Grace: the hour I first believed

Laura is pictured on the far left with some of her sisters from Saint Gianna Circle who supported her during her illness and were graced by her friendship.

Writers are told to write what you know.  I started writing about mercy for the exact opposite reason.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I didn’t understand it.  It was a word with a heavy veneer covering the solid wood underneath.  While I almost never heard the word outside of a church, I could see the need for giving and receiving it everywhere.  It’s as ancient as the air we breathe and as transparent.  It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it and life is suffocating without it.

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Tell me what you want what you really, really want

My son drew this picture of Jesus of the Eucharist when he was 11-year old.  It hangs in my hallway.

I have a new computer and noticed at the top center is an icon of a little light bulb that reads, “Tell me what you want to do.”  Maybe it’s because I had a perpetually messy room as a child and watched too many episodes of “I Dream of Jeannie,” but I’ve been looking for a light bulb like that my entire life.

Haven’t we all?  How much simpler life would be if we could just get what we want, what we think we need, what we know will finally fill that persistent ache of our humanity.  When I look at my life, the things I wished for as a child, the vows of certainty I made as a teenager, the ambitious plans I made as a young adult, and the middle-age accumulation of decades of yearnings, efforts, achievements, and disappointments, I wonder why I long for anything.  It hasn’t been a ‘your wish is my command’ experience, but it has been magical, even if that magic felt black at times. Read more

Earth Day: environmentalist evolution

Earth Day: environmentalist evolution

When I was in college, a friend often wore Birkenstocks, the backless shoes that are the tree-hugging cousin of the flip-flop.  The shoes reminded me of crunchy granola and the Hare Krishna food they used to give away on campus at the University of Florida.  This was back in the nineties before Nordstrom carried the comfort shoe in an array of pastels.   I was poor in college, so a splurge for me was a 2 a.m. run to the border for a nacho bell-grande.  In hindsight, I should have opted for the free food passed out by the bald people wearing white sheets and dancing with tambourines.  It was probably healthier.  But I was afraid if I ate the Hare Krishna food I would end up in a hallucinogenic state and disavow my beachy flip-flops for its chunkier cousin.

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Searching: Might as well be fun

80'sMy son’s school had an 80s-themed fundraiser a-la Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” admittedly one of my favorite songs growing up.   But that was four decades ago!  Now I am a middle-aged woman who just wants a nap.  I mean they’re pretty fun, too, right?

It’s hard to believe that I can count my life in decades now.  I still remember the thrill of turning double digits, the big 1-0.  It was the following year, 1983, that Lauper released the ultimate slumber party song, “They just wanna, they just wanna, oh girls, Girls just wanna have fun.” 

In retrospect, I don’t know how fun the eighties were for me.  My parents divorced.  I was a latch-key kid living off Stouffer’s frozen fettuccine dinners, ice cream bars, and Cool Whip. It was a coming-of-age decade with all the confusion, angst, and acne that accompanies adolescence.

More than having fun, I think what I wanted was to belong.  I felt a little bit like an astronaut floating around in a space suit trying to find my people.  More so, trying to find myself.

I like to think that now that I am in my forties, I am more grounded, and certainly my faith is a huge part of that.  But there are still days that I wonder what I am supposed to be when I grow up, what I am here for, and how to make the most of the time I have left.  While the gravity of those questions should be enough to bring me down, the promise of my faith, of an eternal life with God, keeps me afloat as I search.

I went to the thrift store with two girlfriends to find an outfit befitting the decade with a penchant for legwarmers and leisure suits.  There were no dressing rooms, so we had to try poufy, lacy, neon, garish dresses over our clothes in front of mirrors in the middle aisles of the store.    We were a spectacle worthy of our own music video.

Okay, it was less Robert Palmer and more middle-aged mayhem.  I tried on an orange neon dress with a center slit so high I am pretty sure my son would have been kicked out of school if I wore it, and my friend delighted in finding the absolute ugliest dress I’ve seen in a long time. Our other girlfriend was like a stage mom, accessorizing us, tucking our post-baby parts into cast-off prom dresses and saying things like, “Oh, the reason you can’t find anything is that everything looks good on you.”  You have to love a friend that can lie like that!

I didn’t find anything that Thursday at the thrift store, but eventually I found something perfectly hideous to wear to the event.  Just like I have faith that I will someday find the answers to the weighty questions I sometimes ask.  If nothing else, I was reminded of how fun the search can be.  And, after all, girls just wanna have fun!

What do you remember most about the eighties?  Are you still searching for the same things you were then?  I am pretty sure all I was searching for was a decent boyfriend.  In retrospect,  I think the meaning of life may just be easier to find!  

Want to watch Cyndi Lauper’s video for this iconic song. Want to read more on aging?

