You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2016.

hillsWhen we are in the midst of trouble, whether it is illness or the death of a friend, it can be hard not to focus on our agony and our worries.  I tend to hold my pain close, too close to focus on it but also not letting it go. Fortunately, my husband is better at looking into the distance.

My friend died last Friday and although we had plans to go eagle watching, I wanted to cancel. Wouldn’t it be disrespectful? Staying home sounded really good.

My husband took me along when we dropped our son off at his friend’s, but we didn’t turn toward home.  Instead, we drove through the bottoms and between the rivers. We ended up at a historic fort for . . . can you guess? . . . eagle watching.

We stood on the bluff top in the icy wind and gazed up and down the river.  Geese.  A duck.  Song birds. Conservation agents with spotting scopes peered up and down the nearby riverbank.

Then my husband squinted into the distance. He’d caught sight of long, dark wings. He looked through our binoculars. An eagle! It perched in a tree, all but disappearing from sight. We watched the eagle for an hour, periodically scanning the trees for other telltale signs – white heads and flashes of white tails. Each time we looked back, there was our eagle, perched in the distance.

When we went to the wake, we looked at the pictures of our friend rafting, hiking, and at the Grand Canyon. Out in God’s world, sharing what she loved with those she loved.

Finding God and what is good when times are tough can be tricky. Close at hand, you may not be able to see anything but heartache.  But He is it out there, in the distance. All you have to do is spot Him.

–SueBE

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I’m not going to lie: January 2016 has been — pardon my French — a crapfest. My last surviving uncle was laid to rest, my friend Mary passed away, my best friend’s brother died — suddenly and without warning — and two of my cats are sick, one near death. My father-in-law has been unwell and in the hospital, and I have cellulitis, a staph infection of the skin and tissue, but neither the doctor nor I know why. Bills are mounting; emergencies continue to emerge. What’d I tell you? Crapfest.

Once, many years ago, I was walking through a “haunted house,” staged for Halloween. Some dim bulb decided to paper over the staircase, and I slipped walking down it. Fortunately, the walls were also lined with paper, with hands groping through cut-out holes, in an attempt to scare people. One of these kindly disembodied hands caught me as I fell and held me up. It was a lesson in an unlikely place.

It is hard, when one is in the dark, to imagine light. And yet I believe that February will turn this impending trainwreck of a year around. Or, more precisely, I believe that God will. In any case, I am moving forward.

What lies ahead may be
a pebble or a boulder,
slope or sheer drop.
It is not for me to know.
Faith whispers only this:
put one foot out at a time,
test the air,
put it down. Repeat.
The light will find you.
The floor will hold you.
The roof will not collapse.
There is a hand
waiting in the dark,
fingers tensing for your touch.
Find it.

⌧ Let the cat out. 😺

⌧ Wake my son up. 😑

Checking things off my daily to-do list, I went through my morning routine.

Hold it. That should be “let out the cat.” And, “wake up my son.”

I remembered what my English professor would write in red pen on my papers: “Keep related words together!”

Any language can be hard to learn, but English seems to break its own rules. For instance, all of these words have “ough” in them, yet each is pronounced differently:  

  • doughnut
  • through
  • enough
  • bough
  • thought

And another thing. Why is it: commit perjury yet perform surgery? I think surgery takes more of a commitment than telling a lie. Don’t you? I mean, who wants a non-committal surgeon operating on their spleen? Just saying.

The whole point of language is communication. To connect with people, to hear and be heard. To create a community and listen to each others’ stories.

In the same way, faith is not about the letter of the law. It’s about grace. It’s not about being a stickler for the rules and making sure everyone around you worships, works and walks the same way. It’s about being a blessing and keeping a positive spirit.

So go ahead. Split the infinitive if you choose. Speak in sentence fragments. Like this one. 😉 Dangle that participle! Use emojis. Alk-tay in-yay ig-pay atin-lay. (Talk in Pig Latin!) Whatever words you may speak, it’s manna from heaven when you say it from the heart. 💗

Tell me your story, in your own words. I’d love to hear where you’ve been.

Old photos in the wooden boxWe need to go back to the good old days. Surely things were better in my grandmother’s day. We were more Christian and things were better then. I hear that a lot. Maybe people expect me to agree with them because I’m a historian. Shouldn’t we want to go back to the good old days?

Um . . . no?

I’m from a family with amazing southern roots. What this means is that I’m from a family of story tellers. I’ve heard about the aunt who died of pneumonia because antibiotics weren’t available yet. There was the corrupt sheriff who shot a man in the back and got away with it. My grandad would shelter young hobos from this same sheriff. Grandad was also in a mine collapse and on a ship that sank. My grandmother and her sisters passed as white to avoid people’s prejudices against their tribe. No one knew what caused polio so my grandmother picked seeds out of the bananas before letting the kids eat the fruit.

