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Every time I click on a viral video of surprise soldier homecomings, I tell myself it’s not going to get to me, but it does. Every time!

Of course, on this Memorial Day, we remember the members of the military services who never made it home. It’s also a time to reflect on the ones who did come back, only to find that the war at home was still underway.

My father-in-law fought in Korea and Vietnam, and even though he came back alive, so many things had changed for him that it seemed some parts of his life had died.

He kept extending his tenure in the army in order to ensure that his family was taken care of. They lived on an army base, so housing, healthcare and education were provided. Even though he had little formal education of his own, all five of his children graduated college.

But the long deployments away from home affected his relationship with his family, and when he finally did return, it didn’t feel like home anymore. He felt like a stranger to his wife, and for many reasons, seemed to be regarded by his own kids as an enemy.

In the military, there’s a saying: “No one should be left behind.”

Generally speaking, I’m not in favor of military action in any situation. It doesn’t resolve the problem; oftentimes, it only exacerbates it. But I am in favor of the soldiers who put their lives on the line in many different ways. Some gave all. All gave some. Now it’s our turn to give something back to them, not the least of which is respect.

Today, at Arlington Cemetery, President Obama said everything that I’ve been trying to say in this post:

“Truly remembering, truly honoring these fallen Americans means being there for their parents and spouses and children,” the President said. “Truly remembering means that after our fallen heroes gave everything to get their battle buddies home, we have to make sure they get everything they have earned — from good health care to good jobs. And we have to do better. Our work is never done.”

The Lord's PrayerThis particular line in the Lord’s Prayer has always made me cringe.  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. That’s the translation that Presbyterians use. There is also the one more commonly used in the Catholic church — Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Or a third version — Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Not that the translation is as important as the meaning.  We will be forgiven as we forgive others.

The problem for me was that I grew up with someone who was verbally abusive.  This person wasn’t always a part of my life.  It depended on who lived where.  But when we were together, I knew what would eventually happen. As if the abuse wasn’t bad enough, I was taught that to truly forgive it, I had to put myself back into the situation time and time again. I knew what was coming and so did the adults in my life.  But that’s the way it goes.  God wants you to forgive no matter how many times you have to endure this.

Somehow, deep in my heart, I knew this was wrong.  God loves me.  Sure, God loves my abuser too, but that doesn’t take away from his love for me. Christ stopped the woman from being stoned. He didn’t tell her to suck it up and shrug it off.

A few weeks ago, our adult Sunday school was doing a session on Biblical forgiveness. In this session we learned that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.  Forgiveness can be accomplished by one person. I’m not going to act against you. I’m laying down my anger and my hate. Reconciliation takes two because it requires restoration of trust.  You don’t need to achieve reconciliation to be forgiven.

My family was less than thrilled when I made it clear that my participation in this was over and done.  It changed the family dynamic, but that was okay because it was a dynamic that needed to change.  I was a young adult when I took this step.  I am still coming to an understanding of reconciliation vs forgiveness.  I suspect it will be a life long lesson.

Don’t hold back on forgiveness because you can’t expect reconciliation. Give yourself this gift.  Lay down the hate.  Lay down the rage.  Once you are free of these burdens, God can and will take you into his forgiving embrace. It’s what He’s wanted all along.  Forgive us our Debts…

–SueBE

The quintessential prayer called “the Hail Mary” goes like this: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen.” But you probably already knew that. What you maybe didn’t know — what I didn’t know until recently, even though I’ve prayed that prayer about a million times in my life (lots of rosaries…lots and lots of rosaries) — is that it doesn’t really start out the way you think it does.

The words in the first half of the prayer come directly from the New Testament, from Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who greets Mary when Mary comes to visit her. Both are pregnant. In fact, Elizabeth’s baby (known in future as John the Baptist) “leaps in her womb” when Elizabeth catches sight of Mary. It’s all very sweet. As it’s a greeting, it’s natural to assume that by “hail,” Elizabeth means, “hello” — a sort of “hey there, girl! You are marvelous!” But guess what? “Hail” doesn’t mean that.

