How Can I Keep From Singing?

Submitted to the DAR Women’s Issues Essay Competition. It received state honors (Louisiana). OK, Charlotte, here it is. 

I suppose I’ve come to that “wise woman” part of my life, even though I don’t feel wise. I am a wife, mother, office manager for my family business, songwriter, and vocalist. I am occasionally asked for advice by young singers.

I tell them that a vocalist can never replace their instrument. If it gets damaged or broken, we can no longer sing – or we must find a way to deal with the damage.

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This is the story of my own damaged instrument. Not my voice, but my ear. My advice to young vocalists has expanded to include: If you ever experience sudden hearing loss, it is a medical emergency.  I tell them about the symptoms of Meniere’s Disease.

I juggled singing with job and family life. I sang with my blues band, at my church, at our local Jewish temple, and with my music partner in our Gospel duo. God makes each of us an instrument, and I did my best to learn to use and care for my musical instrument. Call me “Queen of the Earplugs;” I treasure my ears.

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Earplugs don’t help with allergies, though. For years, I’d have occasional bouts of clogged ears and dizziness during high allergy seasons. One December day a few years ago, my ears clogged.

I thought it was allergies, or possibly I’d caught my husband and daughter’s virus. I had things to do at the office and two sick ones to care for. I knew what this was, took ibuprofen and antihistamines, but it got worse.

I couldn’t hear anything clearly in my left ear. While it had been several years since my last “spell,” I’d had a severe dizzy day recently, so I saw my ENT, who was familiar with my history. I expected the usual cortisone pack, but this time he looked at me with concern when I told him this had lingered for three weeks.

I knew from his expression that something was different this time. This should have run its course by now, he said. He prescribed cortisone and an antifungal.

“When will my hearing return?” I asked.

“Let’s wait and see what the medication does,” he replied.

I took what felt like a never-ending course of cortisone and Valtrex.

After a month of medication, Dr. Robert ordered an MRI. Fortunately, there was no tumor, but no answers either. I went to the audiologist for a baseline audiogram. There was nothing but noise and pain in my left ear. Results? My right ear was good, but my left ear showed a profound hearing loss. I took a copy of the report home, filed it away, and cried. I cried me a river, as the song says. How ironic.

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I told only family and closest friends. I quit scheduling band gigs; even with earplugs jammed into my ears, I was afraid to take any chances. Meanwhile, a bizarre group of sounds had moved in where my hearing used to be: Tinnitus. In different keys. All at once.

Dr. Robert had told me that we needed to wait a year, as there was a chance that my hearing would return with time. Meanwhile, I had this invisible, sudden, crippling loss that I couldn’t even talk about or escape. After asking my husband to repeat something for the third time one evening, he voiced his frustration. “Are you DEAF?” he cried.

I fell apart.

“YES, I AM.” I replied. “In one ear. Half of everything I hear is GONE.” He felt terrible. So did I.

I began telling a few people about my loss. I was shocked at some of the responses.

“Well, I guess so, all that loud music you play!” A laugh. “I could have told you THAT was going to happen!”

Really? I’m the one wearing earplugs, remember? I have the small band that is known to be considerate of noise levels.

My response was anger. Then, there was the well-meaning advice about earwax, about this doctor, that diet, this treatment, etc. No, a cochlear implant would only destroy the way I hear music.

That year was one of adjustment, resignation, and hope. In many ways, I had to relearn to sing because I had to learn how to hear again. Our brains are wired for stereo, and that was lost to me. I quit going places where a large group of people gathered because I could no longer discern voices in a conversation. I quit going to movies and concerts and any live presentation because they were hard to follow. Everything was a wash of noise, coated with a blanket of anxiety and occasional panic.

I considered hearing aids, although I had no idea how to pay for them. We had two children in college. This was hope, though: One day, I can get hearing aids. 

I longed to hear in stereo. I wanted the safety of knowing where a sound originated. If someone called my name, I had no idea of where to turn. I don’t know where a siren or horn is coming from in traffic.

I wanted to hear music in stereo.

When the year was up, I went back to Dr. Robert and the audiologist. I was hopeful, as Erica, the audiologist, had successfully fit my father with hearing aids. I was determined to put up with whatever adjustment was needed. Surely no hearing aid noise could be more obnoxious than tinnitus!

