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BugZooka WB100 Bug Catcher VacuumYesterday, I saw a silverfish in my bathroom and stopped in my tracks. Zowie! That’s a big bug. Four inches across. I got my trusty BugZooka (a tiny vacuum that sucks up the bugs so you can release them outside) and tried to capture her, to no avail. Undeterred, I went to the kitchen and got a plastic cup with a lid but couldn’t redirect her into the cup, so I talked to her. I’ve got to get you into this cup to relocate you or I’ve got to squish you. Sorry.

Surprisingly, she went into the cup. I went to the door and asked my son to open it for me and took her outside. Now mind you, I probably let in two flies while I was releasing Sylvia (the name I give to all silverfish. That, or Sid) but she had to go.

While I was chasing her around the bathroom, I realized she was afraid of me. For all she knew, I was the grim reaper, and I may well have been if I hadn’t caught her.

She was reacting in fear. I was reacting in fear.

What if everything that we’re afraid of is actually afraid of us?

As you go about your day, take note of what makes you anxious. Is it people passing by on a busy city street? Hold on. Are they looking at you the same way?

Pay attention to your fears today. They might be telling you they’re not so scary after all.

PS: This is not an endorsement of the BugZooka (although I like it). I only included the picture to show you what it looks like.

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They say there are two primal reactions to any situation: fight or flight. Let me suggest a third: holding for a moment, letting God make the decision for you. As fearful as you are, as stressful as the situation might be, God will hold you up. It is a moment I often forget to take, as used as I am to thinking I am in total control of my life (a laughable concept). But a necessary one. As usual, I illustrate in poetry:

Plunge in.
The water’s cold,
so cold it stops your heart
for a moment. And then
you come back into yourself,
all at once, water — wet, breath — held,
eyes — open, to clear blue impossibilities.
You will panic or be at peace;
it doesn’t matter which,
except in terms of long-term survival.
You will swim, after a fashion, or not.
It will be easier if you let your body go,
but that requires a yes you may not be ready for.
Try to say it anyway. The tide will lift you,
even if the yes is a lie.

Last Friday, we drove to Indiana in the rain. Not just any rain: This was a downpour, a thrashing, a blinding, ceaseless waterfall of rain — rain so heavy, you couldn’t see the car just ahead of you until you were this close. We could have pulled off the road — if we could have found an exit, and a safe parking lot, and if the rain might’ve abated (it didn’t, for two hours). Instead, we prayed.

My tongue was jumping around my mouth like there was a hot stone in it. Forget about eloquence — this was gut-level fear talking, a constant call for help. At one point, it looked as if a semi was about to run us off the road. I yelled, “Jesus!” — not as an expletive or an angry rebuttal, but as a child calling for her friend to stand by her side against a gang of bullies.

Prayer without ceasing: I ought to do it more often, and not just in panic situations. How could all of our lives be bettered from the consistent application of prayer?

My tongue
a wet, flopping thing
blind as a bird, just
out of the egg. Ungainly,
gutted by effort, exhausted,
still sings in my mouth.
In praise, my prayer
finds feathers,
flies.

Many years ago, when I was a young and naïve slip of a thing, my husband went out of town, leaving me alone in our townhouse. One evening during this trip, there came a knock on the door. More like a fusillade of knocking. And yelling. A man with a loud and angry voice demanded I “open the door right now!” and proceeded to call me a variety of ugly names.

I froze in fear. Should I hit the alarm button (which had gone off before without the neighbors doing a darned thing about it)? Call the cops? Hide? He was, after all, threatening to kick the door down.

Sherry! (or Sheila or Shelly…I forget)” he screamed. “I’m going to kill you if you don’t open this door RIGHT NOW!

“Sherry (or Sheila or Shelly) doesn’t live here,” I yelled back. There was a moment of silence.

“Okay,” came the voice from the other side of the door, and the man walked away.

Sometimes troubles come knocking on our door, and sometimes they threaten to kick it down. It can feel like the whole world is calling us a variety of ugly names. It can feel like we are powerless to prevent the nameless nastiness that is certain to come — soon. Any minute, it seems.

Maybe yelling at your difficulties won’t keep them from coming. On the other hand, like David facing Goliath or Daniel in the lion’s den, a little moxie couldn’t hurt. In fact, sometimes it’s all you need to power your way through a tough time. No one needs to know you don’t really have anything left in you to back it up.

Why? Because even if you are trembling in your boots, God isn’t. And God has your back. You may not be able to picture the other side of the mountain of woe that stands in front of you, but you will reach the other side. What’s there might not be any prettier, but once you’ve climbed one mountain, you will know the steps you need to take to climb the next.

So the next time life offers you lemons, don’t bother with lemonade. Just yell, “Sherry/Sheila/Shelly doesn’t live here!” at it. Refuse to engage that person who wants to draw you into a quarrel. Choose not to let someone else take advantage of you, even if you have to rely on bluster you don’t feel. Decide to forgive someone not because they deserve it, but because you do.

Most of all, don’t forget how deeply loved you are. God recognizes your sorrows and feels them deeply. Jesus, fully divine and fully human, understands what it is to fear, suffer, mourn. Even if the door comes crashing down, you’ve got an army behind you.

I’ve always thought of myself as possessing unlimited imagination, a riotous garden abloom. But just as weeds choke young flowers, so anxiety seizes me from time to time, strangling creativity before it can blossom. I get scared, see. And nothing does that more effectively than conflict.

