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alex-jones-Tq4YjCa2BSc-unsplashGot a problem? “Give it to God,” they say. Only sometimes it’s not that simple. I, for one, tend to be an ambivalent giver. I claim to hand over my trouble, only to take it back obsessively, ruminate on it, rummage through the possibilities, ponder all the “what-ifs.” As if Providence rests in my nervous little hands.

The great and wise Richard Rohr once said, “The opposite of Faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is control.” It’s a lesson we, like poor Hamlet, learn the hard way. That in the end, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, / Rough-hew them how we will—….”

And, as we know, “the rest is silence.”

Of what substance
is hardship made
that, in shaping it
with sturdy hands,
it liquefies, slumps,
refuses to hold its shape?
Persists with devilish intensity
to be captured or controlled?
If only we understood:
That in lifting our hands,
in setting free that which
we cannot sculpt to our ends,
the obdurate thing will fly from us,
ascend to one who will form it.
The shape it takes, no wringing of limbs
will change. It is what it will be.
Swallow it, in pieces, as you can.

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tilt shift lens photography of tealight candleWhen I looked online and saw how expensive candles were, I thought, Why not make some candles? How hard could it be? Plus, it might be a fun craft project. So, I looked up “Complete Candle-making Kits” and found one that sounded promising, but when it arrived, it turned out to be just a bag of wax and wicks with no instructions. Now what do I do?

Back to the online search. I found a how-to video and followed its instructions, but instead of a candle, what I ended up with was a royal mess. White wax spilled all over the white counter and hardened, and when I tried to scrape it off, it just made it look even worse. 

Back to the online search again. I found out that the heat of a blow dryer can melt wax that has set onto a surface, and then you can wipe it off with a wet paper towel. 

It was a life lesson for me. False advertising can lead to snafus, especially when you buy things online.

Isn’t it the same way with faith? Some try to sell a bill of goods, promising  that troubles will go away if you take a leap of faith, but true religion adds to your life. Lifts you up. Helps you to be a better person. It doesn’t require blind loyalty. Your whole paycheck. Mind control.

Coming to faith is like that do-it-yourself candle. It can light up your life or make a major mess. Knowing what you’re buying (or buying into) is a life skill worth having.

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.

 

Book club.  Women’s Bible Study.  Adult Sunday School. Choir.  Green Committee.   Craft Fair.

Involved in as much as I am, it is so easy for church to become something of a check list.  Readling list out?  Check.  Upcoming meetings posted on Facebook.  Not yet.  Need to get that done.  Rehearsed first track of cantata?  Need to do that too.  Where I am going to find the time and the energy?

Then I have to remind myself that if I’m asking this question, my focus is in the wrong place.  It is time to walk the labyrinth, or sit in prayer in the sanctuary, or light a candle and pull out the Book of Common Prayer.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Shift my focus.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Spend some quiet time with God.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Take this serenity back out into an all too busy world.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.

–SueBE

 

What if you had an outfit that brought you good luck every time you wore it? You’d put it on and, instantly, everything in your life would go well. I bet you’d wear it every single day! But here’s the catch: It came to you from Icarus, the farthest star known to man, and it’s got alchemical properties. 

While you get the hang of wearing it, you may randomly:

  • Become invisible
  • Be able to read minds at will
  • Hit all the winning lottery numbers in every state at the same time

On the other hand, you may also:

Would you take the risk?

If only it were as simple as putting on a scarf or tucking in a pocket square!

Well, you can actually create your own personal pocket of grace. Here’s how:

  • Focus on the positive
  • Surround yourself with people who lift you up
  • Stay on the path to the “yes” life

And before you know it, you’ve created your own good vibes. Oh, and it helps to give thanks to the one who made it all possible. No, not some corporate sponsor or mystery philanthropist! The one who made it all: you, me, the sky, earth and sea. Here’s another word for that pocket of grace: Faith.

What is it that God wants us to do?  The question applies equally to tricky situations and big life choices.  There are a variety of ways to determine the answer.

Pray.  That one seems kind of obvious but how often do we remember to do it?  Should I take this class or that class?  Is this promotion a good choice?  What about giving money to this man with a sign?

Discernment.  Do you belong to a prayer group?  If so, ask the group to pray for you.  Ask them to listen for guidance.  Perhaps they can hear a message you cannot.

Read Scripture.  Often the answers to the questions we ask can be found in scripture.  Listen for God.  Help your neighbor (which extends to the broken lying in the road). Encourage your fellows in Christ.

