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In adult Sunday school, we are studying the book of Ruth.  One of the things that the study points out is how depressed and stressed Naomi is. She’s lost her husband and both sons.  She has two daughters-in-law and none of them have a way to support themselves.  She felt deserted by God.

Maybe this is why she didn’t see the blessing that was Ruth.  Remember Naomi even tried to send her away. It wasn’t until Ruth gleaned gallons of grain, it may have been six, from the fields of Boaz that Naomi could see that God had not abandoned them.

Like Naomi, we often focus on the storms even when our situations aren’t particularly dire.  A clerk is snippy.  They are out of our favorite coffee.  A package won’t arrive until tomorrow.  Alas and woe!  We focus on what has made us unhappy as we post on their Facebook wall, fire off angry e-mails or sit on hold.

How much better would it to focus on the blessings, the sunshine in our days?  With that in mind, you’ll have to excuse me.  It is still less than 80 degrees.  I’m going to go putter.

–SueBE

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About a month ago, I had to spend a couple of days with one of those people.  Patient though I try to be, she will eventually set me free. This time it revolved around a recognition plaque given to my dad.  “Help me hang it and we can take a photo for him.”  Dad couldn’t go so she was given the plaque for him.  The part that really stung?  We would have been there if she had told us but this ‘help me hang it’ was the first I had heard of it.

As soon as we left, I started griping.  How self-centered can a single human being be?

Finally my husband spoke up.  “I don’t think she did this to spite you.  I think you were right.  She’s just that self-centered.  She never thought of us at all.  So why are we spending so much time focused on her?”

What?  Whoa.

But he was right.  I can’t make other people be thoughtful or kind.  And while I can’t change anyone’s behavior, no matter how lovely that would be, I have some control over who occupies my thoughts.  It isn’t like I can keep them out completely, but I can take a deep breath and, as I exhale, let them drift away.

As Christians, we don’t often discuss mindfulness.  But if I focus on someone who is unfair and selfish, it makes me angry.  If instead I focus on someone inspirational that God has put in my path?  I am more inclined to look for ways to be kind and loving to others.  If I want to share God’s love with others, I can’t give too much head space to certain people.

–SueBE

Writing time for me is only official when I listen to the songs my mother used to play on the piano. That audible cue says to my brain, it’s time to create. As I said in a previous post, she gave me an abiding love for Bach. When I was a child, I’d ask her to play what we called the “clockwork” song (BWV 847a – C Minor – Prelude at 5:19 in this YouTube video.)

She’d oblige me, sitting in front of the piano, stretching her hands and squaring her shoulders before tackling the song. It was so densely packed with notes, my eyes got tired trying to follow her fingers as she played. How did she do that? And how did Bach create all of these majestic movements? I noticed that this masterful song is called a “prelude.” Interesting. It’s not even considered a “fugue,” yet so much energy and effort has gone into it.

At the end of this prelude, there are three notes that foreshadow what the fugue that follows it will sound like. I remember her nodding as she played, saying to me, “there it is,” to remind me to listen for those notes that told you what was coming up in the fugue (BWV 847b – C Minor – Fugue at 7:05.)

Instead of trying to overhaul your life all at once, why not try a “pre-vamp” instead?

Whatever it is that you feel you don’t have and are hoping to achieve or acquire that would lead to a “re-vamp,” there are already grace notes of your future’s fugue in your present’s prelude.

So if your blessing arrived tomorrow, wouldn’t you like to be prepared to receive it? Make space in your heart for it. Listen: the music’s already playing. It’s just a matter of the whole orchestra joining in. Later, you’ll look back and realize the preludes of life are often just as lovely as the fugues.

It has been a hectic couple of weeks.  There have been two trips out of town this summer.  Several book rewrites.  My son is working at not one but two pools, one city and one college.  None of it has been bad but when my husband suggested that we do something fun as a family on Saturday, I suggested boy time.  Translation:  Why don’t you two go do something and leave me at home by myself.  Then we found out that the boy has to take someone else’s shift at the college pool or some event has to be cancelled.

