Alphabet Soup

Life can be/is very hard. Confusion is common. Confusion does not feel pleasant. I was once told that confusion is good:  “It means you are working on a solution and haven’t arrived at it yet”. I found that explanation to be comforting. There could be an outcome, but it was not clear what the outcome would be or when the outcome would occur. That got me to thinking about alphabet soup.

I have had food poisoning twice in my life. What miserable experiences. I hate to vomit. Yet, when I was in the middle of the intestinal upset, I was wanting to vomit to alleviate my misery. Vomiting brought about the end of the suffering. It was a very intense, very messy, and very unpleasant experience. But, it brought about relief.

What if I ate a bowl of alphabet soup and it caused food poisoning? It would need to come out. It would not be pleasant, it would not be neat, and it would not be pretty. The letters would certainly not come out in alphabetical order. Some (maybe many) of the letters would be unrecognizable. The result would be a rather unpleasant mess. But, it would mark the beginning of recovering.

There is a parallel to food poisoning and emotional/stress poisoning. Both cause misery. Both require a type of vomiting. Neither allows for an orderly exit of that which needs to be addressed. As is true of the alphabet soup, what we need to “vomit” emotionally will not come out in “alphabetical” order. No words, no paragraphs, no chapters, no edited final product. But, in order to recover, vomit we must.

Emotional vomiting is unlike food poisoning. With food poisoning, all of that which comes out is cleaned up and flushed. Emotional vomiting allows for some salvaging of the vomited mess. One has the opportunity to make use of the vomited letters–to make some sense of the upset. Those letters can be used to create sensible meaning. Words, sentences, chapters, new narratives, and healing can take place.

I hate to vomit. But, vomiting can be my friend. That is true of both literal vomiting and emotional vomiting. Unrelieved, both perpetuate misery. Vomiting is not neat and orderly. It is messy, it can smell, yet it is necessary to alleviate the upset. Both are arduous. Both leave us worn out. Both require some time for recovering. Sometimes I am glad I can vomit.

Richard L. Brewer

“I talk to my cows.”

“I talk to my cows.”

Many years ago I had a couple of clients (wife and husband). I often think about them because of the outcome. It was one of those marvelous outcomes that teaches a life-lesson: Communication is vital. It does not have to be polished. But, it needs to occur. And, it needs to be honest and consistent. The gist of the experience follows below.

A lady in late middle-age told me she was going to divorce her husband. He was described as a good man, a good provider, as loyal and trustworthy, and as dependable as they come. Puzzling that she was contemplating divorce. What was her reasoning? “He does not talk to me.” She craved conversation. She wanted to feel like she was his “go-to”, an important part of their marriage. She had not felt that way for many years. She was weary of the neglect and had begun to contemplate a change in her relationship status.

“You need to tell him what you are considering” was my recommendation. I suggested she invite him to accompany her to a session so as to determine if the multi-decade marriage could be salvaged. “He won’t come in. He is a very proud and private man” she said. My reply to her was something to the effect of: “Perhaps he will if you tell him what you have told me.” She conceded that she owed him that.

He accompanied her the next appointment. He was not a happy man. He was angry and suspicious. He made it clear that his business was his business and nobody else’s. He did not come in willingly but out of desperation. He feared losing his wife. I acknowledged his dilemma, and his position that his business was his business and no one else’s. He was in a tough spot. I offered my assistance even though it was the last thing he wanted.

He was not one to talk about things. He was a doer. He was responsible. He was honest. He was self-sufficient. He was determined to take care of his wife. He just did not share things with her. When asked his rationale, he stated, “I don’t want to trouble her”. I suggested he might want to risk talking because she sounded determined to make good on her threat to file for divorce. That thought was terrifying to him. He acknowledged that he experienced pressures, concerns, and dilemmas. But, he kept them to himself so he would not be a burden to his wife. He truly believed he was acting lovingly by not sharing his concerns and burdens. He did not realize how much she needed him to share with her.

I asked him what he did when he was feeling stress, pressure, etc. “I talk to my cows.” I suggested he talk with his wife like he did to his cows. “I don’t want to burden or trouble her” was his reply. I reminded him that she was contemplating divorce and it would be worth a try because he was terrified of her ultimatum: “You will talk to me or I will leave you”. I conceded that he really had no choice, he had to do what he did not want to do.

