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Potbelly stove - Wikipedia

Picture of rusty, brown pot-belly stove

At the physical therapy center last year, I sat on a table, getting TENS unit therapy for the pain in my legs. 

There were several patients there that day, and most were pleasant enough, considering we were all in various levels of pain.

An older man named Steve was getting treatment for his neck on the table next to mine. “Women always let themselves go after marriage,” he said to his physical therapist. “They never put themselves together with hair and makeup. And the worst part is, they always gain weight.” He shook his head.

There was silence as the other patients and physical therapists around him — all women — processed what he’d just said. Lying on the table there, his own gut was what one would call “voluminous”. He had the girth of a pregnant woman carrying triplets. As he stood up, it occurred to me that he resembled a pot-belly stove: short, squat, and kind of rusty.

That insult to women hung in the air until finally, his physical therapist said something to the effect of, “Sometimes, we just can’t see ourselves as others do,” which I thought was just the right amount of diplomacy and wisdom. Nothing else needed to be said.

This time in history may be remembered for many negatives: the pandemic, divisions based on race and politics, and most notably, an alarming deficit of empathy.

Whatever negativity you encounter today, rise above the visceral instinct to “put someone in their place.” Remember, Comeuppance Coordinator is not an actual job, even though it’s a way of life for many on social media. Keep in mind that everyone is an amalgam of humanity and divinity. This mindset will help the world find its way back to grace again.

blue and white signage on green grass field
Blue picture of placard with white lettering saying: “I’m so gonna vote” on a green lawn

Today is election day in America, and the world is abuzz. SueBE covered everything that matters in terms of what this election means in her eloquent post. Let’s talk about what happens after the votes are counted.

Your candidate may win.

Do you:

  1. Strut like a peacock and crow like a rooster?
  2. Put your hands together and pray that our leaders take care of the people.

As the captain of your own ship, the CEO of your own family, what do you stand for? Don’t wait for politicians to decide which way the wind blows. Continue to do the right thing even during this strange time in history. 

Your candidate may not win. 

Do you: 

  1. Dig in your heels and get riled up?
  2. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

The causes that are important to you still matter. The need is still there. Stick to your own platform. Your beliefs aren’t part of a stump speech. It’s who you are. If the powers-that-be don’t step up, that’s when someone else needs to show up and speak up. It’s always the right time to do the right thing. Do what you can to make a difference.

So you say you’re a Texas billionaire and you want to donate funds for college scholarships? Great! Uh-oh. But you laundered that money and now you’ve been indicted for the largest tax fraud scheme in US history.

You’re committed to helping victims of domestic abuse? Terrific! Uh-oh. But you took a massive salary, while the center you opened wasn’t even safe for the women and children who depended on you.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t do the wrong thing, as these people did. But what is the right thing? 

Do small things with great care. The little that you can do will add up over time. Others will show up, too. Before you know it, we’ve got a groundswell of goodwill. A windfall of warmth.

Once the election is over, my vote is that we get back to who we really are. We’re better than this. It isn’t us vs. them. It’s the US. There’s no them. Let’s come back to our senses and be who we are again: one nation under God.

woman in pink shirt sitting on chair“Any coughing, sneezing, diarrhea?” The woman asked as I rolled down my window.

At first, I thought my son had taken a wrong turn and driven us to the Worst Wendy’s in the World. 

Are these items… a la carte?

Should I respond, “No thanks, trying to cut down! Just a baked potato. Hold the mucus.”

But we were actually at the vet to drop off our cat, Squeaky, for his first well-visit. People aren’t allowed inside the vet’s office, so the procedure now is to pull into a parking spot, hand off your pet, and wait for them to call you with results.

It’s important to ask if anyone in the household is sick, but it would’ve been nice to be greeted with a “hello” first.

I think we can all relate to the harried, masked workers making their way through the day with uncertainty hanging in the very air around them.

Last month, a utility worker in a mask confronted me at my front door. “Step out of the house, please, ma’am.” I looked at him for a good, long time, like DeNiro. You talkin to me? You’re telling me to step out of my own house? I don’t think so. 

