Thursday, December 15, 2016

Praying the Psalms

A few months ago, I posted about praying using the ACTS "format".  As a refresher, ACTS represents Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  I shared one prayer I'd composed utilizing a variety of scripture, primarily from the Psalms.  This morning, I feel called to share another.  Peace be with you all.

Mrs. B

I praise you Lord because you guide me, you speak to me when I am most in need of you and you keep me from harm.  I know that you are near to me at all times, and, because of this, I can stand firm. I will seek you and your strength, I will seek to always be in your presence. Whenever I find myself in doubt, I will remember your wonderful works, and that whenever my feet were slipping, your constant love held me up; when the cares of my heart were many, your consolations cheered my soul.

Lord, despite all that you do for me, I remain yet a sinner.  I don't do what I should and I do what I shouldn't.  Even if my outward behavior is seemingly ok, my thoughts at times run rampant with discord, criticism, and judgement.  Oh Lord, do what you have promised and forgive me these sins for they are many.  Turn to me and have mercy on me as you do all those who love you.  Teach me your ways, Oh Lord, and make them known to me.  Teach me how to live according to your truth.  You are my God who saves me.  I'll ways trust you.

You are my strength and my shield.  In you my heart trusts, and so I am helped, and my heart is overjoyed, and with my song I will give thanks to you.  Your constant love reaches the heavens and your faithfulness touches the skies;  happy O God, are those who trust in you.

So I call to you when my heart is faint, O God.  Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Answer me in the goodness of your constant love.  You are the one who created the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you.

Lord of peace.  Give me peace at all times and in all ways.  Walk with me today, and lead me in The Way everlasting.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

He'll Meet You Wherever You Are

Note:  This is a consolidated re-posting of a series I wrote three years ago about our return to God. Today marks 5 years since we first walked into the doors of our church, Harvest United Methodist in Lakewood Ranch, FL.  It seemed fitting to share (again) today.

Two years ago today, my husband and I walked into a church for the first time for both of us (save for weddings, baptisms, and funerals) in over thirty years.  It’s something that still amazes us now; that we did this, especially in light of the fact that, up to this point of time when we made the decision to go, we’d never talked about God, or Jesus, or religion for any length of time at all.  Yes, we met via an online Christian dating company (eHarmony), and, yes, there were some spiritual questions that we answered as part of that process, but, it wasn’t something we spent time discussing during our first meeting, or subsequently.  We figured we were pretty darn lucky that we’d been matched up and that was about it. 

When we moved to Florida many years later, we were in the process of making some changes; many major, others slight.  I am coming to understand, in hindsight, that it is the small changes that have the potential to add up to something big.  What were some of the smaller changes?  We’d decided to be open to meeting new people, especially our neighbors.  Neither one of us are the most extroverted of souls, so, this really was a challenge, even if it seemed easy enough to do.  This meant saying "Hi" to people, talking to people, not doing the avert eyes thing when someone came towards us out on the street, all of that.  We also decided to get involved, somehow.  

Not too long after we moved in, our neighbor across the street approached us when we were out walking our dog (and since we’d decided to try and talk to people, we didn’t attempt to avoid her) and, after a few minutes of chit chat, asked us in a very friendly way if we’d found a church yet (she knew that we’d moved from another state).  I’m sure we gave her that sort of glassy eyed look of those who really don’t want to be standing on the street discussing something that we’d never even discussed amongst ourselves.  Truthfully, I can’t remember what we told her other than it might have been something like “No, we haven’t”.  End of statement.  She went on  to invite us to go to church with her and her husband one Sunday; something I’m sure, again, we politely made noises like “Maybe” and “Thanks” but with zero intention of ever doing so. All in all this was not a major encounter, and, she did not pester us about it, however, in hindsight, it was a small seed that had been planted; her invitation made us think about it.  Church.  Church.  Maybe this would be one way to get involved in the community and, what?  Garner clients for our new and fledgling business?  Perhaps. 

In any event, a few weeks later, a local toss away paper called The Observer (which is delivered to our driveway every Thursday whether we want it or not) ran an advertisement of sorts about a message series one of the local churches was doing.  I remember thumbing through this publication one night  and seeing the church's ad, “When Christians Get It Wrong”.  I quickly went past it, continued to glance at the rest of the paper, then, turned back to it.  I read the rest of the ad and realized that the series was centering on all the things that give Christians a bad reputation; you know  liked being judgmental, unforgiving, pious, holier than thou, disapproving of divorce, abortion, homosexuals, other religions, you name it.  In all honesty, probably the primary reasons why I’d stayed out of church for the past thirty years.   

Prior, I’d voluntarily attended a Lutheran church and been baptized and confirmed in it when I was a teenager, and yet,  I’d walked away for no real reason.  Probably, it just didn’t stick because I was a young girl who had other things on my mind than being a good Christian young lady.  Meaning no disrespect to my parents, I had very little support or encouragement from them to either remain involved with the church or  to have a relationship with God.  So, leaving didn’t seem like a big deal, and it wasn’t .

Unfortunately, there were plenty of people around me in the ensuing years who discouraged me from entering into a relationship with Him; either those who were influential in my life who refused to believe that He existed  OR (and actually probably worse) those who did believe, but were so strident about it that it totally turned me off.  Looking back, I see now that I wanted to believe, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be in a relationship with a God I thought  was hateful, prejudiced, biased, didn’t forgive, and probably didn’t want a relationship with me, anyway, because I’d really screwed up a few things in my life.     

