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Helping people can be tricky.  We see someone with a problem.  We know, just know, how to help them.  So we do.

The problem was theirs.The solution was ours.  And there are times that all is well and good.

But what if they had another solution in mind?  A better solution?  A solution that didn’t create an us with power and a them without?

When we help someone, we need to do it with love which is what makes helping people tricky. Love listens.  Love opens up to new ways of doing things.   Love doesn’t assume that there is only one way, our way.

Love, like Christ, moves among those in need, getting to know them, seeing them, speaking to them, sitting beside them.   Only then does love act.

–SueBE

 

Sometimes I think: Wouldn’t it be nice to squirrel myself away in some comfy little hole and turn exclusively to prayer? Then I remember: As much as the hermit lifestyle appeals, it is not practical. Not only are comfy little holes hard to come by, they are seldom free of charge. And there’s the niggling problem of needing to eat. But that’s not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is this: You can’t pray for the world if you’re hiding from it. You have to know what’s going on. You have to be a part of things. Otherwise, you’re just praying for yourself, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

It can be very painful to make yourself aware of the world’s troubles. There will always be too many of them to tackle, too many tragedies pulling at your limited heartstrings. You have to choose, but in choosing, you have to deal with the repercussion of guilt. It is a difficult place to live. A comfy hole is so much more congenial, don’t you agree? But it’s no place to linger, not if you have a heart.

Nowadays it’s an insult to be considered sensitive. It connotes a certain weakness, a lack of backbone, a pitiful inability to cope in today’s eat-or-be-eaten world. I don’t much care about that. If it takes not caring to get by in life, then I guess I won’t get by. Wherever that destination is, it doesn’t feel like a place worth going to. If feeling keenly about people and things makes me a snowflake, then — fine. I’m still here. And as long as the world stays cold with injustice and hatred and inequality, I will persist.

And if the milk of human kindness ever warms us all adequately, I will happily melt.

Things have gotten awfully heavy of late. It feels like we’re all just trying to carry the weight of our crosses; sweating, straining, staring at our own two feet. Meanwhile, people are buckling all around us. They are dropping to their knees. They are feeling alone. It cannot end well, for we all need to be loved. And so, I am urging you: Take up an end. If you’ve got your cross balanced and you’re making your way, slowly but surely, help someone else out. Or to drop the metaphor for a moment, tell someone today that you love them. Tell them you forgive them. Tell them you hear them. Because you might be the next to stagger. It can, after all, happen in an instant. Or to take a more nautical theme:

A warning to mariners:
storms crop up quick.
Squalls in the harbor,
thunder out to sea,
fog like a shroud.

If your skiff’s at risk,
signal. Do not attempt
to rescue yourself.
The water is cold.
Depth cannot be calculated
by any standard measure.

If your skiff’s afloat,
please save the sinking.
Bail with a bucket,
or even a thimble.
Make a life jacket
from your own heart.

Continue until all’s clear,
which may be never.
That is all.

“You cannot live for yourselves alone. You depend on the rest of the world and the rest of the world depends on you.”  That’s how Eleanor Roosevelt expressed it.  To me it seems like her take on “no man is an island.”

But I think this is something we tend to forget.  Some of us forget about those around us because we are focused on our health issues, earning enough to feed our children, or keep a roof over our heads.

Others forget because we are working toward a degree, a promotion or a bigger house.

Then there’s that time you lose yourself in social media.

Every now and again, stop what you’re doing and look around.  Check on those around you.  Look.  Listen.  Ask questions.

Recently, a friend of my niece contacted me to ask about getting a story published.  We messaged back and forth for several weeks.  She’s probably still processing all of the information I gave her.

Then she sent me a school fund-raiser.  I know the district is struggling for money but really?  I have my own kid, my own concerns.  And I really wasn’t certain my niece wasn’t also taking part in the fundraiser.  So I asked her.  She’s not but we got to talking about her friend.  Her friend who lives with an older sister because her mother just died.

It is so easy to cut ourselves off from others.  We can always come up with reasons not to help.  But sometimes, we need to do as Christ did, and look for a reason to help the Centurion who was bold enough to ask, the woman who pursued him through the crowd.

Every now and again, alter your focus.  See what you can see.

–SueBE

I had to really think about this one.  We all face challenges – slick spots on the road.  There are curves. There are uphill climbs.  And there are, fingers crossed, some smooth, easy driving parts.  The temptation is to think that the difference is the driver.

I’ve made a success of my life because I’ve paid attention to the road.  My success is all about me.

But the reality is something slightly different.  The road is a metaphor for life.  Some roads are truly worse than others.  There are more hardships, more potholes, more obstacles.  The question is whether or not the person has the tools to navigate them.

