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brown wooden ship's wheelWhat happens if one day God decides to process all the paperwork on your prayers and suddenly, you’re sitting on top of a big pile of money? You look out at the driveway and see that there are suddenly several new cars! In the backyard, there’s an in-ground pool and a sculptured-stone fire pit. You notice a small chalet in the corner of the yard. You ask, Is that the place where we store the gold-plated rider mower? No, you’re told. That’s the servants’ quarters!

Okay, you need to sit down and take a breath. What happens now? 

Once you get the resources you’ve been asking for, sure, there will be more money, but also more drama to deal with. More tasks to keep track of. More appliances in need of repair. More bureaucracy to navigate. More taxes to pay. 

Dealing with problems, lack of money, and doing without is ground-floor training for the good times. This is the time to develop a system by which you get important tasks done. To learn how to stay on budget. To prioritize what is screaming for attention and what is really just a squeaky door hinge.

If you hadn’t gone through the boot camp of making do and scraping by, you might never know how to manage abundance when it comes. Challenges aren’t punishment or penance. Trials aren’t tests, but training. So with that wherewithal-workout under your belt, when your ship comes in, you’ll already be wearing your captain’s hat, ready to take the wheel. 

In light of Lent, let us contemplate perhaps the lowliest of substances, dust. Ash Wednesday was yesterday; it is a day on which we are reminded that we are all dust and that we will return to dust one day. But is that really so bad? I am reminded of a glorious poem by Carl Sandburg called “Grass.” In a similar vein (and with apologies), I present the following.

Stir up a commotion,
Watch me rise and fall.
I am dust; I persist.

And when the woman is caught in adultery
I will be Christ’s pregnant pause, his ledger.
And when blind men plead for a cure,
I will be made mud — and then, a miracle.
And when apostles shake me from their feet,
I will be a pronouncement against the inhospitable.
I can be swept, but never contained. I always return.
I am dust.
Let me settle.

This past weekend, I was the lead speaker at a writer’s workshop.  I had forgotten just how badly this freaks me out until I spent two days absolutely certain I had a virus.  Stomach problems, head aches, hot and then cold.  “I can’t get sick now!”  If I remember correctly, my twenty year-old actually called the truffle he gave me placebo-chocolate.

In small groups, people don’t bother me.  But put me in front of a lecture hall and . . . am I running a fever?  That said, I always say YES and have a great time once things are underway.

I didn’t realize until recently just how gutsy it is to follow our talents where they take us.  My son is a mechanical engineering student.  It is an understatement of epic proportions to say this course of study is tough.  Every now and again he’ll leave a page or calculus or physics on the table and it always looks like something Sheldon would have written on his dry erase board in Big Bang. 

Listening to him and his fellow students discuss who has flunked what and who has miraculously made it through on one try astonished me.  Seriously?  I never flunked a class.

Of course, I never took calculus let alone Calc III.  But last week I saw a Tweet that brought it home for me.  I can’t find it to quote it but it went something like this, “I got a 2.4 my first semester as an engineering student but now I’ve landed craft on Mars twice.  STEM is hard for everyone.  Stick with it.”

So often we think that if we are gifted in an area, if God has given us a talent, it will be easy.  But is that really true?  My most well-received books have all been brutal to write but well worth the effort.  My God-given talent doesn’t make the job easy but it does make it possible.

Speaking of which . . . back to work!

–SueBE

rule of thirds photography of pink and white lotus flower floating on body of waterThe narrator on the meditation app that I use called HeadSpace said in a soothing voice, “We’re training the mind to both let go of difficulties and familiarize itself with calm, clarity and contentment.” As it turns out, that voice actually belongs to the company’s founder, Andy Puddicombe. Once I got past the fact that his accent reminds me of the Geico Gecko from the insurance company’s television commercials 🦎, I found the meditations relaxing. 

