Gratitude: Beyond the Glitter

I sat down to write about gratitude and stared at a blank page. I stared out the window. I stared at the cat. I thought of all the ways this year has been hard for me personally and on a global scale. Certainly, there is a lot in between the microcosm of my life and the macrocosm of the pandemic. There has been deaths, unemployment, division, divorce, disease, and depression. And, while those things exist regardless of COVID-19, adding a heaping of quarantines, isolation, mask-wearing, and closures on top of life’s inevitable loss has sometimes felt like an overflow of despair.

So, the words don’t come easy. The spiral of sobering hardships has been like a forced global detox that has stripped life’s glitter leaving exposed the vulnerability and value of life.  Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s something to feel thankful for. Life feels raw and uncertain but also miraculous and precious. And most days, the sobriety of it all scares me. I miss the glitter of distraction that let me think that I was in control; that a long life was promised to me; and that happy times were the hallmark of a good life.

While I would not have chosen the trials of this year, I feel strangely grateful for what they have revealed. Underneath the glitter this is what I found:

  1. Control is contrived. Much of life is outside of our control. That’s not defeatist; it’s liberating. This year has been one of the most difficult and the most freeing. My health issues felt so outside of my control that for my sanity I had to surrender them. Surrendering the big things made it easier to surrender the small things. It’s a relief to know I can let things go. I may have more real problems but by giving them over to God, I don’t have near as many worries. We can either rely on ourselves and build a teetering house of cards, or we can rely on God and live secure in the foundation of our faith.

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Surrender: Into the Arms of God

Fully embracing the mundanity of my middle-aged life, I watched a documentary about an octopus. I won’t get into the details because you too may be interested in octopi documentaries so I don’t want to spoil anything. Yet one of the most interesting things I learned is that after an octopus lays her eggs, she quits eating and wastes away. By the time the eggs hatch, she dies. It’s like a Disney movie where the mom always dies and there’s an orphan having a coming of age adventure with lots of catchy songs that get stuck in your head.

For days, I kept thinking of the octopus laying there protecting her clutch of eggs while succumbing to starvation. I don’t know the biological reason for this. I just know that parenting in the later years feels like a separation comparable to death. And I apologize if that feels too dramatic for either a documentary or a Disney movie, but parenting during these years of increasing independence requires me to let go of all the details I have spent almost 20 years shaping. Having the privilege of being a mother has been the great honor of my life. As any mother knows, it requires stretching in ways that at times felt impossible. My role now is not so much to stretch but to contract, to loosen the grip on one of my greatest treasures so that the lull of life’s tide can carry him in a new direction. It feels counter to every instinct in my body. Yet, I understand that this has been my job all along – to give everything I could for him not because he is mine but so that the world can someday be his. Read more

Forgiveness: Or are you comfortable with the pain?

I was in the grocery store carefully picking through packs of organic chicken legs.  They were buy one get one free which made buying chicken that day a little like playing a card game such as Go Fish or Memory.  It’s important to find a price match or it isn’t really a win.  Wilson Phillips was singing Hold On (For One More Day) somewhere in the background completely oblivious to poultry-buying strategy.  My brain was maxed out from using math and matching skills simultaneously, so I wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics of their song.

Then I heard the line, “Or are you comfortable with the pain?”  I froze much like the shrink-wrapped chicken I was cataloging.  I looked around trying to understand why this moment suddenly felt less mundane.  Why a line from a song I have heard countless times stood out as significant.

Had I, the girl who carries a small pharmacy in my purse, somehow become comfortable with pain?  It seemed like such a ridiculous notion amidst the Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, and pain analgesics that I carry in bulk like a Red Cross volunteer ready for war.  Of course, everyone experiences physical and emotional pain on occasion but accepting it as the norm seems as defeatist as throwing your hand in Go Fish or not taking the free chicken in the buy one get one deal.  Who does that? Read more

Heal What Has Broken

In the bathroom, I noticed that the small vase on the pedestal sink had broken.  It lay in pieces while the plant it once held in water splayed like a dying fish whose gills move in slow silent puffs of suffocation. I asked my son who was just outside the room staring at his phone or iPad or another electronic brainwasher if he knew what happened to the vase.  Brilliant as he is, he told me it broke.  I asked him if he broke it and indeed, he had. When I inquired as to why he didn’t clean up the broken glass he responded with a casual, “I forgot.”

