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Mother Emanuel Church

On the day before, he’d felt that his life wasn’t going the way he’d hoped. He might have thought of getting his GED or enrolling in trade school.

On the day before, he was just another kid with an ill-advised haircut. Most of his free time was spent surfing the net, looking for something he couldn’t quite name.

In another version of this day, he might have found a supportive mentor. A teacher from his youth who suggested a project to help the community, or a friend who offered him a job.

But on this day, his life took a terribly wrong turn. Dylann Roof brought a gun into a church and killed nine cherished children of God at a prayer meeting. The whole world cried out in pain upon hearing of this senseless tragedy.

What happened next was astounding. On the very next day, victims’ family members addressed him directly and said they’d forgiven him and were praying for him.

Now he’s entered into the public consciousness as a perpetrator instead of a person. It’s possible that with education and encouragement, he might have gone down a different path, using his own sense of disenfranchisement to help others in similar situations.

If only he had felt that his life had meaning on the day before. If only he’d known that no one else stands in the way of the life he’d hoped to achieve. If only he’d known that God’s grace extends into the hardest of hearts on the darkest of days.

Now, on this day, may we take comfort in the words of this wise sage, and come together to heal as a nation.

“We ask questions, Lord, we ask why… But even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death….we can look through the windows of our faith and see hope and light, and we can hear your voice Lord, saying, I’m with you.”

Rev. John H. Gillison, Emanuel AME Church

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Thy will“When you go home, pray and ask God to send us the right person for the job.  We need someone who…”

It wasn’t surprising that I tuned out the supposed requirements for our latest job opening. Our committee chair had one notion, which I lovingly called our comfort zone. I was pretty sure we needed something new. But without a clear sign, aka a burning bush, I wasn’t going to speak up. Maybe the something new was my desire and not God’s.

Because of this uncertainty, I prayed but not quite as directed.

“Lord, take us where you would have us go.  And, since I’m not sure where that is just yet, please send us the person who will point the way. Not my will, but thy will, Lord.”

We went through applications and more applications.  Today, I can’t tell you the number. I’ve blanked it out, but it was well over 100.  There were a number of comfort zone candidates, none of whom felt right.  There were also a number that would yank us right out of that comfort zone if I could get any of them past the committee chair.

The reality was that I was on the hiring committee for a reason.  I’m stubborn.  Really, really stubborn.  And more than a tiny bit outspoken.  I was there to counteract another strong personality, but I wasn’t going to argue without reason and none of these candidates spoke to me.

Until one did.  The funny thing was that this candidate wasn’t anyone’s first choice, but we all felt drawn to his application.  And that worried me.  It screamed comfort zone.  Had I been completely and totally off base about what we needed in a candidate?

Yet, we all agreed and for a committee as varied as ours to all be drawn to the same person, that spoke volumes. The committee loved the candidate.  The congregation did too.  When we hired him, he said that he wouldn’t make any changes for at least 6 months because he needed to see how things worked. The comfort zone people sighed in relief.

It wasn’t until a few months after we hired him that he said something that snapped my head around.  “I know you’ve never done this before, but I feel compelled to suggest…”

God had found the perfect person for the job.  He came from within our comfort zone but he was just as comfortable looking beyond it.

When I think about it, this prayer makes me shiver because truly I love my comfort zone even when I know it’s time to step out.

“Lord, take us where you would have us go. Not my will, but thy will, Lord.”

–SueBE

Grace the no fault state

 

Sometimes I wonder if self-awareness is actually a gift. Sure, it separates us from the beasts of the field, but it also adds hours of stress that can take years off of your life.

Yesterday, some challenges arose, so I marinated, stewed, and pressure-cooked my psyche about what’s going on in my life. Well the reason my son has that issue – still! – is because I was toofill in the blank, lenient, strict, emotional, sick, pre-occupied – to be a good mother all the time.

I blamed myself in my head for things in general. Finally I realized God is the one who made my son who he is, and there’s no way in the world I would ever, EVER have the gall to blame God for our troubles.

