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True confession time.  Yesterday when Ruth wrote about the friend with the ruffled feathers, that was me.

I still feel bad that Ruth worried so much about upsetting me.  And really it wasn’t so much what she said.  It was the fact that when she said it, I was one great big raw nerve.

You may not have noticed, but 2020 has been a bit much.  No, really!  It has.  And this past week has been nightmarish.  Due to events in my family, I managed to attract the attention of a troll.  Oh, you’ve never had to deal with one?  Imagine something loud and hate-filled that comes boiling out from under a bridge looking for someone to bash.

Fortunately, I’ve got loved ones who are willing to support me when a troll does its worst.  Yes, Miss Ruth took a wrong step but I knew all along that she loves me, as does Lori.  We may not be blood kin but we are sisters of the soul with laugh lines and prayer calluses from our time together.

And I knew that.  That’s why when she said sorry I knew she meant it.  She was sorry.

She didn’t say that she was sorry I had misunderstood her obvious intent.  Or that she was sorry I was thin-skinned.  She wasn’t sorry that I was irrational or too sensitive.  She was sorry.

See I’m lucky.  I’ve got these two ladies in my life.  And I have another friend who is a life coach and one of the things that she helped me understand is that when I have that “Hey now” reaction, I need to think about who I’m reacting to.  Is this someone who loves me and wants what is best for me?

If I can say, yes, then I shouldn’t, as Miss Ruth says, make a problem my personal piñata.  It is time to talk things out, even if all I can say is “I get it but I’m raw right now and need to step back.”  My girls will have my back and they will bit by bit pull me back into God’s loving presence.

If, on the other hand, this person is a troll?  Then it is okay to say “Hey, now.  I’m not wallowing around in the muck.  Me? I’m heading back into the light with my sisters.”

And I’ll be thanking God yet again that they are part of my life.

–SueBE

purple petaled flowerMy favorite show lately is the comedy “Black-ish”, and in one episode, something unexpectedly good happens and a character exclaims, “Look at God!”

That phrase has been on my mind lately, as I’ve tried to come to terms with things I don’t quite understand, like how a woman’s body changes with age. Often, the changes are given “food” or “nature” names, like crepe-y skin, cottage cheese cellulite. Crow’s feet. Let’s not forget spider veins.

But all of this can make us forget we women are unique phenomena, capable of creating life, shouldering the weight of the world, and keeping the home fires burning.

These miniature miracles are often taken for granted by those of us who count on the sustaining grace of our sister-friends. That happened to me recently when my thoughtless words wounded a dear friend of mine. I probably assumed she knew I hadn’t meant any offense, as she’s used to my occasional bouts of blunt bluster. 

When I realized I’d been an Epic Tool, nay, a Stupid Stunod (as we say in Jersey), I emailed her again, apologizing for causing her pain. She didn’t reply right away, and during that time, I felt utterly bereft. Had I pushed her away forever? 

Luckily, she gave me a second chance, and it made think of all the second chances God had given me in life. Sometimes I think of my time in prayer as a chance to air a laundry list of Stuff I Don’t Have But Need, Like, Yesterday, and this is what I feel in return on my heart: Food on the table? Clothes on your back? A warm place to lay your head at night? Friends who love you through it all despite your flaws and failings? Peace in your heart? 

Bask in your blessings. Forgive those who cross you. Weigh your words and soften your tone. Don’t make a problem your personal piñata, swatting at it fecklessly. Do what you can and release it into the care of Providence. Look at everyone you’ve got in your corner. Look at all the love in your life. Don’t look at the mulch piling up on top of you. Look at the flower you’re blossoming into, not despite it, but because of it. Walk in faith through this valley, my child. Look at God.

Every day I pray that I might be God’s hands and feet. Honestly, I don’t know what this entails. I only hope that I see the opportunities as they arise and that I am up to the challenge of meeting them. I have no way of gauging my success rate, only a sense that it is an important commitment.

My life is quiet. This partially circumstantial — working from home, the pandemic, etc. But it’s also because I like a quiet life. Does that significantly limit my opportunities to work for God? Maybe? Probably? I don’t know. God made me as I am. I have to believe that God will find a way to work through me…as long as I am always open to it.

