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Let me sum it up for you: Grace — I don’t have it. Well, at least not outwardly. Not the kind of grace that shows up in the fluid movement of a dancer or the effortless courtesy of a good hostess. Certainly not the kind of grace Jesus’ mother Mary had, which was a complete freedom from sin. The kind of grace available to me (and to all of us) is pure gift, the redemption we receive only from God.

We give grace when we forgive one another. But it’s hard to bestow that kind of grace, hard to say, “I forgive you” without adding, “even though you’re essentially a bad person/ a selfish swine/possibly a criminal/not someone who deserves my friendship.” Grace doesn’t judge. It’s rather like mercy in that way, dropping “as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath.” Raindrops don’t choose where to fall. And if we want to be Christ-like, we can’t pick and choose where our grace falls either.

I’ll admit it’s a struggle. Lucky for me, grace is also a prayer. Maybe not this kind, but still — praying might get me there.

I was not built for grace.
It fits me ill,
a hair shirt at once too small
and dangling from my shoulders.
Still, I’ll have the mastery of it.
I will practice the fastening of buttons,
repeat the words until I mean them.
I will work at grace as at a puzzle,
trying the pieces, searching for a fit.
Perhaps the picture will never be clear,
but I will accept it as it stands, with holes
and jagged bits, unfinished but enough.
I will rain grace, fertile as a heavy cloud,
no matter how the stony ground accepts it.
But first, I must fill myself.

I once heard a doctor describe illness as an external trauma that the body has absorbed. Literally, our bodies take in the bad things that happen to us and convert them into sickness. “What kind of New Age nonsense is this?” I wondered.

But he was right.

The trauma I experienced in the first three months of this year came home to roost in the second three. Cellulitis, respiratory infections, back problems, pneumonia — you name it, I had it. I was a fixture at my doctor’s office. I visited the ER. I underwent two ultrasounds and a CT scan. I took four courses of antibiotics, all different. I slept sitting up for two months.

I’m much better now. Really. But I’ve become a believer in the body-mind connection. If you don’t take care of the things that hurt you emotionally, your body will be forced to contend with them in various, very physical disguises. What hurts your soul can also hurt your body. My advice? Pour out your pain to any listening ear you can find. Ideally, you should find a professional, but barring that, talk to someone: a friend, a relative, a spiritual advisor, your spouse. And, of course, you can always pray it out.

I am the worse for wear.
So are we all, trapped as we are
in fragile flesh, prone to pelting
by the nettles of nature, the stings
of our very need for each other.
Bad love hurts to the bone.
Grace still heals, miraculous as mud
daubed on a blind eye, sudden as touching
the hem of a cloak. You will hurt,
but you will change, cell by cell,
into something stronger.
You may not see it now. But believe.
Bones ache as they grow;
so do souls.

I have been submerged in grief for four long months. It’s kept me away from this blog, mostly because I could not fathom how to write my way out of my despair. If I had to tell you what I’ve learned, it is only this: Who will buoy you up when you are in the depths. I have been blessed with support from friends like Ruth and Sue, who have blessedly kept the home fires burning, and from my husband’s lovely family. And while I am nowhere near healed, I am ready, perhaps, to stick my head above water and see what’s going on.

Ship to shore: Hello, hello?
Alas, I’m still at sea.
I’ve been down, trench-deep,
where fish fluoresce and nothing grows.
The need for air recedes
the longer you dive deep;
the silence shrieks with sound.
I went without gear,
not knowing I would live here,
making a home, rattling my teacups
for visitors who seldom come.
The pressure is tremendous of course,
but no less than on land,
and no one complains
that my tears make them wet.
Will I abide, letting my hair grow wild
with kelp, squeezing grief into pearls?
Or will I breathe out bubbles and
follow till my feet find land at last?
I am not so deep that I don’t know light.
We will find each other someday.

Just in case I’m reincarnated as a silverfish in my next life, I never squash any bugs I find in the house. It’s just not worth the risk!

So I spotted a multi-legger this morning in front of my computer table and stopped in my tracks. “Whoa!” I said. “You’re a big boy. Not to worry! I’ll take you out.”

I always clarify, “Mind you, I mean take you outside. Not take you out, like Tony Soprano would take you out.”

Oh yes, I do talk to all my rescue bugs, just in case silverfish speak English. Well, English with a New Jersey accent. So, Inglitch. Yo.

Youse guys, I bent down to scoop Steve (the standard name I give to spiders and silverfish) into a plastic cup and realized it was just a giant mass of matted cat hair. Oh! Oopsie. 

I thought about feeling embarrassed even though I was alone in the living room, but gave myself a break. I’ve got low vision. Honest mistake.

