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“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, God calls a butterfly.” I’ll confess; I never much liked that quotation. It’s a little too neat, too pat. Tornado wrecks your house? Think of it as an opportunity to start over, to pare down your life. Fired? Consider it a chance to do something new and exciting. Yeah, right.

I have a tendency to sink into melancholy, Poe-like, after something distressing occurs. I’m not proud of it. But what lifts me up again is not so much opportunity or “looking on the bright side” so much as allowing time to bring something else, something new, into my life. It can be as small as a letter from a friend. Whatever it is, it breaks the surface tension on my melancholy and allows me to come up for air. I can’t force it. I can only wait for it. Yes, waiting is hard. But it goes by slightly easier knowing you’re not alone in doing it. So, at the risk of being as trite as whoever it was who penned the quotation at the beginning of this post, I offer the following:

I saw a blue heron, midstream standing
stick-legged, watched it dip, beak wetted,
wrangle a fish, throw back its head.
The fish wriggled down its gullet.
This was not the plan of the fish.
But if it ever looked at the sky,
thought even once what if,
it may be surprised — buoyant even —
at its newfound ability to fly.

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I’m not going to lie: January 2016 has been — pardon my French — a crapfest. My last surviving uncle was laid to rest, my friend Mary passed away, my best friend’s brother died — suddenly and without warning — and two of my cats are sick, one near death. My father-in-law has been unwell and in the hospital, and I have cellulitis, a staph infection of the skin and tissue, but neither the doctor nor I know why. Bills are mounting; emergencies continue to emerge. What’d I tell you? Crapfest.

Once, many years ago, I was walking through a “haunted house,” staged for Halloween. Some dim bulb decided to paper over the staircase, and I slipped walking down it. Fortunately, the walls were also lined with paper, with hands groping through cut-out holes, in an attempt to scare people. One of these kindly disembodied hands caught me as I fell and held me up. It was a lesson in an unlikely place.

It is hard, when one is in the dark, to imagine light. And yet I believe that February will turn this impending trainwreck of a year around. Or, more precisely, I believe that God will. In any case, I am moving forward.

What lies ahead may be
a pebble or a boulder,
slope or sheer drop.
It is not for me to know.
Faith whispers only this:
put one foot out at a time,
test the air,
put it down. Repeat.
The light will find you.
The floor will hold you.
The roof will not collapse.
There is a hand
waiting in the dark,
fingers tensing for your touch.
Find it.

Whoever said April was the cruelest month never met May 2015. Weather reports that make Chicken Little sound like a meteorologist: “The sky is falling!” Bad news from all corners. A general air of distress.

God sees it all. But God sees more than we do, too. Consider the old canard (I paraphrase): What the caterpillar considers the end of the world, the butterfly calls life. Or something like that. Yeah, it’s not a big comfort to the caterpillar, but it speaks to what God sees. God is a big picture person.

Consider a masterpiece of pointillism, like Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Focus in on the face of one of the figures, Ferris Bueller-style. Skin becomes dots of tan, brown, pink, white. We are those dots. Yes, we are each eminently important, but what we all comprise together is more so.

What each of us dots considers a tragedy may be only a tiny portion of what an overview might show us to be a miracle. Don’t get me wrong. God loves each and every one of us dots. God loves us in our infinite, dotty uniqueness. But God can see further than we can.

What if IS is just a dot in the bigger picture of Islam? What if — long view — they don’t matter much because what they say and stand for is a distortion of the faith they claim to embrace? What if death is a blade of grass among millions? How tragic can our tragedies be when put into this kind of perspective?

 One of my favorite Laurie Anderson songs talks about a dream she had about a horde of people, each crying out, “Look at me! Look at me!” It’s what we dots do. We want our triumphs to be recognized, our hurts to be acknowledged and nursed, our differences to be celebrated. This world is not a great place for that.

But God sees. God sees and loves each tiny dot, while also seeing the masterpiece we are a part of. Because of course the work of God is a masterpiece! We forget that sometimes by wallowing in our own bad patch of happenstance.

I’m not saying you ought not to feel sad sometimes, or angry, or hurt. I’m not saying that what happens to you doesn’t matter. I’m merely suggesting that as awful as the “right now” is, the long view might be just fine. Great, even. Give your burdens to God and watch what happens to them.

God doesn’t expect us to see what God sees, and that’s a good thing. But God wants us to know that God’s-self is on the case. God’s looking at the big picture, and it’s lovelier than any work of art on earth. Sometimes it helps to remember that.

Make space for quiet and prayer in times of tragedy.

Make space for quiet and prayer in times of tragedy.

We originally ran this post following the tragedy in Aurora, CO.  Not surprisingly, we feel the need to reach out and up once again given the recent happenings in Newtown, CT.  Any time something like this impacts a community, parents have to help their children cope. Here is what has worked for us as a family.

Talk to your children. They need to find out what is going on from you. Yes, we want to protect our children, but we also need to be a reliable source of world events. Give your children an age appropriate run down of the events. Then listen to what they have to say. They are going to feel more empowered if they feel heard. Obviously, if your children are very young, you probably won’t be talking to them about this but I’m assuming your children are old enough to have sources of information other than you.

Turn off the media. Whether its news streaming online or the local TV news, media plays up the danger and the uncertainty because that’s what sells. It keeps people tuning in to hear the latest update even if there is nothing new to say. Shut it off. Don’t let this be what constantly fills your children’s ears, their minds and their hearts instead . . .

Fill their minds and hearts with serenity. Go beyond unplugging and seek out someplace that you feel near to God. You might expect me to say “go to church,” and for many people this is the right answer. Personally, I sometimes need to get outside. I feel closest to God in the desert of West Texas, but there’s also a local river bend that can do the trick. A friend of mine seeks out the beach at dawn. Forest. Field. Whatever works for you. Take your children there with you.  Help them find quiet.

Help your children speak to God. Just as your children bring their concerns to you, encourage them to speak to God. They don’t have to use a formal prayer, they can simply say how they feel and ask for the help that they need to deal with it. Dear God, I’m really scared that someone will hurt me and my friends. Help me to be brave every day. Amen.

Help your children hear God. You might choose scripture, but for me music is often the key. I’m not recommending against scripture, but nothing sticks in my head like music. After we sing an anthem in church, I catch myself humming bits and pieces throughout the week. Often, this is what I need when I’m troubled. Here are a few pieces I’ve previously posted here on PrayPower – Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place,  Open My Eyes that I May See, and Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart.

None of these things will magically fix what is wrong in this world, but these are all things that will bring your children closer to their families and to God. This will give them a source of strength to draw on when bad times come or when someone else needs to be held up in prayer.

–SueBE

I’ve become resigned to it: We’re never gonna figure it out. Not while we’re here on earth, anyway. How does anyone make sense of tragedies, senseless deaths, injustice? There are those who would say it’s a matter of perspective; squint your eyes and look sideways and you’ll see God’s hand in everything.

Balderdash.

No one is enlightened enough to look at 9/11 (for instance) and see God’s hand, unless the God you worship is the sometimes-bully of the Old Testament, obsessed with smiting, drowning rain, and turning people into pillars of salt for looking over their shoulders. No all-loving and all-merciful God wants people to hurt.

I prefer to believe that when bad things happen, God grieves with us and sends us strength to keep going. Maybe someday, if I’m lucky enough to join Him in Paradise, I’ll see a bigger picture.

But for now, I do believe in tragedy. I do, I do, I do.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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