When I didn’t move or speak, he finally received the energy of my fixed gaze, and softened his tone. “Company policy, ma’am. We have to ask you this outside before we can come in.”

“Then say that, son,” I told him. He was actually nice, but was grappling with how to keep himself safe while doing his job. He’s got to put food on the table. If he gets sick, nobody eats.

One of the lessons I’ve learned during this pandemic is that people can somehow not be themselves for a protracted period of time. Trying to balance health, safety and financial security has had an impact on the human psyche.

So for the time being, if you find those on the frontline a bit curt, don’t take it to heart. Common courtesy may be uncommon these days, but cover your own karma. Keep the mask on your face and the forcefield of faith around your soul. This too shall pass.

silhouette of three people up on mountain cliffI loved Lori’s post about our confab the other day. It was so nice to see my sisters-of-the-soul, almost in person. Her characterization of me as a ballerina impersonating a longshoreman sent me into spasms of snorts (laughter, that is). I’ve been trying to come up with a word to combine those two terms. Balleshorman? Longshorina? Either way, it’s me all over! As we say in Jersey, not for nothin, but she’s on the money.

We’ve never met in person, so this call was truly an event. I could see SueBE as a professor in a college setting, as she just has a way about her that says, “Trust me. I know my stuff.” She’s warm and wise, and feels like family.

I could see Lori as a poet-in-residence at an idyllic lakeside writers’ retreat. She’s got a way about her that says, “I feel things deeply, and can put emotions to music till words dance on the page.” She’s refined and regal, and feels like family.

During the call, workmen were bumping around in my basement, tearing down walls and cleaning out the mess caused by a broken sewer pipe. I was concerned because they had asked me which walls to cut down, even though I had previously told their associate all of the details. What if they cut out the wrong wall? Threw away boxes of mementos inadvertently?

Then as we started chatting, my cat, Squeaky, climbed up onto the desk, and right into the camera shot. I loved that Lori and SueBE would get to meet him; however, I hadn’t taken my Benadryl to help with my cat allergy that morning. Before long, my face flushed and I felt the itching start. I didn’t want to pause the call, because it was such a momentous occasion, so I soldiered on through the allergic reaction.

It was so good to be together from afar, and even though I wasn’t fully myself, I felt like we were all present enough to create the foundation of our sacred space. A shared, virtual meeting room in which we talk about joy, grief, hope, the pandemic, politics, prayer. The stuff of life. I know that when any one of us isn’t able to be wholly present, the others will step up so we can shore each other up.

Dear readers, finding your sisters- (or brothers) of-the-soul is highly recommended for your mental health, for spiritual sustenance, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world with friends on the same frequency. You know they’ve got your back, and you’ve got theirs, whatever may come.

purple petaled flowerMy favorite show lately is the comedy “Black-ish”, and in one episode, something unexpectedly good happens and a character exclaims, “Look at God!”

That phrase has been on my mind lately, as I’ve tried to come to terms with things I don’t quite understand, like how a woman’s body changes with age. Often, the changes are given “food” or “nature” names, like crepe-y skin, cottage cheese cellulite. Crow’s feet. Let’s not forget spider veins.

But all of this can make us forget we women are unique phenomena, capable of creating life, shouldering the weight of the world, and keeping the home fires burning.

These miniature miracles are often taken for granted by those of us who count on the sustaining grace of our sister-friends. That happened to me recently when my thoughtless words wounded a dear friend of mine. I probably assumed she knew I hadn’t meant any offense, as she’s used to my occasional bouts of blunt bluster. 

When I realized I’d been an Epic Tool, nay, a Stupid Stunod (as we say in Jersey), I emailed her again, apologizing for causing her pain. She didn’t reply right away, and during that time, I felt utterly bereft. Had I pushed her away forever? 

Luckily, she gave me a second chance, and it made think of all the second chances God had given me in life. Sometimes I think of my time in prayer as a chance to air a laundry list of Stuff I Don’t Have But Need, Like, Yesterday, and this is what I feel in return on my heart: Food on the table? Clothes on your back? A warm place to lay your head at night? Friends who love you through it all despite your flaws and failings? Peace in your heart? 

