It was My Anniversary . . . and a Bird Pooped on My Head

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Not the guilty pigeon

There I was, minding my own business, walking with my husband to a restaurant to celebrate our 19th anniversary, and the next thing I knew, I had pigeon poop in my hair.

We were out the night before our anniversary, because, on our actual anniversary, my husband took our son, his best friend, and two other guys to Six Flags for the day.

As many of our friends and family members already know, this is not the least romantic thing my husband has done on our anniversary. That would be the year he planned to go to Mets game with 10 guys from church, found out the game was on the day of our anniversary, then bought the tickets anyway.

They got rained on though, so I feel like karma was on my side.

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Karma in action

This year, the kids jaunted off to Shake Shack with their godparents, and my husband and I drove to Jackson Heights, an area of Queens that makes understatements of the terms “urban density” and “diversity.” We parked and walked several blocks towards a small second-floor restaurant that serves Thai hotpot – all you can eat within ninety minutes (there are overage charges). It was while we were standing at a corner under the elevated 7 line tracks, waiting for a light to change, that a pigeon left me a present.

I can’t remember the last time I was pooped on. By a bird, anyway. I remember loads of times (pun intended) I was pooped on by a kid. Mostly by my own, although just last week the neighbors’ newborn leaked all over me.

I’m not really sure why, of all days, a pigeon singled me out on my 19th anniversary, but I am hopeful that was not a portent of things to come. Although, didn’t getting pooped on by birds get Diane Lane her own villa in Under the Tuscan Sun?

Please, can I have my own villa?

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No villa materialized, but we did have a great evening together, once I scraped and washed everything out of my hair and hands in the restaurant bathroom, then dolloped on some hand sanitizer for good measure.

The restaurant we chose, Jaew Hon NY, was eclectically and colorfully decorated with light fixtures made of umbrellas and colanders and a painting of the recently deceased, beloved Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

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It was a family-friendly spot, with several families with babies and young children crowded into the narrow space. (As the night progressed, the crowd shifted to adults.) Many of the babies and toddlers were vociferously not enjoying themselves, and no one seemed to mind. They were also sitting mystifyingly close to the in-table heating elements.

The heating elements turned out to be (mostly) child-safe inductive heating surfaces that stayed cool while keeping the broth inside the hotpots boiling at a consistent 390 degrees. From what my humanities-tilting brain can tell from a quick perusal of some diagrams on Google, induction heating works through magnets and, um . . . magic?

Regardless, I came away wanting an inductive cooker for our apartment, because turning on a stove during an NYC heat wave is akin to using a blowtorch in hell.

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If you’re not familiar with hotpot, it’s found in many Asian cultures. In Japan, it’s called shabu shabu, a name that Wikipedia informs me may be an onomatopoetic representation of the sounds made by cooking and stirring. It consists a variety of vegetables, meats, fish, dumplings, tofu products, and noodles that you cook in boiling broth right at your table. According to the Thai friend who recommended this restaurant, Thai hotpot is distinguished from Chinese hotpot by its dipping sauces and broths, all made with Thai spices like Thai basil (spicier than the Italian variety), lemongrass, and galangal (related to ginger).

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For our hotpot, we ordered marinated beef, thin-sliced beef, squid, and shrimp, then chose items from the fresh bar: several kinds of mushrooms, bok choy, Thai basil, squash slices, eggs, tofu, tofu skin, pork and shrimp dumplings.

The shrimp came with heads intact. I made my husband deal with them. I don’t like it when my food stares at me with its bulgy, beady, pleading eyes. Or with any eyes, for that matter.

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The face of nightmares

We finished off the evening in Astoria Park, looking out at the Manhattan skyline through the lattice of the 59th Street Bridge and eating Talenti Almond Coconut Chocolate Gelato with plastic spoons.

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For a night that started with getting pooped on, it wasn’t all that bad. I’d spend another 19 years like this.

 

 

Illustrations from Mo Willems’ Pigeon books. My family is also fond of Gerald and Piggie and Knuffle Bunny.

What Is God’s Dream for You?

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from the weekly Psalms and associated readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Guest writer: Mimi Otani, crazy4jazz.com

Read

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Reflect

Jacob favored Joseph the most among his sons, making him the envy of his brothers. Joseph had dreams of ruling over his father and brothers, which only increased his brothers’ hatred. They nearly killed him before selling him into slavery in Egypt.

Joseph’s plight is vividly described in Psalm 105: 18: “His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron.” What would become of his dreams, now that he was a slave, helpless and far from home?

