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Kind people, I don’t wish you hardships. If anything, I wish you only softships. Luxury liners, even! 🚢 And, on the road of life, if you stumble here and there, I hope you’ll always have a soft place to land.

But you know as well as I do that hardships are life lessons. It really is where the rubber meets the road. Your “wherewithal escrow” increases during those times you have to take the long way and come up with creative solutions.

“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” This nugget of wisdom was on a strip of paper inside a fortune cookie.🥠 When you realize a situation isn’t working, that’s the nudge from your soul to make changes.

The opposite of “hardship” isn’t life on Easy Street. It’s purpose. Community. Working toward a goal. Self-acceptance. Contentment. Kindred spirits. Partnering with Providence.

It’d be great to be able to get ahead of the bills, but you and I both know that if we got more money, we’d spend more money 💰 and we’d just end up with new bills.

All right, so you don’t own a yacht. If you’re lucky enough to have a roof over your head, food on the table and loved ones in your life, you could just fill up your bathtub with water, put a rubber ducky 🦆 in it and call it your houseboat. If you have a place to call home 🏡 and hope for the future, you know as well as I do, you’re truly blessed indeed.

My friend Alice is collecting answers to the above question. Feel free to chime in. As for me, I always speak most clearly in poetry.

Providence is the hand of God in the world.
It is like the wind: You cannot see it,
you can only see what it does
(stir a sailboat, rustle a leaf
loosed from a tree),
and even this is best glimpsed
in your memory’s rear view mirror.
It is a confetti storm of pieces of paper,
a single word printed on each,
that somehow settles into a book.
You could have read it weeks ago,
but your eyes were not ready.
It is the tiniest movement of a fly
on a leaf that sends a drop of water
skittering to the ground below where
a seed has been mislaid, unlikely to ever
make anything of itself. Instead it flowers.
Perhaps it will be a rose, perhaps a cactus.
But even that will make sense when you are
lost in the desert, and in falling over, parched,
you break open the limb of a saguaro and there is water
cool and reviving, inside.*

 

 

* Just a metaphor. Do not do this in real life.

 

 

Contractors had come to my house to fix some shingles on the roof, and after they left, I noticed a single tiny nail, sitting above the glass of my skylight.

Of course, it’s only one small nail, but, for a moment, it was disconcerting. What should that be holding together? And how many other nails may have just flown off, unnoticed? Will the effect eventually be cumulative, and then one day, it makes the entire house collapse?!? I’d better call the emergency random tiny nail restoration hotline. They’ll know what to do! 🙂

It’s amazing what we can find to worry about in the course of any given day.

That got me thinking of all the little hinges we perceive to be holding the world together, like the double yellow lines on the highway. The flu shot. The ozone layer. These protective layers we wrap around us as we head out into the world to keep traffic and germs and gravity at bay.

Sometimes I think that if I don’t inoculate myself with prayer before I venture out into the world, I may have used up the faith-fuel in my tank. Maybe God will say, Oops! You should have asked if you wanted my protection. Sorry! You’re out of luck.

But I know that it isn’t what I do, nor the words I speak (or don’t speak) that keeps me covered by the umbrella of Providence. It’s nothing that I’ve done to earn such favor. Just grace.

Otherwise known as the hinge holding you, me, and the whole world together. It’s good to know that I don’t need to dot every “i” and cross every “t.” I just need to remember I’m not on this journey alone.  

Most mornings, I’ll fix myself a nice, piping-hot cup of coffee, but today, I poured myself a tall glass of Whine. I was out of coffee pods, and wouldn’t be able to have my coffee. Well, how do you like that?!? I said to no one. I promoted myself to head of the Complaint Department and huffed for a minute. What a bummer! Now I can’t start my day right!

Luckily, I realized the whole little drama was self-induced, and quite ridiculous. It only lasted a few seconds, really, and – thankfully – no one was there to witness it or post it on YouTube.

In a way, what I was doing was Stressing over Blessings. Here I am, in a house in the suburbs, standing in the kitchen next to a refrigerator filled with food. Still have my leftover lemon garlic chicken from the crock pot last night. It was awesome, if I do say so myself. We’ve got running water, beds to sleep in, computers and TVs to keep us entertained. What is there, really, to complain about?

Maybe there was Someone there to witness it, and that’s how I came back to my senses. Never underestimate the power of providence. Keeping the lines open to Heaven with perpetual prayer is more than keeping your karma clean. It’s the connection that brings you back to yourself, to your senses, to the good life of blessings. Because your “yes life” is always there until you start focusing on small slights and you say “no” to it.

Last week, there was minor outrage over a wheelchair-bound contestant on The Price is Right winning a treadmill, which she couldn’t use. But the winner herself really was a winner. She had a great attitude and said she’d just use it as everyone else did – as a clothes rack.

So in life, when stuff happens, don’t take it personally. It’s just the luck of the draw. It’s not God, removing his favor from your life. It’s not a black cloud or a voodoo doll, or a gremlin bursting your bubble. It’s just a moment, and it too, shall pass. As a character on The West Wing once said, sometimes, there’s no victims; only volunteers. Now that’s a tour of duty you don’t want to sign up for!

