Wrinkles in His Will (and some tips on boiling corn)

I was talking to Jesus one night before bed and told him that his will for my life appears fairly willy-nilly.  What are we really doing here, God?  This?  That?  Does it even matter?  It’s as if he thinks I can read the signs he sends.  I can’t even read a map much less fold one, so why he thinks I can discern his will is a mystery to me.  Still, I come back to that longing to know.  It’s like a kid the night before their birthday trying to figure out what their gifts will be.  It’s a sleepless mix of exhilaration and anticipation and longing for the relief of just knowing.  What a gift the knowing would be.

The next morning, my son had an appointment to have his high school senior pictures taken.  I had reminded him the night before that mama doesn’t iron and he needed to have his clothes ready.  When I saw him half-dressed in a half-ironed shirt, I was wholly annoyed.  He explained that he had ironed his shirt and the wrinkles weren’t coming out.  He said he was going to wear it a bit and that would make the wrinkles come out.  Lord Jesus, I am supposed to send this child to college in a year?  I told him to give me the shirt and I would iron it.

It’s not that I am unwilling to iron, it’s just that most things that have to do with domesticity fail me.  The day before I texted a friend to ask how long to boil corn (10 minutes).  It’s frustrating to do things that we aren’t good at.  When I was a little girl, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a stay-at-home mom.  I know in today’s world that is terribly lame but that was my wish, my will.  While I’ve been able to do that and mostly love it, I can’t say I am particularly good at it.  So, there I was ironing the already-ironed shirt wondering why the heat and the pressing and the willing weren’t working.  Since we were running short on time, I called a friend for advice.  She reminded me she was in a different time zone and still asleep.  I explained my domestic emergency and necessary disregard for her slumber.  She suggested that I spray the shirt with water.  It turns out the spray bottle under my sink is a mix of soap and water so when I sprayed the shirt it bubbled up like a wound doused in peroxide.  I just can’t imagine things like this happening to June Cleaver.

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Mercy at the Bus Stop

I was doing my teenage Uber driving duties and thinking about the advice that encourages parents to talk to children in the car.  After all, they are a captive audience, don’t have to make eye contact (because God forbid, we have any of that), and both parent and child are physically restrained –that might not have been among the reasons listed but it does seem worth noting.  We were on the return portion of our journey into silence and I was lamenting the misery of it when I looked out the car window and saw a man sitting on a bus stop talking to himself.  Our eyes met and for a moment he silenced.

He was smoking a cigarette in the mid-day Florida heat.  I checked the temperature on my dash and it read 98 degrees.  I considered my relative comfort in the air-conditioned car and the ice cream in my freezer I planned to eat when I arrived home as a consolation from both the heat and the unwelcome hush of angst that tormented my drive.  I recalled the smoking man in the intolerable heat, sitting in solace, speaking to himself.  I thought of that moment our eyes met, and how for the first time that day I felt seen.  It mattered not to me what I was seen as or how I might have looked or what he might have thought of me. The moment reminded me of the universality of God’s mercy at a time when I felt somewhat desperate for connection.  I don’t know what he saw when he looked at me, but through him, I saw a reminder that suffering is not the only thing that is universal, God’s mercy is too.

While I consider my circumstances are likely better than his – the reality was at that moment, I felt as miserable as I perceived him to be.  It’s easy to compare ourselves to others.  We have standardized what we consider justifiable levels of loneliness, pain, emptiness, and grief, and if it doesn’t fall on the spectrum of horror or woe that we heard on the latest podcast then we feel like we need to buck up and go write in our gratitude journals.  Before I understood the mercy of God, I would have thought the same thing.  There were so many times that the pain and challenges in my life became a wedge in my relationship with God because I didn’t think I had the right to seek his mercy.  I didn’t bring God what appeared to be trivial and trite by the world’s definition of suffering because it felt too small and I had been given too much.  The problem with that thinking is that it separates us from God and from the mercy that heals, comforts, and forgives the wounds in our heart.  We may not be worthy of God’s mercy or deserve it.  Regardless, it pours out of him – a gift of unfathomable consolation that we choose whether to accept.

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You’ve Got Talent

Growing up, I was never in the talent show.  It wasn’t even a consideration.  I could barely pass math, so the notion of talent seemingly passed me by.  Life felt too narrow to think of talent as anything other than singing, dancing, or playing a musical instrument – none of which I could do.

As I grew, so did my broadening of what I consider talent.  The last several summers I attended a talent show for special needs campers as part of Catholic Charities Camp I Am Special program.  My son is one of the teenage buddies responsible for a special needs camper for a week.  It’s impossible to convey the scope of what this entails, the way these teenagers empty themselves in the compassionate care of their camper, and how this emptying fills them in ways that their social media feeds never do.

I don’t know if that’s considered a talent by the world’s standards, but Camp I Am Special culminates their week-long activities with a talent show featuring buddy and camper.  Sometimes this entails a lightsaber duel, a song, or for more limited campers the simple twitch of their foot to music.  It’s humbling to watch.  Each time I vacillate between joy and tears. The tears aren’t of pity but rather for the purity of love embodied.  Appearing limitless despite what physical or mental limits exist, this love is enveloping.  The talent show is an expansive experience that broadens how I think of differences, gifts, and abilities to give.

