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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

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years…

Yea, though, with a contractor, a day costs like, a thousand dollars.

Now, this may not actually be (said in Chandler Bing’s voice) in the Bible, but maybe it ought to be.

Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim. Let me add to that list: Sales reps gotta sell. The trick is finding a sales rep who won’t rook you. This was on my mind as I listened to the basement waterproofing sales rep give me his spiel.

“So, with all the issues this basement has, we’re looking at…” (pretends to do quick calculations on his notepad). “Ten thousand, five hundred. Are you onboard?”

I want to say: Oh sure! I’ll pencil you in for next Tuesday, cuz I’m having tea with the Queen on Monday. Then I’ve got to buy the Brooklyn Bridge, mm hmm, let’s see… (pretends to check calendar on phone) and then I’m scheduled to buy a used turnip truck, and will proceed to fall off the back of it.

But what I say is this: “Thanks for your time.” And I usher him to the door. I wasn’t born yesterday. Or the day before, sonny! I know I shouldn’t get mad at people who try to sell me a bill of goods, but this is ridiculous.

In the actual Bible, in Ecclesiastes, it says:

“There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens:”

It even covers home improvements!

 “…a time to tear down and a time to build…”

So what this saga tells me is that it isn’t the time to get those renovations done. It’s better to put buckets under leaks than to pay a shady outfit to do a half-hearted (or half-lower-extremity’d) job. Time to get back to my blessings and put the problem in God’s hands.

One morning, I tried a sample of skin cream my dermatologist had given me, and, as soon as I slathered it on, my skin began to burn. Next came the intense itching, and finally, an outbreak of acne. 

I called the dermatologist’s office, and told the on-call doctor I was having an allergic reaction to the sample. He said, “It’s probably not an allergic reaction. Everyone who starts with this cream has some mild irritation.” He proceeded to tell me not to worry and to start using the cream again a few days later.

I thanked him, hung up, and set about doing the things I knew would alleviate the pain: take Benadryl, put an ice pack on my cheeks, and drink lots of water. Far be it from me to correct a doctor, but his advice was unhelpful, so I didn’t heed it.

The next day, as my skin was peeling off my face in patches as if I’d been severely sunburned, I thought, What was the disconnect here? Was it just that doctors don’t believe patients? Men don’t believe women? The younger generation doesn’t believe older people?

It reminded me of the time I’d hired an animal control company to capture a groundhog. The young man arrived to set up what he called an “inescapable” trap, and, each time he’d set it up, he’d catch the groundhog, then lose it again. 

I called the owner of the company and told him the groundhog had escaped four times. “Impossible,” he said. “That trap is iron-clad. No way any animal can get out of it.” Far be it from me to tell a business owner he’s off-base, but I had video of the groundhog breezing out of the metal trap like a teeny Houdini.

I went back out to the yard and said to the young man, “The owner says the trap is impossible for a groundhog to escape from. Why does this keep happening?” 

The young man said, “Well, I’ve done this job for a number of years, and set this trap a number of times, and this is really hard to explain.”

At that moment, it occurred to me: Zero is a number. He’s done this job for zero years. He’s had zero training. And he captured zero groundhogs that day. What a life lesson this was for me!

When it comes to what’s happening in your life, you know the deal. 

When somebody tells you that your experience didn’t happen? They’re denying your reality. They can talk all day long, but if you aren’t getting what you need out of the situation, you’ve got a right — even an obligation — to show them the door. Wish them well on their journey…and may it be far away from you. What was it the Bible says about not being a clanging cymbal?  We don’t need noise without substance.  We need those who see and hear us.

Alt-text: This is Squeaky, my mackerel tabby with tiger stripes, sitting on my laptop as I try to participate in a Zoom meeting. He is sitting on the keyboard to keep warm, but also to discourage me from doing anything other than patting and playing with him. The laptop is on a dark brown and greyish-silver table and is next to my blue iPad. In the background, there is a peach-colored wall and two square, white windows. There is a black metal floor lamp with a white shade nearby. In the windows, there is a reflection of the trees in the backyard that is striated by the light coming through the bamboo blinds.

This morning, my cat, Squeaky, was tossing around his toys, and when one of them rolled under the couch, he looked at me with those piercing “guy-liner” eyes expectantly. “Can you get that ball for me, O Servant? Sometime today, please,” he seemed to say. Even silent, he’s pushy, but that’s part of his charm.

So I felt around under the couch and found the ball, but it was covered with dust. I picked off the schmutz, and, without realizing, touched my face. Uh-oh. I’m allergic to dust. Earlier this year, I got a skin infection from scratching my face after I’d dusted. Not again! I ran to the sink to wash the dust off my face.

Dust off my face. Huh. Isn’t that what we’ve all had to do recently as we get semi-sorta back into IRL (in real life) meetings using Zoom? If you’re going to be in a Zoom meeting on camera, you’re going to have to take your face out of storage and dust it off. 

Being on video means we’ve got to remember to do laundry the night before so we’ve got clean “work clothes.” In the morning, we’ve got to shower so we don’t show up with “Bedhead” hair on camera. 

As we get back into the swing of things, let’s all remember to dust off another thing we’ve collectively put on the shelf: kindness. 

It takes a lot of energy to deal with everything being thrown at us. As we all dust off our public faces, and remember how to conduct ourselves in public spaces, tensions flare. So if someone comes at you today in a bad mood, try not to respond in kind. Show grace and conduct yourself with dignity. You might just be the metronome of mercy that sets the tone for those around you. 

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