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She was voted “Best Smile;” I was voted “Most Intelligent.” We remained close after grade school, despite going to different high schools, because she worked in a department store I frequented. Whenever we saw each other, we’d chat as if no time at all had passed since graduation.

Reconnecting on Facebook was a shock. I expected my old friend; instead I saw awful caricatures of President Obama and hateful speech. When did “Best Smile” become…this? I stayed friends but shut off her posts, checking in every once in a while to see if anything had improved. It hadn’t. Things eventually came to a head, and I had to unfriend her altogether.

This kind of division is becoming prevalent. Poetry, as always, becomes my voice.

You hear: up is down.
I hear: black is white.
Bedrock becomes liquid
and the oceans walkable.
When we cannot agree
on the color of the sky,
things have surely come apart.
We fire our pistols into the air,
heedless of the hail of bullets,
which, after all, have no
place to land but on our heads.
When the mad tea party ends,
we walking wounded
will have to speak, but how?
The alphabet is in ruins;
we are left with lines
in the dirt, crude gestures.
Only a devil could sow such discord.
Only God will loosen our lips.

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Every so often, someone, somewhere, will be mad at the world and will eventually say these words: I didn’t ask to be born!

Now, this is not to minimize the pain of those going through a hard time, but I wonder.

What if you actually did ask to be born. In fact, what if you even paid to come here. Better still, what if tax dollars were used? Maybe your loved ones in heaven (or wherever souls are stored) are working hard there to support you here. You’d do your best and get to work on meaningful projects then, wouldn’t you?

Maybe they’re spending their afterlife populating your dreams with what seem to be mundane activities (Oh look! There’s my mother, folding towels. What does that mean?) Maybe those are really metaphors and bread crumbs, guiding you as much as they’re allowed by universal decree (maybe the dream’s meaning was: Take care of work first, play later.)  Like the Prime directive from Star Trek. They’re only allowed to gently encourage without revealing too much, allowing for your free will.

But then you’d have to figure out what those meaningful projects are. No pressure! It’s only the peace of mind of your late loved ones, giving it their all so you can have the gift of life!!

Okay. That’s probably not the case. But “projects” is another word for “purpose.”

This fanciful tale was brought to you by all those you’ve loved and lost. I’m no medium (I’d honestly have to admit that I’m more of a “large”), but I don’t think they’d want you to fret as much as you do. They’d only want you to do your best with the days in front of you. And when you look back? To do so with a smile and keep moving.

It’s a new year! Well, sort of. Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year in the Catholic Church. I suppose it is apropos that the new year begins with waiting. We spend such a vast amount of time doing it, after all: waiting in line (or “on line” if you’re from the Midwest), waiting for doctors and plumbers and cable repair persons, waiting for mail to arrive and children to get dressed and pets to do their business. Waiting to eat, to sleep, to give birth, to die.

All of life is waiting, in a way. Advent merely provides additional practice. But what are we waiting for? For a child to be born into a manger? That already happened. For that child to come again? Yes, but that’s constant, not necessarily Advent-specific. I think we’re really waiting for a change of heart.

Remember how you felt at Christmastime when you were a child? Remember when just seeing lights strung on houses and carols being sung could lift your heart right up to your throat? Somewhere along the line, we lose that sense of wonder. How can we get it back? Maybe that’s the challenge of Advent.

My father-in-law was manning the bell and kettle for the Salvation Army one Christmas, outside of a store, when a little boy — obviously disabled — came struggling up to him. In his mittened hand, he held a clutch of crumpled dollar bills. His mother explained that it was his Christmas money; he wanted to donate it to people who really needed it. My father-in-law still tells this tale with tears in his eyes.

This advent, I am waiting for that little boy — his spirit, anyway — to rise up in me like a tide and wash away my grown-up skepticism and wariness. I want to receive Christmas as purely and joyfully as a child. And I want to give away that pure joy as rapidly as it spools into my heart. I think that’s a worthy thing to wait for. Don’t you?

