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Clue: “Kid with X-Box changes left for right and makes an appeal.” Answer: Prayer, of course! As anyone who loves cryptic (or British) crosswords knows, the solution is right there in front of you. In cryptics, part of the clue provides the answer; the rest consists of the mechanics to get there. In this case, a kid with an X-Box is a “player”; you then exchange the “l” (“left”) for “r” (“right”) to get “an appeal,” which is “prayer.”

But why am I bothering to explain this? Either you already love cryptics (and found the answer annoyingly easy) or you have developed an antipathy merely from reading the opening paragraph of this post. I am obsessed with them, often creating my own clues (see above) just for the fun of playing with language. But I wonder, why do I so adore these puzzles? They are frustrating, hilarious, stupid, wickedly difficult, unfair and deeply satisfying. They are like my mind.

They are also a link to my family. When I was very young, I’d hear, from my bedroom at night, my mother and my Aunt Beverly working cryptics in the living room. They’d shriek with laughter. I wanted in. So I taught myself how to do them (there are a finite number of ways to solve the clues, such as hidden words, anagrams, charades, double meanings, etc.). I have spent many a happy hour since then unraveling these puzzles with my mom (with my father often playing straight man and voice of reason) or alone.

Maybe that’s why I’m so comfortable with the many mysteries of faith. Jesus is both God and man? Sure, why not? The Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus? Stranger things have happened. Cryptic crosswords have opened my mind to the possibilities and seeming impossibilities of creation. I get why God made aardvarks and platypuses. I’ve never struggled with the lack of reason sometimes involved in spirituality. Because I believe the reason is there; it’s just hidden — cryptic, but present.

When I run into a problem with my faith, it does me good to remember my puzzles. I’ve often stared at a clue for hours before the answer clicks into place (“murder victim sounds qualified” had me stumped until I remembered our biblical friend Abel). Maybe faith is like that. Maybe our frustrations come not from a God who is inconsistent, but from our own inability to decipher his clues.

Because you gotta know that God is far more complicated than a crossword puzzle. But the joy of understanding God? A million times more rewarding than any puzzle could be.

 

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Photo by Adam Cao on Unsplash

So this morning, I started to go downstairs and got as far as the first step. Forgot the laundry! Turned around, got the bag and went to the basement to get the wash started.

Have you ever started a diet, got fed up (!) with melba toast, and cheated by having some chips? At that point, you said to yourself, Well, I already cheated on my diet. Might as well go all in!, and ordered a pizza?

Mercy. I’ve been there! You figure that the day is already shot since you took that first bite of a Ruffle, so you give up on the diet.

But life isn’t all or nothing. You can turn around and get the laundry. You can stop over-doing it at any point in the day.

The same thing is true of faith. You don’t have to give up on God because religion has let you down. Or you thought it would change everything and you’d lead a charmed life once you found faith.

Deciding hope is better than fear is the first step. Believing in something rather than thinking life has no purpose is another. And the good news is that even if you don’t believe in God, he believes in you.

There’s no set of steps you need to take to make God a part of your life. Some religions require a laundry list of requirements, but I believe He meets you where you are. There are many ways that believers choose to honor their beliefs, including baptism and rituals, but those traditions are symbolic. Just another way to say to the world, I’m going to believe life is good, God is love, and this journey is worth it. All you’ve got to do to make that leap of faith is take that first step.

Mother’s Day started with a power outage this morning around 9 AM.

Hm. Looked at my phone. Only half charged.

Can’t use the internet.

I’ll read my books on Kindle. But… no service. My books are in the cloud.

Well. I’ll go start my coffee.

But. No water.

Hm. Oh wait! I saved my coffee from last night. It’s in the fridge! Yay.

But. No microwave.

Getting chilly in here. Let me turn up the heat.

But. No heat.

So I went back to bed to bundle up. Just then, I heard a car pulling into my neighbor’s driveway, music blaring. Man, that’s loud. What an idiot. Had to catch myself there. No need to be unkind.

It reminded me of the time my father was teaching me to drive. “Watch the idiot,” he said, as another driver encroached on my lane. I had to laugh at the memory. He was always glad to see me when I would visit the house. And my mother would greet me by saying, “You’re the greatest!”

It’s fitting that this happened on Mother’s Day, as we all have a mother (here or in Heaven) and we often take for granted how much she means to us.

In today’s climate, just reminding yourself not to be unkind is an act of kindness. Usually, people aren’t blasting their music to annoy you, but to enjoy their own life. The power goes out sometimes. It’s nothing personal.

This was a gift to me today. A reminder to appreciate the power, all the way up to the power source.

