What do you see?

It must be Mondays. Or maybe it’s because of the extra advertising for the holiday season. Whatever the cause, I’ve been struck today by the number of social media posts I’ve seen that address self-image.

Beloved friends bemoaning their appearance. Reminders that grit and balance and kindness are more important than outer beauty. Ads with sparkly models on the side. Scrolling through the feeds, I know I’m not alone in seeing the trends.

We are beginning the season of darkness outside, contemplation inside, and attempts at shining light into the world. Darkness has a way of making us feel alone. Contemplation can reveal parts of ourselves we’d rather not face. The odd thing about shining light into the universe is that it is terribly difficult to see the impact we make adding our candles to the starlight. It can overwhelm even the strongest among us.

There can also be comfort in the cozy winter darkness. We can make friends with the person we find in the mirror. It is our choice to continue holding our candle high.

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There is a real struggle, I don’t want to minimize what it takes to follow through with rewriting our narratives. Some face not only the common struggle, but intense depressive episodes and anxiety related to the dark. These friends rely on those of us who are able to light our lights to lend a shoulder or ear. We must first shore up our reserves.

Here are some practical steps toward lighting your own darkness:

  1. Engage your spiritual practice. If you attend worship, go fully prepared to enter in to the service and participate with your whole heart.
  2. Connect to your body. This is a time where temptation to excess abounds. Make a plan and stick to it regarding how you will feed and care for your body. Eat real food. Move and stretch. Get enough sleep.
  3. Program in time for reflection. Whether it’s 5 minutes or 30, simply quieting your mind and processing your day go a long way toward peace of mind.
  4. Make a small change. Most of us know at least one thing that we can do to improve our daily lives. Maybe it’s cleaning that shelf or closet or room that’s been nagging you at the back of your mind. Maybe it’s making that phone call or returning that email that brings on heart palpitations. Maybe it’s deleting that phone number from your contacts that always catches you unaware as you are looking up a friend.
  5. Give yourself a break. Chances are you are doing better than you think. Find time to celebrate whatever progress you’ve made this year. What did you accomplish? Even small things like sticking it out in tough situations count in our list of victories.

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More than anything, I hope you can know more fully and deeply today that you are beloved. Your existence matters. Care for the gifts you’ve been given and use them to bless others. The light you shine banishes the darkness.

A blast of hope and love, like the crisp winter air.
How ReFreshing

A Prayer for the Season:

God who fill the whole universe,
You bring light and love with your presence in our lives. May we know that you are near. Give us the ability to see you at work in the world around us. Grant us the will to join you in restoring peace.
Amen.

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New Year, New Adventures (aka I published a book!)

I am so excited about the release of my new book, Quaker Queries for All Seasons!


In the book you will find 60 spiritual questions to guide us through a new year of seeking to grow in our Christ-centered faith. It is available in both paperback as well as Kindle ebook.

If you’d like to process these queries with others in community, come join our discussion group on Facebook: Query Discussion Group-Quaker Queries for All Seasons

I hope to see you there!

 

New Adventures in a New Year,
ReFreshing!

https://www.amazon.com/author/charitysandstrom

 

 

5 Ways to Not be a Jerk this Christmas

Holidays are stressful! Sometimes it is all we can do to hold ourselves together and maintain our status as civilized humans. Everything is pressure-filled, schedules are packed, people are living on caffeine and sugar. It all just leads to a gigantic case of the Christmas Crankies!

Photo by linder6580

Here are some ways you can resist the temptation to throw a public tantrum and maybe, just maybe, help someone else have a merrier Christmas season as well.

1. Let that person with three things go before you in the supermarket line. We’ve all been there. Last minute dash to the store before a Christmas party, or that dinner you thought you had all of the ingredients for. You pick up your items only to find all the open lanes packed and no speedy check out lanes open. Wouldn’t you want someone to kindly allow you and your tiny purchase to go first? Thinking with compassion and empathy lets us feel good about ourselves and it really does help someone else!

