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body of water during golden hour
Picture of an orange, yellow and purple-streaked sky at sunrise over low-lying mountains and a slightly-rippled ocean.

A tornado spawned by Hurricane Ida hit us here in central Jersey last week, leaving destruction in its wake. We’d received a jarring emergency alert that said, “Take Shelter Now!” at 7:30 PM on Wednesday, so my son, Coleman, and my feline-overlord, Squeaky, joined me in the basement. We stayed there until the alert expired at 8:15 PM and we all went back upstairs. 

Thinking the worst was over, I grabbed my laundry and headed back down to the basement. Halfway down the stairs, I stopped. 

Just like that, the entire basement had flooded. Six inches of water? In fifteen minutes? 

So many things crossed my mind as I dealt with this crisis.

Why is everything going wrong all at once?

It’s not. It’s just another natural phenomenon. No need to take the weather personally.

We’ve been in this situation before. 

What you learn from one major drama makes you better prepared for the next one.

Wouldn’t it be better if I didn’t always have to soldier on through so many challenges alone?

Not really. It’s better to look back on your life and give yourself credit for dealing with challenges and learning to be self-sufficient.

How in the world do Lori and SueBE deal with all the tornadoes in their area?  

They get through it by heeding tornado warnings, getting to shelter with their families, and praying their way through the storm. And through life, for that matter.

So when the storms of life head in your direction, take one thing at a time. Put your hard-earned knowledge to good use. Flex your resilience muscles. Lean on friends for support. Call on God to get you through. Before you know it, the stormy night will pass and dawn will come, bright and clear as day.

Sometimes my sweet, sleepy, lap-lying kitten will wake up and bite me for no apparent reason. His mother died before he was weaned, so he’s a little lacking in the etiquette department. Also, he thinks biting is fun. I have come to understand that biting (and clawing) is just something he does. I can correct him (politely) till the cows come home, but it won’t matter. Biting is part of his standard operating procedure.

It’s a lot like people. You can offer help or love to someone and be received with open ears and arms. Or you can be metaphorically bitten. The bottom line is: You can’t help someone who won’t help herself. So then, what does one do as a concerned, empathetic bystander?

Advice not wanted:
shut door, shutter shop.
Still, light steals in under the sill.
What we forget most often is this:
God does not fail us, nor people,
prayer, favor or fortune.
We fail ourselves.
Wake to the abundance of light.
Let it touch you tenderly.
Be willing to grab it though it may burn.
From scalding comes healing,
though you must choose this rougher road.
You do not walk it alone, no matter
what your eyes describe. Look —
there is light aplenty and green growth
for rest. It is enough if only you would know it.

You may have heard that all of the cells in your body completely regenerate every seven years; that is to say, every seven years you are a whole different person from the one you were before. This isn’t true of course, but it’s a fun thought to play with. It would mean that I am six people different from the little girl who wore Heaven Scent perfume and thought herself quite grown up. I would be two persons different from the woman who had eleven cats, but three persons divergent from the woman who only had two cats, as I do now.

I imagine my cells flipping over like scales, changing colors, going from green to blue to orange to purple, like a chameleon. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

Most of our cells do regenerate, at various rates. But what about our souls? Do we wear the same one, tattered and mended, or does our soul, like our body, wound and heal, growing (hopefully) more fit and lovely even as our bodies disintegrate?

Do you come
with needle and thread
to mend me in the night,
like a shoemaker’s elf?
Or do I unravel myself,
stretch warp and weft
with sin and sharp words,
only to patch with small heart
and clever stitches?
Will I ever be a garment
fit to wear before you?
I long for lace and finest silk,
but will wisely warm to burlap,
a tougher textile of longer wear.
Perhaps the itch of it against
my skin will keep me aware of it,
keep it spotless and altered to fit
the vagaries of my changing form.
I only hope to wear a worthy gown
when at last we meet.