Finally it simply became my habit not to think overly much about God; however, I never didn’t believe in Him, if that makes any sense.  

When my stepmother passed away in March of 2011, I recall calling my older sister and talking to her about her death.  I was, quite understandably, very upset and very emotional.  I was crying and I remember my sister asked me, “Do you believe in Jesus”?  I was gulping for air and I said I did; but, frankly, I was later mad at her for bringing Jesus up at a time like this.  Why?  Because I thought that she was doing so not because she really wanted me to know and love Jesus, but because she wanted to convert me.  Later, she did a few more things that totally pissed me off so that I found myself thinking “Ha, some Christian she is!” The thing is; her questions? They were another seed.

So, back to the message series at the local church (which turned out to be Harvest United Methodist). I showed the paper with the advertisement from the church  to my husband.  I told him this church was literally five minutes away from us and what did he think?  Didn’t it look interesting?  He took it, read it, and without hesitation said, “Sure, we can go if you want”. I don’t remember what day that was; it may have been a Friday, because we began discussing if we should go that coming Sunday.  We initially decided to go, but by Saturday night, I was already having second thoughts about the whole thing.  I mean, SUNDAY?  That’s tomorrow!  I don’t know, maybe I don’t want to do this? 

One of the great things about my husband is, he’s not a pusher.  Ok, maybe he wasn’t sure, either; come to find out he had his own very personal reasons for avoiding church, but, when I got cold feet, he didn’t argue with me.  So, we did not go that Sunday but I just couldn’t get that message series out of my head.  I WANTED to know what they were going to say.  I wanted to believe that there were people who believed in God who were not judgmental.  And, there was also the whole “getting to know people” thing that we’d promised each other we’d do.  And, in all honesty, I was beginning to wonder what exactly I was going to do with the second part of my life, now that I’d seemingly “done it all”.  So, I next told him I thought we should go to their Thursday night service.  An hour, was all.  Maybe it wouldn’t be very crowded, either; we wouldn’t have to deal with a lot of people and if we didn’t  go back, not that many folks would have seen us there.  I’m serious; this is what was running through my mind when we decided to try to go that coming Thursday! 

This time, we went.  Thursday September 29th 2011.  A bright, sunny afternoon and the parking lot at the church was relatively empty (whew, I thought).  We walked up to the doors of the church and before we reached them, they were thrown open by a man and a woman with big smiles on their faces.  “Welcome to Harvest!”, they said.  We were both a bit taken aback by their cheerfulness but (when we reflected on it later), it was genuine. It was pretty quiet inside the gathering area of the church; only a handful of other people there.  The lady, Nancy, asked us if this was our first time at Harvest because I’m sure all first time people have the same look in on their faces that we did; a mixture of uncertainty, shock, deer in the headlights, and resolve.  Yes, yes, we said and we spent a few moments with them telling them about us and why we were there (the draw of the message series).  They themselves were not attending that evening’s service but were helping out with one of the children’s ministries.  They introduced us to the youth minister/music coordinator and off we went with him.  From there, we happened to meet Steve, one of the Pastor, and chatted with him a bit before heading in for the service. 

One of the things I remember the most about that evening, other than who we met, was my doggedness in refusing to take communion.  I told my husband that I wasn’t ready to do that and I felt it would be fake to get up there and take communion when I’d not set foot in  a church for 30 years.  Not that I felt my husband was being fake by deciding to do so; it was a very personal feeling.  That evening’s message centered on  when Christians say the wrong thing.  Oh, boy.  Catherine, the other Pastor led the service and I remember being extremely nervous and uncomfortable, but at the same time, totally interested in what she had to say.  Lastly, one of the songs sung that night was one I’ve come to love called “Cry Out to Jesus” by Third Day and the line that stuck with me all the entire night was “He’ll meet you wherever you are”.  

After that first evening at Harvest, this is what I recorded in my journal:

“Went to church for the first time in ~ 30 years tonight. I saw an ad in a local paper for this church, Harvest Methodist.  They’re doing a sermon series addressing many of the areas about church/religion/organized religion that I’ve had problems with.  So, we decided to try it and it wasn’t awful.  Frankly, I think it’s a good place to start to re-explore…what?  My faith?  Not sure I’ve ever had any.  To find something?  That is probably more like it.  Certainly, it’ll be a way to get to know people, at the very least.  All I know is this.  I have to do something different.  I can’t live my life looking forward only to vacations and getting pissed off when things don’t go right (or my way).  I‘d like to be a nicer, kinder person, certainly, a better wife.  Well, we’ll see.  We went, and I think we’ll go back next Thursday”.

And we did go back the following Thursday (eventually switching to one of the Sunday services); and the rest, as they say, is history!

From weekly worship to gradually becoming involved in multiple Bible studies and other ministries, to volunteering to serve communion once a month to supporting other church activities, the two of us have most decidedly found a church home.  Not that it’s all been easy because at times it’s been very painful facing ourselves, some of the things we’ve done (or not done), and forgiving other people who we thought we’d never be able to forgive.

