End of a Road

During graduate school, I had a friend who served as both BFF and life-raft.  We often shared coffee after class, discussing lectures, classmates’ literary interpretations, and various life events.

At that time, I enjoyed my friend’s perspective.  She excelled in literary criticism and found fine points in plots and characterization I hadn’t yet noticed.  She also could satirize all the professors and many of our classmates.

Later, when we graduated and began drifting apart, I discovered that I was part of her satire also.  She criticized me, my writing, and my choices.  Where once I felt supported, I began to feel diminished.

One day, I wrote an article I especially liked, and with a few edits, my boss published it.  When I shared it with my friend, she cut it to pieces and said I’d never be a true intellectual or literary scholar.  By then, she was applying to Ph.D. programs, and I realized that we’d reached the end of our road together.  That day, devastated and heart-broken, I began to understand the meaning of being in a relationship for a reason, a season, or with a few people, for a lifetime.

As we travel our life journey, we discover many truths.  Among these, we learn that change happens and relationships end, whether marriage, partnership, friendship, school, or business.

To heal and grow from these passages, we must both acknowledge and mourn them, so we can progress in new, healthier ways for us.  Consider these suggestions for navigating endings in your life now:

  • During your daily contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection, choose to remember the blessings, even if only a few, from this experience.
  • Note on paper or tablet, where you can refer to it later, what you appreciate about the relationship and how you’ve grown, especially if the relationship was unhealthy.
  • If you must communicate with an “ex,” strive to connect in emotionally healthy ways which ensure your safety and security.
  • Avoid condemning yourself, the other person, or the relationship. Each relationship is sacred in its own way because of how it shapes us.
  • Avoid attempts to “fix” the other person, repair the relationship, or rehash old arguments. Instead, take care of yourself and all you need to heal and thrive.
  • Rather than rush to fill the void of loss with a new relationship, allow yourself time and space to rest, trusting that new roads already await you.
  • Seek ways to serve others, such as tutoring a child or serving dinner at a soup kitchen, especially if you tend to wallow or mope in sadness.
  • Connect with a spiritual community where you continually are reminded of your worth, your wholeness, and your divinity as one of God’s Beloved Creations.

Overall, remember that the other person, as we are, is a Beloved, Divine Child of God.  And God is always with us and within us as we travel along our next, new roads.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Time for Balance

As the summer months approach in the Northern Hemisphere, many calendars already are full with graduations, weddings, parties, barbecues, concerts, and/or vacations.  In the midst of this, many of us still have our usual work to do, grocery shopping, house cleaning, medical appointments, and other myriad tasks of daily life.

Sometimes, we get overwhelmed.  So much to do, so little time.  At some point, we may find ourselves staring out a window, watching the sky.  Or sitting in traffic, yet again.  Or shuffling the same pile of papers for the fifth time.  We may notice that we feel discontented, frustrated, or stifled.  We’re aware that something isn’t working and that “something’s gotta give,” though we aren’t sure what.  In the rush, rush, rush, we forget that we’re human beings, not human “doings.”

What we seek, no matter what we call it, is a deeper connection with God / Spirit / Our Higher Power — and a greater sense of balance.  Our awareness of this desire brings us to a new level of spiritual maturity, the place where we discover that finding our own inner balance is the key to personal growth and contentment.

To gain greater balance and deepen your spiritual practice, consider these suggestions:

  • Set — and keep — a schedule for daily contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection. Remember: God first; then everything else.  If we think we’re too busy for this step, it’s a warning that we’re already imbalanced.  Let’s remind ourselves that spiritual masters begin and end their days with this practice.
  • Set — and keep — a schedule which includes daily, weekly, monthly, and annual self-care for our bodies, homes, and vehicles so we and all our “stuff” are tip-top. Remember: Let’s not be so busy driving that we run out of gas.  Valuing ourselves first actually supports us in serving others better.
  • Integrate times for rest, nourishment, play, and work. Remember: God doesn’t give gold stars for overdoing, sacrificing, or struggling.  We just burn out, become resentful, and often hurt ourselves.
  • Notice and acknowledge both our feelings when we say “Yes” to something and “No” to something. As Jesus advises in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37), “Let your ‘Yes,’ be ‘Yes,’ and let your ‘No,’ be ‘No.’” Remember: If we waffle, and believe that we “should” do something that isn’t ours to do or that we can’t do, we devalue ourselves and others involved.
  • Discern how we share ourselves on social media, and whom or what we follow. Let us notice whether our feeds uplift and support our lives, or whether we feel “bad” about ourselves and our accomplishments.  Remember: We each have divine gifts which bless this world.  As we focus on ours first, we appreciate ourselves and feel content with who we are now.