Seems like there are a lot of suffering souls hereabouts. And though my hands hold no skills for restoring health, I can do what I do most often and best — pray for them.

Things are amiss:
bones need knitting,
wounds need stitching.

What we need is a carpenter,
someone with practice,
to mend and straighten,
make right and level.

Enter his shop by way of prayer.
Lie in his calloused palms;
Let him lovingly sort your joints.

Take all that is faulty
and make it well: mended
skins like a bolt of new cloth,
innards intricate as clockwork,
all ticking true time.

This is a picture of my mackerel-tabby, Squeaky, sitting on a cabinet in my bedroom, poking his nose through the blinds to wake me up.

When my cat wants me to wake up at the crack of dawn and I’m just not being cooperative, he clambers up onto the cabinet by the window and noisily pokes his nose through the blinds.

He’s sending a message, loud and clear: Is there food in my bowl? If not, why not? Since you’re up now (FINALLY!), are you going to play yarn-toss with me now? Or what?

People tend to do the same thing, but in a different way. They’ll come up with ways to rattle your blinds so you pay attention to them. Or it could be that they’re so involved in their own lives, they don’t realize they’re impinging on yours.

Take my neighbors, for example. Please! I jest, of course. They’re not bad. It’s just that they’ve got rambunctious youngsters who love to play on their backyard trampoline and they do so at full-volume. Today, their grandparents bought them a kiddie pool. Now they’re all screaming at the top of their lungs, splashing around, raising a ruckus and making it hard to concentrate.

But, if you think about it, my cat rattling the blinds to wake me up and my noisy neighbors are actually blessing accentuators. They point out the fact that I’ve got blessings in abundance. 

Normally, the neighborhood is peaceful. That’s why I notice the noise from my neighbors’ kids when it happens. It’s unusual.

Here is Squeaky sitting on the cabinet with the blinds now closed. The lighting from the window makes him look slightly blurry, like an animation.

Usually my cat is cuddly and loving. That’s why I notice when he’s doing something that seems obnoxious, like rattling the blinds. He doesn’t do it often. 

You may not even notice your blessings until something gets in the way of your basking in them.

Having patience with those around you when they get on your nerves will remind you how much you’ve got to be thankful for. 

I’ve been wondering for some time what God has planned for me and whether I am, in fact, mulishly resisting his call. I think my hearing is adequate. I say, certainly, that I am willing. So why do I remain standing alone, the wall at my back, watching others in the dance? Perhaps my partner is waiting for the right accompaniment?

Turn your will to music;
teach my heart to dance.
I will move to the tune of your making.
I will follow your footsteps as you lead.
I haven’t the grace you gave the stars,
pirouetting ever heavenward,
nor the artistry of angels,
nor the simple step of saints.
My raw parts hold no rhythm,
yet you call me to perform.
Here. I hold out my arms,
angled to envelop you.
Let us take up the tune
together.

two coffee lattes in yellow cup with saucer on brown wooden table
Picture of two cappuccinos in sunny yellow cups with heart-shaped froth in them on a dark-brown wooden-slat table. Next to the cups is a small picture frame, and inside it are the words, “Inhale the future, exhale the past.”

What do you call something that hangs around your neck, weighs you down, and clings like a parasite every day as you live your life? Please don’t say your spouse! I jest, of course. No, the answer is: pain from the past.

Maybe one day, scientists will discover that regret, guilt and shame are all forms of the same invisible substance that sucks the life out of you at the molecular level. Let’s give it a name, using the first two letters of each word: “Regush.” The way I envision it, this substance has the motility of plasma and the diffuse nature of vapor. 

Slights and daily difficulties normally bounce off you or pass through you, like water through a porous teabag; however, when there’s a build-up of Regush in your psyche, that negative energy sticks to you and slows you down. It’s as if the past has stayed with you and lodged itself into the cells of your soul.

