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Last week, my husband sent me a real estate ad.  A series of ranches are on the market in Brewster County, my dad’s home county in West Texas.  I clicked through and looked at videos and longed for the high desert.  Then a comment from my mother-in-law popped up.

“You’d need a really big mower.”

They call them cows, Judy.  That was my first cheeky response.  I told her to look at the photos. This is high desert.  No mower needed but, and this would be so cool!, I could have a mesa.  She responded.  “I think if you could afford that ranch you could afford someone else to mow.”

As my grandmother would have said, God Bless her pointy little head.  My mother-in-law grew up in Kentucky.  I don’t know that she’s ever been to God’s country, the high desert of West Texas.  So I explained again that it is a desert. No mower needed unless you make it so.

Conversations like this make me realize how miraculous it is when we manage to understand someone from a completely different culture. After all, my mother-in-law and I are both Americans.  But she doesn’t get high desert.  Either there are cows and the land is covered by lush grass or it is desert, a desolate land where nothing grows.

But then again I was just as clueless the first time I was in Kentucky, specifically in the bluegrass where thoroughbreds graze and frolic.  “That’s strange.  All of the houses look alike,” I said as we drove by yet another long one-story structure.  “Hon, that’s a stable.”  What horses in Kentucky don’t shelter in barns?  Nope.  You dry tobacco in barns.

The world is an amazingly varied place. Even when you and someone else seem to be speaking the same language, you are coming at the conversation from different experiences.  When you don’t speak the same language, the effort needed is even greater but think of all the amazing things you might learn about how other people live.

–SueBE

 

This quote caught my eye because I just read a children’s picture book with this theme.  Sky Color by Peter Reynolds is about a young artist.  When her class gets to paint a mural for the school library, they draw the picture together.  Each member of the class selects something to paint.  Marisol, our young artist, will paint the sky but there is no blue paint.  On the way home from school, she observes the sky and returns to class the next day with an out-of-the box plan.  She is going to create a sky that contains the dawn, the dusk, the rain, the night and more. It is a truly inspirational book.

And it has made me think about the limitations that I place on myself and my world.

Our living room is spacious.  Our dining room much less so.  Yet, we lived with that for 17 years only recently putting the dining room table in the living room.  It is now a favorite work place and we eat in there several times a week.  And although the sofa is more than a bit cozy in the dining room, I’ve noticed it attracting a higher number of readers as well.

How often do we do this to ourselves, overlooking possibilities because we only consider the conventional?  Christ ignored common social boundaries.  He ate with a tax collector, taught women and healed on the Sabbath.   I wonder what unconventional things he would do today?

–SueBE

I worry. I worry about how close the fires in California are coming to friends and family. I worry about my friends’ illnesses. I worry about money, time, schedules. And I pray. I pray so much that I sometimes worry about burnout — not mine, but God’s. With so many intentions, so many voices crying out, how can God possibly handle it all? Luckily for all of us, God has no limits.

When prayers bubble from my lips
in inexhaustible plentitude,
and I fear I have spread God too thin,
like margarine on toast,
suddenly I hear it — child, child.
There is no distance I cannot cover.
I hold the earth in the palm of my hand,
easy as an egg, a pebble, a shell.
Turn out my pockets. Like a mischievous boy
I have filled them: with galaxies, eons, the sighs of
the wistful, the tears of mourners, the muffled heartbeats
of animals in their dens. Each is considered.
Each is held with gravity. All the prayers of all the years
cannot dilute me or hold me back.
I hold my breath a beat.
And at once I know: All is well.

first to apologize

When I was younger, it was made very clear to me that forgiveness meant forgetting.  To forgive someone meant forgetting what they had done.

That always seemed like questionable advice to me.  Forgetting everything could be dangerous if you situation is dire.

Then one day I was walking our church labyrinth with one of our younger members.  She suffers from anxiety and tends to fixate on the things that worry her.  Really fixate.  I explained that as we walked, she could pause at each turn and breathe deeply in and out.

When we left the labyrinth, she told me how much better she felt.  “At each turn, I let go of something, like letting go of a leaf.”

Hmm.  I may not be able to forget entirely but when I realize that I’m holding that hurtful memory in  my hand, I can envision letting it go like dropping a leaf.  I don’t have to carry it with me through my day.  I don’t have to let it shade my afternoon.

I’m sure I’ll have to remind myself of this again and again. I have a tendency to mull things over.  And I’m just as likely to be tormenting myself over something I did wrong.  I just have to remember.  I may not be able to forget but that’s okay.

I can choose to let it go.

–SueBE

I just finished reading Maid by Stephanie Land.  Not interested in maids?  Neither am I but I am interested in social justice, which is really what this book is about.  Land was a single mother struggling to raise her daughter and put food on the table.  Her book describes the trap of poverty and how she simply existed, fighting her way through one emergency after another.

I knew a little bit about how various forms of assistance worked — how even a small increase in income could cost someone way more in assistance.  But what I didn’t know about were the traps.  That to get X energy grant, you have to go to a class, miss work and pay for child care.  That to prove you are poor enough to get help, you have to spend several days standing in line to turn in paperwork, missing work and having to pay for child care.

