Blessed are the poor in spirit

Several years ago, a friend asked if I’d pray that she would learn how to become poor.

I’ve prayed a lot of things for people—that cancer would be arrested, a surgery would be successful, someone would know the comfort of God while mired in grief, for troubled marriages and wayward children—but never that someone would learn how to be poor.

My friend is in her 70s. She worked as an addiction counselor after she kicked long-standing addictions herself. She managed her modest earnings well, but the day was coming when her savings would be depleted.

It is embarrassing to admit you are poor, or that you are even in the process of becoming poor. It is far easier not to admit it and keep it a secret.

A few months after her request, some women were around my kitchen table and one of the ladies said that she and her husband would like our friend to come live with them. It was a sincere offer, not one of those “I’m gonna ask you this, but I’m counting on you not to take me up on it” sort of offers.

Eyes filled with tears over the depth of kindness, but our friend said no, thank you, she needed to face reality.

There is much to be said for having the humility and courage to reckon with difficult circumstances.

Our friend had reckoned with another sort of poverty years before. It was the poverty of spirit. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for they will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Those words appear counter-intuitive. Why would anyone be blessed to be poor in spirit? Because being honest about what we lack is often the beginning of finding out what it is that we need.

Spiritual poverty comes on a sliding scale, from a self-centeredness that quietly pushes our own agendas, annoying and irritating others, to an infiltrating poison that festers, mushrooms, exploits and abuses others, and can even grow cruel and diabolical.

Naturally, not wanting any of our deficiencies to be known, we hide this poverty of heart behind facades of having it all together.

Who, me? Poor? We’ve got two cars and a 401K.

Maybe, but “Insufficient Funds” could be stamped across every human heart.

Lent is when Christians reflect on our personal poverty. Holy Week is when we commemorate the path from spiritual poverty and brokenness to a new fullness of life by way of the cross, where Christ sacrificed for our every lack and reconciled us to God and one another.

Blessed are those with the humility and courage to acknowledge poverty of spirit.

My friend is now in subsidized housing for seniors. She has made a few friends, cooked meals for some who have been ill and drives her klunker car to visit a friend who was formerly homeless and now lives in a nearby nursing home.

My friend is not rich in material things, but she is among those celebrating what it means to be made rich in spirit. She’ll be wearing one of the biggest smiles come Easter morning.


When walking to school was uphill both ways

“Tell us a story about when you were our age,” three of the grands clamor as we help put them to bed.

“Well, OK. When I was 6 years old I walked twelve blocks to school every day.”

“That’s a long walk.”

“It didn’t seem long, although as I remember it was uphill both ways.”

“Did any adults go with you?”

“No. Just other kids.”

They gasp in horror.

“No, that was all right back then. Lots of kids walked to school.”

“Uphill both ways!” one adds.

“Exactly. And at the start of school a voice would come over the public address system and announce what would be served in the school cafeteria for lunch. Then the teacher would ask who would be buying lunch at school and who would be going home for lunch.”

“Kids got to go home for lunch? No way!”

“Yes, way. You could go home for lunch if you didn’t live far and could walk fast.”

“But you lived far and it was uphill both ways.”

“Yes, but I had three elderly great aunts who lived only six blocks from school. If I didn’t like the school lunch, I would raise my hand that I was going home for lunch.”

“Who walked with you?”

More looks of disapproval.

“Tell them kids did that back then,” I say to the husband.

He shakes his head as though he’s never heard of such a thing.

“So I would walk to my great aunts’ house, knock on their door and announce I was there for lunch.”

“Were they surprised?”

“I think so. They often let out little screams, which were probably squeals of delight. One would race to heat soup, another would ask if I wanted crackers and a third would start cooking chocolate pudding. They’d sit me in a tall chair at the long dining room table and watch me eat. As soon as I finished, one of them would walk me to the end of the block and watch until I turned the corner to go back to school.”

“That’s a scary bedtime story, Grandma.”

“It is not a scary story; it’s a wonderful slice-of-life story. But one day my great aunts told my parents what I had been doing and that I shouldn’t do it anymore in case one day I came and they weren’t home.”

They shake their heads in agreement, siding with the voices of caution and disapproving of Grandma’s actions as a 6 year old.

I am quick to tell them they should never, ever do anything like that today, even though it was OK for me to do it a long time ago. And they should also eat whatever the school is serving. Bedtime stories with grands should not end with strong caveats, but mine did.

They turn to Grandpa and say, “Tell us a story about when you were our age.”

“Well, he says, thinking. “I always did what I was told and never disobeyed.”

At least my story was true.

He’s driving, but she hits the brakes

On rare occasion, I may make use of an imaginary brake pedal on my passenger side of the car.