Overall, remember: Our lives are divine journeys of learning and growth.  No matter where we are, however we are, we are God’s Beloved, Divine Creations, and God is with us, within us, in the midst of every part of the journey.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Face Everything and Rise

A reference website I use sometimes runs ads along its margins.  One has a caption which asks, “Will 2018 bring change?” and shows a young woman staring into space.  She reminds me of my younger self in Washington, D.C., several years ago when a new administration came to office and sent some of us to unemployment.

At first, I was in shock.  Then, I felt like a walking anxiety attack.  On nights, when I actually fell asleep, I awoke soon after, shaking in fear.  Sometimes, I created my own waking nightmares, including being a bag lady in the slums.

During that time, an older, wiser friend reminded me that I could choose the nightmares or I could choose the possibilities.  She taught me about visualization, so I could imagine a more prosperous and fulfilling future.

One of the truths we discover on this journey is: Life is change.  Sometimes we choose the change.  Sometimes we don’t.  Either way, it’s discombobulating when change pushes us beyond our comfort zones and/or disrupts our “ideal” plans.

Facing and embracing change, even when we choose it, requires a continual deepening of our inner faith and strength.  It requires courage to face an unknown future with trust.  It means transforming fear from “Forget Everything and Run” to “Face Everything and Rise.”

To help you rise, consider these strategies:

  • Recommit to your spiritual practice and plan extra time for contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection.
  • Recommit to any creative activities — carving, crafting, drawing, painting, cooking, baking, singing, dancing, writing, gardening — you love, especially if you’ve neglected them.
  • Recommit to your self-care. See the doctor, dentist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, or other practitioners who support you in your physical healing.  Treat yourself to facials, massages, reflexology, or mani-pedis.
  • Leave room in your schedule for extra rest and for mourning the losses change brings, especially if it’s related to a long-term illness, break-up, divorce, or loved one’s death.
  • Stay connected to loving relatives, trusted friends, clergy, counselors, sponsors, or therapists who can help you navigate the changes in healthy ways. Ask them to pray with you and remind you, as my friend reminded me, about your resilience and ability to learn and adapt.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Avoid making big decisions, such as buying or selling a home or car, diving headlong into a new romance, or trashing valuable possessions, as well as excessive eating, drinking, shopping, or other addictions you’ll regret later.
  • Get out of the house and into nature daily. Notice the gentle changes as trees fill with leaves, flowers bloom, snow melts, and rain falls.

Overall, when we face life’s changes directly, rather than seek the nearest exit, we support our inner growth and transformation.  We harmonize with the ebbs and flows of life, so we feel calmer.  Especially, we remember that we’re divine creations of God, eternally grace-giving, infinitely compassionate, unconditionally loving, so we know that we can overcome life’s challenges and rise beyond them.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

All Children of God

As a pastor, I’m sometimes perceived as being closer to God than others.  Though I believe that we’re as close to God as we allow ourselves to be.  When tragedy strikes, as it did again, now in Parkland, Fla., people often ask: “Where was God when this happened?  And I answer: “God was there.  Where they were.  And God is here.  Where we are.”

People also ask: “How could this happen?  Again?”  Some wonder how God could “let it happen.”  Although the truth is, God doesn’t “let” things happen.  We choose how we’ll behave, vote, think, speak, and believe.  We choose whether we’ll address the facts before us or whether we’ll wave them away.   God doesn’t choose for us.  We have choices and free will.  We choose whether we’ll pay attention, whether we’ll open our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our hearts.  Especially when another person doesn’t act, sound, think, live, look, or love as we do.

God doesn’t turn away, though sometimes we do because we don’t want to hear or see.  It’s too painful to listen or look.  “Besides, it isn’t our problem,” some say.  “We don’t know them.  They aren’t our children.”

Though as CNN News Analyst Philip Mudd’s cry reminds us: “A child of God is dead.”

And every death, report of harassment, empty belly, and orphaned child remind us how fragile and how precious life is.  The reports invite us to turn toward one another in compassion, rather than turn away in disgust.  For when we turn away from one another, we also turn away from God.  And in doing so, we turn a “blind” eye to the “other,” who’s also a child of God: mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, husband, wife, partner, friend.

As we scan the headlines noting another school shooting, immigration “reform,” and all kinds of neglect and abuse, we would do well to remember: God isn’t a capricious puppeteer pulling our strings, logging whether some of us are more worthy than others, more deserving of peace, love, joy, sustenance, security, and safety.  Each of us is worthy.  We’re all one before God.

