Mardi Gras and Happy Tuesdays

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.

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Eternal Life and Disposable Society

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

Marie Kondo Craze and Life-Changing Joy of God

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

Hearing God in a Noisy World

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.

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The Serenity Prayer and the Ice Queen

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

Advent, Pink, and Happy News!

I was picking up throw pillows off my living room floor last week.  (I don’t have toddlers but I have teenagers and there is a multitude of similarities). Anyway, I turned around from my pillow-pick-up and looked out the window to see a pink sky.  To my surprise, there was a rose-colored glow on everything: the grass, trees, pavers – all of it.  Pink.    It was beautiful and eerie and made me feel as if the world had stopped and Jesus had come. Not long after that, the pink had faded into gray and torrential rain followed.  Still, I kept thinking about the way the sky’s color palette changed from ordinary to awesome in what seemed like an instant.  It reminded me of our faith journey.

Sometimes in our faith walk, it feels like we travel alone. Others may know our troubles but they don’t understand every notch and groove of the crosses we carry, nor do we theirs.  As such, it is important to always practice compassion and take comfort in the mercy we are offered along the way.  Our walks look different.  Sometimes it’s the longing for a child, the reconciliation of a marriage, a better job, the healing of a loved one, unbearable grief, or addiction.  Regardless of what it looks like, it requires the perseverance of faith.

For years, I wanted to publish a book about mercy.  I wanted to write the book I needed to read but could not find.  I pursued it. I experienced painful rejections, the almost but not quite, the close doesn’t count, and the dogged doubt that told me to quit.  For some time now, that has been a part of my faith walk.  Alone, in the dark, unsure, but trying to trust, I practiced patience and surrender, and above all, mercy. I persevered.  Without mercy, I never could have kept going.  It told me that it was okay to try.  It taught me to love myself, not what others thought of me or my work.  It reminded me that something far greater than earthy desires await.  So, I trudged on, trusting that I would know when it was time to quit.  I waited, sometimes even hoped, to get that message to move on.  Yet, through Gods strength, I always managed another day.

Then, on an ordinary Wednesday, a publisher offered me a book deal.  Just like that.

The walk that for so long felt cumbersome, lonely, and uncertain was over.  The longing was no more.  The wait ended.  The sound ceased to be an echo.  The darkness receded.  I had my pink sky.  There aren’t really words to describe what this meant to me, all the countless ways that I looked back and saw how God had intricately thread the tapestry of my journey. Every stitch was intentional. Every time I held on by a thread, he held me up.  I could finally see his pattern that once seemed so haphazard.  I think of all the people he sent at just the right time to keep me going, to encourage, to embody hope, and I am overwhelmed by the goodness of it all.  Yet more than anything what strikes me is how in one instant everything can change.  We walk in faith.  We trudge along.  We believe. We doubt.  We fall down.  We get up. Sometimes it’s awful.  Sometimes it’s hopeful.  And then, in the instant of his perfect timing, one walk ends and another begins.  It’s like Christmas day on an ordinary Wednesday.

During the third week of Advent, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. While Advent is a penitential season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Christmas and the second coming of Christ, on Gaudete Sunday, we celebrate the joy of God’s redemption.  With only a week of Advent to go, we pause and rejoice all that awaits. “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance.  The Lord is at hand,” (Philippians 4:4-5).  As such, we switch from lighting purple candles on our advent wreath to lighting pink.

Pink is the color of joy.  It is the fulfillment of the promise of our faith.  Sometimes it’s the color of the sky reminding us of the miracles in nature.  Sometimes it’s the color of our cheeks when we are flush with joy.  Sometimes it’s the color we have longed to see for far too long.  The color that shows up one day as the embodiment of a dream.  Right now, it is my favorite color of all.

May it be yours too.

This is me signing the book contract! I know I should have dressed for the occasion or at least gotten out of my pajamas. But, seriously, I didn’t care what I looked like, I was too happy! I felt like Tim Tebow must have during one of his many signing ceremonies (only not as good looking, and with a needy dog on my lap, and readers in my hair, and coffee instead of champagne, and morning dishes surrounding me, and my husband as my paparazzi). Still, it was messy, wonderful, and perfectly pink.

FOMO and the Season of Advent

Just days ago, I spent the day giving thanks.  It wasn’t a restful day, but it was full of food, family, and a dance party with my nieces where I got to be the star Rockette.

Then, in a flick of a leg, it ended — the spirited kicks, the gratitude, and that content feeling that I had everything I need.  I know that’s not why they call it Black Friday but it seems apt that all the products they try to sell can make us feel as dark and empty as a turkey with no stuffing.

How strange it is to go from counted blessings to conspicuous consumption in just a day.  Stranger still, that it’s done in the name of Christ.  After all, he never owned much during his time on earth.  Jesus was concerned with miracles, not the material.  He shared compassion not coupons.  He wasn’t about making the deal.  He was the real deal.  That’s why we celebrate the gift of his birth.

But popping out of a day of thanks like a rogue jack-in-the-box, we are bombarded with glossy ads, lowest prices of the season, rebates, cyber sales, steals and deals, and all the promising thrills the hustle and bustle buys.

