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We’ve all been there: driving on an unfamiliar road, suddenly realizing we’ve gone past our turn. That’s never a good thing, especially if you’ve just finished a large coffee and a bottle of water. You really need to find a pitstop, as it were.

If you miss your exit while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, you’ll have to travel a long way down the road until you can finally turn around. Once you realize you’ve passed your off-ramp, it might be ten minutes until there’s a U-Turn.

If a situation seems to be draining the life out of you, it’s critical to the care of your soul that you get out of that situation. You may be shaking your head. But you don’t understand. If it’s a marriage, I can’t leave. My religion won’t allow it. It will have a negative effect on the children. Or if it’s a job, There are bills to pay. Health benefits I need. I can’t walk away with no job lined up.

Fair enough.

But until you can extricate yourself from it, or somehow improve it, think of this time in your life as a long, wrong turn. Stay as true to yourself and your future as you can while still stuck in this present, untenable situation. Map it out. Plan ahead. Draft a blueprint in your mind of the life you actually do want to live.

What would you do if your blessings showed up at your door one day? If the situation suddenly changed and you were free to live on your own terms? That’s the place to store your soul while you put a down payment on better days. Then, when you get to the next stop, you’ll be ready. This time in your life will be on the road behind you, visible only in the rear view mirror.

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I was searching for good news stories online for a post yesterday, but for some reason, I couldn’t find an angle to write about. I realized later that I couldn’t detect the good news. I was in a bad mood.

Yes, even your Kindly Auntie can feel hinky. Not from New Jersey? That just means that something’s not sitting right but you don’t know why. You feel unsettled. Brittle.

So I sat down to try to put into words how I was feeling, and this is the closest I could get: Something rightfully mine hasn’t reached me yet.

I know these words are insufficient, but there was a kind of vague sense of why-not-ness. Why can’t I have what others seem to have, whatever it is on your checklist. Money. Love. A break. Just a pure, true good day. Other people have all their ducks in a row. Or do they? It could be that they just disregard their ducks.

Never assume that everyone else is living a perfect life, despite what you might see on Instagram. That’s the sound of a civilization giving up. Throwing up its collective hands and saying, I don’t know how to achieve a sense of accomplishment, a sense of community, a sense of peace, so instead, I’m going to present this image of fulfilled, joyous completion in its place. It’s a mock-up for where a good life might have been.

Luckily, when I woke up today, I was back to center. The good life finds me every day here on this humble blog. I’ve had all of the things and situations that we’re told will “complete” me, yet none of them did. Maybe that’s the point. To keep learning, growing, reaching, becoming, expanding. And to leave space for blessings yet to arrive to come in for a landing.

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.

It’s easy to be grateful for the good things in life.

Today I wondered: Should we also thank God for the bad things?

So you’ve got bills. That means you’ve got services. PS Like a computer or phone to read this post.

So you’ve got a spare tire around the middle. That means you’ve eaten a nice meal in your time. PS If you’re eating right now, please clear the crumbs. I’ve got a thing. Ta.

So you’ve got worries about the future. That means for today at least, you’ve got what you need. PS Or else you’d be worrying in the present tense.

So you’ve got pain from the past. That means you’ve got things to blog about, or make a song about, or sketch about. PS And you’ve learned a few things going forward.

So you’ve got nobody to count on. That means you’ll look back on this time and realize how much it meant, since you made it there on your own. PS Time to put the effort into knowing where “there” is.

So you’ve got aching feet. That means you’ll finally realize that high heels are actually high hells (excusez mon français), and ditch them once and for all! 🙂 PS Never wear shoes that slow you down in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

That last one is just a pet peeve. I always think back to the years that I staggered about in heels, thinking it made me look nicer to others. I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy to distract women from what they’re really capable of. PS I’ve also long believed zombies are just misunderstood.

Which brings me to…

So you’ve got pet peeves. That must mean your basic needs are being met. You’ve got free time to chat about life lessons, zombies, and conspiracies. That’s a lot to be thankful for!

With all the church abuse scandals in the news recently, New Jersey’s attorney general has opened an investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in our state. “We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here,” said Gurbir Grewal.

Where have I seen that name recently? Oh yeah. Hosts of a radio show had courted controversy by referring to the attorney general as “Turban Man.” Grewal responded with aplomb, thanking the governor for his support during the episode, noting, “Others have faced far worse. We rise above this.  Now let’s get back to business.”

Maybe pain is training. Compassion calibration. A way to learn from the inside of the “ouch” what it feels like so that, when your turn comes to give someone else a break, you’ll stand up.

I remember a Sikh boy from grade school. It wasn’t always easy for him, as you might imagine, even though his wearing a turban was harming no one.

Childhood itself shouldn’t be a high-risk proposition, but really, where can kids be safe anymore?

School? Yes but. School shootings.

Church? Yes but. Pedophile priests.

Home? Yes but. Kids are more like property than people in society today. They have no say most of the time. Just what parents decide is best for them.

Change can only come from the inside. Of the school. Of the church. Of the person. Until there’s a change inside the human heart, the chain of pain will continue.

