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We human beings often become chained to our usual ways even though some of our usual ways are not good for us, and may even be very destructive to ourselves or other people.

We know we need change. But as life itself shows us, there is no change without action. An object, a person, or a fictional character, will continue in its existing state unless it is changed by some external force.

The external force may come through another person or persons. It may come through a physical event. It may even be something that threatens our very life. Still, without some external force, the tendency of any person is to do nothing and remain unchanged–the same as a vase left for years on a table, collecting dust and cobwebs until some force comes to move it or dust it.

We know that God can take action to change us, but only if we allow it. To receive grace is an interaction between us and God.

When things are going well, we thank God for His Grace. In more difficult times, we pray for God’s grace, thinking of it as a feel-good, feather duster; something to cleanse us gently and peacefully. But when we are not easily cleansed–which is often the case–God’s grace may not be peaceful and sublime. In fact….

Sometimes grace is violent… sometimes God wants His life in you so much that it’s going to come in ways that mean you’re going to suffer. Not because He wills it but because He permits it. It says in Hebrews “I will shake you.” And I will shake all created things until all that is left is what is uncreated, what is unshakeable. Put simply — ‘Sometimes I’m going to let you suffer. I’m going to shake you free of all those things that you’ve put in place of my grace, in place of my life in you, until all that’s left is my life in you. Until all you can cling to… is me.’ – Mark Hart

The above quote is from speaker, Mark Hart, to a Catholic Life Teen group. I am struck by its weight. That grace is often uncomfortable, even violent, is the underpinning of much of my fiction. My characters  change. They either “re-write” their lives in sometimes painful ways by allowing grace to find them and mold them–or else, they turn from it as too painful, too hard. Accepting God’s grace has a human price tag, but also, a divine reward.

Without grace, Paul Dunaway in Mary’s Mountain would not have changed his indulgent ways because he enjoyed money, sex, and power too much. But it costs him.

In A Hunger in the Heart, the question of whether Coleman Puttman Bridgeman III can bring himself to forgive his mother–the woman he believes killed his father–will cost him.

In Birds of a Feather, ten very different characters struggle with the same outpour of grace. Some accept it, some do not. But it costs each one of them.

The notion that grace is healing omits the fact that before it heals, it cuts with the sword Christ said he would bring. –Flannery O’Connor

Actual Grace is an external force of God, an intervention into a misguided, but comfortable situation. More often than not, grace is uncomfortable. So yes, grace can heal us, but  the process of our accepting it in order to change, may be difficult, painful, even violent. And suffering may be its cost.

Will we pay it or not? Will we see that a loving God, like a loving parent, is always present? And if need be, will we trust enough to allow Him to change us?

handhodlingMy husband and I met when we were seventeen years old as Freshmen at Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL. He was from North Alabama, a transplanted Yankee only a year before. I was a dyed-in-the-wool Southern girl born and raised in South Alabama. He borrowed a pencil from me in Theology class, and broke it. Later he told me he’d broken it purposely so he could stop me after class and give me a verbal apology. We were at once attracted to each other. Who knows why that happens–instant attraction—except it did. I call that a mystery.

My husband and I have been married for fifty years. Fifty years!! So we have a little experience. We also have four married children with children of their own, and our fifth and youngest, ‘baby boy’ will be married this weekend to a beautiful girl we all love.

I’m certain theirs will be a wonderful marriage and a holy one, too. But what will make it so, is mystery, that fragile web of affection that teases a man and a woman by word and touch, by sight and appetite, and fastens two separate souls into one. A long-awaited, delightful gift from God, and one that will last.

I have asked myself the question: How did my husband and I last for these fifty years? Because there were times. . . .Oh yes, there were times . . . . !!!

Well, I call that a mystery, too.

It began when I was an art major, and he was a history major with an eye to Law School. I think our particular interests had a lot to do with our long, and loving, marriage. I saw our life together as a painting in progress, a changing of colors from dark to light to brilliant, and sometimes back again to start all over with a complete and utter gesso of the canvas. A mystery? I think so.

He saw it measured against the annals of what succeeds and what doesn’t. He was–and is–the firm, logical foundation. I am a flit of the imagination, always wanting to try something new. But when we hold hands, we mysteriously balance. And we act as one. A mystery as well.

Today, many weddings seem to be only expensive occasions to party. We like to show off after all. And afterwards, the marriage sometimes bears little resemblance to the sacrament of Holy Matrimony God intended it to be. The concept of marriage, who and what it’s for, has changed in the eyes of those who are either unsuited or unwilling to take up an honest commitment. Because if marriage is anything at all, it is honest, and it is definitely a commitment.

Commitment doesn’t sit right with a lot of people today. We’ve become so pretentious that certain aspects of our lives are as disposable as paper plates.