So why do I continue to throw acid at myself in this way? I wouldn’t do it to God, who created me as well, so where do I get off criticizing this child of God? Who just happens to be me.

I read an article about divorce and the fact that certain states are considered “no-fault” when it comes to ending a marriage.

In truth, the only real, bona fide no-fault state is this one:

Grace.

God’s in charge of everything we see, and things we can’t see, like gravity, atoms, uh… Spanx. You know, all of it. Things we hide – and that hide our figure flaws. Our past, secret dreams we harbor but tell no one, “morning face.” These things are no secret to God.

If God decided that your son should have flat feet… poof! Or maybe, splat! It will be so.

If God decided that you should have “child-bearing hips”… poof! (Better give that a double whammy) Poof, poof! Perhaps even, bada-boom, bada-bing! You – like me – will be, shall we say, wide in the ride. (I just made that one up! Hope it becomes a thing. Looking at you, social media!)

If God made you and your children, there is no reason to question why things are so. Of course, you should try to improve the things you can improve. But blame doesn’t make things better.

Give yourself a break. You weren’t put on this planet to obsess over things you can’t change right now, if at all. You were meant to find the joy in the journey. Take a deep breath, step back, and release the Impossible, the Unsolvable, the Ugly-Cry-Dramas into God’s hands. It’s like an instant Disaster Relief Program, coming to your aid. Living in the state of grace is like finding your way back home again.

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)

clock

 

“We live in the midst of alarms; anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read.”
― Abraham Lincoln

When I moved into my humble home some twenty years ago, the previous owners had cleared out all of their belongings except for a clock over the refrigerator. It doesn’t keep time properly and I wanted to get rid of it, but the cord had been built into the trim in the kitchen. So if I want to get rid of the clock, I’d have to take apart the kitchen molding. I kept thinking I’d eventually take care of it when we renovated the kitchen, but that didn’t happen. Meanwhile, that clock has been running all these years, showing the wrong time.

Sometimes I’d look at that clock and it would loom large over my head, even though it’s a small object. It would bother me that I couldn’t get rid of the darn thing. That would lead me to worry about all the other little annoying things in need of repair around the house. Before I knew it, I’d spent hours thinking of things I couldn’t resolve and it had left me in an agitated state. Certainly not in a place of peace.

So often, we wear ourselves out working on things that don’t serve us. The way I see it, anxiety is a full-time job for most of us. It’s like running in place. We expend a lot of energy and end up getting nowhere.

In a previous post, I wrote about a spiritual writer named Bhagavan Das, who said, “Worrying is praying for what you don’t want.”

In a spiritual sense, prayer is a panacea. It covers everything and opens the door to God’s grace when a situation has been concerning you.

But on a practical level, I believe that prayer is a team effort. A two-part process.  We ask, then we act. If there’s a goal that’s important to us, we know God gave us two feet for a reason: to walk toward it, and to the best of our ability, to get it done.

Maybe it’s actually three parts, now that I think about it. The last part is the hardest. It’s… letting go.

Once we’ve prayed about a problem and done everything we can to make it better, that’s when it’s time to release it into God’s hands. Ask for what you want. Act to make it happen. The only thing left to do is to release it and send it on its way with a hearty, heartfelt: Amen.

Catch and Release Picture

 

Some time ago, I had surgery to correct an eye condition called “macular hole.” The other day, I got myself worked up into a lather about it, wishing I’d never had it done. Sure, there had been a big black hole in my vision, but it was in the upper left part, so I could see under it. It was distracting, and I wanted it gone, but there’s no way I would have had the surgery if I thought it would take away my ability to see the world at all with that eye.

For years, I accepted the surgeon’s explanation that my eye just didn’t heal properly. So the onus, in a way, was on me. Not the doctor’s fault. Just bad luck, is all!

But on this day, I re-hashed this bad experience in my mind and couldn’t stop the re-wind button. Then I thought of some words… something I remembered vaguely, in the back of my brain. Some poet had written it…

“Nothing happens but that which God allows….”

Oh! It was me. I wrote that poem a few years ago. I had to look it up on my own blog to get the words right. And then I read it and thought, is this true? Why don’t I feel it in this case? Why do I get so worked up about this and why I can’t get any peace around it?