My problem is that I want to be liked by everyone. But no one can be. People are far too variable in their affections, oscillating from fast friendship to loathing, allegiances twitching like a needle on a seismograph. Knowing this does not help; I still want everybody to be happy all the time. And where two parties’ happiness is diametrically opposed — aye, there’s the rub.

Simple answers present themselves: God loves me. Being loved isn’t my mission in this world; doing good is. You can’t make everybody happy. None of these truisms helps me sleep at night. (Okay, maybe the first one.) I am a perpetual middle child, always seeking harmony, always on edge.

All of which is to say that I have nothing to say. I cannot hold up any platitudes for you to embrace. I am all out of stories illustrating God’s Providence in the world. And you know what? That’s okay.

Being empty is also a state of being ready to be filled. And even in my darkest hours, I know this is possible, as I have been filled endlessly — to overflowing — by God’s movement in my life, over and over again. To say it can happen is to acknowledge that it will happen. And so it does.

Conflict will come and go; people will always resist the urge to let their gears mesh smoothly, often for very good reason. All I can do in these times is offer a place of peace. And when all peace has been drained from me, I can frankly and freely offer my empty cup to Christ. His peace is flowing like a river. He will always have some to spare.

clock

 

“We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read.”
― Abraham Lincoln

When I moved into my humble home some twenty years ago, the previous owners had cleared out all of their belongings except for a clock over the refrigerator. It doesn’t keep time properly and I wanted to get rid of it, but the cord had been built into the trim in the kitchen. So if I want to get rid of the clock, I’d have to take apart the kitchen molding. I kept thinking I’d eventually take care of it when we renovated the kitchen, but that didn’t happen. Meanwhile, that clock has been running all these years, showing the wrong time.

Sometimes I’d look at that clock and it would loom large over my head, even though it’s a small object. It would bother me that I couldn’t get rid of the darn thing. That would lead me to worry about all the other little annoying things in need of repair around the house. Before I knew it, I’d spent hours thinking of things I couldn’t resolve and it had left me in an agitated state. Certainly not in a place of peace.

So often, we wear ourselves out working on things that don’t serve us. The way I see it, anxiety is a full-time job for most of us. It’s like running in place. We expend a lot of energy and end up getting nowhere.

In a previous post, I wrote about a spiritual writer named Bhagavan Das, who said, “Worrying is praying for what you don’t want.”

In a spiritual sense, prayer is a panacea. It covers everything and opens the door to God’s grace when a situation has been concerning you.

But on a practical level, I believe that prayer is a team effort. A two-part process.  We ask, then we act. If there’s a goal that’s important to us, we know God gave us two feet for a reason: to walk toward it, and to the best of our ability, to get it done.

Maybe it’s actually three parts, now that I think about it. The last part is the hardest. It’s… letting go.

Once we’ve prayed about a problem and done everything we can to make it better, that’s when it’s time to release it into God’s hands. Ask for what you want. Act to make it happen. The only thing left to do is to release it and send it on its way with a hearty, heartfelt: Amen.

My former boss once told the story of a job he had as a teenager. He was in charge of loading up machines that automatically washed heads of lettuce, then used centrifugal force to dry them. One day, the lettuce was coming out too soggy. He tried a longer spin. Still mushy. He spun the lettuce longer. Even worse! Eventually, he figured out that all that spinning was breaking down the heads of lettuce and releasing their internal, cellular water, turning them into mush. The lesson in this story? Sometimes overworking a problem doesn’t make it better. It just exacerbates matters. It makes things mushier.

I’m the kind of person whose brain comes electrically alive the minute it hits the pillow. Suddenly, I think of a hundred things that need to be dissected, worried over, analyzed. All at the worst possible time, a time when I ought to be relaxing and letting go. I’m sure I’m not alone in this cycle of illogic. Millions of people suffer from insomnia. I am one of the fortunate ones; my natural sleepiness always overtakes me. It’s not so easy for other folks. What can you do when your brain can’t stop spinning?

I learned this trick from the great and good Thomas Merton, author and monk, and — in my head, anyway — a saint. You start at your feet and think, “I can’t feel my feet…I can’t feel my feet.” Slowly, your feet seem to disappear into weightlessness. That’s when you move on to your ankles, then your shins, etc. By the time you get to your head, you should be nearing sleep, if not already unconscious. It’s simply a way of breaking the spell of overworking problems in your head, of worrying yourself out of the sleep you need. It works wonderfully well for me.

Prayer also works well. Pick something soothing, that you know by heart. The rosary makes a magnificent choice. If your brain is busy following the familiar grooves of a favorite prayer, it can’t get lost in a worry rut. My friend SueBe has lauded the use of prayer beads and finger labyrinths. It’s all the same concept: You replace a bad thought cycle with a better one.

Who knows why some people are natural mush-makers while others drift through life carefree and breezy, falling asleep the second their noggin hits the pillow? I can’t explain it. God made us in our infinite variety, worriers and non-worriers alike. God may not be a worrier (it would be difficult to be both omniscient and anxious, anxiety hinging as it does on fear of the unknown), but Jesus understands how we feel. He knows what it feels like to anticipate, to know not only that bad things are coming but that — even as you worry — you can ultimately do nothing to stop them.

It’s comforting to know you’ve got a friend somewhere who knows what you’re going through. Especially if you’re a lettuce-head like me.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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