It irks me not to be able to wrap up neatly with an answer to this problem. Yes but. All I can change is myself. All you can change is yourself. So we’ll do our best today. Assume the best in others. Let them rise to our high expectations. Maybe it will be the start a new chain – of love.

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.

“Happy birthday!” I said to my teen-age son, and walked over to give him a hug. Huh. How about that. My son was so much taller than me that his shoulder was over my head. I had to turn to the side to breathe. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I suffocated in the armpit of the son I gave life to? 🙂

On an awards show, the singer, Pink, wearing a sparkly leotard, spinning on a trapeze high above the audience, was singing, “I’m not here for your entertainment!” I scratched my head. Surely this isn’t educational?

Flipping to another channel, there was a half-hour infomercial called “Identity Theft News” posing as a live news broadcast.

As we all tend to do, I surfed the web while watching t.v., and found some other puzzling things. Like the use of trendy, made-up phrases in news articles, i.e., Obama White House Photographer Throws Shade at Trump, Rep. Maxine Waters Claps Back at Bill O’Reilly After Hair Insult.

Even more confusing, sometimes a word can be used in opposite directions: Almost 75 Years After Death Beatrix Potter Drops New Book, and Simon & Schuster Drops Milo Yiannopoulous Book Following Release of Controversial Video.

Over the years, I’ve learned:

  • Things aren’t always what they appear to be.
  • Social media is here to stay, along with selfies and skinny jeans.
  • Times change.
  • We’ll be okay.

I don’t have to always “get it” as I look around at the world today, because I know some of the most important things never change. Faith, family, friends, and the perpetual power of prayer.

As the Yiddish proverb says, “Prayers go up, and blessings come down.” Let’s let Anne Lamott have the last word today: “Anything you say from your heart to God is a prayer.”

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.

Reading SueBE’s and Lori’s posts this week gave me a lot to think about.

If SueBE is in for a world of hurt, having only been to mass twice in her life, I’m really SOL (this being a prayer blog, that stands for “Shucks! Out of Luck”) as I can’t recall ever having gone to mass. Perhaps as a child, since I’m told I was baptized Catholic.

But I’ve always chafed against the idea of rules that don’t make sense to me. This makes me an iffy candidate for any religion, not to mention line-dancing and speed-dating. Come on. You want me to sit down, stand up, and hold hands with a stranger? Heck. Now I’m just dizzy!

The other day I watched a “fire-and-brimstone” preacher on t.v. and it reminded me why so many Americans skirt the periphery as I do, calling ourselves “spiritual but not religious.”

He spoke of the doomed Titanic voyage, saying there were two passenger categories: “Upper Class and Steerage.” But when the sugar hit the fan (as it were – still a prayer blog, mind) names were listed under two different categories: “Saved and Lost.” He nodded his head, pleased at the metaphor, pointed at the congregation and bellowed, “Some of you are going to Hell first class!”

And, smooches unto you, too, Reverend Cuddlebear!

My word. If that’s the gospel according to that church, well then, sniff, sniff, I think I’ve got a cold too. I’ll have to miss that service this week. And forever!

For Lori, SueBe and me, this blog is a sacred space. We’re spread across the map geographically and spiritually, yet somehow we end up in the same place.

I say, it’s all right to miss church once in awhile (or in my case, altogether!) because the altar is already set up in your heart. The pew is the armchair you’re sitting in. The church is wherever you are, and wherever you are, that’s where God is, too. See there, you’re all set for the evening worship service. Sit with me, have a warm cuppa, and let us pray.

Did you ever find yourself in a snit about little things that seem to accumulate?

I had medical appointments and procedures over the last couple of weeks (everything’s fine) but got behind on reading blog updates, emails, etc. My schedule was thrown off and getting out of my usual routine really got under my skin.

You look at the salt shaker on the counter and think, Why is this here? It belongs in the cabinet! Stupid, small things become monumental.

Why is it overcast today? Just to annoy me? You start to think that everyone is doing things just to get on your nerves.

It becomes an almost tangible roadblock that can lead to a kind of spiritual gridlock.

You start to think everything’s out of whack, when really, it’s just a matter of pruning. Taking stock of what’s most pressing, and tending to the roots.

This is what matters most in life: faith, family, friends. Praying, staying in a peaceful state of mind, taking care of yourself. The rest is really just logistics. 

We spend so much time making sure all our ducks are in a row that we forget to feed the ducks! Don’t neglect to do the very things that would smoothe out those edges:

  • Pat your pets
  • Look at the sunset
  • Re-read a favorite book
  • Listen to music
  • Relax in a comfy chair
  • Read uplifting passages from Psalms
  • Wear a comfy sweater, even if it has a hole in it

Don’t throw out the sweater because it’s got a little imperfection. Sew it up, if you know how, or just toss on a scarf. Who’s going to know? Keep the comforts close at hand, so when it feels like life is getting out of control, you remember: there’s always tomorrow.

Count your blessings. Life is good.

Yeah, I realize that this post has more clichés per capita than a basket full of fortune cookies, 😊 but this is the gospel truth: God’s got your back.

Ride it out, and next thing you know, the sun is back up again. And lo and behold! All is well.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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