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This morning I woke up and was so tired, I slid right back into that pocket between sleep and wakefulness. That seems to be the place where I hear sage advice from someone.  (God? My own psyche? Relatives who have passed on?) 

And this time, I heard these words:

Expect the best like a dinner guest and set it a place at the table.

Then someone (my mother? A teacher?) said to me:

What are you punishing yourself for?

And I realized it was both a mildly exasperated, head-shaking statement, as well as existential question.  

So I had to mull it over. What am I punishing myself for? What do any of us give ourselves angst over?

  • Choices you made when you had no choice.
  • Stopgap measures that turned into persistent problems.
  • Mistakes that led to doing penance in perpetuity.

Many of us feel we’re in that pocket in between what we’d envisioned life would be and life as it is actually lived. We may end up making peace with where we are and making do with what we have. But maybe “expecting the best” is the mindset that precedes its arrival. Or perhaps it’s the clarion call your blessings need to hear. 

What if they’re flying overhead right now, waiting for you to tell them where to land? If changing your mind meant changing your life, we’d all set that extra place at the table. That way, when “the best” comes knocking, it will already feel right at home.

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What if you found out you’d never be able to lose weight as long as you held a grudge in your heart? Say you hatched a plan to exact revenge and succeeded in getting your “pound of flesh,” only here’s the catch: you have to wear it on your person as a saddlebag! I can only imagine how quickly most of us would find a way to be forgiving.

We seem to hold onto grudges as a means of survival, as if being cynical will protect us from being hurt or betrayed ever again. Perhaps your body is listening and thinks you want to keep a wall between you and the possibility of being wounded again, a “blubber buffer,” if you will.

Or maybe God’s getting tired of hearing you complain about that last boyfriend who never bought you flowers, and now he’s gone and married a florist! The injustice! So the maker of all things decides to teach an object lesson. You stop hurting when you stop hating, child. Until you do, I’m going to physically add weight to you until you get the correlation. Zap! You’re zaftig.

Whatever the particulars were, whoever the players were, the only way to release yourself from past pain is to love yourself more than you hate the ones who hurt you.

When you lighten up and let go of that heavy burden, the least that will happen is that you’ll have more time for the blessings in your life. You may not lose weight, but you’ll lose hate. And that’s how you make space for grace.

Not long ago, Lori, Ruth and I were discussing how people in our various parts of the country treat wait staff, store clerks and other people in the service sector.

I grew up thinking that everyone was polite and chatty when dealing with these kinds of people.  After all, Bumpa, my maternal grandfather, was an extremely extroverted salesman.  He talked to everybody including the man filling his gas tank, the woman who rang up our sale at the Italian bakery, and more.

Then in college, my husband and I went out for dinner with friends.  I’m honestly not certain how some of these people thought there food arrived at the table because they were cold, verging on rude.  How painful is it to thank someone who has just settled a meal before you?  “Give me. . . I want . . . Why don’t I have . . . ”  There were points in the meal when I suspected we were dining with royalty or at the various least royal pains.

I know not everyone in my area acknowledges the people who are clerks and wait staff, but my son definitely does.  He remembers even at those times that I forget, when I’m looking for my car keys or juggling too many bags.

But an older friend of mine pointed out something I hadn’t noticed.  People wish each other a Blessed Day.  Or “thank you and God Bless You.”  That isn’t something you used to hear in the St. Louis suburbs. I still haven’t heard anyone say this, but I’m listening for it.

And every now and again, I say it.

May God Bless you all on this beautiful day.

–SueBE

In a conversation recently, I had a disagreement with an acquaintance around my age (53), and I was struck by how civil we both were. “If I may,” he interjected, as I made my point, “That’s not the case.” He continued for a moment, and then I interrupted politely, saying, “I’d like to point out…” and I made my argument. At the end of the conversation, we were still cordial.

It made me wonder if civility is actually an extinct language. It may have gone the way of Latin. It still exists, but very few people are fluent.

