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Love’s the Perspective that Matters

Talking to my kids on a cell phone for moments before they took me for a cath, immediately following my heart attack, has changed my perspective. Things that mattered to me don’t.

Even if someone close to you does something that is stupid and out of line, is it worth getting angry about? Can it be fixed? Is there permanent damage? If you had a deathbed conversation with this person, the last you would ever have, would you talk about it?

If no one was hurt, it can be fixed easily, and you wouldn’t bring it up in a deathbed conversation, maybe it’s just time to let it go. If injustice was done, ask God to fix it.

The sooner you let it go, the sooner it no longer has power over you. And then you can enjoy the here, the now, and the gift of today’s joys.

If something terrible happens, where we see evil that happens in our world, it can also be a reminder to us to show our love for those with whom we are close.

Faith, hope, and love — the greatest of these is love.

The 7 Days of an Angry Irish Prayer

Yes, I have an Irish temper, which is most profound when roused in defense of those I love.

When that happens, I have the most interesting chats with God, all attuned to my wanting to fix the problem now and be the instrument of divine vengeance against the oppressor. A timeline of my prayers as I wrestle….

Day 1: God, I can’t frickin’ believe it! How could you let something like this happen? Please restrain me before I march myself over there and say exactly what I think and give that jerk a punch in the gut.

Day 2: God, I trust in your divine judging and timing. My only request is that you let the true colors of that no good such and so show themselves and that good people get protected from the likes of him. I’m still ready, willing, and able to be the instrument of your justice. Give me a sign, and I’ll go stop it. I’m thinking to the tune of peanut butter jelly time – “Mary Biever justice time, Mary Biever justice time. Mary Biever justice and a baseball bat.”

Day 3: Thank you Lord for restraining my Irish temper. I no longer want to punch him in the boxing ring, but I can use my words instead. Written words. I’ve written a first draft of just what to say and send. Let me know if it’s ok.

Day 4: Are you there, God? It’s me, Mary. The one who told you about that problem and the bully who needs to be stopped and the innocent victim who needs to be protected. What time frame are you on? I’m waiting….

Day 5: Lord, this is wearing on me. Show me the path you want me to take. How do you want me to handle it? The bully’s still at it. Is it time now?

Day 6: God, this whole problem is horribly frustrating. Can you show me some way – any way – that a situation like this can be used for good purpose? I just don’t see it.

Day 7: God. What? Are you talking to me? What is that? You say you’re going to handle this your way? I gave it to you, and now I need to give it to you? And I need to remove this problem from my head and think about the people I’m supposed to care for – as in my family? Are you sure? Well, if you say so….

And with that answer, I resolved to let go of the problem and trust that God will handle it better than I ever could.

As each hour passed, I felt as though the weight of this terrible problem was gradually being taken from my shoulders. For the first time in a week, I could breathe.

So I guess you could say – on the 7th day, I rested.

 

For the Guys Who Get the Glasses

Tonight in church, the pianist started to play before the service began. That’s when I saw the unseen action few will ever know.

Her husband quietly walked up behind her and set her reading glasses beside her. She had apparently left without having them, and he went back to the car to get them for her.

She put them on, and I doubt 2 other people noticed the exchange.

The first reason I noticed is  because of my own relationship with my reading glasses because I’m determined that I’m too young for bifocals. Sometimes I forget them, and things become a struggle.

The second is a hat tip salute to all the guys who get the glasses and behind the scenes people who make things work seamlessly. We often praise the performer, the person who is front center stage. But we may forget the person who build the stage, who cleans the stage, and who manages the money so the organization stays afloat. Their roles are all vital.

And I know how many times my own bacon has been saved by my husband. He’s found my reading glasses, found my keys, and help me find my way home when I’ve been hopelessly lost.

So the next time you go somewhere, look for the guys who get the glasses, who prepare the programs, and who do the thousands of behind the scenes things we all enjoy but sometimes forget to appreciate. And thank them.

When Rudolph Quit Playing the Reindeer Games

Another version of Rudolph’s story.

When Rudolph was little, he wasn’t very good at the other reindeer games. Dasher was the star, the leader. He took poor Rudolph in and told him, “You don’t have what it takes, but do what I say, and I’ll take care of you.”

So for a long time, Rudolph stumbled through the games, following Dasher’s lead. He was grateful to Dasher and would do whatever Dasher needed.

Even as he tried, Rudolph continued to fail at the games, and his well-being on the reindeer playground was utterly dependent on Dasher’s benevolence. The other reindeer laughed at Rudolph but tolerated him because of Dasher’s protection.