It’s also been a challenge interacting with people from our lives who, if not thinking we’ve gone totally off the deep end, are, at the very least, indulging us with symbolic pats on our backs and a “There, there, there; if it makes you happy, I’m happy for you!” Still harder for me has been what to say to THEM.  It’s true; those who are on fire for God, who’ve recently joined The God Squad; want to spread the word; want others to understand and feel the same way.  However, over time, I am learning that this is not really my job or responsibility;  I mean, I can share what I feel called to share, but in the end, it’s up to them what they chose to do with it.  I’ll leave that up to God and these individuals to work it out (or not).

I’m in the middle of a study now where the author is discussing how there can really be no transformation (in a person’s life) without there first being a revelation.  When I look back on all that’s occurred in the past two years, and, most importantly, meditate on who Amy was then versus now, I can see how all these little changes here and there have added up to a transformation. 

A while ago, a dear friend of mine, whom I was associated with in the years I was married to my first husband and therefore I was then not in any way, shape or form associated with God, asked me the following:

Amy, how did you get to the point you are right now spiritually? I know I'm on my way, but you seemed to get it right away. Maybe I am just too negative of a person. Any suggestions?

Ok, the fact she was asking ME this question in and of itself is pretty rocking amazing!  Here is what I said, and it’s what I’d say to anyone desiring a closer relationship with God:

Wow, what a question and a great one, too. I think the fact you are asking the question is a wonderful testament to your desire to grow in your faith. It's so interesting that you asked me this NOW, because I'm in the middle of a new study at church where we've been reflecting on exactly this; where we are today vs. "before". I think for most of us, as with most things, change/growth simply does not happen overnight. It begins with small adjustments and tweaks we make that at the time may not seem like much, but, when we look back, we can begin to see how they've built upon one another and grown to the point where we eventually are changed in significant ways. The author of the book explained it this way; "It's like watching a tendril of ivy as it starts out. If you stare at it, it doesn't do much, but if you go back every week or so to check its progress, you can see its growth. And, when you look at it a year or two or three later, it's totally taken over the wall". Speaking for me now, this was the right time for me to be planted. It's not that I never had the opportunity before to embrace God, I just chose not to. Two years ago was my time and I desired it. I think that's the most important thing. A person has to desire it. No amount of someone trying to coax you into it will help (I'm learning that, too!) YOU need to be ready. I am extremely blessed in that my husband was as eager as I to begin this journey. That's not to say someone cannot do this if their significant other (or family/friends) aren't coming along because I've met plenty of folks who attend church and yet their families do not. It's just easier, is all. Also, we found THE BEST church and church family. I can't stress how important this has been for us. THE BEST in every possible way. We walked in and have never left. For two people that hadn't been to church (save for life events) in 30 years, that's incredible in and of itself. If you haven't already, find a church where you feel at home. And GO. Yes, of course life happens and we can't always attend, but, try to go. Also, get involved in and with The Word. Go to Sunday School. Join a  Bible study or join another team that speaks to your talents. Attend some of the special events your church might put on, like Advent or Good Friday services. Serve. Help out at events, offer to serve communion. Join a ministry team. All of this, little by little, bit by bit, opens your heart, mind and soul to receive God's Word and do His will. And PRAY PRAY PRAY PRAY PRAY. However and whenever you can. Everyone does this in their own way and there is no wrong way. Even if all you do at first is recite The Lord's Prayer or read Psalms or recite back scripture you may have memorized, it's all praying/talking to God. One of our Pastors has a fantastic model to follow for growing in faith which he encourages all of us to try. 40.20.10. Be in worship 40 weeks out of the year. Read the Bible 20 days of the month. Pray 10 minutes per day. It's easy to remember and very doable. And remember, Christ desires perseverance, not perfection. Some days will still be not very good days; sometimes your attitude may not be what you want it to be. That's ok. Keep trying! As our other Pastor says, "Just. Keep. Swimming!" The fact that you are asking ME this question is just another wonderful example of how God works. 
And the revelation that had to occur before any of my transformation occur?  It came in the form of a toss away newspaper that I didn’t even look at most of the time.  God revealed Himself to me in a message series that spoke to MY heart; that addressed all of my excuses for not going to church; for not opening the door to a relationship with Him.  

God met me where I was, and He led me home. 

Mrs. B

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


A week ago, I wrote about my childhood fears of scary things lurking in the closet or under my bed and of my persistent dread that someone would break into our house and harm us.  It wasn’t until my Father intervened with his unique form of reassurance that I began to let those worries abate.  Oh, certainly, there were (and are) still times when I feel unsettled and unnerved; however, now I do my best to turn those emotions over to my Father in Heaven.

A few days ago, I opened my Bible to  1 Peter 2:9 as I’d come across that scripture earlier and wished to memorize it.  As I wrote down the lines of the verse on an index card, images of another childhood anxiety washed over me; ones that I’m certain many others will be able to resonate with:  the fear of being unchosen.

I’d really like to find the person who first came up with the idea of putting two children in charge of picking who they want on their team and smack them up the  side of their head while saying, “What in the world were you thinking?”  Ok, maybe I wouldn’t physically assault them, but I would still question their wisdom in concocting a scheme that, over the decades, has tormented countless children and left so many of them emotionally scarred.  And those are just the ones forced to do the choosing.