So instead, I scooped Phyllis the Furball (as she was now christened) into the cup dramatically and announced to no one in particular, “Rescue Accomplished!” and started to whistle the theme song to Mission Impossible. I deposited her into the garbage gingerly and said, “Glad to help, ma’am! Just doin’ my job.” 

You might as well make light of times when you make a mistake. Give yourself a break. God made you just as you are, flaws and all. 

He made me quirky and loyal and extra at times. He also authorized my low vision, so I know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. 

If you stumble a bit today, don’t worry about it. No biggie. 

Instead of agonizing, put your heart and soul into the things you love to do. That’s where you’ll find your calling. When you really get your hands on a project that lights you up from the inside, you won’t even sweat it when you mess up. You’re too busy getting stuff done and feeling good about life. 

I’ll tell you what else: when you find your calling, that’s where you’ll find your tribe, too. Writing about faith and prayer led me to my sisters of the soul, Lori and SueBE. I know that if I’m reincarnated as a bug in their house, they’re going to take me outside. Not take me outside, mind youse. But they’ll scoop me up in a plastic cup and help me find my way. 

So the least I can do in this life is love them from afar, wherever they are. Just as they do for me.

I wish I could tell you why, but I can’t. All I know is that the term “self-care” used to grate on my nerves. It may be because it is trendy. With me, that’s enough. Unicorns? Yuck. Mermaids? Shudder. Don’t even get me started on . . . never mind.

But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care. It feels essential.

One friend recently told me about her teen daughter having to take carry out orders over the phone for work. When she didn’t immediately know which of several sandwiches with peppers one customer wanted, he explained to her just how stupid she had to be. A friend is helping her father post-surgery. She gets told off regularly by her brother because she isn’t doing it right.

And it isn’t just that these women need self-care. They do, but it goes beyond that.

Two people slowly freezing.
Self-care for me means taking at least a short hike even when the weather is cold.

I’m sure that some of the crabby people in these stories may be genuinely nice people. They love their dogs. They hold doors open for their neighbors when said neighbors have their hands full of shopping bags. They give to charity. They care.

But so many of us are stretched to the limit. It doesn’t matter if we are working in healthcare or education. We all have a vast number of worries. We have concerns. And some of us are getting really mean with those around us.

One thing that can help prevent this is self-care. Just what self-care means to you is going to depend on you. My husband and I are attempting to take 52 hikes in a year. We live in Missouri which means that, at best, we’re hiking in cold. At worst, we are hiking in snow. But every time we manage even a short hike, we are seeing something of God’s creation. We talk and we laugh and we decompress.

What about you? Maybe hiking isn’t your thing. Honestly, these are pretty gentle hikes. Serious hikers would say we are just going on casual walks. Pfft. Whatever. The point is that they work for us. Maybe you have a physically demanding job. Your perfect down time involves a hot cup of tea and your favorite music. Or you might love to draw but haven’t taken the time lately to get out your paper and pencils.

You just need to figure out what works for you. You see, you’re a part of God’s creation. And more than that, you are one of a kind. When you engage in self-care, you are caring for God’s unique creation.

When we hike, we experience the vastness of creation. Each step is a prayer of sorts, taking us away from our worries and toward the loving presence of God. How will your self-care be a form of prayer? Why not take a few minutes this week and discover the answer?

–SueBE

Over it. Those are words I hear a lot lately. Folks are tired of the pandemic. Tired of being abused by employers. Sick of inequality, insufficient health care, the gridlock in Washington, even the weather. I, too, have been struggling with the state of my personal life. My beloved cat, Roux, died of kidney failure. Relationships I thought were solid have turned toxic, and I don’t know why. I’ve struggled with writer’s block. I just feel…tired. And I know I’m not alone. Life is out of balance. Maybe if we all fling ourselves at God at the same time, things will even out?

Speak to me of balance
of the trick
of the flick
of the wrist,
all balls in the air —
it’s quite an act.
I sit in the minute
before it all drops,
expecting chaos,
braced for pain.
Someone — some saint, perhaps —
step in and save my act.
All I know of life
is the just getting by,
the daily glide along the wire,
betting on the skin of my toes,
when what I need is a net.
God get us out of this circus.
Retire us to a place
where being is enough:
Hands empty. Soles on the ground.

The magic of Christmas is this: That something so small could change the world. That a girl from a “nothing” town could be chosen as the mother of God. That a stable could be the birthplace of a Savior. That a baby — a tiny, helpless baby — could be God incarnate, our salvation, the ultimate game changer, taking us from Old Testament “eye for an eye” to New Testament “forgive seven times seventy times.” God truly is a master of surprise.