2. Let someone in while driving through traffic. I get aggravated when I drive and all the people are weaving in and out of the lanes, going slow in the fast lane, and just plain being rude. Here’s how I feel better in those situations. I find a way to add some politeness and niceness to the atmosphere. One way you can do that is by letting someone in. I don’t care if they should have merged 5 miles back, here they are in need and you have the power to help. Let them in. You will feel virtuous, and maybe they will pass on the kindness to others. If everyone were to just do one small kindness while driving the roads would be a safer place.

Photo by rachelg

3. Hold doors open for people with too many burdens. ‘Tis the season for over-shopping. And with that comes overconfidence in our ability to carry 14 parcels, packages, and shopping bags! When you are walking through a door, stop and take a look around. Is there someone who you could hold the door for? Literally 30 seconds of your time invested in your fellow humans can make the world a brighter place.

4. Park at the back of the parking lot. I know you like to park up front. I know it is tempting to circle until you find the perfect space. If you are like me, though, after about three trips up and down the aisles I am fed up and cranky! Skip the aggravation, burn off a bite of sugar cookie and park at the back of the lot. If you have mobility issues, you get a pass, but those with averagely abled legs can walk for 3 minutes and cut down on the up front parking congestion.

5. Tip Generously! Sometimes I get one of those waiters. You know the ones who don’t come to your table, refill your drinks, get the order wrong and otherwise just aren’t putting the “serve” in service. Well, during the holidays we need to show a little extra grace. I don’t know about you, but wait staff is not my dream job. It probably isn’t their dream job either. Maybe they are working to make ends meet and this is their second job. Maybe they are tired and worn out from working 60 hours a week just to make enough for rent and daycare. Maybe they just had one of those customers. The demanding, rude, “leave a snarky note on the back of the ticket instead of a real tip” kind of customers. From Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day how about we make a pact to tip generously whether they deserve it or not. We get to feel good about ourselves and they get to experience grace.

Doing something nice for others can help us in our cranky moments to find a light in the darkness by shining a little light ourselves.

Now That’s ReFreshing!

When the rain falls and the floods rise

Into every life a little rain must fall.

These words paraphrased from a Longfellow poem have been ringing in my ears today. It isn’t raining here, actually it’s been kind of a dry week. But I feel the rain.

Many of my friends and family are also feeling the rain today; this week holds many shades of sorrow. Friends are literally still digging out from storms that blasted a month ago. Family are tending to grief and memories of loved ones lost long enough ago that others are forgetting and still so fresh as to prick tears from those close by. Other friends sit freshly wounded at the loss of life, too soon, too sad, too shocking to describe.

Grief is so common, it could provide the one universal human experience. Everyone who loves eventually feels the pain of loss. Longfellow says it is inevitable. Into every life a little rain MUST fall. But why must it?

I want to reject it. Wall it off, don’t let it in the gates. Ward off loss at every turn and with all my defenses, I’d turn myself into the loneliest woman in the world.

I don’t have the answer to the question of why.

I don’t know why it has to hurt so much to love.

I don’t know why life ends too soon.

I just don’t know.

There is little comfort in the knowledge that others hurt, too. Surely the answer to my pain is not the pain of another. Still, Jesus said we are blessed when we mourn because we shall be comforted. Perhaps the answer is not in avoiding our pain, but in seeking to comfort each other in what we all will come to experience in time.

Comfort each other with the same comfort you have received.

-St. Paul

Finding ways to empathize may connect us in ways that heal the other rifts that divide us. If I can see you as one who grieves, I can perhaps overlook ways in which we differ. I can find a way to love those I find unlovely.

Longfellow is awfully optimistic, promising the sun is still shining behind the clouds. Sometimes it hides for so long.

I have seen the sun after a storm, its brilliance brighter than before. It is not a guarantee that the rain won’t fall again, but perhaps enough to remind me to believe.

The Rainy Day
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

The Team That Screams the Loudest

When I was in school, we would often have pep rallies where teams or grade levels would throw a cheer back and forth, getting louder every time until all the students in that section were screaming at the top of their lungs. There was only one rule, the team that screams the loudest wins.

