Do You Wonder As You Wander?

“Outside almost any door, miracles abound. Yet do we stop and recognize them, capture them, embrace them, celebrate them? Or do we just
plow through, getting to the next dot on our connect-the-dots calendar?” Laurie Beth Jones

When I read this, I found the first sentence hard to believe. I find miracles in many things, sure. The sun dipping into the ocean during a
sunset leaves me speechless, for instance.
The sweet and unique fragrance of a mighty magnolia makes me stop whatever I’m doing outside and take notice. A centuries-old oak tree with its huge trunk and craggily branches spreading far and wide against a blue sky makes me think about its strength and history, but everyday life…most of the time I’m just trying to get through it.

Summer is here, finally. I adore spring and summer for not only are the days longer, but the fruit and vegetables are scrumptious. Recently, I had the best corn-on-the-cob I’ve had in a year. Sinking my teeth into the cob, its little kernels popped with juiciness. We cut a fresh pineapple today and its fruit was alive with sweetness. Summer with all its bounty is enjoyable and welcomed, but it brings with it drought, both literally and figuratively.

I’m in education, so all means of employment stops or dwindles to a slow, steady drip. Looking for other work requires joining the ranks of fellow high-schoolers, which is degrading on two counts: salary and the age gap. Time on my hands brings boredom and boredom brings a robotic movement through life, pausing only for summer events, like vacations and family get-togethers. Every day is a sort of Groundhog Day, with one day oozing into the next and the next. There’s no wonder in any of this only low expectations.

So maybe I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, for I come from a long line of glass-half-empties, but seeing each day with hope and wonder seems impossible. “You should be grateful,” you’re probably saying, and I am. I’m grateful for my health—extremely grateful. I’m grateful for the people who love me, and I’m grateful for my Lord, who keeps me in His embrace when life squeezes too hard, but to see wonder or miracles in the everyday? That’s a tough one.

So how do you do it? How do you see wonder in your daily life?

“Doubt” Gives Way to Truth in a Marriage

We sat and watched “Doubt” last night. In case you haven’t seen it, it involves a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is wrongly or rightly accused by a nun (Meryl Streep) of an impropriety with an altar boy. In the movie, Father Flynn (Hoffman) gives one of two short sermons, during mass. The second one is about a parishioner, who is having trouble with a gossipy tongue. Likewise, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) gossips with Sister James about a doubt she has about Father Flynn. Together they blame him for something they think he may have done.  The doubt grows and festers and eventually takes over the life of Sister Aloysius. She simply can’t quiet the doubt until it brings the results she wants.

Doubt, gossiping, blame: those are some interesting bed fellows, aren’t they? They have wreaked havoc in my own life and marriage. I have doubted my husband and his love for me. I have talked over this doubt with others. I have strung the pieces of doubt together, like a poorly-made garment, called them facts, and then blamed him. The doubt took over my life as well, causing sleepless nights, and depression. During this period of ugliness, our marriage suffered, and my husband suffered. He took my blame on the chin and never retaliated, which is his nature. Then it occurred to me, “Perhaps, I am partly to blame.”

In a poignant scene, Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius were in a similar situation. He asked her if she had ever done anything of which she was ashamed and if she had asked for forgiveness. She said that she had. He responded with guarded enthusiasm that this made them the same. She said that it did not and continued with her campaign against him. Some marriages can play out like this with one giving into the lure of self-righteousness at all costs. Sometimes the cost is high.

The relationship doctor, Dr. David B. Hawkins, speaks to this in a letter entitled, “The Futility of Blame.” In the letter, there is an email from someone whose marriage was torn apart by blame and how the husband wisely chose to step away from the battlefield. Like him, I have made the same choice. I no longer share with others the ups and downs of our marriage and I have given blame a rest. Today, our marriage is better. There are still problems and, occasionally, Doubt will come pounding at my back door. Instead of letting him in, however, I don’t answer and trust that my Savior will fight those battles.  God is love, afterall, and who among us is better at creating and mending love than He? No one.

Are You Good?