The testing was similar to a routine audiogram. Erica explained that the noise and sounds and speech I would hear in the headphones would be adjusted just as it would be with a hearing aid, so we would find out whether or not a hearing aid would help me.

Whether or not? I hadn’t realized there was a chance that this wouldn’t work.

Today’s hearing aid technology is phenomenal. From what I knew about audio engineering, the ability to adjust amplification of specific frequencies in a device so tiny was nothing short of a miracle.

Unfortunately, this miracle was not to be mine. No amount of amplification or adjustment made a difference – only physical pain. I sat in Erica’s office and sobbed as she held my hands and offered tissue, understanding, and honesty. The cilia, the microscopic hairs of the inner ear that enable us to hear, were dead. No diet, supplement, medication, procedure or technical device would restore them. I faced a life in monaural, but at least I had one functioning ear.

She also offered a tentative diagnosis: Meniere’s Disease. My decades-long history of periodic dizziness was a clue. I’d had several particularly violent dizzy periods in months preceding the hearing loss. During the worst dizzy periods, I always spun to the left. I had become so used to a dizzy period during high-allergy months that they just became a part of life, diagnosed previously as “Benign Peripheral Vertigo.”

I learned about Meniere’s Disease, and saw my history written in what I found. Dr. Robert’s suggestions to address the vertigo were basically the same as for Meniere’s, but I felt defeated as I learned that no one knows the cause of the illness, and there is no cure. My years of periodic spells, interspersed by periods of feeling normal, had a name. Interestingly, it affects more women than men, and the possible causes include infection, allergies, head injury, stress, fatigue, migraines, respiratory infection, and an autoimmune response. I wasn’t too surprised that women experience Meniere’s more than men. It usually affects one ear, but sometimes attacks both over time. I cannot dwell on that. It is critical for me to maintain my balance, and I mean that metaphorically as well as literally.

balance

Balance.

It’s not always obvious that I have a hearing deficit, but an astute observer will notice. I’m getting better at lip-reading. In music, I seek the right position to hear what I need to hear in order to sing. In any group seating situations, I tell the person on my left “I’m deaf in this ear. If you say something and I don’t respond, it’s because I didn’t hear you.” I’ve learned to deflect the still-painful topic of hearing aids by saying “it’s a sensorineural hearing loss, which cannot be fixed by a hearing aid.” I’ve learned that such queries are usually out of concern.

I also tell others that sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency, even if you’ve had it before and you think “oh, allergies.” I also tell them about Meniere’s Disease.

On the positive side, the dizzy spells have mostly stopped; this, too, is typical of Meniere’s. As for singing, I’ve had to hyper-focus my sense of pitch, which has strengthened my vocals. I’ve heard of other vocalists who have experienced a similar hearing loss who have quit singing.

I can’t not sing. I have found a new way of listening, and a new way to focus on the experience of singing. It is a whole-body expression, as you must feel the vibrations and melody in your body. Your mind, throat, ear, mouth, lungs must know how the notes feel as well as how they sound. Perhaps it’s similar to the heightened sense of hearing that some vision impaired people have; I am partially deaf, so I have an enhanced sense of certain facets of singing that some take for granted.

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How can I keep from singing? At a Women at the Well concert. Photo by Rev. Kemper Anderson, at St. James Church in Cedartown, Ga.

About three years into this journey, my music partner and I were preparing to go on a short tour of several churches in the mid-Atlantic states, performing our original Gospel program about Jesus’ women disciples. We had recorded several of the songs from the program, and I longed to re-record some vocals and add harmonies.

Singing overdub harmonies is a challenge when you have only one functional ear. I managed by notating the harmonies, placing the headphone behind my one good ear, and forging ahead in spite of fear deep in my soul. What if I couldn’t do it?

But I could, and I did. A few days later, after the vocals were mixed, we shared the tracks with a friend. Danny is a gifted pianist who tours worldwide and has done a lot of recording and harmony vocals. He knows of my hearing loss, and was floored when he heard the harmonies.

“That’s a miracle,” he said, “that you could do that.”

