Project Gratitude: Week (who even knows anymore)

Hi all,

What I have appreciated most this past week is how simple life has become.  Family dinners are lasting longer than seven minutes and teenage boys are speaking in complete sentences.  I don’t bother anymore with makeup or real clothes.  Hair washing is optional.  Other than walking the dog, shoes are obsolete. I like to pretend that I am one of the Ingalls girls from Little House on the Prairie or one of the March girls from Little Women because life is no longer about accumulation or accomplishment but just the simplicity of being and being together.  I know I don’t have the corsets or the bonnets like they did but I did make soup out of a ham bone.  I feel like that has to count for something.

While I hate the tentative and devastating circumstances of this quarantine, I love the way I have seen the community show up for one another; the way the undeterred faithful huddle in front of their televisions to participate in the mass or to listen to the holy and profound words of Pope Francis; and the way my typically sleepy neighborhood is filled with children’s laughter, family walks, and driveways with pastel chalk mosaics.  Somehow life’s excess has been stripped away, and in its absence, I find that I have been left with so much more.  For this, I am profoundly grateful.

Here is what else I am thankful for: 

LENT DAY 29:  I am thankful for little things.  Cupping the warmth of my morning coffee; the velvet rush of the taste of chocolate; laughing with a stranger in the checkout line, and the warmth of the sun that reminds me to look up.  Little things bring big gratitude.

 

 

 

LENT DAY 30: I am thankful for good Samaritans.

My neighbor saw a man with cerebral palsy riding his wheelchair in the middle of a busy four-lane road and then onto an interstate on-ramp.  Fearing he was going to kill himself or someone else by causing an accident, my neighbor, along with some other motorists, used their cars to slow traffic and create a barrier around the man who appeared to be in despair.  Some of the Sisters from the Home of the Mother at Assumption Catholic Church came to the aid as well.

The story of the good Samaritan isn’t just in the Bible.  It’s the story of ordinary everyday people answering the call to comfort, serve, and love their neighbor.  It’s a story the world needs us to write wherever we are and however we can.

LENT DAY 31: I am thankful for healthcare workers.  Enduring long hours of the impossible, honoring the dignity of each patient, offering assurance, compassion, and calm, they are the heroes of our time.  Every day they manage to do what can’t be done. They are warriors for life and we pray that your lives will be forever blessed because of that.  Truly, we thank you.

 

 

LENT DAY 32: I am thankful for the Saints.  “Every Saint has a past and every sinner has a future,” Oscar Wilde.  Saints remind us of who we can be if we choose to act with the best parts of ourselves.  Their lives weren’t easy.  Their choices were hard. They experienced humiliation, hatred, and sometimes horrible deaths.  Yet, the commonality between them was their paramount love for God and the eternal life that is their reward.

How I want to be in that number when the Saints go marching in.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 33: I am thankful for the Holy Spirit.   The Holy Spirit is the fiery one of the trinity, the wild card that throws down courage, ignites fires, and takes us out of complacency into action in our communities.  I wouldn’t be posting right now if it were not for him.  Every day he makes this girl who was always scared of everything brave enough to write her truth.  We are told not to play with fire yet when I think of him, I can’t help but be drawn to the flame.  May you celebrate what burns bright in you and let your light shine.

LENT DAY 34: I am thankful for marriage.  Despite the inevitable melting and morphing of time, the constancy of having someone at my side during all of the iterations of life’s journey has been the greatest gift.  In the ordinary and in the extraordinary; the bad and the just bearable — marriage is cemented in the sacred sacrament of God’s love.  A holy and joyful adventure in unity.

 

 

LENT DAY 35: I am thankful for friendship.  Friends are a lot like shadows – they stretch ahead when our path is too hard, stand beside us when we are scared, and remain behind us when we fall.  They dance with us in happy times and remind us there is light in the darkness.

I love the shadows in my life who distance cannot divide, who safeguard my secrets, who believe in me more than I am capable of believing in myself, who know when to give me space and when to stay close.  The shadows of friendships edge the brightest parts of life, the ones that matter most– where laughter erupts, hurts heal, and acceptance is unconditional.

Yes, mercy matters and no one does mercy better than those we call friends.

 

What are you thankful for today?