I have to admit it.  I adore Christmas.  Adore it.

It is the one time of year that I get into glitter and shimmer and WOW.  Otherwise, I’m a denim, battered boot kind of girl.

But Christmas draws me in.  Tomorrow I’m heading into the basement on a quest for our advent wreath.  We’ve had this same wreath since my teen was a baby but then again it is a silver pillar plate.  On it we place votive candles.  Did you know votive candles were first made to light in prayer?  A ring of prayer candles on a plate.  It helps me remember to turn to God in prayer even when things are crazy hectic.

And I’m making a new outdoor decoration.  I love the lights.  Just love them.  But the decorations that draw me in?  Nativities and stars.  Snowflakes and light strings.  Our new piece is a pallet painted with a star and strung with solar lights.  Yep.  I’m even nerdy and green at Christmas.

But what may be the best part of Christmas?  When people remember those who have less.  Who are in need.  Our church helps fill backpacks for children taken into foster care.  We’ve already delivered the crib full of coats.  We always have a food barrel but now is when it gets a real workout.

Take the time to slow down for a moment here and there this holiday season.  Center yourself on the why of it all.   And go into the world with the peace and love that are His call to us all.  When the commercialism gets to you, return to that focus.  Make this Holy season your own.

–SueBE

I’m doing again. Trying to buy Christmas, that is. Trying to bring home God-made-manifest in a series of shopping bags. Trying to echo God’s ultimate gift of love with stuff hauled in from the local mall. It is, of course, an endeavor doomed to failure.

Even the Grinch realizes by the end of the story that Christmas doesn’t come in a gaily-wrapped package. But even knowing that at a cellular level doesn’t stop the rampant commercialism of the holidays. You feel the tug of it everywhere you go. How can I show the people I love that I love them? How about a brand new set of knives! It’s enough to put a damper on anyone’s spirits. Gift-giving becomes a burden, rather than a joy.

So where do we find Christmas if not under a tree? Inside of ourselves. And how do we kindle that spark while being simultaneously bombarded by cookie-baking, house-trimming, gift-wrapping, covert buying and endless card-addressing?

I wish I had an answer to that. Maybe it’s a little like touching a butterfly: You can chase it around, offer bait, call out to it…and nothing is likely to happen. But if you just sit still and wait, quietly and patiently, it may very well land on your outstretched hand.

As the calendar turns to December, let us not chase down Christmas with a net and a cage. Go where the season pulls you — to church, to volunteer opportunities, even to a cozy evening on the couch with Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. Tell your loved ones you love them. Let God find you this Christmas, waiting, ready, snug as a manger filled with fresh hay.

Yesterday was giving Tuesday so I spent a lot of time thinking about the impact what all have on the world around us.  Give to an organization like Heifer or Presbyterian Disaster Relief, and it has an impact.  Your money pools together with the money of others and influences the lives of people we will most likely never meet.

But what if you don’t have money to give?  That’s the reality some of us face, we have time but not money.  The good news is that we can still give to others.  And many of these gifts will be much closer to home.  We can help with our children’s sports teams, in their schools or their scout troops.  We can help a neighbor run an errand.  We can sweep someone’s porch or shovel their walk.

And we can pray.  A lot has been said on social media in the last year belittling prayer.  And I get it.  When prayers are offered in times of pain and horror but nothing is done to prevent that same pain and sorrow the prayers seem empty.

But sincere prayer?  That is something else.

A friend recently lost his step-daughter to heroine.  We prayed.

Another friend’s mother is in-and-out of the hospital.  I’m not a doctor but I can pray.

Some people think these prayers do know good but when someone believes in the power of prayer?  When someone is suffering and feels alone, letting them know we are praying can truly help.  A friend of my son suffers from chronic migraines. When I let her know I am praying for her, the tension visibly drains away.

