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Never Lose An Opportunity for Beauty

 

Contrary to current American culture, beauty is not a carefully photo-shopped image of an attractive young woman designed to sell a product or a concept. No, beauty is far more than mere image or presentation. And it certainly exceeds the boundaries of our print and electronic media.

I define beauty as that which delights, inspires, and enriches. Anything less is a shallow imitation or perverse contradiction of the honesty inherent in beauty, whatever form it takes.

For beauty does exist in many forms, such as:
Visual
Aural
Natural
Crafted
Movement
Stillness
Spontaneous
Arranged

We who live at today’s frenetic pace must allow ourselves to notice the beauty we walk in every day. It could be a picture, a musical selection, a memory, a person, an activity, or a location. If we stop to remember, there are thousands of those precious flashbacks that can still enrich our lives today.

When you read this blog, please take a couple of minutes to share a portion of beauty that you’ve encountered. Sharing will improve both of our lives and become a thing of beauty for all of us.

To get the ball rolling, I’ll start.

Because I wanted my four children to be adept at physical activities that could be part of their lives through out adulthood, I signed them up for swimming, tennis, and golf lessons. In the process, I signed myself up for getting them to swim practice before and after classes during the school year and hours of watching from a damp bleacher.

When my oldest was about 13, she developed beautiful strokes in the American crawl, back stroke and breast stroke. If cell phone video cameras had been available then, I would share with you an example of swim laps that resemble ballet. While the rest of the group splashed eagerly back and forth in their lanes, she glided as if she were created for the purpose of creating beauty out of daily swim practices.

She certainly didn’t inherit any athletic talent from either parent. In fact, we are amazed that she belongs to us. The coach did not give her extra instruction. But all who watched were delighted to observe such unpretentious beauty in action.

She still swims. And participates in the Low Country Splash! every spring which is either a 2.4 or 5.0 mile open water swim near Mt. Pleasant, SC.

 

 

Are You Asking God, “Why?” or “Why Me?”

man-857502__340For some time, I’ve been watching a person I love struggle with unanswered prayer that involves both financial and emotional hardships. I’ve tried to offer encouragement and advice, but there is absolutely no evidence that I’ve helped in any way whatsoever. Perhaps I am too close to the situation to discern the nuances involved. Or more likely, I offered too much advice too readily. When those we love have problems, we ‘Helpful Henrys’ should back off and just pray.

But his trials have brought to my mind the times in my own life when I was in the same boat. And I can testify with great certainty that the whole experience is incredibly painful. It seems to go on forever – until you are so discouraged, you can no longer even daydream about what life will be like after the prayer is answered. Finally, the solution sneaks in like Carl Sandburg’s fog “on little cat feet” and you can almost miss it.

There are a few things I’ve learned the hard way by living through the misery of various difficulties that I want to share in case someone else should ever benefit from my experiences.

  1. Keep your thoughts, words, and prayers as positive as you possibly can. Yes, I know your primary desire is to go to bed and sleep it off. You just want someone to “Wake you up when it’s over.” But thus avoiding reality only makes it worse, as I have learned the hard way.

As difficult as it might be, just get out of bed every morning. Just do it! I can remember many times whining to God, because no one else would listen to me anymore, that I was sick and tired of being plucky.

The complicated truth is that wallowing in pain only prolongs it. So gird up your loins and be positively, confidently, and absolutely plucky. In reality, there is no other rational choice, no matter what your emotions tell you.

  1. Be grateful! So you’re in dire need of X (a.k.a. job, phone call, car, money, etc.) And you’re not being indulgent or extravagant in your request. It’s just something you do really need, but don’t have. What on earth can you be grateful for?

  • You woke up on the right side of the grass

  • The bus came on time today

  • Your supervisor actually smiled for a change

  • You noticed a daffodil blooming

  • You got to hear a fabulous recording of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

  • There’s enough shampoo in the bottle to last until payday if you’re careful

  • It didn’t start raining until after you got inside

Make gratitude a habit by keeping a gratitude journal every single day, especially if you’re not the journal type. Remember, you’re in a desperate situation and you must take your medicine whether you relish it or not. It’s the effect of the medicine you’re after, not the joy of the journal itself. Each entry is concrete proof that God really does love you and is concerned with all the little details of your life.  Also read a previous entry on this blog, “If this virtue were a drug . . .” written on August 10, 2016 for more reasons to be grateful.

  1. Do at least one thing every single day to make you feel proud of yourself, especially if it’s avoiding or correcting a bad habit. Ninety-nine percent of the people I know go through life fighting one or more bad habits. So, pretend it’s Lent and work on your habit(s). After all, God has arranged this special, personal “Lenten” season just to help you; so take advantage of His School for Disciples. Every day that you avoid that particular habit or actually do that good thing you ought to do, you will like yourself better. And you’re the one you most need to impress other than the good Lord Himself. On top of that, other people will like you even better when you learn to love yourself.