In this sense, “hail” means “rejoice”: As in, “You are marvelous! Smile! Be glad!” Certainly, Mary had much to rejoice about: She was carrying the savior of the world in her womb. On the other hand…she was an unmarried teenager who was widely thought to have cheated on her fiancée and gotten knocked up. So…not so much. What did it mean to her to have her cousin greet her this way?

And what would it mean if we greeted each other that way? “Rejoice, co-worker!” “Rejoice, postal carrier!” Such a greeting would garner some odd looks, to be sure. But wouldn’t it also serve as a nice reminder that, despite our burdens, we all have something to rejoice about?

Maybe that something is just the fact that we have a new day in front of us, ripe with possibilities. Or maybe we should rejoice because, well, here we are, in a great country, with a job, with a family, with whatever it is we have. And we all have something. Even when the world feels as if it’s turned against us, even when we are at our most bereft, we have the love of God. A God that does not, by the way, have to love us, but does so anyway. Hailing each other in this way would serve as a nice knock in the teeth to remember our blessings…things we so often classify as simply what is due us, and not so very special after all.

So my word of wisdom to you today is “hail.” Hail, dear readers. Rejoice in whatever it is that makes you you. Because you are marvelous, to God and to me.

 

 

Powerful words imageWhen Eric Clapton fell in love with Patti Boyd, it inspired him to write the classic rock song, “Layla.” This would be a romantic story, except for the fact that the love of his life was married to his friend, George Harrison, at the time.

Somehow, in the song’s lyrics, Clapton was able to spin this situation into something positive.

“Tried to give you consolation when your old man had let you down,” he wrote.

It almost seems noble, when you hear the tale told that way!

That’s the power of a euphemism.

Many years ago, I worked at a pharmaceutical company, and there was a hostile takeover. My department was eliminated, along with thousands of other employees, but oddly, the company referred to the mass lay-offs as an “optimization.”

That was exactly the opposite of what those of us who were let go experienced. It surely didn’t feel optimal to us.

Here’s one time no euphemism or hyperbole is needed: God is Love.

It’s not a cliche’ or a play on words. It doesn’t stand for something else. This phrase says exactly what it means.

People may not always live up to their hype or keep all of their promises, but love? Heck, it:

  • Never fails
  • Is patient & kind
  • Covers a multitude of sins
  • Casts out all fear

To sum it up, it makes the world go ‘round.

Powerful words, indeed.

tattoo manJust this week, I led a Bible study class on hospitality and compassion.  When we finished, one of the ladies was almost in tears.  Her granddaughter and great-grandchildren just moved back to the state.  Her grandson-in-law looks like a biker – tall, inked, long-hair, bandana. But he’s the best father she’s ever seen.  They want to come to church with her but she’s put off setting up a date. “Some people will look down their noses at him.”

“Well, they better get the heck over it. He’s family and we all adore you. Tell them to come.”

“But not everyone is like you.”

Thank God. I’m far from perfect. I’ve got a temper that one Grandmother claimed was Irish while the other insisted was German. Wherever it came from, I’ve got plenty of it. I spend a surprising amount of time wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. And there is virtually no one that I won’t boss around.

What I don’t tend to do is get caught up on how a Christian should look.  If you want to wear K-mart polyester or a snazzy suit, I’m okay with it.  A man with long hair isn’t going to faze me but neither is a buzz cut. I’m not going to slut shame or comment on your conservative pants suit, but I might ask you to sing in the choir, hand out bulletins or help me move a table. It’s that bossy gene. That said, I’ll also welcome you in and there’s always a pot of coffee on.

My friend was right. Everyone isn’t like me. Lori has her ever hopeful nature. Ruth is the best at helping us remember to laugh.  Me? It’s God’s house and I’m going to welcome you in with a bit of hospitality.

And, while you’re here, I may ask you to lend a hand. After all, God’s given each of us a gift to share.

–SueBE

“We all got together and picked a new name for you,” my boss — many years ago — popped her head in my door to tell me. “It’s Virginia.”

“You are aware,” I replied patiently, “that I am a married woman?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “But you just seem so innocent.” It wasn’t a compliment.

Years later, a woman at the hair salon spontaneously burst out with the following: “Your eyes are so innocent looking!” I thanked her, but pondered whether or not I ought to have.

