Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year, New Me

" Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God's Chosen Ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these, put on Love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called one body. And be thankful!  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." -[Colossians 3: 12-21].

Another New Year has come. We look back and the view is dim and disappointing. We look ahead, and the view is uncertain, even frightening.

Then, there is the annual pressure to remake ourselves, as if the turning of the calendar page requires, absolutely, a totally transformed self.

When I was a child, I was called ugly everyday. If I got a cavity in a tooth, I was called "Rotten Tooth". If my tormentor noticed my eyeglasses, I was called " Four Eyes." When I got braces to straighten my teeth, I was called "Crooked Teeth." When I got some teen acne, I was called " Pimple Face." Sometimes, these taunts were punctuated by physical punches. And this was all from my own family.

It is awfully hard not to internalize these taunts. My mother would tell me that I was being "too sensitive" over these verbal taunt. But, I could  not help crying bitter tears.

Her telling me that I was "too sensitive" only made me believe that all the taunts were true!

Today, I look in the mirror and I see only flaws-- the tiny fine lines developing around my mouth. A stray gray hair curling up all gnarly and unruly. I run to the mirror to pluck it out. My nose, too fine, too long, and uneven. I remember being called "Eagle Beak."

I am likely seeing things that no one else even notices today. But since the taunts were punctuated by physical hurt, what I notice only places me back in that place of fear. No, I am not vain. I am afraid that my (tiny) flaws will get me noticed and hurt again.

Then, I read this Scripture. HOW anyone as flawed and faulty as I am can be called "Chosen One" is a true mystery! But, also a great gift!

I really AM flawed. (Hint: We ALL are!) No matter how many times someone tells me that I am beautiful, beloved, a gift, Chosen, etc., I do not believe it. I really have to work at this!

What have I done to deserve these accolades? Well, nothing, really. I simply am God's daughter.

I feel so useless, so empty. There must be more to it than that? Beauty must be more than the right shade of lipstick, the special color of the year, the thick hair not yet gray. . .

This Scripture tells us to, "Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness. Over these, put on Love, the bond of perfection. Let the peace of Christ control your hearts. Be thankful."

I have seen in my life lately that you cannot be thankful and unhappy at the same time! I am practicing Gratitude.

When I have a difficult moment, maybe when someone is cross with me, accuses me unfairly, acts selfishly, I pause and take some deep breaths. I "put on" compassion, peace, Love, patience, and so forth.

Notice that these do not flow readily from me! - (or anyone). It is a moment of suspended animation, where I breathe and wait in silence. I bid those peaceful and loving thoughts to come. It may take a determined effort to say the opposite of what I am really feeling at the moment.

But, I wait for the kindness, the gentleness, the humility, in the same way that we all wait for Spring to come. You know that this sweetness and gentleness is there, you just have to slow down and wait a bit. The gentle Spring always comes.

When I "put on" these glorious attributes, people say that I have a glow about me. That is the beauty in me! But the beauty is not from the sweater that I am wearing, the great hairstyle or a slim physique.

That beauty is not even about me at all! That beauty is God Himself, shining through me-- as Love, humility, gentleness, etc.

So, if you want a New You, New Year, you need a new wardrobe-- of Love, patience, Peace and gratitude. Put these on, and Christ will dwell in you richly!

[Related Postings: "A New Year!, 1/5/11; "A New Year", 12/30/11; "My Year in Words", 1/5/12; "My New Year's Resolutions", 12/26/12;   "New Year, New World", 1/1/15].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

My Tiny Christmas

"Thus says the Lord: 'You, Bethlehem -Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me, One who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from old, from ancient times.. . He shall stand firm and shepherd His flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, His God; and they shall remain, for now, His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; He shall be Peace."  -- Michah 5: 1-4 A].

I have a very nostalgic view of Christmases past. My little town put up a lighted Christmas tree each year, near the Veterans' Park.  There was a Menorah, as well; and magically, on each successive night of Chanukah, another candle was lit.

We used to sing Christmas carols in the car, my family and I, as we went around town, running errands. We knew them all by heart.