Do something today to show appreciation for all that God provides.

Or at least, don’t be an idiot.🙂You’re lucky, and you know it. This is a good day to remind yourself of the blessings you take for granted.

Has this ever happened to you? Something’s thrown you for a loop. You’ve done everything you can, prayed about it and proceeded to let go and let God… then promptly took it back. Worrying about it. Talking about it to anybody who’d listen. Refusing to let it go. 

I’ve done this so often, I can’t believe there isn’t a name for it.

Maybe we’ll call it a prayback.

You pray, give it to God, then take it back.

Listen: there are no takebacks in prayer. You don’t need to take back a problem once it’s entrusted into God’s hands. You can’t take it back anyway. It was never yours to resolve. All you can do is… all you can do.

When my son was just an infant, every so often his pacifier would fall on the floor. I’d grab it, sprint to the kitchen and run it under scalding water until I was sure it was clean. Over time, I loosened up about it, eventually just wiping it on my sleeve and saying this phrase: “Kiss it to God.” Germs build immunity!

Lately, I’ve had this phrase running through my head: “Bless it to yes.”

There are some things you can’t solve right away, but there is always something you can do to take it from an absolute no to something closer to a yes.

What part of this situation can I improve? How can I get everybody on the team (or in the family) working together on a solution? Is there anyone I can call for advice who might have something constructive to add?

If all of these boxes have been checked, keep the faith and keep on moving.

So here’s a hypothetical question: What if, the minute you had an inspired idea, it was susceptible to thought-hackers? You’d get to the drawing board right away. Wouldn’t you?

In a moment of divine inspiration, you came up with an idea that would change the world. At the same time, you’re aware that thought-hackers may be listening in on a secret brain-wave wire tap. You’d make sure you got over to your lab and created that world-changing thing right away.

Now, I have no such delusions of grandeur, but I just had an interesting thought that made me re-think the way I see all of the things I pray that God will make right in my life. What if that’s what life is supposed to look like, really? All of the problems that keep persisting. Are they really just projects?

If pain is a clue to let you know that there’s something in your body that is hurting and needs attention, maybe problems are breadcrumbs. Got this one fixed, but here comes another one just like it.

Not a problem. A project.

Not a difficult person. A story to unravel.

Not a lack. A lesson.

Maybe the hard road is not too much for us to bear. Maybe it’s God, right on time, believing in us enough to know that we’ll use our ingenuity, our inspiration, our innovation to find a way to make things work. And when need be, we can always fall back on our secret weapon: prayer.

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

I came across an article about what it means to be a Christian and there was a literal, no-kidding, honest-to-God (pardon the pun) checklist. If you repented and received Christ, ☑ check this box. If you are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, ☑ check this box. If you belong to a Bible-based church that believes it is the inspired, inerrant word of God, ☑ check this box. At the end, you are to tally up your scores and, basically, get graded.

I’m not sure why some have decided to codify faith in this way, but I have to believe it wasn’t God’s idea.

Many faiths have their own interpretation of how to talk to God in prayer. Some have added chapters to the Bible, or believe that only their religion will lead to salvation.

Today, on Easter – and every day, for that matter – if you pray, God hears you. If you want to put the past behind you and find peace, you’re in. Talking to God is the same as talking to a friend. Say what’s on your heart.  No background checks. No credit scores. No character references. Just you and God, and the path of life ahead.

Since I stopped driving a couple of years ago, I really don’t get out and about as much as I’d like. Some days, it might seem as if I’m a hermit. I’d love to get out more, but I have to work around my health and visual issues, and I’m on a budget.  I know I’ll be able to go to the movies and “impulse shop” again one day, but for now, and I’m grateful for every meal, every clean pair of socks, every hot shower. Even if I don’t get out much, I make the best of what I’ve got right here at home.

I came across a story about a Coptic Christian Priest who re-defines the term, “hermit.” He scales the face of a sheer cliff every single day to get to his church, of which he’s the sole member. It’s really just a cave on a mountain.

At first, I thought this was an example of a man going the extra mile – and then some – for his faith. Then I wondered: is this really what God wants him to do? He’s got no parishioners. He has to make a death-defying climb to get to this “church.” And there’s a chance that this is really just his version of a (literal) man cave, and is just an excuse to get away from the missus back home!

So I came to the conclusion that while I may not understand why people believe or behave as they do, there’s always a back-story. I’ll represent my own faith in the best way possible, by giving them the benefit of the doubt, and an encouraging word when our paths may cross.

We may see the world differently, but at the end of the day, we all walk the path of life together.