One day, Rudolph got tired of playing reindeer games. They  bored him, he had never liked them, and he wanted to do something different.

So he didn’t go out to play. Dasher went to him, “Why aren’t you there? You need to get out there. Do you realize how much trouble it is for me to keep you in the game and how much harder it will be when you’re late?”

Rudolph told him, “I quit.”

Dasher pranced angrily. “I didn’t tell you to do that.”

Rudolph continued on his path to do something different.

Then Dasher raced to him and patted him on the head saying, “I understand sometimes we make foolish mistakes. This is yours. If you turn back right now, I’ll forgive you and we’ll make everything well again. I want to help you succeed.”

Rudolph continued walking away.

Dasher bounded in front of him, trying to get Rudolph back into the game.

Rudolph went his own way.

Once Rudolph was on his own, he began to play games with his red nose – how to make it light, how to direct the light, and how to play his own games with it. He taught himself to fly with his red nose flashing.

All was well, and Rudolph was on his own.

One foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came and asked him to lead the reindeer.

When Rudolph went into Santa’s stable, Dasher went to him and told him, “All is forgiven. Rely  on me, and I’ll show you the ropes.”

Rudolph told him, “Thanks. But I’m fine on my own.”

When the sleigh ride began, Rudolph lit his nose, his way. All the games he had played had perfected the skills he needed to save that Christmas.

The question is – if you’re the one with a red nose that’s different from all the other reindeer, what are you doing to nurture your talents?

Your singular talent could be just the one that will one day be needed to save everyone else. It’s the talent you were born to share.

Beyond the Tough Thanksgiving

As I sat in Mass this morning, I reflected on our blessings this year and remembered when times were tougher….

Eleven years ago, we sat together at Mass on Thanksgiving morning, grateful that our burned out home had been rebuilt and we had just moved back into our home. We had only had a refrigerator since that Monday, and we were celebrating our own personal homecoming. Times were still tough; not only our home, but our family business had been hit by the fire.

Then I thought back to a Sunday months before that 2001 Thanksgiving. Our home and business had burned the night before. We knelt that Sunday in the same Church we were in this morning, wearing borrowed clothes, walking in borrowed shoes, unsure of where we would spend the night or how we would provide for our young children.

What do you do when you lose everything, and where do you go?

You slowly rebuild. With hard work, the help of good friends, and the faith of a mustard seed, it is possible to rebuild and start anew. Our faith carried us when we had nothing else upon which to rely. Those young children are now nearly grown. One is in college. The other now stands taller than his father.

On the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, they too gave thanks after their surviving terrible challenges. (Granted, our challenges were nothing compared to theirs.)

Every Thanksgiving morning since our fire, we’ve gone to Mass and I think back and thank God for giving us one. more. year. So long as I am able, we will be there each Thanksgiving morning. Giving thanks is a great way to begin a day of Thanksgiving.

None of us knows what the coming year will bring. It will have its own joys, sorrows, and challenges. Whatever it brings, I know we will not be alone. As Corrie ten Boom once wrote, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

And for that, I am most thankful.

Grocery Cart Giving

Grocery cartsA few years ago, when Aldi’s opened in Evansville, I was having a very bad day one day. As I drove into their parking lot, I prayed for God to send me a sign – any kind of sign – that things would be okay.

Then I went to get my shopping cart. In an effort to curb costs, Aldi’s shoppers pay a quarter for a grocery cart. After they finish shopping and load their groceries into their car, they return the cart to get back their quarters. The carts are kept in shelter, don’t crowd the parking lot, and save the store money in labor and replacement.

That day, a lady handed me a cart she had just used and refused to take my quarter. “Pay it forward,” she told me.

She made my day and filled me with hope.

Since that day, I’ve resolved to pay it forward whenever I shop at Aldi’s.

It seems other people have had the same idea. Yesterday, when I walked into Aldi’s, I saw four different people pay it forward. A lady gave me my cart. Everyone who shared a cart had a special glow – that glow of giving something to a complete stranger. What struck me the most was this was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. That’s a grocery shopping nightmare day of packed aisles, long checkout lanes, and more.

Yes, I paid it forward.

An interesting take-away from this is that with something as trivial as returning a grocery cart, Aldi’s raised the bar in a simple way – if you don’t put your cart back, you lose a quarter. It uses a carrot, not a stick. Their parking lot never has extra carts in it.

They reminded people of that kindergarten lesson: put things back where you found them. An unintended consequence of their raising the bar for customer behavior, I think, is that it has reminded every-day shoppers to take care of themselves and the things they use. And that has inspired many people to reach a little higher – to help strangers.

This year, I am thankful for the continued generosity of the shoppers I saw yesterday morning.