Yes, that whimper you heard was me.  Quiet time, so close.

Around here stillness is really hard to come by.  I’m goal oriented so I tend to have an end in sight.  And when any of us do sit down, along comes the husband.  “If you aren’t busy why don’t you…”

Fortunately, I like those kinds of jobs that are more or less still and messy.  The kind that can’t be interrupted easily.  I polished silver.

Silver?  Who has silver?  You have to polish it.

Indeed.  I got out a pair of gloves and the polish.  I had polished the creamer and was working on the sugar bowl when I heard footsteps.  “If you aren’t busy, can you–”

“Sure.” I held out my grey, gunky gloves.  “Help me get these off.”

“No, no.  That’s okay.”

For forty minutes, I stood at the sink.  I applied gunk.  I wiped off gunk.  I buffed.  For forty minutes, I got to do something simple with no interruptions.  Things seemed a lot less hectic.

Do you need peace?  Find something tedious that will keep your hands busy but let your  mind roam.  And really, it helps if it is just a touch messy.  Polish silver.  Repot plants.  Bake bread.  Brush the cat.  That isn’t truly messy but when someone tries to interrupt she will shoot them down with that imperious stare.

During these kinds of tasks, your mind has time to open up and listen.

–SueBE

I watched last night (by way of television) an Ethiopian couple scale a sheer cliff side in order to reach an ancient church hewn into the mountain. There they would baptize their son. The churches in the village were not good enough. In order for God to really bless their child, they had to seek tiny handholds in the worn rock, teeter across the thinnest of ridges — without the aid of ropes or harnesses. With a tiny baby strapped to their backs.

Then I watched an indigenous rain forest people dance for eight hours straight in order to appease one of their many gods. The vigor of their dance would determine how blessed they would be in the upcoming year. The dancers included small children. Imagine: Eight long hours, no rest.

My God does not require much of me — certainly no long, prolonged dance sessions or life-endangering climbs. But what if s/he did? I fear I would fail. Even life as a Puritan, as one of the settlers of this country in its first 100 years, would have been beyond me. Imagine sitting in church for hours on end, being shrieked at (mostly) for being a sinning worm of a human being, breaking for lunch, then going right back for more. Every Sabbath. Puritan life was joyless and gray, and that’s the way they liked it.

Where along the line did we humans lose the simple thread of God’s love and concern for us? At what point did we take the good news of the New Testament and turn it into an episode of “Survivor”? When did we turn God into one of us — demanding, hard-hearted, aloof? Maybe from the very start.

I like to think that God is easier than that. God simply wants us to love — to love God and to love each other. The rest of it is window dressing.

Or maybe not. What if God calls on me to do something terribly risky — what would my answer be? That Ethiopian couple and those jungle warriors must have faith the size of a whale to do what they do for God. My faith seems like a shrunken, withered bean in comparison.

Do we climb the mountain? Or do we convince ourselves that God wouldn’t ask us to and proceed to huddle under the nearest bed? When faith and fear collide, who wins?

I pray I never have to answer that question.

Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby.  They were Bumpa’s favorites and when he was sick I’d spend Sunday afternoons by his side watching them sing and dance their way across the screen.  I spent a great deal of time that fall on the Road to Wherever.

I knew Hope could sing and dance and crack a joke, but who knew he was so clever?  I’m sure someone did but it wasn’t me.  I’d compartmentalized him in my memory.  Singing, dancing, funny man.

Compartmentalization is a huge problem in our world.  Us and them.  Republican and Democrat.  Liberal and conservative.  Deserving and undeserving.

I admit that I tend to get a bit squirmy when a discussion moves towards who deserves help and who doesn’t.  Haven’t we all received help at one time that we didn’t deserve?  Maybe someone helped you change a tire or pay a bill out of the kindness of their heart.  But there is also God’s grace.  We can’t earn it.  We don’t, strictly speaking, deserve it.  But God is loving and kind and charitable.  He gave it to us anyway.

