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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

 

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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)

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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.

2015-02-09 16.02.32My formerly-stray cat has gotten a lot more comfortable being a member of our household, but no matter how many times I say to KitKat, “Fetch the ball!” he’s just going to look at me, both bemused and bored.

It’s like his face is saying, I’m not a dog. Cats don’t “do” fetch

We sit. We stretch. We curl. We mew. We groom.  We purr.

But no. We do not. Fetch.

No matter how many times you tell a cat to be a dog, he’s still going to be your furry feline friend.

KitKat does things his own way – for example, he doesn’t like to be picked up, and since I have neuropathy in my hands and tend to drop him, have only tried a few times. It…um… didn’t go well. I’m glad that shining moment wasn’t posted on YouTube!

And, no matter how many times you say to my hands, “Feel things! Don’t be numb anymore!” Yeah, I’m still going to drop the kitty.

So many things affect the way you receive the world.

As someone with MS, I can tell you, it affects the way I process information (slowly, and often not for long), the way sensory input is absorbed (if there’s too much going on, I can’t take any of it in), and the way I interact with others (if I’m really feeling the pain that day, I’m much more subdued.)

There are also the odd physical sensations that can be frustrating. Once, it felt as if I had a piece of tape stuck to the bottom of my foot (I didn’t.). Yesterday, it felt as if there was a rock in my shoe (there wasn’t).

You can say, “Don’t feel that way! There’s not a rock in your shoe. It’s all mind over matter!” But still, this is how I feel.

So imagine how other conditions might affect the way a person receives the world. Asperger’s, social anxiety, depression, etc. Or even someone with an introverted personality. There doesn’t have to be an official label for someone to be dealing with things you might not understand.

No matter how many times you tell a person, “Don’t be affected by this stress! Just grit your teeth and power through!” It doesn’t help them. “Be like everybody else,” is what you’re really saying. But the fact of the matter is, these are individuals, created by God to be exactly who they are.

So even if you can’t see it on the surface, rest assured, everybody’s dealing with something. If you assume they deserve compassion for what they’re going through, it might give someone hope during a hard time. A little comfort and encouragement can go a long way. And it doesn’t cost a thing.

Now, do you think KitKat might want to go out and catch a Frisbie? 🙂

Last Sunday’s gospel reading was particularly apt — Jesus walks on the water. Let me set the scene: The apostles are huddled in a boat on a stormy sea, as lightning crackles and thunder rumbles all around them. It is dark. The sea is writhing with terrible creatures determined to suck the boat under and splinter it like a bone in the teeth of an ogre. And then they see someone — Jesus? — walking on the water, just as if he were strolling down the streets of Jerusalem. It must be a ghost! But no, the apparition speaks to them, tells them not to be afraid. Peter, ever the bonehead, speaks up, “If it’s really you, call me and I will walk on water, too.” Jesus does. Peter starts out. But then he gets distracted by the thunder and the lightning and the roiling of the dark forces under the waves, and he sinks. Like a stone. Jesus, of course, rescues him, and once again, the apostles fail to understand the lesson.

Most of us set out on the sea of life with good intentions. But we get scared when the darkness comes. A majority of us will crowd together in the boat and ride out the storm. Some of us will try to walk, but sink. The weight of the world becomes too heavy to carry, and we slip out of sight. And some few of us will take to the water, navigating the waves as naturally as the path to our front doors. How do those people do it?

I used to think that those who are skilled at walking on water (metaphorically speaking) are so because they never take their eyes off the prize — God. They hear the thunder, see the lightning, know somewhere in the recesses of their minds about what lurks beneath the waves, but they don’t get distracted. They don’t let the water pull them down. This is a simplistic notion. Many things can affect our ability to cope, for instance, illnesses and addictions that sap our strength and change brain chemistry, throwing us off balance. Try walking on water with a millstone like that around your neck.

We mustn’t judge or condemn those who don’t make it. Walking on water is an act of extreme grace. It is a daily miracle. Most of us never have to do it — we just sail along in our fortunate ships. For those who must walk on water, God can be a tremendous resource, a lighthouse beacon, a life preserver. I have experienced this in my own travels. God holds me up.