It is a miracle, and one for which I am profoundly grateful. I still ache over the loss, but on the other hand, I now sing more sacred music and chant. Sometimes frustration still rises to the surface. That’s when the words and music of the hymn How Can I Keep From Singing sustain me:

Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing

            It finds an echo in my soul. How can I keep from singing?                      

Too much.

Two highly visible suicides this week bring that subject into the forefront for the time being. For survivors (family and friends left behind), suicide will always be with them. For those who live with depression, thoughts of suicide are often there.

For the rest of the world, well, we’d just rather not think about it, right?

I’m not practicing professionally right now (I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker), but keep my license current and never stop learning. Suicide prevention is a subject that people will ask me about, and I know in at least some instances they ask me because I’m NOT currently “working in the system.” So I urge them: If someone has verbalized thoughts of suicide, take it seriously.

How often have you heard “I just can’t see how someone can do that?” When someone takes their own life, they’re not thinking right. It’s not a rational act, no matter how much the Suicide may rationalize it. “I have no way out.” There is always a way out, a way through that doesn’t entail leaving this world.

Remember, that person is in a dark, dark place. If you can’t see how someone can do that, you don’t understand the darkness. Be glad you’ve never been there. And if you ever find yourself there, I pray you’ll hang on to a glimmer of hope that things can get better, and seek help.

Hope – and help – is always on the horizon.

If you’re one who believes that suicides are eternally damned, I ask you to reconsider your view of (and relationship with) the Divine. I recognize that this is a long held belief in many branches of Christianity, that suicide is “the unforgivable sin.”

That’s just bull. The God I know isn’t like that. The God I know can – and will – forgive anyone! Is the soul’s journey over at the end of human life? Of course it isn’t. The body’s life is done, and so are the physical limitations of the body. I believe one can ask forgiveness even free from the earthly body. I don’t believe that God says “too late, had your chance, muffed it” and zaps the soul into eternal hellfire.

Besides, deep depression has a physiological component. I’ve heard news-chatter over the past few days that “more people are taking antidepressants than ever, but we have more suicides than ever, so…they’re not working?” That’s a pretty simplistic way of looking at things. There is a great sense of despair, confusion, and uncertainty in the world – and we’ve become a more secular society (to the point of forcing God out of everything as much as possible).  Hmmm, could the two be connected? The almost total elimination of the Divine from our public life is a far cry from “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.…” We don’t have a state religion, but God has been shoved aside in public life because heaven forbid we should bring, um, heaven into the discussion!!

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Take time.

The explosion of antidepressant use has many reasons, and I think that one reason is that it’s no longer as much of a stigma to seek help for depression. Another is that we live in a sea of stress. Fr. Matt recently gave a sermon on keeping the Sabbath. We don’t really do that anymore. Even for families who attend church on Sunday (or possibly on Saturday afternoon for my Roman friends and family), the rest of the day is often taken up with work. And if you enjoy Sunday dinner, someone had to cook it.

The point here isn’t that taking a day off will prevent suicides. But perhaps reshaping our societal values so that we value down time and use some of that down time to reconnect with the Divine would help to ease the stress.

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When was the last time you noticed the little things?

Take time to relax. Get outside or dive into an art museum. Read a book. Go for a walk. Go fishing and enjoy the world God made for you. Do something nice for someone else. Tell someone you love them. Listen for the still, small voice inside of you. That still, small voice may guide you to be an angel to someone else who really, really needs an angel. God can, and will, use us if we allow it, and if we listen.

Be kind. Smile at friends and strangers alike. Sure, we can show the love of God in big ways, but it’s the little opportunities that come up a lot more often, so smile because you’re a beloved child of God. Smile because we’re all in this together. You never know the inner battle someone else is fighting, and a simple smile just might make all the difference.

 

What if she said no?

Have you thought about what would have happened if, when approached by Gabriel, Mary would have said “umm…thanks, but no.”

Unthinkable, right? After all, Mary had been specially chosen. Besides, God clearly knew her answer would be yes (or so I’ve always been told); otherwise, God would not have chosen her.

Right?

Hmmm. Maybe not.

In the image of God, male and female, was humanity created – and with free will, to boot. After all, free will had come into play in a big way before (think Abraham, Sarah and Hagar as a good example) and history kind of got rearranged. Eve and Sarah have long been blamed for leading men astray. (Funny how free will gets forgotten there!)