The next appointment was remarkably different from previous sessions. Both came in with a sense of well-being I had not previously observed. He calmly volunteered, “I talked to her like I talk to my cows.”  He was amazed how well she responded. To think that it would be beneficial to talk with her like he was accustomed to talking to his cows. She responded so well that she no longer threatened divorce. Rather, she reported that she was getting what she so long pined for. He was sold on the value of sharing with his wife and not solely to his cows. His last words were “I have a lot of friends who could benefit from talking to you”. He had learned the value of talking to his wife like he did to his cows. It did not trouble or burden her. It helped her feel as though she was a valuable and loved part of a team.

There is also a spiritual application to this lesson. “Talk to God like you would talk to your cows”. He desires it. We will not trouble or burden Him. Remember, He is omniscient. We are the ones being cheated if we do not talk to Him. He desires for us to share openly, honestly, and about everything. Hebrews 4:16 states: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (ESV). We need to. He wants us to. And, we can be confident. The above verse is preceded by: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (vs, 14-15). He is safer than cows.

“Do all you can, with all you have, in the time you have, in the place you are”

I recently came across this quote. “Do all you can, with all you have, in the time you have, in the place you are”. (Nkosi Johnson S. African advocate for children with HIV: died age 12).

The quote got me to thinking about what I can do, about what I have to offer, about the time I have to invest, and about where I am at any given moment. It was a good challenge. I (we) have a great deal to offer, I (we) have the time to offer, and I (we) are in the places to offer it. It doesn’t really require much more than I (we) have already been investing except perhaps the awareness and the willingness to offer it—unless you consider love and empathy as requiring a lot. 

Nkosi’s message is profound. What an awareness for a 12 year-old. Should it be considered profound? Or, should it be normal? Oh that it would be more common! What would I (we) need to do to make it operative in my life? I think it would require some self-honesty, self-reflection, self-evaluation, and a commitment; especially a commitment to make love operative in my life. What am I capable of doing? What do I have to offer? What time do I have? In what place am I? How is my love for others?

What can I (we) do? Much more than might I (we) might initially consider. Each of has tremendous resources. What are we doing with those resources? Jesus, as recorded in scripture, talks about “giving a cup of water in my name” (Matthew 10:42 and Mark 9:41). We are told in Matthew 25: 40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”. The exact opposite is also true. We read in Matthew 25: 45, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Whatever we have to give is important. To give, or not to give, has significant–even eternal–consequences: Not just to the one to whom we might give, but the ultimate Giver.

China Tea Set

What an incredible gift, a china tea set. One of her favorite Christmas presents. It was hers. She was delighted. She was only four, not turning five until the following May. It was “not” really a gift for someone so young. It was fragile. But, it was hers. And she played with the tea set with great delight, at least until that day when she came crying to her daddy. She had dropped the tea pot, it was in many pieces, and she was devastated.

Her daddy (that is me) went to recover the pieces of the tea pot. There were many pieces. He painstakingly looked for all the pieces and went for the super glue. He glued the pieces together with as much care as he could muster. The tea pot was obviously reconstructed. He presented the repaired tea pot to his daughter fearing she would be disappointed. Amazingly, she was elated. She beamed with joy and said, “Daddy fixed it!” Daddy was relieved. She was not only not disappointed, but thrilled to have the tea pot fixed.

She continued to play with the china tea set as she had before. One day she came to her daddy and rather calmly reported she had dropped and broken the tea pot again. She was not tearful. She looked at her daddy with a wide smile and without a hint of doubt, stated “Daddy fix it!” No pressure at all!! He went to the shag carpet, collected pieces and painstakingly repaired the tea pot once more. This time there were many more pieces and several small shards. Some could not be recovered. He sat down with the super glue and finished the repair. With not a little hesitation, he showed his daughter. He “knew” she would be disappointed because it did not look too good. But, she was as thrilled as the first time. “Daddy fixed it!”

She did not play with the tea pot again that I recall. But, she kept it. One day she told her daddy that she wanted to show him something. She was married and had her first child by then. She went to a closet, pulled out a plastic storage tub, and removed that china tea pot that daddy had fixed. It was a moving experience for her daddy. At one time, her daddy could fix things and be a hero. I was that daddy.

Thinking about things broken, I fondly recall the china tea pot. I remember the painstaking re-construction done out of love. She was thrilled. To think of the confidence she had in me then. Then I realize: I do not hold a candle to God, the ultimate fixer and supreme hero. “Daddy fix it!”