Bask in your blessings. Forgive those who cross you. Weigh your words and soften your tone. Don’t make a problem your personal piñata, swatting at it fecklessly. Do what you can and release it into the care of Providence. Look at everyone you’ve got in your corner. Look at all the love in your life. Don’t look at the mulch piling up on top of you. Look at the flower you’re blossoming into, not despite it, but because of it. Walk in faith through this valley, my child. Look at God.

We’ve been dealing with quarantine and conflict for some time now, and it’s taking a toll on everyone, so it’s important to remember to shore yourself up from the inside.

How do you do that? By reminding yourself of the blessings still in your life, like the fact that your pets are happy to have you home all the time. Well, until they start to feel you’re crowding them, at which point, they’ll have a cat caucus and decide how to address the situation.

Cats have their own unique way of communicating when they need something. Feed me, my cat will say, staring at his empty bowl. Play with me, he’ll say, swatting the air with his paws. They don’t need no stinkin’ words!

Of course, even those of us who know how to use our words find it difficult to say what we need. For example, it’s universally hard to say, I need help. People with mental health issues are often encouraged to “tough it out,” which is not very helpful, especially in times like these.

Another challenge is learning how to say, Please stop helping me. I can do this for myself. 

Maybe we could all learn from this store in Bangkok, which has two types of shopping baskets: a black one for shoppers who want to shop on their own, and a pink one for shoppers who need help as they shop.

Say what you need clearly. You never know who might be standing by, waiting to help you. And if you don’t need help, you may know of someone who could use a hand. Staying centered through prayer and perseverance shores you up so you can become a conduit of grace for all those you meet.

pink tulips on white vaseToday is my birthday, so I’d like to start by saying…what’d you buy me? I jest, of course. You shouldn’t feel obligated to get me a gift or anything, even though I’m always here, encouraging you and sending good vibes your way. 

Please don’t feel you must buy me a lovely scented candle, a cashmere shawl or make a donation to my 1-800-MISS-RUTH hotline. (That’s not real, by the way. Just jesting again!)

So I turned 55 today — although I’m told I don’t look a day over 54 ½ .😊 I’ve gotten some text and email birthday wishes, which I really appreciate. 

By far, the best gift I could ever ask for, I already have.

It’s taken decades to achieve, but I feel a sense of peace in my soul. 

I’ve got a modest home. A son who watches out for me. Friends I can count on. Projects that interest me. A mackerel tabby who cycles between maniacal and completely inert. Who could ask for anything more?

A friend told me the other day she’d give up one of her pinky fingers to lose weight. She believes her life will be better if the numbers on the scale go down. Less of her (body weight, that is) is the “more” she seeks.

It’s easy to feel guilty for things we haven’t done, like lose weight, finish that college degree, or find a mate. You’re establishing the rule Until I accomplish this one thing, I can’t allow myself to be happy!

The problem becomes a partner, and every time you find a tiny bit of joy, that problem reminds you it still hasn’t been solved. 

Sometimes the more you seek, the farther your goal seems to move away from you. When you look to someone or something else to complete you, you give your own power away.

Really, the “more” you seek is a sense that you’re on the right track. That your life has meaning. Hang your hat on hope and partner with Providence. Stop chasing after that nebulous “more,” and let your good life find you.

Squeaky and the Squirrel

Twice today, I turned on the microwave to heat up my coffee, only to realize my mug was sitting on the counter. 

Twice today, a squirrel slammed into the window, full-force, and rappelled his way into the bird feeder. This is the self-same bird feeder advertised on Amazon as “squirrel-proof.” Oh har! 

Is this a strange day? Heck, it’s a strange week. Month. Time in history. It’s hard not to feel discombobulated.

In this surreal era, people are on edge. It doesn’t seem to take much to set them off.

In these times, maybe the best we can do is not make things worse. That may sound like a low bar, but if these fraught days have made reasonable people become unreasonable, it won’t help to lecture them.