Mary could very well have said “no, thanks, and have a nice day” when Gabriel came to call.

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Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation

Had she said no, would God have given up on this creation of humanity as a sort of failed prototype, feeling that humankind was a little too feisty, a little too uncontrollable? Or had Gabriel been dispatched with a Plan B? Was it a case of “if Miriam says no, then go ask Salome, in the next village, she’s also a good Jewish girl, and hopefully more agreeable than this one” or would it be “well, your loss; we’ll wait a while to proceed with the Messiah business…another millennium or so.”

Mary – indeed, women in general – played a critical part in the Incarnation. Sure, God could have popped out Jesus fully grown in the middle of the Temple one day, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect. God could have said “tough, it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,” but that wouldn’t jive with God’s gift of free will.

Now, I’ve always felt very strongly that women are called to full inclusiveness in Christian leadership because Jesus was inclusive in His ministry. Some denominations have women in leadership roles; others do not. Those who don’t ordain women count among their chief reasons that 1) Jesus, our Savior, was a man, and 2) Jesus didn’t call women to be apostles.

I’ve touched upon reason #2 before in this blog in writing about Mary Magdalene, Apostle. In my mind, though, the first reason loses all validity when you consider that Mary could have said no.

We do consider Mary to be an integral, necessary part of the Incarnation, don’t we?

If Mary had not agreed, Salvation would have taken a detour. (Unless, of course, the Holy Spirit said “that’s ok, we’ll find another woman.” Ouch.)

Mary’s participation was vital in the redemption of humanity. Jesus died for our sins; Mary gave birth for our sins.

 

Those rascally quanta!

This morning, Fr. Matt delivered a sermon that had several of us standing outside after church talking about it. Now, that happens…but this one really struck a chord. It was on a subject I’ve thought a lot about (and alluded to, just a bit, in previous posts) but it’s so nice to know that I’m not the only one wandering into what I’m calling the “physics of prayer.”

Like most of us, I hung onto my concrete childhood concepts of prayer. Asking God was like asking mom or pop.

girl praying

Somewhere in high school, I listened to my inner self that said that prayer could be something more, and could be found throughout everyday life…and of course, my cynical teen self didn’t buy everything from religion class, either. For example, I had never bought the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation. (Perhaps I had an overzealous religion teacher or two. Or three.) And when I heard the my catechism teacher explain that “Jesus could never deny His mother anything, so pray to Mary” I thought that was pretty much along the lines of “if daddy says no, go ask mama.”

As I reached young adulthood and attended a Jesuit university, my concept of prayer expanded to, well, “hanging out with Jesus” and trying to listen to the quiet voice of the Divine. The Zen courses I took at Loyola helped with that (as did my physics and philosophy classes), and partly because of Zen, the book The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav appealed to me. I finally read it in my late 20’s.

dancing wu li

Now, why hadn’t physics been like this in high school and college? The concepts were fascinating, and made actual sense. Yes, on the “macro” scale everything is totally different from the teensy-tiny-itsy-bitsy quantum scale. Those rascally little quanta! Just when you’re not looking, there they go…. but I digress.

Suddenly, the power of prayer and prayerful intention that I’d learned about and tried to practice in some fumbling way started to make some weird sort of sense.

In his sermon today, Fr. Matt spoke of this. He spoke of quantum entanglement. Put simply, quantum entanglement is when two particles interact at some point and then are separated…except that they can never be truly separate again. Their quantum state is such that they can no longer be described separately. It is as though they have a “forever connection,” and that connection is not dependent on space or time. (That’s my 2 cent summary of quantum entanglement; just don’t ask me to do the math.)

quantum formula

No, please do not ask me to do the math.

So what does this have to do with the power of prayer? Well, think about it, because at the very foundation of who and what we are is energy, and we are all “entangled.” Each encounter we have with another human being has an effect, however slight, on our spirit. How can it not?

I remember having this mind-blown feeling when I first learned about quantum entanglement. This meant that intercessory prayer had a legitimate foundation beyond “I don’t know why it works, but it does work.” Here was an explanation for the power of prayer, especially of group prayer and group intention.