Solid Sterling Silver

I “decided” to return to college in 1976. It was not an easy “decision”. An individual I knew gave me a box of pens and pencils. He had cleared his desk drawer and gave them to me. “I thought you might be able to use them when you start college in the fall.” It was a very nice gesture. Yes, I could make use of them. Most of the pencils had previous use. But they were still good and most of them still had erasers. That was important! The pens: well, most of them were advertisement pens from various vendors who have given them to the man.

I rummaged through the instruments and noticed one that looked very different from the rest. It was blackened, but it had a golden arrow pocket clasp and clicker. On closer examination, I discovered it was a solid sterling silver Parker pen that had oxidized. I showed it to the man and asked him if he realized the pen was in the collection. He looked a bit shocked and I offered the pen back. He insisted I keep it because he had given it to me amongst the mix. He continued to insist even as I suggested it might have special value to him and he was very welcome to have it back.

I cleaned up the Parker pen and it was beautiful. It was valued at $100.00 in 1976. I put the pen in safe-keeping lest I lose it. A long time later, I re-discovered the pen, re-blackened with oxidation. I cleaned it again and decided to use it. Amazingly, it never re-oxidized while it was being used on a regular basis. Though I do not know why, I stopped using the pen. Yes, as you might imagine, it re-oxidized once again. The moral of the pen? Daily use keeps the beauty. Neglect leads to oxidization. What was once beauty became unattractive black.

I have referred to that pen numerous times through the years. I tell the story and ask the person listening how he/she might be like that solid sterling silver Parker pen. It resonates. Not recognizing their value, their “pen” is left unrecognized for its beauty and value and thus goes unused. I get the moral of the story on a very personal level. I once regarded myself in a similar way. Sadly, much is overlooked and lost as a result of missing one’s value and beauty. Whose solid-sterling Parker pen do we have oxidizing in a drawer or other hiding place? It is none other than God’s. Recognizing it can make all the difference in the world. Discovering who we were created to be and what it is we were created to do is critical. Otherwise, the valuable pen is overlooked and goes unused. What a tragic loss of potential.

Basket case.

Basket case. The term originated from WWI, indicating a soldier missing both his arms and legs, who needed to be literally carried around in a litter or “basket.” Today it indicates a state of helplessness similar to the metaphoric removal of the appendages, most frequently in the context of mental health or aptitude. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary).

Recently, I found myself thinking about Matthew 5: 15-16: “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house  In the same way, let your light shine  before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (CSB).

Just what does it mean? One rendering is that darkness should not extinguish one’s light. And, what might that basket be?? I think it could be any number of things. I was challenged by my wife to consider how my preoccupation with past failures might be my basket because I kept bringing them up. It was not helping me in any way. It reinforced a sense of failure, repeated failures.

God knows I have failed in many ways. Certainly, I know that I John 1:9 promises that confessed sins are forgiven and one is cleansed from all unrighteousness. God is faithful and just and promises forgiveness and cleansing. Pretty amazing. Yet, it has been too easy for me to hang onto the shame and embarrassment of my sins. The biggies, to me, are my divorces. Yes, that is plural. My embarrassment and shame have been enormous. Does God make exceptions to His guarantee for forgiveness? It does not seem likely. But, in my case, I had done so. I have allowed the guilt, shame, and embarrassment to hamper me. By so doing, I fail to embrace forgiveness and cleansing from “all unrighteousness”. By default, I am in risk of denying God’s forgiveness and hiding my light under a basket of shame and guilt.

Yes, consequences are not automatically eliminated. I must bear the consequences. But, I do not have to bear the burden of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. Christ paid for that on the cross. Incomprehensible. By failing to accept and embrace that forgiveness I risk hiding my light under a basket and I also risk being a “basket case”. He is my Light. Like the Sunday school song: “I wanna let it shine!”

Him and Me

No sin
Same Temptation.

Go sin.
Tame temptation.

Sweat drops of blood.
Pled, “Let this cup pass”.

No drops of sweat.
Pled, “Let me safely drink”.

On the cross.
Said, “It is finished”.

Avoid the cross.
Have I ever started?

Forgives sin.


Oh, to be like him.

Richard L. Brewer

Homonym/Antonym: Sound the same, but way different.

Homonym/antonym: Faith in action/ faith inaction. Pretty much sums it up. There is no in-between. Is faith inaction the lukewarm that gets spewed out? Paul states in Philippians 2:2-14, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (NIV).

All thumbs!?

All Thumbs!

What happened to conversation?

What happened to eye-to-eye contact?

What happened to verbal greetings?

What is it like to see people smile?

What happened to relationships?



Relationally, we are all thumbs!

Say what?


Richard L. Brewer