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

Waiting isn’t the hardest part

Tom Petty sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”  He captured in lyrics what we know from experience – the agony of the wait.

Last summer I experienced waiting in a completely different way, as hope.  A publisher was considering my manuscript on works of mercy.  We began conversations in June, and she presented the manuscript to her Acquisitions Committee in August.

In the time between, the waiting, I was so excited to have the opportunity.  I felt like everything was coming full circle and that God really did have a plan for me.  I worked hard polishing the chapters and helped put together a marketing plan, but I wasn’t anxious.  Instead, I felt like I was in a pale pink bubble, not made by a fairy-tale godmother, but by God himself.  I was on the cusp of a dream, closer than I ever thought possible.  Instead of feeling like the waiting was the hardest part, I wanted to remain in it.  It seemed too painful to be so close and experience rejection.  For the first time in a long time, I felt genuine hope.  I would have been content to float on that hope for the rest of my life.

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Divine Mercy Sunday

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Since mercy is kind of my thing, I figure I should write about it.  Only, all I can think of are answers to the question, how did mercy become my thing? Mid-life crisis?  PTSD? Exposure to pesticides?

I have other things I am passionate about including cats, dogs, and color-stay lipstick.  Unlike mercy, those things make sense to me.

For most of my life, mercy felt above me like one of those words at the top of the hierarchy that I could never reach.  It was like the incense used during Holy Days that rose to meet the cherubs at the top of cathedrals.  It was an enigma, because I never took the time to contemplate what it meant, how it’s shown, and its source from which salvation hinges. Read more

Easter Rose

During this Lenten season, I lost a dear friend unexpectedly.  It was a Tuesday, and I planned to go to the grocery store.  Instead, I was in the ER and then the ICU, waiting, hoping, and praying while trying to comfort her two daughters who are the same ages as my boys.  I had so many joyful memories with these girls:  picking blueberries on a hot summer day, watching them bob in the pool, laughing, and splashing with abandon, and chatting leisurely in their kitchen on carefree topics that meandered like the veining in the marble on their island.  We went trick-or-treating with them, hunted Easter eggs, and watched fireworks on the Fourth of July. Read more

God: the Mess We Make

I’ve been on a search for the holy grail of vacuums. This isn’t a new thing. I’ve been at it for years.  Other people travel the world, I buy (and, often return) vacuums.

I guess I am looking for the perfect vacuum that has among its features a desire to actually use it.  So far, all I have had is a longing for clean floors.  A friend of mine lent me one of those robot vacuums.  I figured even I could muster the motivation to try it since it only required me to push a button.

The dog and I suspiciously watched the wayward machine.  It was like a mini R2D2 after a night out at the bars.  It swayed in one direction and then the other, continuously running into things.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it.  It was trying so hard. Read more

Light: Out of the darkness

 

As a native Floridian, winters are hard for me.  It’s not just the closed toe shoes and the cumbersome layers of clothes that make me feel constrained liked a mummy wrapped in fleece.

It’s the darkness.

The shorter days, gray skies, and the browning emptiness leave flowers blighted and bare trees somber.  I don’t notice how much it affects me until spring arrives, and I am awed by the glorious light. I catch myself staring out the window. I see the green growth of new leaves on the mounds of sticks sprouting up from the earth and the reliable bloom of azaleas bursting bright with joy, but it’s the light, pervasive and ethereal, that captivates me. Read more

Connections not Coincidence

In the ninth grade, a classmate accidentally shot himself and died.  His death was 30 years ago, more than twice my age at the time so it seems odd to notice these connections to it now.

I don’t recall much, other than feeling stunned and sad.  But I do remember leaving the funeral and seeing my Spanish teacher across the street with this pained looked of sympathy acknowledging the enormity of his loss was inexplicable, even to grown-ups. I sensed how bad she hurt for me, for all of us young people who had such little experience with death and tragedy.  The one who always had the answers had no more than her students.

Death is the great equalizer.

I haven’t thought of him in years until a friend acknowledged his birthday on Facebook.  But this isn’t about tragedy or death, but the way we are connected, albeit in ways that can easily be passed off as coincidence.

I recently returned from a trip and told my mom about deceased loved ones I lit candles for in different churches.  I lamented that there were others who I’ve known who died that I wish I lit candles for too.  She suggested that I light one candle for all those who passed.

