Pie for Breakfast (And a Few Other Ways to Enjoy the Holidays)

During the Thanksgiving holiday before I left Washington, D.C. for good, I relished my time with family and friends. I honored my contemplative spirit which needed a respite from the fast-paced, high-powered lifestyle of “have-to’s, ” “musts” and “shoulds.” Especially, I enjoyed the Friday morning following Thanksgiving when Dad and I ate our traditional post-holiday breakfast of leftover pie and ice cream.

As I savored a combination of apple-cranberry and cherry garnished with coffee ice cream, I recounted a few disappointments, including our lack of a storybook holiday.  Dad, who’d worked in advertising, listened, then said: “Those only happen in movies and commercials.”

Alas, I knew he was correct.  And, as a pastor, I’ve witnessed how many people feel sadness and grief in believing that everyone else has a “Hallmark-Card-I’ll Be Home for the Holidays” experience.

The truth is: Few holidays are ideal.  And when we pressure ourselves to create such a fantasy, we set ourselves up for disillusionment and distress.  Furthermore, the pressure to meet others’ expectations or outshine our neighbors has us saying, doing and buying things which prohibit our contentment and stress our bodies, minds, spirits and bank accounts.

So, no matter whether we’re Type A’s, travelers, homebodies, partiers, contemplatives, or a bit of each, here are some ways to stress less and rejoice more:

  • Begin with the end in mind. During our prayer and meditation time, we can consider our schedules and what will most renew our spirits.  This includes determining who’s most important to us.  A beloved aged relative who affirms our purpose or an ill BFF who needs a boost gets priority over another cocktail party of vacuous conversation.
  • When gathered with a mixed group of varying beliefs and opinions, we can strive to listen more and persuade less. Remember: A person convinced against his/her will is of the same opinion still.  So, we can choose to gently disengage.  When someone, especially a loved one, wants to debate, we can say something such as: “I love you.  Let’s agree to disagree on this one.”  Then we can change the topic to something neutral, such as shared love of a sports team or our fondness for sweet potatoes.
  • If, for whatever reason, we can’t be physically present with loved ones, we can still call or video conference. Schedule a specific time of 20 minutes or more to connect and share.
  • Limit the highlight reels on social media so we enjoy ourselves without comparing our holiday to someone else’s.
  • Remember: Happiness occurs on a scale. This includes feeling calm, content, peaceful, relaxed and/or rested.
  • Remember also: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are days on a calendar. Their true purpose isn’t for overdoing, overeating or overspending, but for celebrating rich harvests, welcoming new life, and setting intentions for greater possibilities.  When we maintain this perspective, we often feel more grateful for what we have.
  • And, of course, consider eating pie for breakfast.

Happy Thanksgiving, Blessed Readers!

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

To Everything, a Season

One of the blessings of ministry — and of life, if we’re paying attention — is how fortunate we are to share our journey with so many others.  Sometimes, we travel together a long way.  Sometimes we meet at a particular juncture, then move on again, each in our own direction.  Either way, when we’re present to the experience, it can transform us in rich and wondrous ways.

Such was the case for me recently when I received a referral from a colleague to officiate a funeral.  I had never met the deceased or her family before.  She was the friend of someone my colleague knew.  The service turnaround was quick.  It was Wednesday evening, the family was arriving in town on Thursday morning, and they wanted to celebrate her life on Friday afternoon.

As we planned the service, I learned about this woman’s abiding faith, her devotion to God, her love for her family and friends, her longing for justice for all people, and her zest for life.  I heard about how she called everyone in the family on their birthday to sing to them and how often it was off-key.  I discovered that she served Kentucky Fried Chicken at an important family event and got caught trying to pass it off as her own recipe.

As I perused my notes and contemplated how to tell her story, I realized the depth of her faith and strength as she lived each season of her life, including her preparation for death.  And I turned to Ecclesiastes 3:1-9:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.  A time to be born, and a time to die.  A time to plant, and a time to harvest what is planted.   . . . A time to break down, and a time to build up.  A time to weep, and a time to laugh.  A time to mourn, and a time to dance.  . . . A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.  A time to get, and a time to lose.  . . . .  A time to be silent, and a time to speak.  A time of love, and a time of hate.   A time of war, and a time of peace.