I weighed in on a discussion online with a mom, who was choosing to raise her daughter without the influence of the church. She, along with her husband, had been hurt by religion and chose to reject that path for their family. They were basically good people, she said, and could adequately teach their child right from wrong or how to be good. But can they? I’m not saying that this couple isn’t nice. I’m sure they are nice law-abiding people, but are they good?

As I read the comments from others about this topic, many admitted also to being good and that they didn’t need God or the church and were going to let their children grow up and choose a faith on their own…or not. Their reasons were that they had been hurt by religion and, as a result, had either chosen no faith at all or had chosen something like agnosticism. Many encouraged this young mother to keep her daughter away from the church and choose, instead, another community, like a mom’s group of some kind, say one that meets at a park regularly.

I know that this is the way of contemporary society and I think it’s sad. There are countless people who have been hurt by religion, I was one of them. My parents used religion to discipline, invoke fear, and squelch self-expression. Too, I once worked for a Christian company and was betrayed by the same people who said that they “loved” me. But, you know what? I now know that that is NOT who God is.

For me, God is loving and forgiving prone to jealousy, yes, but always has my best interest in mind. This doesn’t mean that I will not face hardships or that people I love will not face hardships, like death, addiction, divorce, betrayal, but it does mean that God is there waiting for me, always, to come to Him, abide with Him, and seek comfort in His care. It’s not an easy relationship, and it’s confusing, and it’s often not what I want, but it’s reliable and steady.

I think I’m a good person. I volunteer, I give to charity, I tithe, I obey the laws, but that’s probably a few hours out of my week. What about the rest of the time? The rest of the time I have, on occasions, been spiteful and mean to the people close to me. I have rejected those who needed my friendship. I’ve succumbed to road rage. I have lusted and have wanted to leave a loving environment to “find myself,” I mean, come on people, are we really THAT good. No, we’re not and we can’t possible teach another how to be good, especially a young, impressionable child.

The BEST that we can do is to teach a child in the ways of his Creator, to teach him or her about His church and its people, and pray for forgiveness for the rest. Without that, what do we have to offer our children…really?

Live Like You Are Small

Occasionally, I have the opportunity to substitute teach in the public school system. One day I was standing at the door greeting the children and one precious little 2nd grade girl with strawberry curls looked up at me and said, “I like your clothes, and your belt, and your necklace, and your (painted) toes, oh, and your eyes.” I blushed a little, smiled and thanked her, then began my day.

I thought about that little girl later and how loving she was and without any apologies. Then, I thought, she, along with her classmates, will grow up. They’ll grow up, become adults, and look the other way when they see you coming down the hall, just to avoid speaking. They’ll talk to everyone at their table but you. At a lunch outing, you’ll share with one of your “close” friends an intimate moment about your life—a struggle you’re having—because that was the topic of the day and then you won’t hear from her for months. All attempts to email or make additional lunch plans return to you void. Sometimes, they’ll profess their admiration for you and how much you mean to them and how glad they are that you are friends, and then they’ll never write or keep in touch. All attempts to stay connected are up to you.

Like the little girl in curls, I’ve had similar encounters with boys. They don’t really notice the appearance thing, but they will hang around my desk. They’ll ask me if they can help with anything (on a good day), tell me stories about their weekend, each competing with their buddy to tell the better story, ask me to come and see something they have built with blocks or Legos, ask me to help settle an argument between friends, and so on. Then they grow up.

They grow up and become men. They become men who will also profess their love and adoration for you, and then never call or come by again. They will do something nice for you, without being asked, but then will point to their “selfless” act later and want recognition for it. They’ll offer to do housework, which will spark much pride and love in your heart as you see them vacuuming or washing the dishes, only to find out later that they forgot your birthday.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had many cherished moments with adults, but what if we could love like little children. What if we could walk up to anyone and say, without apologies or wanting the compliment returned, “I like your voice, your eyes, your concern for others,” etc. What if the men in our lives would tell us something intimate about their own life and without shame? What if they would ask to help with housework not because they want a “trophy” for it or because of guilt, but simply because they love us?

I think that is why Jesus loves the little children, because their hearts are big and full of love. They trust without suspicion, they’re curious and full of wonder at the world around them, they’re eager to help with anything or to lend a comforting pat when we are sad.  They’re truly interested in us and our lives. What if we all would take a cue from them? How much better our lives would be if we would live like we are small.