We had a live Christmas tree in the house. When I entered the house, I could "smell Christmas!  It was intoxicating and mysterious and wonderful.

We trimmed the bottom of the tree to leave room for the stand and tree skirt. The extra branches lined the mantle, where we set up angel figurines, and choir girls and boys.

On Christmas Day, we went to church. Everyone in the congregation held a battery-powered candle as we sang Silent Light. I think pretty much everyone was in tears at that point.

Then, the whole family gathered at my grandparents' house -- aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents -- so many, we could barely fit around the table.

I knew this was a special dinner, because we had potatoes roasted with the meat, two kinds of fresh vegetables (two!) and dressing studded with sausage, chestnuts, apple and raisins. The dessert was set aflame, a task reserved for my stately grandfather. We dimmed the lights in the dining room, as we oohed and ahhed over the dancing blue flame!

Christmas today seems so much smaller. My grandparents and my parents are gone. My aunt and uncle retired down South. My cousins moved to a different region. My in-laws are gone. My nieces and nephews are out of university, grown and working.

Last Christmas and this Christmas, my husband, son and I will spend the day alone. That prospect could "kill" Christmas for me, if I let it!  How I mourn the BIG Christmases past! Is Christmas no longer as big and special as it used to be?

But then, I read and meditate upon this Scripture:   "Thus says the Lord, 'You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from YOU shall come forth for me, One who is to be ruler in Israel,' "  Literally, Bethlehem-Ephrathah is too small to even be counted as a place of origin!

And yet, in this small place of Bethlehem, was born a tiny baby, laid in a grungy, rustic manger, his only birth attendants the sheep and cattle lowing. Not only was Jesus' birth humble and poor, it was downright dangerous; since King Herod was systemically murdering all first-born males in a mad search to eliminate the child who would be called King.

I remember, once, when my son was about four, he looked up to the Heavens and asked me, "WHY does God have to be so big?!" I answered straight away, 'Oh! But, God is also so very small!" I reminded him of this when my church put up the creche that year, and we peered through the glass at the tiny babe, Jesus.

And so, I am concluding that it is not only alright, but completely fitting, that my Christmas should be tiny. I want my Christmas to be filled with those tiny moments of Joy and Peace that only the birth of God's Son can convey

This year, I am watching "Elf" with my son, for the umpteenth time. I am praying more, reaching out in tiny moments, to my friend Jesus. I am absolutely glowing as the music from the Christmas concert at my church washes over me, like the soft balm of Peace.  I am sitting in total silence and awe, in the dark, simply gazing upon our Christmas tree.

I am drinking hot cocoa. Oh, the resonance of that first sip! I am baking cookies for neighbors who are too elderly to bake any longer. I am knitting hats and scarves for the homeless shelter, because everyone should get a gift for Christmas!

I am helping a friend from church wrap the poinsettia planters in foil and ribbons; and arrange the flowers for the Christmas altar.  What a joyous honor!

I am planning to awake on Christmas morning, fully relishing that special Christmas morning feeling. Not that selfish feeling of, "Okay, what did I get?"

No, that feeling that I am special because God was bold and generous enough to share His only Son with us; all so that we could learn how to love and be loved!

No, Christmas is NOT all about a gaudy splash of outrageous extravagance. As the Grinch said, "Christmas came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. . What if Christmas doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"

And so, I wish you all a very Merry (tiny) Christmas! Full of tiny moments of Grace, Peace, Joy, Love and Wonder.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Bountiful Table

"The crowds asked John the Baptist, 'What should we do?' He said to them in reply, 'Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.' Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, 'Teacher, what should we do?' He answered them, 'Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.' Soldiers also asked him, 'And what is it that we should do?' He told them, 'Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone and be satisfied with your wages.' Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts, whether John might be the Christ. . Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached the good news to the people." --[Luke 3: 10-18].

John the Baptist is known for going around, urging the people to "Prepare the way for the Lord".

This is what we Christians do during Advent-- we prepare for the birth of the Christ child. We may light candles each evening on the Advent wreath. We may pray more frequently or more fervently. We may prepare those special foods in advance of Christmas Day. Or, lift our voices in song as we sing favorite carols.