The way to alleviate Regush is to do unto yourself as you do unto most others: give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

You did your best at the time, and you’re actually a different person now.

When you fully believe this to be true, you’ll start to treat yourself better in the here and now. Forgive yourself for what wasn’t your fault anyway. God has forgiven you for what actually was your fault. 

Regush (regret, guilt and shame) really is a thing of the past. Get past the past by loving yourself as you love God, and as God loves you. As for what you did when you didn’t know any better? Forgive it so you don’t have to re-live it.

Just over a week ago, we bought a new toy for our seven-month-old kitten, Pugsley — a plastic butterfly attached by a wire to a wand. It fluttered, at least at first, rather convincingly, spurring Pugsley to terrific leaps and epic pounces. He gloried in snatching it away from me and parading his prey proudly through the house, wand dragging forlornly behind him. The toy today looks nothing like it did when it was new. It is chewed and bent and bedraggled beyond recognition. The wings have been mended with duct tape. It resembles a crumpled leaf more than an insect. But Pugsley still loves it.

Perhaps the butterfly makes a good comparison for our souls. They are tattered, sure, but God still loves them ardently. And all that wear and tear? Maybe it’s a good thing. To end our lives with a soul beaten and crushed by years and years of extreme love; by good, hard use in working for a better world — what could be better? Sounds like a goal to me.

Take me as I am, Lord, in ill repair.
Mend what you can, moving your hands lightly
over me like the sun that dapples the floor
where the cat shifts and rolls and purrs.
The worst bits can remain; I will wear them
as badges, each rip a reminder of how hard
I loved, how frantically I held to hope.
Though I am ragged, you regard me
as rare and precious as a ruby.
I am yours, despite my ravages,
whole and healed in your eyes.

My mackerel-tabby, Squeaky, in his situation of blessings: napping on a comfy blue blanket on the golden-colored couch, while bathed in a patch of sun rays.

Before I start the day, I listen for God’s leading. What’s on my mind today? What’s on my heart?

So, at 55-years-old, I’m thinking about going back to college to finish my degree. I found myself thinking that if I’d accomplished this one specific thing, my life would have turned out better. 

But is that true? 
If I’d gotten my degree, I might still feel incomplete.
Okay. Got my Bachelor’s. 
Shoulder shrug.
Great. But you know what? I still feel incomplete. If only I’d gotten my Master’s! Okay. Got my Master’s. If only I’d gotten my Doctorate! Okay. Got my Doctorate.

Head shrug. Hmm. Still not quite “there” yet.

If only I’d gotten that research grant! Okay. Got the grant. 

If only my lab were bigger! Got the bigger lab.
I’ve got it now.
If only my lab coat were more comfortable! Oh, I could be so much more productive. Why, I’d discover great things, even unlock that last, implacable door and find the key to happiness! But alas. Scratchy lab coat. What can you do?

Soul shrug. It’s an impossible dilemma!
Maybe it’s not about waiting for the perfect circumstances. It’s okay to be where you are, as who you are. You’re not incomplete or broken. You’re you, in the process of becoming even more you. It’s not about perfection, but being in what I call, the “situation of blessings.”

Be around people who are warm, welcoming, and with whom you feel a kinship. Do the things you love, in a relaxed environment. That’s where you bloom into your own fullness. I may go back to school, and I may not, but I’ve learned a life lesson today. 

Where is “there” anyway? Doesn’t matter. Right now, just be here, reading this blog. In the palm of God’s hand. In your situation of blessings.

Feathered, almost, I suppose.
an egg cupped in a nest,
the worrisome business of being born
blunted by something sure
bringing light and heat
to the blind uncoiling of limbs.
There will be no abrupt nudgings
to take flight with wings too weak
to shatter air; you are welcome to stay
a week, a year, a lifetime.
All you need do
is never look down.
Instead keep your vision fixed
on the sky: something is coming,
flapping furiously, with arms like an angel,
to enfold you. Believe in this.

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