Some of these tools come with the individual.  Let’s face it – some people are more resilient than others.  I have a friend who is the mother of three.  Within something like 6 weeks, one daughter had to have emergency surgery and her son’s pancreas quit working completely.  But she’s one of the world’s resilient people.  Ask her how she was and things were “good, getting better and better every day.”

But some of us also have more opportunities than others.  Maybe we are born into money.  Or a super helpful extended family.  Or we have the priviledge of race.  Whatever the reason, we have more support and more opportunity to make it past the obstacles life places in the way.

Fortunately those of us who have opportunity can offer a hand to someone who does not.  In doing so, we can provide the roadside assistance that makes the difference between the road to success and the road to failure.  The help you provide may be monetary, it may be societal as you work to change an unfair policy, or it may be personal as you encourage someone along the way.

Success or failure.  Sometimes it all depends on the assistance we receive.

–SueBE

 

A thought for today. Use your talents to make a new trail. 

Yesterday in his sermon Pastor Sean discussed opening our eyes and ears to those around us.  Specifically, pay attention and listen to those we are determined to help. Why?  Because God may be trying to teach us something.  Even the “less fortunate” have things to teach.

The example he used was the Canaanite woman who came to Christ for help for her daughter.  Christ told her that he was there to help the children of Israel, and that it was wrong to take food from his children to feed the dogs.  She responded that even dogs are allowed to have crumbs.  Christ listened and relented.  He healed her daughter.

As Christians, we have set ways and rule for helping others.  Don’t do this.  Do this instead.  How would this change if we treated them not as dogs put as people, is we listened instead of talking, if we interacted instead of just brushing the crumbs off our tables.

Something to consider as we face the same old ways to help.  Maybe it is time to break new trails?

–SueBE

He was sitting on the curb in front of the barbecue restaurant. White haired, simply dressed but clean. Alone. Was he trying to catch my eye? It was hard to tell. His glance was quick, pleading, afraid. “Do you need some help?” I asked him, seeing that he was shivering. (It was cool, but not cold — was it Parkinson’s? Delirium tremens?)

“I have nowhere to go,” he said. “I’ve been living under that bridge [gesturing]. I don’t have any money. I can’t even catch a bus.”

As my husband trotted off to the car to get one of the bags we carry with us to give to those less fortunate than ourselves (we haven’t got the right ingredients down just yet; the ones we’re carrying now hold money, a first aid kit, a hands-free flashlight, wet wipes, breath mints, a meal replacement bar and an emergency camping blanket), I listened.

“I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”

“We’re going to give you some things you might need.”

“I’ve been trying to get someone to buy me something to eat.”

“Oh! What would you like?”

“Anything! A sandwich. Anything.”

I gave him a “blessing bag” and went inside, where we ordered him a large sandwich with slaw and a bottle of water. When I went out to give it to him, he seemed startled. He kept saying, “Thank you.” I kept saying, “I’ll pray for you.” By the time we finished eating, he was gone.

This is not about doing a good deed for someone. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. In this man, I saw the face of God. What would you do for God? What wouldn’t you do? And yet I know what I did was not enough. Could I have taken him to a shelter? Where is our local shelter? Would they have had a bed for him? How would that have helped him tomorrow or the next day or the next?

I realize, of course, that most of the people we’ve given bags to are panhandlers rather than actual homeless people. They probably throw away everything but the money. But I have a feeling the man we met last night was the real McCoy. And I failed him.

Yes, I believe prayer is powerful. And I am keeping my promise to him by praying for him. But I could see in his eyes, even as I said the words, “How is that going to help me right now?”

I saw the face of God and was unprepared. But isn’t that the way of things? Won’t we always be surprised by where and how we see God? Won’t we always be unready?

As we drove home, I noticed a garbage bag tucked into the corner of the underpass he’d earlier indicated. Were those his belongings? Maybe. If I go back there, will I find him? What do I have to offer him? Am I willing to open my home to him? (And if I’m not, aren’t I saying, “You are the face of God except maybe not”?)

I wish I had answers. Instead I can only tell you: Look for him — not the man I described, but for God. And try to do what you can. May you fare better than I.

Yesterday, I came across a viral video of a reality star apologizing on camera and I thought his heart wasn’t in it. To me, it seemed he was saying, “Because I got caught, I am terribly sorry.”

What if we had no choice but to tell the whole truth? I wonder if the world would stop turning. The problem is that sometimes the facts aren’t always clear.

For example, I found this lovely version of the Lord’s Prayer on the website, www.worldprayers.org:

O Breathing Life, your Name shines everywhere!
Release a space to plant your Presence here.
Envision your “I Can” now.
Embody your desire in every light and form.
Grow through us this moment’s bread and wisdom.
Untie the knots of failure binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ faults.
Help us not forget our Source,
Yet free us from not being in the Present.
From you arises every Vision, Power and Song
from gathering to gathering.
Amen –
May our future actions grow from here!