Project Gratitude: Week Four

Hi all,

I would like to tell you that we have been well here in the Q (that’s what I’m calling the quarantine because it makes me feel like I am at a trendy restaurant instead of at home in dirty pajamas with a bunch of sickies).  In the past two weeks, all four of us have had to visit the doctor, three out of four of us have had fevers and are on antibiotics, and one out of four us had an emergency root canal and an oozing-infected eye.  Our house sounds like a cacophony of coughing, nose-blowing, whining (me), and an occasional wince (dying tooth).  All this while worries about the coronavirus lurk in the crevices of my head that aren’t already filled with infected sinuses.  In addition, we have implemented a new homeschool regimen, a work from home office, and an innovative exercise regimen of video games, backyard pacing akin to caged zoo animals; and playing keep away from the pollen that won’t keep away.

Still, there have been bright spots — praying the rosary as a family; the intimacy of Sunday mass at home; a birthday boy to celebrate; and time sitting outside just being.  I appreciate the simplicity of this life in the Q, the perspective it illuminates about what really matters, and the extra time it’s given me to be with my family — as germy as they may be.  For all of it, I am thankful.

Here’s what else I am thankful for:

LENT DAY 22:  I am thankful for teachers.  Most of us who are just days into our unplanned homeschooling gig, are feeling homesick for the nurturing, committed professionals we entrust our children to daily.

To the teachers:

What can I say?  Thank you seems too trite, like a mere nod to your efforts when you clearly are worthy of an embrace.  At the same time, that’s awkward isn’t it — to have all of us mamas hugging on you?  Besides, it violates social distancing guidelines.

What can I do?  Nothing I could buy could compensate you for the way you have stepped up, poured out, and gone above in your efforts to educate your students. (I know I should try anyway.)

How can I show you how much you have made a difference?  From teaching my children to love reading to showing them how we love others, you have shaped them.  From ordinary moments, you uncovered interests, carved out strengths, and careened them away from wayward paths by your own beautiful examples of Christ’s love.

When would I be able to tell you how much you staying after school to host clubs and sports and extracurriculars has given my children confidence, tenacity, and cherished memories with their friends?

Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Likewise, I can never tell you where my gratitude ends.  It’s kind of like the last 10 minutes of class after a long day.  It just goes on and on.

LENT DAY 23:  I am thankful for my home.  I feel like I’m on house arrest with this quarantine and being confined to this space makes me realize how grateful I am to have it.  It’s a respite from life’s tilt-a-whirl spin — the place I feel most like myself.   It is freedom from all the world’s want. Content in the stillness of pleasures as simple as the cat folding its doughy body into a warm circle on my lap, I know peace.

Home shelters the love of my family; it shelters my heart.

 

LENT DAY 24: I am thankful for play.  I am thankful for big boxes that invite me inside – for spontaneity and silliness.  I am grateful for moments where everything isn’t serious or dire or urgent — when self-consciousness isn’t more important than self.

Play nice.  But make sure you play.

 

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 25:  I am thankful for nature.  This is where words fail me because what God creates in nature is so organically stunning that my words feel plastic in comparison.  So I will silence my words and listen to the ants march, leaves rustle, breeze whistle, birds chirp, and blooms whisper.   And I will be awed by the glory of God.

 

 

LENT DAY 26:  I am thankful for technology.  Most days, I would rather complain about how it pings at me; how it makes my already fragmented mind feel like it has 100 more tabs open; how it brainwashes my children; and challenges my own self-worth.  But today, huddled around the television with my family watching Bishop Estevez celebrate mass I realized how much good technology makes possible too.

I am grateful that in this time of social distancing, technology connects us.  It reminds us that we aren’t alone. It gives us a platform to reach out to others, to offer encouragement, and to share our faith.

Let’s show Covid-19, how we Christians do viral by using technology to spread love to our neighbor.

LENT DAY 27:  I am thankful for birthdays.  Life is a gift.  Birthdays remind us to celebrate.  It doesn’t matter how many candles are on the cake, or if no one can find the matches to light the candles.  It doesn’t even matter if there is a cake.  Ice cream is more important anyways.  What matters is that we recognize that every life should be celebrated and every day is a chance to be a gift to someone else.

(Happy 15th birthday to my joy, Alex. He didn’t get a train-shaped cake or the learner’s permit he so badly wanted today, but he has a mama that loves him more than anyone on this earth. I would like to think that makes up for all of it!)

LENT DAY 28: I am thankful for joy. It is of God – a glimpse of what awaits. Unlike happiness, it isn’t fleeting.  We experience it in the people we love, the memories we cherish, and in our relationship with Christ.

Joy to the World isn’t just a song we sing during Christmas.  It’s a call to love that we answer as Christians.

 

What are you thankful for today?

Project Gratitude: Week 3

Hi all,

Not sure about you, but I feel like I am living in the upside-down.  Don’t know what that is?  My point exactly.