I probably should have prefaced this story by saying my son is not three.  I have teenage boys, not toddlers – although there are remarkable similarities.  I wasn’t upset that he broke the vase.  I am at the point in my life that when something breaks, I think “great that is one less thing I have to ask myself about whether it sparks joy.”  Not having to answer the question that made Marie Kondo a household name, certainly sparks joy.  So, the broken vase wasn’t the issue.

At issue, is how obvious it was to me that there was an issue when in between the time span that he presumably washed his hands and turned off the faucet he seemingly forgot to see shattered glass and a wounded plant.  The incident reminded me how in our increasingly polarized society people only see what they want – the rest they just forget about. Read more

Editing Life

It was Sunday afternoon and I was sitting on the couch drinking my Kava Stress Relief Tea. I would explain why I was drinking stress relief tea but it’s still 2020, so I feel like certain things speak for themselves. An old friend called and even though I was right next to the phone I got so excited to speak with her that I spilled the entire mug of tea all over myself and the couch. Needless to say, the stress relief tea inadvertently induced a fair amount of stress (and mess, as well as possibly some third-degree burns).

I finally got the edits back from my publisher and I have been working furiously to finish them by my deadline. Editing is nothing like writing. When I write I feel as if I am creating something and when I edit it’s like I’ve become a psychotic serial killer cutting my carefully chosen words and obliviating their well-meaning existence. The hope is that I am creating something better, but like a serial killer, I am not quite sure if I’m just deluding myself. It’s grueling. Most days at least one eye is twitching, my brain throbs, and sleep is sporadic.

The purpose of editing isn’t meant to be sadistic though. It’s meant to make things better. In writing, and in our relationships with God, we have to let go in order to make space for something new. If you are like me, letting go is hard. We get attached to things in our lives. We get attached to our carefully-curated self-image, our jobs, our words, our plans, and the people we love. It’s a normal part of our story. Yet, what we sometimes fail to recognize is that the best part of our story comes after we edit. When we take out obstacles in our lives that our keeping us from God, we can draw closer to him. When we let go of what our lives are supposed to look like and how our relationships are supposed play out, we make room for new experiences and more authentic interactions. Yet, so often we are desperate to move forward, while at the same time refusing to let go of what keeps us stuck. It’s so hard to let go that we stay trapped in our same old story. I know letting go is scary. After all, I used serial killers to describe it. But with careful discernment and trust in God’s providence, you can do it.

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Why Firewood Is the Perfect Birthday Gift

On my birthday, instead of getting diamonds, pearls, or even something useful like shower gel, I received a box of firewood. I was confused. I wondered, Is there a diamond wrapped in the box of firewood? Believe it or not, it was one of the more thoughtful gifts I have received from my husband. As I grow older or just grow, I want fewer things. The material becomes immaterial as I focus on creating moments that matter instead of curating a collection of stuff. Often, when reflecting on the busyness of the day, I realize how little time I spent with God. I figured if I could live more simply, I could live more saintly. So, I told my husband I want to live like people do on a farm. I guess the firewood was a more practical way for him to acknowledge this than giving me a tractor.

I don’t mean to disparage my lifestyle either. But sometimes conveniences designed to make life easier feel cumbersome. For one, buying in bulk is heavy. I need a farmhand just to load my car. And while I am grateful for medical care, my children have had more X-rays, CAT scans, and seen more specialists than seems plausible for healthy boys. On the farm, doctors would make house calls, eliminating tedious waits in an icy room with magazines about complicated crafts, intricate recipes, and impractical fashions. On a farm, folks only saw someone when they were dead, dying, or bleeding to death.