On the off chance that some readers don’t know what I am referring to, here, in general, is how this typically played out.  A Physical Ed teacher gathers around a group of  kids  and picks two of them to be Team Captains.  Then, each Team Captain in turn selects someone from the remaining group of children to be on their team.  Back and forth, so it goes, until all children are picked for one team or the other.

So, yeah, the agony for those of us who were either clumsy klutzes with zero grace of movement (FYI:  that little ditty about “Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace…”?  I’m a Tuesday child.  Physical grace, um, not so much!) or who were at the bottom of the totem pole of popularity while we waited and waited and WAITED to be selected.  Even worse, the grimaces and groans and shrugs of resignation when one of the Team Captains got stuck with us.  Fun and games indeed.

The thing is, this fear of not being chosen can continue to haunt us as we progress through adolescence and well into our adult lives.  Some of us might be better at disguising this fear than others, but I’m betting that even those smug Team Captains of 3rd grade have had their moments of angst at some point or another.  As I’m writing this, my mind is humming with the memories of all the moments in my life where I’ve either been chosen, or not; or when I’ve done the choosing, or not.  Frankly, I’m not sure which feels worse now; remembering how it felt to be left out, or, remembering those times when I shunned someone else.  To quote our Pastors’ three year old daughter, “Oooooh, it’s too REAL!”  Nope, I don’t really want to go there. 

And, oh by the way, I’m not the only one in the universe whose mind is dwelling on this whole “chosen” thing; I started writing this post on Saturday August 6th.  The meditation in The Upper Room for Sunday August 7th was entitled, “Chosen” and the referenced scripture was, you guessed it, 1 Peter 2:9 (if you’re thinking that I must have somehow seen the meditation and subconsciously absorbed it and copied it, then you don’t have a clue as to how totally incredible our God is).

So, here’s the verse:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV)

We are chosen.  God chooses us.   God chooses ALL of us.  Yet, unlike those moments in childhood where we were picked by a Team Captain and then forced to play a rip roaring game of kick ball with our two left feet, we have the option to not join God’s team.  It’s called Free Will, folks; and people certainly exercise that option.  Yet, God wants us to join in, He always has.  He said to the Israelites long, long ago as they were about to finally enter the promised  land: 

I call heaven and earth to  witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Chose life so that you and your descendants may live.”  Deuteronomy 30:19 (NRSV)

Thousands of years later, He sent THE ultimate in Team Captains to go about the business of picking everyone for God’s Team; His son, Jesus Christ.

Join the team and you’re good to go. 

But, wait.

Anyone who has ever been on a team knows what it means to be a team player.  You can’t laze about, watching your fellow team members carry the day while you cheer them on from the sidelines. You have to contribute. And you have to perform; but, you do so not necessarily for your glory, but for the greater good; so that the team will succeed.  There’s no “I” in team”, and all of that. 

Join.  Contribute. Perform for the greater good of the team; of the Kingdom. 

The good news is, you’re chosen!  You can trade in all of those fears and anxieties of being alone, never being good enough to belong.  Yet, you don’t get saved and just sit there. In other words, there is significant responsibility involved with responding in the affirmative to God’s offer to join up.

And herein lies the dilemma for many folks, myself included.  What, exactly, does this really mean?  And, does it always mean the same thing?

When I rejoined God’s Team in 2011, it was, initially all about practice; soaking up the grace that I so desperately needed, getting back into the groove of weekly community worship, beginning to seriously delve into the Bible, and developing the discipline of daily devotion time and prayer.  As the months went on, I stuck my toe into the stream of service, of active participation; serving communion, helping out with packing sacks of weekend food for low-income children, and assisting with the church’s annual Hanging of the Greens program.  Five years on finds both my husband and I considerably involved in leadership roles and a variety of other servant opportunities such that we are either at our church or out in the community several times a week. 

Yet, despite this, I still wonder if I’m contributing what God desires of me.  The majority of my fears and anxieties are gone (heck, I don’t have time to be afraid) only to be replaced by a sense of being, not so much underutilized, as MIS-utilized. 

An illustration:  When I was in high school, I played on a girls’ softball team for several years.  We were pretty good; we even made it to a few championships.  However, in the first season we played together, the coach put me at second base and, as a leftie, I totally sucked in that position.  After a few dismal games, someone finally got wise and moved me to first base and sometimes pitcher, where I (and therefore, the team) performed more effectively.

I’m wondering now if I’m in the right position on God’s Team.  Am I performing in the roll of second baseman when He really needs me to be the short stop?  Or, the pitcher?  Or, the manager?  Or, the bat boy? 

So, to prayerfully consider this (among other things) and hopefully to discern some answers as to my purpose and direction now, I’m heading to a 3 day (mostly silent) spiritual retreat next month. I’ve been writing this series as a way to both prepare myself; and, also, to ensure that I hold myself accountable to myself and actually GO.

I apologize (somewhat) for the seeming randomness and rambling of my postings, but this is the road I’m on now, folks.

Which calls to mind a  poignant verse from the Prophet Jeremiah:

“Thus says the Lord:  Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it and, find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16

That sounds good to me!