I learn much on my journey through ministry, and one thing is clear: To everything, there is a season.  Some we enjoy, and some we don’t.  Yet, if we’re aware of what’s occurring — a child being born; a loved one dying; one team reaching the playoffs at another’s expense; a dispute settled; a crop planted, then harvested later — we remember that life vibrates in us, as us, in the celebrations as much as in the sorrows.  We discover, on the way, that no one really cares who fried the chicken.  What we remember is that in at least one season, we ate the chicken together.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

From the Inside Out

Autumn has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere.  A welcome change for some; for others, not so much.  A seasonal change, even when welcome, is still change.

Few of us enjoy change.  Yet, as we mature spiritually (no matter what our calendar age), we realize that change is easier when it occurs from the inside out, as we choose to change ourselves first.

I believe we reach this conclusion after we’ve tried all the other changes, sometimes called “cures.”  You know them if you’ve tried them, Blessed Reader: the Geographic Cure of moving to another city because we’ll have more fun there.  The Re-Decorating Cure when we spend a fortune on new furniture and artwork.  The Diet Cure which requires that we eat pounds and pounds of kale and forsake ice cream forever.  The Divorce Cure because the other person wasn’t “it.”  The New Job Cure because our boss was a jerk and our co-workers were lazy.  The New Car Cure because everyone else has one. The New Friend Cure because none of our old friends really understand or appreciate us.

The Common Denominator is always the same: We are.  And if we don’t change, from the inside out first, none of the “cures” matter.   So, if we truly want to transform our lives, we need to do our own inner work so our outer experiences also reflect those changes.  It’s a simple process, though not always easy.  Because the truth is: We can’t change the past, particular situations, or other people.  Though we can choose to change ourselves, our beliefs and our behavior.

Transforming from the inside out requires that we be willing to:

  • Remove our hands from the Universal Steering Wheel, take our seat, fasten our seat belt and the leave the “driving” to God;
  • Put on our own oxygen mask first, which includes our daily time for prayer, meditation and self-care;
  • Withstand stillness, silence and “delays”;
  • Reconsider our opinions, as well as our limitations, and continually surrender them, especially if they once worked, but no longer do;
  • Open our minds, hearts, ears and eyes so we know which messages are ours and which are someone else’s;
  • Release unhealthy behaviors, habits and relationships;
  • Recognize that we may never know all the sides of a story;
  • Acknowledge that sometimes our perspective is limited;
  • Accept – even if we don’t like it – that some people won’t understand our transformation and will belittle us, condemn us, or leave us.
  • Leave something for tomorrow, so we can sleep peacefully tonight;
  • Take time to relax and enjoy laughter, hugs, raindrops, snowflakes, moon glow, sunshine, love and delicacies which come in abundant ways.
  • Remember that time on this earthly plane is limited — and we get to choose how we want to live it.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Surrender — And Succeed

Sometimes, on our journeys of faith, we reach a juncture with jagged cliffs or steep drops.  If our goal is to reach the other side, whichever side that is, we need to dive or leap.  Either way, we need to let go and fully surrender ourselves and all which was, as we trust in God.

This kind of spiritual, transformational surrender is one of life’s greatest challenges.  When we reach whatever our precipice is, it’s usually because something in life isn’t cooperating with us, and all our personal efforts have failed to create fulfilling change.

As we scan the horizon, we can remember: We have all the inner resources we need to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.  These include our powers of intuition and discernment which help us determine how we want to live.  They also allow us to surrender ourselves and our limited vision to God Vision, something more awesome than what we already see.

While surrender often is considered an admission of defeat, it can be a powerful, positive, life-affirming act.  As Richard and Mary-Alice Jafolla, former directors of Silent Unity suggest: When we surrender (also called letting go and letting God), we release our doubts and fears about outcome.  We shift from stagnating in a problem and make way for growth and transformation to occur.

When we surrender, we remember: We can change ourselves and our beliefs.  We also remember: We can’t change other people.  And, especially, we can’t change God.  Which means that no amount of bargaining, begging, crying, pleading or yelling will work.  Neither will shopping lists of everything we want and everything we don’t.

No matter what our situation, we can remember: God is Unconditional Love, Ever-Abiding Grace and Infinite Compassion.  God is not a short-order cook.  Which means, sometimes, things happen in divine ways, not our ways.  It also means that sometimes we believe we want our eggs sunny-side up, but they come scrambled.

That’s when we can choose whether we’ll fight for our way — or whether we’ll surrender to God’s.  Because divine outcome occurs either way.  And when we choose to surrender, life becomes much easier.

Furthermore, in surrender, we realize: Surrender isn’t quitting or sacrificing.  And letting go doesn’t mean giving up.  It means we cooperate with life — from a spiritual perspective.  Rather than staying stuck, we trust in divine outcome, even if we don’t know what that is.  We release our anxiety about results and stop forcing our will on things. We choose to shift our perspective and give the situation to God, remembering that God can only do for us what we allow God to do through us.  Then, we discover the best answers, ideas, solutions, places and companions we need for our ultimate well-being.