  1. As a corollary to previous suggestions, begin to seek God’s will for your life with great seriousness. We all have blind spots about our own faults, which is why they’re called blind spots. That’s the main reason we hate to receive advice – because we’re absolutely positive that it doesn’t quite apply to us. However, it is entirely possible that God may be trying to get our attention about something we’re carefully keeping out of our consciousness at the moment. That something we’re avoiding might be the key to our future success and happiness. Be willing, even eager, to change your actions and/or attitudes as needed.

Get down on your knees, fast, pray, and beg God to tell you exactly what you need to change in your life in order to fit in with His plans for you. Then obey whatever He says. If you’re not sure after prayer and fasting, ask a spiritual director, your priest, or some wise person you trust to help you discern the truth.

Neither good times nor bad times last forever and neither do the trials that test our faith. Occasionally, the cavalry will ride into the situation, guns blazing, and get rid of the bad guys. Occasionally, the answer is so dramatic, we tell the story of resolving our predicament to anyone who will listen for weeks, months, or years afterward. Most often, for me, the situation changes as imperceptibly as the earth rotates around sun. At some point, I discover I don’t really need or, perhaps, even want whatever I had asked for. Instead I am in another place altogether.

God loves me more than I love myself.  He wants only the best for me. So I can rest in His care and trust Him to provide answers.  Just as loving parents insist their children learn to eat vegetables and meat, not just candy bars, so God insists that even if life becomes uncomfortable, we mature emotionally and spiritually through a type of boot camp. And He personally provides a precise program that enlarges  and enriches us to whatever extent that we cooperate with Him. Some of us give up and fall away early, some of us complete a type of basic boot camp, some go on to graduate the officers’ training program, and some, the saints, finish the equivalent of Seal training.

Reporting for duty, Sir!

 

THE DECALOGUE OF POPE JOHN XXIII

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In this way, we can put Pope John’s hope for every Christian into practice: “Every believer in this world must be a spark of light, a core of love, life-giving leaven in the mass: and the more he is so, the more he will live, in his innermost depths, in communion with God.”

1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

2. Only for today: I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly;  I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.

3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.

4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

5. Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.

7. Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.

8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.

9. Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.

10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

To conclude: here is an all-embracing resolution:

“I want to be kind, today and always, to everyone.”

 

Be Not Afraid of Poverty

a17b2-hip-replacement-recall-briberyI have been poor and I have been wealthy. In both situations, I have enjoyed  happiness and I have endured suffering. I admit that it’s a lot more fun to move up the ladder than it is to either fall or be pushed down it. But, at the end of the day, the state of your bank account doesn’t remotely dictate your quality of life – you do.

“Do not be afraid, my son, because we have become poor.

You have great wealth if you fear God and

flee from every sin and do what is good in the sight of the Lord your God.” Tobit 4:21 

Have Thine Own Way, Lord

“Thou Art The Potter, I Am The Clay”

I couldn’t quite figure out the look on their faces as I opened the door for my parent’s friends, Frank and Lexi. So, shy seven-year-old that I was, I silently escorted them to the kitchen where my mother was cleaning up after supper. I retreated to my room to live again in the fantasy world of the latest library book.

After eagerly finishing yet another Bobbsey Twin mystery, I realized no one had scolded me for staying up too late. So I ventured back to the adult world to see what they were up to.

There they stood, almost in a circle. All were silent except my little brother whose latest accomplishment was a joyful “Da Da” that he was practicing confidently and continuously. Everyone else now shared that same somber look that Frank and Lexi had brought in the front door.

Instantly, I knew. “Daddy died, didn’t he?” No one said a word, but looking at the tears, I knew that I was right.

He had died in a fiery plane crash that afternoon. It shouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t his plane; he wasn’t flying it. He had merely gone along for the ride. Another flight instructor had just repaired a small single engine Piper Cub and needed to test it before his next student took it up for a lesson. They identified the two young fathers by the flight records from the airport. There wasn’t enough left of the bodies.

I stood with the grieving adults for a few minutes trying to absorb the news. When they began making lists and phone calls, I slipped back to the comfort of my own room to cry alone. We had just won World War II and now everything was supposed to be okay. How could God have made such a mistake? Wasn’t He paying attention?

Just 11 months earlier, He had taken away my beloved grandfather. But Granddaddy suffered from heart trouble and had been sick several months. Much as I missed his gentle hug and courtly manners, I could understand that he was old and had earned the right to go to heaven for a rest. All through the war he had sat silently praying during daily newscasts by H.V. Kaltenborn and Gabriel Heatter. He had lived to see his native England spared, celebrated V-E day in May, and then clung to life until victory over Japan was assured. Two days later, with his work done, he went home to be with the Lord.

But Daddy was only 28 years old. He had three children to care for. He wasn’t supposed to die. They told me that God loved me. How could He do this to me twice in one year?

