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Yesterday, Pastor Sean preached on the mustard seed in Matthew chapter 13.  “He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Pastor explained that when we think “yum mustard,” we aren’t think like Christ’s audience.  For us, mustard is a wonderful spice.  In Biblical gardens it was a weed but it wasn’t just any weed.  It was a weed that could grow into something as large as a bush or a tree.

So why was Christ telling his followers that faith is like a mustard seed?  Because faith, even a small amount, can have a huge impact.

We are heading into a time of year during which we emphasize Faith.  I’d like to encourage all of our readers to give that Faith the freedom to change lives one small deed at a time.  If you can, you might pay for someone else’s breakfast.  Or you could thank someone for a post that moved you.  Or greet your checker at the grocery store by name.

Small acts are like seeds.  Its up to each of us to decide what we sew.

–SueBE

donuts“A mini-bagel, plain, please,” I said to the clerk at my favorite bagel shop. “Okay, mini-bagel. What-” he replied loudly and stopped himself. “Oh, you want it plain,” he muttered. He’d started to ask what I wanted on the bagel, but realized I’d said I didn’t want anything on it. 

I smiled and said, “Jose, you were like, ‘You want a bagel at the bagel store? What?!? Next you’ll want a donut from the donut shop!’” This sent the clerk and the other customers in the store into hysterics. As I left, I continued my shtick and said, “I’m here all week! Good night!” 

It’s in those small moments that you realize humans have the capacity to connect. It might be for a brief moment, but shared laughter is like a virtual hug. It also helps to get to know the people who will be in your life on a regular basis, like the cashier at the bagel shop or your mail carrier. It often occurs to me that I could never do what my mailman, Calvin, does, just based on the sheer volume of letters and packages he needs to deliver on a daily basis. 

On some blocks in my town, there’s an ordinance that homes may not have mailboxes. This means that letter carriers have to deliver to those houses’ front doors, every day, rain or shine. Winters are the most challenging time for them, as you might imagine. 

All of us have a load to carry and things we’ve got to get done. So when you see the “regulars” in your life during the day, a warm word of encouragement can go a long way.

On jury duty years ago, we were given a break during a case so we could stretch our legs. I went to the snack store, picked up some noshes and got in line. When it was my turn, the cashier asked, “What have you got today, ma’am?” In response, I said, “Oh, just a couple of these things,” and absent-mindedly waved toward my snacks. “I’m sorry, ma’am, you’re going to have to be more specific,” he said. “You see, I’m unsighted.”

I apologized profusely — so much so that he realized I didn’t just mean I was sorry for the flip answer. I’ll never forget his response. He said, “No need to feel sorry, ma’am. If the Good Lord had wanted me to be sighted, he would’ve given me sight. I work around it.” 

His strength of character was impressive, but so was the collective moral compass that switched on for those waiting in line. The man could tell which coins he was being given by their weight and size, but the bills all felt alike, so he had to ask what denomination he was being given. 

Suddenly we all had eagle eyes. You say you gave him a twenty dollar bill? Let me check on that. People were craning their necks to keep everyone else honest. It was as if a tiny Community Watch had formed spontaneously.

I think of that day when I lose faith in humanity, or when I think I’ve got it hard due to my own visual impairment, which developed later. That man soldiered on despite the hardship and got it done. And those people in line did the right thing without being asked. The truth is, the milk of human kindness hasn’t yet soured into yogurt. Just under the surface, the still, small voice is speaking loud and clear.

credit: today.com

Let’s say you had a meeting and it was crunch time. Looking over the attendees, you realize there’s a baby sitting in one of the chairs in a suit and tie. Now, that’s something you don’t see every day! 

Look at you. You can’t even hold your own head up, man! You’re drooling, babbling on about nothing, and your contribution at the last meeting was nothing but a big pile of poop. Get ahold of yourself! 

You notice the baby’s round belly under his pocket protector and bib.

You’re letting yourself go around the middle, there, pal. You really should do some crunches!

You wouldn’t expect a baby to know how to crunch numbers. Heck, they can’t even crunch granola yet! And surely a baby’s too young to hit the gym.