City on the Go, But Is It Going Too Fast?

I’ve lived in the suburbs my whole life, but I’ve always been close to the city. I love the city. I love the many things it offers and don’t often mind its obvious faults. Unlike the suburbs or the country, the city is honest. It’s bare with its beauty and splendor in the form of manicured parks and streets and with its massive buildings almost breathing at night with their twinkling lights, but it is also raw in the form of crime. It is home to places you wouldn’t dare visit alone and places where one suddenly finds God, if caught on a dark and seedy street, after a wrong turn. And the city has, of course, its homeless. Individuals both young and old, who look at us through dark and hollow eyes. Eyes that tell us that life has beaten them down and that whisper a chilling connection to us. A connection that tells us we have managed to avoid the shipwreck that life can bring…for now. But I still love the city and, in my opinion, the busier, the bigger, the better.

However, I think I may have lost something by living here. I went to a wedding celebration recently. The bride is a long-time friend of mine. This was her second marriage, after a troubled first marriage. The guy she married she had reconnected with on Facebook. It turned out that I knew him from college, so this was quite the event for us both. The wedding was a small, private one and the celebration took place in the rural outskirts of town. The destination included a beautiful, 45-minute drive through open countryside. The houses along the way boasted three and four acres of land along “busy” streets. When we arrived, I waded through the large crowd (about 50 people had already come and gone, I was told) to find and hug the new couple. There was much laughter and tears of joy as the bride re-introduced me to the long-lost friend from college.

After touring her new home, nestled among trees alive with deer, raccoons, and squirrels and whose property rested its edges along a small creek, I found a plate, filled it with chicken wings, crackers and dip, chips and salsa, and found my way to a corner…near the cake table. While standing there, enjoying my food and wondering if I should try two slices from two cakes or merely a small slice of one, I became aware of conversations going on around me. They went something like, “Now, are we still doing lunch on Tuesday?” and “I think we’re going to catch a movie Friday night, can you join us?” and “Are you coming to game night?” It occurred to me later that when one lives in a rural area, the entertainment becomes the company of others, rather than, say, a day alone shopping in the city.

This is not to say that I don’t get together with friends, but it takes real effort on both our parts for it to occur. For example, I had a lunch date this past weekend with a friend of mine that we have been planning since September. On another occasion recently, I offered a get-together which would have included 12 people but only 5 showed. Even my own family, all of us born near the city, of course, prefers busy-ness over a face to face. In stark contrast, my husband’s family–all from the country–is usually eager to gather for a meal and to visit one another, even if it is mostly watching TV.

I still love and enjoy the city and would feel like an alien or, rather, more of an alien, if I had to move too far from its cold yet ample arms. However, I miss the warmness that real friendship can bring–friendships that seem to flourish in the wheat fields and rolling hills of the South’s rural areas.

Bout with Laryngitis Could Lead to Clearer Voice for Future

October was a difficult month. It started with laryngitis, which led to a sinus infection, which led to a fever, which led to a stomach bug, which limped across the finish line with chest congestion and an overall bad feeling. I remained upright, for the most part, but didn’t want to be. Every chair I passed or every bench I passed—park or otherwise—called to me, like some tortuous siren to come sit or lay down for a spell.

Although long, the sickness was, if I may be trite, a blessing in disguise. I found myself reevaluating my days and doing only what was absolutely necessary. There are many activities in my life that I have volunteered for, but I quickly learned to tell those in expectation, “Not this week.” If it was a daily personal undertaking that I felt an urgency to do for reasons known only to me and not even sure why the reasons were there, I began to ask myself, “why do I feel this thing is so important?” and would, consequently, skip it for that day…and the next…and the next.

Even church and choir attendance fell down on the list of things I felt I must do and I began to give even those activities a second look. I don’t often enjoy church. It’s big and relatively unfriendly. Sure, people talk to me and we are usually glad to see each other on Sundays, but the majority of people I know, know me only as, “Hi” rather than by my real name. This isn’t entirely their fault, of course. I could do more to change this reality, but it would require work. It would require more involvement, joining small groups, getting involved in small ministry projects, and so on. Just writing what I need to be doing makes me sigh with stress much less stepping out and actually doing it.