But there is more to preparation for the Lord than wreaths and prayer. When John the Baptist is asked, "What shall we do?, he replies, essentially, share what you have. Be fair, not greedy. Be satisfied.

This is valuable advice not only during Advent, but for our entire lives!

I remember at one time, when my husband and I had a neighbor who was Italian. This neighbor had a garden the entire width of his back yard. One day, he gave me some eggplant. I told him, 'I don't want your eggplant, I don't know how to cook it.' Not only did he teach me how to cook it, he sent me home with over half of what he had prepared. That night at dinner, my husband and I ate heartily. I saw that this neighbor was the most generous man I had ever met.

A week or so later, he gave me some zucchini. I gave him back some zucchini bread!

I have modeled my life on those exchanges, ever since then!

My son outgrew his down jacket from last year. I donated it to the homeless shelter.

A lady in my church knitting group gave me some yarn. I donated it to the town Senior Center. They gave me back tons of hand-knitted hats, mittens and scarves. I donated those to the shelter, as well. Some baby hats I donated to a mission to Haiti, and other hats to a home for unwed mothers.

I collect tissue paper, ribbons and stickers, so I can gift wrap the knitted items for the shelter residents.

Another lady donated some classical music tapes and CD's. I donated those to the local hospice.

Tucked into a bag of donated hats and mittens, I found a jar of pearl onions (?!) I donated those to the town food bank.

I have become a clearinghouse of items. Much of the time, these are dropped off on a green-painted table on my porch. People know me for the green table, my Table of Bounty.

I have received empty plant pots, destined for the community garden. I have received a big crop of healthful carrots, for a friend who had cancer at the time.

I have shared yummy left-overs with friends on fixed incomes.

Once, I received an uncompleted sweater, just the back of it, with the needles and yarn still attached. I turned it into a lap robe for the hospice!

I have collected blank greeting cards and wall calendars for the homeless shelter. I give gently used toys to the shelter's Family Center. Men's shoes are worth their weight in gold for the men in the shelter. I collect trial-size toiletries from my travels, for the folks who are ready to come in out of the cold.

Once, I received a lighted make-up mirror. I said, "Lord, what am I to do with this?!" It turns out that the shelter was glad to get it, for use in teaching its women residents how to apply make-up for job interviews! Ditto for a wall phone -- I wasn't at all sure why I had been given this, but the shelter was glad to get it!

I have donated unwanted furniture to a shelter for domestic abuse survivors.

I have donated a giant stock- pot to a man who cooks the annual barbecue benefitting the town food pantry.

I donated my mother's career clothes, after her passing, to Dress For Success, an organization that helps women get good jobs.

I am now collecting pocket calendars, to go to a village in Africa, so the villagers can track the rainy season vs. the good planting season. I have received pencils and over-the-counter medications for this village. Tucked into the box with the medications was a pack of disposable diapers. Those I donated to the shelter for unwed teens.

Christian books? --I stock those on the shelves in my church library. Yup! I organized that library. The book shelves are donated, too!

I never know what will show up next on my green table. But, I never turn down a donation. I know by now that what one person does not want, another is delighted to receive.  People who donate, drop off on my green table. People who need items, pick up from my green table.

"Share with the person who has none. Whoever has food should do likewise.  Be satisfied. Stop collecting more than what is prescribed."

Prepare the way for the Lord!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Good Work In You

" Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. . . I am confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it, until the day of Jesus Christ. " --[ Philippians 1: 2-6].

These words were written by St. Paul from prison! I am amazed at the Joy that Paul expresses here, despite his dire circumstances.

Paul wrote with brutal frankness about the hardships that he faced, all in the name of Christ:  "Five times I received thirty-nine lashes, three times beaten with rods, once pelted with stones, three times shipwrecked, a night and a day in the deep sea, dangers from journeys, from rivers, from robbers, from my own countrymen, from Gentiles, in the city, in the wilderness, on the sea, among false friends; {suffering} through sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." -[2 Corinthians 11: 25-27].

