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In a conversation recently, I had a disagreement with an acquaintance around my age (53), and I was struck by how civil we both were. “If I may,” he interjected, as I made my point, “That’s not the case.” He continued for a moment, and then I interrupted politely, saying, “I’d like to point out…” and I made my argument. At the end of the conversation, we were still cordial.

It made me wonder if civility is actually an extinct language. It may have gone the way of Latin. It still exists, but very few people are fluent.

It can be difficult to remain calm when you’re talking to someone who’s being decidedly uncivil. Being civil doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to say what’s on your mind. Bluntness may even be required, but never belittling, or using pejorative or profane terms.

When I feel angry, hurt or offended in some way, I try to put it into words immediately. My son knows that when I come to him and say, “You know my policy; I have to tell you how I feel about what you just said”,  that’s the time for him to speak plainly as well.

Recalibrating my communication settings to say what I mean freed my soul from the clutches of grudges. That toxic energy only takes up space that’s meant for grace. Once you clear that parking spot, you’ll find you’ve made room for incoming blessings. Who knows? They might be circling overhead right now, waiting for you to wave them into your life.

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My son is in college with the goal of working in music production, so the next thing on his To-Do Liszt is to get an internship in the industry. So, without too much fanfare, I’d like to propose that some dear reader in the music business give him a hand.

Do you know how many points I’d score if some music mogul reading this offered my son a job? It’d be off the charts! Then he’d have no choice but to visit me every so often, even after he hits it big on a grand scale. The important thing is to really get a Handel on the skills he’ll need so he doesn’t end up Haydn some 9-5 job.

So here’s my pitch: he’ll write you a song, and you send him money! Everybody wins! 🙂 Here’s a sample of one of his songs: 

stay here pt2

Barring that, perhaps you know of an internship position in which he could learn the ropes, kind of a bridge between school and the rest of his life. That transition can be major, and sometimes we fall flat when we first go solo.

There’s an old saying: Get a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. I’d love it if he got a great gig, preferably close by, so he can always bring me presents (let’s call them “royalties”); well-paying, so he can pay off my mortgage (maybe he can write a nice house music song to do so); and working with people who are upbeat.

I’m probably preaching to the choir, but life is a collaborative composition. If you can help someone out on the road of life, whether it be a lead on a job in their field or just a kind word, you’re part of a larger movement. That’s humanity in harmony. Thanks for listening. Be Bach soon!

When my son was younger, one of the kids from the neighborhood came over just as my son and his friends were getting ready to ride their bikes. Landon (not his real name) didn’t have a bike, so I told him he could borrow mine.

When Landon came back he looked guilt-ridden. One of the other kids was saying to him, “You’re in big trouble, man. She’s gonna get real mad at you. She’ll tell your mom, and you’ll be on punishment forever. Nothing you can do about it.”

When Landon finally came up to me on the porch, he apologized. “For what, honey?” I asked. “I broke the bike,” he said. “My mom gets paid on Friday, so I’ll ask her to pay for the bike, and I’ll do chores to pay her back. Might take me a year, but I’ll make it right.”

This was both touching and heartbreaking. What a long ride back it must have been for that young man. Especially with the other kid bending his ear, piling guilt upon fear.

“No need for that, son. That bike was already hinky. One of Cole’s other friends messed it up, and didn’t even apologize. Don’t worry about it for a minute. Come on. We’re having Jiffy Pop.”

I wanted to say to the other child who’d appointed himself chief guilt-inducer, You should be ashamed! But it was too late for that. He already was. Misery loves company, and that’s the only language he knew. Someone had said these things to him, too, in his lifetime. I decided to extend hospitality to him instead. “Popcorn for you?” I asked.

Shame can be contagious, but luckily, there’s an antidote: grace.

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Alex Trebek, long-time host of “Jeopardy” has pancreatic cancer. This is a devastating diagnosis. However, Mr. Trebek recently announced that he is in near remission, and credits this miraculous turn-about to the power of prayer.

