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The general consensus seems to be that we’ve kicked 2020 to the curb. Our long, international nightmare is over! But is it? The funny thing about time is that one year tends to spill over into the next year. We still have challenges to face. Old ones. New ones we can’t even foresee. Do we have the stuff to face it? Maybe with a little faith, a little hope and a little grace, we really can begin all over again.

We have swept the mess to the sill.
Still, it sits, casting an accusing eye:
What will you do with me?
It will not be as easy
as clearing the threshold
and shutting the door.
The scent of it lingers,
its obdurate conundrums
persist, twisted as steel
by the side of the road.
Fresh eyes, fresh hearts
are required, new courage
flowing from hope
we didn’t know we had.
Listen to the urgings of your heart.
It is time for a new song,
sung louder, though throats are sore.
Bear up. Lean in.
Call for change
and change will come.

books on ground

I just read that there’s a mystery phisher out there who is scamming authors out of their manuscripts, but has in no way shared or monetized them. 

Why do this? It’s making my brain hurt. 

It’s causing a fissure in my understanding of evildoers in the world, to wit: 

a. They do bad things. 

b. They profit from said bad things.

Maybe miscreants don’t even know why they do the wrong thing themselves. It could be they don’t set out to cause harm. And you never know; good people might have a whole other side we know nothing about.

Maybe it’s our own writing professor, SueBE, who just happens to be working on a cozy mystery and needs an unexpected plot twist. She and the Mystery Phisher both like books. Coincidence? Hmm?

Or our poet-in-residence, Lori, looking for new sources of inspiration for her work. Like the mystery phisher, she, too, uses email. Coincidence? Hmmmm?

Best bet would have to be, well, me! The Kindly Auntie who spins humorous little yarns, knits on a round loom, and has a cat named Squeaky. Who would ever suspect such a sweet soul? And admittedly, I, too, have used the internet. Coincidence? Hmmmmmmm?

This may be the year when we all finally, collectively, decide it may not be possible to understand all the Whys in the World — chief among them, why did we have to suffer through a pandemic? — but we can help each other with the How.

Fissures are divisions, and we’ve had our share of those this year. Politics. To wear a mask or not. To gather socially or not. To shut down towns or not. It’s a mystery why we’ve decided to stop getting along. 

If 2020 was a wounding time, let’s make a resolution for the coming year: to resurrect compassion. To allow the tincture of time and the poultice of prayer to heal all these fissures. It’s no mystery Who to call on to help us write this story of hope.

A star atop a tree
can only be
a drowsy placebo
for something missing.
A sky-held star
is an echo, light hitting
earth like a memory.
Fix your ambition instead
on finding the true star.
You will know it by the way
it surges, hot stone,
crying for the love of something
it cannot name.
Follow the star
to the heart of you,
blind and ragged.
Find,
pure and bright,
a child
that is you.
That is He.
Know, at last,
Christmas,
breaking you,
laying you in straw,
lulling you to sleep with
the breath of sheep.

person writing on white paper

Hand writing with pink marker on white paper to create a list of projects to be managed.

This week, the idea of “maps” was on my mind. Some days, it seems clear what I need to do and where I want to go, but lately, it’s been murky. I decided to strip it down to basics, as if I was re-upholstering a chair. The cushion isn’t comfortable? Let’s get rid of it. 

My early morning “routine” (scanning news headlines, scanning my body for what hurts most today) leaves me anxious, so I had to ditch it. Instead, I’ll start the day with “beditation”  — meditation in bed, comprised of deep breathing, stretching and prayer.

The fabric on that armchair is rough? Let’s find soft, new material. 

In the same way, sometimes it helps to re-define and re-design your goals.

What actually is working right now? Stationary biking for half an hour, praying as I go through the day and counting my blessings by name. That stays in the “best practices” category. 

What really isn’t working right now? Not having the stamina to keep the house as clean as I’d like it to be. Always having pain somewhere in my body. Keeping track of appointments and zoom calls. That goes into the “project management” category.

What’s uplifting? Writing with Lori and SueBE. Not just our blog posts, but the emails we write to each other. We really do a deep dive into life. My low vision community. Bluebirds. Bach.

What’s troubling? Re-label that a project, not a problem. What resources are available to address it? Connect with others who face the same issues, and you’ll heal along with them. 