Something as simple as sharing a grocery cart and saving a stranger a quarter can change your day and the stranger’s.

A Modern Mom’s Pilgrim Progress

 

When everyone started posting their daily thankful lists, I felt guilty because I was too busy to participate.

Why is it that the unexpected always happens during weeks when my schedule’s so tight the overlapped seams have no wiggle room?

Yesterday, as I dashed out the door to teach a corporate Excel class on a college campus a 30 minute drive from my home, I accidentally grabbed my husband’s phone instead of my own – and didn’t realize it until I got to the college. Fine – I was teaching for the afternoon and had no time to text.

After the class ended (and it was after dark), a battery light lit on my dashboard. When I looked in the manual, it said it could be the alternator. Great. I talked to Richard and decided to chance driving home – we’ve dealt with dying alternators before. My concern was getting home in the dark, when I had to use headlights. I had a choice of driving through town with stoplights or along country highways, and I opted for the highways with fewer stops.

Halfway down that lone stretch of highway, the check engine light came on. I was out of state, in the middle of nowhere, and even though the lights were on, the car seemed to be driving okay. It only started getting tough when I got in town, in the land of stop lights.

There were a few popping noises, but they stopped, and the car ran fine so long as I didn’t stop; at each red light, I kept one foot on the gas and one on the brake, praying my way home. At times, I put Richard on speaker phone and talked to him about updates and where I was.

Normally, had I had my own phone, I would have spent the entire trip home phoning a friend. But their numbers were all on speed dial, on my phone. In Indiana. So I prayed and drove and rejoiced when I arrived in Evansville and saw an Auto Zone on Covert. It was closer than where I planned to go.

When I pulled in, they agreed to check it. The car died, and they had to jump it to test it; the alternator was going out. They couldn’t install one and I quickly called the Pep Boys to see if they could install a replacement. Pep Boys was 5 miles away, an 11 minute drive. I hoped to avoid a tow charge and could tell the car was struggling harder. I thought it was going to die again when I put it into reverse to leave the store.

Richard pulled up, and I yelled at him where we were going and zoomed out of the parking lot.

When I drive, I seek ways to get places the quickest way possible and have been known to grab side roads to shave seconds off my destination time. Last night, that experience prepared me for finding a  fast way to the store, in the dark, avoiding as many stop signs and stop lights as possible.

As I started and the engine sputtered, I didn’t know if the car would get the entire way there. Richard was driving behind me.

What to do? It wasn’t easy to phone a friend, so I decided to pray one. I have pretty colorful chats with Jesus on a regular basis.

Then I remembered that we give thanks in all circumstances. Next week is Thanksgiving. So as I drove, I began thanking God for the many blessings – even that the car hadn’t broken down the weekend before when we were in two different cities on three different days. It waited until after my class so I could earn money.

The car’s sputtering continued. My prayers often turn into song, so I began “Amazing Grace.” Even singing the verses I knew, there were more miles to go before we got to Pep Boys. So I went to old hymns, with Alleluias galore.

I wasn’t exactly sure where the Pep Boys was and stumbled a little when I got close.  So I asked my guardian angel to show me the way – I had no idea which roads to turn onto and couldn’t afford to make a mistake.

By the grace of God, the car made it to Pep Boys.

It turns out the problem was a little more complicated than just an alternator.

But in this circumstance, I can give thanks that it kept going to the garage, kept going while I was driving in the dark on lonely out-of-state highways, and it happened at a time when we could get it fixed.

Even though I didn’t do the daily thankful posts, I can still appreciate God’s work in my life and thank him for showing me how to make lemonade when the occasional lemon gets thrown in my path.

 

Use the Cards You’re Dealt

This morning, I met with an inspirational genius before I taught a high school speech class designed for local homeschoolers. Meeting him utterly changed my take for the day’s lesson. Our official lesson was an introduction of oral interpretation speeches.

We started by having students write on paper things they couldn’t do. Then I led them outside, where we faced a large cornfield. I carried a trash can with me. Then, I gave an example of a vespers exercise my daughter had adapted from Chicken Soup for the Classroom Soul.

I’d like you to think of something you can’t do. Maybe you can’t sing, or dance, or maybe you’re like me and can’t run, jump, catch, throw, or do a handstand. Now, imagine what would happen if whatever your can’t is exploded. What if we got rid of it right now?

Then I had them throw their papers into the trash can and continued….

Friends, we gather today to honor the memory of ‘I Can’t.’ While he was with us on earth, he touched the lives of everyone, some more than others. His name, unfortunately, has been spoken in every public building – schools, city halls, state capitols, and, yes, even the White House.

