“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” seems like such a dark way to portray death. Anyone who has ever lost a beloved knows that death is both cruelly final and endlessly enduring. The love, influence, and lessons the deceased impart doesn’t stop with their heartbeat.
Sprouting from the death of winter into the hope of spring is the fragile bloom of memories that remain in our hearts. It’s a beautiful gift that dulls the thorny sting of loss.
Recently, I attended the rosary of a friend who lost her mother. Comforting the sorrowful and burying the dead are important works of mercy. When my stepfather passed away, I remember well the people who attended the funeral or who stopped by with a meal. It was such a comfort to have our loss acknowledged. It reminds us that even though we lost a loved one, we had not lost love. It envelops us in our cocoon of grief promising life’s joy will reemerge like a butterfly. That’s a beautiful thing to be reminded of when you are grieving. Read more
I used to live in New Orleans where the celebration of Mardi Gras is as huge as one of those oversized floats wobbling down St. Charles Avenue skimming the canopy of oak trees as krewes throw plastic beads at enthusiastic revelers. Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, is when Christians are encouraged to reflect on repentance before the solemn season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. I never had the impression that the people smushed together on Bourbon Street reflected anything other than how alcohol really, really lowers inhibitions. Still, I love a parade and feeling like Mr. T from the 1980s television series, The A-Team with 40 pounds of shine dangling from my neck.
Shrove Tuesday is like New Year’s Eve in the secular world. You celebrate, indulge, imbibe. The next day you wake up pop some aspirin, chug water, and begin your resolutions. Lent isn’t as much about resolutions as it is a time to make restitution for ways we have failed God. Maybe that sounds like a buzz kill compared to the revelry of Mardi Gras or even the zeal of New Year’s resolutions, but I love the sobriety of Ash Wednesday. I love going to mass and seeing the community of believers line up to face mortality with the meekness of remorse and hope that is mercy. It’s not just lining up for ashes, it’s realigning ourselves with God. It’s committing to taking off the weight of sin, to stripping away anything that separates us from our Savior and preparing ourselves for the joy that resurrection brings.
It’s odd that we wear such fine attire on our wedding day when marriage is so messy. It seems like it would be smarter to wear body armor or at least a sturdy raincoat to better prepare us. Yet, the bride and groom don lace and bow ties, veils and patent leather, pearls and cuff links, willingly pledging themselves until death to the life of the other.
It’s all so genteel, it’s hard to imagine the years that follow are anything other than champagne and roses. But champagne causes headaches, roses come with thorns, and marriage is messy. It makes sense though because we humans are messy. We come with pasts, preferences, and a penchant to think we are right.
Often there is no right, only two people who see things from different viewpoints. It can be ever so complicated. I know marriages are not invincible. I never approached the sacrament with body armor. Like so many others, I began the journey in white lace, a full skirt, and optimism that outshined any intricate beading or sparkling tiara.
We start out thinking marriage is going to be a gentle dance like the carefully choreographed one we perform on our wedding day. Inevitably, in marriage, there are missteps, clumsy moves, and moments when we or our partners let go instead of hold tight. Or sometimes, you just pick the wrong partner and no matter how many times you try to twist, they tango. Read more
My washing machine broke. This had me spinning because it was less than three years old. In fact, that was the problem. The machine would fill, suds, rinse, and then, instead of spinning, it would make a few demonic sounds, stop abruptly, and flash an error signal with an incessant ping that required me to stop whatever I was doing and unplug the machine.
Of course, it wasn’t the only thing that became unplugged because I was left to deal with 50 pounds of soaking wet clothes and piles of unwashed laundry. Worse, was the feeling that I had been betrayed by this costly machine which promised to turn shmuck into shine.
Long story longer, I spent 60 bucks for a repairman to tell me that it was a computer malfunction and I should just buy a new washing machine because none of them work for more than a few years and repairs are too expensive to justify. By this time, I was fantasizing about checking myself into a mental health facility. I figured they could do the laundry and make my meals while I take a long nap. Then maybe if I am up to it, I would play a game of Parcheesi with another guest.