If TV and movies have taught us anything, it’s that the person you seek — whether it’s a fiendish murderer or some luckless gal’s soulmate — is always the one you least suspect. That good-looking, solid, nice-as-pie guy? He will be discarded in favor of the man our heroine claimed to hate and has bickered with for a full 90 minutes. The FBI agent? Actually a KGB spy in disguise. It’s gotten to be such a common ruse, the astute watcher can guess the outcome based on the premise that whoever-dunnit will be the person who appears most ridiculously unlikely to have done so.

We apply this principle to pop culture, but seldom examine its application to our own lives. When we make that big sale, land that elusive account, garner the attention of a significant other, whom do we look to for praise? Ourselves, of course. When we bungle the big sale, lose the account, get dumped or overlooked, whom do we look to for the assignation of blame? Probably someone else. Maybe ourselves. But what if, in every instance, we are wrong? What if, all along, it really is the one we suspect the least — God?

Sure, we sometimes remember to thank God for the good things in our lives. It is easier to see God as the engenderer of positive things, less easy to see God’s presence in things like war, death or tragedy. But The One You Least Suspect has a hand in all things, all ways. You may not see it, but it’s there.

Someone once described understanding God’s movement in the world to the following: A single page of a huge manuscript is torn from a book. The page is battered by wind and weather until it consists of a few legible sentences. Someone finds this scrap of paper, and based on it, claims to understand what the entire novel was about. It is ridiculous on the face of it. So, too, is it ridiculous for us to claim to understand how God works in our lives…or to discount God’s existence based on a similar, crabbed view.

You are a part of God’s divine providence. God has a plan for you and for the world. Perhaps it is time to recognize The One You Least Suspect for having outwitted us all — though I suspect none of us will understand this fully until our deaths. In the meantime, give God more credit, even for those things that seem hopeless or wrong. God has stronger eyesight than we do. God sees the big picture. God will surprise you, whether you expect it or not.

It’s like this:

You are 1,000 feet up
in the rarefied air
and you step on a cloud
knowing
it will spring up under your feet
like new grass in summer
and bear your weight.

and if not,

Falling, you will reach out
and grasp a branch
of a nearby tree,
and it will stay your plummet.

and if not,

You will find a parachute
on your back
that you did not know you had
and certainly never packed.

and if not,

There will be water beneath you,
a sky-blue invitation,
and you will dive, then rise,
arcing from the waves like a dolphin.

and if not,

You will land lightly as a leaf
in autumn, surprised at the softness of the ground,
and stand, creaky of joint,
but no worse for wear.

and if not,

When the ground is hard,
and your neck snaps like the branch
you could not grab,
even as darkness descends,
your blind eyes will see:
There is a door.
And it will open to you.
 

(First printed in Spiritual Uprising Magazine)

“Coincidence” –
otherwise known as
Colliding with Providence
happens to us all.

You’ll come upon a path now and again
and learn from the brambles and mud
things you couldn’t learn, serene in the meadow.

Hope is where you store your valuables
(your soul, the people you love, dreams of a better life)
until you make it safely through the storm
and wend your way to the clearing.

Case study #1: I knew a friend was feeling, as she would say, “hinky.” She was quiet, and that’s unlike her. She seemed subdued, when her usual self is effervescent, like the bubbles in soda pop that tickle your nose and make you giggle. I knew this, and I did nothing. What if I’m wrong? I asked myself. What if there’s nothing wrong, and I just told her I think she’s depressed. Won’t she be miffed?

Of course not. There would have been no harm in asking. I was just so stuck in my own problems that I failed to respond to her. When I could have been Providence to her, consoling, loving, helping, I didn’t. What do I know about what she should do, I told myself. I can’t help.

No, but I could pray. I could offer support. Being providential doesn’t mean you have all the answers. You just do what you can to help someone see her way out of the dark. And while I can reassure myself that my friend doesn’t need me, that she can get there on her own, it still rings hollow. Being Providence means being present, and I wasn’t.

Case study #2: My friend was conflicted, in crisis. I gave him safe haven, a place to relax and think. I gave him good food, a listening ear, advice. I provided “attaboys” for his insights, offers to help with his plans for the future. Then, he turned around and did the opposite. He put himself right back into the chaos he claimed he was seeking escape from. Again, I failed in being Providence.

Or maybe not. Maybe my plan and God’s plan are entirely different. Or maybe my friend did right. It is his life, after all. Maybe I failed to hear what he was saying underneath his words. Or maybe sometimes people ask for help when they’ve already made up their minds. I don’t know.

All I know is that I failed when I didn’t reach out, and failed when I did. This being providential in the life of others is a tricky business. It requires vision that I don’t have. Or maybe my vision is the problem, because it’s right for me, but maybe not right for someone else. The trick is knowing what God would want for others.

I know He wants them to be happy. But how do I foster that? I know He wants them to be healthy. But what are my boundaries? How far can I intrude into someone else’s life?

Maybe all I can do in the end is say, “I love you. Wherever you go, whatever happens, I will love you and pray for the best for you.”

I only wish it felt like more.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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