Find comforts you can count on. Have some herbal tea or chocolate milk. And every morning, bask in your blessings. Breathe in grace. Breathe out gratitude. Calibrate your compass to align with Providence, and you’ll be heading in the right direction.

December 8 celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which (as anyone who reads me regularly knows) has nothing to do with baby Jesus and everything to do with baby Mary. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without Original Sin. She comes into the world, unlike the rest of us, sin-free. And she stays that way.

What would you do with a brand new, spotlessly clean soul? If the past is any indication, I’d probably just soil it again. Even after being absolved of my sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation — despite my sincere vows to not fall into the same traps again — I inevitably sin.

Is it the human condition to fail and fall, over and over again? Can we ever rise beyond our nature? Surely some of us do. But how?

What must it take,
once washed white,
to stave off soil and stain?
Love, mercy, justice,
wielded wisely.
Love launders.
Mercy bleaches clean.
Justice proofs the fabric
against what muck may come.
Lather liberally. Saturate spots.
Rinse and repeat as needed.

Potbelly stove - Wikipedia

Picture of rusty, brown pot-belly stove

At the physical therapy center last year, I sat on a table, getting TENS unit therapy for the pain in my legs. 

There were several patients there that day, and most were pleasant enough, considering we were all in various levels of pain.

An older man named Steve was getting treatment for his neck on the table next to mine. “Women always let themselves go after marriage,” he said to his physical therapist. “They never put themselves together with hair and makeup. And the worst part is, they always gain weight.” He shook his head.

There was silence as the other patients and physical therapists around him — all women — processed what he’d just said. Lying on the table there, his own gut was what one would call “voluminous”. He had the girth of a pregnant woman carrying triplets. As he stood up, it occurred to me that he resembled a pot-belly stove: short, squat, and kind of rusty.

That insult to women hung in the air until finally, his physical therapist said something to the effect of, “Sometimes, we just can’t see ourselves as others do,” which I thought was just the right amount of diplomacy and wisdom. Nothing else needed to be said.

This time in history may be remembered for many negatives: the pandemic, divisions based on race and politics, and most notably, an alarming deficit of empathy.

Whatever negativity you encounter today, rise above the visceral instinct to “put someone in their place.” Remember, Comeuppance Coordinator is not an actual job, even though it’s a way of life for many on social media. Keep in mind that everyone is an amalgam of humanity and divinity. This mindset will help the world find its way back to grace again.

Squeaky the cat sleeping peacefully on a forest-green, chocolate-brown and cream-colored blanket I knitted.

The clock in my kitchen stopped working at exactly 6:35 on a day many years ago. Removing it is one of the things on my to-do list, but because its cord is incorporated into the trim, I’d have to hire a contractor to punch out part of the wall to take it down. 

So there the clock sits, not working, but also, not going away. 

Isn’t it a lot like the problems in our lives? 

Every day seems like a dance in which you step back and forth, trying to strike a balance between what you should be doing and what you could be doing.

What if life stopped at 6:35 like a train pulling into Splendor Station and let you out to toddle around? Would you be able to savor life if you literally had all the time and resources in the world? 

Many days, I find myself saying, I’ll just plow through my to-do list and be “in the moment” later. 

Tomorrow, I’ll look at the autumn leaves wafting onto the ground in the backyard. Those two bluebird pals sky-diving from the fence to the feeder. Wait, there’s a deer in the backyard. Here comes his friend, bounding playfully. Now they’re running back and forth. Are they racing?

The cat bumps against my leg and slow blinks at me. 

“I’ll be right there, Squeaks,” I tell him. But I’m already there. Aren’t I? We’re here. At home. Where the heart is. 

Let’s not wait until time runs out before realizing it’s not about getting “there” before everyone else. Or acquiring things so you’ll have some way to measure your accomplishments. God’s metrics are simpler: be yourself. Be where you are. Be grateful for your blessings. Be centered in your soul. Breathe. Be.

Just last night,
the trees shrugged off their leaves
as if to say, We are done. Done,
as we all are, with this
annus horribilis.
Still. Under the piles of russet,
of red and gold and brown, there is a sliver
of silver new hope. Can you see it?
We need a God who can take a spark
so small and fan it, with gentle breath,
into a conflagration of love.
Add your own exhalation,
even if it is only a sigh,
and perhaps we will work up
something to warm ourselves by.
And, with time, others will come,
drawn in from the cold.
Here is our directive:
Fall into winter
with a clash of cymbals:
something new is coming soon.