I think of the race between the tortoise and the hare. The story concerns a hare who ridicules a slow-moving tortoise, so the tortoise challenges him to a race. The pompous hare soon leaves the tortoise behind and, confident of winning, plays around, then takes a nap midway through the course. The tortoise gets tired but by some mystery, he keeps going. When the hare awakes from his nap, he finds the tortoise crawling slowly but steadily over the finish line to win the race.

In the original Greek scripture, the word for “mystery” actually meant “sacrament.” The sacrament of marriage was intended to reflect the unremitting love that Christ has for His people, the Church. My husband and I believe in this mystery. We have never considered that we could, or would, get out of our marriage, no matter how many bad times we’ve been through or will go through. We are dogged as the tortoise. We do not mean to give up.

So, fifty years from the day we first took each other’s hand and started our lives together, I still believe our marriage is a mystery, and one I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

I wish many blessings to my son and his new wife. And I welcome them to the mystery of marriage!!

 

When I was raising my five children, and helping to raise one of my granddaughters, it was necessary to keep an eye to the floor to avoid stepping on something, or someone. After the children grew, I didn’t really need to look down, yet I continued to do so. It became a habit to concentrate on what might lie just in front of my knees or beneath my feet. After all, I didn’t want to stumble or damage something.

Being overly cautious is not a bad thing. It is usually a good thing for parents when dealing with their children. But I still keep this cautious behavior, and sometimes it is to my detriment. While concentrating so much on what I’m likely to step on, or into, in many situations or relationships, I often miss what is just beyond me.

As an adult living in the world, too much caution can narrow one’s field of vision to the extent that it doesn’t allow for risk. An overly cautious person is frequently fearful of risk; so, if he or she sticks to a set pattern of action, then risk is reduced.

But something else is reduced as well when we look down at only a small area of our daily life. Some people call it, “not seeing the big picture.” I call it “not realizing that we have an important part to play in our world.” No matter who we are, or what we do, we have a purpose. And that purpose is to love in the same way that God loves us.

Is it risky to do? Yes. Does it sometimes take courage, humility, and a willingness to suffer? Of course.

We cannot love rightfully if we’re always looking down and around to see what might befall us. To attain and give genuine love we must take a risk. Do not be fooled: Love is not just a feeling. Loving another person is a decision, a grace-filled action. And some decisions and actions are risky. These sorts of risks may produce fear in us, or frustration, or even great sorrow.

We human beings are made in the image of an eternal God, and God’s image is love. Therefore, love is everlasting, and we human beings are able to share freely in it. What kind of human being will we be if we don’t take the risk of genuine love. Will we be human at all?

I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting. –St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

4f7c4962d0745.preview-300How many times a day do each of us lie?

A growing body of research shows that people lie constantly, that deception is pervasive in everyday life. One study found that people tell two to three lies every 10 minutes, and even conservative estimates indicate that we lie at least once a day.

Some of these are ‘white lies.’ You may tell someone their outfit is great when you think it’s horrible. You may tell your boss his/her development plan is super, when you hate it. You may say you won’t be at home when you’re supposed to help with a civic event you’re not in to. There are many, many white lies.

But there are huge lies, too, that hurt other people. We don’t like someone so we make up a degrading story about them. Or we cheat in school, or on the job, or in our marriage. And then, there are the politicians. Who doesn’t remember this?: “I did not have sex with that woman!”

Lying seems to be a growing problem in today’s world, and it has pervaded the lives of our children by lying about them for personal means. For example, recently a Fulton County Georgia Grand Jury indicted thirty five educators from the district, including principals, teachers and testing coordinators in a cheating scandal . They faced charges including racketeering, theft by taking and making false statements about their roles in an alleged plot to falsify students’ standardized tests. In other words, they lied about the true scores of students attending public schools in Fulton County, to puff up school accreditations. And some of them were paid to do it.

“The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that lying was always morally wrong. He argued that all persons are born with an “intrinsic worth” that he called human dignity. This dignity derives from the fact that humans are uniquely rational agents, capable of freely making their own decisions, setting their own goals, and guiding their conduct by reason. To be human, said Kant, is to have the rational power of free choice; to be ethical, he continued, is to respect that power in oneself and others.

Lies are morally wrong, then, for two reasons.

First, lying corrupts the most important quality of our being human: our individual ability to make free, rational choices. Each lie we tell contradicts the part of a person that gives he/she moral worth.

Second, my lies rob others of their freedom to choose rationally. When my lie leads people to decide other than they would had they known the truth, I have harmed their human dignity and autonomy. Source: http://www.scu.edu/ethics

Thomas Aquinas also thought that all lies were wrong, but that there was a hierarchy of lies and those at the bottom could be forgiven. His list was:
•Malicious lies: lies told to do harm • Malicious lies are mortal sins
•’Jocose lies: lies told in fun •These are pardonable
•’Officious’ or helpful lies •These are pardonable

What do you think about lying? Has another’s lie hurt you?