Something so small:
the cowrie shells of his nails
(an oasis in the desert!),
the questing bud of his lips,
opening like an orchid.
His hair, fine and spare,
brushed ‘cross a skull
still red with effort,
soft beneath the hand.
Slitted eyes, seeking light,
seeing only subtle shapes.
Yet armed as any animal,
able to grip and startle, track and root.
This, then, will change the world:
hands so small will touch a cross,
flailing legs will lead us to heaven.
To trust in this is to pick cattle over comfort,
seeds over trees, a star that shines so seldom,
yet points the only way. And so we follow.
All that God is fits in the crook of an arm,
swallows us like an ocean.

Picture of a cup of brown coffee in a small, white, ridged mug, and a pink, puffy pastry on a dainty, flowered plate next to an open book.

Thank you for meeting me where I am, even when I forget to be present. 

As I lumber up, into the day, I feel as if I need to plow through a massive to-do list to earn my keep in the world. 

And, inevitably, every day, it’s the same old thing. Too much to do. Not enough (insert one: time, money, resources, etc.). Crisis du jour appears. 

But today, I received a reminder that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Somehow, even when I feel I don’t have everything I need, “enough” always seems to find me.

Every dollar that comes to me was routed through the Bank of Goodwill/God’s Will. Every time I see a number on my phone that makes me exclaim, ”Well, hello there, dear heart!” — that’s a bonus. 

And when I’m too focused on challenges, I flip the script in my head. There’s a pile of innovative solutions (neé “problems”), and a folder filled with “unpaid bills” that’s actually a map/manual of finding a way. 

Looking back, when I had too much, I used it all up; still, I wasn’t satisfied. Now that I have just what I need, I appreciate it like nobody’s business. 

Thank You for giving me the good sense to be grateful for what I used to take for granted, like the heat in this home. Also, the warmth in this home. A cat who sits next to me as I knit, fascinated by the ball of yarn. Family and friends who check in with me “for no reason” when I just happen to be feeling blue. Food on the table. Bear claws from the bakery. Coffee perking. A tiny pitcher with real cream for that cup of Joe.

Sometimes you just need to look at your life in the clear light of day to see how blessed you really are.

Thanksgiving gives me mixed emotions. Yes, it is a time of joy, a celebration of the Plymouth colony’s first successful harvest. They would never have survived without the help of the Wampanoag (which translates to “People of the First Light”), who showed them how and when to plant and reap the foods that would sustain them through their second winter in America. (During the first terrible winter, nearly half of them died.) But what happened to the Wampanoag tribe after the first Thanksgiving is the stuff of nightmares — illness decimated them, war (with colonists and other tribes) nearly finished them off. It’s enough to dash anyone’s joy.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 for one very important reason: President Lincoln was desperately trying to find something that might bring the divided nation together, if only for one day — one good day. And while the first Thanksgiving probably ran for several days, those were good days, too. Any day spent in fellowship is a good day.

Thanksgiving this year, in many ways, hearkens back to Thanksgivings of old. As a nation, we remain bitterly divided politically. Those on the margins face terrible persecution. But mightn’t we still manage to have one good day together?

Let us meet where the good is,
where the God-in-us overlaps.
In that place of touching, let us find thanks
for that which holds the center,
for the still spot around which history spins,
for what we know of one another,
God-formed and God-blessed.
Let our feasting feed the seeing side of us.
One good day may come, rising in the East
where the people of the first light still linger,
spreading sun, a shared blanket,
passing bread from mouth to mouth.

Shelley Flannery and I became friends over matching shoes. This was back in first grade, when such things were not only possible but probable. We both wore red Mary Janes on the first day of school, and that, as they say, was that. It seemed a perfectly reasonable basis for a friendship, especially as the first thing I’d ever read (two years earlier, in my sister’s first grade primer) was a story about two girls bonding over having worn the same red dress to school. First grade primers are never wrong.

Finding common ground gets harder as we grow older; instead, we become focused on differences. Yet just the other night in the grocery store, this occurred: a man tapped my husband on the shoulder, and when he turned around, the man quickly apologized, saying, “I’m sorry; I thought you were my friend.”

To which my husband responded, “I’ll be your friend!” And the two shook hands. Maybe it can still be that easy. Maybe if we search out the things that unite us instead of the things that divide us, there’s hope for us yet.

You cannot find
what you do not seek.
Keep to what you know at heart:
We are all of us moving sacks of miracles,
made of the same well-trod dust.
Nothing plumed, furred or scaled
can know us better: know the feel of air
sluicing through our nostrils, the taste
of fruit (honey-smothered summer),
the way our bodies feel in flight.
Let us stumble over serendipity,
and finding it, delight in it.
Come, find yourself in the last place
you’d ever think to look,
in the body you do not know,
in the immanent place
our souls converge.

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