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Today is National JoyGerm Day. I’ll admit it. I did a double take when I saw that go through my inbox. JoyGerm?

The idea is sound enough. We can all spread joy to others and so on and so on. In all truth, that’s something we here at PrayPower believe. We strive to carry the joy and love of Christ into the world and share it with others. But, that phrasing! I can almost guarantee that they did not come up with JoyGerm in the last two years.

No matter how upbeat your message is, if you frame it wrong people are going to take it wrong. One of my in-laws famously had this problem. She would ask me how the baby was doing but she would frame it in such a way that I hesitated to answer. If I said yes, I could be seen as a permissive parent. If I said no, I could be seen as harsh and unyielding. She looked shocked when I told her I just couldn’t respond.

How often do we approach someone expecting X response and get something completely different? We hold out a helping hand and get nipped instead of thanked? When this happens, I must admit, that I assume the other person has a problem. What a crab! Someone clearly needs professional help. I grumble and lick my wounds and feel the victim.

Maybe what I need to do is re-examine my approach. God may well know our intention but we actually need to communicate it with the rest of the world. What did I say or do that might have been misunderstood? What assumptions did I make in my approach? Perhaps there is a JoyGerm lurking in my offer – good intent but a highly questionable approach.

Because, really? JoyGerm?

–SueBE

Take a moment today, tomorrow and throughout the coming year. Give yourself grace.
An image of a cup of hot tea with a lemon slice.
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This past week, Ruth, Lori and were chatting and I, once again, apologized for my recent absence here on the blog. What can I say? I’m sorry that I’m leaving it to other people? I’m sorry I’m not carrying my weight.

I quickly got a message back from Ruth and I’d like to share a bit of her wisdom with you. Miss Ruth is, after all, a very wise woman. She reminded me yet again, that I need time. Time to heal. Time to feel. And time to simply be.

As we head toward’s midnight, my phone is pinging with notifications. Have I chosen a word for the year? What about a cause to support? Then there are those people who comment that they know resolutions aren’t popular but making one or more is the right way to get ourselves and our world back on track.

Fortunately, I’ve got Miss Ruth and her wisdom to back me up. I don’t need to pick a word. I don’t need to select a cause. A list of resolutions? Again, I don’t need it.

What I need to do is give myself a bit of grace. Whether you read this tonight or in the coming week, I hope that you will join me. Give yourself the grace that you need to get through the day. Hold on to the grace that you need to get through the month. Day will follow month to become 2022.

And the best part is that God will always be there with a refill when you need a bit more grace. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to buy it. It is simply a gift given to us all. His grace. Grace for you and grace for me.

–SueBE

Meditations on joy

Wow. I can’t believe that it has been 3 months since I last posted. Did you miss me? I’ve missed all of you but I have to admit that I’ve missed me too.

I’m not going to go into detail about why I haven’t been here. Let’s just say that my reasons are solid and all too familiar because we’ve all suffered loss during the last 2 years. I even lost my true self for a while. It wasn’t a total loss. My sense of humor made an appearance once in a while but my sense of joy and hope? The new me had nothing of the sort.

The self that I was left with got done what she had to do. But she did very few things with a smile.

In all honesty, I didn’t like this new me very much. And then I realized that last Sunday, November 28, 2021, was the first Sunday in Advent. Our minister spoke about joy.

Sigh. (I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.) I used to enjoy Advent and Christmas but this year? Meh. I just wasn’t feeling it.

But what if I could? I really hated the idea of losing my Christmas Joy to the new me. So I spent this week rediscovering my joy. Here is what I did.

Meditative drawing is a prayer technique that involves sitting quietly and drawing, doodling or sketching whatever comes to mind as you consider whatever it is you need to consider. Me? I thought about the things that have given me joy.

As Ruth explained in “The Present Is a Gift,” these gifts don’t have to be big or flashy.

As I sat throughout the week and considered what brings me joy, I realized that I’d squeezed in time for joy during most days. But I didn’t call it joy. I worked on a crochet project. I finished piecing together a puzzle. I made Christmas cards and listened to music.

None of the things that I had done were big. There were a lot of people who wouldn’t find joy doing these same things. But that’s not the point. I had experienced joy every single day. Hello, old me. I knew you had to be there someplace.

–SueBE

Thanksgiving gives me mixed emotions. Yes, it is a time of joy, a celebration of the Plymouth colony’s first successful harvest. They would never have survived without the help of the Wampanoag (which translates to “People of the First Light”), who showed them how and when to plant and reap the foods that would sustain them through their second winter in America. (During the first terrible winter, nearly half of them died.) But what happened to the Wampanoag tribe after the first Thanksgiving is the stuff of nightmares — illness decimated them, war (with colonists and other tribes) nearly finished them off. It’s enough to dash anyone’s joy.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 for one very important reason: President Lincoln was desperately trying to find something that might bring the divided nation together, if only for one day — one good day. And while the first Thanksgiving probably ran for several days, those were good days, too. Any day spent in fellowship is a good day.

