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Let me sum it up for you: Grace — I don’t have it. Well, at least not outwardly. Not the kind of grace that shows up in the fluid movement of a dancer or the effortless courtesy of a good hostess. Certainly not the kind of grace Jesus’ mother Mary had, which was a complete freedom from sin. The kind of grace available to me (and to all of us) is pure gift, the redemption we receive only from God.

We give grace when we forgive one another. But it’s hard to bestow that kind of grace, hard to say, “I forgive you” without adding, “even though you’re essentially a bad person/ a selfish swine/possibly a criminal/not someone who deserves my friendship.” Grace doesn’t judge. It’s rather like mercy in that way, dropping “as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath.” Raindrops don’t choose where to fall. And if we want to be Christ-like, we can’t pick and choose where our grace falls either.

I’ll admit it’s a struggle. Lucky for me, grace is also a prayer. Maybe not this kind, but still — praying might get me there.

I was not built for grace.
It fits me ill,
a hair shirt at once too small
and dangling from my shoulders.
Still, I’ll have the mastery of it.
I will practice the fastening of buttons,
repeat the words until I mean them.
I will work at grace as at a puzzle,
trying the pieces, searching for a fit.
Perhaps the picture will never be clear,
but I will accept it as it stands, with holes
and jagged bits, unfinished but enough.
I will rain grace, fertile as a heavy cloud,
no matter how the stony ground accepts it.
But first, I must fill myself.

  1. ✅Summer Tick Check

Okay, kids. When you come back into the house after playing in the yard, shake out every piece of clothing you’re wearing to check for ticks. Turn it inside out. Hold it up to the light. Look in the mirror. Check every fold of skin. Turn around. Feel with your hands. Clear? Good. Oh, wait! Your hair! Run your fingers methodically through your hair. Cover every inch of your scalp.

Phew! That was close. Nobody wants to catch Lyme Disease!  Nobody wants something hijacking your head. Sticking its spikes into your skin. Infecting you with a dread disease that changes who you are. Sucks the life out of you. Stops you in your tracks. Puts your life on hold.

  1. ✅Summer Skincare Check

Sunscreen on or the trip is off. Down the shore, that sun can really do a number on you. Searing into your skin. Causing you pain. Creating lasting damage. Could lead to cancer, which could be fatal.

  1. Summer Psyche Check

Crickets…

Meantime, that cruel comment from your father bored into your brain and still comes up when the sad sets in. Meanwhile, that thing that happened when you were a child that they said don’t speak of to anyone reverberates in your life decades later. Changes you at the cellular level. But there’s no think-tank studying how to stop it from metastasizing. Only platitudes and placebos: stiff upper lip. Soldier on. 

Worse yet, there are the naysayers. Are you sure that happened? I don’t want to be skeptical but, you were so young. Maybe you were mistaken? 

No. It happened. And the pain you feel is real, but it’s a relic that has calcified into a stumbling block you still trip over.

You can release it. You don’t have to make your mind a mausoleum of dark days.  

You free yourself by excavating and examining said past pain this way:

Did I deserve this? Did I cause this?

No.

Why did no one stop it? Why did no one help me?

I don’t know.

Am I worthy of the good life has to offer? Is my life important?

Yes.

Shake off the debris of memory and walk your mind into the sacred space at the center of your soul.

Check yesterday off your list. Say yes to today.

Let the wounds heal into scars. Let the scars lead you to tend to other people in pain, healing both of you in the process. Don’t resurrect the past now that it’s laid to rest. Don’t give it power over how you feel by poking it and picking at it, revisiting and reviving it in perpetuity. Don’t give old pain new life. Address it fully and release it to make way for new Grace Gifts: joy, peace, love.

Be in this moment. Let tomorrow form into what it will. 

Life is good.

God is good.

All is well.

✅Check.

I once heard a doctor describe illness as an external trauma that the body has absorbed. Literally, our bodies take in the bad things that happen to us and convert them into sickness. “What kind of New Age nonsense is this?” I wondered.

But he was right.

The trauma I experienced in the first three months of this year came home to roost in the second three. Cellulitis, respiratory infections, back problems, pneumonia — you name it, I had it. I was a fixture at my doctor’s office. I visited the ER. I underwent two ultrasounds and a CT scan. I took four courses of antibiotics, all different. I slept sitting up for two months.

