile of bubble wrap.
  • Show up at Donald Trump’s news conference and offer him some hair gel.

(Pausing for deep breathing exercises…)

Okay. I’m back now.

It’s amazing how the intent of an idea can translate into something completely unintended. It reminds me of the way people of faith sometimes use scripture for their own purposes.

Just because you found a passage in the Bible doesn’t mean God intended you to use his words against anybody. You don’t have the right to ostracize, exclude or judge and say you’re speaking for the Maker of All Things. That’s not faith; that’s negativity. It’s bad manners, dressed up in their Sunday best.

People can try to sell you a bill of goods, wrap it up with a bow and call it a present, but you know the truth.

There’s only one way to pray: from the heart.

And only one path to peace.

In a word: grace.

Or, to put it another way… No Child of God Left Behind.

Because I am a freelance writer, I am often conscious of God’s movement through my work and my life.  When an assignment ends or a publisher closes down, I am consistently blessed with new work. Just this week, an editor contacted me and wanted to know if I would write a group of educational activities for their company.

How does this show God at work? I hadn’t written for this company in over a year. Attempts to reach my editor had consistently failed. This person contacted me out of the blue.  As if this wasn’t enough, this job is just what I needed.

The furor over Black Lives Matter was exhausting.  Every day since, it has been harder to work.  I needed a break.  I needed to write something less weighty.

Don’t get me wrong.  This new job is important.  Kids need to learn and often adult family members want to help but don’t know quite how to do it.  They can turn to Education.com and find age appropriate reading and math activities, science and art projects. These activities matter but they are also a lot of fun.

When I write, I am able to bring something new into the world.  Presbyterians believe that through our work, we are co-creators. We aren’t creating galaxies or a universe but through us and our labors we enable people to see God.

It doesn’t matter if you are educated and working in an office or if you are working a blue collar job. Do your work well. Do your work with integrity.  Through you people will see a glimpse of someone bigger than us all.

As if doing your paying work well wasn’t enough, I have another job for you.  As you go through the upcoming week, see those laboring around you. Whether it is the young man who bags your groceries or the high school resource officer, they also reflect the Lord. Look for the spark that they carry.

–SueBE

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