As I think about all of those poor vocal folds getting cracked and torn (it was a badge of honor to lose your voice because of your intensity) I am also pondering the issues surrounding internet communications. These lines of text are called social media, but I really have a hard time referring to a field of battle as anything approaching social. I’m feeling ranty and today’s my day off, so of course I am blogging about it.

Yesterday in a Facebook group someone shared a screen-shot of an actual conversation between two people who live just over 90 miles from me. The interaction was the worst of the worst of trolling, name-calling, accusations, stereotyping, all that was missing was ALL CAPS! What made matters worse was that one of the people involved in this vicious behavior proudly displays on their public information that they attended a university loosely affiliated with my denomination.

To understand why that even matters, I have to tell you that there aren’t that many Quakers walking around the US these days. We have a good reputation with most people who learned about our involvement with abolition, women’s rights, and the peace movement. Social justice is a pretty big deal to those who cherish our history and look to influence the world today. When a person even tenuously associated with our name gets it wrong, it makes a big splash.

The person posting brought this up. At that point I had a choice to make. I could defend this person’s ridiculous behavior or I could disown them, or I could say that not all Quakers believe the way he does. I suppose the other choice would be to scroll by and say nothing…but we all know you can’t let someone be wrong on Facebook.

I can not even begin to count the number of interactions I have seen in internet communications that leave me shaking my head at the bruised fingertips and cracked nails that fall victim to the ideology planted in our formative years that the team that screams the loudest wins.

Does it? Does it really?

Some days I think so. Those days are depressing. Those are the days that I don’t want to get our of bed or interact with other humans. I can’t stand the thought that so much of our lives, our futures, our children’s futures are being determined by who is shouting the loudest, and often the vulgar-est, and often the hateful-est. It is mob rule at its worst.

There are other days when I have faith in the subversive forms of love and service that hide their glory behind the scenes bringing peace-filled moments into the darkest places. On those first days, I try to duck my head and involve myself in those second day kinds of activities. I’m determined to be part of the solution, and shouting louder is only going to cost me my voice, and maybe my heart, and possibly my soul.

What if we gave up shouting for our teams and starting serving one another in love?

What if we stopped identifying by our ideology or our politics or our class and started living into the faith we profess? (I’m mostly talking to my Christian sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, cousins and relations–those who claim as master the one who said the absolutely greatest thing is to love God and the second to love the person next to us.)

What if we did choose to scroll by those wrong people on the internet and whisper a prayer for them instead of shouting them down with the greatest insults?

I am all for standing against injustice. I think we ought to speak the truth. I also believe the best way to do so is in person with full accountability for the things we say and do.

If I post about homelessness and do not love the homeless, I am a noisy gong or clanging symbol.
If I post about racial reconciliation and do not love individuals and communities other than those like me & mine, I am accomplishing nothing.
If I post about a cause that matters and am not actually doing anything to make things better myself, personally, on my own time, I am nothing.

Where there are tweets, they will cease.
Where there are posts, they will pass away.
Where there are selfies, they will fade.

But these remain:

Faith

Hope

Love

And the greatest of these enduring forces is Love.

ReFreshing

Friendly Voices

While traveling recently I realized I had no bedtime reading material. No matter, I just pulled up my Kindle app on my phone and thumbed through my options where I came across a book of essays written by a friend of mine.

The words string together painting beautiful pictures of the place where we live. The geography, the various moods of the weather, the sky in all its brilliance. No one captures everyday life like this. She makes me feel at home, nestled in a quilt of memory and imagination.

More than her descriptions, because we have become friends over the past few years meeting each week to write with a community of authors, I know her voice. As I read the words with my eyes, I could hear her saying them in my mind so clearly she might have been beside me telling me bedtime stories of home.

Familiar scenes in a friendly voice.
ReFreshing

Confusion and Joy

My message for Easter Sunday Celebration at First Friends Church in Emporia, KS.

John 20:1-21

Confusion and Joy

These were the emotions that accompanied the experiences of Jesus’s closest friends and followers on the day of his resurrection. And why not? Any one of us would feel the same. For years they had followed him, listened to his teaching, witnessed his miracles and even the glory. They believed he was the Messiah, the one who would rescue God’s people Israel from their cruel oppressors. He would be their hero, arrayed in armor for battle, leading the charge.