I’m much better now. Really. But I’ve become a believer in the body-mind connection. If you don’t take care of the things that hurt you emotionally, your body will be forced to contend with them in various, very physical disguises. What hurts your soul can also hurt your body. My advice? Pour out your pain to any listening ear you can find. Ideally, you should find a professional, but barring that, talk to someone: a friend, a relative, a spiritual advisor, your spouse. And, of course, you can always pray it out.

I am the worse for wear.
So are we all, trapped as we are
in fragile flesh, prone to pelting
by the nettles of nature, the stings
of our very need for each other.
Bad love hurts to the bone.
Grace still heals, miraculous as mud
daubed on a blind eye, sudden as touching
the hem of a cloak. You will hurt,
but you will change, cell by cell,
into something stronger.
You may not see it now. But believe.
Bones ache as they grow;
so do souls.

Dainty, white tea cup on a white table. Pink flowers in a glass vase are blurred in the background.

As I was meditating this morning, the soothing voice of Yoga instructor, Selena Lael, made it seem as if all was right with the world. 

“Exhaling fully,” she said, “and emitting a humming sound will activate the Vagas nerve.”

Well, I don’t know if I inadvertently activated the “Vegas” — as in Las Vegas — nerve instead somehow, but suddenly I was amped up and anxious. Alarms were blaring in my head. Oh no! I forgot there’s a bill on auto-pay! Is there enough money in my account to cover it?

Also, I’ve got a stack of emails to reply to. Plus, I just dangled my preposition at the end of that last sentence. Aaaah!

So many things just seem so…unfinished. You tackle one situation and another one seems to spring up in its place. All these things are really just tasks on a to-do list, and we’ve all had moments where things have slipped through the cracks, haven’t we? But, looking back on the ledger of your life, you’ve handled such things before. You know how to plow through this pile of problems.

Eyes up. Gaze forward. Hands together in prayer. Shoulders square. One foot in front of the other.

There’s no need to gear up for a fight and “take on the day.” Put down your arms and take IN the day. The battle’s already been won. Do what you can to address what needs attention, and then, stop running in place. Be still, and breathe.

Settle into your comfy armchair with a fresh cup of coffee. Cover your lap with a soft throw blanket. Sit by the sunny window in the living room and pet the cat. Drink in the day that is right now, not the chaotic mess-fest you fear it may become.

It’s okay to stay in today and let tomorrow germinate in God’s garden. Who knows? Maybe the muck and mulch of fear and uncertainty will magically morph it into a beautiful, burgeoning blossom. But for now? Just be here.

I have been submerged in grief for four long months. It’s kept me away from this blog, mostly because I could not fathom how to write my way out of my despair. If I had to tell you what I’ve learned, it is only this: Who will buoy you up when you are in the depths. I have been blessed with support from friends like Ruth and Sue, who have blessedly kept the home fires burning, and from my husband’s lovely family. And while I am nowhere near healed, I am ready, perhaps, to stick my head above water and see what’s going on.

Ship to shore: Hello, hello?
Alas, I’m still at sea.
I’ve been down, trench-deep,
where fish fluoresce and nothing grows.
The need for air recedes
the longer you dive deep;
the silence shrieks with sound.
I went without gear,
not knowing I would live here,
making a home, rattling my teacups
for visitors who seldom come.
The pressure is tremendous of course,
but no less than on land,
and no one complains
that my tears make them wet.
Will I abide, letting my hair grow wild
with kelp, squeezing grief into pearls?
Or will I breathe out bubbles and
follow till my feet find land at last?
I am not so deep that I don’t know light.
We will find each other someday.

There’s no doubt about it. I’m a champion at keeping busy but I’ve encountered two things this week that have me asking a question. Am I the right kind of busy?

Each week, a friend and I make photo badges to share online. It is something that we do to add a bit of positivity to a world that seems to need it. As I was looking for quotes to use, I came across this quote by Brittin Oakman.

That’s one thing.

