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Taking that first step can seem awfully scary.  Sometimes it means going against a long-held belief.  Praying in public freaks me out.  Truly panics me.  In part, I had a minister tell by how very bad I am at it.  She’s right but that sure didn’t help.  In fact, I panic so badly that I can’t even get the Lord’s Prayer right.  Did you know that was once considered a sign of witch craft?  I’d be in big trouble.

I’m teaching a section of Adult Sunday School again.  I’ve resigned myself to reading a prayer at the end of each lesson.  Now I need to convince my co-teacher to let me do it.

Take the first step can be even worse if you are making a change in a long-term situation such as leaving a job or a marriage.  Leaving after five/ten/fifteen years feels like failure.  Does it mean all those years were wasted?  A friend has moved out.  Recently she asked me why I’m not praising her for dumping the goon or warning her about ruining her marriage.  It seems that most everyone else has taken sides.

“Would it help?”

“I’m really scared and it just makes me mad.  This is a forty-year marriage I might have just totalled.  It isn’t a good thing!”

We discussed how the change was needed for her mental health and his.  We talked about how if the marriage ends, it is sad because they’ve been together for a long time.  But it could also be good if it shakes them out of patterns that no longer worked for either one of them.

And we prayed. Yeah, she’s the one who led it but that’s okay.  She’s got a plan for me.  I’m more than a little scared to find out what it is.

–SueBE

 

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I thought of my cousin when I first saw this quote.  For well over a year now, she’s been fighting mysterious health problems.  She has good days, but many days are like today.  More bad than good.  Discouraging and worrisome.  

Some days courage isn’t loud.  It isn’t bold.  It isn’t in your face.

Some days courage sits in a corner of the sofa.  It curls up under a favorite blanket with a cup of tea.  It regroups.

Keep an eye out for the people who have this type of courage.  Let them know that you see God’s light in them.  Your kind words and God’s love can make a big difference.

–SueBE

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? The difference between the two is often defined by the old “is the glass half full or half empty?” conundrum. Guess what? Turns out it doesn’t matter what you think about the glass. We are all, deep down, optimists, or we wouldn’t be here.

Reading the news can get you down. It does me, anyway. Just scanning the headlines convinces me that the world is a dark, ugly, little place full of small-minded, uneducated people who just want to watch the world burn and toast marshmallows on the flames. But the news doesn’t tell the whole truth. Not that the news is in any way “fake” — a phrase I detest — but simply that it cannot cover the complex entirety of the modern human condition. Even I can spot the better headline: “Man Kills Dozens” will always triumph over “Man Happily Distributes Free Lemonade and Hugs.”

But you turned up this morning for all of this news — bad and good (mostly bad) — didn’t you? You got out of bed. You put on your socks (or omitted them; it’s kind of too hot for socks). You gave your body fuel and opened your front door. Congratulations! You are officially an optimist. And pretty darned brave, to boot.

Do you think it takes more than just showing up to show courage? Maybe. But for any thinking person it’s more than enough. To watch bad things happen and still say, “You know what? I’m going out there anyway” is a testament to human resilience. After being ejected from the Garden of Eden, did Adam and Eve just pack it in and give up? Nope. Even though they’d lost access to unbridled happiness, they went on anyway. This kind of steel is precisely what God knew we would need to function in the world.

So if you’re here today, reading this, and just trying to bumble through life, I salute you. Thank you for continuing to take a chance on the world. Thank you for not giving up or giving in. The world needs you. I need you. Don’t give up. Despite what it says in the news or anywhere else, most of us are just like you. We’re trying. It is the stuff of superheroes, of saints. It is brave.

Faith isn’t easy but what worth having or doing is? merton

“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, God calls a butterfly.” I’ll confess; I never much liked that quotation. It’s a little too neat, too pat. Tornado wrecks your house? Think of it as an opportunity to start over, to pare down your life. Fired? Consider it a chance to do something new and exciting. Yeah, right.

I have a tendency to sink into melancholy, Poe-like, after something distressing occurs. I’m not proud of it. But what lifts me up again is not so much opportunity or “looking on the bright side” so much as allowing time to bring something else, something new, into my life. It can be as small as a letter from a friend. Whatever it is, it breaks the surface tension on my melancholy and allows me to come up for air. I can’t force it. I can only wait for it. Yes, waiting is hard. But it goes by slightly easier knowing you’re not alone in doing it. So, at the risk of being as trite as whoever it was who penned the quotation at the beginning of this post, I offer the following:

I saw a blue heron, midstream standing
stick-legged, watched it dip, beak wetted,
wrangle a fish, throw back its head.
The fish wriggled down its gullet.
This was not the plan of the fish.
But if it ever looked at the sky,
thought even once what if,
it may be surprised — buoyant even —
at its newfound ability to fly.

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.

More importantly, what have they got that I ain’t got? Answer: Courage, or specifically, the courage of one’s convictions. Now, I like to think that I hold my beliefs pretty strongly, but this whole failed Rapture thing got me thinking. There are people, actual people, who gave up their jobs, sold their belongings, and went around the country trying to convince the rest of us that the end of the world was nigh. Sure, it sounds ridiculous now, and particularly in retrospect because, obviously, we’re all still here. But there were those who believed. Can I imagine myself ever giving up everything in my life for my beliefs? I’m not sure. I don’t know that I have that kind of courage. I’ve never been tested.

A friend of mine and I were once discussing a book that took place during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey Island. The residents were forbidden, under threat of imprisonment or death, to celebrate their faith. My friend assured me that no death threat would keep her from attending religious services; in fact, she would open her home to others to make sure Mass was still celebrated covertly. I didn’t know how to respond to this.  I would never give up my faith, but to risk death to attend Mass? I don’t know. There exists the possibility that I would be too frightened. I wouldn’t want to be. I can even delude myself into thinking I would certainly be stronger than that. But maybe I wouldn’t. I can’t say with certainty.

Maybe I’m like the Cowardly Lion of Oz fame, and my courage is there, just buried under a ton of self-doubt. Or maybe I would fail the test of faith. What keeps haunting me is this: People who many considered ill-advised or just plain crazy may have demonstrated more faith than I ever will. Sure, they were wrong about the Rapture, but I can’t help respecting them anyway.

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