I haven’t enjoyed choir…well…maybe never. Again, it is large and relatively unfriendly. It has been a good day in choir practice if I strike up a conversation that is longer than 3 seconds. Again, this is not the fault of the choir, but my own. I could do more. I could…well you get the picture. I have a background in music, so music is quite important to me, but our choir director, although an amazing spiritual leader, has led for so many years, I think, that his enthusiasm for music and directing has waned. Over a 2 hour rehearsal, for example, he will talk an hour of it or read something to us or tell us, at length, about a new spiritual book he is reading. Meanwhile, I’m sitting there, as are the rest of us, waiting to either (a) sing or (b) go home, both of which are long in coming.

So now that I am better where does this leave me? I have felt powerful, in a way, telling people no and skipping church, choir rehearsal, and the other “necessary” activities of my life. It’s almost been like storing junk. I have piled and piled these things in my life and turn around one day, during an illness, and realize how much energy I have been spending on things I don’t enjoy. So, do I quit church for awhile or do I ignore the fact that I’m going through the motions mostly for others and keep attending and keep doing?

More than likely I will keep attending, because of commitments I made at the beginning of this year, but next year, say September of 2010, I anticipate change. Those things that I do in my personal time that I have somehow, over time, felt necessary I will scale back and try and not add anything new that is not somewhat enjoyable and heart renewing.

 

What about you? Have you scaled back and if so how? What was the result? I would love to hear about your personal “fall cleaning.”

An Inward Look, An Outward Expression

There is a radio program here that I enjoy listening to in the evenings called “Delilah.” It is a program geared towards love and relationships and plays “sappy love songs” (think BeeGees) until your heart’s content. During the program, Delilah will take callers. Being of the “my dirty laundry is my own” persuasion I am amazed at the callers’ candidness and of Delilah’s graciousness at pointing out, in some cases, the caller’s contribution to the failure of the marriage or relationship.

 

To wrap up, she will usually leave the listeners with some positive message and encouragement. On one particular evening, she challenged her listeners to perform a random act of kindness for someone the next day. She suggested pumping gas for an elderly person, helping a busy mom load groceries in her car, allowing someone to go in front of you in a long line at a fast food or grocery, and so on.

 

The challenge really made me think about my own contribution to the greater good. Delilah often speaks of God’s love (imagine that coming across liberal airwaves, but it does, just the same) and how we can be comforted by it and should share it with others. Jesus’ life and death is the epitome of showing love for others. Jesus did not have the Internet or a cell phone or a TV or a newspaper or any of the other thousands of distractions we have that draw us inward, but even if he did I still think he would have made others his focus.

 

Say he was in the middle of performing a miracle, like healing the lame or forgiving a woman of her sins and his cell phone rang, I doubt that he would have stopped suddenly and said, “I’m sorry, I have to take this.” If he was answering important questions from his disciples or from the many who followed him, I doubt he would have paused and said, “Let me Google that and get back with you.” No, he would have quickly consulted his heavenly Father, as always, and then spoke to the people from his heart.

 

I’m as guilty as the next person for not reaching out and showing love to others. As we become more and more crowded as a nation and as society’s demands to stay ahead increase in intensity, “circling the wagons” and keeping my personal contacts only at my fingertips has tremendous appeal. I would challenge us, though, to live the life Christ set before us, placing people and relationships first.

 

This would mean, turning off our cell phones while we’re on an outing or at a restaurant with family or friends. It would mean picking up the phone and calling a friend that needs to hear from you. It would mean handwriting a letter to show your interest and that you took time for the recipient. It would mean giving your undivided attention to the overworked retail person who’s trying to assist you. And it would mean walking out of your home and shaking the hands of mailmen and, yes, garbage men who service your street each day. These are just a few; there are thousands of other ways we could show love and appreciation for the human race.

 

We’re all in this together after all. The “bear in the boardroom,” the lady at the tollbooth and everyone in between want the same thing: something that will make their lives better, sharper, clearer. Google can’t provide this for us and neither can that last minute email or cellphone call. But an outward expression of kindness towards others may be part of the healing balm for which we search. Christ knew this, Delilah knows this, isn’t it time we learned?