I’m not saying I’m perfect.  Far from it.  We writers compartmentalize all the time.  It’s part of how we pitch ideas and decide what information belongs in a project and what doesn’t.  Sometimes this writing habit finds its way into the larger world.  Sometimes I catch myself.  Other times?  I’m human but I like to think my heart is willing.

–SueBE

I was tempted to title this post “Shhh,” but I was afraid that would trigger someone.

When I was a kid, Mom shushed us all the time.  It meant we were talking without thinking or we were, as she called it, holding forth. It was time to let someone else talk.

And I understand the danger.  Certain groups of people were silenced.  Period.  It wasn’t a “one moment please” but a “you have nothing of value to say.”

And now?  Now we have noise.  Everyone has the right to talk but so many of us have forgotten that to listen, we need to stop talking.  Because if we’re talking, we can’t hear each other and we can’t hear God.

Listen.

–SueBE

Not surprisingly, I’ve been biting my tongue a lot about the situation with The View and Judge P.  Personally, I’ve suspected all along that Judge P. went on the view knowing that she could probably pick a fight and she did it with intention.  She has, after all, a book to push.  On Sunday, a friend posted a “Judge P was just sticking up for poor picked on President Trump because no other President has had to put up with such sass” meme.

Really?  Because I remember people hanging Obama in effigy.  Don’t tell me that fake lynching the man wasn’t serious.  And I’ve seen the anti-Lincoln political cartoons at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield.  Please, let’s not forget how the criticism against him ended.

Sunday I pointed this out.  Another woman came on and challenged me.  No, this is worse than ever before.  So I questioned her – how can you measure it to know?  I seriously debated sending that response but I did.

Then we had a long conversation about how we would both like to see statistics on anti-Presidential commentary and we don’t want to see it just for Trump and Obama.  We want Lincoln and Kennedy and Nixon.  Carter too.  We had a conversation.  And at the end of it we thanked each other.  It is far too easy to justify picking a fight and turning the other cheek does not come naturally to me.

Maybe just maybe we inspired someone else to have a conversation.  It is far too easy to justify picking a fight.  Who knows?  We can only hope.

–SueBE

 

Progress is a tricky thing.  How do you measure it?  Is it all about meeting goals?  Or is it a matter of statistics?

I think this is part of what frustrates us about answering God’s call.  We want that call to be something at which we can measurably succeed – new members brought into the church, a new sanctuary, or perhaps a newly established mission to build a school or hospital.  We like measurable things.

But what if your calling is to be present and share God’s light?  Or to be a listening ear or shoulder to cry on?  How then do you measure success?  By doing.  By serving.

It gets tricky because we want that big measurable success.  Yet, those are our standards not God’s.  You know how it goes – His ways are not our ways.  Success is in doing His will.

Just a little something I’ve been noodling over.

–SueBE

After my divorce, I thought about returning to my maiden name, but the 15-page form was confusing, and it would cost me $250. I really had to mull it over. Does a name reflect who a person is? Is it a matter of identity, or just a label?

I thought about this as I read an article on National Geographic’s website: “Spectacular Armored Dinosaur Found in Imperiled National Monument.” I noticed the awful name they’d given this poor, long-deceased creature: “Johnson’s Thorny Head.” How do they know he wasn’t a flippant hipster with a nickname like “Skip” or “Jazz”? Maybe he went by initials, like “JT.”  😎

It occurred to me that he’s being remembered by someone else’s name. It turns out that Johnson was the volunteer fossil preparer who’d cleaned up the find. And to make it worse, they had to emphasize the unfortunate shape of the poor thing’s head! I have to believe that having armor and a thorny head would’ve been helpful in terms of self-defense against dinosaurs with the cool names, like Tyrannosaurus Rex. Now there was a dino with some good PR. He even had a wicked nickname: T. Rex.

Maybe this is a lesson for all of us. People will make assumptions, trying to extrapolate your story from second-hand sources and very little actual data. As for me, some call me “Miss Ruth,” which I like, as I feel it’s respectful. My son calls me “Mom,” which I love, as he’s my heart. But what really matters is what I call myself. In a word? Blessed.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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