The notation says it was derived from the original Aramaic, and I’m assuming that it’s an accurate translation. It’s not that I think anyone’s lying to me, but I really have no way of knowing. For something based on ancient texts, it seems to use a lot of new-agey affirmations and modern-day phrases, like “being in the Present.”

I suppose I’m not looking for people purporting to speak for God – He’s got that covered. I prefer to hear the wisdom of good people who live the creed as they understand it, like this gem from a childhood friend we could always count on.

At the center of the universe is a
loving heart that continues to beat
and that wants the best for every person.

Anything we can do to help foster
the intellect and spirit and emotional growth
of our fellow human beings, that is our job.

Those of us who have this particular vision
must continue against all odds.

Life is for service.

Fred Rogers 1928 – 2003
(Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)

photo-1430233831405-b0d673c05300

An acquaintance had heard I’d taught ESL (English as a Second Language) and asked if I could help him to reduce his accent. I had to decline, as it’s been years since I’d done it, and didn’t have my workbook materials anymore.

As he left, I overheard him talking to a friend on the phone, saying the football game the other night had been “unfreakinbelievable” (expletive adjusted, shall we say).

“Viktor,” I said to him, “if you know the word unfreakinbelievable, you don’t need my help with English. You’re already an American.”

“I am?” he said, lighting up. “Do you really think so?”

“Not only that, son. You may have been born in Poland, but you’re now officially from Jersey!”

Besides, I told him, my job was never to eliminate accents. It was to help immigrants learn how to communicate in English. As long as you can make yourself understood, you’re good. No need to erase any trace of where you come from.

We’re all from somewhere. It’s okay if your homeland and heritage season the way you speak. That’s how it should be. It’s part of who you are. You were there. Now you’re here. Welcome!

If you really want to know a secret, my own accent is obvious to everyone BUT me. Not for nuttin, but I’m from Jersey, youse guys. I do notice a deep Joizey accent in others, though.

Like the ticket-taker in a local parking deck. A few years back, I worked in an office nearby, so he came to recognize me and we’d exchange pleasantries. One day, he asked what I did for a living.

“So what are ya. A sucka-tevvy?”

I said, “No, I work in an office. I’m an Executive Assistant.”

Also known as a secretary. Or, as he termed it, a sucka-tevvy.

I was miles down the road before I realized that he had asked me if I was a secretary. And English is our first language! Imagine how hard it must be to get the hang of a new language and new customs in a new country.

We’ve all been the new kid on the block many times before. Now, just imagine that the world is the neighborhood. You don’t have to put out a welcome mat if you’re not so inclined; just don’t ask the rest of us to lock everyone else out.  No matter what you might read in the papers, there’s still a lamp beside the golden door, shining in the night for all those that yearn to breathe free.

The Third Gate,jpg

“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out.” Music programmer Keith Hill’s claim that listeners tend to tune out when female artists’ songs are played on the radio created controversy. “Biggest bunch of bull I ever heard,” tweeted Miranda Lambert. Hill portrayed himself as the ultimate media expert and insisted that he was simply stating the facts according to metrics. What a blustery blowhard! I thought. He oughta go jump in a lake!

On the news this morning, there was a story about a civil rights leader and professor who identifies herself as African American, but as it turns out, she’s actually white. She’s no longer in contact with her family, so I found it telling that it was her parents who called the media to share this information. Well! She’s got issues! I said to myself, shaking my head.

But God caught me, right in between two “tsks” and set my heart right. These are people who don’t feel as if they are enough as who they actually are, so they’ve tried to re-invent themselves. Perhaps in this persona, they’ll be listened to and afforded respect.

Over the years, I’ve compared myself to others and wished I could be a better:

□ Mother   □ Sister   □ Writer   □ Friend   □ Citizen   □ Believer

But time and again, I was reminded of this universal truth:

I’m me. God made me. That’s enough.

Of course, if you look around, it becomes clear that not everyone knows this.

Veterans fume at instances of “Stolen Valor” – people who have never served in the military, walking around in uniform so that others will respect them for their “service.” Some believe that filming these imposters and posting it on YouTube is justified, but mistakes happen, as in this case of a senior citizen – an actual veteran, wrongly accused of stolen valor.

Many feel that it’s right to publicly shame those doing the wrong thing. But, what happens if you’re wrong and now it’s you doing the wrong thing? And even if you’re right, what if this person has mental health issues? What if they’ve never felt good about themselves their whole life and just wanted to be someone else, anyone else. What do you win if you shame them on camera?

There are three gates, like filters to put your words through before they ever leave your mouth, according to the great poet, Rumi.

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

The third gate is the one that holds the key. If a person in pain is pretending to be someone else, maybe they’re trying to leave that struggle behind. Mistakes and missteps shouldn’t mean a life sentence. The kindest thing we can do for a hurting world is to get on a hotline to heaven and pray for its healing, and leave the gavel where it belongs: in God’s hands.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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