In the light of this new day, thoughts and prayers can seem worthless.  Apologies and condolences may ring hollow.  Yet, we’re continually called to open our eyes, to see that the Presence of God is here, with us, within us, and among us.

So, if we need something to do, after we cry, mourn, rage, and write or call our senators and representatives offering our opinions on how to prevent more carnage, we best take a loved one’s hand.  We best look into a stranger’s eyes.  Smile.  Say: “The Divine in me beholds the Divine in you.”  And truly look at them, knowing as we do, that God is here.  Where we are.  All beloved, divine, worthy Children of God.

Namaste, Blessed Readers.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

The Best That Can Happen

Years ago I knew someone who often asked, when an uncomfortable situation presented itself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”  He prided himself on living by Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.   One day he produced a product with a fatal flaw.  So, each item was removed from the company’s inventory and had to be reproduced.  Then he was removed from the project, rebuked for both his focus and attitude.

Yes, things in life go “wrong,” break, fail, or get messed up.  Though as Master Teacher Emmet Fox explains, “Life is Consciousness,” and where we focus our attention and direct our attitude usually determines our destination.  Or as many artists say: Perspective is everything.

So, rather than view life from an “Ain’t-it-awful?”/ “What’s-wrong-now?” perspective, we can change our thinking and ask other questions.  Instead of wondering what could go “wrong,” we can instead focus on the possibilities and potential of divine outcome.  This change in perspective also can prevent us from stalling on our life journey, if we’re willing to ask: “What’s the best that can happen?”

Viewing life from this vantage requires tremendous trust because we must continually draw on our inner faith and strength.  In the process, we gain clarity about our own personal power and human will, noticing what we can change and what we cannot.  We consider our priorities, watching for open doors and new opportunities.  We use our contemplation, meditation, prayer, and reflection time to release fear and worry, and await divine direction with assurance and confidence.

This perspective also requires that we release our personal ideas about how everything “should” happen or work out.  It means that we stop giving God directions about what we want and how life “should” be.

It also invites other questions, such as: “Am I willing to:

  • Cooperate with God and concede my personal way for God’s way?”
  • Remove my hands from the steering wheel of life and cease trying to control everything?”
  • Live by God’s calendar rather than my own?”
  • Accept that others have different opinions and perspectives from mine, and may never like me or agree with me?”
  • Work through old anger, grief, pain, and resentment to heal myself and forgive the past?”
  • Remember that someone who loves me now might change their mind or that they will die one day?”
  • Withstand silence and be still long enough to truly listen so I know which divine directions are mine, not someone else’s?”
  • Sit back and enjoy the scenery, laughter, hugs, love, joy, and delicacies which flow through life in so many ways?”
  • Wonder, at least once daily, ‘What’s the best that can happen?’ and then do what is mine to do to let it?”

As we answer these questions, we discover a greater depth of faith.  And when we direct it toward the best people, places, and things for our lives, life has a richer perspective, and we see the best happen.

© 2018 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Give in Love

During my senior year of high school, I helped write a local, social history for our town.  In the process, I interviewed several residents who shared stories about their younger days.

Of them all, the only person I remember now is Ann, a widow and philanthropist, who reminded me of a duchess.  She had soft blue eyes and straight, silver hair wrapped in a neat bun.  Usually we met for lunch in a refined Italian restaurant more suited to society women than teen-aged girls.  Yet, Ann always treated me as a friend and always bought my lunch.

When I was with Ann, I dressed like a lady, sat up straight in my chair, ate small bites of the lasagna we often shared, and listened attentively to her stories so I could capture every word in my spiral notebook.  With her, I felt transported to another time, not only by her stories, but by her gracious manners and kind nature.

When I graduated from high school, she gave me a beautiful card.  Tucked inside was a crisp $50.00 bill.  I stared at it in awe as I realized that the money was a gift for me, not a donation to the social history project.

I no longer remember that history.  The restaurant has changed hands and been re-decorated many times since those days.  And that $50.00, which I invested in my college savings account, paid for tuition or books long ago.

Yet, Ann’s presence remains with me, her warmth and gentility, and even though she never said it, the love she gave me.  What I remember still, of all the words she spoke, is this: “Remember to give to others.  It always comes back to you.”

The child who’ll be born in a manger, who’ll teach the world new ways of living and being will teach this:

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:38, NRSV).