Hands too small for world-building,
too clumsy for carpentry,
endowed with no augury,
no healing touch. Feet that
can barely bear me up most days.
There is no dancing in them,
no grand displacement of earth.
Still I hold surety that somehow,
they will fit the right space,
and like the click of a key in a lock,
doors will open. If what lies beyond
is not for me, I hold no rancor.
Let others step through.
What they find and see
will sustain me.
Here are my hands.
Here are my feet.
I ask only this: Use them.
They are small; so is grace.
Yet grace can hold eternity.

We’ve been dealing with quarantine and conflict for some time now, and it’s taking a toll on everyone, so it’s important to remember to shore yourself up from the inside.

How do you do that? By reminding yourself of the blessings still in your life, like the fact that your pets are happy to have you home all the time. Well, until they start to feel you’re crowding them, at which point, they’ll have a cat caucus and decide how to address the situation.

Cats have their own unique way of communicating when they need something. Feed me, my cat will say, staring at his empty bowl. Play with me, he’ll say, swatting the air with his paws. They don’t need no stinkin’ words!

Of course, even those of us who know how to use our words find it difficult to say what we need. For example, it’s universally hard to say, I need help. People with mental health issues are often encouraged to “tough it out,” which is not very helpful, especially in times like these.

Another challenge is learning how to say, Please stop helping me. I can do this for myself. 

Maybe we could all learn from this store in Bangkok, which has two types of shopping baskets: a black one for shoppers who want to shop on their own, and a pink one for shoppers who need help as they shop.

Say what you need clearly. You never know who might be standing by, waiting to help you. And if you don’t need help, you may know of someone who could use a hand. Staying centered through prayer and perseverance shores you up so you can become a conduit of grace for all those you meet.

Do you ever feel like the fella in the center of this photo…like you’re standing stock-still while the world races around you? It can be an unnerving position to be in. But maybe it’s exactly where you need to be. What’s so bad about allowing the world to whirl while keeping your own feet firmly planted? So what if everyone is “getting ahead of you”? To where? And why hurry? Finding your still point just might bring you peace.

There is always,
in the chaos,
a still point:
the eye of the storm.
The nucleus of the atom.
The immovable stone
that knows its home
and sees no point in rolling.
And you?
Can you watch without wanting
to merge? To do with less? To linger?
Perhaps it is not poker we’re playing,
it’s a longer game; the kind where you wait
for ages to play your eight. Keep your cards close.
Stand pat. The world has more time in it than you know.
Count on the dealer to give you a sign.
There is no place like the present
to begin.

I’m sure I don’t need to point out to you just how different 2020 has been.  There is little left untouched from schools to jobs to celebrations and how we worship.

One of the things that my church has done is a system of three-fold worship.  The sanctuary is again open.  Admittedly, it looks a little odd with numerous pews “unavailable” and people sitting far from each other.  But not everyone feels safe venturing out for worship.  Our congregation includes several chronically ill seniors.  One wants to be present but can’t risk going inside.  But he can attend our “drive-in” service with worshippers in the parking lot, spaced apart, listening on their car radios.

Why do this when you can just watch it on Facebook live?

My husband and I usher for drive in service.  We volunteered to do this so that these people would feel seen and valued as part of the congregation.  I have to admit that I’m dreading going back into the sanctuary.

When I’m outside as we worship, my focus shifts.  I’m not seeing our beautiful sanctuary.  I’m seeing the natural world God created.  Some weeks I get to watch hummingbirds flitting around.  At first, I wasn’t sure what this was all about but after service I looked it up.  Like Lori said in her post, I’m into science and numbers and facts.  Hummingbirds eat mosquitoes!  Who knew?  Last week, our resident hawk perched one parking spot over, up in the crown of a tree.  It isn’t often you get to sit that close to a raptor.  It was amazing.

When the pastor reads Bible verses about sparrows and mustard seeds, I’m not looking across a limited space within brick walls.  I’m looking up at the clouds.  I’m looking across the garden, hoping to spot the hawk.  I’m seeing an aspect of the world that God made that I wouldn’t be engaging with if I was inside.

