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

Marriage: Behind the Veil

It’s odd that we wear such fine attire on our wedding day when marriage is so messy.  It seems like it would be smarter to wear body armor or at least a sturdy raincoat to better prepare us.  Yet, the bride and groom don lace and bow ties, veils and patent leather, pearls and cuff links, willingly pledging themselves until death to the life of the other.

It’s all so genteel, it’s hard to imagine the years that follow are anything other than champagne and roses.  But champagne causes headaches, roses come with thorns, and marriage is messy.  It makes sense though because we humans are messy.  We come with pasts, preferences, and a penchant to think we are right.

Often there is no right, only two people who see things from different viewpoints. It can be ever so complicated.  I know marriages are not invincible.  I never approached the sacrament with body armor.  Like so many others, I began the journey in white lace, a full skirt, and optimism that outshined any intricate beading or sparkling tiara.

We start out thinking marriage is going to be a gentle dance like the carefully choreographed one we perform on our wedding day.  Inevitably, in marriage, there are missteps, clumsy moves, and moments when we or our partners let go instead of hold tight. Or sometimes, you just pick the wrong partner and no matter how many times you try to twist, they tango. Read more

Beauty in Being Good Enough

I always felt unremarkable, which I think I could have been okay with if the world didn’t always send messages that made me feel as if ordinary was an outrage.  When I was a kid, the word average meant you were like everyone else.  It meant you were okay.  You were enough.  You fell into the middle and you weren’t worried about being out-twirled at baton practice or made fun of when the metal bar fell on your head.

Those were happy days.  If, somewhat unremarkable.

But at some point, and maybe it was when I started paying attention, everything changed.  Being average meant you were like the less-than sign used in math – pointing in the wrong direction, open to the mundanity of mediocracy.  A losing symbol in a world that equates greatness with worthiness.

Whatever happened to good enough?

I suppose that is why I am so fond of God. While he asks me to be good, he has always believed I am good enough.  Of course, I didn’t always know that because I was too distracted with headlines on glossy magazines, books on bettering, and tried and true tips that felt like a tongue twister of tortured suggestions. Read more

Cost of a Dream

Some people believe we should do whatever it takes to make our dreams come true.

That perspective makes me tired.  Or maybe I am tired and more likely to pursue sleeping dreams than the do-whatever-it-takes kind.  While I would give anything for the people in my life, I can’t say the same for my pursuits.

I don’t lack ambition or commitment either.  If anything, I am guilty of skepticism for thinking this mentality is part of the happily-ever-after notion of dreams hawked by Hollywood movie makers.  But I am not really that cynical.  I love people who are passionate about their goals.  I admire the tenacity it takes to get to the proverbial there, to arrive, to live the dream.  I love an underdog, a comeback story, and an against-the-odds fight.

I am just not sure I want to be one.

Somewhere between the dream and the reality is the cost of pursuit.  Whether in commerce or in life, we all have a price we are willing to pay to get what we want.  Not all of us are willing to personify Rocky Balboa for the sake of our dreams no matter how much we admire a steely resolve to persevere and a cool moniker like “Italian Stallion.” Read more

Missing spirit; Christmas found

Like many parents, I introduced the Elf on the Shelf to my family years ago.  Every year, he flew in on December first and brought treats to my boys.  Sometimes he did silly things and sometimes he was too tired to bother and would just perch himself on a nearby object trying to look peppy.  I envied him because, even in his stillness, he brought joy.  Meanwhile, spinning like a rogue top from the Island of Misfit Toys, I was doing everything possible to make each moment merry.  Yet, no one thought I was cute or clever or fun.  Still, moving the elf each night made me feel purposeful about making the season joyful.

This year, the elf is laying face down in my dresser drawer between my camisoles and fuzzy socks.

Like the tape when I sit down to wrap presents, my Christmas spirit is lost.  Besides the missing elf, I have maintained the same traditions, attended the same parties, and surrounded myself with the same fa-la-la-la-la that suddenly feels more flat than festive.  It bothers me because I know the reason for the season.  I have even been mindful about spending more time with God, doing something every day to reflect on the joy of our savior.  I figured eventually the Christmas spirit would find me.  I would even pull that abandoned elf out of my drawer and spin an elaborate story for my teenage boys, explaining how the elf had been injured in a sledding accident and could no longer fly to the North Pole every night.  As such, he became a truck driver who sleeps in highway rest stations leaving treats for weary travelers.  My kids would roll their eyes.  I would roll out the Christmas cheer, and all would be right with the world.

Yet, each day felt like the one before.   Busy, but no genuine excitement for all the bustling.

Then I realized that maybe things don’t need to feel different.  After all, we are encouraged to keep Christmas in our hearts year-round.  More than anything, what embodies that for me are the people in my life.  They are my gifts.  Despite all the minutia that fills my day, they fill me with gratitude, laughter, and hope. It’s the simple moments of mercy they offer through kind words, concern, and unconditional love that keeps the contentment of a newborn king in my heart.  Their presence is a preeminent present I unwrap on ordinary days, moments that don’t typically have the pomp of the season that shines.  Yet they light my way with a steady glow that glimmers with the love of a baby born with a singular purpose, to save.

The Christmas spirit isn’t going to be found under the tree or from my semi-truck driving elf.   It is going to be where it has always been, in the light and love of my neighbor.  May you realize the power of your own light, because when the glittery garland is put away the world will still need your shine.

Share this with someone whose life is a gift to you and know what an incredible gift it is to me to share this journey with you.  Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire: Deciphering truth

In a reporting class, I took in college, if a student’s article had any factual errors, the instructor automatically took 50 points off their grade.  It didn’t matter how insignificant the mistake was it resulted in an inevitable failure on the assignment.  Fact checking was more important than your lead, punctuation, or your inverted pyramid.  The paramount significance of accuracy in news reporting was underscored.

While the search for truth was drilled into me, when I examine the stories of my own mind, I question why they contain so many inaccuracies.  If I were to grade myself most days, I would be in negative numbers for the stories I create about how others feel, the significance of an encounter, and the value of my contributions in various circumstances.

Too often the truth of who I am gets clouded by feelings.  For most of my life, I considered my feelings and the feelings of others to be more important than anything else.  It’s easy to believe that there’s nothing wrong with this way of thinking, even that it’s a noble pursuit. Perhaps if we could trust the accuracy of our feelings, this would be true.  But feelings are often to blame for facts being distorted into fiction. Read more