If you read the story to its end, either in Genesis or in Psalm 105, you will notice that Joseph found his vindication not when his dreams came true, when his brothers had to come to him for food to help them survive the famine in Israel. The purpose of his dreams was not for Joseph to gloat over the brothers who sold him into slavery. Rather, Joseph’s true vindication came when he was reconciled to his family, speaking words of forgiveness and understanding of how God had acted to save his people. Had Joseph not attained a position of power in Egypt, his family would have perished in the famine.

Through Joseph’s dreams, the nation of Israel was preserved, including the line of Judah, which produced first King David and ultimately Jesus. Through Jesus, God has included us all in His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph’s dream fulfilled became part of a story of redemption that continues to this day.

Respond

Whether or not you’ve ever had a dream like Joseph’s, chances are that you have dreams for your life. You may have a dream job, a dream spouse, a novel to write, a mountain to scale, a far country to travel.

In your prayer time today, lay those dreams before God. Ask God to show you to His dreams for your life. Ask for the willingness and courage to live out God’s dreams for your life, wherever they may take you. Be blessed with the certainty that God’s dreams are far beyond anything you could ever ask or imagine for yourself.

Jesus Chooses Us

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series following the weekly Psalm and linked readings from the Revised Common Lectionary

Guest writer: Mercy Perez

Read

Matthew 14:13-21

Reflect

Matthew 14 begins with Jesus receiving the news that John the Baptist, his cousin, had been killed. His initial response was to withdraw to a solitary place to mourn John’s death. The crowds followed him, but instead of dismissing them He had compassion on them. He chose to stay with them and began to heal their sick.

In spite of his grief and his desire to be alone, Jesus did not distance himself from the crowds. On the contrary, He fulfilled the message John the Baptist proclaimed: that Jesus is the Son of God, full of compassion and love.

As Jesus is pouring out his love on those who had followed him, along come the disciples. With the hour getting late, they tell Jesus to send the people away so they can buy themselves food. But Jesus is not done yet. Again, he chooses the people. Knowing that they are tired and would have to go a long way in search of food, He tells the disciples, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

How do you think Jesus’ command was perceived by the disciples? Did they interpret it as a real assignment or as sarcasm? Either way, it was a monumental request. And yet again we see Jesus’ love as He performs another miracle, multiplying the fish and loaves until everyone is fed. Jesus chooses to continue to pour out his love and compassion, this time by meeting the crowd’s need for food.

Respond

Just as Jesus chose to be with the crowd, meeting their spiritual and physical needs, He chooses to be with us. He is ready to listen, heal, strengthen, and do the impossible on our behalf.

Take a moment and choose to speak to Jesus. Tell Him about the needs you have that only He can meet. Be ready to receive his love, compassion, and his gift of the impossible.

 

Who God Designed You to Be

 

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from my church based on Psalms and associated readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Read

Genesis 32:22-31

Reflect

Jacob had a difficult life. Often it seemed like his problems were mostly his own doing. Born the second son in a society that awarded all property and honor to the oldest, he was still determined to take everything for himself. Jacob’s name meant “Supplanter” or “Trickster” and it fit. No matter what the consequences, he never seemed to learn to stop plotting and manipulating. He schemed, fought and tricked his way into an inheritance and prosperity.

When the Lord tells Jacob, “you have striven with God and with humans, and prevailed,” He’s telling the story of Jacob’s life. But He’s also affirming that Jacob is exactly who God made him. God told Jacob’s mother ahead of his birth that he would inherit his father’s blessing, and that God’s chosen line would flow through Jacob, not his older brother. God could have simply caused Jacob to be born first. But that’s not what He did.

Instead, God designed Jacob to be a fighter and a striver, someone who never took no for an answer, someone who would wrestle God Himself to get the blessing he wanted. It’s not that God wanted or caused Jacob to do underhanded things. But Jacob was on a path to become Israel, the father of a new and mighty nation, and he needed to be persistent, shrewd, and unafraid in the face of opposition in order to be ready for everything that entailed. Through Jacob, a lowly second son with an iron will and an unrelenting drive for more, God kept His promises to His chosen people.

Wherever you are in your life right now, it’s worth asking: Who has God designed me to be? What personality and character traits has He given me, and how do they fit into God’s plan and promises for my life?

Respond

Name a personality or character trait that you like about yourself. Thank God for making you that way. Next, name a trait that you aren’t as happy with, maybe one that’s gotten you into trouble, or has seemed to be an obstacle as you pursue your goals. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how God has used that trait to move you in His direction for your life. Thank God for this trait. Then, thank God for who He has designed you to be and for the role He has called you to play in this world.