SAM_2550You’ve probably been asked this question thousands of times in different scenarios. “Are you okay?”

Depending on the situation, if you’re like me, you may lose emotional control, you may even want to belt the questioner and yell, “No! Would you be okay with this?”

Emotional control is the key here. That means acting like a “real” adult and not a small child. How many times do small children have an emotional meltdown in public places, or even a full-blown temper tantrum? A sad but true fact is that many of us lack emotional control, when we become angry, impatient, or frustrated.

This takes time, but the key to learning to control emotions is learning to control our thoughts. Angry thoughts take us to angry words and actions. Sad or personally negative thoughts lead us to discouragement. And this can destroy relationships.

But if we turn our minds to positive thoughts, loving thoughts, grateful thoughts, we find that we become happy. The key to developing emotional self-control is learning to “reboot” as soon as we feel negative emotions coming on. Then change our thoughts to something positive so that our mood might improve.

We will not do this overnight. It takes practice, but eventually, when bad things–or bad people–happen to us, we can use our mind to become stronger so that we can weather the storm.

Who Do You Serve????

Posted: May 18, 2017 in World On The Edge
twoMasters “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Matthew 6:24

No doubt, there is frustration  the choice we make about who or what we will serve. Will it be love, or money? Will it be family, or a selfish ‘need’ away from family? Will it be those who are impressed with how good I look on the outside, or those who care about my interior spiritual nature?

We are made to serve our Creator, but God does not force us to serve Him. We have been given free will–we can just as easily choose NOT to serve Him.

Except He does have a plan. We are put on Earth by our Creator to take care of others in one way or another. God wants us to make a difference during our life. It may be a big difference, or a very small one–but it is a difference designed specifically for us. We can ignore that, or take it to heart, but it’s a fact that the world will be changed, for better or worse, because we are here.

If we serve God, we know our lives will be worthwhile. Though we may not appear to be society’s idea of success, we will be successful if we follow Him.

If we are not following God, then we are following something or somebody that won’t bring us authentic joy— Only the holy are happy.

God has a unique plan for each of us, a mission that we may not, at once, be aware of. We discover it by staying close to God in prayer and in the service of others–when we serve others, we are serving God. And that gives our lives great meaning.

The following song by Bob Dylan is about finding meaning in life through serving God. At the time of writing, Dylan was a born-again Christian, hence the song’s religious message: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody/Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

John Lennon thought this song was “embarrassing” and wrote “Serve Yourself” in response to it. Lennon’s song criticized Dylan’s preaching and instead asserted: “You gotta serve yourself/Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.”

In 1980, Dylan’s song was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male. While the religious nature of the record alienated many of Dylan’s older fans, the album also gained Bob a new wave of Christian fans.

Uriah Heep, antagonist in Charles Dicken's,  David Copperfield

Uriah Heep, antagonist in Charles Dicken’s, David Copperfield

Uriah Heep, from David Copperfield, is one of Charles Dickens’s most wicked characters, definitely a villain; a greedy clerk and money-lender, who fawns his way through David Copperfield and blackmails his way to success. The character has as little pigment in his body as he does decency, though he makes frequent references to his own “‘umbleness.” Heep is an evil character, a blackmailer, with no empathy for others. To read about him is to make your skin crawl!

We know from the outset he’s going to be evil. “[He] had hardly any eyebrows,” says the boy, David, “and no eyelashes, and eyes of a red-brown, so unsheltered and unshaded, that I remember wondering how he went to sleep.” Uriah has a pale face, red eyes , and “a long, lank, skeleton hand, which particularly attracted my attention”

The cold, long, white hands of Uriah Heep stand in for the inhumanity of the rest of him: he is like a dead thing, totally immune to any kind of human warmth or sympathy. David is only 11 at this point, but even he is wise enough to see that Uriah Heep isn’t trustworthy.

In real life, there are certainly real life villains–particular villains in each of our lives. Are we wise enough to know who they are? How do we recognize someone who would do us wrong, or put us in danger? Most of the time, they don’t look like Uriah Heep, but like everyone else we know.

Well, why is that? Why does a person capable of committing evil look like the rest of us?

Because he is like the rest of us–and sometimes he/she is US.

So, can we recognize evil in ourselves as easily as we can in others? Can we honestly look at ourselves? Of course not; at least not easily. And that is what often makes us smug Christians, even hypocritical Christians.

This is why we must open ourselves to God through prayer, asking that He allow us to see and stay away from those who would lead us astray—and most importantly, that He will allow us to see ourselves as we really are; too often the villain, too often the problem in our own lives. The wonderful thing is, He will give us the grace we need to change ourselves, if we ask for it.