My husband suggested a simpler (although less satisfying) solution and off we went to buy another washing machine. When I told the appliance salesperson about my trauma — figuring he was the next best thing to a trained mental health professional — he shrugged and said, “we live in a disposable society.” Read more
While my teenage son was at youth group one Sunday afternoon, I was on the computer researching a new television show marketed to teenagers called “Sex Education.” It shows male and female nudity including close-ups of genitals. It has teenage characters not only having sex, but also abortions. The Netflix series is described as a comedy, which in my opinion, is laughable.
I can’t think of anything funny about watching teenagers have sex while I nosh on popcorn like I am watching an episode of the “Andy Griffith Show.” I know some teenagers have sex. I also know there are physical and emotional consequences that they are not mature enough to handle. I could rattle on about this – the science of it, the immorality, and the struggle of trying to feel whole after giving away a part of oneself intended to unify two souls in the context of love and the bounds of marriage. But I would just be another moralistic adult preaching to the choir. It wouldn’t change the fact that some teenagers are going to have sex anyway. They had it long before sexting, internet porn, and the legalization of abortion.
What has changed is the horrific way teenage sex is being normalized by mainstream media to the point that it is considered entertainment. Teenage sex as television entertainment. It’s incredulous. Parental responsibilities to teach about the sacred nature of sex have been disregarded — outsourced to Netflix despite the completely irresponsible premise of a “comedy” teaching the many dimensions of human sexuality. The reviews of the show are generally positive as the characters are described as endearing and empathetic. I even read reviews by teenagers who say that it is a realistic depiction of what teens struggle with. Maybe so. Yet by normalizing teenage sex as something to explore, we are ignoring the spiritual component that is more complicated than its physical counterpart. By debasing sex to something to share as freely as a stick of gum, we exchange the wholeness of the person for a fraction of carnal pleasure. Teenagers are left to sort broken pieces of themselves – feeling more confused than ever as to why something that was marketed to fill them has left them empty. Is Netflix going to create a show to help with that? Read more
Oh the craze of Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant and author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She has the country folding their clothes like origami and looking for sparks of joy in the mess of a categorical closet clean-out. Her method, known as KonMari, has followers purging closets and piling clothes. If the big, fat mess you make doesn’t give you a panic attack, then you proceed to touch each article of clothing. If the sparks don’t fly, the item does, but not until you thank it for its service (and people think I am weird for talking to my cats).
I was looking at my closet and thinking how insane it would be to pull everything out. I mean, I hung it up already. It’s already clean and ironed. It seems kind of sadistic to pile it like a heap of dead leaves. After all, how much joy am I going to have from wrinkling perfectly ironed clothes and then rehanging them? Then, I worried I wouldn’t find any sparks in my pile. I would be like a homely girl that doesn’t get a Valentine. No spark for you. How sad would that be? (It’s very sad. I’ve been that girl). I could be inspired to donate my entire closet, and end up joyless with no origami in my dresser.
Pondering her method, I wondered what it would be like to take a mental inventory of our lives and discover what sparked joy? Would we start a fire? Saint Catherine of Sienna said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” But that wasn’t about deciphering joy, it was about discerning who God created you to be. Sometimes that seems even harder than cleaning out closets and organizing tchotchkes. Whenever I examine my life, trying to answer the weighty question of purpose, I feel a spark of panic, not joy. Maybe Kondo would have me thank that question for its dubious service, and send it on its way. Perhaps that works with the material, but when it comes to setting the world on fire for God, we don’t want to dismiss the unique purpose he created for us. “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28). Read more
From the time the alarm clock pierces the softness of sleep, we are bombarded with noise. The daily clamor comes not only from people in our lives, but the technology that pings incessantly and indiscriminately. Add our inner barking voice, reminding us to do this, be there, and stop that, and it can feel like a cacophony of crazy.