His suggestion to “let go of difficulties” gave me pause. While focusing on the positive is beneficial for mental health, discontent and anger are red flags that tell you that something needs attention. 

As Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, James Carmody says in this article, humans are wired to worry. “Tension is often unnoticed in the midst of managing everyday demands, but its background discomfort sends us looking for relief in something more pleasant like a snack, a screen, a drink or a drug.”

Those points of tension in your body are the way your psyche asks you for a relief valve. For me, along with meditation, I decompress with prayer, exercise, and knitting. Things that allow me to just breathe and be. 

At the risk of sounding like a guru-gecko, your to-do list will always be there in some form, so give yourself a break. Moments of repose can help bring you back to center.

In Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa wakes up and realizes he’s been turned into a horrible insect. I had a similar, though less pestiferous, experience last night. I was all cuddled up in my blankets, when I realized that my own heartbeat — in combination with the heartbeat of my cat, who sleeps so close to me I literally cannot move — was making the blankets reverberate: ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. It was like being inside a cocoon. I wondered briefly, sleepily, what I would be reborn into.

Wouldn’t it be nice to end each day by completely shedding your old self, only to be born anew? Wouldn’t it be great to leave past mistakes behind — permanently? What if we treated each new day as a chance to start over?

How about today
you wake up and do not take
up your old soul (you know the one,
grubby and tattered, in need of baptism
or at least an industrial washing),
but put on instead fresh new wings?
Let them lift you above the expectations
and the petty seething of those so earthbound
they cannot fathom metamorphosis. Be today
an altogether better thing. Leave your old self
sleeping in your bed. Shed it like chrysalis, like a shell
you’ve grown too large for. And when you see someone
soaring, greet them with amnesia of what worm they were
before. Let the past go like pollen dropping from your feet.
Examine a new leaf. Let your vision go skyward.
There is nowhere you cannot go.

Meeting new people at a party or other gathering can be intimidating. Maybe there should be a “Skip Intro” button to bypass those awkward introductions, like they have when you’re binge-streaming shows on Netflix.

The only problem is that we might just end up “auto-populating” — making assumptions based on where people are from or what kind of accent they have. 

This is what crossed my mind as I was driven home from an appointment by a ride-share driver who spoke no English. When I opened the door to get into the car, he hurried out of the driver’s seat and held my door for me. He nodded toward my bags, indicating that he would put them into the car for me. I smiled back in thanks.

No translation was necessary. This was just a kind young man doing his best in a world that’s new to him. Just trying to make a living.

We rode together in silence, and I remembered that I had taken Spanish in high school, so maybe I’d try to say something pleasant to him in Spanish as I got out of the car. Then I realized that it’s been so long since I was in high school, it’s entirely possible the language has evolved and now I’d be speaking gibberish! 

I decided to take the plunge in a spirit of goodwill and said, “Buen fin de semana,” hoping I’d actually said, “Have a good weekend.” He smiled broadly and tried his hand at cross-cultural communication. “Happy Valenteem’s Day,” he said. “Oh, thank you, son!  You’re the first one to tell me that today!” He didn’t understand me, but knew I’d said something positive in return.

It was a gentle reminder that, even if you “Skip the Intro” with people, there’s always a story there, and it’s one worth hearing.

There was a time in my life that I seriously considered becoming a nun. Some people in my life are baffled by this. Perhaps I don’t fit into their idea of what a nun should look like or be. That’s common among those who have not spent much time among women religious. I have, and I know them to be individuals, humans. They are smart and funny and brave…they also drink beer and cuss and find themselves wanting. My calling ended up being to a life quite different from what I’d imagined. Still, when I think back to that time, I want to say to those doubters, “Do you not remember being young and in love?” Because I do.