My inner cynic/skeptic loved it. For the first time in my life, I realized that Transubstantiation seemed possible. Intention is critical. I’m not going to wander down a rabbit hole of discussion on under what exact circumstances Transubstantiation may actually occur. I’ll use the all-encompassing answer that I learned from the Sisters of Mercy: “It’s a mystery.” (This is why I prefer the explanation that Christ is uniquely present in the Eucharist.) Niels Bohr, one of the fathers of quantum theory, said something along the lines of “all the stuff we think is real is made up of stuff that isn’t real.” That’s not “new age woo-woo,” that’s a Nobel Prize winner. In physics.

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Niels Bohr. (Image from famousscientists.org)

We don’t know exactly how the power and intentionality of prayer connects to quantum mechanics. There’s really no way to measure for this connection, either, unless you subscribe to superdeterminism, a group of theories that says that everything is determinable. Taking the quantum physics thing a step farther, Bell’s theorem says that basically…there’s no way to measure absolute outcomes in this quantum landscape because you can’t know all the variables; in other words, free will. (Take THAT, superdeterminism! It occurs to me that I am skating dangerously close to discussing Predestination and the paradox of free will. Physics, theology…is it really that different?)

Free will. Mystery. (Let’s not forget the Uncertainty Principle.) Starting to sound familiar?

No matter what we pray for, we – and the one(s) being prayed for – are dealing with free will. How do things happen? How are prayers answered? Why do we see those mind-boggling flashes of coincidence that Jung called synchronicity (meaningful coincidence)?

How many times have we been thinking of someone when they called us? How many times have we been reunited in a completely unexpected way with someone we haven’t seen in decades – right after we were thinking about them? I experienced synchronicity just yesterday when, at a luncheon, the keynote speaker used the very same quotation I was planning to use in my summary remarks.

I’ve written of some synchronistic events that clearly had a “God touch” to them. There’s the story of finding Nancy’s lost earring, and another one about finding my singing bowl.  I wrote about the power of joined intention at Pentecost.

I recently picked up another copy of one of the God Winks series by Squire Rushnell. I love his books about synchronistic God-winks. A departed friend, Janette, used to call such synchronicities “cosmic post-it notes.” These are those odd coincidences that let you know you’re on the right track (or gently steer you onto the right track).

christ project

What is the right track? Well, we all have a “Christ project.” (I used to hear it called “God’s plan,” but I really like “Christ project.”) How can I become more fully a part of the Body of Christ? This is my Christ project, and those God-winks are like…well, little cosmic post-it notes that remind me about my Christ project, and remind me what I’m supposed to be doing.

rascal quanta

Somehow, through quantum entanglement and through the ripples of energy sent forth by our actions, thoughts, prayers and love, we get back on track when we wobble. We hold each other up, and help each other out.

Following the terrorist bombing in Brussels last spring, I wrote about the power of prayer. News media was sneering about calls for prayer, but I posited that the need for prayer is real. It always is, and always will be; for through prayer we are entangled with others, and entangled with God, working on our Christ project.

We often use the term “quantum leap” thinking it is a huge jump. Well, it’s actually a miniscule jump on a subatomic level, but it results in a jump from one energy level to another. How does that fit with prayer, with being a part of the Body of Christ, and with our Christ Project?  I’ll leave you to ponder that – that, and the nature of those rascally quanta!

 

What once was lost…

Sometimes I find things and am able to reunite them with the person that lost them. How did you find that!? I have no idea.

It’s happened off and on over the years. Is this what you’re looking for? I ask, holding up an object. Yes! But…I looked there! It’s not me, it’s gotta be a God-thing. Heck, I can’t even find my own keys half the time. It makes my day when I can help someone find something they thought was gone for good.

seriously lost

Within the past few weeks I’ve had three “reuniting” events. The first concerned a cell phone that I didn’t find – but I did find the owner.

My brother found the phone in the middle of the road. It wasn’t an iPhone, but clearly a nice, new smartphone. My husband walked into the house and said “Can you charge this enough so we can turn it on and see who it belongs to?” as the battery was dead.

