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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.

Photo by Wolfgang Krzemien on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

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

Tree frog behind my ficus.

With the weather warming up slightly, my son and I love to have the windows open in the evening. Nights still get chilly but I love the cool air. And I had to laugh. I could already hear the cree cree cree of tree frogs.

I always laugh when I hear the frogs. I grew up maybe two miles from here. We never heard the frogs. It wasn’t until my husband and I bought this house that I heard their nightly calls. Cree cree cree.

The funny part? I thought they were some sort of bug, maybe a cicada. When I’m clueless, I don’t fool around. I don’t know how long we lived here before I mentioned it to my husband. “Bug? What bug? I can’t hear it over the frogs.”

Since then I’ve spotted them in my neighbors grapevine that grows on our fence. We’ve even found them in the house a time or two and often in plants on the porch and patio. Cree cree cree. I love my tree frog neighbors even if at first I was absolutely clueless.

I was reminded of this when a friend posted about the vaccination clinic she periodically works. The numbers of people coming in have seriously dropped. “I guess the rest of you just don’t care.”

Or it could be that the National Guard has been holding mass vaccination clinics that serve 100s of people at each event. And FEMA is using a sports facility where they have vaccinated almost 9000 people. I went to a local pharmacy because it is closer and more convenient.

It seems like so often we assume we know things. My experience must be your experience. Isn’t that true?

But really, only God is all knowing. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure of much except the call I hear each evening, cree cree cree, isn’t a bug. It’s a frog.

–SueBE

This past week, I took two webinars from Hollaback! That exclamation point isn’t just me being excited. It is part of their name. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this organization, their goal is to help end harrassment in all its many forms.

A friend of mine mentioned the organization to me. She’s Korean and has had to put up with a bucket load of nonsense lately. A lot of people are stressed and strained because of the pandemic and sometimes this stress and strain comes out in the form of racist harrassment.

One class was on bystander intervention. The other was on de-escalation. And, yes, this does have something to do with prayer and religion. Hang in there.

The class on bystander intervention focused on helping the person who is being harrassed. You can do this by distracting everyone which helps break the tension, by speaking to the person who was being harrassed, or by speaking directly to the situation. One of the things that the presenters asked us all to do was to evaluate the situation and your reaction to it. Not everyone can step in because, having experienced harrassment, they spiral to a negative place.

I have to admit, I was looking sideways at this. Why? Because intervention and speaking to the situation fall right into my skill set. I am almost always willing to step in and help someone who is being picked on. Because of that, I was a tad bit impressed with myself.

Then the next day, I had a class on deescalation. In this class, we learned how to speak directly to the harrasser, how to empathize without agreeing, how to redirect. Again, they asked us to evaluate our own reaction to what was going on in various video clips.

It was humbling. Why? Because I learned that I cannot deal with the harrasser. Because of my own experience being harrassed, I’m not going to de-escalate. I’ll do just the opposite because at best I’ll be defensive. At worst, I’ll be aggressive. It was humbling but with Hollaback! I’ve learned that this is just the way I am because of my own experiences. I need to recognize that and focus on what I can do.

Last week, Ruth, Lori and I were discussing Ruth’s last post. We talked about how the pandemic and all it entails is a lot like alcohol. The stress and strain intensify our personalities. Thus the increased harrassment.

But before you step in to help, take a look at yourself and your gifts. God has given us each a variety of talents. The harrasser isn’t the only person dealing with the stress and strain of a pandemic. Know what your gifts are (and what they aren’t) and you are more likely to be able to help.

If you are interested in learning how your gifts can help, check out the training Hollaback! offers. If nothing else, you may learn why you react the way you do to stressful situations.

–SueBE

Last week, the light my son had ordered arrived. With it came the right batteries, a size not commonly found in stores. And just to make sure he got the point, there was a note in the battery compartment. The slip of paper is the size of a fortune cookie fortune but bright orange. “Final warning! Don’t mess this up!”

I laughed when I saw it because I remembered reading the Bible with J when he was younger.

Me: And the Israelites did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord.

J: Don’t do it! Haven’t you people learned! Mom, they know what they are supposed to do and they keep messing it up.

We’re a lot like the Israelites. We just don’t learn. If we did antacids wouldn’t come in jumbo bottles. Flexseal would come in little jars instead of big cans. And aloe would be all we needed for the occasional burn.

Earlier in the week, Lori wrote about the many things that she hasn’t missed. She mentioned the same thing I’ve seen written up in magazines. Cooking together and dining in has replaced the big restaurant bill. People are reading more. Families have discovered that the dining room table is a place for meals, games and puzzles.

My hope is that we remember some of these lessons going forward. We may not have had a bright orange warning sign, but really? God’s told us what to value if only we hear him.

–SueBE

I don’t normally sit in the balcony at church. But my husband and son are streaming services for our pastor. He, the organist, and an enormous screen are at the front of the sanctuary. A scattering of people distance while wearing masks. It isn’t normal. Some weeks I wonder if it is worth the effort.

Then my son nudged me and nodded at the lights hanging from the ceiling. The one closest to us was swaying. When I asked why, he looked surprised that I didn’t know. “It’s the air from the vent.” Every time the furnace kicked on, it would blow the light and the light would swing gently forward and back.

I have to admit that I was surprised that something like the air from a vent had a visible impact on the light fixture. The one seems so solid and substantial, the other so insubstantial. And yet, the light sways.

It has made me reconsider about what is worth the effort and what is not. Even a small breath of air can cause a light to sway. What does and does not make a difference in this troubled world?

I suspect that small efforts have greater impact than we often know. Whether it is a phone call to a fellow church member or a can of food in a donation barrel, even a very smell effort causes motion in the world. That motion may have the power to sway an opinion or light up a dark day.

Whether or not we will ever know.

–SueBE

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