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ray of light near body of water

Imagine being an explorer from outer space, having traveled for years, and finally, you’ve landed on the third planet from the sun. Phew! That map you bought at the fueling station on Alpha Centauri was a bit outdated, but you made it eventually.

The cut-rate “Learn to speak like an Earthling in ten days!” lessons you took were supposed to enable you to converse with the natives, but you’ve encountered some snafus. 

So you say a “pantry” isn’t a place you store trousers, but food? Huh. And a roomatologist isn’t an interior designer, but some kind of doctor? Wait. It’s spelled how?!?

Also, your spaceship doesn’t fit into the drive-thru lane at the fast-food place. You put the food in front of you and it just sits there. It’s not fast at all! Should you get your money back? 

And what is the deal with money, anyway? Tiny pieces of green paper? This can’t be the most valuable thing on this planet. Back home, it’s a compound called blargen, which is a rare, strong mineral that emits a noise and spins. 

If it’s hard for an alien to understand our language and ways, it’s become equally hard to decipher what our fellow humans are communicating to us these days. 

A wedding with 10,000 guests in NYC? At the height of a pandemic? That’s a head-scratcher. People intentionally provoking fights over masks? Going on vacation and flouting rules? It just does not compute.

Others may make questionable choices, but there’s no need to lower yourself when those around you engage in pettiness and politics. Act as if God is watching (guess what?) and speak as if everything you say will be in history books. Calibrate your moral compass to the Golden Rule and always do the right thing.

purple petaled flowerMy favorite show lately is the comedy “Black-ish”, and in one episode, something unexpectedly good happens and a character exclaims, “Look at God!”

That phrase has been on my mind lately, as I’ve tried to come to terms with things I don’t quite understand, like how a woman’s body changes with age. Often, the changes are given “food” or “nature” names, like crepe-y skin, cottage cheese cellulite. Crow’s feet. Let’s not forget spider veins.

But all of this can make us forget we women are unique phenomena, capable of creating life, shouldering the weight of the world, and keeping the home fires burning.

These miniature miracles are often taken for granted by those of us who count on the sustaining grace of our sister-friends. That happened to me recently when my thoughtless words wounded a dear friend of mine. I probably assumed she knew I hadn’t meant any offense, as she’s used to my occasional bouts of blunt bluster. 

When I realized I’d been an Epic Tool, nay, a Stupid Stunod (as we say in Jersey), I emailed her again, apologizing for causing her pain. She didn’t reply right away, and during that time, I felt utterly bereft. Had I pushed her away forever? 

Luckily, she gave me a second chance, and it made think of all the second chances God had given me in life. Sometimes I think of my time in prayer as a chance to air a laundry list of Stuff I Don’t Have But Need, Like, Yesterday, and this is what I feel in return on my heart: Food on the table? Clothes on your back? A warm place to lay your head at night? Friends who love you through it all despite your flaws and failings? Peace in your heart? 

Bask in your blessings. Forgive those who cross you. Weigh your words and soften your tone. Don’t make a problem your personal piñata, swatting at it fecklessly. Do what you can and release it into the care of Providence. Look at everyone you’ve got in your corner. Look at all the love in your life. Don’t look at the mulch piling up on top of you. Look at the flower you’re blossoming into, not despite it, but because of it. Walk in faith through this valley, my child. Look at God.

closeup photo of woman's eye wearing maskAs I shopped the early “senior/disabled person’s shopping hour,” I overheard two grocery store workers talking about an incident involving another employee. “It really got ugly. That customer got so angry, he pushed a cart at her!”

Could it be that the “subcutaneous” part of the Coronavirus is that giving in to fear and panic will lead to you actually losing your grip on reality? Could people really be going out of their minds in this time of chaos?

If so, the best protection is to shore yourself up with a mind-clearing, soul-centering meditation before you leave your home to go grocery shopping, or go to work if you’re in an essential job. 

If you believe in God, say a specific prayer, asking him to put a fence and a forcefield around you, body, mind and soul. 

If you don’t believe in God, what the heck is wrong with you?!? Sorry. I was temporarily outside my mind (as comedy duo Key and Peele would say) right then. Apologies, indeed! If you don’t believe in God, be aware that you make the world better or worse based on the attitude you bring out into it.