No one could have known of the additional burdens we would carry this Lenten season.  The hardships of homeschooling, working from home, self-quarantining, toilet paper hoarding, and compulsive hand-sanitizing.  There’s too much news.  Not enough news.  Too much togetherness.  Not enough togetherness.  It would be easy to list grievances instead of gratitude.  Still, in all the viral mess that has come from this pandemic, I am reminded of the many things that I have to be grateful for.  I hope you are too.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 15:  I am thankful for journalism.  Truthtellers.  Investigators.  Facts.  No bias and no bull.  It doesn’t always happen, but it is a great service when it does.  When we are better informed, we make better decisions; we make better citizens and communities.    Preserving the integrity of truth is paramount to a civilized society.

 

 

LENT DAY 16: I am thankful for hard conversations. Having an honest and uncomfortable conversation allows us to have healthier and more enjoyable relationships. Our feelings matter. Smushing down anger, hurt, and disappointment is like trying to deflate a balloon by sitting on it. It pops before it flattens. By letting go of our burdens, we are free to rise.

 

 

LENT DAY 17: I am thankful for food.  I hate being hungry.  Those who are around me hate when I am hungry too.  Still, I sometimes forget to be grateful for the abundance of food I have access too; the way it brings me together with people I love; and how it nourishes me so that I may live fully.

Now, if only I didn’t have to cook it!

 

LENT DAY 18: I am thankful for faith.  Schools, public events, and virtually life as we know it are under quarantine.  What a comfort it is to have faith that God will protect us, that his will for us is good, and that regardless of life’s uncertainty, we can turn to him during difficult times. Have faith that humankind will do all they can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by spreading acts of love instead.

In other words, share your toilet paper. Read more

Project Gratitude: Week 2

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY EIGHT: I am thankful for impromptu kindness.

This article is such a stunning example of impromptu ways that we good humans show love.  The more simple an act of love is — the more beautiful it seems to be.

LENT DAY NINE: I am thankful for life’s twists and turns.  It’s never easy to deal with the unexpected, the unwanted, or what feels like the unbearable.

It’s hard to walk in faith when we can’t see the next step.  But sometimes the twisty parts of life have a miraculous way of turning into something beautiful.

Trust the twist to bring you something better.

 

 

LENT DAY TEN: I am thankful for small businesses that give back to the community.

No glossy public relations material, no recognition in the newspapers, no oversized checks or inflated sincerity – small, community-minded businesses remember their roots.  They are vested in and genuinely care about the people they serve.  Often giving in-kind, from their own products or resources, or by donating their services, they remind us that we belong to one another.

It isn’t about how much they have to give but their willingness to share when they can.  It’s not corporate responsibility, it’s just caring.

Picture of Raymond Solomon of Solomon Ventures, whose generosity to different people and organizations — particularly Catholic Charities Jacksonville Camp I Am Special, has been such a gift to this community.

LENT DAY ELEVEN: I am thankful for a heathy body.  In my early thirties, a good friend of mine had terminal brain cancer.  She was a young mother whose whole life should have been ahead of her.  But it wasn’t.

At the time I was an avid runner.  I ran for her because she couldn’t.   I didn’t always love it.  Some runs were hard, hot, and endlessly long.  Still, I remembered what a gift these hard runs were – it meant I could feel the thump of my heart, the strength of my legs, and that my breath was ever precious.

It reminded me that I am alive and healthy and not everyone gets that.  It gave me pause to stop running and just be grateful.

LENT DAY TWELVE: I am thankful for Bishop Estevez.  During a newspaper interview in the quiet of an empty basilica, we talked about Jesus, immigration, and the role of the church and the individual.  Everything he said was worth quoting.  More so, it was worth living.

I could have sat there forever in the presence of the holiness he exuded.  He made me realize how badly I want to sit with Jesus someday, how much peace there would be then, and how the words we say are nothing compared to the conversation of hearts joined in God’s love.

LENT DAY THIRTEEN: I am thankful for mentors.  People who have nothing to gain that are willing to help someone who can never repay it are remarkable examples of Jesus’s selflessness.  Endless good comes from those who share their time and knowledge.  One of the most impactful ways to change the world is to give someone the tools necessary to do it.

 

LENT DAY FOURTEEN: I am thankful for transformation.  A dead tree becomes a work of art.    Hurt enables compassion.  Defeat is a catalyst for determination.  Sinners repent and become Saints.  Faith sows the bloom of a divine eternity.  Possibilities are endless and no one is without hope.

 

What are you thankful for today?