Remembering God’s Promises

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and reflection series based on the Revised Common Lectionary. 

Guest writer: Mary Lynn Errigo

Read

Romans 8:26-39

Reflect

This week’s lectionary readings remind us that God’s faithful love for his people is present throughout Scripture. In Genesis 29, we read the story of Jacob, who was deceived by his uncle into marrying not the woman he loved, but her sister. Even in his pain and frustration, Jacob kept going. He remembered the covenant that God made with Abraham and with him (Genesis 28) and trusted in God’s promises.

In Psalm 105, we see the Psalmist give thanks to God in all circumstances. In the most difficult of times, he calls upon His name. He gives glory to God who is worthy to be praised, and he seeks the Lord and His strength.

In Romans, Paul tells a Christian community facing violent persecution that God is with them, enabling them to be “more than conquerors.” He assures them that God will never fail or abandon them.

Sometimes when we think that things can’t get any worse, we assume that God isn’t with us. We begin to lose heart and lose hope. However, even in dire situations, when our strength is gone, we can look to the promises that God has made to us throughout his Word, from beginning to end. We can remember the times that He lifted us up when we had no strength — the times when He came through for us and saved us — and know that He remains faithful to His promises.

Respond

Are you struggling today?  Are you looking for answers to situations that seem hopeless?

With the help of God’s promises in His Word, seek the Lord and His strength. Remember the promises He has kept to you in the past: the times He has lifted you up out of the mess, even when there seemed to be no hope.

Remember that Jesus is with you, defending and protecting. The Holy Spirit is also with you, giving words to your prayers even when you don’t know what to say. No matter what you are going through, it cannot separate you from God’s love.

“In Beauty May I Walk”

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A few weeks ago, I posted a poem draft based on the phrase “All is Completed in Beauty.” At the time, I didn’t know the phrase’s source.  Today, as I was going through an old notebook of spiritual direction resources, I came across a copy of “Navajo Blessing Way Prayer.” All is completed in Beauty” is the prayer’s last line.

I wanted to know more about the prayer, so I did a quick internet search. The version I was given (as part of a seminary staff retreat) is slightly different from the version I found at Talking Feather: Lesson Plans About Native American Indians, which contains lines in the Navajo language and can be found here. There, the final line is translated as “My words will be beautiful,” which I think is equally lovely. It resonates with me as a declaration and promise of things to come and as a meta-commentary on language, prayer, and the beauty of one’s self as part of the harmony of all things.

According to Talking Feather, the Blessing Way prayer

can be found in many places,”A one of which is the Museum at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, for the Anasazi. Some say that reading the words bring peace and calm.

The word “Hozho”  in  Dine’  (roughly translated) Concept of Balance and Beauty. Consideration of the nature of the universe, the world, and man, and the nature of time and space, creation, growth, motion, order, control, and the life cycle includes all these other Navajo concepts expressed in terms quite impossible to translate into English. Some Navajos might prefer the term: “Nizhoni” meaning  ‘just beauty.

I’m posting the version I was given below, because it was the one that sparked the sonnet that I wrote, but I recommend reading the Talking Feather version as well. The site itself is full of resources aimed at “correct[ing] some of the misconceptions about American Indians, and instead highlight the educational progress, positive life styles, and giving nature of  both Native and non-Native people  of all cultures” (“About Talking Feather and Indian Tribes”).

Navajo Blessing Way Prayer

In beauty may I walk.

All day long may I walk.

Through the returning seasons may I walk.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.

With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.

With dew about my feet may I walk.

With Beauty may I walk.

With Beauty before me may I walk.

With Beauty behind me may I walk.

With Beauty above me may I walk.

With Beauty beneath my feet may I walk.

With Beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of Beauty,

Living again may I walk.

All is completed in Beauty.

All is completed in Beauty.

 

(Image credit: David Mosner and “28 Magical Paths Begging to be Walked“)

 

Flawed People, God’s Perfect Plan

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Summer in the Psalms is a sermon and written reflection series from my church. It is based on the Psalm and linked readings for the week from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Guest writer: Mimi Otani @ crazy4jazz.com

Read

Genesis 29:15-28

Reflect

Genesis is filled with many disturbing and controversial passages. This passage is one of them because of its portrayal of Jacob’s marriage to two sisters, one attractive and one seemingly less so.

Some translations and interpretations say Leah’s “tender eyes” were due to her tender heart (perhaps she spent time crying or praying, making her eyes red and swollen), or that they were blue, which would have been a sign of weakness, or that she had a squint or was cross-eyed; others suggest that her eyes were beautiful, but perhaps her only beauty.