But I will never be anything but empathetic to those who drown.

Watching the news yesterday, the scroll at the bottom of the t.v. screen said, “Market Crash.”

And I stopped sipping my coffee.

Say what?

I looked outside.  Some macabre part of me was thinking I might see people jumping out windows and others frantically running in the street.

The market crashed? Where was the general panic?

As it turns out, it was an ill-chosen headline.  It actually referred to a hit-and-run driver having crashed into a fruit market.

Phew! I thought. For a minute there, I thought the end was nigh.

And then I heard the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. (Young demographic, please google this reference.)

One woman was killed when this driver crashed into the market.

It really is equally tragic.  One life lost is just as momentous as the whole stock market crashing. For that person, for her family – it really is the end of the world.

Then I read that Robin Williams had ended his life. He brought so much light and laughter into our lives, we never thought he’d leave us this way.

Just as the President announced that we would start airstrikes in Iraq, while at the same time, delivering medical and humanitarian aid, each one of us has a choice.  When we go out into the world, we can bring a bomb or a balm.

Everybody is going through something, even if you can’t see it. Please choose kindness as your default setting. One small word of compassion can make a big difference for those silently suffering through dark nights of the soul. God’s grace is a constantly replenishing resource.  You can give it away and still find your soul filled to overflowing.

As I may have mentioned a thousand times before on this bloggie, I’m from Jersey.  Do youse gotta prollem widat? As you can see, we have our own language.  I’m from a place that has a bit of a, shall we say, reputation.  We’re not exactly known as a warm and fuzzy place, and we may be perceived as a bit, well, brash, perhaps even veering into… obnoxious.

It doesn’t help that our governor is larger than life (although shrinking, post-bariatric surgery) and has attitude to spare.

Are we in a hurry?  Probably.  Do we have a bit of swagger in our step? I think so. But people from Jersey – in fact, people from Anywhere, USA – all want the same things out of life and, I may go out on a limb here, but hear me out: I think most people have a good heart and want to help others when they can.

A couple of weeks ago, I was receiving my monthly infusion of medication, and my nurse, Rosanne, was taking care of me.  She and all the nurses and staff at the Regional Cancer Care Center in East Brunswick* have been angels to me, making me feel like part of their family.  After my infusion was started, the husband of another patient stopped by to hand me a Dunkin Donuts Munchkin. “Oh, thank you,” I said, smiling, and he nodded pleasantly.  A few minutes later, he returned with the box.  “Go ahead,” he offered.  “Take as many as you want.”  I declined, but he persisted.  “Go on.  The nurses said we could share.”  I shook my head and he stood there, really wanting me to take another donut.  Finally I said, “I’m the one who brought them in!”

I think most people really want everyone to be happy.

There.  I said it!

I know that “Schadenfreude” is a thing now.  And that there are some people who do enjoy watching other peoples’ “fails” on YouTube.

But if given the chance, I think almost everyone will try to make a stranger’s day brighter.

Sure, if you just go by the headlines and the nightly news, you’d think most people are miscreants.  But that’s just not the case.  Even though the people doing the wrong thing are getting a lot of airtime, the ones Mister Rogers called “the Helpers” are out there too.  They’re at the Infusion Center in the hearts and hands of the nurses, the pleasant banter of the staff, the patients encouraging each other.

I may be the only person in the world who didn’t watch “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child.  But recently I saw a documentary about Fred Rogers’ life, and he believed that there is always a way to find people willing to do the right thing, even during a crisis.

It doesn’t take much to be kind to someone else.  Even a donut hole that you bought yourself can taste like manna when a stranger gives it back to you. And if we all agree to try it at least once a day – hold a door for a young mother at the mall, let someone onto the elevator first – maybe there will be a cumulative effect and a whole wave of kindness will overtake the world!  Or, at the very least, your day will be better.  It’s the opposite of “Schadenfreude.”  Maybe we’ll call it “Lightenupfreude.” Could that become a thing?  It’s up to you!

*This is where I receive my Tysabri for Multiple Sclerosis.  Just so my friends don’t worry, I don’t have cancer, dear ones.  It’s just the name of the place where I receive my infusion every month.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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