Thanksgiving this year, in many ways, hearkens back to Thanksgivings of old. As a nation, we remain bitterly divided politically. Those on the margins face terrible persecution. But mightn’t we still manage to have one good day together?

Let us meet where the good is,
where the God-in-us overlaps.
In that place of touching, let us find thanks
for that which holds the center,
for the still spot around which history spins,
for what we know of one another,
God-formed and God-blessed.
Let our feasting feed the seeing side of us.
One good day may come, rising in the East
where the people of the first light still linger,
spreading sun, a shared blanket,
passing bread from mouth to mouth.

I’ve been having one of those weeks. You know, the kind where every single thing seems to go wrong, to malfunction, to be (as Ruthie would say) hinky. I sent out an email with an attachment no one could open. I got to the end of yesterday’s chicken dinner recipe and realized I’d left out the chicken. The dishwasher went on a beeping tirade, apparently angry that it was being unloaded by such unskilled hands. The bird feeder fell apart, earning me swift and angry recriminations from formerly friendly feathered friends. Worst of all, we found out that our long-time money manager — a nice, Christian man whom we trusted — had been either criminally stupid or criminally criminal in the handling of our money. One way or the other, he didn’t do his job. And I got to thinking: What a wonder it is that anything works as it should. What a blessing! What a miracle! When so much can go wrong, how sweet it is when it doesn’t.

How good it is:
for hearts ticking true,
seeds splitting, green limbs unfurling,
leaves leafing toward sunny skies.
Things familiar as fall following summer,
April lingering to blot out blue March
like a shadow on a sidewalk.
True things: each branch that holds,
the cloud that does not rain down disaster,
all that clicks, swings, springs,
latches, locks, hooks and shuts,
again and again.
Precise. Predictable.
As ongoing as the love
we lean on when all else goes awry.

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Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17)

This has always been one of my favorite passages because it is so subjective. Approach it in one mood, and you note the breastplate, shield, helmet and sword.

Approach it in another mood and you note the gifts of God. Truth and righteousness. Peace and faith. Salvation and the Spirit of God.

The sermon that accompanied this scripture passage was titled “Put on the Amor of God.” It was supposed to read “Put on the Armor of God,” but spellcheck slipped up and gave us love instead of armor. How perfect for this reading!

Armor or amor, which is the most effective? Last week, Lori wrote about not being able to control how people react when we offer help. Sometimes they welcome our efforts. Other times they bite.

The way that people react to us often has little to do with us and much to do with them. Perhaps they’ve been criticized by a supervisor or crabbed at by a customer. They might have loved ones in the path of a hurricane or have lost comrades in Afghanistan. Their child’s school may not have a mask mandate or perhaps it does.

It is hard not to make assumptions. When we do, we may assume that someone is ungrateful. They are mean. They need an attitude adjustment.

But if you armor yourself with amor, God’s love, it is easier to see a fellow child of God. They aren’t ungrateful but tired or worried. They aren’t mean. They feel unappreciated or forgotten. Maybe they do need an attitude adjustment.

Maybe.

That adjustment is more likely to come from love and light and a place of grace. Take a deep breath and look to God. He’s right there with you and with them.

–SueBE

May be an image of food
Cucumbers from the garden for the food pantry.

Maybe it is because I grew up on stories of service to others. My father and uncles talked about rescuing lost and injured hikers from the Davis Mountains in West Texas. I heard about my grandfather’s work as a lifeguard in Biloxi Bay. And they talked about my Grandmother’s Sunday dinners.

Sunday dinner as service? You know it. The family was poor but there was always room for one more person at the table. Biscuits could be stretched as could the pot of beans and various home grown vegetables. There was always food for whoever came to the table.

These stories came to mind when our pastor recently talked about service. He acknowleged the fatigue that we all have living during a pandemic. Yet, he encouraged us to get out and serve others. After all, our church offers three opportunities a month as we give out sack suppers or boxes of food from the local foodbank.

Admittedly, I didn’t really feel like doing it. It is hot and humid and and and . . .

But my husband got us all in the car and off we went. We spent three hours packaging up sack suppers and handing them out to passers by. We chatted with parents who just needed a break. There was a bus rider with vision problems who needed a bit of human connection. We even encountered one of the mom’s from the swim team my son used to belong to. Serving others helped us connect with our community. That’s #1.