Different rules apply to people depending on the situation, and we don’t all develop at the same pace. Some may think that, just because they haven’t had an experience, that experience isn’t valid.

People who call others “snowflake” or “overly sensitive” are actually, let me see if I can find the technical term here in my thesaurus.. Oh yes. Insensitive clods!

Mercy. Let me re-phrase that. 

Such people don’t seem to have been born with a compassion compass, that thing inside that says, I may not understand what you’ve been through, but I can see that you’ve been profoundly affected by it.

Then again, if I label them insensitive clods, I’m the one being insensitive. 

Perhaps a better way to frame it is that they’re newborns in terms of the expression of empathy. Their mercy-muscles haven’t formed fully yet. One day they may be in a new situation and it’ll be crunch time for them. Here’s hoping the people in that room will show them some compassion.

Earhart kind action

Acts of kindness.  Recently I took an online class through Yale. The focus was on rewiring your behavior to elevate your mood.  Basically what habits can we each build that rewire us, replacing anxious feelings with happiness.

Each week, we were given a challenge, a behavior to engage in throughout the week.  One week was random acts of kindness.  It could be as simple as thanking a clerk by name or paying for someone else’s coffee.

I thought it was simply that my father was in one hospital that week and my brother-in-law in another.  I was ragged and worried and this was just too much.  Too much!

But as we finished up the class earlier this week, I read other peoples comments.  This seemed to be one of the hardest habits to build.  “When I stalked through my day thinking ‘I have to find one person to be nice to,’ it really stressed me out. When I loosened up and noted whenever I was nice, it was much easier and I actually did it.”

Observe and engage in kind acts vs treating them like a duty.  One way worked.  The other didn’t.

Maybe this is just another facet of actually seeing those around us and following the Golden Rule?

–SueBE

Rainforest, Palm Trees, Moss, Amazon Indians, Tree

What if you woke up one day and realized your life had been brought to you by Comcast? Little did you know, you could’ve switched providers and had a better life. Wouldn’t that be a shock to the system!

I’ve never been able to understand how anyone can claim ownership of the internet. Why are we paying companies to provide us with what really should belong to everyone for free?

An indigenous tribe in Ecuador won a landmark case against oil companies last week, preventing them from drilling in the Amazon rainforest. It took me a moment to wrap my head around that. This native tribe had to navigate the country’s legal system when they have their own internal system of government. Then they had to ask permission to prevent interlopers from coming into their home and taking whatever they wanted.

Who owns the Amazon rainforest? Please don’t tell me Jeff Bezos. Cuz I’ll punch ya. And nobody would believe you if you reported me to the police. That Kindly Auntie? She would never! 🙂

We seem to find many inventive ways to do the wrong thing at the expense of other people, or of the planet. Let’s designate a day where we do the right thing no matter what other people might get away with doing. We’ll come up with a catchy name for it, let’s see… we’ll call it: Today. And let’s extend it indefinitely and do it every day for the rest of our lives.

The blueberries I had with breakfast this morning were so big, they could’ve been plums-in-training! I was so amazed, I took a picture of them, putting them next to other fruit for perspective.

Now, you could look at that blueberry and say, Sure, you’re big for a blueberry, but why can’t you be as big as this Mandarin orange? Or this Pink Lady apple?

Berries can’t conform to dimensions they can’t possibly live up to. Why should they? They’re perfect for what they are.

It might seem like we’re in a big race with each other, based on the fact it’s called “the human race,” but that’s not the case. We’re all running, or walking, or meandering on our own pathway.

It’s never helpful to say, “Why can’t you be like the other…”:

  • Students
  • Siblings
  • Employees
  • Believers
  • Writers
  • Runners
  • People somewhere in the world

Those others can do this thing well. Why can’t you?

Comparing is actually a passive-aggressive way of trying to control others, as well as a quick-and-dirty way of deciding how to treat people. If you believe someone is not trying their best, you feel justified in mistreating them.

Remember: it’s how you treat those you consider “the least among us” that really shows the world who you are.