Nothing happens to you but that which God allows. And if God allows it, there must be a reason for it. And if there’s a reason for it, it must mean you’ll learn something from it.

PS God does send you more than you can bear. That’s how you learn to bear more.

There are some things that just have to live in the limbo of your psyche. That place you label “unresolved.” Things that don’t end with “and they all lived happily ever after.” More like, “happily never after.”

When you let yourself dwell on it for too long, you really steal from yourself. You snatch away time that might be filled with joy. With moments of repose. With sitting, knitting, next to a kitten. With blessings and beignets. With tea and scones with a true-blue friend. With peace and prayer, stillness and serenity.

You might find yourself thinking, this has really got hold of me. But actually… you’ve got hold of it. You’re gripping it, griping about it, letting it seep into your soul.

The answer – even though nobody likes to hear it – is: there is no answer. I know it’s not the spiritually satisfying solution you want to hear. But no matter how much it irks you, works you, sticks you or pricks you…. The only way to live in the present tense is to catch and release. As hard as it is to do, it’s a critical key to being finally free.

Just like the song says. Let it go.

Concrete Jungle Picture

 

The other day, a friend said she was going to a therapist because she was feeling stressed and depressed. When she told her boyfriend about it, he said, “okay,” and started to talk about how his day had been.

She was annoyed, as she felt that he should have asked, “What’s going on, honey?  Can I do anything to make it better?”

But oftentimes, when men and women talk about a problem, we’re not even speaking the same language.

We’re talking about emotions. They’re thinking about solutions.

In a way, I told my friend, you should take it as a compliment. You told him there’s an issue, and he’s assuming you can handle it, so he’s respecting your ability to deal with it and tackle it head on. He knows that if you need him to do more, you’ll tell him.

But we don’t usually do that. As women, we think, you should know how I feel. You should provide the emotional support that anyone with a heart would know is needed right now. As men, they think, I’m not a mind reader and I won’t do you the disservice of assuming you can’t address your own issues. If you need something else from me, I’ll count on you to put it into words and tell me.

Maybe men really are from Mars, and women from Venus! Sometimes it seems we can’t hear each other at all.

I’m grateful that this language barrier doesn’t apply to our prayers. God not only understands all languages, he can interpret your silence as well. He knows what’s on the heart even if you say nothing at all. He also knows that if you say so much that you’re out of breath, you might be missing the point of grace.

Last night, I prayed in such great detail about what I hoped for my son’s life that I realized something. I can’t ask God to give Cole a customized life according to MY specifications. I have to let that idea go. Sure, I’d like to live in a small town by a lake, but my son would be just as happy in the concrete jungle sitting by the Hudson River. I’d like him to go to college near home, but he’d probably like to branch out on his own out of state and have some independence.

I decided to pray for a life that made him smile every day and sleep like a baby every night. It’s not perfect, but Providence is. So I’ll let my son – and our Silent Partner – fill in the blanks together.

Confession: I’ve never been “big” on shoes. (I picture well-shod women everywhere gasping.) Shoes are utilitarian things to me; as a child, I couldn’t wait for school to be over so I could shed the clunky things. And growing up in sunny Southern California, shoelessness was not only acceptable but common. As a result, I developed a lazy walk, an easy stride, knowing the ground beneath me would always be warm and dry. Then I went off to college in Indiana.

Walking on ice and snow was a disaster for me. I fell constantly, my legs sliding out from under me in a flail of limbs that led to bruised tailbones and broken toes. I simply could not figure out how to navigate slick surfaces. I watched my friends. They walked more deliberately than I did, with a purpose. Growing up in the Midwest had informed their walking style. Dumb little sunbunnies like me were left behind.

Eventually I discovered how to pick my way through snow and ice. I had to, living in Kansas. I make my steps firm, a march-step. To make up for my shorter strides, I tell myself to keep moving. March, march!

So it is in our spiritual lives. When all is going well, we breeze along, shoeless and happy. But when metaphoric snow and ice befall us, we can easily slip and fall. We are not prepared. Sometimes it takes everything in us to keep ourselves marching along.