No matter what you believe, put on your grace mask before you leave your house today. People who are gripped with fear are inside their own heads. Don’t go in there with them. Stay in your own place of equanimity. This is a moment in time. Don’t let it inflame you into being someone you’re not. 

Shelter in place today. If you must go out, travel with grace today. This won’t go on forever, but until it’s over, stay true to who you are. You’re not a ruffian or an animal. You know right from wrong. Don’t push a cart at a grocery store worker, i.e., essential employee. Don’t designate yourself the moral high ground police if you see someone buying too many paper towels. Get back to your moral center. Get home to your family. Get over these small moments and look at the big picture. Remember how much you have to live for and let it go.

dog rescue in middle of lake

Credit: Matt Babbitt / Mlive.com

We’ve all had moments in which we felt as if we were adrift in the middle of nowhere, like this dog found floating on an ice patch on a freezing lake one night. Luckily, just when it seemed all was lost, help arrived and the dog was rescued.

It seems as if the ideal life would be one with no challenges, but what we learn on the hard road instills resilience and resourcefulness. All of the things you’ve gone through have built up your own adversity-acumen, and now you know how to lend a hand to someone else when they need it.

Don’t give yourself a hard time for going through hard times. It’s not a sign that God has left you behind, or that you don’t deserve abundance and accolades. It means you’re storing up skills for the next river you’ve got to cross. And once you get to the other side, you’ll find that, now, you’ve become a guide. 

And as you lay down to rest at night you’ll realize that, even though you’d been on a hard road, it was still a good day. It’s not the easy life that fulfills us as human beings, but a purposeful, positive life in which you do your best, and find that your best gets better every day.

Even when you end up in a difficult situation like that poor pup, stranded on an icy lake, just remember: you’re stockpiling survival skills from the inside. And since Providence is perpetual, you’re never really alone.

Scrolling through news headlines this morning on my phone, I clicked on an advice column that I enjoy and was surprised by the picture I saw. Normally, you can see the columnist’s face and upper torso in the picture, but today, due to a technical glitch, all you can see is her shoulder. 

This made me laugh. Why, this could be a cottage industry for her — an advice column about burdens we all must shoulder. “Talk to the shoulder!” could become a catch phrase. Her new book could be titled: “How to Carry the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders (and Get a Great Upper Body Work-out in the Process)”!

Because we can’t always see the bigger picture in life, sometimes the things we pray for really wouldn’t be good for us. Most of us have prayed for money, sometimes even a lottery win, but being filthy rich wouldn’t make you happier; it would make life harder. More taxes to pay. More “new friends” coming around asking for a piece of the pie. 

And that relationship you prayed would be “the one,” but wasn’t? If you have to compromise, accommodate and put yourself on the back burner, that wasn’t a relationship anyway, but a prison term. Why pray for what doesn’t serve you? 

While we see only a portion of it, God sees the whole picture. If he can hold up the whole world, you can rest assured, he’s got a shoulder for you to lean on, too. In the meantime, do what you can to improve your life. Surround yourself with positive people. Do your best at the work you do. Stay healthy and active — and try a few shoulder rolls to stay limber.😊

Not that I was Rasputin or anything, but I have to say that I was someone else prior to losing the vision in my right eye. Looking back, I did a lot of…looking back. I could make myself feel guilty about a mistake I’d made decades earlier. 

Even in the car, I found myself looking back, keeping that eye trained nervously on the rearview mirror. God had to get my attention somehow, I suppose, and decided to poke me in the eye with a sharp stick. A surgery meant to correct a macular hole ended up leaving me without vision in that eye. In a way, it was a metaphor for the larger theme in my life up to that point: You can’t drive your car down the road in reverse.

If I could have full vision again, I would do it in a minute, but having visual impairments has been — wait for it — eye-opening. For one thing, I’ve learned that the world was designed for the elusive “normal” person: someone with perfect vision, hearing and speech capabilities, no medical issues and a perfectly balanced psyche. 

There are various “disability” communities, and each has its own lexicon. In the autism community, for instance, those without autism are called “neuro-typicals.” 