Pray Again.  Remember, there is more than one way to pray.  You can use a prayer you have memorized such as the Lord’s Prayer (Thy will be done) or the Prayer of St. Francis (Let me not be).  You can pray while you draw or even while you walk.  Trace a finger labyrinth.  Sing.

Listen.  I don’t know about you but often I get so busy telling God what I want him to do, that I forget to listen.  But prayer is a conversation and, as any good conversationalist will tell you, conversation requires not only that you speak but also that you listen.

The answer may not be immediate.  Wait is also an answer and sometimes it is the one we least want to hear.

–SueBE

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? It’s not just all in your head. Your experience is valid. Even if no one else shows up to support you, remember to show up for yourself.

Walk out of the room where negative notions gripped you. Keep walking until you find the room you’ve designated as Home Base. A grace-place where all is well, no matter what else is going on in the world. 

Search online for deep breathing techniques and calming music videos.

Watch a live stream from a cat cafe.

Breathe in through the nose. Out through the mouth. 

Remind yourself: You’re here, not there.

Be here, where that virtual cliff’s edge isn’t. Be where the worst that could happen, hasn’t.

Be in this breath. This breath is blessed.

Do something symbolic, like stretching toward the sky, reaching for the clouds. Light a candle. Watch old sitcoms. Go to Mayberry, or even Petticoat Junction. Everything’s okay there.

Talk to your own mind. Stay here. Don’t go down that dark alley that doesn’t really exist yet. In the peaceful place of yes, you may find the antidote to that no. Shelter in place until the looming doom passes. Keep the faith: The sun will rise again.

My Dad taught electrical lab at a two year college.  He was infamous for asking his students to explain themselves.  “Why?”  One year, a student came in dressed for Halloween.  Strictly speaking, this was not allowed because they had to wear uniforms.  But he wore one of Dad’s lab coats and stalked through the room chanting why why why.  Everyone got a kick out of it, including my dad.

To say that I was a kid who asked a lot of questions is an understatement.  Dad answered what he could and did what was needed to find answers for the rest.

Imagine my horror, and no I’m not exagerating, when I heard from some of my son’s frriends about being asked to leave church and never come back.  Why?  Because they asked questions in Sunday school.

One kid asked if Jesus died and then came back, how come he wasn’t a zombie.  He was promptly disinvited from church.  Me?  I thought it was a question that made a lot of sense.  Zombies die and come back.  Christ died and came back.  What’s the difference?

Granted, I’m a boy mom.  And, yes, he was most likely trying for a laugh, but tossing a kid out of Sunday school?

You don’t have to have all of the answers at your finger tips.  After all, you most likely aren’t a computer.  It would be totally okay to say that you know they are different but you need someone with more knowledge to help answer the question.  This is, after all, the type of question our minister could go on and on about.  He, after all, works with Scouts.

“Why?  That’s an excellent question.  Let me find the answer and I’ll get back to you.”  That’s a perfectly legitimate answer.

–SueBE

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.

This summer, Florissant Presbyterian Church is expanding our garden.  Everything we grow goes to the local food pantry.  Last year, our bumper crop was cucumbers as in 200 lbs.  We also had carrots, onions and lettuce but by far our biggest crop was cucumbers.  We’re going to have a lot of cucumbers again this year but we are trying to balance things out a bit.  We’ve added tomato and pepper plants as well as seeding lettuce, radishes, kale, corn and more.

As the kids are calling it, a baby apple tree.

It is easy to see the change for the better without considering the stresses and strains that come with it.  After six hours in the garden on Saturday my hands still hurt today.  No, I don’t have arthritis but apparently pulling up that much sod is not without consequence.  Would I do it again?  Yes, I would.  I’m sore and my hands are cramping but it is nothing to the cramping bellies from the school children who don’t get their meals at school over the summer.  The thought of feeding those kids keeps me motivated.

It took a bit more than that when my husband unpacked the shipment of bare root apple trees.  Never seen a bare root apple tree?  Imagine a stick with a few scraggly roots.  They looked like Harry Potter wands trying to take root.

But my husband assured me that this was how they were supposed to look.  And, yes, he was sure.  It wasn’t easy to find the motivation to help with those bedding boxes.  But I believed my husband and had faith.  This is a tree?  Then by the grace of God it will grow.

And they have.  All three of them are leafing out.  This makes it a lot easier to focus on the positive changes beginning to take place on our grounds.  The horse shoe pits?  No one has played in years but that’s where we planted the blackberries so no one would accidentally mow them down.

We may not be using the land the way we did 60 years ago when people played soft ball and horse shoes.  But being able to feed our hungry neighbors?  That’s a change worth making.

–SueBE

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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