It surely won’t help to ram your grocery cart into them, as one mask-clad woman did when she crossed paths with another woman who refused to wear a mask. 

Some people are using the mask issue as an excuse to act inappropriately, and viral videos have taken on a whole new meaning.

It’s hard to believe that these words need to be said, but here goes: Don’t get into someone’s face because they’re putting your health at risk by not wearing a mask.

Did you read that line? Read it again. 

Have we all taken leave of our senses? 

The virus isn’t to blame for virulent ideologies and vile behavior. 

You can’t be the boss of everyone, but you can be responsible yourself. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Do what you have to do as a citizen — Pay your taxes. Don’t jaywalk. Post no bills.

And when you’ve done all you can, keep calm and leave the rest in God’s hands.

Common Prayer Pocket Edition: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals  -     By: Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove
Everyone I talk to lately is dealing with a lot.  First, there are the things we are all dealing with – pandemic, economic woes, education, etc.  Then there are our personal concerns.  Me?  I’ve got a sick cat, an elderly father, and replacing the toilet seal has turned into tearing up the floor, plumbing work on the sink drain, and more.

But really, I’m sick of thinking about this rot all the time.  I wake up worried about the cat.  I try to work worried about getting paid.  As I wait to use our only functioning bathroom, I wonder what repair bill is going to crop up next.  Every time my allergy ridden child or I cough, I worry about the virus. And I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of the issues themselves but I’m also tired of them being my focus.

Daily Bible reading has helped.  But I also want to bolster my prayer life.  You’d think that during a pandemic prayer would be a focus.

Yet when I try to pray, I’m lost.  I’m so overwhelmed that I just don’t know what to say.

What can I say that God hasn’t already heard?  What can I say that is truly meaningful?  I have questions but no answers, no words.

The good news is that there are words ready to be delivered to my phone.  Earlier this week, I found a prayer app, Common Prayer: A Liturgey for Ordinary Radicals.  I have to admit that I was jazzed to find this app because this is my single favorite book on prayer.  The idea of the book is to help the diverse church pray together across denominations.

Download the app and you can have a reminder deliverd for morning, midday and evening prayer.  They have set times when these reminders are delivered but you can also customize the times.  There are prayers.  You can click through to music.  They discuss prayers and workship traditions.  Today they delivered the prayer of St. Francis which really made my day.

It is so hard today not to focus on all that is negative.  After all, our phones connect us to a constant stream of messages and warnings.  Why not use your phone to connect to God?

I can’t say that it is solving all my problems.  The drain pipe is still crumbling away.  But my attitude about that pipe and everything else is a whole lot better.  Won’t you join me in prayer?

–SueBE

gray rock formation near body of water during sunsetOhhhh, dear. Let me rephrase that. Choose your “Yes’s” in life so you don’t end up with things you don’t want. If you don’t aim for a positive, “yes” goal, you can end up picking a negative, “no” goal by default. There. That’s better!

Aeons ago, when I was in school (in ye olden days, when we spelled “eons” with an extraneous “A”), my philosophy teacher was the first adult who actually listened to my opinions. 

He also gave sage advice. If we said, “I don’t think so,” he would correct us. “Don’t tell me what you don’t think. Say, ‘I think not.’”

The same thing is true in life. Say “no” to what you don’t want. By doing so, you say “yes” to what you do want. This might seem obvious, but is it?

How much of your life is frittered away by doing things you said “yes” to reluctantly, or to please someone else? 

Be clear about what you want. The map to your yes life is littered with wrong turns and detours. Those were defining moments. Now you know where your yes life isn’t. You can use that information to keep driving.

Don’t be equivocal about what you don’t want, or, as Mr. Kielblock would say, be unequivocal about what you want. 

So be sure to pick your no’s today — er uh, to choose your yes’s. You’ll save yourself from obligations you gain nothing from. Decide what matters most to you, and set your sights on that “yes” goal. 

And never forget to check in with your co-pilot, Providence, along the way. I mean, always remember to check in with your co-pilot, Providence, along the way. That’s what a prayerful, purposeful, positive life is all about.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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