There’s been a lot of talk around here lately (and by “around here,” I mean this blog. Which is its own universe. At least, it is to me!) about discernment, about hearing God’s nudges and praying the way forward. As happens so often, the three of us are in a similar place, feeling a call to the road ahead yet not really knowing what it entails. A book? Videos? Something else?

At the same time, I am being tugged at by other forces. It seems I am a good person to have aboard a project, although none of the proposed projects are paying projects, alas. (Go ahead and red flag me, Ruthie. “Aloteration” is both gift and curse.)

Which way to go? How much energy do I have to devote to each path? And which way feels most right and true to me? Listening for and to God is very hard work indeed.

The road forks precipitously,
twining like tentacles away into a future
I am too near-sighted to see.
God, I lay these routes at your feet.
Where you step, I too will step.
The map is in your hands
but I cannot read it, being somewhat lost
and, at any rate, confused about directions.
You, however, know them.
You know the path most tender on my feet,
and which is worth the stones and thistles.
Your eyes see in the dark,
and dark is where I live these days.
You will need to speak up.
You will need to post an obvious marker.
You will need to explain to me,
as if to a child, how to get there.
You, who, meet me where I am,
lead, Love, the way.

heart shape book page close-up photography

“…as an answer to prayer, ‘do what you’ve done’ seemed too easy. I guess I was expecting something trickier. Have you needed a friend’s help to hear God’s voice clearly?”

Maybe having a soulmate isn’t the fairy tale of finding a romantic partner who fulfills your every need and with whom you “click” instantly. It seems to me that you find that connection with friends over the years. Could it be that “belongingness” (as author Brene Brown termed it) consists of components of a whole constellation of characters in your life?

There I go with the alliteration again! Lori and SueBE know I love to use it in posts, so much so that we’ve termed it “alloteration.” Think I’ll flag it 🚩for your safety as you proceed.

SueBE’s post, “How Do You Pray?” resonated with me, and I realized we’d both gotten the same sense of God’s nudging again, even though we live so far away from each other.

Lori, SueBE and I have been discussing a project we can do together, and it seemed natural to believe it was something different than what we are already doing — writing this blog together.

But as I prayed about it, the “words on my heart” were so clear: Just what we’re doing now. Like SueBE, I thought, that can’t be right, can it? Doesn’t it have to be more complicated than that?

Just what we’re doing now. 

So what are we doing now?

  • Writing posts and prayers
  • Bouncing ideas off each other
  • Exchanging emails to catch up on our lives and discuss current events
  • Encouraging each other during hard times
  • Learning from moments of conflict (after ten years of friendship, we’ve only had one, initiated, regrettably, by me)

These things may seem inconsequential, but they form the foundation of our friendship. 🚩

Paradoxically, that moment where I left my common sense in my other purse and said hurtful things to SueBE has deepened the soul-sister relationship for all three of us.

It was me at my worst when SueBE was at her lowest. It was Lori at her best, standing by and offering care to us both, knowing it would eventually be resolved in the spirit of grace. It was how people who care about each other seek redemption, forgive, make amends, and heal together.

But as for the project we set out to do together, we decided to write “laments”, a type of sorrowful prayer, so I’ve been writing, discarding, starting over, stomping away from the desk. I just haven’t found a way to express what I’m trying to say. It could be because I’m trying to write from a perspective of hard things are happening, but in the end, we have hope. 🚩 I always have hope, but trying to make it universal with how I feel about everything going on in the world has been…? Fraught? Feels false somehow.

So maybe the three of us are supposed to do something similar to what John Green and his brother Hank do under their moniker, The Vlog Brothers. They record videos addressed to each other about all kinds of topics.

Of course, selfies are not my comfort zone, so I doubt I’ll be climbing on board the video wagon. Lori and I aren’t used to presenting our personas as a package for perusal (🚩). SueBE is more comfortable with public speaking, as she has done it often, and does it well.  She offers classes on the art of writing. She’s our professor, and it’s her purview (½ 🚩)

I’m not sure how this new project of just what we’ve been doing will manifest, but I know that we’ll figure it out from afar, together, with prayer, patience, and the persistent push of providence. 🚩

Do you have to be there in person to understand what someone else is going through? No, of course not. If you care, you can be there by phone, email, or video. If that person is part of the swath of soulmates in your life, you can be there with your heart.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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