 

 

Keeping the Faith: #DTWD

#DTWD: Duval ‘Til We Die is the acronym that shows Jacksonville Jaguar fans’ commitment and faith in the team and the city it represents.

I was born in this city. Growing up, I didn’t know how special it was to live in Jacksonville. I took for granted going to the beach and boating on the St. John’s River with friends and family.

We didn’t seem like a very fancy city, but we were always a beautiful one. I don’t think outsiders thought much of us. They wanted to head south toward Orlando to visit Mickey or to some of the quainter beach towns north of us.  I didn’t think much about it at first. I mean, who can compete with the “happiest place on earth?” Nor did I feel there was a reason to compete. Jacksonville didn’t need to be a vacation destination. It was home, and it always had my heart.

That’s why I wanted to beat the New England Patriots. Not because I care terribly about football, but because I felt like as a city we had something to prove. For too long, we’ve been considered a backwards city of rednecks. Our natural beauty isn’t recognized, our commitment to family life is mocked, and our lack of diversity is criticized despite the many ethnicities who live here.

I guess it is silly to think that winning a football game would help change those perceptions. People will always think what they want. I know this city has real problems, and I am not trying to diminish our demons, the greatest of which may be our lack of pride.

The Jacksonville Jaguars gave this city hope. I dedicated my mass this morning to their win for no other reason than this is my city and the Jags represent my people. People who know their neighbors, are charitable, practice their faith, and are fierce in the way they show up for one another.

I am disappointed in our loss, but I couldn’t be more proud of Jacksonville. As I scrolled through social media posts I saw that the real win was how the game, the fans, and the team, united the city.

It is my prayer that we build on that momentum, on that faith in ourselves, and on the hope of what we can become.

Duval ‘Til We Die.

Interested in reading more about having faith in yourself, read: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-nee…r-life-right-now/

Self-acceptance blooms

Self-acceptance blooms

I repotted a plant this week, which became a lesson in self-acceptance.  Midway through, I could tell the flower was tilting, so I pulled the whole thing out, hollowed the dirt, carefully centered it, and filled the gaps with the black magic of Miracle Gro. Since it was still leaning, I added soil to the other side hoping its weight would tilt it vertically.

When I finished, I had a pretty plant in a pretty pot lurching asymmetrically like a staggering drunk.

Despite my efforts, it was crooked. This could be a metaphor for everything in my life, but it’s not. Well, maybe it is, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about self-acceptance.

My husband replanted the flower for me, and it looks lovely, nothing like the botanical version of the leaning tower of Pisa that it did when I planted it.

I have come to accept that there are many things that I don’t do well. So much so that I often find myself saying, “That’s not my gift to the world.”

Most of the time I’m okay with my lack of gifts, but the crooked plant bothered me. I love to work in the yard, to frequent garden centers, propagate succulents, and ask my husband to move heavy pots from place to place on the patio. So it frustrates me that I couldn’t do this well. My husband doesn’t even like yard work, yet it’s nothing for him to plant a flower upright. It seems kind of unfair.

Things that always appear easy for other people often felt hard for me. This always made me feel a little defective like maybe I should have a diagnosis, or my mother should finally admit she dropped me on my head as an infant.

Still, I realize that my focus shouldn’t be on what my gifts are not, but on self-acceptance.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our deficiencies and forget all of the things that we do well. We forget that God made us for a purpose and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with what’s on Pinterest. Maybe it doesn’t even have anything to do with what we want to be good at.  He just wants us to love him and others. This doesn’t require a complicated skill set, and I don’t think it’s something we could ever do wrong.

By distracting ourselves with that we are not, we lose sight of who we are, which is always going to be beautiful to God despite our inherent imperfection. This is the mercy of his love.

The most important thing I have learned is that God loves me regardless of anything I do or don’t do. He doesn’t measure my worth by what gets crossed off my to do list or what attributes the world might value. So much energy is spent trying to prove we are enough, we are worthy, and we have value. But we don’t have to prove anything to God.

Knowing this makes it a little easier to embrace and share my gifts with the world even if there are still many days that I struggle with identifying any. My gifts may not include planting a flower upright, yet miraculously I still grow towards the light.

After all, even a crooked flower can bloom.

 

I realize I need to start thinking more about what my gifts are to the world.  At first, all I came up with was making banana bread but before I knew it had added rescuing cats, reuniting dogs with their owners, being a good friend, loving my family, a few more things that had to do with cats, teaching Children’s liturgy, writing, and dancing to “I Will Survive.”  

What are your gifts?  Please share!  Sharing is a gift!  Also, if you liked this post, you may want to check out: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-need-in-your-life-right-now/

Success: Try again

Try, try, again.  That’s what they say it takes to achieve success.  Today, those of you who are subscribed to my website got some wonky-worded post from me that I did not write, nor send. I apologize for that. It was titled “Stress’ Important Causes in Family Life” and I thought it would have been more appropriate if it read: “The Computer: spawned by Satan and serious source of stress for a certain writer.”