Mrs. B.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Unsettled: 9 Years Old and Terrified of Boogie Men, Monsters, and WC Fields

Shortly before I turned 10 years old, I developed a fear of people breaking into our house.  I’m not sure where this came from or why, other than I likely saw a movie or a TV show episode depicting something like this that left an impression that refused to dissipate. As such, I had a routine every night before I got into bed; look inside my closet to make sure no one was hiding in there and also get down on my hands and knees to peer under my bed just in case a baddie was lurking amongst the dust bunnies and wayward plastic Barbie stiletto shoes.  Some nights I was so spooked that I’d repeat this several times.  On the worst nights, I’d start fretting that my parents had neglected to lock the front door and would climb out of bed, leave my bedroom, and roam the house checking and rechecking doors and windows.  The colder months were better than those tortuous warm nights when windows were left open to let in a cooling breeze.

That summer, my older sister and I went on our usual trip from my mom and step-dad’s house in San Diego, California to spend close to three months with my Father and step-mother, Margot, in Lafayette, Indiana.  When we arrived at the house from the airport, Margot had a surprise in store; they’d purchased a sofa sleeper for the TV room so that Ann and I would no longer have to share the bed in the guestroom.  Ann, who was 12 and more than ready to have a room all to herself,  was elated; I wasn’t so thrilled about it as this meant I’d be alone at night in somewhat unfamiliar surroundings.

Me with Father and Ann Summer 1973

That first night, and many subsequent ones were, frankly speaking, awful.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though I was miserable throughout the day because I wasn’t.  Ann and I had a lot of fun with our companion (not babysitter) Judy during the week, and on the weekends, Margot typically had interesting or entertaining family activities planned.  But those nights, those nights I dreaded.  I’d start in on the dreading once it got dark, even if I wasn’t actually going to have to go to bed for several hours.  Like any kid, I’d try to find ways to prolong bedtime, but my reasoning wasn’t because I really desired to stay up longer, it was because I was terrified.

Once alone in the TV room with the door shut and securely locked, I’d pull out my bed, get the sheets and the blanket put on, and then commence my obsessive compulsive routine of determining that nothing had snuck its way into the room in the time I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth.  I’d open up the closet, poke around all the winter coats and sweaters to see if there was a person (or monster) in there; then, look under the sofa bed for the same (this despite the fact that not five minutes before there had been no bed, so how something could have crept under it with me standing right there apparently did not dawn on my 9 year old self). 

Then, I had to deal with WC Fields.

My Father was a great fan of that old movie star; although movie star doesn’t exactly describe that scary looking grouchy old geezer who (allegedly but not in actuality) hated children.  In any case, someone gave my Father this statue of WC.  It was made of something heavy and, admittedly, painted in such a way that it really did look like him; nattily dressed, complete with a very tall top hat.   It was about a foot  and a half or so tall and was creepy enough looking in its own right, however I’d recently seen a horror movie about dolls coming to life in the middle of the night and killing their owners, so good old WC was not only creepy, he was also a threat.

WC had to go.  Of course, I couldn’t actually get rid of him so I did the next best thing, I hid him.  In the closet.  Which meant that, several times a night before I finally fell asleep, I had to get up and check the closet to make sure he hadn’t become animated; and then, for good measure, look under the sofa bed just in case he’d somehow managed to open the closet door and slide under there and was waiting to burn out my eyeballs with the cigar he was wielding. 

The Terrifying WC Fields Statue

So, night after night there I was, terrified of nonexistent evil people hiding in the closet and underneath my bed, and of a statue of WC Fields.

As if this wasn’t enough, one night at dinner my Father said something to one of our dinner guests about never locking the doors to the house.  He said it  along the lines of, “Well, you know you are always welcome here.  Just come on in, we never lock our doors”.  And, you guessed it. That very night, after checking that WC was still in his closet, I unlocked the door to the TV room and went out; commencing a very lengthy process of checking the three doors and the multitude of windows in the house.

So this went on for at least a week until during one compulsive sojourn, I happened upon my Father in the kitchen getting something to drink, alarming him and scaring me to no end.  The gig was up.  He asked me, “What are you doing?” so I told him.  After thoughtful consideration, he led me over to the couch and sat me down.  He sat next to me, looked me in the face and said something that was not strictly true, but made a big impression on me, regardless, “Amy, there are no G-damned criminals in Lafayette Indiana, and even if there were, they wouldn’t be coming into our house, and even if they did, they wouldn’t hurt us because I have a 22 gauge pump action shotgun that says they won’t”.  Say what you will about my Father’s approach to my anxieties, but after that conversation, I was never again quite so fearful while staying in that house. 

I even let old WC out of the closet.

What do my childhood fears have to do with a present day count down to my spiritual retreat?

Stay tuned!

Mrs. B

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Me Accountable to Me. Or, I Refuse to Disappoint Myself

You don’t get to where I got in my professional career without, in addition to possessing skill, demonstrating a high level of responsibility and accountability.  In my case, this built on itself throughout  the years of my working life; beginning with small and then larger successes that came to the attention of my superiors; year after year, task after task, project after project, until, lo and behold I was identified as an “extremely responsible person with superior judgment.”  

Wow.  And this from a kid who grew up in the suburbs of San Diego California, partying on its beaches, with no more drive regarding my college education except to simply go, because otherwise, all four of my parents would have disowned me.  I did go; however, it took my five years to graduate because, well, I did go to San Diego State University, THE party school of the country, and my grades were, let’s say, passable, but, man.  There is something about basic intellect and savvy that will get you places that a 4.0 never will. Thank you, gene pool.  