 

 

 

 

The Search is Over: Finding Love in Him

I was in my car when the 1985 song, “The Search is Over,” by Surrender came on the radio.  I had not heard it in years and for a moment it reminded me of being a 13-year old girl pining over some boy or another who refused to acknowledge my existence in a reasonable way like a bouquet of flowers, box of chocolates, or a boom box blaring a romantic song outside my bedroom window.  (Then I remembered it was my Whitney Houston album I played at such somber times of adolescent angst – not Surrender.)

Lost in thought about those days when I would cocoon myself within my four lavender bedroom walls and lament my imperfect body, wardrobe, and life’s entirety, I had a most random thought of a certain guy.   He was never my crush, or who I fixated on when I drowned myself in pity, or whom I even had a fleeting thought when I sat idly and listened to sad songs about people who once knew love.  I heard the lyrics “The search is over.  You were with me all the while,” and I thought of God.  I was surprised at how my brain went from unrequited teenage infatuation to the essence of total and complete love that is God.

Yet it made sense to me because in the time since record albums were replaced with cassette tapes, and cassette tapes were replaced with CD’s, and CD’s were replaced with music subscriptions, and music itself degraded into some sort of homage to one’s booty — I’ve searched for many things.  I have searched for the perfect man, house, job, couch, school, church, outfit, plant, publisher, vacation, vocation, doctor, and dog.  I have spent so very much time on a search of some sort.  What I found is that none of it compares to my relationship with God.  In all of the searching that so often felt paramount to my satisfaction, to any chance of happiness, all I really needed was what I already had.  An abiding God, who faithfully stood at my side, humoring my distractions, patiently awaiting my many detours, and holding me upright despite wayward falls.  “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Read more

Resolution: Every Moment Anew

All of the hoopla of a new year — a new decade can feel overwhelming like the throngs of crowds who enthusiastically greet it in celebration when the clock strikes midnight.  This year I slept right through it.  Partly because it makes more sense to start anew with a proper night’s sleep and mostly because I am just not that into the hype of a new year.  I’m not interested in goal-setting or resolutions or crushing it (whatever “it” may be.)   It’s not because I’m complacent or lack ambition or betterment.  It’s just that for me, resolutions never seem to be the way to affect genuine life change.

By nature, I was always a rules person.  I played by the rules.  I made countless rules.  I was disciplined (and neurotic) enough to think the criteria I set for my life was paramount to achieving success or at least to maintaining order.

Not in the span of a day or even a year, but in incremental shifts and small seemingly insignificant moments, I realized that however well-intentioned my resolutions were, they were feeding a mindset of unworthiness. Instead, I began to consider the threshold of unconditional love that is the basis of Christianity.  I tried to wrap my head around the enormous truth of being loved right where we are and I started to question the motivations that ruled me.  I came to know mercy in a meaningful way.  I didn’t use it as a crutch to allow myself to do whatever I pleased.  It wasn’t an invitation to complacency.  It was motivation to stop putting emphasis on the worldly and pay more attention to the worthwhile.  It was permission to let go of the perfect and find grace in imperfection.   It was possibilities made endless through the merits of forgiveness, the boundless pursuit of compassion, and the insurmountable power of love.

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Under the Tree: Overrated

It was Christmas Eve and I couldn’t wait for Santa to come.  I am not even sure I believed in Santa at this point in my childhood, but I believed in presents and that was good enough.  I had trouble sleeping, and hearing the rustle of last-minute gift-wrapping upstairs only heightened my anticipation.  During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I prowled the attic, my mom’s closet, and any other place I could think to snoop. The idea of being surprised was overrated.  Practically speaking, I could just as easily be surprised by looking inside a plastic bag while standing barefoot on the attic’s plywood floor.  I felt certain that I had watched enough television to feign astonishment on Christmas morning.  I even fantasized about my Emmy-award winning performance.  It would be as bright and colorful as the lights on the tree that would spotlight me.

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for during all that prowling but that’s part of the journey of discovery, right? It’s the thrill of seeking, of what could be, — maybe even of finding something better than we imagined. In my case, what I found didn’t compare to the curated wares hawked in the Spiegel catalog I carefully perused as a pastime. There was a Tootsie Roll piggy bank filled with chewy chocolate jerky.  Meh.  Fun socks — as if those two words could possibly go together.  Toys that were obviously for my brother.  I certainly had no use for G.I. Joe.  He was too short to use as a suitable partner for Barbie.  Then there were a few miscellaneous clothes that I hoped were for my sister because they weren’t quite cute enough for me.

