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It was love at first sight when I read this poem by Mary Oliver, and I’ve been sending it love-notes in my mind all day. She writes of her desire to be “upright and good,” and thinks, “to what purpose?”

The next passage is just glorious:

“Hope of heaven? Not that. But to enter

the other kingdom: grace, and imagination.”

It’s hard not to relate it to what’s going on in the world right now. Grace and imagination. Conversations online have been coarse and mean-spirited. Authority figures have been pointing fingers and throwing stones.

We’re falling into the trap of thinking that we need to fight fire with fire.

That we cannot let it stand when someone says something we know to be untrue.

Neither side is listening. Both are engaging in alternating monologues. No one will be persuaded with this kind of rhetoric.

Imagination.

That word is so powerful, isn’t it?

What can we build, just using our day-dreaming power? What if? Why not?

Grace.

That’s the word that truly holds the world together.

Just for today, imagine you’re sending that tweet out to someone you find reprehensible and you really unleash and unload. What if…by chance… it ends up in God’s inbox? There’s no witness protection program that can get you out of that jackpot!

Imagine the grace that would explode if we reached out to an enemy the way God held his hand out to us when we were at our lowest point. If we all turned the other cheek at the same time, we’d see the humanity – and the divinity – in each other, perhaps for the first time. That’s where the other kingdom resides.

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Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

God was still right where I left him.

You’re home, he said.

Nice to have you back.

Was it all you thought it would be?

And less! I said.

You were right.

He nodded.

Aren’t you going to say, “I told you so?”

He shook his head.

You had to find out for yourself
So you could find yourself.
That’s how you found your way back to me.

Welcome home.

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.

Contractors came to install a fan in my bathroom and a handle on my sliding glass door. I was glad to see them and they worked hard, but it was loud and took all day.

While they worked, I looked through bills, which can be a bummer. I made a list of things that still needed to be repaired in the house, and that list was long. Another negative.

Thinking about these things was putting me in a “no” frame of mind, when there were all these “yes” blessings going on around me, being hammered into the ceiling, being drilled into the door. Permeating the house with every thud and clunk. Professionals are sculpting yes into the house. Into the bathroom ceiling. They’re sliding yes with the door closing.

The cat is snoring yes from his indestructible yurt made of a faded blanket covering a rocking chair.

The coffee is steaming yes from its home deep in my striped-tiger-colored coffee mug.

The birds are chirping yes outside from their perch on the cherry blossom tree in front of my bedroom window.

I thought of the no that those birds have built another nest in my front porch light, but re-grouped to get back to the yes. What effort it must have taken to get that nest set, even after I’ve taken out those little branches time and time again. It really is prime real estate. They’re trying to find the right spot for their little winged family, and I have to appreciate that they know how nice this neighborhood is. I’ll take it as a compliment that they want to sub-let my front porch light.

Yes exists inside of every no.

Opportunity is the kernel at the center of every problem.

Talking about troubles is like putting out a restraining order on things you don’t want in your life. It’s just force of habit to focus on the “no” when “yes” abounds all around you.

Grace is just a breath away. All it takes is a fresh set of eyes, a soul ready to receive blessings, and a wide-open heart.

Yesterday was a crummy day. Fortunately, Tuesday was wonderful — chock-full of blessings and outright miracles. That’s the way life is sometimes. Pondering Tuesday’s beneficence, I keep thinking, “I didn’t deserve all that.” But isn’t that the point? Grace is unearned. God bestows it freely, even lavishly. All this generosity got me thinking about God’s love for each of us. It’s a little overwhelming. And there is no “why” or “because” about it. It just is. Here are some loose, unrefined thoughts on the matter:

Someone has a crush on you and it’s God.
Someone gave you a candy heart that said
LOVE YOU and meant it and it was God.
Someone sends ridiculous declarations,
love songs on the radio,
twenty dozen long-stemmed roses,
chocolates hand-dipped by blind monks,
a stuffed plush bear the size of a Volkswagen.
And it’s God.
God says you get a car and you and you and you
and they’re all dream cars even if yours is a Mercedes
and mine is a Porsche.
Someone swoons over you, knees knocking, heart
ticking quick as a metronome at full speed,
chest so tight breath barely breaks,
and it’s God.
To God, you are marvelous. Amazing. A wonder.
A sonnet with legs and arms and a face.
God will never get over you.
You might as well sign for the package;
take it in your hands. Guess its worth.
You will always come up short.

hzg0vjhfyg0-gary-rockettTell me this. When, exactly, do the cows come home? They must be the Ultimate Party Animals. People always say, “We’ll stay out until the cows come home!” as if it’s a measure of the amount of fun they’re having. Now, I’ll get along with anybody, but if Elsie Moos and Mambos at five AM outside my window, I’m going to be pretty darn lactose intolerant!