Remember Blessed Reader: The choice is always ours.  We can do it our way and stay stuck.  Or we can surrender to God’s Way — and succeed.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

“Not to Worry”

Recently, a well-intentioned person, who I believe meant to be empathetic, said to me, “I’m sure you’re worried about this.”  Alas, the person misunderstood.  I wasn’t worried.  Rather, I felt overwhelmed and tired.  And, I also felt a sense of trust, especially in God and Divine Outcome.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader: Worry is so self-defeating.  It’s one of the things which can bring our life’s journey to a screeching halt because it discombobulates our vision and imagination — our inner, creative compass.  Worry also zaps our spiritual strength, catching us in vicious cycles of more worry.  It raises our blood pressure, taxes our brains and strains our bodies.  Literally, we can tie ourselves up in knots with worry.  Furthermore, worry limits our ability to discern what’s ours to do and the best ways to do it.

Jesus offered divine life wisdom when he said in the passage sometimes called “Free from Anxiety” or “How Not to Worry” (Luke 12:22-32):

“. . . Do not worry . . . . Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? . . . .  Instead, seek God’s Kingdom . . . and do not fear . . . for God is pleased to give you the Kingdom.”

Because this can be easier said than done, here are some other, practical ways to release worry:

  • Limit your daily intake of news.
  • Discern how you’ll set schedules which work best for you. Once they’re set, stick to them.  These include time to:
    • pay bills, plan budgets and manage finances.
    • eat, exercise, play and rest, including going on vacations and spiritual retreats.
    • check social media, e-mail, texts, and phone messages.
  • Stop these activities an hour before bedtime so you can unwind and relax. Then, don’t resume them until an hour after you awaken.  Either time is fabulous for prayer and meditation.
  • If you still awaken in the middle of the night and can’t return to sleep:
    • Get up and stretch.
    • Contact Silent Unity (1-800-669-7729; silentunity.org) for prayer.
    • Play gentle, meditative music. Breathe deeply.
    • Sip warm milk with honey.
    • Journal, draw, paint or color.
  • Avoid the “worry traps” of comparison tripping and memory loops, as well as the “spiritual indigestion” of over-learning, over-studying, and/or over-following.
  • Call your BFF for a reality check, especially in times of stress or illness.
  • Collect favorite affirmations, blessings, compliments, cards and photos which remind you how much you’re loved, valued and appreciated.
  • Remember two sacred truths:
    • Sometimes, what we see is a highlight reel. Everyone faces loss and difficulties.
    • Part of transformation is moving on from what once fulfilled us, but no longer does.

Above all, trust in God and the wisdom within you.  For as Jesus reminded us: God is our Abundant Source, Eternal Grace, Infinite Compassion, and Unconditional Love, always.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Courageous, Strong and Free

This week, if she were still alive, my grandmother would have celebrated her 112th birthday, or her 115th, or possibly her 120th.  The truth is: No one in my family knew Grandma’s exact age.  As she told it, she changed her birth certificate to make herself older so she could emigrate from Eastern Europe to the United States.  She hoped to join other family, already in New York, although she didn’t know exactly how to find them.

When I think about her journey, I’m awed by her faith and spiritual strength, and especially, her trust in God.  What courage it took for a teenage girl, whatever her age, to leave everything she knew behind and sail alone to the promise of a better life.  When she spoke about that journey, she admitted that the obstacles and uncertainty were daunting.

Her journey reminds me of what Jesus tells the disciples (Matthew 17:20-21):

“. . . If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

With faith, nothing is impossible for us.  When we remember that we have an infinite supply of faith within us — we never need pray for more — we can nurture this precious gift and use it to transform ourselves and our experiences.

Just as my grandmother did, we sometimes find ourselves travelling without a clear road map.  Whether literally or figuratively, we may get thrown off course or need to leave a place we once called home.  Yet, as we go forward, one faithful step at a time, we realize: We are free.   Free to choose what is best for us, even when the choices aren’t our favorites.

The truth is: Only when we relinquish our power to choose, do we believe that we’ve lost our faith.  As we travel, we can remember: Events and circumstances have far less power over us when we exercise our freedom to choose who we truly are, what and whom we truly love, how we want to live, and how we want to share ourselves with the world.