We have provided ‘I Can’t’ with a final resting place, and he is survived by his brothers and sister, ‘I Can,’ ‘I Will,’ and ‘I’m Going to Right Away.’ They are not as well-known as their famous deceased relative and are certainly not as strong and powerful yet. Perhaps someday, with your help, they will make an even bigger mark on the world.

May ‘I Can’t’ rest in peace and may everyone present pick up their lives and move forward in his absence.

I continued, handing each student a greeting card face down so they couldn’t see what it said. Some were encouraging. Others were not.

Look at your card. Did you have any control over what card you got?

They said no.

But do you have control over what you do with the card you were given?

They said yes.

So our assignment right now is to shout, in the most dramatic voice possible. Copy me. I control what I do with the cards I am given. Use your biggest, most dramatic voices.

They went down the line and each said, with growing confidence that they controlled what they did with their cards.

We then resumed a class on using dramatic techniques with oral interpretation exercises. My hope after the lesson is that they remember to focus on what they do with their cards and not on their “I can’ts” or the cards they wish they had been dealt instead.

Keeping Your Grumpy Chunks Out of My Great Day Cereal

Have you ever had a great day going when someone in a really bad mood calls you or starts to talk to you? When that happens, do you resolve not to let their bad day impact your great one?

It’s a little like what happens to milk with vinegar. A glass of milk can be cold and refreshing. But if you pour a tablespoon of vinegar into that milk, it begins a chemical process where the milk begins to curdle. Cooks do this when they don’t have buttermilk and need a quick substitute to continue a recipe.

So imagine your great day and good attitude is the glass of milk.  There are some people in this world who are just plain full of vinegar to the point it overflows and they want to share the misery. It’s like they stirred a heaping dose of Grumpy Chunks and Sour Cream into their morning bowl of wheaties. They may not even realize they want to share it.

Your job is to cover your glass of milk when the Vinegar Varmints visit. You can still greet Vinegar Varmints with a smile, but keep your heart covered so when they pour their balsamic concoction, it bounces off the sides of your cup and doesn’t impact your great mood.

If someone throws a rock at you, it can be easy to pick that rock up and throw it back at them – maybe twice as hard. But imagine in the long run if you’re having a great day, someone hits you with a rock, and you suddenly start working to return the slam. The moment you do that, your great day can be lost forever.

Is it not better sometimes if someone throws that rock at you to just keep your milk covered and let it bounce off you and then fall to the ground? I sometimes wonder if that’s what the Biblical admonition to turn the other cheek really means. You determine how much power that grumpy chunk lobbed at you really has.

Mind you – if the Vinegar Varmint lobs the Grumpy Chunk at someone else, it’s perfectly fine to protect and defend others.

But if it’s just a rock that’s thrown, it can sometimes be more effective to think:

Just because you stirred Grumpy Chunks and Sour Cream into your morning Wheaties is no reason for me to let your bad mood ruin my great day.

Moments of Fleeting Grace

We all carry a crazy patched quilt of mixed baggage with us. Some pieces are beautiful.

Others are stark in their horrific tragic moments that shred our hearts into pieces smaller than confetti. Those pieces seem to cover us at times as we struggle to mend the pieces together the best we can. Over time, new pieces are added and the sorrow of those dark patches becomes easier to bear.

As our crazy quilts grow, we sometimes fold the quilt to the most current patches and occasionally forget how dark some of the underneath patches are.

When I remember, I pray for God to take those terrible dark patches and make some good come from them. It can take years or decades to see the answer to those prayers. Sometimes the answers to those prayers are quiet, long drawn, and can be seen in the big picture.

On a very rare occasion, something will happen that brings the dark patch to the front. On an even rarer occasion, what happens is a single, lone Grace-filled moment that captures us by surprise and reminds us that all was not lost in that dark patch.

It’s almost like a single sequin is sewn into a patch that’s so black it seems like a black hole that defies time and space. But the single sequin gleams in the light, reminding us there’s a way out of the darkness.

The moment may stretch into a season. Other times, it’s still that single moment. But it’s a grace moment we can treasure, and remember, that we are not alone in the dark patches or the light patches. And we can resolve to open our hearts so we can see the sequins when they are presented to us – moments of grace that remind us we are not alone.

Those are the moments that differentiate the southern fiction of Flannery O’Conner from William Faulkner. O’Connor sees the despair and emptiness in some people’s lives but always has that lone moment of grace so fleeting you may not realize it’s there, but it’s a chance to see the wonder of God’s mercy.

And when we see it, we treasure it and cry, not quite in the darkness but in the shining light of a single sequin.

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