Which is wonderful. I was one of the many people who prayed for him, after all. The only problem with stories like this is that they cause us to question the nature of miracles. In my lifetime, I’ve also prayed for many other people with cancer, including some who had the very same diagnosis as Mr. Trebek. They died anyway. Why didn’t my prayers elicit a miracle for them? Did I not pray enough? Or maybe it comes down to numbers: A celebrity like Alex Trebek is bound to get more prayers than someone like my father, a quiet Korean War vet and former farm boy from Wisconsin. But since when does God favor the popular crowd? It’s a conundrum.

It is not grace withheld,
nor grace deferred.
It is only this: The miracle
you held in your heart
changed shape, became
a color beyond the spectrum your
eye can see. It came as you bid.
That is an assurity. But:
it did not look familiar,
dressed as it was in the stuff
of your fears. Still.
It was perfect.
And you will know it —
or not — one day.

A young man knocked on my door today and said he was in the neighborhood “helping out” my neighbors. He mentioned specific names of neighbors whom he said had already signed up for his services.

I said I wasn’t interested. Closed the screen door, closed the inside door, locked the deadbolt, walked down the hall and realized he was still pitching his wares! I heard him talking to the closed door for a moment there.

Finally, he packed up his digital clipboard, got onto his segway and rolled to the next house. That’s a high-tech way to pester people, I must say.

I’m sure that none of my neighbors had signed up because we don’t want to encourage solicitation. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say, “Oh, Rene signed up? Let me call her to confirm what you’re telling me,” but I didn’t think of it until later.

What was he selling? Pest control, of course! Oh, the irony. Is there some kind of repellent for pest control salespeople?

Hmm. This has given me an idea for a new type of insurance: anti-solicitation coverage. If anyone shows up at your door to sell you something, the insurance company will give you money. Of course, you couldn’t sell this type of thing door-to-door!

People deserve better than to be sold a bill of goods, especially when you talk to them about what you believe. Helping a neighbor, holding a door for a stranger, offering a kind word — being neighborly is more effective than being a noodge. In faith and in fumigation, it’s better to be blessed than to be a pest.

For a previous blog post, I used the voice-to-text function on my phone to write down an idea, and this is what it wrote when I said SueBE’s name: “Ksubi”

That word sounds like an ancient dynastic title of some kind, which is fitting for our anthropology expert. Interestingly, it spelled Lori’s name correctly. It didn’t type Lorie or Laurie.

Sometimes you get your point across, even to a machine. At other times, you can’t even get through to other human beings. I’m constantly amazed at how in sync the three of us on this humble blog are, even though we’ve never met in person.

When I come into my fortune, I’ll fix things in need of repair in my house, get a new fence, re-finish the floors. Of course, I’ll pay off the house and bills. I wouldn’t want a new house or anything fancy.

If a genie told me, Do all those practical things, but you’ve also got to choose two things that aren’t practical, but would light you up from the inside. Well then!

Okay. I’d start a publishing house called “Yes Press” and ask Lori to be the editor. I’d ask her to curate uplifting wonderfulnesses (to coin a phrase) from around the blogosphere so we could have all the warmth in one place.

I’d start another publishing house called “HiStories” to tell history-stories that touch on how God has a hand in the life stories we co-create. SueBE could write about fascinating facets of nature that are hard to explain but interesting to ponder, like the Coelacanth, a living fossil that seems to have bypassed evolution. I believe God likes a good mystery and created this fish to give us something to talk about. So, if there are any traveling genies out there, come on over!

Image result for level up video gameA couple of months ago, I changed my diet. Cut out sugar and processed foods. Added fruit, veggies, whole grains. Actually waited until I heard my stomach growl before I headed to the kitchen. Cut out recreational grazing. When I did feel like a nosh, it was blueberries, walnuts, or hummus.

I was feeling better in general.

Cut to: next weigh-in at the doctor’s office. What the? I actually gained five pounds!!! I thought about quitting this healthy eating. What’s the point? Even ate ice cream that night after the weigh-in.

You know what? I enjoyed the ice cream while I was eating it, but afterwards, felt sluggish and bloated. I simply felt better overall when I was eating healthier foods.

Maybe it’s not about the numbers in life after all: weight, height, age, income, grade, credit score, IQ. It’s about your level of contentment. Granted, I could use more money. It’d be nice to have a higher IQ. Better credit score. But obsessing about the numbers can leave you in a constant state of dissatisfaction.