I know that was true for my grandmother.  When she arrived, she found her brothers in New York.  She worked as a milliner, making ladies’ hats at a famous department store.  She met my grandfather and had two children, my father and my aunt.   She lived 88 years, give or take some birthdays.  In all the years I knew her, I saw a woman centered in her faith.  Even when she didn’t like what was happening in her world or the world around her, even when she succumbed to the pain of cancer.

Faith the size of a mustard seed.  That’s all it takes to move forward, with strength and courage, trusting that transformation is unfolding before us.

A Blessed Independence Day to All!

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Treasuring Summer

In my seventh summer, I found the Kingdom of Heaven at the beach.  Every day, from late June until Labor Day, I relished the time to see friends, swim in the ocean, stroll in the sand, and especially to collect sea glass.

At first, I kept the glass in a small jar.  Soon, though, it was full, and I transferred it to another, larger jar, creating a kaleidoscope of white, green and brown, highlighted with rare slivers of blue.  I filled that jar many times, sometimes gifting particular pieces, odd shapes or distinct colors, to my friends.  Every day was an adventure, for I always found new treasures.  And always I had room in my jar to hold more sea glass.  The supply felt unlimited.

I savored that time, especially the evenings with the peace of the vast, empty beach and the soothing flow of the waves.  The sun painted vibrant watercolor sunsets, as seagulls called to one another and scavenged the day’s leftovers.  That summer, I had everything I needed.  My life was free, easy, uncluttered and uncomplicated.  I sat on my beach chair, perfectly content, nibbling a snack, watching the world spread out before me.

I didn’t know the words “Kingdom of Heaven” then — and I wasn’t to hear them until many years later.  Yet, I knew this was a heavenly place, for I felt that surely God was the source of all that beauty and wonder.  I knew that the world lay at my feet, waiting for me to embrace and experience all its possibilities.

Jesus taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is among us and within us.  He taught that just as God provides for the flowers of the fields and the birds of the air, God also provides for us.  Jesus reminded us: As we give, so we also receive.   When Jesus spoke of Heaven, he did not necessarily mean a specific place, but the infinite potential and possibility which exist for us all, wherever we are.

That teaching is profound, though not always easy to grasp.  Yet, as we allow ourselves to flow with life, just as the tides flow along the shore, we experience more of life’s ease and joy.  As we begin to appreciate the abundance all around us, we realize the freedom we have to live in our own heavenly kingdoms and to feel the glory which lives within us and within every living thing.

While I’ve traveled many places and owned many possessions, few hold the power of my seventh summer.  Even now, I carry the memory of its promise and peace with me.  In meditation, I can return there, free, easy and prosperous beyond measure.  And when I gaze at my sea glass, now in a new jar, I remember the abundance of the universe.  God is my source, all the time, and my Kingdom of Heaven — and yours, Blessed Reader — is always at hand.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

After Thoughts and Prayers

On Sunday morning, June 12th, I prepared to give a sermon I titled, ironically, “Put Feet on Your Prayers.”  I was nearly out the door when I heard the news that a group of people dancing the night away in Orlando, Florida, practically my backyard, were held hostage and gunned down.

As the congregation sang the opening song and I stepped into the pulpit to speak the opening prayer, I began as always by saying, “Namaste.  The Spirit in me welcomes, honors, embraces and rejoices in the Spirit in you.”  As always, I looked at the congregation, so many beautiful, vibrant faces before me.  Men and women of all shapes, sizes, persuasions, personalities.  Each one a divine child of God.

As news unfolded and we continued to pray for our Orlando brothers and sisters, one congregant asked whether we were going to “do something.”  Another was furious that this had “happened again.”  Later, a friend requested an encouraging word.  Another expressed sadness and wanted comfort.  Still another expressed shock and dismay.  We prayed, but it wasn’t enough.  We wanted to “feel better,” whatever that means.

Still later, I reflected on my sermon: That after we pray, we need to move our feet, get off the couch and go out into the world.  Because it’s true: Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.  After we pray, we also can act, remembering that God is where we are.

After we pray — and as we pray — we remember: Our prayers don’t change God or current events; our prayers change us.  So we can transform ourselves — and our corner of the world.  So we remember the presence of God, both with and within all of us, no matter where we live, how we look, what we believe, or who we love.  Then, with that recognition, we can choose to act courageously, centered in faith and trust, and do what is ours to do.