If the husband is driving and I think he is too close to the vehicle in front of us, I instinctively hit my imaginary brake. If I sense he is going too fast, I slam on my imaginary brake.

My imaginary brake takes back seat driving and moves it to the front seat. The imaginary brake has never slowed our real-time speed, but somehow it makes me feel better.

Clearly this is not us because we are older than this couple, we do not have a cool convertible and my hands would never be in the air, they would be on my imaginary steering wheel.

I think it is fair to say lot of couples have driving issues. This is never covered in premarital counseling, but it should be. It might even be addressed in the wedding vows.

“Do you take this man for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and behind the wheel of the car?”

We are not alone here. Not to name names, but my sister-in-law Debbie is a, well, let’s just say if you and Debbie were to leave Point A at the same time, she would get to Point B first.

She also drives expediently and efficiently (as the crow flies) in parking lots. She’ll be the one cutting across the lot, coming at you from out of nowhere, in the corner of your blind spot. She is a wonderful person and she and my brother are happily married, although he has nicknamed her Diagonal Debbie.

We all do what we must to accommodate one another’s quirks and idiosyncrasies in the car and not constantly harp and criticize. For some of us, it is using an imaginary brake.

Now, after all these years, I am thinking of switching out my imaginary brake for an imaginary accelerator.

All of a sudden, the husband is driving differently.


Maybe it’s because he worked as a newspaper photographer for years and was constantly rushing to get somewhere—a fire, an accident, a bank robbery, an assignment, or fast food drive through. Because he no longer lives on deadline, he is now slowing down to look at everything that was previously a blur.

“Look at that tree,” he says, slowing from 40 to 30 to 3 mph.

“You mean that 100 year-old-oak that has been there as long as we have lived here?”

Every day is Sunday.

We recently were following one of our daughters and I said we needed to speed up or we would lose her.

“Where is she?” he asked.

“She’s that tiny dot way up ahead.”

“The speed limit is only 30.”

“And you’re going 25.”

“Look at those new homes starting at $380,000,” he said. “You think they’d have bigger yards, wouldn’t you?”

I hit my imaginary accelerator. We are still going 25.

I proffer that going too slow is as great a hazard as going too fast.

He mentioned that a woman tailgated him last week in a hurry to switch lanes, but when both lanes stopped for a red light, he was four cars ahead of her.

He is convinced that his driving is perfect, which is why I now have imaginary dual controls on my side of the car.

Perfect camera pose is a snap – of the neck, hips and hands

We were at a wedding reception recently and whenever someone raised a camera to take a picture, nearly every person in the room stopped what they were doing and struck a pose. I’ve never seen so many carefully posed candids.

People were tossing their heads back, snapping their necks, angling their shoulders, smiling broadly and displaying dazzling dental work, which reminded me I hadn’t had any wedding cake yet.

It’s no longer enough to simply look at the camera, smile and say cheese. Halfway through my cake, I saw similar moves happening throughout the room.

No woman today lets her arms hang at her sides when someone is about to snap a picture. Sure, that’s where the arms were designed to hang, but arms against the body add weight, which is why women now pose with their hands on their hips. Of course, when every female in a picture puts her hands on her hips, you may have to elbow a longtime friend or family member.  The illusion of being slender comes with a cost.

Some of your exceptionally good posers dramatically raise an arm behind the head so that the elbow is bent and the back of the head is resting in the palm of the hand. I tried that move and the husband whispered that it looked like I was checking my deodorant.

How you hold your head is critical. Serious posers jut the entire face forward, then tilt their heads down ever so slightly. From the side, the move looks like a turtle emerging from its shell. The net effect is that it eliminates chin flap. Of course, one young lady said that pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth can also eliminate chin sag. Keep in mind she was probably all of 15.

The truly camera-conscious never face the camera directly; they always turn at a 45-degree angle. In every picture, they look like they’re walking away from a conversation.

Nor does anyone stand up straight anymore. It’s not about posture, it’s about keeping one knee bent. And don’t stand with your legs side by side. Extend one leg. Now, if you can wrap your extended leg around your bent knee you’re well on your way to becoming a human pretzel.

You will probably also want to work on your ballet hands. Let your hands go limp at the wrists, slightly spread your fingers apart and bring your hands together in front of your mid-section. You should now look like you have ballet hands—or like someone just took a large serving bowl away from you.

By the end of the evening, I was comfortable with the new posing techniques. I was effortlessly (and constantly) lifting my arms, bending my knees, bobbing my chin up and down, angling my shoulders, extending my legs and shaking out my hands.

If my new poses don’t result in better photographs, at least I have some new dance moves.