It’s exhausting and expensive and it’s what I do.  The season of Advent hasn’t even started and I already feel more harried than merry.  Even when I am not looking for anything in particular to buy, I am afraid not to look, because what if I miss out on something? As such, I have diagnosed myself with FOMO (fear of missing out).  I’m thinking this is a legitimate diagnosis since there is an acronym for it.

As it goes, I fear that if I don’t click on the link or the email or the buy button, then I am going to miss out on some “deal of a lifetime.”  My life will spiral out of control if I spend two more measly dollars than necessary to buy something.  My children won’t go to college. We will be financially ruined.  The Elf on the Shelf will mock me.  My nieces will find another star Rockette. Read more

Birthday Lessons for Everyday Life

I just celebrated another birthday.  Besides wilting skin, the imaginary birthday girl tiara on my head, and the presents I intend to buy myself, I think of the song Birthday by the Beatles on my 365th day of orbit around the sun.  Anthony Michael Hall sings it to Molly Ringwald in the film, Sixteen Candles.  “They say it’s your birthday, well it’s my birthday too, yeah!”

Whether it’s your birthday too, or just another day when age sixteen feels really far away, there are a lot of lessons birthdays teach.

This is what I learned from mine:

Birthday lists are important:  Every year my husband pesters me to tell him what I want for my birthday, and every year I can’t think of one single thing to get.  Yet, there are many things I want.  I just talk myself out of them because I don’t want to clean puppy pee off the floor.  Birthdays give us a chance to consider what we want.  For many of us, that feels uncomfortable.  Still, it’s important to know what you want in life, because it’s short, and precious, and as far as we know, we only get one shot at it.  What do you want?

Gifts are great: Who doesn’t like opening presents?! It’s so fun to size up the box, give it a little shake, and then rip the pretty paper off that is suffocating the thoughtful gift inside. I haven’t always thought of my life as a gift.  I have taken it for granted, given away too many days to sour thoughts and staid reflections.  But, birthdays remind me to give gratitude to the ultimate gift-giver.  I always try to offer thanksgiving to God, but on my birthday, I am especially humbled by his goodness.  I see the gift of each day: the sorrows, joys, trials, and the spaces in between.  All of it, a gift.  All of it inspires me to try to be a gift to others. Read more

Lessons from my dog: Let it be

I love my dog.  I know that’s about as interesting as one of those stick family decals on the rear window of a mini-van.  It even sounds like something you might read on a bumper sticker.

This isn’t about bumper stickers though, but rather bumping along in life with worries that ping-pong around like reckless cars weaving through traffic.

Gus, is a faux-lab we adopted when he was a year old.  I call him a faux-lab because he doesn’t like the water.  This baffles me because his breed seems almost amphibious.  He had been at the shelter for six weeks before we adopted him.  I am not sure if that had anything to do with the sign on his kennel which read, “I eat blankets.”  Since I like to hide underneath blankets when the world feels too wonky, I figured our shared affinity for bed covers might make a good match.

When we brought him home from the shelter, Gus was as shiny and black as a baby grand piano with dazzling white teeth as his keys.  He is nine-years-old now.   His muzzle is gray and his teeth aren’t quite as glossy.  He doesn’t eat blankets, but he’s always there when I need one.  The longer I have him the more grateful I am for his unconditional love and the uncanny way he completes our family.

The more I realize how dear this dog is, the more I worry about my next dog.  I lament that I won’t be able to find another dog as perfect, that I won’t even like any other dogs, that when the dog I have dies I am going to adopt 10 more cats to add to the two I have and just call my life a dog-gone disaster with a dozen litter boxes to clean.

Breaking from my catastrophic thinking I wonder why I can’t just enjoy right now.  Why am I wasting time trying to write a future when the only thing I can author is my present?  Why is it that the more I know what I have the more afraid I am to lose it?  Why can’t I be like the Beatles and just let it be?

Let it be. 

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Catholic Church Sex Abuse Cover Up: Time to Go

I wasn’t going to write about the unconscionable cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I don’t have anything nice to say.

I am angry and it feels horribly unnatural to be angry at the church that I love. But the church I love doesn’t molest children and certainly would never cover it up and let victims multiply exponentially to maintain a sham of integrity.

Except they did.

It’s incongruous with the church I know who serves the poor, feeds the hungry, cares for the sick, educates, and indoctrinates. I have spent much of my life surrounded by Catholics.   Like most Christians, they are people who live consciously, generously, and with a fierce commitment to love and serve others.

Trying to reconcile the beauty of my faith with this grave betrayal feels impossible. Yet, I know that all things are possible with God and I pray for healing. I pray for the victims who were violated, shushed, ignored, and invisible to the church who betrayed them. I pray for those who served on the Pennsylvania grand jury who investigated these atrocities and advocated for their exposure foraging a pathway to justice for victims and a forthright accountability of the Catholic Church. I pray for the many good priests who dedicate their lives to the teachings of the church, who follow the rules, and who imitate the life of Christ in their ministry. I pray for Jesus, whose holiness was shamelessly used to facilitate these crimes. I pray for the grace to move past this. Read more