Only he wasn’t. And he didn’t.

Instead he surrendered without a fight. He wouldn’t put up a defense in his trial. He let them bind him, whip him, beat him, spit on him, mock him, pull out his beard, and then he carried his cross to the place where they would crucify him.

Maybe they were wrong. Maybe he wasn’t the Messiah. Maybe they’d all been conned by a smooth talker who knew just the right things to say. Maybe they were wrong and he was just a good teacher intent on reminding Israel of God’s love and mercy. Maybe…the maybes were endless. What do you do when your dreams come crashing down?

The disciples holed up in an upper room, one with a good solid lock on the door.

The women gathered their spices and went to finish the job of burying the man they had followed who treated them like no man ever had before. Like persons of worth. Like bearers of the divine image. Like God’s children, not objects, not slaves, but companions for the journey. The women rolled up their sleeves and got to work as soon as the Sabbath had ended and they set out to anoint the body before it had another day to swelter in the tomb.

When they arrived, they were met with a puzzle. The stone was rolled away. The door open and unguarded. The tomb empty. What had happened? Who had been here, where was the body, how do they now carry out their final tribute to their friend without a body? The questions multiplied by the minute. Not once did they dare to hope that they would see him alive again.

Mary took charge, running to find Peter and John. She told them what they had seen, and they ran to the tomb to see for themselves. John stopped at the door, but Peter being Peter ran right on in and stood in the space that had just held the body of their friend. Empty. Just the cloth binding that had wrapped his corpse lying on the shelf to show that the space had been occupied.

They returned, more questions than before. No answers. No idea of what to do next.

Mary stayed behind. Overwhelmed with grief and frustration, unable to perform this last service for her teacher, she wept. Through her tears she gazed again into the tomb and there—where minutes before there was darkness and empty space—sat two angels. I don’t know if the day could have gotten any stranger for her at this point, but they speak to her of her tears. Why is she weeping when Jesus is not dead? Who is she looking for?

She turns as she answers, as if to search for him once again, she just wants to know where his body is. And then she sees him. Thinking he is the gardener, she asks him where they have taken him. She volunteers to go and carry him back to where he belongs. He speaks her name and she knows. It’s Jesus.

Her confusion turns to joy in a moment, so great that she throws herself at his feet. Fresh tears burst forth. There is no logic in this moment, she doesn’t try to figure it all out. He is alive and that is all that matters to her. She is consumed by a joy as overpowering as her grief had been moments ago.

Jesus gave her a message and she carried it faithfully to tell the disciples that he was alive, risen from the dead.

Other Gospels tell us that they did not believe her. It was news too good to be true, the delusion of a woman lost in despair.

That night he stands among them and blesses them. “Peace” he says, imparting to them divine wholeness, healing, restoration, forgiveness for their faithlessness, all in one breath. And then he begins to speak to them of the mission he has for them. Just as the father had sent him, he now is sending them to carry his message of the kingdom, to bring hope and healing and light where darkness, brokenness, and resignation have reigned for so long.

If this were a fairytale, at this point we would say that they all lived happily ever after. But we know that is not true in this case. They did not immediately lose their questions, their doubt, their need. They did not immediately receive the peace he offered. They did not immediately understand their mission. Like us, they were human beings living real lives with real hardship. But on that day, resurrection day, their confusion was overcome by their joy.

Jesus is alive.

They walked with him, and listened to him again for a time before he ascended into heaven. And he promised them that they would not be left alone. That promise is ours as well. We have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us in our real lives with real hardship, real questions, real doubts.

Today we celebrate the day that their confusion turned to joy, and we can join our joy with theirs because in rising from the dead, he defeated the last fear, the last stronghold. Jesus has conquered death and hell and the grave, and no matter what we experience in our earthly lives we know we do not walk alone and the victory he won is ours as well.

Jesus lives and so do we, free to live in this bodily life, free to look forward to a life that does not end, free to know that our lives can have eternal significance as we follow him.

Christ has risen, Alleluia!