He told me where they’d found it, and all any of us could think of was “oh, my heavens, someone put this on the bumper of their car and took off without realizing it…they’re gonna be so upset…” and the middle of a winding Louisiana 2-lane road isn’t exactly an easy stretch to retrace your steps. It’s a dreadful feeling. You lost your phone, your contacts are all on there, you might no longer have a landline, and this was NOT an inexpensive flip phone, either. lost phone contacts

It took a bit of doing. We had no charger that worked. By this time, friend and music partner Bubba had joined the find-the-owner crusade, and we decided to head to WalMart to see what kind of charger the phone WOULD take. Could we use a charger at their display to charge up the phone? No such luck. A kind sales associate told us it was a unique kind of charger, pointed out the only one in the store that would work.

I wound up purchasing the charger, keeping it long enough to charge the phone enough to turn on, then repackaged neatly and returned to the store. “Is there anything wrong with it?” the lady in customer service asked. “No, not a thing,” I replied truthfully. “It just didn’t work with my phone.” (True. It would NOT work with MY phone.)

The phone, of course, was passcoded so we couldn’t access any info about who the owner might be. However, we did figure out the service carrier – one I was unfamiliar with, but that had a local office – and the next morning saw me at the store, explaining to the manager that no, I didn’t want the phone unlocked, but I was hoping they could track down the owner through the SIM or serial number on the phone.

Here’s where it gets to be a God-thing. He powered up the lost phone I’d brought in, and while he was accessing the info in their computer system, the phone rang. Amazing Grace

It was the owner of the phone, who just so happened to try and call at that precise moment when the phone had been turned on. I didn’t realize this at first, I thought it was some higher-up customer service person at Metro PCS talking to the manager. I heard the manager say “no, she’s right here, she just brought it in…sure, hang on” and handed me the phone.

It was the lady who owned the phone! She was overjoyed to know that she would be able to get it back. Sure enough, it was a new phone – and she had been en route back to Lafayette from visiting family. She would have had to have retraced over 30 miles to search for her phone. In fact, they did retrace their route – I can only imagine my brother found it very shortly after it fell off the hood of her car, as it was unscathed except for a scratch on one corner of the case. I was overjoyed to have played a part in saving someone a lot of headache – in this case, there was a team of us trying to reunite the phone with its owner. We were ALL delighted that it was returned.

Fast forward to this Thursday. I’m heading home from work (walking across the yard) for lunch, and I see one of our employees and my husband both searching for something. “What’s missing?” I said. “Hearing aid” said our employee.

Uh, oh. Those aren’t cheap. We started hunting. Another employee came to park a route car and started looking as well. I started praying for help; who wants to have to replace a $$$$ hearing aid? (In addition to St. Anthony, I believe there are “find-it” angels hanging around. I don’t know, I just ask for whatever heavenly aid is available.) We looked. And looked. And looked…. st anthony

Then, there it was. Sort of like picking pecans; suddenly, your eyes shift and you see what was hidden in plain sight. It was lying among the limestone, perfectly camouflaged.  All I saw was the tiny wire leading from the earpiece to the grey battery unit, but it was enough. It’s a God-thing, I said. Go figure.

Today, though, blew me away.

A few months ago, I found a gold earring in a parking lot. It was a coin, in a gold setting, a clip-on earring that had been somewhat squashed by a car wheel. Yikes! That probably has a story behind it, as I recognized the coin. earring upload

 

I contacted the stores adjacent to the lot, TJ Maxx and Stage. I spoke with the managers (or at least, that’s who I asked for) and explained what had happened. Had anyone contacted them concerning a lost gold earring? No? I left my contact information and stressed that this was the kind of thing that someone would be very upset to lose. I put an ad in the local paper….nothing. I tucked it away in my jewelry box, feeling that I needed to keep it safe, but handy, because there was someone out there looking for it.

After church today, I was walking out and stopped to talk to a fellow Epiphanite. As we talked, I noticed her earrings – wait a minute.

“Nancy,” I said. “Did you have an earring like that that you lost a while back?”

Her eyes grew big. “Yes! How did you know?” she asked.

“Because I have it!” I said.

It turned out that she loves these earrings, and after losing one, had finally gone to our local “can-do” jeweler (Allain’s Jewelers in New Iberia) to have one replicated. However, before doing so, she had retraced her steps, searching the parking lot and contacting TJ Maxx and Stage. Nope, no one had said anything about an earring! (That made me fume! Obviously, we’d spoken with two different people at both stores…but you’d think that someone would have at least posted a note on a bulletin board!)