In the racket of the babbling noise that cocoons the day in blasphemous sound, have we become deaf to the voice of God? “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) So often, we ask God for help, intercession, and mercy, but we never pause long enough in the grace of silence to let him fill the void. It’s impossible to know his will if we can’t distinguish his voice from the commotion that commands our attention.
Jesus doesn’t strike me as a big yeller either. He is the essence of love and love doesn’t compete in the shrill of striving. His message is pretty succinct. “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mathew 22:37-39). Our ability to give and receive love is challenged by the surmounting noise that often has little to do with our souls.
Our souls crave the quiet that is God. Often, when it comes to problem solving and big decisions, we rely on intellect. Reasons, facts, and logic become the trinity we turn to. The noise in our head sputters off a list of pros and cons. We ask friends for advice. We read books to guide us. We troubleshoot and play out different scenarios, alternating the variables, and exposing flaws like a crime-scene detective. Inadvertently, we create more noise for ourselves — obscuring the voice of God with the chatter of our reasoning. The head talks, talks, and talks. It means nothing if the heart is pulled toward something different. Our hearts hold the voice of God. Without quiet, we will never hear the whisper of his wisdom, the lull of his compassion, or peace of an answered prayer.
I always felt unremarkable, which I think I could have been okay with if the world didn’t always send messages that made me feel as if ordinary was an outrage. When I was a kid, the word average meant you were like everyone else. It meant you were okay. You were enough. You fell into the middle and you weren’t worried about being out-twirled at baton practice or made fun of when the metal bar fell on your head.
Those were happy days. If, somewhat unremarkable.
But at some point, and maybe it was when I started paying attention, everything changed. Being average meant you were like the less-than sign used in math – pointing in the wrong direction, open to the mundanity of mediocracy. A losing symbol in a world that equates greatness with worthiness.
Whatever happened to good enough?
I suppose that is why I am so fond of God. While he asks me to be good, he has always believed I am good enough. Of course, I didn’t always know that because I was too distracted with headlines on glossy magazines, books on bettering, and tried and true tips that felt like a tongue twister of tortured suggestions. Read more
Some people believe we should do whatever it takes to make our dreams come true.
That perspective makes me tired. Or maybe I am tired and more likely to pursue sleeping dreams than the do-whatever-it-takes kind. While I would give anything for the people in my life, I can’t say the same for my pursuits.
I don’t lack ambition or commitment either. If anything, I am guilty of skepticism for thinking this mentality is part of the happily-ever-after notion of dreams hawked by Hollywood movie makers. But I am not really that cynical. I love people who are passionate about their goals. I admire the tenacity it takes to get to the proverbial there, to arrive, to live the dream. I love an underdog, a comeback story, and an against-the-odds fight.
I am just not sure I want to be one.
Somewhere between the dream and the reality is the cost of pursuit. Whether in commerce or in life, we all have a price we are willing to pay to get what we want. Not all of us are willing to personify Rocky Balboa for the sake of our dreams no matter how much we admire a steely resolve to persevere and a cool moniker like “Italian Stallion.” Read more
Often, I feel like Queen Elsa in the 2013 Disney film, Frozen, with let it go repeating in my head like a scratched record or a warped mix tape warbling words of what has got to be the greatest three-word sentences in the history of ice queens.
Let it go.
Life can feel like an avalanche of situations outside of our control. Other than our reaction to things, we don’t get a say in much. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have much to say, only that we don’t get to decide who listens, cares, or jams earbuds in their earholes when we speak. Despite my awareness of how much I need to let go of Every. Single. Day. I don’t want life to be merely a series of reactions to outside events. I want to be deliberate about what I let go of and what I strive to change.
Long before Elsa retreated to the ice castle, there was American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote the Serenity Prayer. I know he wasn’t royalty, didn’t have a 3-centimeter waist, and couldn’t turn people to ice with the flick of his wrist, but he did write a pretty good prayer. Read more