Nowadays, I view things differently. See, I always thought that the goal of any life was to do something — to add something to one’s repertoire that caused sensational good in the world. If I did this thing I was meant to do, I reasoned, I could die in a state of grace.

But maybe it isn’t about adding so much as it is about refusing to subtract. Let me explain. When I was born, my mother wrote me a letter. In it, she noted how much I looked like her — except for my eyes, which held such innocence. She prayed that I would always be this way, untouched by the evils of the world.

Though I like to think of myself as a woman of the world — and certainly I have endured and/or witnessed things that are not easy — I do retain a streak of naiveté. I expect that others will be honest with me because I will be honest with them. I believe that people will not want to do hurtful things, that only hurt people do hurtful things. It always shocks me when I witness someone doing harm purely for the fun of it, or without seeming to care. How can such a person be that way?

I once complained to a superior that I had been promised something by a colleague and was disappointed that he didn’t mean it. Why would he say something he didn’t mean? “Are you stupid?” she asked pointedly. Well, maybe I am. Or maybe I have retained a quality that God (and my dear mother) wanted me to retain: A certain purity. A certain innocence.

Maybe the goal of my life isn’t so much to add but to fail to subtract — to fail to give in to the forces of the world that would turn me jaded and apathetic. Maybe by remaining surprised and hurt by the evil in the world, I am further spurred to reject it for something better. Maybe my eyes aren’t so much innocent, but ever-hopeful.

What quality do you exhibit that should never be quashed? A sense of adventure? The ability to make others laugh? Resilience? Whatever that quality is, don’t lose it. After all, it may be the very thing you were put on this earth to keep.

“Why, if it was an illusion, not praise the catastrophe, whatever it was, that destroyed illusion and put truth in its place?”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Major life events are like tectonic plates leading to seismic shifts. We tend to look back on our lives in a pre- and post-mindset. Life before The Big Thing That Happened. Life after it.

Looking back, there were times in my life in which I was obviously in the wrong… fill in the blank. Job. Relationship. Part of town. State of mind. Size pants.

After all, just because you can squeeze your tuchus into a pair of pants that are actually a size too small… well, that doesn’t mean that they fit. It means you’re squishing yourself into a cage for reasons other than personal comfort.

I’ve come to regard those endings in life as being off-ramps to the place I really wanted to be anyway. That wasn’t home. Those weren’t true friends. I wasn’t myself.

So any time I feel a twinge of regret or nostalgia, I remind myself that I’m not one to pine for what wasn’t mine. That wasn’t for me. I’m better off without it. Now I’m free of what didn’t serve me. Free to find what really works for me. This makes change feel less like a wound and more like a gift.

Having gone through a few things, it made me realize that others are going through things, too, and it might make them cranky. I’m going to remind myself not to take other people’s problems personally.

I can’t imagine what your backstory is, so I’m going to give you a free gift of your own: the benefit of the doubt.

Compassion, not pity.

Understanding, not judgment.

In a nutshell, when I assume everyone is doing their best, things are put into proper perspective.

As for the Big Things That Happened? Well, abrupt endings become another way of saying, Okay, Lord. I’m ready. What’s next?

golden circleI love it when someone challenges me.  Not the snotty kind when someone is rude and it’s all I can do to keep my big mouth shut.  Yeah, I fail at that way too often.

No, I like it when someone introduces me to a new idea that just won’t leave me be.  That’s what Pastor Sean did with last week’s sermon.  In it he mentioned Simon Sinek and how his Golden Circle concept applies to the modern church.

Sinek’s concept is fairly simple. He draws three concentric circles.  The innermost is “why,” next is “how,” and last but not least is “what.”  They stand for “what we do,” “how we do it,” and “why we do it.” Sinek applies his concepts to business.  Businesses that keep why at the center are successful because that is what they communicate – we are innovators, we seek to inspire, etc.

Businesses that don’t focus on why, tend to focus on what. “We make computers. Buy one.”  “We have great gyms.  Join today.”  These approaches are much less successful because they are just trying to sell us some “thing.” They are focused on this thing.  We’ve seen things before.  Meh.

