The parable of the mustard seed

“How can I explain what the kingdom of God is like? What can I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed sown in the ground. It is smaller than any other seed, but when grown, it is a huge tree, taller than any vegetable. It becomes a tree big enough for birds to make nests in its large branches.”

MT 13:31-32, MK 4:30-32, LK 13:18-19

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Memory postcard 3, Me the astronaut

This is what happens when I remember a picture but I can’t find it. I put things together in a way that remind me of it.

me1

One of my favorite pictures of me as a child was me standing on my grandparent’s porch wearing a plastic astronaut helmet. I’m not sure why that was part of the toy collection. It was larger than my head by far, and had a green visor that could open up. So I could see the world with a green tint, or not.

I can’t find that picture, but I can find this one. It was from around the same time.

I considered making an astronaut helmet for me in this picture – watercolor paper and pencils, green acetate – but then I realized if I did that, my face would be obscured. There is enough of that in the other two memory postcards.

Here is a closer picture of me.

me2

Then I added the “Women in space” stamp. I’ve used a photocopy of it for another project, but here I’m using the real thing. I love her smile.

me3

Here are the fortunes.

me4

I included things to remind me of my childhood and also point towards the future. What instructions would I like to give my former self and my future self?

…message…
My aunt mockingly calls hearing from God – at least when my Dad (her brother) did it – getting “Messages”. I think that she mocks it because she has never heard from God.

…lost penny…
My Mom was big on shiny pennies. She’d give me them for good luck. I’d almost forgotten that. It also reminds me of the parable of the lost coin – how God will go out of the way to find it. We are the lost coins, and we are precious to God.

…Never be less than your dreams…

Seems like a good message for then, now, and future me. My dreams are something to aspire to. And, they are like the mustard seed – from small things can grow big things. I just have to remember that Jesus tells us we have that energy inside us. If God gives us the desire to do something, we can do it. It isn’t just a fantasy – it is the seed of a reality. We have to give it energy to make it grow, and trust the process.

Widow’s weeds

There is an old custom of wearing black while you are in mourning. Some people would wear all black clothes, while others would just wear black armbands. People still wear black clothes, but it isn’t just for grief. They will wear black just because they like wearing black.

So the meaning is lost. People don’t know if you are grieving, or just fashionable.

The purpose of wearing black to indicate grief was to warn others to be a little more gentle with you. You had your leave time that you were allowed from work, and now you are back. Whether it was three days or a week, it isn’t ever enough, especially if it was someone close to you.

Wearing black while you are grieving is a bit like wearing a “trainee” tag. It tells other people that you aren’t quite all here yet, and to go a little more slowly. It is a kindness to them and to you, to not expect much out of you for a while.

But perhaps we should all do that, all the time. Perhaps we should all treat each other with a little more kindness and cut each other a little more slack.

Everybody we see is struggling with something. Everybody has suffered a loss or has a problem. “Dysfunctional” is the new normal for families, don’t you know? We all are faking it, and we all aren’t making it. We are just getting by as best we can.

Now, problems can also come in when we think we are the only ones who are suffering, or that our pain is worse than anybody else’s.

I remember a time where a patron said that she wanted to get on disability because she had migraines all the time. She went on and on about it. Every time she came in she told her tale of how hard life was. She was really wrapped up in her own problems. So I decided to share. I told her that I’m on medication for the rest of my life for three different chronic conditions.
I wanted her to understand that we all have our burdens to carry. She got it, and softened.

Buddha told a story about a lady whose young son had died. She went to every person in the village, carrying her dead child with her. She refused to admit that he was dead and begged each person for medicine. One kind person directed her to the teacher, Buddha, who lived in the village.

When he saw her, he understood exactly what the real problem was, and how to address it. He told her to ask for a mustard seed from every person in the village who had not ever grieved. She was to then come back to him with the mustard seeds and he would make a medicine for her from them.

She went from hut to hut, and every person she talked to had experienced grief. Every person had lost someone they loved.

She had no mustard seeds, but she had the medicine she needed. She understood that she was not alone in her suffering. Her life was not harder than anyone else’s. At that moment, she finally was able to accept that her child had died, and bury him. At that moment, she was able to rejoin the community.

May we all be kinder with each other.
May we all understand we are equal in our suffering.

On process and pain – chewing the steak.

We all have problems. Don’t identify with your problem.

You aren’t an addict. You aren’t an abuse survivor. You aren’t a cancer patient.

With the new guidelines for talking about children with disabilities, we are supposed to talk about the child first, and the disability second. He isn’t an autistic child. He is a child with autism. He is a person first. He isn’t defined by his diagnosis.

Apply the same rules to yourself. You are a person first. The diagnosis is second. It isn’t you. It isn’t who you are. It affects you, certainly. But you are so much more.

When you define yourself by your diagnosis, you are giving it power, and you are diminishing your own.

Now, you also aren’t going to win any friends if you are constantly talking about your terrible childhood or your abusive husband or your sciatica or how you have to take care of your Mom with Alzheimer’s.

We all have problems. We all have something we have struggled with. Sometimes we have overcome it. Sometimes not. Sometimes it seems we can’t ever catch a break. But if you only talk about this, you are going to be lonely. The only companion you will have will be your problems.

Buddhism has a story that speaks to this. A lady’s child had died, and she was unable to accept it. She carried her dead child around the village, going to every house asking for medicine. They were all horrified. One kind person suggested she go to the teacher and sent her to Buddha. Buddha told her to go to each house and ask if they had experienced a death in the family. If nobody had died in that family, she was to get a mustard seed from them. She was to collect all the mustard seeds and bring them back to Buddha, who would then make a medicine for her.

She went all over the village and wasn’t able to find a single family that had not experienced death. She came to realize that her experience wasn’t unique or special. She came to realize that death was part of life, and to hold onto it and identify with it was causing her more problems than the death itself.

Simply going to each person’s house, she created her own medicine. Buddha taught her to look outside of herself, and to not identify herself with her suffering.

How often do we hold on to our pains and sufferings, just like that lady carried around her dead child? How often do we think we are alone in our suffering, that we have it worse than anybody else?

We all suffer. That is just part of life. Holding onto it makes it worse. Accept your loss and your pain, but don’t identify with it. Accept it, because to not accept it means to not process it.

Pain, like a big steak, needs to be chewed thoroughly to be digested. Choke it down and you’ll get sick. Spit it out and you’ll miss the lessons it has to teach you.

Pain teaches us about holding on and letting go. It teaches us about what we think we have to have in our lives and what we really need. It teaches us to accept, and live in the now, rather than in the past or the future.

The past never was as awesome as we think it was. Even in the past we were looking back to “the good old days” and thinking about how great things will be “if only I get…if only I can have…when I finish…” In the future we will do the same thing.

The only island is now. When we aren’t on that island, we are drowning in the sea, stuck away from the solid stability of that island. The past isn’t real. The future isn’t real. The more we live there, the more we are missing out on the only real thing that is, and that is now.

How to get back to now? Start looking at it. Start being thankful for it. Make a gratitude list. Notice what you have, right now, and be thankful.

Pain teaches us about ourselves.

Once we are through chewing on it, we need to swallow it, and then digest it. Then it does its work and then we have to let it go. Holding into pain is just like holding onto poop. We get sick if we can’t eliminate our toxins. But it still has to go through us, all the way. Resist it, fight against it, and you’ll only hurt yourself. Just like a tree in a strong wind, if you don’t bend, you’ll break.