It can be difficult to remain calm when you’re talking to someone who’s being decidedly uncivil. Being civil doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to say what’s on your mind. Bluntness may even be required, but never belittling, or using pejorative or profane terms.

When I feel angry, hurt or offended in some way, I try to put it into words immediately. My son knows that when I come to him and say, “You know my policy; I have to tell you how I feel about what you just said”,  that’s the time for him to speak plainly as well.

Recalibrating my communication settings to say what I mean freed my soul from the clutches of grudges. That toxic energy only takes up space that’s meant for grace. Once you clear that parking spot, you’ll find you’ve made room for incoming blessings. Who knows? They might be circling overhead right now, waiting for you to wave them into your life.

A young man knocked on my door today and said he was in the neighborhood “helping out” my neighbors. He mentioned specific names of neighbors whom he said had already signed up for his services.

I said I wasn’t interested. Closed the screen door, closed the inside door, locked the deadbolt, walked down the hall and realized he was still pitching his wares! I heard him talking to the closed door for a moment there.

Finally, he packed up his digital clipboard, got onto his segway and rolled to the next house. That’s a high-tech way to pester people, I must say.

I’m sure that none of my neighbors had signed up because we don’t want to encourage solicitation. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say, “Oh, Rene signed up? Let me call her to confirm what you’re telling me,” but I didn’t think of it until later.

What was he selling? Pest control, of course! Oh, the irony. Is there some kind of repellent for pest control salespeople?

Hmm. This has given me an idea for a new type of insurance: anti-solicitation coverage. If anyone shows up at your door to sell you something, the insurance company will give you money. Of course, you couldn’t sell this type of thing door-to-door!

People deserve better than to be sold a bill of goods, especially when you talk to them about what you believe. Helping a neighbor, holding a door for a stranger, offering a kind word — being neighborly is more effective than being a noodge. In faith and in fumigation, it’s better to be blessed than to be a pest.

For a previous blog post, I used the voice-to-text function on my phone to write down an idea, and this is what it wrote when I said SueBE’s name: “Ksubi”

That word sounds like an ancient dynastic title of some kind, which is fitting for our anthropology expert. Interestingly, it spelled Lori’s name correctly. It didn’t type Lorie or Laurie.

Sometimes you get your point across, even to a machine. At other times, you can’t even get through to other human beings. I’m constantly amazed at how in sync the three of us on this humble blog are, even though we’ve never met in person.

When I come into my fortune, I’ll fix things in need of repair in my house, get a new fence, re-finish the floors. Of course, I’ll pay off the house and bills. I wouldn’t want a new house or anything fancy.

If a genie told me, Do all those practical things, but you’ve also got to choose two things that aren’t practical, but would light you up from the inside. Well then!

Okay. I’d start a publishing house called “Yes Press” and ask Lori to be the editor. I’d ask her to curate uplifting wonderfulnesses (to coin a phrase) from around the blogosphere so we could have all the warmth in one place.

I’d start another publishing house called “HiStories” to tell history-stories that touch on how God has a hand in the life stories we co-create. SueBE could write about fascinating facets of nature that are hard to explain but interesting to ponder, like the Coelacanth, a living fossil that seems to have bypassed evolution. I believe God likes a good mystery and created this fish to give us something to talk about. So, if there are any traveling genies out there, come on over!

There are some left-overs I really look forward to; others, not so much. I’ve started to realize that I know very quickly what should really go right into the trash. We may think we’re going to eat it tomorrow, but we didn’t like it the first time. Why re-hash it? Especially if it’s actual scorched-earth-style corned beef hash?👎

Today is the day to go all Marie Kondo and really sort through the things that take up space in your psyche.

Keep  

  • The attention you give to your core responsibilities (take care of family, pay the bills, feed the cat.)
  • The things you are already doing efficiently (keeping track of appointments on your phone’s calendar, washing towels right after a shower so you have towels next time you need them.)
  • The comforts and keepsakes that light you up from the inside (the coffee mug with a lid that looks like a jaunty beret, that tiny candle that looks like a lighthouse, the faith that sustains you like a wood-burning stove of the soul even on the darkest winter night.)