Several days later, I found myself working in the community garden, again beside my husband. With all the rain we’ve been having, every other week we have to pull should-high grass from the various beds. We work for about an hour in the sunshine. We listen to birdsong. We wave to preschool teachers, landscapers and others off in the distance. When we are done, I feel so much more relaxed. Whether I’m packaging up food or working in the garden, service gets me off screen. And, really? How can that possibly be a bad thing. That’s #2.

Last week, our book club discussed Faith by Jimmy Carter. I expected the book to be about his Christian faith, and it was. But it was also about his faith in humanity. And service because, as he explained, how can you BELIEVE and not feel compelled to reach out. Service isn’t essential to salvation, grace takes care of that, but really? If you believe, service is an expression of that belief.

And, that, my friends is #3. Service shows others what you believe.

It’s been almost a week and I have to tell you. I’m finding myself once again drawing inward. It is time to get back out there to serve.

–SueBE

Social media can be a blessing. E-mail and this blog enable Lori, Ruth and I to stay in touch with each other in spite of the miles that stand between us. But last week was a blur of tweets and e-mails, heated Facebook posts and more.

Someone in one of the organizations I work with handled a question very badly on social media. She immediately realized what she had done but it was too late. The interaction had been screen-captured and shared. We spent 3.5 hours in meetings in just one day.

By the end of the week, I had little left to give. In spite of this, 400+ emails waited to be handled as did student papers and my own manuscripts. Screen time is unending, but I really needed to seek peace.

So I walked away.

Some people meet God in the kitchen, stirring and measuring and creating nutritious foods. And sometimes I choose this route.

Other people meet God in a box of paints or a ball of yarn. They create with color and texture. And sometimes I choose this route.

But the weather was mild for a Missouri summer. It wasn’t even terribly humid. So my husband and I put on our walking shoes and headed to the Missouri Botanical Garden. This is one of the places that I can go any time of the year and feel the presence of God.

In part, it is because I’m walking among mighty trees and . . . I don’t know. They look like palms or ferns and they are huge! There are pitcher plants and tiny plants with jewel-like leaves. There are gardens of delicious smelling herbs. Bees buzz around bright flowers. This trip there were even wind-blown sculptures on the lake and others shaped like origami throughout the gardens.

And there are people from all sides of the globe, speaking their many languages as they snap photos and point at the wonders before them.

There is no way that I can avoid seeing God. And as I walk and breathe deeply and bask in his presence, I feel the tensions slipping away.

I don’t know where it is that you go to feel the peace and presence of God, but can you do me a favor? Go there sometime in the next few days and refresh your soul. It is to easy to let this slide in the busy-ness of daily life. Take some time in the presence of God.

–SueBE

“The Eucharist is the bread of sinners, not a reward of saints.” – Pope Francis

We’re soaking in it —
not just our hands.
Steeped sinners all,
we gather, at table
for what will not fail us.
Christ’s broken bones hold no reproach.
It is invitation without exclusion.
All hands may have the crust
to touch both body and blood.
I would not stop them, for I am they, too.
And you? Come out from behind your politics
and know what time and hierarchy have hidden:
He who broke bread with Judas
would not turn him from the table.

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Whether you are trying to tell your own story or share life’s absurdities, one of the most vital skills we posess is our ability to listen to each other. It really doesn’t matter what I’m trying to communicate if no one will listen.

And a big part of listening is responding. It can be a simple nod of your head. “Yes, I hear you.” Or a shrug. “I don’t have a clue.” Or, if someone isn’t making sense, it might mean asking a question.

One day last week, I got a cryptic text. “Is it okay if we use items from the craft fair?” Since I’m in charge of part of the church craft fair, I knew this was most likely from a church member. But who? All I had was a number.

“I could text back – who is this?” I said aloud.

“That would be rude,” said my husband.

“Asking who it is would be rude?”

He nodded.

Pfft. How could asking for more info be rude? Nope. If I wanted to be rude, I’d just ignore it. Instead I clicked the phone icon.

In moments, Caryn and I were laughing. “Your name is in my phone. Why wouldn’t my phone tell you who was calling?”

In a few moments, I had saved her number with her name and I knew what she needed. We discussed work and her daughter’s health problems. I promised to continue praying.

Whenever we don’t agree with someone or don’t immediately understand what they are saying, it is easy to pull back and ignore them. Whatever. Not my problem. And that’s on a good day. On a bad day we argue and we shut each other down.

But God gave us ears to hear not only his word but each other. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other about everything, but it only takes a moment to listen and to nod. “I hear you. I hear what you’re saying.”

–SueBE

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