2020 has been something all right.  But if you widen your gaze, you just might catch a glimpse of something amazing.

–SueBE

Early in the book of Luke, Mary asserts her wholehearted embrace of God’s plan for her by saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” What does she mean by “handmaid”? Although the word has shades of meaning, several constants appear clear: 1) It is a personal job — a handmaid works for someone else intimately. 2) It is a lowly job — many Biblical handmaids are slaves. 3) It is a woman’s job and entails things women do, like giving birth. Handmaids are “given” to several of the Bible’s patriarchs in order to bear their children. In fact, translating Luke directly, Mary uses the Greek word “doule,” with its clear echoes of “doula” — a woman who helps another woman through childbirth.

The future must be birthed. And that is not an easy process. Neither is being a handmaid, a servant. It’s not how we like to think of ourselves. We prefer to be the captains of our fate, boldly carving out our own futures. But what if being handmaids is what we’re really called to do? Could you do it?

Destiny is a seed, darkly hidden,
housed and nourished, born to screams
and aching. It will not come quietly.
Providence will be born not by tyrants
and titans of industry, but by the quiet,
the girls with lowered heads, whose voices
softly say: I will. Even if it takes my being,
my body. Even if no one notices, if seeing
what I do looks to others like the simplest
of functions. Undistinguished. Ordinary.
To say yes to this is like landing in a foreign place
without a map or compass. Gather your wits.
Let your feet find the way. What happens next
will be clear to the world only after you have left it.

I am not exactly an expert in things scientific — that would be SueBE’s milieu — but I am enamored with the ways I see God communicating with us through nature. Take Fibonacci’s Sequence, for instance. Related to the Golden Mean, it is a series of numbers that correspond to all sorts of natural phenomena, from shells to trees to human beings. Computers “speak” in numbers. Why not God?

Leonardo of Pisa, predicting populations
of theoretical bunnies, cracks the code.
And there it is, laid out in lavishness,
in petals prettily plied and leaves layered,
in pinecones and the prickly parts of pineapples,
glimpsed in goat horns and galaxies,
hurricanes and honeybees;
in the branches of trees and
the webs spun in their notches;
in humans, too: from features on faces
to the helixes weaving our genes —
God is speaking in the language of numbers,
pure of passion,
never misconstrued by accent or inflection.
Whole, perfect, endlessly repeatable:
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55.
I love you
and you are perfect.

 

pink tulips on white vaseToday is my birthday, so I’d like to start by saying…what’d you buy me? I jest, of course. You shouldn’t feel obligated to get me a gift or anything, even though I’m always here, encouraging you and sending good vibes your way. 

Please don’t feel you must buy me a lovely scented candle, a cashmere shawl or make a donation to my 1-800-MISS-RUTH hotline. (That’s not real, by the way. Just jesting again!)

So I turned 55 today — although I’m told I don’t look a day over 54 ½ .😊 I’ve gotten some text and email birthday wishes, which I really appreciate. 

By far, the best gift I could ever ask for, I already have.

It’s taken decades to achieve, but I feel a sense of peace in my soul. 

I’ve got a modest home. A son who watches out for me. Friends I can count on. Projects that interest me. A mackerel tabby who cycles between maniacal and completely inert. Who could ask for anything more?

A friend told me the other day she’d give up one of her pinky fingers to lose weight. She believes her life will be better if the numbers on the scale go down. Less of her (body weight, that is) is the “more” she seeks.

It’s easy to feel guilty for things we haven’t done, like lose weight, finish that college degree, or find a mate. You’re establishing the rule Until I accomplish this one thing, I can’t allow myself to be happy!

The problem becomes a partner, and every time you find a tiny bit of joy, that problem reminds you it still hasn’t been solved. 

Sometimes the more you seek, the farther your goal seems to move away from you. When you look to someone or something else to complete you, you give your own power away.

Really, the “more” you seek is a sense that you’re on the right track. That your life has meaning. Hang your hat on hope and partner with Providence. Stop chasing after that nebulous “more,” and let your good life find you.

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