After listening to my conversations about farm living, my son told me he couldn’t do chores on the farm with a separated growth plate in his shoulder. I explained he could use his other arm, and like Gloria Gaynor, he would survive. I, on the other hand, would be like Eva Gabor on the ’70s sitcom Green Acres, if I actually had to live on a farm. It’s the concept of living simply that appeals to me. I have this notion that if I could pare down the complications of life, it would be easier to fixate on my goal for eternal life.

Here’s my list of ways to live more simply that don’t require overalls:

  1. Shop locally. While there are Amazon.com, mega-malls, and credit card points, there are also small businesses that are more interested in conversation than commission. One of the best things about shopping locally is that they carefully wrap your purchase in crisp white tissue paper and put it in a paper bag. I love that. It feels special like you just sold the farm to make that purchase.

 

  1. Buy what I need. The truth is we don’t need much. We need friendship, family, and fellowship. We need love and mercy. We need God and goodness. We need conversation and conversions. Other than that, we just need a toothbrush, a little food, and some good wine.

 

  1. Use what I buy. Waste is maddening. It feels gross, indulgent, and disrespectful. I am trying to be more conscientious by buying food grown on real farms—and only enough. One night, I bought one chocolate-covered strawberry for each of us. It was perfect and felt decadent to have just enough, instead of always having more.

 

  1. Offer thanks. There is so much to be thankful for and you don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to acknowledge life’s blessings. If you don’t think you are blessed, go outside. Feel the sunshine on your face, or the rain. Feel the breath you inhale. Feel the gentleness of the wind. Feel alive with possibility. Feel the fullness that is gratitude.

 

  1. Light a fire. You don’t necessarily need firewood to do this. You just need a spark—something that gets you excited, people who make you feel warm, passions that make you feel purposeful. Birthdays are finite. It is important to live like it matters, so the people in your life know they matter.

In the end, whether you choose city life or green acres isn’t important. It’s the time you spend enjoying moments such as sitting by the fire with someone you love that matter. Those moments are the best gifts you can give and the best gifts you can get.

Hi all~ I wrote this post 100 years ago but since today is my 100th birthday I figured I would post it again. (I have decided to lie up about my age because then people are more impressed with how I look. Gee, she looks really good for 100.  No one ever says that when you tell them you are 48.)  Regardless of appearances or what number birthday this is, all I feel right now is gratitude. I am here. What a blessing that is despite whatever circumstances you find yourself in. On behalf of my centennial, it would make me happy if you did something today to celebrate the gift of your life. ~love, the birthday girl

Fair Well 2020

This year has been like a creepy stroll through a fun-house at the county fair– a maze of bewildering, distorted experiences where the walls narrow and bend while the floor beneath shifts in chaotic uncertainty and the exit seems to snake so far into the future that the tipsy-turvy wobble of reality starts to feel normal.

If I could find a way out, I would hide among the livestock and let puffs of pink sugar dissolve on my tongue while pondering the slanted profile of a goat.  Hiding for the rest of 2020 is tempting.  It’s been a hard year with way more steep drops and hard climbs than the ricketiest roller coaster.  I’m not a fan of roller coasters so I’m over it all. I’m ready to say farewell to 2020 — blow a goodbye kiss to it through my masked face and wait for next year.

But if I have learned anything, it is to be grateful for each day that I am given.  I used to think this kind of gratitude meant that I would be in a persistently good mood, that I would never be annoyed at the people in my life, and that I would be completely satisfied regardless of my circumstances.  It would be the pinnacle of my spiritual evolution with some ceremonial demarcation comprised of wrapping my head in a turban and singing Kumbaya to my cats.  And as much as I probably should wrap my head in a turban until I can see my hairdresser again, gratitude looks nothing like that. Read more

Poetry of Life

In my early twenties, I came across a poem in a gift shop in Savannah, Georgia.  I bought the book and decided that I wanted to live the way the 85-year-old author would if she could live her life over.