Things were different, but I think better or worse depends on your circumstances both then and now. After all, there’s always good mixed into the mess that is life.

My grandmother made a huge meal every Sunday noon and fed any and all of the neighbor kids who were there. Grandad studied geology as a mining engineer and polished purple agate to make Grandma a necklace and earrings I still have. I heard all about the pets from the Jennie the donkey and Martha Washington the goat to a host of ground squirrels and even, for a short time, a rattle snake.

I wouldn’t mind their good times, but I sure don’t want their bad. Maybe that’s why I don’t pray for God to return us to the good old days. That said, I do ask him to lend me just a bit of my grandmother’s patience and strength. There are times I ask for my grandad’s bravery and willingness to stand firm. But most of all, Lord, whatever you send my way, please help me get to the other side and give me the sense of humor needed to spin a tale worth telling.

–SueBE

Cotton, with a nice wide band — the right pair of underwear can make me very happy. It is the blessedness of ordinary things, the kind of things we take for granted, but shouldn’t. We are all, by and large, hugely blessed. Why not celebrate it? Next time you think your life is ordinary, don’t be bored…be blessed. Gerard Manley Hopkins deserves credit for inspiring this poem:

Great thanks to God for the subtle grace of ordinary things,
for ubiquitous bread, striped socks and the blue
bowl that just holds the leftover soup without spilling.
For wool in winter, for aprons and thumbtacks and that pair of shoes
that garners neither attention nor blisters;
for oatmeal and the way white paint looks
good in every room.
Blessed be bland routine that saves us
from the shock of the extraordinary, the daily
tick, tick, tick of working clocks and hearts.
God’s grandest glory can be found
in that which we overlook: the stem
of a cherry, the sound of silence,
the feel of change in a pocket.

Fresh Bloggie Posts 2015.docxMusic adds so much joy to my life, and I like a wide range of genres, but my true go-to song is something of an unexpected gem.

It’s a version of the great gospel song, “I Love the Lord,” by a South African gospel group called Joyous Celebration.

Now mind you, I’m so pale I’m almost pink. So white that you can see my veins right through my skin! In fact, when I get my monthly infusions for MS, the nurse always says, “My goodness! You’ve got great veins.”

“Yes,” I respond, “because my skin is almost see-through!” And I joke that I could put that skill on my resume: great veins. Plus a winning personality!☺

So while this song is from another culture and is partially in a language I don’t understand, I simply adore the vibe of it and the wonderful young lady who sings it, Ntokozo Mbambo.

Of course, I must admit that when I first heard it, I thought, Oh my! She’s getting carried away, adding a lot of ‘verve” to a song that I’d only ever heard as a sedate, low-key ballad. But by the end of the song, I thought, Wow. I feel what she’s singing deep down in my soul.

In the improvised part at the end of the song, she sings, “I came to let you know that with God you can and you will make it.” And it feels like she’s talking to everybody in pain. “Just hold on a little bit longer, hold on, hold on…”

If I ever win the lottery, it’s only right that I should send that singer the money I would have spent on a therapist, because when she sings, it’s a healing session for me.

You can find yourself wondering: does anybody know what I’m going through? And suddenly you realize it. Everybody’s going through something. We can be there for each other, because at one time, it felt like no one was there for us.

Sometimes comfort comes from God through a conduit. It might be another person, a song, a bluebird or a rainbow. Look around: there’s always somebody who’s been through it, ready to remind you of this deep truth. You’ll make it. And when you do, before you know it, you’ll be singing a song for the next person looking for comfort. You can tell them from the heart: this, too, shall pass.

Listen. It’s not just that I believe you can make it. No, I know you can. And you will.

water-boat-pond-lonelyI’ve been trying to write this week’s post for several days.

My first excuse for not getting it done was work.  I’m sitting here with a manuscript with 265 editorial comments. Some of them are super simple. Others, not so much.  Either way, they’re a tad overwhelming and I’m having to force myself to focus on one page at a time, otherwise I freak out. Working a bit here and a bit there, I managed to rewrite two chapters today.

My second excuse was that I can’t find anything good to write about. My friend in the hospital has had a miserable week. I’ve tried writing about dealing with her physical therapists – the kind of people who fill your lungs with water, literally, without telling you what or why or offering a sedative. I still haven’t managed to actually pray about this because I know that asking God to kick someone’s butt is wrong.

Then I thought that maybe I could take a bit of inspiration from someone else. Nope. Not that one.  That blogger’s MLK day song just about sent me through the roof. It’s so upbeat it’s annoying.

I haven’t managed many coherent prayers this week but I know that nonetheless God is with me. I’m may not be saying much but He Knows what is buried deep in my heart.  I know this but it took me until this evening to realize why I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.

I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere, because I’m not and that’s okay. What I need is time to drift, to focus on just a bit at a time and then push away and drift some more. It may feel a bit purposeless but sometimes we need to simply be in His presence is enough.  Eventually I’ll rediscover my purpose as I hear His voice.