So, yeah.  I am reliable.  I will always be reliable, this is not something easily shaken off; even if one is technically "retired".  People know they can depend on me.  And, it’s not as if I don’t want that because I do; one of the worst possible feelings I can imagine is that of knowing I let someone down.

Why is it, then, that I believe it’s ok to let myself down? 

Oh dear readers, that particular question is one for the ages; one that would require an entire series to answer.  I suspect, also, that it’s one that many of you may resonate with.

But here’s my pledge to myself.  And, because a good friend told me today at Starbucks at approximately 1:30 pm that I need to hold myself accountable to myself, I’m making it public because otherwise, I may welch out of it (ok, that Southern California party girl still exists in me somewhere!):

  1. I will go on my planned 3 day silent spiritual retreat in September.
  2. I will blog about said retreat (and my reasoning behind going) at least once per week before I go.
  3. I will blog at least 3 times per week about this and other topics, whether anyone is reading or not.

There you have it, and that is all…for now.

Mrs. B

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Prayer: Perseverance. Not Perfection.

One of the things I frequently hear people say, whether they be avid church goers or not, is this:  “I just don’t know how to pray.”  Google this, and you’ll definitely find thousands and thousands of suggestions on how people should pray; as it seems  that those who think they do know how to pray are more than willing to help out and/or offer their opinions.  I think this is great; unless, of course, one of these generous folks is extoling their way as the correct way or the only way.

When I first returned to the church five years ago, I was decidedly in the category of people who were confused about praying; at least in a way that I thought would be acceptable to God.  I was pretty certain my half-hearted attempts at asking for help during those years of my personal wilderness wandering wouldn’t cut it now that I had returned to church and was committed to taking God a lot more seriously.

Luckily for me, not long after I joined my church, the women’s weekly Bible study group offered a class reading a book by Bill Hybels called “Too Busy Not To Pray”.  There are two things I remember most about that study.  First and foremost, there is no right way or wrong way to pray; the most important thing is TO pray.  Some people go about their praying in a very methodical fashion; praying at the same time, following a particular process for their devotional time, always ending their prayers in the same way, etc.  Others are more flexible; waiting for the opportunity in their day to arrive when they have sufficient time and are in the right frame of mind to pray.  Still others pray while they are communing with nature, say,  while out walking the dog or taking a long bike ride.  And some never stop praying; they wake up with a prayer and keep it up all day long until their head hits the pillow and they fall asleep with a final prayer on their lips. 

I really liked learning in that study that “anything goes”, because it did seem to me that praying should be as individual as the person doing the praying, as distinct as the relationship they had with God at that point in time in their lives.   It troubles me immensely when I hear someone say something like, “One should never pray while they are lying in bed!”, or,  “You must always start your day with a prayer!”, or, “Don’t ask  for anything for yourself, only pray for other people!” because I think this both discourages people from praying (because none of it feels natural to them) and also gives them prayer performance anxiety (which, when you think about it, is about as counterproductive a thing imaginable when you’re talking to God!)

Although Bill Hybels reassured his readers that there was no right or wrong way to pray, he did provide some suggestions on how one might pray, which was really helpful for those of us who were clueless.  Over the years I’ve used many of his suggestions, modified them to my own style, and allowed them to continue to evolve (which has wrecked some havoc with my OCD tendencies but I’m fairly certain God’s working with me on this!)

The second thing I remember most about his study was a prayer format that provides some structure while still allowing for a considerable amount of flexibility and freestyle.  It’s called ACTS (hey, what do you know, that’s even a book in the Bible J )  Actually, I think the ACTS format is loosely based on how Jesus taught us to pray with the “Our Father”/ “The Lord’s Prayer”.

So,  the idea behind ACTS is that each letter stands for a different part, or  aspect of your prayer.  You begin with A, which represents ADORATION.   Here is where you offer your awe, your respect,  your reverence to God.  If you think about The Lord’s Prayer, it begins with adoration, “Our Father Who Art in Heaven HALLOWED by thy name.”  How long does one offer adoration before moving on?  I guess it all depends on how you’re feeling/what’s going on.  I have a tendency to pray the Psalms, so sometimes I’ll pray the entire 46th Psalm because I think it’s a perfect illustration of God’s majesty. Ditto for Psalm 100 (and many, many others!)

Next comes C, which  you’ve probably already guessed means CONFESSION or CONTRITION or CONVICTION. Any of those C words will suffice (but just don’t think CONDEMMNATION, please).  Boy, this sure is a personal part of the prayer, but the idea behind it is to CLEANSE.  Again, there are plenty of scriptures that can be inserted in here to get the ball rolling (Psalm  51 contains a lot of good verses, this is when King David was hanging his head low after the whole Bathsheba/Uriah episode).