But even within those communities, there are differing points of view. For example, in the Deaf community, for some, a cochlear implant is a godsend. Others take exception to the idea that they need to be “fixed” and refuse the procedure. 

Just as I used to drive down the road worrying about how close the cars behind me were, I also spent time on what-ifs and why-mes that didn’t change my situation. When I got out of that roundabout of regret and let Providence take the wheel, the ride became a lot easier. 

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.

“Love” is a troublesome word, as our pastor pointed out at Mass last Saturday. “I say I love God,” he said, “but I also say I love hotdogs.” It’s a problem that many have tried to remedy. In the movie Annie Hall, Alvy struggles to explain his feelings — he doesn’t just love Annie, he “luffs her with two f’s.” In our own circle, SueBE, Ruth and I have turned to the word “loave.” Sue started it; in an exhausted stupor after working on her latest book, she nearly typed the word “loave” rather than “love” in an e-mail to the other two of us. Ruth, of course (with her love of wordplay), seized on it immediately. It now liberally dots our e-mails to each other. I like it, the way it summons up yeasty, warm rounds of bread, fresh from the oven. To bake bread for another: That’s love. Is there a bigger word than “love”? No, but we’re working on it.

How wide a word can contain
the heights of hope and the terror of loss?
How can a mouth move sufficiently to utter
what is utter — the strange shift in my chest
when I attempt to grasp the totality of You?
It is light. Heat. Pressure. Pain. Loosed bounds.
Open air. Joy. It is a rising, quick and breathless.
It is grounded to the earth. Perhaps it is a word
we cannot say. Our lungs ought to be trumpets.
Instead we cram its meaning into too small a box.
It lacks capacity, much like our hearts.
And so, “love” suffices. (Can you hear the
wordless word, thrumming in my veins,
bounding, banging, bursting, breaking?
It will deafen me yet, I fear.)

Today is Easter Sunday, a day on which Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb on the third day after his crucifixion.

The Cross is the universal emblem of the Christian faith, and its poignant significance resonates around the world. But another symbol I hold dear is the rock. The stone that was rolled away after the resurrection always reminds me: you don’t have to stay in bondage. If you think you can’t get out of an abusive or untenable situation, remember the stone that was rolled away. You can and you will. Pray about it, then get up and go.

There’s also something solid and unchanging about the symbol of a rock in a changing and challenging world.

When I think of Psalms, this is the one I always return to:

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2 NIV

In that passage, there’s so much “strength” mentioned that I feel encouraged every time I read it. Like I’m getting stronger just sitting here. Now that would be an exercise plan I’d sign onto: sit and strengthen. That could be a thing!

The core principles we learned as children are like bedrock. Treat people well. Take care of your body like a temple. Do the work in front of you with all your heart. Be forgiving of yourself and of others.

I may not belong to a particular denomination, and my pew may be this chair I’m sitting in right now, but between the rock and the cross, my faith has a firm foundation. Easter blessings to you and yours!

At 3 AM, I woke up suddenly, and these words popped into my head:

Major drama in one minute.

Within a minute, a massive clap of thunder shook the house. Lightning flashed and crackled. Torrential rain flowed like a river from the sky. It was as if a switch was flipped. Peaceful. Click. Tumultuous. It turns out to have been a micro-burst, a powerful storm that knocked down trees.

It was the kind of sudden loud surprise that makes you curse, even if you really don’t curse. What the -! Holy -!

And in that surprised, scared, angry space, I actually had this thought: Well, if you can warn me it’s coming, Lord, why can’t you just make it not happen in the first place?

Bad things happen to people. It could be the loss of a loved one. A betrayal by a spouse. I’m not sure what the net benefit will be as you go through it, but going forward, it builds your resilience muscles. It gives you experience to make informed choices in the future. It will almost certainly deepen your reserves of compassion, now that you know from the inside of the tunnel how scarce light can be till you pass through it.

It’s not that unexpected, unwelcome things aren’t going to pop up like a sudden storm. They are. Who knows why. All I can assume is that God’s got his reasons. But you are going to get through them. Sometimes you’ve just got to hold on until morning.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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