Until then, I know He’s with me even as I drift.

–SueBE

Someone, somewhere in California, has won the Powerball lottery, with its attendant riches. Good for them. Maybe the money will afford them a better lifestyle, dig them and their extended family out of an economic hole and onto an affluent mountaintop. Money may not buy love, but it sure buys a lot of other things that can be easily substituted for love. I wish the winners the best. But I wonder: Will the money make them happy? Or will it cause unforeseen problems, a line of begging strangers at the door, unwise spending that leaves them feeling empty? It’s hard to know.

I see Oprah on TV, shilling for Weight Watchers. Apparently she’s still not happy, either. Not after her monumental successes, her philanthropy, her power and her wealth. She still wants to be thin. Or, as she puts it, to “have her best body.” Oprah makes me feel tired. She’s 61. When do I get to stop caring what my body looks like? Never? If all that she has hasn’t made her happy, will a “best body” really do the trick?

We all look outward for our happiness, at other people, at things, at conditions. “If I just had this or that, then I would be happy,” we tell ourselves. And we believe it. Maybe it’s even true. But over and over, I see cases where it is not. Cases of people who become addicted to plastic surgery, each time thinking, “This time, I will end up looking the way I want.” People who are never content with what they’ve accomplished, but keep seeking the next big thing. Are we genetically programmed to eschew contentment?

On the one hand, our itch for “more” keeps the human race creative. It keeps us seeking new ideas and new technology. On the other hand, it keeps us miserable.

Maybe we need to stop looking outward for happiness and turn our view inward: into our very souls. Imagine looking inside yourself and liking what you see. How would that change your worldview? How would it alter the way you approach other people?

I can’t say I love my own inner beauty just yet. But I know God dwells there, and that God is ultimate beauty, power and love. If I can just find God in myself, maybe I can know true contentment. Maybe we all can.

That sure would be good for us. Bad for the people who run the Powerball lottery, but certainly good for us.

 

Like so many people, there’s nothing I like more than seeing a great movie on a big screen in a theater. At one point, I used to go every single week, partly because I had a writing gig as a movie reviewer, but mainly because I love to watch stories come to life. Along with the popcorn, I’ve found some crunchy nuggets of wisdom in dialogue from films I’ve seen – sometimes even universal truths.

When you want some inspiration:

Carpe diem. Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary.

When troubles come knocking at your door:

I want to be alone.

You talkin to me?

Go ahead. Make my day.

When you want to keep it all in perspective:

Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Just keep swimming.

When you need to stand up to challenges:

Nobody puts Baby in a corner.

I’ll be back.

I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take this anymore!

When things get hectic and hairy:

Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

When you want to make changes in your life:

If you build it, they will come.

I am the Captain now.

When you need a reminder that you never walk alone:

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

You had me at hello.

May the Force be with you.

If you think nobody sees what you’re going through, never forget that you’ve got a silent partner – always available on spiritual speed-dial (AKA prayer.) May your life always be blessed and your popcorn always be fresh as you create the story of your own life. Here’s looking at you, kid!

Credits, in Order of Appearance:
Dead Poets’ Society
Grand Hotel
Taxi Driver
Sudden Impact
Forrest Gump
Finding Nemo
Dirty Dancing
The Terminator
Network
The Wizard of Oz
All About Eve
Field of Dreams
Captain Phillips
Casablanca
Jerry Maguire
Star Wars
Casablanca

SONY DSC

I was standing in the pet store when my phone finally decided to tell me that someone had left me a message. Yesterday. “This is Becca. I can’t read your hand writing on the prayer request card. Can you call me with your friend’s name?”

Our church secretary was working on the bulletin and prayer list. I’d just pop down the road and talk to her as soon as I checked out.

The problem was that by the time I made it down the road, she had already printed 100 copies of the prayer list. With the wrong name. Truth be told, the version that she included isn’t a name at all unless it belongs to some wacky video game character.

“I hope you’ll tell the pastor I called you.”

I hadn’t planned to discuss it with him at all. He’d gotten the name wrong during the Sunday service. If I bring it up, it will just embarrass him. What’s the point? I’m fairly certain that when the congregation prays for my friend, God isn’t going to sit in the clouds scratching his metaphorical head. “I don’t know anyone by that name.” Clearly, I need to work on my cursive.

I finally realized she was expecting me to be mad. In spite of the fact that my phone is a slow poke and my handwriting questionable. She probably gets griped at quite a lot.

Outrage over an elaborately goofed up name? Thanks, but no thanks. I’m going to save my outrage for things that deserve it – obscenely
priced medications, homelessness and hunger. The goofed up name I’m going to turn it into a funny anecdote. She hates nicknames and gets annoyed when nurses call her honey. This is going to crack her up. Thank you, God, for another chance to help her and her sons smile.

–SueBE

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