Periodically our pastor gives a “character sermon.” He’s preached as the inn keeper who turned away Joseph and Mary. He’s preached as a tax collector and even an angel. This last one gave me pause. He preached as Satan.

To put it mildly, it was unsettling. He talked about how easy it is to turn prideful people to his bidding. Some of the names he mentioned were Biblical – King David and Saul. But he also talked about people who are in the news and how even every day people can stir things up and do his work.

It isn’t what they meant to do. They are standing up for themselves or someone else. Or they are just so very tired. They spoke without thinking. They didn’t mean to divide people. They didn’t mean to hurt anyone.

How much easier it would be to avoid undermining the light of God if we would spend some time being busy taking care of ourselves? Rest and recharging make it so much easier for us to see what is before us. How much better would it be if we would spend some time being busy reorienting ourselves to light and love and God? We would come away from these experiences carrying the light of God.

How much better would that be?

–SueBE

Just in case I’m reincarnated as a silverfish in my next life, I never squash any bugs I find in the house. It’s just not worth the risk!

So I spotted a multi-legger this morning in front of my computer table and stopped in my tracks. “Whoa!” I said. “You’re a big boy. Not to worry! I’ll take you out.”

I always clarify, “Mind you, I mean take you outside. Not take you out, like Tony Soprano would take you out.”

Oh yes, I do talk to all my rescue bugs, just in case silverfish speak English. Well, English with a New Jersey accent. So, Inglitch. Yo.

Youse guys, I bent down to scoop Steve (the standard name I give to spiders and silverfish) into a plastic cup and realized it was just a giant mass of matted cat hair. Oh! Oopsie. 

I thought about feeling embarrassed even though I was alone in the living room, but gave myself a break. I’ve got low vision. Honest mistake.

So instead, I scooped Phyllis the Furball (as she was now christened) into the cup dramatically and announced to no one in particular, “Rescue Accomplished!” and started to whistle the theme song to Mission Impossible. I deposited her into the garbage gingerly and said, “Glad to help, ma’am! Just doin’ my job.” 

You might as well make light of times when you make a mistake. Give yourself a break. God made you just as you are, flaws and all. 

He made me quirky and loyal and extra at times. He also authorized my low vision, so I know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

If you stumble a bit today, don’t worry about it. No biggie. 

Instead of agonizing, put your heart and soul into the things you love to do. That’s where you’ll find your calling. When you really get your hands on a project that lights you up from the inside, you won’t even sweat it when you mess up. You’re too busy getting stuff done and feeling good about life. 

I’ll tell you what else: when you find your calling, that’s where you’ll find your tribe, too. Writing about faith and prayer led me to my sisters of the soul, Lori and SueBE. I know that if I’m reincarnated as a bug in their house, they’re going to take me outside. Not take me outside, mind youse. But they’ll scoop me up in a plastic cup and help me find my way. 

So the least I can do in this life is love them from afar, wherever they are. Just as they do for me.

I recently opened a bag of Jelly Bellies. The giver assured me that these were much better than regular Jelly Bellies. I don’t remember what they were officially called. I call them Jelly Belly Irregulars. They are jelly beans that are stuck together. “These are the best,” I was told.

Whatever. I have a sweet tooth. People aren’t perfect so why should jelly beans be perfect? I was sure that I could deal with it.

But imperfection isn’t all these Jelly Bellies share with humanity. They are just as inscrutable. The flavor key that is normally present on a Jelly Belly package is missing. A white Jelly Belly can be coconut, vanilla, or creme soda. Green might be kiwi, green apple, pear or lemon lime.

No, they don’t look identical but it is tricky. More than once I’ve found my husband with his hand poised over the tin. Is it worth the risk or isn’t it?

People are just as hard to figure out. Last week, my husband and I had a meeting. Once before we had been poised to take our business elsewhere but this advisor seemed conscientious and on top of things. This was a follow up meeting for a set purpose but it ended up feeling like bait-and-switch. Had she miscommunicated with her assistant? Or had her assistant miscommunicated with us? It was only clear that something was amiss. When I asked about it, I was challenged to produce the original message. When I did and it backed me up, I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about.

The reality is that people are flawed. And I mean all of us. I do make mistakes, but something about this whole situation left a bad taste in my mouth. It was like assuming I had picked up a Strawberry Banana Smoothie Jelly Belly only to discover it was Dead Fish.