I talked to God a lot about it, angrily, pleadingly, and finally, submissively. When none of the adults was around, I would sit at the piano, pick out the tune, and sing “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” and offer my life to Him again and again. I considered myself one of His even though I hadn’t been baptized yet. No one could help ease the pain, but I turned to God because I had memorized that verse in Matthew that says, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I didn’t know how or when I would find comfort, but the Bible offered the only hope I could find.

My mother and grandmother were devout Southern Baptists who accepted only believers’ baptism. I had wanted to be baptized and “officially” a Christian for as long as I could remember. But to get to that point, one had to go to the front of the church during an altar call, cry because of your sins, and write on a card that you wanted to be baptized. I really wanted to do all of that. I knew that I mustn’t “deny Him before man” and that I must stand up for my faith. But it took me a couple more anguished years to work up the courage to walk down the long church aisle all alone and make my profession of faith.

We descended from a long line of Protestants who took religion seriously. Church work, prayer, and attendance at the three major church services every week were part of the family heritage, if not the genetic code. And we continued the pattern with even more fervor after that fateful day in July 1946.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Part 2

“Mold me and make me after Thy will”

There has been a longstanding joke in the South that every loving Southern Baptist parent prays that his children will grow up and become successful enough to join the Episcopal church. To the casual observer, my conversion to the Episcopal church certainly fit that paradigm.

After my father’s death, my mother took a crash course in shorthand and typing so she could get a job, worked to pay off the business debts associated with my father’s nascent Flight Training School, then put herself through college while rearing us three children.

Each of us, in turn, worked and earned scholarships to complete our college education. Eight months after graduation, I married my knight in shining armor and began to live the Great American Dream of Success and Happiness with him.

I had earnestly prayed that God would preserve me from the temptation of falling in love with a Catholic and was quite relieved when the man of my dreams turned out to be a fellow Southern Baptist from South Carolina. I gladly moved east, away from my family in Texas, and tried to become his perfect “help-meet.”

The most wonderful part was mothering our four children. No feminist has ever shown me any project that is more challenging, exhilarating, or rewarding than nurturing your own children. I relished every year of it. Of necessity, I had been a latchkey kid a whole generation before the term was invented. Every day that I had come home from school to an empty house, I swore that somehow, someway, I would be there for my own children.

Being a helpmeet also meant refinishing furniture, making curtains, cooking gourmet meals, befriending the neighbors, and volunteering to improve the community. As a couple, we eagerly participated in each church we joined, serving as Sunday School teachers, committee chairmen and prayer group leaders. As we moved “up the ladder” financially and socially, we also began to entertain more frequently and more lavishly.

I certainly thought of the many stylish parties we could have the first time I saw The House on Valley Road. Its elegance took my breath away. Architectural details like solid mahogany paneling in the library, Waterford chandeliers, triple solid brass hinges on every door, custom-milled windows and woodwork, and twelve foot ceilings were flourishes that I had never dared to dream of owning. As I mentally measured the rooms, I couldn’t help but contrast it with the houses of my youth, including the one-room shack that had lacked indoor plumbing.

I wanted it so much I could hardly relax until we paid our earnest money and signed a sales contract. Yet, I was afraid of my intense desire. On the morning of the closing I prayed that it would not become an idol to us and that God would use our family and our house to be a witness to him in the new community. In my arrogance, I somehow thought that God would be pleased that a family of sincere Christians lived in the most beautiful home in the county.

With the home came a move to another town and to the Episcopal Church. But it wasn’t just a desire for status or a chance to get to know the “movers and shakers” of the community better that drew me there. It was the liturgy.

After attending one service, I knew that this was what I wanted and had wanted for a long time without knowing what to ask for. The solemn procession, the skillfully written order of service, the music, the rituals, and the Eucharist transformed Sunday morning services into a divine appointment. It was as if I suddenly had permission to enjoy beauty for its own sake, that it was Godly, not frivolous. I had grown up relishing the earnest preaching from evangelicals. As an adult, I had reveled in the exuberance of a Pentecostal church. But here, in this service, I felt like I glimpsed heaven itself.

We took the Christian formation classes and quickly became leaders in the Episcopal parish, eventually serving in almost every possible capacity. I learned to appreciate the gentle discipline inherent in the church calendar. I gradually relaxed and began to value the theology. Instead of militantly being on guard to “promote the faith,” I learned to appreciate God’s mercy – and my own need to call upon God for mercy every day. We parishioners supported each other emotionally and spiritually while we fervently prayed for our church leaders to come in from left field and return to the basics of faith. In fact, when the media drumbeat reached a crescendo for the leadership in the Catholic Church to liberalize its views during John Paul II’s visit in 1993, we jocularly suggested among ourselves that perhaps all the liberal Catholics should join the Episcopal church and all of us conservative Episcopalians should become Catholic. Yet none of us made a move.

But my life in Camelot ended several years before World Youth Day in Denver.