So while I’m not fully content yet, I know I’m doing my level best for the situation I’m in. I have a measure of peace of mind that most people don’t seem to have. They’re always running, doing, buying, tweeting, but no one seems any happier. If I stay in a positive frame of mind and improve what I can, maybe someday, I’ll level up in this game called life.

Well, I’m at that age where I’m looking for magic potions to smooth out my skin. When I was younger, I always said, “Why can’t people just grow old gracefully?” It’s not until you’re older that you realize no one grows old gracefully. They get old and look old, unless they get plastic surgery.

So I bought some anti-aging skin cream, and on the front of the package, it said that “97% of the people who used this cream saw results in two weeks.” Oh, I saw results all right.

Results:

  • I realized I’d just thrown away twelve bucks for no reason.
  • I realized I’d spent five minutes each night faithfully applying glop to my face for no reason.
  • I realized that the sample size of those who had used this cream and seen positive results was exactly three (3) people, all of whom were related to the manufacturer. Joe Wrinklecream’s mother and two sisters said it works like a charm.

Over-Hyped and Under-Performing Broken Promise Potion would be the new name I’d give to that product. But then, does anything live up to its claims these days? Did I really expect a miracle in a jar I got on Amazon?

The true life lesson is that “aging gracefully” is another way of saying “living gratefully.” I’m glad I’m still here. I appreciate my blessings. There’s still much to look forward to, wrinkles, stray greys and all. Living in the present and an attitude of gratitude? That’s what works like a charm.

Due to my visual and memory issues, I’ve asked Lori and SueBE to proofread my posts for me, and for one post, Lori showed me how to use an “em-dash” as opposed to an “en-dash.”

Hold on. There are two types of dashes? How long has this been going on?!? I can’t seem to find that button on my keyboard. Is there one? I don’t remember it from school (insert em-dash here once I find it) eons ago (em-dash again) and, in all my years (em-d) over 50 of them (em-d) have been punctuating incorrectly.

It’s like finding a new/retro toy! How does this thing work? Where can I use it? Let me think of sentences in which I can insert this new (to me) kind of punctuation. Bear with me (em-dash) just for a moment (em-dash) while I collect my thoughts.

Okay, I found the secret code online. To insert an “em-dash” on a laptop, you press the “Alt” key, and on the numeric keypad, type 0151.

The em-dash seems like a parking spot for a pause. It’s longer than an en-dash and more meaty, if you will. Yes. Maybe it stands for the letter “M”, as in “Meaty.”

Or maybe the “M” stands for “Metaphor.” Sometimes, you put your own needs on hold to take care of everybody else. You might fall into the trap of Placeholder Syndrome. The spot you’re in now is a pause in your own life’s sentence, like a jail cell that you carry with you.

You think, I’ll just wait until retirement to pursue my dreams. Or, I’ll wait until the kids are squared away, and then I’ll put myself first.  Maybe that “M” stands for “Me.” So I’d say to you — respectfully, of course — today is the day.

Every year, our presbytery issues a challenge.  For those of you who aren’t Presbyterian, a presbytery is something like an archdiocese.  This year our challenge is to tackle hunger in our communities.

When Rev, Howard challenges us to tackle hunger, he isn’t thinking “they can just pray about it.”  Yes, prayer is a part but we also need to put our prayers in action.  There need to be verbs.

For our part, our congregation expanded our community garden.  The purpose of this garden?  To feed the community.  We doubled the size of the garden and added a bush cherry, three apple trees and four blackberry brambles.  Last week, we made our first harvest.

While the lettuce is looking beautiful, the first thing to be ready to harvest was the row of radishes.  One pound may not sound like a lot but we will get almost that many more and then we will replant them.  Who know that radish seeds grow so quickly?  Not me.  That’s for sure.

Fortunately, the local hungry aren’t relying on just me.  There are people in our congregation who actually know what they’re doing.  They’ve planted kale and lettuce, spinach and corn, and cucumbers.  There will, once again, be lots and lots of cucumbers.

Praying about a problem is good, but as Chevalier said, we need verbs.  We need actions.  We need to add hands and feet to our prayers.  In this particular instance, that means planting.

Sit down and think for a moment.  What are your prayers for your community?  How can you add a verb to these prayers?   Christ, after all, called us to walk among the people.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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