How can we find traction in perilous spiritual moments? In faith as in walking, it requires mindfulness. We cannot blindly shuffle through our day. Every movement, every moment, must be deliberate, focused on the one who sustains us, who keeps us upright: God.

That is not to say that we don’t need to be mindful when all is well. We should. But when the chips are down and the way gets treacherous, constant reliance on God may be the only thing that can keep us moving. God, help me get out of bed. God, help me at work. God, help me not to break down right now.

In many recovery groups there’s a saying about taking things one day at a time. However, sometimes a day can seem too long. I prefer, at times like these, to think about taking it one STEP at a time. And with every step, keep God in mind. God will carry you through. Now take the next step. March, march!

Path

My teen-age son has really struggled with exhaustion and health issues that have led him to be late for school quite a bit, even missing some days altogether. As you can imagine, mornings in our house can become rather, well… heated.

I ask him to wake up and he tries, but falls back to sleep. I come in again and again, each time with the same result. The bus goes by and I silently seethe. Late again. Yesterday, I blew my top and started yelling. The cat high-tailed it down the hall, ready to flee the danger zone.

Still tight, I went to another room to pray, hoping it would calm me down. I asked for Cole’s Yes Life to begin. Each morning, when I’d go in to wake him, it felt like I was part of the No Life.

Getting stressed, waking him up and being tense at him.

I prayed directly to God. “Lord, I can’t take these mornings anymore,” and I felt in my mind, No More! But on my heart, I saw the words Know More.

And it came to me, clearly.

Know that you can’t “No” your way to “Yes.” You can’t come in and rant to wake up your son and hope he has a good day. This is where the good day has to begin.

I prayed for him to have his Yes Life now: his music and friends and blessings. A life of his choosing. His own path. Every good thing.

And I wondered how long it would be my responsibility to make life work for him. I prayed, “When does a child’s life transition to him? When do they get to decide things for themselves and blaze their own trail using a map of their own making?”

I assume it is when they have the life-skills and work-ethic they need to get a job, pay the bills. Just generally take care of it all. But there’s also something else. Something that lights you up from the inside. Makes life meaningful. Connects you to your community (of musicians, or Christians, or people who like Lego) and lifts your spirits.

For me, it’s my faith and perpetual prayer. For you, it’s the zhoozh that sparks your soul. It’s something everyone must find for themselves.

So for now, I pray for answers and trust the God who posed the question. When there isn’t a clear-cut solution to an ongoing problem, bring as much “yes” as you can to the “no” in your life. Keep pushing on, and you’ll get through it.

When my son was in grade school, a teacher wrote two words on the board: “Boisterous” and “Timid.” She told the class that these are the two personality types, and went around the class, saying “Boisterous” or “Timid,” as she pointed at the students. This really frosted my cupcake, and I was about to call that teacher and give her a piece of my ever-loving mind.

But I had to cool my jets as I realized that my son and the other students weren’t bothered by this teacher. “That’s just how she is, Ma.” And I realized that maybe he had learned something. Adults don’t always have their facts straight, and you can’t let someone else’s opinion diminish you.

It was clear that he also knew that the teacher was a “personality type” as well. She was a bit flaky, went off on tangents and was sometimes in her own world. Wow. People like that! Ha ha! Oh wait. I’m like that, too.

It was also a teachable moment for me. I was about to step in, as I’ve always done, to protect my son’s precious psyche. Well, he didn’t need me to charge in like the cavalry then, and he surely doesn’t need it today, at sixteen years old. He’s a young man now.

I’ve been so used to being my son’s advocate that I forgot something. He’s already out there in the world. He sees how it is. By trying to “protect” him, I’m impeding his ability to navigate the world in his own way.

The best thing I can do is keep him covered in plentiful prayer, and trust that I raised him well enough to make the right choices in life. Stepping back is never easy for a parent, but it’s the only way our kids will be able to step up and walk the path on their own terms. My son’s not a boy anymore. It’s about time for me to get out the way and let the man through.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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