Discard

  • The memories that pop up when you experience the slightest hint of happiness (Remember that thing you did that time? You should’ve done it differently.)
  • Self-defeating habits (Since I gained five pounds, I might as well go all in and demolish the snacks in the house with the word “sugar” or “chip” in their name.)

Once you’ve got your cognitive closets cleared, take a moment to breathe. Congratulate yourself on taking small steps to improve your life. That first step is always the hardest one.  The past is a left-over. You don’t need a make-over. A good habit that you carry over to the next day? We’ll call it a blessed-over.

Started out the day with cereal, a cup of coffee and a knot in my stomach.

My feet hurt. The fence needs fixing. How will I….? What do I do if….?

Paused.

Had to take a moment just to be in the blessings I already have.

You can’t come at troubles with a troubled mind and make them better.

Not to be redundant, or repetitive, or say the same thing in different ways, 🙂 but, looking at a problem through a problematic mindset won’t solve the problem.

If your mind is churning, unsettled, anxious, that’s problem number one to address. Calm your mind. Leave the room where you sat, wringing your hands. Go into a room you designate as your peace room. For me it’s my sunroom, but it can be any room you choose. Breathe deeply. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

Be where you are right now. Not in the fearful future yet to happen. Get to the place inside where you know all is well. That’s not to minimize the issues you need to address. But you can only do that when you’re in the state of knowing the world hasn’t ended. Gravity still works. So does grace. Your feet are still on the ground. The sun is still shining.

In that peaceful place, an idea may come to you. If not a solution, a stopgap measure. Be still in your blessings and listen for an answer. Some way will find its way to you.

Question: How are you?

If can’t complain, press 1

If fair to middling, press 2

If please don’t ask, press 3

You know me, dear readers. I’m always joshing. But I:

⬜ Usually

✅ Sometimes

⬜ On occasion

⬜ Once in a blue moon in a leap year 

…have a point hidden somewhere in that humor.

If you look at the headlines, all you’ll see is bad news.

Maybe we’ve gotten used to seeing that in our lives, too.

When someone asks “how are you?” we immediately run down the list of milestones in our mind to come up with a punchy headline.

  • Wife left me last month and took up with the mailman.
  • I almost hit the lottery but was off by one number. That’s what I get for using my wedding date!
  • Kid hit a baseball through my window yesterday.
  • Plus I had a wicked hangnail.

Somewhere lost in the sauce there: The couple had been estranged for years, and they were better off apart. Hardly anyone ever wins the lottery. The kid broke the window but apologized immediately and got a job after school to pay for it. The hangnail, the man deserved. Just kidding! He just needed a good nail clipper.

Check in with your blessings today. Even if you can’t say everything is all wine and roses right now, you can find one half-way decent thing to be grateful for. Maybe just a good parking spot or a semi-amusing blog post from your Kindly-Auntie.😊 Look around you today. Silver linings are everywhere.

Who do our congregations want as new members?  That is the question many established churches are asking as rosters, and bank accounts, dwindle.  As we work to attract new members, who should be our focus?

I suspect that the answer depends somewhat on your congregation, specifically where you are located.   A church located in southern Missouri is going to serve a different population than a church in downtown St. Louis or out in the county.  Even county churches will differe depending on whether they are located in the inner suburbs, closest to the big city, or affluent West county.

But in the broader sense, the answer is one and the same.  We should reach out to those God sends our way whether these people are the working poor, opioid addicts, wounded warriors or multi-degreed medical professionals.

Because no matter who it is that God sends through our doors, they will come bearing burdens.  That’s the funny thing about being human.  We are all, rich or poor, educated and uneducated, imperfect and burdened.  We all have problems that can be helped by gathering together with our fellows, flawed though we all may be.

And while the person who just walked through the door may not have the gift that a congregation thinks will solve all their problems, without a doubt this person carries with them God’s blessing.

Though we may have to open our eyes a bit wider and seek God’s guidance to see it.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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