But if that’s all this book was about, I wouldn’t be recommending it.  Land also writes about how assistance is as much a trap as it is a lifeline.  And that to get out of the trap, the person has to look beyond the current crisis to see the possibilities of tomorrow.  To do this, she needed hope and to believe in herself.

That’s a big one. Hope and belief that you are worth it and that you can do it.  She talked about how encouraging it was when someone whose house she cleaned knew her name and spoke to her like a person and not just a cleaning machine.

To blossom and grow she needed hope and a belief in a better tomorrow and she needed to do more than just get by.  Teach a man to fish.  Help someone build a house.  Give them a means of feeding themselves and passing that gift on to others.  Job training.  Education.  Habitat for Humanity.  Heifer Project.  The Presbyterian Giving Catalogue.  They are all ways to spread His Light, reach out and help someone bloom.

–SueBE

 

A good friend revealed to me that she no longer believes. “In what?” a mutual friend asked. “Any of it,” our friend replied. “Prayer. The Holy Spirit. The afterlife.” I hope we were supportive of her; what she is going through is hard. But the road she’s on is one that even saints have trod. Why believe? I can only say that I believe because I need to, because I want to, and because I can. How? It is, as Aziraphale of “Good Omens” would say, “ineffable.”

Faith is fragile.
Prone to breakage,
chimeric and illusory.
Yet just when I think
I can turn my back,
There it is:
A breath on my shoulder,
an arrow, indicating,
a suggestion, a whisper,
a hint of something coming
swiftly. Surely.
I cannot name it,
identify the make and model,
even as it runs me down.
To name it is to contain it,
and that I cannot do.
It springs back, cautious, and
my doubter’s mouth is stopped
by something.
Something?
Something.

 

Him: What’s bothering you?

Me: Nothing.

Him:  Why do you keep sighing?

Me:  I’m not.

Him:  You are.

After both my husband and son had conversations very like the one above with me, I realized something.  I sigh when my asthma is bothering me.  Long before the coughing kicks in, I sigh as I try to breathe deeply.  Now I know to look out for it as an early warning sign.

It doesn’t matter if the problem you need to address has to do with yourself or with society, step one is listening.  Only then will we learn that a problem exists.

Complaints about an election can indicate that people feel disenfranchised.

Concerns about hunger often point toward a lack of social justice.

Worries about the legal system might mean that we need to check to see that Justice’s blindfold hasn’t slipped allowing her to judge more harshly against one population that another.

Listen.  Listen deeply.  Even if you first reaction is to deny that a problem exists.

–SueBE

This past week!  Holy bananas.

I can’t say that it was a bad week, but not one single day went as planned.  Plans added or deleted or simply shifted around day after day.  I’m not sure how or why but it made the whole week feel rushed.

So yesterday when I made it to church just a bit early, instead of stopping in the parlor where everyone gathers to chat, I entered through the fellowship hall.  In front of me stretched the labyrinth.  Step by step, I paced around the first circuit, pausing to breathe and reach outward at the turn.  Back and forth I paced, the whole time mentally calling out to God.

“How can I reduce the stressors in my week?”

“How can I reduce the clamor?”

“What can I do to feel more centered?”

And with each pause, each turn, the same answer came.  Turn to Me.

In the center, I paused while people entered the building around me.  Then I made my way back out, stopping, reaching out, step by measured step.

When we hurry through our days, rushing from task to task, we forget to listen.  We accomplish what we accomplish, checking it off our list and then rush to the next item.  Look at me!   I’m getting things done!

In our hurry, we forget whose path we follow.  We forget who lights the way.

Step slowly.  Pause.  Breathe.  And look to him.

–SueBE

It was a week
to shake the faith
right out of our bones.

But faith cannot fall
to such a small god:
a god of bombs, bullets, ripped limbs.

Seek God elsewhere.
He is there in the helpers.
In solace, yes, and mourning, too.
In healing hands, in hope.

Look to those who know the truth:
What is not love
cannot be God.

Hate destroys.
Love restores.
There is your answer.

I have to admit that lately I’ve been emotionally exhausted. Lately it seems like 90% of every social interaction involves pit falls and traps.  There’s enough infighting and back room negotiating to make me feel like I’m in politics.  One person sets other people up and then checks back with me.  “Has anyone complained?”  Another maneuvers in the background and then comes scuttling up to me to inform me that no one agrees with me and they’ve all decided to do it her way.

Talk about an energy drain!

Friday I made an absolutely liberating decision.

I have quit engaging.  You want to do it that way?  Go ahead.  No, really.  I’m good.

You want to pick a fight?  Personally, I don’t see the draw.

Either way, as the old saying goes, not my circus, not my monkeys.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with that one, the basic meaning is not my responsibility.  It may seem like an odd attitude for a social justice warrior, but whether you are dealing with a toddler or a boomer, you have to pick your battles.

Me?  God put me on this earth to work for “the least of these.”  Social squabbling?  Thanks but no.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.  I’m not sulking.  I’m actually really happy with this decision.  Soon, I’ll once again be an introvert with energy to spare.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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