If/then: God Loves You

Every January we are inundated with messages of losing weight to prepare our bodies for summer as if it’s as complicated as training for an Olympic sport instead of simply shedding coats and slipping on shorts.  To be considered “ready” we are encouraged to lose weight, pump iron, and color ourselves caramel.

The message is clear.  The preparation is all-important.  Where you are now is clearly not good enough.  You aren’t worthy of summer vacay unless, until, all that urgent striving sculpts you into the picturesque airbrushed model on the magazine cover who hasn’t eaten in three years and works out five hours a day.

I don’t know if it’s more demoralizing or depraved, but many of us buy into this if-then mentality.  We do it in an array of scenarios: organizing our house before we can host friends, getting the promotion before we can pride ourselves on a job well done, or securing the relationship before we cement our self-worth.  The perception that our arrival is more important than our pursuit is most damaging in our relationships with God.  We often think where we are in our spiritual journey defines how much we please him, how much he loves us, and how worthy we are of his mercy. Read more

New Year – Same Self

I can’t help but shake that feeling a new year brings that I’m supposed to “do better,” “improve,” or “make it count.”  Bold directives that remind me of the anxious anticipation of waiting for my turn in a grade school relay race. Messages that don’t make me want to run as much as they make me want to run away.

In these heady days of a new year, I feel uber-aware of every action, or worse, every inaction.  It’s a similar feeling to the relief of confession. I love the clean slate but I also want to lock myself in the house or duct tape my mouth closed so I won’t risk sinning again. Once we delve into the grit and grind of life, both a new year and a clean soul can easily tarnish like the best of intentions.

Only, I’m not a new person despite the change on the calendar. I sat down to work and immediately googled Lab Rescues of Florida. I am not planning on getting another dog in 2021, but somehow the urge to read the personality traits and health history of every adoptable dog was a pressing priority. Likewise, while I intended to work at my desk with ergonomically correct posture this year, I slouched on the couch hovering over the keyboard, spine twisted like a buttery breadstick. By mid-afternoon, I passed my water cup in lieu of the curdle of reheated coffee. None of it felt very ‘new.’

Every year, each family member picks a word to guide or inspire them for the next 365 days. (Last year, my word was brave. I learned that was like praying for patience and I spent the year facing all kinds of situations that terrified me.) When my husband asked me about my word for this year, I was hesitant. We debated the merits of the words “freedom,” and “embrace.”  I was afraid if I chose “freedom,” I would have a slew of rescue dogs living with me by the year’s end. Read more

Walk in the Sun

As a teenager, I often went on long walks at the beach with my best friend. I can’t tell you what we talked about because I’m sure it was inappropriate and since I am of a certain age, I don’t really remember anyway. Going on walks meant we could scout the locations of cute lifeguards we knew or wanted to know. While we had no intention of actually speaking to the bronze boys on the towering orange chairs, or even so much as making eye contact with them, just knowing they were there gave our journey a purposeful feel. Years later, I had no idea I would be walking on that same stretch of sand with my husband while participating in a three-day, thirty-mile pilgrimage from Jacksonville Beach to the Our Lady of La Leche Shrine in St. Augustine.

I had never done a pilgrimage so when I heard about the Baby Steps Camino put on by the Order of Malta, a Catholic lay religious order, I thought that my experiences as a teenager walking past miles of strategically spaced lifeguard chairs gave me the necessary foundation for the 10-mile daily walk.

It felt decadent to cast aside adult responsibilities for a day in the sun. My husband and I prayed the rosary, walked in silence, and talked about all kinds of appropriate things (although I can’t remember what they were.) We allowed ourselves to look for the occasional shark’s tooth and other treasures in the sand. We paused for a picnic lunch under the glory of the December sun. Most importantly, we pressed on. When we were hot, tired, and when my feet got wet and my toe got bloody, we just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  It’s a lot like what we do in life when we remember that our final destination isn’t of this world.

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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

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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Faith in Quarantine

I don’t know if I am going to mentally survive the isolation of quarantine.  The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is skyrocketing here in Florida.  I am considered at increased risk for severe illness if I get the virus because of yet another dubious gift of 2020, severe stenosis caused by a dissected carotid artery.  Trust me, I wouldn’t want COVID-19 anyway, but I certainly don’t want to do anything to tip the precarious situation I am already in.  So, I stay at home.

I have a lovely home which I have gone to great lengths to find perfect throw pillows for but I am sick of being here. It feels like jail, only with comfy, well-coordinated pillows. Being quarantined reminds me of the birds we had as pets when I was growing up.  My friends hated to spend the night at my house because they would squawk and squeal like angry alarm clocks way before our teenage bodies were ready to wake.  And, no wonder the birds were angry – they existed in a cage of monotony.  Quarantining makes me feel somewhere between an inmate and a caged bird.

When it turns noon, I pretend my nightgown is really a sundress and carry on with the day’s inactivity.  And to add to my disdain, I get frustrated with myself for being so whiny about having no life when the whole reason I am doing this is so that I can have life.  So, I cram peanut M & M’s in my face and watch with envy as the hummingbird outside the window flutters from flower to flower in a fury of freedom.  I can’t help but wonder if she knows anything about the caged bird (not the one that sings – the angsty, squalling bird that tormented tired teenagers). Read more

Hope for Unity is in Love of Neighbor

The sin of racism has a long history of division. A history filled with a kind of hatred I have not known and I cannot understand.  More than anything, a history so sinister and sly that if you aren’t paying attention you easily forget that it’s not history at all.  It’s here in the present haunting and hunting and hurting others in subtle and systematic ways that perpetuate cycles of poverty, violence, and oppression.

The senseless and brutal murder of George Floyd demands understanding.  Through his struggling gasps, the world heard his cry that bears the tears of countless unknown and untold instances of humankind’s history of racial hatred.  It reverberated in cities throughout the world, sometimes as a growl of palpable anger and destruction – sometimes as a peaceful hum of hope and shared humanity.  The clanging noise of division has been heard and the costs have been high.  With it, though, is the quiet promise of hope that conversations about racism are leading to an unprecedented and long overdue conversion in our country – suffocating the sin of racism and breathing new life into love and unity with our neighbor.

Every day in countless small ways we choose what kind of change to affect in this world.  Those choices matter.  In the mundanity of our daily routine, we may sometimes forget how much this is so.  We can’t reconcile our mistakes without first recognizing them.  During the mass, we recite a prayer known as the Confiteor.  “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do…”   When it comes to social injustice collectively and individually, we have failed our brothers in sisters by both what we have done and what we have failed to do.

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