Then she mentioned how this would include the boy from ninth grade who had died from the gunshot wound.  It had been three decades since we spoke of him.  It seemed like such odd timing: my mom thinking of him the same day I prayed for him at weekday mass and only two days after his birthday, without having any knowledge of either.  This convergence of recollection seemed like one of those God things. It had been 30 years and for all this to surface in a period of three days seemed supernatural.

I hesitated to write about it because it sounds either trivial or mystical.  We live in a world where we want to believe only what we see, hear, touch, and has been validated by science or a positive review on Amazon.  We brush off connections as coincidences and miss opportunities to acknowledge glimpses of God, which aren’t constrained by time or logic.

A fellow classmate honoring the birthday of a deceased friend, reminding others of a joyful life and a tragic death, inspiring prayers said by someone who remembers more the face of mercy in a teacher than the details of the funeral, and a mother who has known many of her children’s peers pass away acknowledging just this particular one, reminds me of our connection to each another that is undoubtedly threaded by God’s hand.

I suppose it sounds crazy to think these connections mean something and if you are open enough to think that they could the question easily becomes what do they mean?  But I don’t have any more answers than my Spanish teacher did on that sad day.  It’s by acknowledging the connection that I feel joy, more aware how those we mourn live on, and the very real ways that God connects all of us through him.

Too often, I am unaware.  I look at the concrete, the to-dos, and the should-have done, and I miss the many ways God shows his presence in the physical world.

I was lucky to be reminded of that presence by someone who has long since stopped having a tangible existence himself.  Yet he lives on in ways that can seem as elusive as the flicker of a candle, but nonetheless burn bright.

In memory of Michael Field. 

You may also want to read a post I wrote about another connection here.

Do you notice “coincidences” in life?  Those things that make you pause or send a tingle up your spine.  They always remind me how we are connected to one another through God and they always make me feel more hopeful about all that I cannot see and understand.  What do you make of them? 

 

Ash Wednesday and Opposites Attract

a couple in love I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year.   It has a certain yin and yang to it.  The commercial hawking of one compared to the saving grace of the other, proving once again that opposites attract.

The black ash symbolizing death countered with the puffy red heart celebrating love adds an element of realism.  And when you have a holiday as syrupy as Valentine’s Day, a-la doilies, hyped up expectations, and besotted poetry, that darkness is rather refreshing.

I know I sound terribly unromantic, but I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with those trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead.   (My poor husband is probably not feeling too wooed right now.)

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting.  It marks a season that is purposefully non-celebratory, while Valentine’s Day is about bubbly champagne, decadent desserts, and red roses.

I like the juxtaposition of it.  But there is also a commonality that exists between the two.  At the core of each is love and there is no greater example of that than God sacrificing his only son for our salvation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV).

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of God’s mercy, which has the power to take away the stain of our sins.  Our hearts, blackened by the wounds of the world, grudges, indifference, neglect, and injustice can be wiped clean.  We are called to seek mercy during the Lenten season.  It is this mercy that allows for everything:  forgiveness, second chances, redemption, and the glory of new life.  The days leading up to the victory of the cross are a sacred time to examine ourselves, our relationship with God, and our neighbor.

That might seem dull next to shiny, red, heart-shaped balloons bobbing and boasting like a frog bellowing for a princess’s kiss. Yet it’s anything but.  Everyone knows helium balloons eventually sink, chocolates are consumed, and flowers die.  But what God promises is eternal and real.  It has the power to heal the dark wounded places we hide from the world.  It forgives our failings and delights in our efforts to know, love, and serve him.   It carries us in our loneliness, desperation, and grief.  It doesn’t inflict pain like the thorny rose of the world but offers the bloom of eternal life.

Anyone who has moved past infatuation knows that love is messy.  It’s trying again, like Jesus when he fell carrying his cross.  It’s forgiving like Jesus did before he drew his last breath. It’s beautiful and redemptive like Jesus rising from the dead.

It’s fitting then that Valentine’s Day falls on as significant a day as Ash Wednesday.

It’s the perfect preface to the greatest love story ever told.

While obviously, Ash Wednesday takes precedence of Valentine’s day, love and Lent aren’t mutually exclusive ♥ what are you doing to honor both today? Please comment! Want more related to Lent http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/ and http://mercymatters.net/2014/03/05/shine-this-lenten-season/

XO