These are her words:

If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.

I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.

– Nadine Stair

As young as I was, I understood the wisdom in her words.  I recognized my own tendency to carry a parachute in my purse “just in case.” I knew I worried too much about the future and too little about making the most of the present.  I didn’t eat enough ice cream and I was terrified of making mistakes.

The fanciful imagery of her words reminds me of giddy laughter, fireflies, and long, lazy naps with the cat.  Over the years, I thought of how those images juxtaposed against the harder realities of life – loneliness, loss, and suffering so painful that we can’t imagine anything as hopeful as a daisy.  What Ms. Stair wrote was a reminder to make beautiful moments right now regardless of our circumstances.

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Not to brag, but…

I know we aren’t supposed to brag but I’m not good at many things.  I didn’t make the cheerleading team in sixth grade.  I remember the awkwardness of getting picked near last for teams in P.E. class.  I didn’t even make grade school chorus – and everyone made the chorus.  Everyone, that is, except for me and a boy going through early adolescence whose voice cracked mid-syllable like a banjo with a broken string.   Eventually, his voice became smooth and steady while mine remains a unique mix of southern, nasally, whine.  It’s as if I speak my own dialect and apparently it should not be put to music.  As such, I feel like I get special dispensation when it comes to boasting.  After all, I feel like God would want me to focus on my strengths after so many obviously traumatic childhood experiences.

All that is to say, I am really good at finding shark’s teeth.  (I know I probably should have made sure you were sitting down for that.)  Last time I went to the beach I found 38 shark teeth in less than two hours.  Since I am a self-proclaimed-shark-tooth-finding expert, I feel obligated to teach others several important lessons from my experiences:

  1. There are treasures everywhere if you are only patient enough to look.  Slow down and pay attention to the gifts in your life.  I bet if you look close enough you will find way more than 38.

 

  1. Life is messy, but it’s also full of miracles. Notice them.  Like the debris of crushed shells on the beach, if we aren’t careful then all we will see are the broken pieces of our lives.  We can never lose sight of the way God redeems our suffering often surprising us with unexpected gifts of awe.

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Tree Trauma and Healing Hearts

I ran into a tree –with my face.  When I mentioned this to my mother, she assumed it was with my car and I spent some time pondering whether that indicated she gave me too much credit or not enough.

I was walking down the sidewalk looking left because even though I’ve been told my entire life to watch where I am going, it seems as if all the interesting things are either to the left or right.  To my left, a woman clothed in pajamas was begging a tow truck driver to remove the boot from her car.  I was immersed in their interaction when the tree attacked me.  The assault wasn’t like the one in the Poltergeist movie where the tree wrapped people in its python-like branches.  It was a knock in the face so hard that my earring popped out and I had to sit on the sidewalk for a minute and say bad words while trying not to cry.  Not sure which kind of tree attack is worse.

I have small cuts on my jaw and ear that can easily be covered with makeup and hair.  It annoys me that they look so minor when hours later I can still feel the throb from the jarring hit.  It seems like I should have an imprint of bark on my face or a dangling ear, but sadly, I look relatively normal.  It made me think about the wounds we carry and how the ones that hurt the most are often unseen.  This pulsating pain walks with us no matter which direction we are headed. Few know the extent of our injuries and sometimes we too ignore the ache of our wounds.  We try to be tough.  We try to move on.  We think the heart heals as intuitively as our bodies do from injury or sickness.    We assume healing will just happen without acknowledgment or effort the way bruises fade from darkness into nothingness.  Yet our hearts were not made for darkness and nothingness.  They were made for love and the consequences of that ability to stretch and surmount and pour out and let in — is a vulnerability to being hurt.  Jesus knew this.  He loved unequivocally and it motivated his willingness to suffer for us so that we could also know great love.

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