I wonder why we phrase it this way: “Nightfall” and “Daybreak.” To me, they should be reversed. Night actually breaks, if you think about it. The sudden presence of pitch-blackness disrupts us as we’re going about our daily lives. Oh! Not even 5 o’clock. Night-time already! Well, better get the knitting. Warm up the cocoa. We’re in for the night!

But if you’re an early bird and have ever (voluntarily) seen the sunrise, you know it comes gently, gradually. Often beautifully. It doesn’t “break” upon the scene, no, it rolls in. Perhaps even strolls in.

It isn’t always clear why “things have always been done this way.” Sometimes it’s out of habit, or tradition, or maybe it was whoever won “Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

It may take a few years, but eventually, you’ll realize that it’s okay to be yourself. There was a time when I’d check in with friends to see what they’d be wearing to the party, or to make sure I knew where the action was later on that night.

Nowadays, I don’t get out as much as I’d like due to health issues, but as I sat in my sunroom and watched my cat watching squirrels, I realized something startling.

This is the peaceful life I always wanted. These are my druthers. Sure, there are things I’d like to do: it would be good to get out and explore the world more. See my friends in person. It would be nice to be able to “impulse-shop” once in awhile.

But I don’t miss the hustle and bustle, or the “schlepping” to get where you wanted to go – the place where you thought the action was.

Just as the church isn’t a building, but the people, the party isn’t the location, but the company you keep. Sometimes it’s the whole family, or just you and your cat. It’s all good.

My definition of blessings? A home that’s peaceful, prayerful and positive. Just like this blog.

Here’s to the good life!

nativityI just had someone at my front door wanting to explain to me why Christ died for us and why we have Christmas. They even had a video. It was a little surreal.

Apparently, Adam is a businessman who steals from his company leading workers to lose their jobs and electricity.  Jesus is the good businessman who pays the bills and gets the lights turned back on — that’s why he died.  That’s why we have Christmas.

Of course, she looked at me and said, “What do you think of that?”

One day I will learn to smile and nod but that day is not today. But I did filter.  It was oh so obvious that this was a message meant to play on people’s fears of the economy and not being able to pay their bills. In my opinion, it rather missed the point but a lot of work had gone into it so I didn’t want to criticize the video itself. “It seems overly simplistic.”

“Then why do you think Christ died?”

After the businessman analogy, I knew I couldn’t give her the entire answer.  Christ died to bring an end to the cycle of sin followed by the sacrifices needed to get back in God’s good graces.  Christ died to bring us grace.  Christ is the ultimate sacrifice.

I decided instead to focus on Christmas.  It’s a prettier story.  “The Christmas season is a time of waiting, of contemplation, of preparing yourself for the coming of Christ.”

“By reading scripture?”

“And prayer and worship and whatever it takes to get you as an individual ready.  I need solitude and music.”

“That’s too confusing. What did you mean by the coming of Christ?  The end times?”

“Eventually, but also the coming of the Christ child.  You have to prepare yourself to accept him and his message and the acceptance and love he brought mankind.”

Prepare the way.  That’s the whole message of the Advent season.  Prepare your heart to accept his message of love and acceptance and mercy for all.  His sacrifice washed away our sins and the condemnation that required blood sacrifice to cleanse our souls.  Prepare yourself for Christ.

He has come not to condemn the world but so that the world through him might be saved.

–SueBE

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This morning I awoke to the usual routine: my cat yawn-stretching his way off the bed and onto the rug so he could receive his morning back-scratching session.