As some of us rush around to finish shopping, perhaps spending more than we intend, feeling more obligated than loving, let us remember that the price of the gift means little without the warmth of pure giving, which is the spirit of love.

As we consider our gift lists, let us remember that we give more in our presence, our kindness, our grace, and our love than ever can be wrapped in glittery paper.  When we give in love, we give ourselves as part of the gift.  And when the boxes are recycled and the gadgets wear out, no matter where we may travel next, our love will remain, flowing back to us, even years later, in rich and wondrous ways.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Habari Gani, and Happy New Year, Blessed Readers.  I love sharing this journey with you.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Walking in Faith

In the famous story about Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), Jesus goes alone to a mountain to pray, after he’s already worked a full day and fed 5,000 people.  Meanwhile, the disciples are at sea, in a boat battered by waves.  During fourth watch, (between 3:00–6:00 AM), Jesus walks upon the sea toward them.  At first, they’re terrified, fearing that he’s a ghost.

To reassure them, Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

And Peter answers, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus replies, “Come forth, Peter.”

So Peter leaves the boat and walks upon the sea toward Jesus. But then, when he feels a strong wind, he’s distracted. He begins to sink and calls to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately, Jesus extends his hand, catches Peter, and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Sometimes, we’re like Peter, not fully grounded in our faith.  When we feel buffeted by life’s strong winds, we sometimes wake in the wee, small hours of the morning, worrying about difficulties and troubles.  Sometimes, our challenges are like hobgoblins that we imagine will haunt us forever.

Yet, as a master of spiritual maturity, fully grounded in faith, Jesus reminds us: We can learn to walk upon the waves of life when we remain buoyed by the infinite well of faith within us.  We’re also reminded: No matter what may be occurring in our lives, we can go to the “mountaintop,” to reconnect with God in prayer, meditation, contemplation, and reflection.

From that perspective, we can choose whether we’ll let life’s challenges sink us, or whether we’ll choose to do the personal, spiritual work which is needed to rise above them.  These challenges include:

  • Unresolved grief
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Physical ailments
  • Misdirected compassion
  • Inertia
  • Financial concerns
  • Excessive activity, anger, clutter, overload
  • Addictive behaviors

When our faith is misdirected, we sink.  Sometimes, we drown, spiritually.  Yet, when we choose to lift ourselves up in faith, rather than sink into depths of doubt, fear and worry, we begin to meet life as it is.  We realize that we have greater strength than we imagined to overcome difficulties.  On the way, we also discover that we’re growing in spiritual maturity and walking with ease upon our own sea of life.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

No-Challenge Thanksgiving

If we’re following current news streams or social media feeds, then we’ve likely noticed that we’re in Gratitude Challenge Season.  It’s presumed to be a time when we challenge ourselves to be grateful for people, places and things in our lives.  Sometimes we do this with ease.  We’re thankful for a new job, raise, relationship or opportunity.

And, sometimes we don’t feel thankful. In fact, we may feel afraid, angry, confused, lonely, overwhelmed, sad or upset.  Sometimes, an aspect of grief, whether immediate or unresolved, clouds our perspective.  So, if we attempt to be thankful without acknowledging and owning our “negative” feelings, we may raise our voice, grit our teeth, clench our jaw, or shake our fist.

This is because the real challenge isn’t thanksgiving.  It’s acceptance that sometimes life unfolds in painful ways which we don’t we like and/or didn’t choose.  It’s realizing that thanksgiving and liking aren’t synonymous, that we don’t have to, nor are we commanded, to like everything.  In fact, it’s a height of spiritual bypassing to believe that because we’re spiritual beings living an earthly experience that we “should.”

Our discovery of this, often as an “Ah-Hah” moment, brings us to another level of spiritual maturity.  As we accept something we don’t like or didn’t choose, we can gently shift our perspective — the real challenge for many of us.  Then our thanksgiving perspective shifts also.  And we begin to feel grateful for such things as:

  • An illness requiring extended rest, because we love the view of trees out our window; the softness and warmth of our blankets; movies on demand; library books; and homemade chicken soup.
  • A layoff, because we can explore the true meaning and purpose of our work; learn a new skill or expand our creativity; notice new, open doors and opportunities; meet new people.
  • A debt, because we see that we’re trusted, with credit, to pay our bills on time; reconsider which items we need to feel content and which we can release; reach a new level of trust in God as our supply and sustenance.
  • A loved one’s death, because we appreciate the infinite love, guidance, wisdom, and joy they contributed to our lives; and our unique ability to share their gifts with others.

These are part of my thanksgiving list.  Of course, we can add many others.