Either way, the order of the sentences suggests that Jacob weighs one sister against the other and chooses the one he finds more physically beautiful. There’s no suggestion that he falls in love with Rachel for any reason other than her appearance. Jacob’s superficial attraction makes him an easy target for Laban, who takes advantage of Jacob’s susceptibility and tricks him into another seven years of labor.

Although I am not a big fan of Jacob, I give him a lot of credit, because even after seven years, Rachel was still desirable to him, and he was willing to work for another seven years to marry her. What woman would not long for such an expression of love?

Looking at the bigger picture, we can see that God uses both women to fulfill the promise that He made to Abraham: that He would make Israel a great nation. The sons of Rachel and Leah become the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. Rachel, who was initially chosen by Jacob for shallow reasons, is shown his faithful love, the kind of love God has for all His people. Leah, the unloved wife, ultimately is more honored than her sister. She becomes the mother of Judah, the line that gives birth to Jesus. And Jacob, through all his work and struggles and character flaws, is key to God’s fulfillment of His everlasting covenant with Israel and with all His people through Jesus. Through Jesus, we are called children of God and enjoy an inheritance that is more than the land of Canaan.

Respond

Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
He is the LORD our God (Psalm 105:5-7)

God does not sugar coat His story – He is not afraid of revealing human weaknesses and follies in His Word. Stories like Jacob’s help us to learn from our weaknesses: to realize why we all need Jesus to carry our burdens and why we depend on his grace.

Think of a time in your life when God has rescued you from your own weakness and foolishness, bringing good things to you or other people in spite of everything. Give Him thanks for His wonderful works and the faithfulness of His promises.

God’s Seeds of Life and Hope

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Summer in the Psalms is a series from the Revised Common Lectionary. Sunday sermons and written reflections are based on the Psalm and additional passages for each week.

Guest writer: Mercy Perez

Read

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Reflect

I made the decision to follow Jesus at the age of sixteen. I was at a youth conference when the invitation was extended and I accepted. I was young and had the notion that if I became a Christian my life would be problem free.

A few years into my walk as a believer, that notion was shattered. I realized that, believer or not, I was not exempt from the harshness that surrounded me. I was not exempt from the consequences of my poor decisions, nor from the consequences of others’ poor judgments and decisions.

But Jesus had sowed the good seed in me: the message of hope and life that flourished and deepened my desire to continue to follow him. That hope sown in me served as a lifeline when doubt, fear, discouragement and disappointments grew like weeds threatening to destroy me.

When I was at my weakest I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me, telling me how much I was loved and that no matter what assailed me or where I turned, God would always be there.

Respond

Reread Psalm 139 for a reminder that no matter where you go, God is always guiding and holding you. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you receive and meditate on God’s love. Let the experience of being loved by God wash away any anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed.

Thank God for having fearfully and wonderfully knit you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:14) and for being with you every day since.

 

“The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God”

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A sermon and reflection series following the Revised Common Lectionary. Sunday sermons are based on the Psalm for the week. Written reflections are based on selected Scriptures from the same week.

Read

Genesis 28:10-19a

Reflect

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil – Gerard Manley Hopkins*

At the beginning this passage, Jacob is fleeing for his life. He’s just lied to his blind, dying father. He’s cheated his older brother out of his rightful inheritance as the firstborn son. That brother (quite understandably) now wants to kill him. Jacob has no reason to expect God to show up in a dream, give him a glimpse of angels carrying out God’s work, and leave him a blessing. But God does all of these things.

Most of us have never had a dream even close to Jacob’s. But, as the poet and Jesuit priest Hopkins writes, God’s glory and beauty shine through all creation. And through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God’s presence is always available to us. We don’t have to wait for God to reach us in a dream or go to a faraway holy place – although those are also options. We can see God, now, through every blade of grass or summer rain. Or, if nature doesn’t speak to us, in science, human interactions, architecture, or the arts. We can hear Him speak to us in our prayers and through the Word. We can feel the Spirit’s presence in our bodies, hearts, and minds.

We can also trust that if God wants to get our attention, He will. Both Jacob’s story and Psalm 139 tell us that God’s love can reach us anywhere, even if we’re running from it or unaware it exists. Whatever our present feelings towards God – shame, sadness, anger, weariness, indifference – God will literally move heaven and earth to reach out to us and assure us of His love.

Respond

What are your feelings towards God right now, positive or negative? Talk to God about them, and ask Him to be with you as you experience those feelings.

How would you like God to show His love today, both to you and to a specific person who doesn’t know Him yet?

 

*Full text of poem available here.