This year, I not only witnessed it, but I was also an unlikely participant.

Mid-way through the talent show, a young man was singing and dancing to Y.M.C.A. by The Village People.  He knew how to engage the crowd getting them to clap, sing, and spell letters with their limbs.  He bounced off the stage and jaunted down the aisle of spectators high fiving them as he passed.  On his second trip down the aisle, he whisked me out of my seat and before I even knew I was standing, he spun me under his arm.  Never letting go of my hand, he pulled me towards the stage where I joined him for the remainder of the song.

I thought about being self-conscious, or how silly I might look, or how I might mess up the timing of my letters to the lyrics (which I did).  Yet, as I stood on stage in what was my very first talent show, I realized it wasn’t about doing it perfectly or being the best or shining in the way gold sequins under the spotlight do.  It was about the gift this young man had to bring joy to others, to remind us to abandon worldly standards of beauty, value, and contributions and consider that loving one another is always going to be the show-stopper.

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Fishing: Moments to Catch

Summer feels thick right now – the heat, the ebb and flow of vacationers, and the realization that its end is looming like the swarm of mosquitos that emerge at dusk.  I am kind of in a funk about it.  Thinking there are only a few short weeks of summer left, I feel panic rise like the scorching mid-day heat.  For three straight weeks, my family will be scattered in different places.  The final weeks of summer stained with talk of orientation, school schedules, and college applications.  Family time is back to being carved out like the mocking triangle eyes and jagged mouth of a pumpkin. I might as well get the Halloween decorations down from the attic.

When my husband asked me to go on the boat with him one weekday evening, I reluctantly agreed.  I figured it would remind me that summer is still here, in the now.  He likes to fish and I like to read.  Off we went, him with his poles, and me with reading glasses, a stack of old newspapers, a half-read magazine, and book. (I figured if we were stranded the reading material would be a good diversion.)  Within fifteen minutes, he caught three speckled trout.  Each time, I put my newspaper down and took a picture of him with his scaly trophy.  After comparing all three pictures I couldn’t tell a difference – same man, same fish.

 

 

 

 

 

The third fish he caught was the largest.  He kept the other two so I was surprised when he threw this last one back.  He said we had enough and then immediately cast his line again.  Baffled, I didn’t understand why he bothered casting when he didn’t intend to keep any more fish.  Putting down my paper, I looked up at the ease of the summer sky which was oblivious to my end-of-summer angst.  I thought that maybe my husband is onto something.  Maybe life isn’t about what we keep but moments that we catch — or even better moments that catch our breath. Read more

Sunburn and Silver Linings

The last day of vacation I woke up with a tingling feeling on my lips.  When I looked in the mirror, even through the blur of twilight I could tell they were noticeably fuller — like the fairy godmother of plastic surgery had visited in the night.  I checked different body parts to see if she had generously waved her wand in other places too.  Sadly, it was just my lips.

As lucidity set in, I realized that my pink pout was the result of a sunburn from a long day of scalloping with friends and family.  I had taken the necessary precautions to protect my skin.  I wore a sunscreen shirt, a hat, and covered my face in so much SPF that I looked like a geisha on holiday.  Although I remembered the SPF lip balm and even reapplied it along with my milky white sunscreen, it was not enough to protect me from hours of swimming and sunshine.

I cringed thinking of the resulting sun damage and started down the long twisty road of lament and regret I know so well.  Then, for the love of mercy, I had a thought that I have considered often recently.  It framed itself as a question in the highlight reel of my mind:  Why would you ever think you would get through life unscathed? 

Life is full of losses.  We lose money.  We lose jobs.  We lose time.  We lose things that are dear to us.   We lose people we love.  We lose. No one likes to lose either.  We live in a world that tells us life is all about the win.  We are encouraged to minimize cost and maximize gains.  While that makes good sense in a lot of sunny scenarios, the reality is, sunburn or not – none of us get through life without experiencing a burn.  Accepting this as part of our humanity somehow dulls the sting of it.  Perhaps, so much of our suffering is exacerbated by our resistance to it.

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Discernment: Yes, no, or know

By definition, the word “no” has a negative connotation.  It conveys restriction, refusal, and denial.  It’s a flashing red light blinking a warning to stop.  It’s a shut door.  The end of a discussion. A command to pause.

I grew up in the eighties when war was declared on drugs, and the best-known weapon was the three-word slogan, “Just say no.”  I heard it from Nancy Reagan.  It was espoused on popular sitcoms like Punky Brewster and Diff’rent Strokes.  I read it on bumper stickers and posters.   Just. Say. No.

Easy peasy.  No was encouraged.  It was advocated. It was celebrated.  Like some algebraic equation, a negative turned into a positive.  But like all ad campaigns, it ran its course.  There was a new decade, new millennium, new drugs, and of course, new wars.  “No” is once again true to its definition.  It’s for the slacker.  The one who refuses to lean in.  The people who have limited constructs and little ambition.