You can’t possibly know God if you don’t treat people with respect. That’s across the board. Even the people you think aren’t trying.

If you’re doing your best, why not assume others are as well? It might not be your best, but it may be the best they can do right now. And who knows? One day they might catch up and even surpass you. They’ll remember you were kind to them as you raced past. Maybe they’ll even offer you a Gatorade and some freakishly large blueberries!

In my day, sonny (cue nostalgic music), we used to quietly hold the world together with a pat on the back and a kind word. Nobody noticed but that one child who scraped his knee on the playground who we helped up. Or that person in the grocery aisle who couldn’t reach a can on a shelf, so you got it for them.

As short as I am (5”4), there was an older lady even shorter. She couldn’t reach the can of peas on the top shelf so she looked at it, looked at me, and tilted her head quizzically. She didn’t have to ask. In fact, she didn’t. She just knew a kind face when she saw it.

When my son and his friends were younger, they were amused by what one young man termed Ruth’s Random Rules. One such rule is that when anyone sneezes, everyone is to say “God bless you.” Don’t believe in God? Okay, say “Gesundheit.” Or “Salud.” Even, “I acknowledge that you have sneezed and you are in the same general vicinity as I am; now I shall go back to ignoring you.” Whatever you have to say — but in this home, young men, we shall be civilized.

Another one was that the boys were required to take our dog into the yard every hour on the hour. They thought they were doing me a favor and doing a nice thing for Sheena, which is true. But they were also getting exercise. I wanted to codify it so they had an excuse to take a break from the video game, a real reason to get out into the yard on a sunny summer day.

If you do your best and treat others with kindness every day, those small moments accumulate into a big bunch of blessings.

Yesterday, I had jury duty.  To put it kindly, I was not looking forward to a single part of it.  Let’s just say that this isn’t the first time I’ve been called and I am never selected for a jury.  So don’t lecture me.  No, seriously.  Do not.

That was where I was mentally when the judge took the lectern.  He introduced himself and thanked everyone for being there.  I managed not to roll my eyes. “No, seriously.  I’m not saying that because it’s your civic duty.  I’m saying that because you are all making a huge sacrifice.  You are missing work, volunteer activities and time with your family and friends.”  The more he talked, the more we understood.  He got it and we felt appreciated because clearly we the people had been seen and heard.  The change that came over the group was amazing.

Throughout the day, I saw this effect again and again.  Someone would mess up going through security (I have no clue who that woman was, ahem), and the guard just smiled.  “Let’s try something different this time.”  And the whole time they chatted and set people at ease.   They took their jobs seriously but they saw clearly that a little kindness made the day go better for everyone.

–SueBE

What if we find out Darth Vader was really just a nice guy, if a bit misunderstood? A man in Tennessee whose father was a Star Wars fan was saddled with the name of the dark lord and seems to have a sense of humor about it.

In other off-beat news, it won’t come as a big surprise that Kafka was a terrible boyfriend, would it? Reading his letters to his fiancée, it seemed he saw everything – even love – in a, well, Kafkaesque light.

I love light-hearted stories like these. But I really love reading stories that start out on the dark side and end up reaffirming my faith in humanity.

A distressed man on the autism spectrum who had attacked his elderly parents was admitted to a Chicago hospital. Instead of sedating or subduing him, the security officers sang to him, calming him down and defusing the situation.

When a teacher saw her 7-year-old student riding his bike on a busy highway, she found out his diabetic father had collapsed at home. When he couldn’t unlock his father’s phone to call 911, he got on his bike to ride five miles to his grandmother’s house. The teacher called for help, and the boy’s father recovered.

Every bad news story starts from a place of pain, doesn’t it? The person involved may be called by different names: gunman, perpetrator, criminal. But it all starts with a “dis.” Disrespect. Feeling disenfranchised. Dismissed. Pain is like a chain letter. Someone feels slighted. They take that pain with them and slight someone else and it spreads like a virus.

The antidote to the “dis” is to not react in kind, but to unpack the pain behind the anger. Will compassion put an end to the cycle of pain? We can only live in hope.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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