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

The other day, I watched a church service live-stream on Facebook. It occurred to me that I was seeing the exact moment of the lie taking place – yet no one was lying on purpose. The pastor asked if anyone wanted to accept Christ, and many came forward to pray. At the end, he said, “Congratulations! Now you’re born again! All things are made new!”

The lie is in the mood music they’re playing. The warm, welcoming church workers guiding people into their religion. The parishioners nodding as if you’re doing a great thing, this is a big step, your life is about to completely transform!

But that’s the lie of it. That’s the production. The musical number of it.

We expect all vestiges of our former life to just fall away. For all of our insecurities and problems to disappear. Poof! For this encouraging crowd of fellow believers to be there for us always, patting us on the back and giving us a high-five.

Not that anybody’s lying about what faith can do for you. It truly can change your life completely. But that’s the heart-work. That’s work you and God do together, and it happens over time, like a scroll unfurling. No one else can do it for you, and there is no magic prayer to make it happen instantly.

When I took the altar call years ago, in my mind it was more like the “alter call,” as if it would completely change my life instantly. What I came to conclude is that you walk the path with God and maybe alchemizes into of course. Is that you, God? solidifies into a firm foundation of faith.

It’s like that “Just Say No to Drugs” commercial from years ago, that showed an egg frying in a pan, with the voiceover, “this is your brain on drugs.”

In our version, we’ll show the sun rising, flowers blooming, and the earth turning. Massive, mystical, magical happenings – the only common denominator is the One holding it all together.

Good people, This is your soul on God.

In the documentary, “Pidgin: The Voice of Hawaii”,  two pastors sat down to pray before translating the Bible into Hawaiian Pidgin.

Much mahalo for puttin your word to da people.” And they ended the prayer in this way: “Cuz we yo guys. Das it.”

They began to translate a passage from the Old Testament into Pidgin: “Yahweh stay huhu as why all kinds stuff happen inside Judea and Jerusalem.” In this text, “huhu” means angry.

Hearing the Bible translated into an idiom that sounds so casual, it took me a moment to digest it all. Then again, when the New International Version of the Bible came out, some people were appalled by its more modern language. Maybe we’re all just naturally resistant to change. A Catholic acquaintance once told me that she missed the days when mass was spoken in Latin.

There’s a version of the Bible in Hawaiian Pidgin on Bible Gateway, so I looked up John 3:16. The King James version reads: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

The Hawaiian Pidgin version reads: God wen get so plenny love an aloha fo da peopo inside da world, dat he wen send me, his one an ony Boy, so dat everybody dat trus me no get cut off from God, but get da real kine life dat stay to da max foeva.

No matter how you say it, prayer always gets through.

Sometimes I don’t even know what to ask for when I pray. I just know I need help, right now.

That’s when I whip out my secret weapon. My one-word, all-encompassing prayer that says it all when I really don’t know what to say.

Grace.

It covers everything, it’s free to one and all, and it meets you right where you are.

By the way, the Hawaiian word “aloha” has many meanings: hello, good-bye, alas, farewell, compassion, mercy, charity and also… grace.

Justice is not “just us.”
It’s everyone.
It’s every one
doing what that one can
and eventually, it is all of us, together.

So it really is just us. There is no “them.”
You and me again become we.

Step one: take one step.

Well, if you read the news these days, it’s discouraging, but there are still good people in the world doing positive things.

Like this flight attendant who saved one young girl from a sex trafficker and this tightrope walker who saved one man stuck in a ski lift.

These individuals didn’t save the whole world, they saved one person. Just one. But that one person really matters. To their friends, to their families. To God.

Both of these things happened in mid-air, so there was no other way to get help. Sometimes God puts a person uniquely equipped to save the day in exactly the right place.

We’ve all seen the protests, picket signs and caustic comments online. There are small pockets of positive resistance forming out there, waiting to connect with each other and spread peace instead of discord.

With all of the drama going on, that may be where the next groundswell sets in. Singular acts. Small gestures. Just you. Just me. Just us. Being neighborly. Keeping our words civil. Treating each other like extended family.

Hopefully, the next hashtag that catches on will be #JustUs. We’re all in this together, and there really is no Us Versus Them. We’re all “Us.” U.S. We all live here. We all belong here. We don’t all have to agree, but we can get along if we all agree to try.

Even aliens – and by that I mean, from outer space – should be treated humanely. The other type of “alien” doesn’t really exist. We all came from somewhere else. Now we’re here.

Post-election, my vote is to get past this ugly chapter and get on with the “one nation under God” thing. It’s time to put aside those weaponized words and meet each other as human beings with healing hearts. Somebody’s got to take the first step.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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