Gods lovePastor Sean took Sinek’s concept and applied it to the Church today.  Many congregations focus on the “what.” In this case it stands for “what we are doing because we are a Godly Church.” We have worship and you should come.  We feed the hungry and you should give. Attend our sausage supper. Come to our concert/service/sale.

Instead our focus should be on the why.  Why do we do what we do?  What core belief is at the center of it all? Look at most church calendars and you might think the central belief is business because we all have a lot going on but that’s not supposed to be the center.  What is? God’s Love. God’s Light. G-O-D.

Once we are focused on the Why (God’s Love), we can think about the How.  He sent us his Son. Why? Because he loves us. He has given us Talents. Why? Because he loves us and we are a part of Him.  He has sent us out. Why? Because he wants us to share this love with others because we aren’t the only ones that he loves.

Once we have focused on the Why (God’s Love) and the How (Christ, talents, sharing), then we get to the what. We should feed and clothe. We should shelter and heal. We should teach and inspired.

But most of all – we should Love.  Why?  Because His Love is at the center of it all.

–SueBE

How did you learn to pray? I can’t honestly remember. I can recall my babyish list of people to bless, including “grandma, great-grandma and Auntie Myrt” — long since gone from this earth. Why did I pray for the elders on my father’s side but not for my mother’s father, alive until I was seven? At what age did I give up kneeling?

Lately, I’ve been thinking that my prayer life could use some radical change. I’ve been sticking to a formula for too long. Besides, any words I use seem minuscule and shabby compared to what I hope to convey. Maybe human language isn’t really built for prayer. And anyway, doesn’t God know our hearts better than we know them?

I’m not advocating that you cease praying. Prayer can lead to great self-knowledge. But maybe we need to consider whether our prayers are really for God…or for ourselves. What sort of prayer would please God? I’m not entirely sure, but if I had to listen to the human race in supplication day in and day out, I know what would please me: a little silence. Hence, the following poem:

I could, I suppose,
dispense with formalities:
words once bubbled from childish lips
no longer suit. Still.
How can I hope to bridge our mighty gap?
The words can’t come —
I haven’t learned the language.
I settle on syllables like unbuttered bread,
toddler words: “cat,” “dog,” “mama.”
I’d have to shed my heavy tongue
to speak the words I mean.
And there it is — revelation!
Perhaps my prayers are best silent.
Instead, I will throw open my heart;
You will read it.
I will not murmur, even when
You touch the painful places.

Oh! So Your Phone Does Still Work Image

By the time I eventually moseyed over for a visit, my mother would have at the ready some carefully curated quotes, knowing full well that, as soon as I arrived, I’d be planning my exit.

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail,” she’d tell me, nodding. “What’s past is prologue!”

I would just shrug, which only led her to say:

“Youth is wasted on the young!”

She’d throw a Latin phrase my way and, like the former teacher that she was, expect me to respond with the correct answer.

“Panacea?” she’d demand.

“Cure-all,” I’d respond dutifully.

“Gallia est omnis divisa…?” she’d tilt her head at me.

“…in partes tres,” I’d say, barely stifling a yawn.

She’d share her pet conspiracy theories as well. “Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s works,” she’d exclaim, even as I tuned her out. “Known fact!”

After I left home, I could barely get through a visit with my mother. She smoked like a chimney. She’d stockpile every bit of bad news and tale of woe to aim at me, like a missile full of misery. I didn’t realize until later that it was her way of trying to prepare and protect me from things that might go wrong. “Forewarned is forearmed!” she’d say, finger jabbing the air.

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After her passing, I learned that, no matter how old you are, when your parents pass away, you feel as if you’ve lost your moorings. Looking back on old, poor-quality photographs, you realize that your mother had a whole life before you were even born, and now that she’s gone, you ‘ll never get to hear those stories.

Dear readers, if you’re lucky enough to still have your mother in your life, I’d like to gently and gingerly nudge you to spend time with her while you have the chance.

Heck, I think I’ll come at you like the
New Jersey Mama Bear that I am, and say it like this:
So, what, it would kill you to call the mother who gave you life? 🙂

Coffee and cake at a cafe′ once a year on Mother’s Day are all well and good. Being fully present and hearing with your heart? Priceless.

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