For some reason, KitKat purred louder than I’ve ever heard him purr before, and this inspired me to sit on the floor and spend time with the Snore-Meister (one of his many nicknames.) Petting his soft fur made me feel warm and fuzzy, too. It was as if his purring had a liquid quality to it and it seemed to wash over me, making everything seem right with the world.

Then as I started the day and scanned the headlines, I came across this story about cat yoga at a rescue shelter, and I knew that it would be a great day. For some reason, this wave of joy stayed with me all day. It was as if I’d made a decision: no matter what happened, I remembered it was a designated great day. Done deal!

Without even realizing it, I was finding only articles that heal, soothe, or uplift. In the same way, I was finding only the good in everyone I encountered and everything I did.

I stayed in the “Good News” section of the headlines to keep myself in this positive frame of mind. For me, that would be stories with cute cats, or hard-luck tales with happy endings, like this one about an older gentleman in England who posted an ad looking for odd jobs, saying he was “dying from boredom!”

You might not even realize that something good is always happening somewhere if you go by the nightly news.

I ambled upon this good-newsflash: The World is Actually Becoming a More Peaceful Place. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker tells us, “The news is a systematically misleading way of viewing the world.”

Well-put!

The more we appreciate our blessings, the more blessings come to us.

Maybe they were always there, but we were too focused on problems to open our arms to embrace such grace.

Like this picture shows, sometimes, God tells you to stop and pet the cat!

no-sign

Luckily, I heard the words in my head before they made it out of my mouth, blocking them at the very last moment – like a “No-You-Don’t!” Ninja.

This is what I almost said to an acquaintance: “‘Course it’s her own fault. Can’t drink like a fish and smoke like a chimney and think you’ll dodge the bullet forever!”

A dear friend was sick in the hospital and I was concerned about her, so of course, I tore her down in my own mind and nearly engaged in a form of germ warfare. Because, truthfully, such words are toxic, even infectious.

It may well be that we judge others to deflect the spotlight from our own unchecked boxes.

◘ Never finished that college degree
◘ Never got that promotion
◘ Never found that soul mate

Perhaps we feel so small in a vast universe that we subconsciously seek to squash others – like bugs on the sidewalk in our way, when we could easily step around them – that we steamroller over their humanity, their beauty, their divinity, and focus solely on the things they failed to do.

We do the math in our heads and assume that we can subtract from others while adding to ourselves. It really doesn’t work that way. It detracts from us both. From us all.

If I were to say anything, it should be something like this.

You’ve been through so much in your life, and I’ve long admired your determination. You’ve watched out for me like family from the minute I moved into the neighborhood. If there’s anything I can do to encourage you to take steps to improve your health so I can have you around as a friend for many years to come, I’ll be here for you.  

There’s only one surefire way to safeguard your soul and clear the air pollution of thoughtless comments: put a spiritual Ad-Blocker on your words.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Proverbs 16:24 NIV

CJ Craig: “Mr. President, I hate to ask you this…”

President Bartlet: “Not too late to stop yourself.”

Dialogue from TV series, The West Wing

It’s always a red flag when someone says, “I hate to say this,” or “To be brutally frank,” before they give an opinion.

A friend noticed I’d gotten new glasses. He cocked his head and said, “You really want to know my honest opinion?” That didn’t bode well, so I said, “No.” He told me anyway. “I don’t think they’re the right shape for your face.”

Fie!

I had to un-follow a blog about faith that I really enjoyed when the blogger wrote, “I hate to say this, but let a gay kid in high school get beaten up a few times and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.”

Well.

I hate to say this, but to be brutally frank, that’s not inspirational. That’s hateful.

Imagine someone saying, “Let a Christian kid in high school get beaten up a few times, and maybe he’ll see the error of his ways.” Or a Jewish kid. Or a Muslim kid. Or any kid, especially one of your own children.

Why is it some people think that others need to hear a negative opinion that nobody asked for? Do they just like to rain on parades? I wonder what they get out of being a chronic bubble-burster.

I love the way this passage from Ephesians is phrased: “…Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Speak to one another with psalms. At the same time, sing to the Lord. Is it possible to do both? It is, when we remember that when we speak to anyone, we’re talking to a beloved child of God – a prince or princess, if you will. That should make it easy to speak with tact and grace. Kindness and compassion.

Sweet as honeycomb.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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