I wanted a fur coat like the one I lovingly pet in the department store inspiring a lecture from my mom on animal cruelty.  What seemed crueler was her begrudging me this accessory that I was certain would make me look as glamorous as Sue Ellen on the Friday-night soap-opera, Dallas.  (If they didn’t want children to watch such smut, they should not have run it after an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard).  I would have settled for a rabbit’s foot keychain like some of the other girls at my school had.  They were supposed to bring good luck.  Who wouldn’t carry around two inches of a dead animal foot in exchange for a little luck?

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Battling Between Balance and Busyness

When my son was seven years old, he was trying to balance.  One minute he was excitedly saying, “Look, mom, I found the spot!”  Moments later, mid-wobble, he said, “Oh, wait.  I lost the spot.”  Of course, it was losing it I related too.

Somewhere in the zig-zag of daily life is the sweet spot where we teeter in balance between work and rest, fun and fulfilling, and, social and silence.  It seems sometimes like we live in a world of extremes.  We have tiny houses and McMansions, hoarders and minimalists, and fast food and the slow-food movement.   There is polarization in almost every category of modern life. Perhaps it is our obsession with busyness, where this extreme has become most evident.  Busyness has become a badge that says my career is at a crescendo, my family is an extracurricular expert, and my personal life is a page-turner.  But are we really living a harlequin-romance novel amidst kids and career, or are we huffing and puffing from here to there, texting our spouses our agendas and their assignments, as we scurry our kids to their next activity?

The other day I was rushing my son to an orthodontist appointment when I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the car window I was squeezed between.  To my dismay, I was only wearing one hoop earring.  I looked like a rogue pirate without the talking parrot companion.  Instead, I had a teenage boy who doesn’t speak as my counterpart.  He only repeats “okay,” “I know,” and “fine,” as a series of responses.  “Polly wants a cracker,” has become, “Mamas going to go crackers if she doesn’t hear a complete sentence soon!”  (But that’s another conversation for another bottle of wine, as a good of friend of mine likes to say.) Read more

Fear, Fullness, and Underwear

I never understood the advice on public speaking about imagining your audience in their underwear.  Maybe it’s because I don’t multitask well but I can’t imagine talking about God’s mercy while also trying to focus on an array of undergarments. Besides, it’s just creepy. While the intent may be to make the speaker more comfortable, I can’t think of anything more uncomfortable than a room full of people wearing only bras and briefs.

I considered the absurdity of that advice while trying to identify what would make me most nervous about public speaking.  I figured if I addressed any unease, I would be better prepared. I wasn’t overly concerned about a word stumble and since I fell on my face in Kindergarten, I figured I had gotten that out of the way.  What I realized made me the most nervous was that I would hurry through, wish the moment away, and just get it done. The worst thing that could happen would be that I would miss my own talk by not embracing every moment with my fully clothed audience.  It is a gift to speak about mercy.  I wanted to be present. I wanted to experience the joy of it.

It made me realize how often in life I have shrunk from the fullness that God created.   I have held back.  Blended in.  Been too careful.  Too many times, I have listened to fear over the only one who can deliver me from it.  “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,” (Psalm 18:2).  I’ve always had a relationship with fear.  Maybe on some level, I thought if I kept it close, it would keep me safe.  But fear doesn’t keep us safe, it keeps us small.  It keeps us living in the shadows when God has called us into his light.  By trading fear for trust in God we can live in the freedom of his truth.  “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety,” (Psalm 4:8).  With God, we don’t need to be afraid.  He is strong enough to carry us through our suffering and merciful enough to heal our hurts.  Having a relationship with him doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen.  It doesn’t mean that we won’t fall on our face or some creepy person won’t picture us in our underwear.  It just means that with him, through him, fear is a farce of the devil’s making.  We don’t need strategies and sayings to make us courageous.  We simply need to trust that God has us in the right place to carry out his plan in our lives.

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You’ve Come a Long Way Baby

Virginia Slims cigarettes used to have an empowering ad campaign directed at women, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”  If we ladies had come a little farther they would have left off “baby,” but it was the seventies and that’s as far as we had come: an anorexic cigarette, marketed specifically to our gender, empowering us to “bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.”  (That was another ad campaign for Enjoli perfume).

Personally, my idea of “coming a long way” has nothing to do with being someone’s baby or frying bacon.  Our world perpetually bombards us with messages meant to define the standards by which we measure our worth, success, value, and attractiveness.  These cultural norms permeate everything from what we put in our coffee to what we ink on our bodies.  A renaissance woman’s body would be considered chubby by today’s trends, just as the waifs of the eighties are considered a wisp of the athletically acceptable body type of today’s ideal woman.

And where is the God in any of it?

Would he measure how far we have come by what we smoke?  Or how we smell? By how we look in a pair of lululemon leggings? Or how capable we are of having a successful career while we fry bacon for our families?

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