“Now, you can have a matching necklace!” I said. There we stood, in the rain in front of Epiphany Church, with simultaneous jaw drops. We were BOTH thrilled to see God’s hand in this. “I almost didn’t wear these this morning” she said. “I usually don’t wear them to church.”

To me, all of these things are “nudges” from something beyond us. Sometimes we hear these nudges and act on them, sometimes we miss them – or, often, we hear them but don’t believe them or just think “that’s my imagination.” I have to trust that intuitive voice more often, the one that says “hang on to this…look here…go there….”

shhh angel

I told her and told her, so let’s see what she does now. Ya think she heard? 

The very best part of these stories is how blessed, humbled and happy I felt to play a small part in being God’s hands. Sure, it’s all material stuff. But a phone, a hearing aid, and a beloved earring ARE important, and it’s good to remember that we have Divine help with the “everyday” stuff as well as the “big” stuff. (It also feels good when I know that someone else is NOT going to have to go through the headache of replacing a phone or hearing aid.)

Now, before you think I have some superpower here with reuniting stuff with owners, let me assure you that I don’t. I’m still looking for my beloved Mont Blanc fountain pen, which has been missing for quite a while. And my keys. Anyone seen my keys? Crud, where’s my phone? My glasses? Now, where did I put my glasses?

wheres my glasses upload

Oh, wait. Um. Never mind…

The Gift of Skepticism

My faith is not blind.  It is perhaps too wide-eyed, too skeptical, and on occasion probably a bit too snarky.  I have tested many a belief against the cold bright light of rational thought. My cynicism has been a rocky road, and I have admired many people of deep faith and have wished that I, too, had the gift of faith.

Instead, I have the gift of skepticism.  I tend to “overthink,” to chew things up in my brain and consider them from many points of view.  Some great minds sharing this characteristic find careers in writing or philosophy.  The rest of us become garden-variety neurotics.

Today is Easter, the greatest celebration in Christianity, the foundation of our faith.  Christ died for our sins, and rose from the dead.

AAEaster-Morning-Empty-

I will admit that for many years, my skeptic brain had a problem with that “rose from the dead” part.  “It’s a mystery,” the priests said.  “It’s faith,” the sisters said.  I felt guilty because I thought it seemed…a bit unreal.

I no longer feel that way.  Skeptic that I am, I believe in the Resurrection.  Not because I am blessed with the gift of faith, but because I am blessed – or cursed – with skepticism.

As much as I love to read about the subject, I cannot know how things were 2,000 years ago. Human nature, though, doesn’t change.  Fear, joy, courage, are pretty much timeless.

And you know what?  Something happened on the first Easter morning.  Something really big, really outrageous, mind-bending, life-changing, world-flipped-upside-down-thing happened.

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You see, anyone who had followed Jesus was in hiding.  Jesus was a criminal – a political one – and had died the most gruesome, painful, torturous death in the Roman world (which was pretty much everywhere).  Anyone associating with him or carrying on his message ran a very real risk of meeting the same end.

Do you have any idea how many “alternate theories” of the Resurrection I’ve come across?  It was a vision….mass hypnosis….hearsay….the evangelists were trying to sell the Jesus idea…etc.

Well, an urban legend is one thing.  Telling people that “this guy Jesus was dead, and now he’s ALIVE – I’VE SEEN HIM” under pain of death is something else entirely.

The evidence is plain as day, in the stories of the Resurrection, and in the fast spread of Christianity.  Sure, Paul helped – a lot.  But would Paul have been persecuting Christians in the first place if the sect hadn’t become such a big threat so quickly?

Then, as now, people love to hear and to spread a wild, outrageous story. (Even in pre-social media times!) However, people will abandon a wild story if faced with a choice between truth and torture.  Think about it: It doesn’t matter how much you might think something is true – you’re gonna wind up denying it if you’re faced with something as unpleasant as crucifixion (or stoning).

But the early Christians didn’t.  Jesus appeared to many after his resurrection, and, for want of a better term, they freaked out.  Wouldn’t you?