And yes, Dead Fish is a flavor in the Jelly Belly Beanboozled line. Fortunately, those questionable flavors seem to be “missing” from my package.

What are we to do when we are faced with someone like this? Maybe she was just having a bad day. Maybe this is a sign of things to come. If it is the latter, the reality is that I can’t change who she is. That’s between her and her maker.

All I can control is my response. I have to decide. Is it worth the risk or isn’t it?

–SueBE

Small gift with pale yellow wrapping paper, tied together with a bright, pink bow

A wise man once said, “God’s got bad gift-wrapping.”

Although you can’t see it right now, the things you’re going through that hurt like Hell will collude together with Providence to create a new path ahead of you. It’s a package of pain, mind you, yet somehow, still a gift.

Sometimes you feel so alone, you dig yourself a little hole and hide there, hoping the pain won’t go with you. But of course, it does. All you want is for life to be the way it was before. For those you held dear to be here. To have full vision, as you did before. To return to the place where life made sense. To turn back the clock to the good old days, when you had the luxury of taking it all for granted. You don’t want magic and miracles. You just want a normal day. Seems like it should be one word, “Normalday” as if it’s a location or destination. A mile marker of the soul that only you can see.

In time, you’ll find a place where a glimmer of grace resides and hunker down there until the sun decides to shine again. You find you’re still covered with prayer from afar night and day, and you see that the world has decided to start turning again. You come in from the cold and walk into the warmth of those who still hold you up and hold you dear and hold you together. 

But wait! This is the best part. This is the blessed part. You say it doesn’t feel like it? No. And it won’t for some time. You’re growing internally, expanding exponentially. You’re building the ability to bear up without knuckling under. To shore yourself up without getting pulled back into the morass of misery.

It’s a long walk to the promised land of “Normalday”, but remember: You will never walk alone. The ones you’ve loved and lost (including who you were in the past) are still with you somehow, and it is never a mistake to risk opening your heart because one day you will lose them.

Let them in. Let them go. Let love remain, even after they’ve gone. Let yourself grieve. Let yourself believe. Even after loss (of loved ones, of limbs, of sight, of jobs, of friends, of money, of “the one that got away”, etc.) there is life. And tomorrow the sun will shine again. You will rise to meet the day and be renewed. And look at you now! You’ve survived the worst of it, stronger at the broken places. Let the normal day begin.

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

“God is God. You are not.”

Following this opening line from today’s sermon, my friend and I glanced at each other. “All righty then,” she whispered.

No, the pastor didn’t stop, but this could have been the shortest sermon ever. Instead he spoke about how we humans try to draw connections where none exist. We want to connect the dots. We want answers and explanations. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people?

This reminded me of something that I read last week. We are primed and programmed, as human beings, to make connections and recognize patterns. It is how understand the world around us and how we have survived for so many thousands of years.

Think about it. Many years ago, Bob ate the bright red berries. That night, Bob had a horrible stomach ache. He got sick. While he is recovering, his friend stops by. The friend says that he is only now feeling better. He ate some bright red berries. He had a stomach ache and got sick. Bob and his wife connect the dots. Don’t eat the bright red berries. They tell their neighbors. These people learn from the pattern.

People are really quite good at recognizing patterns, but we get a little full of ourselves. If we can figure out what to eat and what not to eat, surely we can figure out why X event happened to those people over there and not to us. Because, if we can figure it out, we can be safe.

Sigh. If only it were that easy. This idea that we can figure things out and be safe isn’t new. In Luke 13, a group of visitors asked Christ about a party of Galilieans who had been killed by the Romans. Why did this happen to them? How could it have been prevented? Christ’s answer probably wasn’t reassuring because he simply responded that it had nothing to do with them being bad or wrong or somehow deserving.

It isn’t the answer that the people wanted. I imagine that they felt let down and out of sorts. They were stressed and worried and had troubles sleeping. Sound familiar?

Christ assured the people that God, the gardener, was at work. God had not given up and neither should we. After all, we are God’s and he is working all around us even if we cannot always make out the patterns.

–SueBE

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