Yes has become the world’s drug of choice.  We are encouraged to go all in, have it all, and do it all.  All for what?  At what price?  This 21st-century spin is blurring priorities.  Everything has become important.  Everything has to be done.  It’s encompassing, egocentric, and exhausting.

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Whale of a Summer: the Good Life

I got the new Vineyard Vines catalog in the mail.  One of its pages teased:  92 summer days ahead.  I couldn’t help wonder if whoever wrote that sent their kids to Catholic School.  I checked my own school calendar for accuracy and calculated we only have 68 days of summer.  How’s that for a penance?

I don’t know why this struck me anyway.  Maybe it was all the crystal blue water splashed on the pages selling pastel-colored polo shirts for $85 a pop.  But, I couldn’t stop thinking of that number.  It was so finite.  So, use it or lose it.  While summer has not officially started, I can’t help but feel a little panicked about its inevitable passing.  It reminds me of how fast all of life is passing.  I wonder how many whale logo purchases it would take for me to slow down and have some of those carefree moments like the people in the catalog.

I was grateful to Shep and Ian for reminding me to embrace the days ahead that sprawl out like a bath towel on the beach.  Too short.  While I don’t love lists because I can never find them after I make them, I made a plan for summer that would make any whale smile.

Forget about being mindful:  Lord have mercy. There is so much pressure to be in the moment.  I lost a great bulk of my mind during childbirth and what’s left of it doesn’t want to focus on putting a fork in the dishwasher.  Most of what I do is just not that interesting and I know that would probably make Oprah sad for me.  However, the season of life I am in is hurried and hectic, mundane and meaningful, and relies heavily on mercy and grace.  So, I don’t have a lot left for mindfulness.  Instead, let your minds wander.  We use to do this as children — boredom would breed great imaginings, inventions, and undiscovered places.  Let your minds drift away to a happy memory, a hope for the future, or a childhood dream.  This makes putting a fork in the dishwasher so much more pleasant. Read more

On Purpose: what’s yours?

Most of us overcomplicate things.  I like to think I am better at this than most people but I know it is not nice to brag.  It’s one thing to overthink where you want to go for dinner (I have heard some people do this).  It becomes ever more complicated when we fixate on something as weighty as life’s purpose.

By middle age, if not as early as middle school, we realize life doesn’t always go as planned.  Yet we live in a world where the plan is all important – we have books about it, calendars, and self-imposed criteria for how it’s all going to go down like we are detectives Sonny and Rico on the 1980s television series Miami Vice.  If we just plan life with enough precision, our boat won’t crash, drug traffickers will meet their demise, and life will be as sunny as a sweat-less day at the beach wearing pastel T-shirts and a white suit.  That’s the script we are asked to write from ourselves from as early as preschool when a sing-song voice inquires about what we want to be when we grow up.  As if it’s merely a matter of picking what color space ship we want to fly during our mission to Mars.

I don’t mean to sound cynical because it can be fun to make plans, motivating to set a course, and rewarding to achieve goals, but you know what they say – “life is what happens when you are busy making plans.”  A friend of mine, who could be anyone really because to some degree I think all of us have gone through this – is questioning her life’s purpose.  Again, I don’t mean to brag but I have excelled in exploring the same question.  “What am I doing with my life?”  “What color is my parachute?”  “What is God’s plan for me?”  “Seriously, God, is that the plan?” I could go on because like I already said, I am really good at over-complicating things.  My friend puts it more succinctly and asks: “what are they going to write on my tombstone, ‘a good friend to all?’”   While that is better than “she was hit by a bus,” I certainly appreciate her perspective. Read more

Encouragement: the Secret Worth Sharing

I have a secret file that I keep on my computer.  I know that makes me sound a bit like a CIA operative working on top secret missions.  (I cannot confirm or deny this).  Admittedly, I have a pretty good cover.  A married mother of two who writes about Jesus, hangs out with cats, and moonlights for the government while wearing yoga pants and a sweatshirt.  You can’t make this stuff up.  Or, can you?

Anyway, back to reality. I have this file that I keep on my computer labeled “encouragement.”  I know you thought it was going to say “delusions of a Christian writer,” but it doesn’t.  It simply reads encouragement.  If you were to open it, you would find emails I saved from people who took the time to tell me how my writing touched them.  I am not sure what compelled me to start it.  (Maybe because I was consumed with self-doubt, terrified that the vulnerabilities I shared would humiliate myself and my family, and perhaps, worse of all, that I was leaving a paper trail of evidence supporting an extended stay in a mental health facility.  You know, just your small, everyday concerns).  When I would get an email of appreciation or encouragement, it made me feel less alone, braver, and best of all, that I was making a difference.  I cherish them.  Each kindness feels like a gift from God, encouragement made holy through the sacred gift of love in which it was made.  Deleting them felt akin to throwing a fresh bouquet of flowers in the trash.  I couldn’t do it.   So, I started my secret file, a hoarder of happy words. Read more

Death’s Bloom: Legacy of Love

“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