I fell. Or rather,
I flew. I floated,
feet barely brushing
the sturdier surfaces of the earth.
You don’t forget your first and I do not;
we smuggle messages (he to me) in secret,
in sudden, stark realizations and serendipitous surprise.
Together we are children. We are as ancient as old bones.
Love lands lightly as a feather, as snow falling on the ground,
even now. After all I’ve done to desert it. After a lifetime,
we are still in love. One faraway day, we might even meet.
I can hardly contain my hope.

Every month, a huge truck pulls up in front of my neighbor’s house to supply her with oil to heat her house. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple to get your own energy percolating again? Just pull up to a tank and restore your zhoosh. Perhaps you could even order it online for same-day delivery.

I’ve had some ups and downs recently: I was under the weather and over-extended (physically, financially, and emotionally). Some days I felt underappreciated. Other times, overwrought. I felt off-balance and on-edge.

It seemed as if I was running in place, and prayed to find a map to help me move forward.

As I woke up this morning, I still felt this way, but as I got out of bed, I inadvertently played an old video of my cat (God rest) as he sat in his spot on the bed, calmly grooming and just basically existing. He was happy just to be with me. Normally, that video would make me sad, since he’s no longer here, but today, it was a reminder of pawsitive things (sorry, had to): love, comfort, sitting in stillness, a peaceful home, warmth, a furry friend you can count on, blessings. All the things that comprise zhoosh restoration are gifts from God that you may take for granted. Focus on the things that lift you up today, and you’ll find that they bring you back to life.

You know the guy (or gal). The one that takes up space in your head, whose very voice you cannot stand to hear. The one that makes you grit your teeth, scream in frustration, want to resort to acts of violence. THAT guy (or gal). Mental health workers tell us not to let someone like that take up real estate in our heads or hearts because it’s not good for us. Why empower them that way? But it’s more than that.

I believe we will all be called onto the carpet at the end of our lives here on earth, and we will have to answer for our sins, lacks and weaknesses. THAT person will have to do this, too. Let God judge him (or her). But don’t add to your own liabilities by harboring ill will toward someone. Don’t let THAT person add to your deficits.

Forgive them — even if you have to do it multiple times daily — and love them. (You don’t have to like or respect them. Those things are earned.) After all, you can only change yourself. Make yourself the best you.

Lord, you know them:
They try the patience of saints.
They take what is good and render it sullied.
They walk on hearts in their big black boots.
They laugh at those on the margins because they live smack dab
in the center of the page, where nothing can assail them.
Safe. Satisfied.

Lord, I am old enough to know
there is little justice on this earth.
Let me not become a part of the problem.
Take my soul and bleach it clean.
Take my heart and reshape it like clay.
Take my voice and redirect it from pain to prayer.
Let me love the least lovable, so as to be
the least like them that I can be.

I have to admit it.  I don’t watch the Super Bowl.  No, I don’t have anything against the 49ers or the Kansas City (Missouri!) Chiefs.  I’m just not into football and blessedly neither are my husband or son.  But I’ve heard a lot about the halftime show. There were criticism of J-Lo’s skimpy clothing.  Hmm.  Why aren’t there same people complaining about the cheerleaders?

Then there was the griping about that “strange thing” Shakira did with her tongue.  Seriously?  Now we’re complaining about people’s tongues?  But a friend of a friend explained to us that it is cultural, something the Lebanese do to show joy.  I’m not even going to get into all the fuss and bother about the dancing.  Hint: That was cultural too.

Moments like these I realize that as a nation we are just a tiny bit clueless.  We believe that we are tolerant if we let you put your foot, appropriately clad and not doing anything odd, on our soil.  You are now free to be just like us.

But we forget that tolerance really means letting you be you while I am me.  It means standing up for you and you and even you way over there.  Yeah, you.  The one with the hot pink hair.  It means saying no to anything that strips the humanity from other people.

Jesus showed tolerance when he walked among the people and healed Samaritans as well as Romans.  And he called on us to stand up for those who are imprisoned, without foot, lacking shelter.  Sequins and halftime shows?  I don’t think those were even on the radar for which I am grateful.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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