The actions of Jesus’ followers – to spread the news about his resurrection in spite of what could (and often did) happen to them – is this skeptic’s evidence.  The unstoppable Jesus movement is still alive today. I pray that we may all be infused with the love and passion of the early Christians who knew the Good News and were unafraid to share it.

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Matthias: Lucky Dog?

The feast of St. Matthias was about a week ago (Feb. 24). Now, before you get this idea that I constantly know whose feast days are when…I don’t; but for some reason (probably because it’s near some important birthdays), I remember this one.

But who was Matthias? Well, some might say he was a “lucky dog.”

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Speaking of Lucky Dogs…

Here’s the setting: Jesus had just ascended into heaven. The Apostles who-once-were-twelve were now just eleven due to the suicide of Judas Iscariot. They chose to possible replacements, prayed about the situation, and then cast lots.

Matthias was the winner, and became one of the Twelve. He, like the other possible replacement (Joseph, called Barsabus or Justus), had been a follower of Jesus from the beginning of the ministry, but he lost the coin toss. Matthias won the Apostolic Lottery.

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St. Matthias

I wonder how Joseph/Barsabus/Justus felt about that. Did he take it in stride? Did he shrug it off? When disciples were sent out to the ends of the earth, did he remain sullen, thinking “OK, God, so I’m not good enough,” or did he say “put me in, coach?” Was he disappointed, even a little? Or did he breathe a silent sigh of relief, having a sense of the danger they were in? Did he fade into the dust of history?

Tradition says that Joseph Barsabus was one of the 70 disciples sent out to spread the news. Tradition also says that he became bishop of Eleutheropolis, an area in Palestine, and eventually was martyred. Matthias was also reportedly stoned to death (perhaps being chosen wasn’t so lucky after all). Both men were martyred for their faith, although neither knew what fate held on that day when the luck of the draw dictated who got an apostolic promotion (and probably a few more churches named after him).

How often do we face situations like that in our lives? Two equally deserving candidates are considered for a position. One receives a promotion, the other does not. Is it harder to bear when such things are based on pure luck? Do we see such luck as a statistical coin flip, or as Divine Intervention?

The way we answer that question has a lot to do with what we do with (and how we see) the lots drawn in life.

Joseph Barsabus could have slunk away in disappointment, saying ‘wow…God sure made that clear, I’m not wanted.” I have no way of knowing if he was a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full kind of guy. Either way, the community of believers could have been supportive in this situation.

The Guys At The Camp come to mind. How might they handle such a thing?

“Hey, man, it’s ok. You know we love you.”

“Look, you’re still coming with us on the road. Pack your stuff.”

“That Twelve stuff is symbolism for people who need that kind of thing. But there’s a lot of s**t to be done, and we’re counting on you. We NEED you. Um, and bring your tools.”

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A Couple of The Guys At The Camp.  You never quite know how God is going to get someone to make a path for others…

“Yeah, man, there’s plenty of room in the boat. And if not, we’ll take Franz’s boat. Don’t worry about that, it’ll all work out.”

It’s great to have a strong inner core, that knowledge, that passion for doing and following a path no matter what obstacles fall into the way. We admire people who do that; they inspire us even as we might envy their focus. We want to be more like that – have more conviction, as my husband would say. But even the most dedicated and passionate among us can have their hesitations – and could use a boost.

Maybe it’s the “lucky dog” that needs encouragement – and maybe it’s just “one of the guys/girls” that could use a little encouragement to realize and utilize more of their gifts. I’m reminded of the ending of The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy’s companions all learn they had everything they really needed and wanted all along – they just needed a little shove, acknowledgement, encouragement. What if Matthias was the guy who needed the encouragement, the designation?

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Be someone’s encouragement.

In the long run, both Matthias and Joseph used the gifts God gave them. They served Jesus and the early church by preaching the Gospel, telling the story of the resurrection and planting seeds of faith. They did what they were called to do, the best they could, and God took care of the rest.

No matter what our own individual gifts, experiences, wins and losses – we can do likewise. Each of us has a ministry of some sort; a calling to show the love of Christ in some way. Sometimes our call is to be the cheerleader or the wizard for someone else, at other times, another will do that for us. We do what we can, do it with love and passion, and let God take care of the rest.