Take a moment today and say a prayer.  You can pray for someone you don’t know.  Or pray for someone you do know.  Pray for wisdom or compassion.  Like ripples in a pond, prayer impacts lives.

–SueBE

This coming Sunday marks the beginning of Advent.  Advent, the season that prepares us for the coming of Christ.  A time of anticipation and preparation.

Last Sunday, we discussed Glory and what it means to each of us.  The author of our lesson discussed the way we use the word in our daily lives.  “Not me,” I told the group.  “I don’t tend to use it.  When I say glory, I think God.”

Across the table, one of our engineers nodded.  “Awe.  Wonder.  Splendor.  The vastness that is God. It is bigger than anything we can imagine.

And, in all honesty, I have to say that pretty much sums God up for me.  Bigger than anything I can imagine.  Relatable?  Not in the least.

Personally, I think that is why Christ came to Earth as a baby.  A baby you can cradle in your arms.  A baby you can see and love and at least begin to understand.  Vastness understandable through Love.

–SueBE

Note: I know there are many people out there truly suffering this Thanksgiving — this post is not for you. A change of perspective won’t mitigate your very real grief. Please know that the prayers and empathy of many, many people are with you this holiday season. Take care of yourselves!

Blessing myopia: The inability to see all the marvelous gifts in our lives because we are too focused on negative things that occlude our vision. I’ve certainly been guilty of this lack of awareness. Maybe you have, too? This Thanksgiving, let’s shift our focus a bit.

There’s lint in my pockets
but no holes, and my boots
(battered, worn) will last
another season. If I cut the frayed bits
off my jacket, no one will be the wiser.
I am fed, filled. I sink into bed
(the mattress little more than
dust mites tightly holding tentacles)
and sleep warm and well.
When I am cold, the cat comes
to sit; no blanket could be better.
There is sun somewhere,
even if I can’t see it.
It will rise and set predictably.
The clock of my life will tick.
The sound will fill the hollow places,
joy will change the plain days
into something rather lovely.
Ordinary life will stop my breath
with surprise, and daily my heart
will croon.

They say the wise man knows he knows nothing.
Though I am not wise, what I know could fit
on the width of a dime, on the lean edge
of a knife, on an atom. With careful cursive,
I could inscribe my life’s learning on the tittle
of an i. But what I know, I know boldly, down
to the soft center of my bones, a level so molecular
that the truth runnels into my porous soul
and mingles with my being. The truth is this:
Love is everything. It is quest and craft,
the only answer worth seeking, living and
dying for, chasing into strange lands and
distant ports. It is the only place to pin
your hopes, like stars on the blanket of the sky.
It is both work and worth of a lifetime.
But even greater: God is love.

Do you feel broken by recent events? I hear you. It’s hard to live in the here and now when here is untenable and now is rife with violence, greed and anger. Perspective helps, so let’s go back to the Sermon on the Mount. You know what Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” etcetera. Notice what he didn’t say? “…for they will inherit the earth — in twenty minutes!” Nope. All of those rewards Jesus talks about? Those are things that will happen in heaven, in the hereafter — “next life” stuff.

So how do you make it through this life when real justice will only occur in the next? Think long-term. Even the king of the fruit flies only lives 24 hours. Sure, he can buzz as loud as he likes, even assemble a fruit fly army…in the end, he is a nothing in a sea of nothingness. He is a grain of sand. He is a mote, a distraction, a flicker, an afterthought. This life is brief. The next life is eternal. Why waste time on negativity, selfishness or anger when there is so much joy to look forward to?

I’m not asking you to ignore life or to ignore the inequalities and injustice that surround us. Just the opposite. Keep working on it. Don’t give up because of “this world” distractions. Those are just fruit flies. Swat them away. Keep plugging away at justice, mercy, love and hope. Because that’s what will matter in the next life. And next life stuff is awesome. I want to be there for it. Don’t you?

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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