I can relate utterly to Paul who, I think, must be my patron Saint. As a child, I was betrayed by my family, who called me ugly and a failure, -- often on a daily basis, in excruciating detail. I was not fed. I was cold. I was mocked for being a believer in God, for attempting to emulate Jesus in my gentleness, my compassion and in my encounters with others.

I very nearly drowned and was pulled out by the scruff of my neck and told, "YOU can swim." I suffered black eyes, I don't even remember from where, and was told, "Stop getting black eyes. You embarrass us."

It got to a point, I began to shut down. No! --I was not always joyful no matter what my circumstances. I was in battle. I became very serious. I stopped showing emotions. Then, I stopped feeling any emotions. I stopped speaking. I barely slept. I barely ate.

People today ask me, 'Why did you stop speaking? Was it an organic response to trauma?'
But, no. It was a deliberate decision. I had given up on believing in the capacity of humanity to give Love.

I did believe in God, since my parents had taken me to church for awhile. But as a child, I knew nothing much about Him. Except that I wanted to give AND receive Love. [ And, today I know that, that impulse, that longing for Love IS God. ]

But I was growing up in an environment where they wanted me to believe that they could make or break me. For them, there was no God. With no God, there is no Love. They acted as if everything came from my family, and so, everything they gave me could be taken away. And, at times they did threaten that. . . As a small child, I had necessarily relinquished all my power to them.

Only recently have I studied Philippians and come across this Scripture. What this means to me, now, is that God has begun a GOOD work in me! what my family told me were lies. I am NOT ugly, a failure, bad, like my family wanted me to believe. I am God's daughter, even if I feel like I belong to no one else in the world.

So many nights even now, I descend into despair over feelings of worthlessness. I feel deeply flawed and defective.  But, is that the abuse talking? I am starting to see that it is God who will complete me. And so, being incomplete without God, I AM imperfect; after all,  I am only human.  At those times when all those harsh words from the past come crowding around me, about being a failure or an embarrassment, I can call out to God, praying that He will strengthen me to keep improving my inner self.

I repeat to myself the words of Psalm 27: "The Lord is the stronghold go my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"

A few years ago, when I came upon the words of Jesus, " I will not leave you an orphan",  [John 14:18], I actually broke down and cried. I had been abandoned and rejected by my family, my entire life. I had raised myself. No human being had ever said those words to me.

What follows from this declaration is something astounding to me: God will never give up on us! Even if we sometimes want to give up on ourselves.

Sometimes, I don't see God at work in my life.  This is where the Faith has to come in. There can be long periods of dryness in my life, when nothing seems to be happening. I ask, 'God? Where ARE You?"   Often, it is only later, that I recognize His work in me, from the footprints He has left behind in my Soul. But, He is always there, if sometimes unseen.

 Since I had to raise myself as a child, I spent all of my time on my own survival. As an adult, I have had to (re-)learn when to go to bed, how to dress properly for the weather, how to eat well, how to speak up.  I feel so behind on life! But, I have Hope, because God never ceases His work in completing us.

Sometimes, I also wonder if certain past experiences in my life have gone wasted? I have taken a lot of detours, in trying to find my one True path. But with God, there are no wasted experiences, just opportunities for God to work in us and through us, to hone us to completion.

 Philippians 1 tells me that God does have a plan for me, if only I am patient and wait for His guidance; whereas, my family believed that we humans have to do everything ourselves, with no God. . . The latter attitude is a prescription for despair.

And, God never starts anything He cannot finish. He cannot quit the good work that He began in us, and He will insist that we not quit. I remember when I was undergoing the Conversion process, it was all so overwhelming, I wanted to quit! But God's call was persistent and unrelenting. He would NOT leave me alone.  I even went to the priest, to say, "I QUIT"! But,  HE would not let me quit, either!

Which leads me back to St. Paul's Joy-- We are to be confident, to have Faith, that God will carry us to completion. In that sense, we need not fear what is happening to us, or in the world around us. God is in charge, and He always has the Last Word!!

"And we know that God works for the good of all those who love Him and act according to His purpose." - [Romans XXX].

Peace and joy and grace be to all of you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

[Related Postings; "Comfort and Joy", 12/15/14; "What is This Joy?", 10/1/14].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.