Then there is my favorite, T, which stands for THANKSGIVING.    About the same time I did the Hybel study, I started keeping a Gratitude Journal.  It’s no big thing,  I use small notebooks picked up from the dollar store to record each and every day things that I’m grateful for.  Yeah, admittedly there are some days when I have to really think of something, but that doesn’t happen too often.  Here’s an example from one of my recent days: 

-Mom B brought us food.  YUM!
-A long day, thankful for the ability to get a lot done
-Received a nice compliment from John
-My cactus is blooming; a lovely spot of color to brighten my day
-Received a very sweet thank you note from Analee

So, after you’ve offered adoration, contrition and thanksgiving, the last piece is what is typically the longest for most people and that’s S for SUPPLICATION.  I at first wasn’t sure why this particular word was used for what I took to mean “requests”, but I think the supplication aspect is more about your demeanor as you make your requests.  The dictionary defines “supplication” as:

Supplication (also known as petitioning) is a form of prayer, wherein one party humbly or earnestly asks another party to provide something, either for the party who is doing the supplicating (e.g., "Please spare my life.") or on behalf of someone else (e.g., "Please spare my child's life.").

The Apostle Paul told his followers in Philippi to “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.”   Philippians 4:6 

Excellent advice!

Again, people approach this differently.  Some have a standing list of people they pray for every day and add in others as the need arises.  Some will  make petitions on behalf of groups of people, such as “my family”, “my friends”, “the children of the world”, “those who are grieving”, etc.  For me it often depends simply on my own frame of mind whether I individually name all the people I pray for plus their request or take a broader approach.  I don’t worry about it, because I know God already knows what I’m going to say before I say it and He already knows what all of these dear people need.  I do almost always end this phase of my prayer by praying specifically for what I need most from Him at that moment; I can assure you, it almost always begins with a P (Patience or Peace!)

I like to end with requesting something along the lines of a blessing right before I say “Amen”.

I mentioned that I like to pray the Psalms (and other scripture), especially as those ancient authors were far more eloquent than I could ever hope to be.  Following is one ACTS prayer I compiled using mostly verses from the Psalms (with a little bit of Romans thrown in for good measure!) I find myself praying this or one of the others I’ve written  on those days when I just can’t draw any new words out of my heart, into my brain, and through my mouth.  I share in the spirit of providing others guidance in moments when they, too, might be struggling with what to pray.

One last thought about praying.  God desires perseverance, not perfection! “Rejoice in hope.  Be patient in suffering.  Persevere in prayer.”  Romans 12:12

Mrs. B

Lord God Almighty, none is as mighty as you.  In all things you are faithful.  I will always sing  of your constant love.  I will proclaim your faithfulness forever.  I know that your love will last for all time, that your faithfulness is as permanent as the skies.

I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want but do the very thing I hate.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (opportunity to be specific).  Wretched person that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

I will praise you Lord with all of my heart.  I will tell of the wonderful things you have done (opportunity to be specific).  I will sing with joy because of you.  I will sing praise to you Almighty God!

Listen to my words,  Lord, and hear my sighs.  Listen to my cries for help, my God and King.  I pray to you Lord, you hear my voice in the morning.  At sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer (opportunity to list prayers and petitions).
Ah Lord God, it is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you.

May the Lord give strength to His people.  May the Lord bless His people with peace.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Spoof Proof Yourself On Facbook

Spoofing is rampant on Facebook these days.  What is spoofing, you ask?  It’s when someone creates a Facebook account using your exact name and in many cases, your current profile and cover photo.  They then send friend requests to your current friends who may or may not accept said request.  If they do, they are then subject to private messages from “you” extoling some great marketing idea or how to get free money or whatever.  Usually, this sends up a red flag to your friend and they track you (the real you) down as ask, “What the…?” and you then  realize you’ve been spoofed.  Or, the Spoofer simply goes through your friend list finding those who don’t have secure privacy settings and starts  spoofing them.  Or, they do both.  It’s a mess.

How can they do this?  Because more than likely your privacy settings are allowing THE PUBLIC to see what you are posting, including your pictures, your friends lists, etc.  Also problematic; if  you “Like” or comment on a friend’s post or picture or link or whatever and they haven’t set their privacy settings correctly, then your activity related to their post is now also, you got it, open to the public.  You cannot control what your friends do or don’t do, but what you can  do is to go through a  Privacy Checkup to ensure 99% of your activity (including your pictures and your list of friends, the primary targets of Spoofers) are protected.  And then beg and plead with your public-oriented friends to do likewise.

I’ll walk you through several steps to get you protected but before I do, a needed clarification.  In these cases your account HAS NOT BEEN HACKED.  The Spoofers do not have access to your real account (although it’s always a good idea to change your password on a frequent basis).  Yes sometimes  people do get hacked, but it’s not as frequent as the spoofing.  Doing what I am suggesting will help you in both regards.  Also, of course, having your friends contact you whenever they see something out of character seemingly coming from you is also very important.  Once the Spoofer knows “the gig is up”, they’ll move on to some other person whose account is dreadfully public.

Ok, here we go.

Step One:  Run a Privacy Checkup. 

This is where you can quickly monitor who can see your posts (posts means everything you post) as well as your app activity (games and  the like), view your activity log (posts you’ve liked or commented on) and, extremely helpful, view your  profile as the public would see it or even a specific friend.  Let’s go step by step here:

From your homepage (where you see your profile picture and cover picture) go to the far upper right hand side and click on the padlock icon.

Click on the top box Privacy Checkup.

This is where you want to ensure (as pictured here) “Who do you want to see your next post?” is set to FRIENDS.  If  you see a little World emblem here, it means all of your posts have up to now have been PUBLIC.

Click next and go on to the app screen.

