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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

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.

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

Image result for british tea kettleOne of my go-to “happy place” programs is the Great British Baking Show (the original version, with Mary, Paul, Sue and Mel). Now, mind you, I’m not much of a baker, but I love to eat a nice scone in the kitchen while watching this show. Does that count as baking? I mean, I am sitting next to the stove, which I use often…to…uh…light candles 🕯 and such. 🙂 I’ll have to check my unimpeachable yet unidentified sources on Google Search and the Dark Web, but I believe that watching this show counts as surrogate baking. 

Often, I’ve had to look up British terms used on the show, such as “scrummy” (it means “scrumptious”) and “Bob’s your uncle” (that’s “you’re all set”), but the culinary creations and genteel charm of the show have won me over. It seems so civilized as the bakers compete politely to impress the judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (incredibly, his real name). Even the judges’ criticism seems less caustic than you’d see on an American cooking competition. After I watch the show, I find that I walk around calling my son and his friends “guv’nah” and using big words erroneously and randomly. Am I being subliminally influenced? Indubitably.😉

The bakers’ “soggy bottoms” are scrutinized scrupulously (that’s the underside of their cakes, not the bakers), and it’s actually the ultimate compliment when judge Paul says of one of the bakers (some of whom are lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc.), “Scientist? No. That guy’s a baker.”

Watching this pleasant show is how I take a break when life gets hectic. I put the kettle on, have a warm cuppa, and escape to a kinder, gentler world. You can’t take care of others if you’re running on fumes and faith alone, so put your own well-being at the top of your to-do list today.

Radiant with faith, they arrived on my doorstep. Something, they said, had brought them here. We talked for a while about faith practices, about the search for God, and they left me with their literature, which I perused. And I considered. Most of it was a history, and as most histories are, fraught with conflict. But not all of it. There, scattered, were the jewels of most religions: ideas like forgiveness, mercy, justice, love.

If we could visualize a giant Venn diagram of all religious practices, the overlapping places — the places we converge — give us our best and most direct look at what and who God really is. The rest — the places we differ — are just housekeeping. Potato, po-tah-to. If only we could concentrate on what we have in common, rather than what keeps us apart, we would be the better (and dare I say, holier) for it.

Eradicate the pageantry.
Strip the faith down to its bones.
Lay it open as an autopsy,
as brutal and as frank: look.
There among the many threads
we’ve woven into coats (the coats
that mark us one from another)
is a single strand. It is red
with heart’s blood; it is white
with hope, pink with raw forgiveness.
Grasp it in your hand. It will lead
you out of the labyrinth of rancor.
Silence will visit you there, and
you will see what you are meant to see:
It was all set up ahead of time.
There was no mystery,
only abundant clues.

Last week, my husband sent me a real estate ad.  A series of ranches are on the market in Brewster County, my dad’s home county in West Texas.  I clicked through and looked at videos and longed for the high desert.  Then a comment from my mother-in-law popped up.

“You’d need a really big mower.”

They call them cows, Judy.  That was my first cheeky response.  I told her to look at the photos. This is high desert.  No mower needed but, and this would be so cool!, I could have a mesa.  She responded.  “I think if you could afford that ranch you could afford someone else to mow.”

As my grandmother would have said, God Bless her pointy little head.  My mother-in-law grew up in Kentucky.  I don’t know that she’s ever been to God’s country, the high desert of West Texas.  So I explained again that it is a desert. No mower needed unless you make it so.

Conversations like this make me realize how miraculous it is when we manage to understand someone from a completely different culture. After all, my mother-in-law and I are both Americans.  But she doesn’t get high desert.  Either there are cows and the land is covered by lush grass or it is desert, a desolate land where nothing grows.

But then again I was just as clueless the first time I was in Kentucky, specifically in the bluegrass where thoroughbreds graze and frolic.  “That’s strange.  All of the houses look alike,” I said as we drove by yet another long one-story structure.  “Hon, that’s a stable.”  What horses in Kentucky don’t shelter in barns?  Nope.  You dry tobacco in barns.

The world is an amazingly varied place. Even when you and someone else seem to be speaking the same language, you are coming at the conversation from different experiences.  When you don’t speak the same language, the effort needed is even greater but think of all the amazing things you might learn about how other people live.

–SueBE

 

Sophia Grace LeBlanc is recognized for her heroism by Premier Stephen McNeil at a Medal of Bravery Award ceremony. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Congratulations! You’ve won an award. For your efforts, you’ll receive:

  • A pat on the back
  • A piece of paper, and,
  • An uncomfortably close, cringe-worthy photo op with an elected official you’ve never met before!

Did I mention that the “you” in question is six years old? Sophia Grace LeBlanc, who bravely climbed from the wreckage of her family’s crashed car to get help for her injured mother and siblings, received an award for heroism. When she learned that the “award” was just a piece of paper, she spoke her mind.

“I thought because I was so brave, I thought I would get something a little better,” said Sophia.

She had done a wonderful, brave thing, and probably would have liked to receive some toys, or to be taken out for pizza with her friends. A piece of paper? A hug from some random (presumably unintentionally) handsy man? No thanks!

When do we unlearn honesty? Should kids be taught to be quiet, be polite, and tolerate the strange man huddling in for a cuddle? Is it rude to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Setting boundaries is humane. That way, the person who is offending you won’t have to apologize later, and will be educated since they didn’t know they were crossing a line.

Saying what you mean is compassionate. That way, everyone knows where you stand and eventually, the people around you will re-calibrate and reciprocate.

Saying it right at the moment of impact, when someone commits an infraction, is an act of kindness in every direction. That way, you won’t have to bear the weight of that grudge you would have been holding, and your relationships will become more meaningful.

During last Sunday’s service, the pastor discussed Peter’s vision of a sheet descending from heaven (Acts 10: 9 – 16).

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.  He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance.  He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners.  In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.  Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”  The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”

As explained by Pastor Sean, this passage is so much more than permission to lift Jewish dietary restrictions.  It is a call to change. Not only did Peter change what he ate, he took the Word to the Gentiles, a people previously unreached by God.

This vision was an instruction to take the church and make it something new.

For Peter, that meant moving among the Gentiles.  Since most of us are Gentiles, it has to mean something different today. Personally, I think it is a call to change how we move throughout the world.  Previously, Christianity was a tool of conquest.  Come, believe, and we will shape you after our image.

Instead, we need to get to know people.  See them.  Listen to them.  Ask questions.  It isn’t like I’m inventing this.  It is taken from Christ’s own experience.

As he walked the roads.

As he sat in the gardens.

As he ate among the people.

He saw them, heard them, and healed them.

–SueBE

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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