And, as we accept that life has challenges, we discover ways to feel thankful continually, in all seasons, so as Disciple Paul advised, we can “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  And along the way, we embrace life as it is and discover new ways to transform it, knowing that no matter who we are, each of us is God’s Beloved, unconditionally loved, always and in all ways.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers.  Namaste.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Preparing for Joy

As we journey toward the holidays, many of us already are noticing our stress levels rising and our calendars overflowing. We notice how much we could do, buy, have, or accomplish.  Sometimes we wonder how it, whatever our “it” is, will get done.

Yet, the truth is, we won’t do “it” all because we can’t.  Some things won’t get done and some things, we discover, we really don’t need to do anyway.

So, rather than wind ourselves up for stress, let us instead anticipate the holidays’ simple joys. This begins as we reflect on the reason for the season: gratitude, light and love, new life and opportunities, and, especially, God’s ever-abiding, compassionate presence in our lives.  From that perspective, we can rejoice in what matters most.

To guide the preparations:

  • Be still and silent. Stay committed to your daily prayer and meditation practice.  Use it often, especially first thing in the morning, at mid-day (or whenever you take a lunch break), and before you close your eyes to sleep.
  • Put on your own oxygen mask first, especially if you have young children, care for an elderly parent or ill spouse, manage a large staff, or oversee many projects. Remember: If we burn ourselves out first, little is accomplished and holiday prep becomes a burden rather than a delight.
  • Discern who and what you follow, especially if you’re healing from a recent loss, such as a loved one’s death. The 24/7/365 news cycle invariably has its share of sad stories, upsets and arguments, as well as its lists of the latest, greatest ways to spread holiday cheer.  Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to grieve without forcing yourself to be jolly when you aren’t.
  • During meals, even 5-minute coffee breaks or 10-minute snacks, avoid news, tweets and streams. Allow your body to absorb its physical nourishment without unpalatable information you can process later.
  • As you dine with others, gently guide conversations away from potentially contentious topics, such as politics and gossip, to something personal. For instance, ask guests about their favorite holiday memory, tradition, movie, music, or food, or about what kind of gifts they’d love to give and receive.
  • Before you rush to buy the latest, greatest gadget or toy, consider your “stuff.” If you lost belongings in any of the recent fires, floods, quakes or slides, you were forced to do this.  And if you weren’t, determine whether you or your loved ones truly want another tie, sweater, or coffee maker.  Consider instead the gifts of time and presence which can be enjoyed at movies, plays, concerts, museums or bucket-list adventures.
  • Overall, remember: Joy is a choice unlimited by time, place, or possessions. As we let joy flow into our lives, we feel it in our preparations as much as in our celebrations.

 

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Remember Where and Who

When I was younger, my father shared his memories of walking along Madison Avenue in New York City on November 22, 1963.  He remembered hearing the news pour from doorways that President Kennedy had been shot and was dead.  He recalled complete strangers talking and weeping together in the streets. I reflect on Dad’s memories and this type of connection, as I remember my experience 16 years ago today.

At the time, I taught literature in Jersey City, New Jersey, at McNair Academic, an honors magnet high school which was a veritable United Nations of people of every ethnicity and religion.  The school was noted for both its strong spirit and its ardent respect for diverse beliefs within the community.  Several colleagues took me under their wings so I would know that I belonged, just as I took my freshmen class under mine.

And how all our wings expanded when we watched across the Hudson River, out classroom windows, as billowing, black smoke engulfed the Twin Towers.  While that day remains surreal to me in many ways, the feelings of warmth, support, and care endure.  That day, I was among a team of teachers, counselors and administrators who helped students prepare to return home, make phone calls (when phones actually worked) and face the unimaginable injury or death of a loved one.

Only when I reached the entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike, where a police officer asked to see my license and registration, did I realize the magnitude of events and my ministry in something greater than myself. I also remember my depth of faith, and the love and harmony among both friends and strangers.  I witnessed how peace and compassion are a spiritual practice when we remember that God’s Presence is always active, no matter where we live or who we are.

Despite what some religious leaders profess or news headlines declare, God is not a capricious ruler, assassinating Its creations with bullets, earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes or tornadoes.  God is Divine Creator, unconditionally loving, infinitely compassionate, surrounding us always in ever-abiding grace, the moment we choose to receive it.

Let us remember, then, not only where we were once upon a time, when our world churned.  Let us also remember who and whose we are.  Even when towers collapse, mud slides, fires burn or hurricanes storm, we each are divine creations and expressions of God, living in a holy place, part of a worldwide beloved community, all the time.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.