Here you can do several things.  Ensure your activity using these various apps is set to  Only Me (or in some cases if you like to share stuff using these apps, Friends).  You can also scroll down and see how many apps you’ve accumulated (bet you’ll be surprised, I know I always am!) and remove those you no longer use/want.

After you hit next, it will take you to a final screen where you can check who can see your contact information, date of birth, etc.  I didn’t do a screenshot of this one ;-)

Once you’re done with that screen, hit finish up and it’ll tell you “Yay You’re Done!”

But, you really aren’t!

Go back up to the padlock icon and click on Who Can See My Stuff.

So now you should see that only Friends can see your posts (since you just changed it, right?  Right!)

Click on the next box, Use Activity Log.

Wow!  Everything single thing you’ve posted, liked, commented on, shared, etc., will pop up here. 

The important thing here is the emblems on the far right of each activity.   See my top one?  My friend has his privacy settings set to “Friends  of Friends”.  This means that friends of his friends can see whatever is posted on his stuff.  This isn’t as bad as seeing the world (which means Public) emblem but it still means a lot of people I  don’t know at all can see my input.  Thankfully, if any of them are potential Spoofers, they can’t spoof me!

You’ll see the rest are set to Friends.  Much much better.  I’m proud of you, Peri and Alberto!

Many I noted this morning were set to Public.  I won’t publically chastise you, but, it’s mind-blogging how many people allow the Public to see their stuff. 

Here’s a good opportunity for you (once you get your act cleaned up) to gently let your fish bowl friends know they are opening themselves up to spoofing.

Ok, onwards.

Go back to the Who Can See My Stuff to the the third box down, What Do Others See On My Timeline.  Click on View As.

Ok it’s a little small but it will bring up what  your profile looks to the public.  This is where you’ll find out how much clean up work you need to do!  Be prepared to be alarmed.

In my case, I have everything I possibly can set to Friends or Only Me.  So, the only thing the public can see is 1) My current  profile picture and 2) My current cover picture. You’ll note they cannot see any personal info, any other pictures or any friend information.

The only picture’s privacy settings that you cannot control is your current cover picture.  For whatever reason, that is always Public.  You can, however, go back and change your past cover pictures to Friends, which I’ll explain in a bit.

You can set your current profile picture to Friends and it’ll be visible to the public but not down loadable (about the best we can do, but, if you have all your other settings done appropriately, a Spoofer can’t do much with just your profile picture).

How do you change your picture settings?  It’s simple to change your future ones (you’ve already done it, remember?) but going back and changing all the pictures you’ve posted can be tedious but it’s worth it because, remember, Spoofers troll Facebook for public pictures.

Here we go.

Step Two:  Setting Pictures to Friends

First  make sure you current profile picture is set to Friends.  Here is a shot of mine (temporarily!) set to Public.  You can see the picture of course but also who liked and commented (thanks for the compliment, Cuz!)  You’ll note that the picture is also available to be share, send, tag, download, etc. This, friends, is a Spoofer’s dream.

Change the setting by clicking on the world emblem just under you name.  You should set it to Friends.

Now here is the same profile picture set to Friends.  Looks pretty boring, huh?  That’s a good thing.  

Another quick note on profile pictures.  ALWAYS check when you change your profile picture to make sure it is set to Friends.  For some reason, Facebook likes to (sometimes) default it to Public.

Now, on to a biggie, checking all of your posted pictures for their privacy setting.

Go up to the  area on your profile that says Photos and click on it.

Then click on Albums.

Here are all of your albums (including one for videos if  you have any of those).  See the little emblems on the bottom right?  

This is the privacy setting.  Hopefully you’ll see a lot of Friends emblems (e.g., my Mom and Me album) but you’ll likely see the Setting emblem on many, too (typically profile pictures, cover pictures, mobile uploads, timeline pictures, etc.)  Here is where it gets tedious so I suggest you do this when you have plenty of time and either a big bottle of wine or a Venti Starbucks.  You will have to open each album  and click on every single picture to view its privacy setting.  Every picture will have that setting indicated under your name on the upper right.  If you see Friends, move on.  If you see the world, that means it’s open to the Public.  Change it, and click on.

Note that going forward, now that you changed Who Can See My Posts to Friends, all pictures etc. should be set to Friends but it’s always a good idea to do a spot check from time to time.  You know, when you’re bored  or are getting freaked out because your friends keep getting spoofed.

And speaking of friends, that brings me to my final step in securing your privacy settings, set who can see your friends list to Only Me.

Step Three:  Protect Your Friends

Click on Friends.

Click on the eraser next to Find Friends and then on Edit Privacy.

Change both setting here to Only Me.

 This will do two things.

First, it will ensure that anyone viewing as Public cannot see any of your friends.

Second, your friends will only be able to see your mutual friends.  So, for example, I have 231 friends.  If you are one of my friends from church, you’ll only see listed those people you are also friends with.  It’ll say something like “25 Mutual Friends”.  This doesn’t mean you won’t see when the other 200 something friends comment on stuff I post, but access is somewhat limited.  This protects MY friends from getting spoofed if for some reason I fall off the security conscious truck and got spoofed myself.

I hope this has been helpful.  I don’t have all of the answers, but what I know, I’m willing to share!

Peace Out.

Mrs. B