After we pray for those in Orlando, and remember those in San Bernardino, Calif.; Newtown, Conn.; and Aurora, Colorado, among many other places, we can put feet on our prayers by:

  • Writing and/or calling all our city, state and federal legislators continually to express our outrage, opinions, hopes and beliefs, as well as working to change current legislation.
  • Registering to vote for the candidate of our choice and working to support that candidate. Then helping someone else register and agree to take them to the polls on Election Day.
  • Boycotting businesses and establishments which condemn and refuse to recognize the humanity and divinity in all people, including those who choose to live differently than we do.
  • Supporting, with our money, talents and time, the key local agencies within our cities and towns which advocate for the unheard, clothe the naked, educate the unlearned, feed the hungry, heal the sick, nurture the abused, remember the forgotten, and shelter the homeless.

After thoughts and prayers, we act, transforming ourselves, then transforming our world.

Namaste, Blessed Readers.

On Solid Ground

Leave it to Jesus the carpenter to tell a parable about construction so his followers can better understand life.  Leave it to Jesus the itinerant preacher, who didn’t have to pay a mortgage, buy oil for the synagogue, or manage a church building fund, to explain what supports our homes and houses of worship.  Leave it to Jesus the master teacher to know what type of design, materials and foundation are needed to maintain the finest structures.  Truly, a man who traveled as frequently and widely as Jesus did knew how to make the journey simpler, if not easier.

Which is exactly what Jesus explains – albeit somewhat cryptically – in the parable of “The 2 Foundations” (Luke 6:46-49):

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” Jesus asks.  “I’ll show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words and acts on them.  That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like one who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”

Leave it to Jesus to tell his followers – and, by extension, the rest of us – what he’s already told us.  Jesus knew: Sometimes, while we’re transforming our lives, we need a refresher course.  So we recognize that the way we’ve been traveling or living isn’t working.  So we understand that everything we’ve done to this point will only get us more of the same if we don’t do something differently.

And our “Ah-Ha Moment” comes when we stop wondering what the parable means and notice what it invites us to hear.  Then our spiritual understanding expands so we can shift our focus from outer confusion and uncertainty and center ourselves more fully in faith and trust.  So we start believing in what endures, rather than in what is fleeting.  So we remember that we can do what Jesus did and choose to put God first, building our lives on that solid ground.

And, as we continue reflecting on the parable, we may notice that Jesus doesn’t mention obtaining love, peace, joy, harmony, health, wealth, happiness or fulfillment – the precious intangibles so many of us desire and hold dear.  Instead, he reminds us what sustains those things: God first, then everything else.  Because no matter how much the waters may rage in the worlds of business, education, finance, insurance, media, medicine, politics, religion or sports, when God is our foundation, we know who we are and whose we are.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Developing Spiritual Strength

For several years, including while I attended seminary, I was a gym rat.  At the gym, I put in my ear buds and tuned out the world so I could develop my physical strength.  As I did, I discovered that my spiritual strength increased also.

My time in the gym actually deepened my prayer and meditation practice; I learned to tune into myself, trust my intuition, and listen to my still, small voice.  Even as I moved my body, I learned how much spiritual strength I needed to be still and patient, especially at a time when I was learning new things and living in an unfamiliar area.  Since I had no outer assurance of future employment or any idea where my new vocation would take me, I chose to stay strong in my faith.

Our quality of spiritual strength includes our ability to:

  • create stability on a shaky foundation;
  • be still and patient;
  • remain non-resistant and non-attached, especially in the face of uncertainty;
  • embrace our own humility and limitations;
  • accept what we cannot do or control;
  • change direction or attempt something new;
  • endure challenges and persevere in spite of them;
  • discern when and how to act, rather than react;
  • maintain the balance between our heads and hearts; and
  • trust in divine outcome, even when we don’t yet see it.

With spiritual strength, we become more centered and peaceful, even when every fiber of our being screams: “Do something already!”  Because in truth, spiritual strength often says: “Don’t do something.  Just sit there.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed, Blessed Reader: Sometimes we need a lot of strength to go alone to the “mountaintop,” be still and work on ourselves.  Then, we realize we need even more when we leave the mountain and attempt to be present with people who may say and do things we not only don’t like, but possibly deplore.  That’s when our spiritual muscles work the most.

As we develop our spiritual strength, we learn to trust and use our intuition – the “God Guidance” so many of us seek.  We find assurance as we discern how to live, not just when we love everything in our lives, but also — and maybe especially — when we don’t.  We discover, as we continue the journey, that our spirituality isn’t only about our relationship with God.  It’s also about our relationship with others, how we see them and how we treat them.  And, as we remain steadfast, centered in faith and trust, we remember the divinity within ourselves — and we recognize the divinity in all others, too.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.