While I have been working on revamping this website, I was not quite ready to post. So, today’s snafu felt a bit like being shoved off the high dive when I’m terribly afraid of heights and have no business being on a high dive. The upside of this is that it has forced me to take this plunge.

I suppose all I have to do now is follow Dory’s advice from the movie, Finding Nemo. “Just keep swimming…just keep swimming”

Seems simple enough. Still, since I am not too brave, I hope you will stay with me to ensure I stay afloat.

***

I was never a success at diving. It just seemed scary to jump head first into water with so many important things to remember: legs together, arms straight, knees bent, head down, mouth closed, and of course, the paramount plunge into oxygen-less water.

That’s what I feel like today – somewhere between tentative and terrified to dive back into writing on this website. I quit using this space a few years ago. Partly because it seemed like I was treading water. My readership had plateaued. I had completed my year doing works of mercy, which is what the site was designed for, and I felt kind of directionless in the depths of the deep blue. Besides, sharing personal stories sometimes made me feel as exposed as a pale, middle-aged woman in a bikini.

Shriveled like a prune, I felt like it was time for me to get out.

Since then, I wrote a book on works of mercy, and currently am looking for a publisher. I recently came close to signing with a Catholic one. It was one of the most exciting and enjoyable experiences I have had both professionally and, personally. But after months of working closely on edits, it was decided that I needed a bigger marketing platform for them to reconsider publishing.

I had floated on hope, and being told no, felt like an unwelcome dunking — water up the nose, hair clumping awkwardly to the face, and sputtering gasps for air as I tried to right myself despite the humiliation.

But here I am, breathing again.

Regardless of success om this publishing journey, I recognize the role of social media in today’s society. It’s a swirl of currents and controversy. It’s swift like rapids and can be used to drag people under or build others up.

It can also be an effective and vital means of communication, and even community. With that in mind, I stand, one toe in the water trying to convince myself that it won’t be too cold, ready to create a space where differences aren’t demonized, faith is not fodder, mercy is more important than money, and God isn’t rhetoric, but real.

That seems less like a dive and more like a warm, safe place to swim ashore. I hope you will join me.

 

Is there a challenge you are trying to overcome in your own life?  You may like to read this: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-nee…r-life-right-now/

Gratitude Problem

**This is a repost from five years ago.  I have once again started a gratitude journal and am really hoping that it is something I can sustain long after all the turkey’s been eaten.  I hope you will try it too!

It’s been decades since I have been in grammar school, so when I think of Thanksgiving and the gratitude it’s designed to evoke, pilgrims or Indians don’t generally come to mind. I think of whose bringing what, where am I supposed to go, when will I get my Christmas shopping done and why, oh why, do men watch so much football.

Back in 1621, there were no parades, no Black Friday circulars, and no grocery stores to buy the bounty. There were just groups of people from different cultures celebrating thanks. Read more

Self-Improvement: a life makeover

Whenever I feel like things in my life are more chaotic than calm, I say I need a life makeover.  I am sure a therapist would say it’s a need for self-improvement.

Either way, I wake up and have no gas in the car, no milk for the kids, no idea where my keys are and no sense of how I will ever get through the day’s to-do lists – mostly because I have no idea where I put it.

Well, ever since I finished my year of doing Works of Mercy I have felt as if I needed a blog makeover.

I have thought a lot about whether I want to keep Mercy Me! going and, if so, what I want it to be. Read more

Aging – the art of wrinkles

I don’t know if there is an art to aging. Certainly, there is more science involved. Cells breakdown; muscle tone sinks further beneath dimpled skin; lines grow like vines– first around the face, then down the neck until they travel throughout the body wrapping themselves in and around every crevice– confirming the theory of gravity first introduced by Sir Isaac Newton himself.

Yes, there is plenty of science behind our journey towards decay. However, I have never been too interested in science. All those formulas, hypotheses and experiments don’t begin to explain the incredulous emotion involved in realizing that the image in the mirror is reality, while the one you identify with more closely can only be found in old photographs (like the ones taken with actual film.)

Pondering this is enough to give anyone frown lines.

I was stunned when I found my first gray hair. My hairdresser literally pulled it out of my head to convince me, because I kept insisting that what he was calling gray was actually a sun-kissed streak of blonde. Unfortunately there was no mistaking the silver, wiry thread pulled from my scalp. I took it home with me secured on the back of a hot pink post-it note. It sat on my desk for a month before I finally threw it out, more so because I didn’t like the clutter on my desk, than because I had accepted that my head was the origin of the hair.

Like an adolescent who is wavering between urges to become a woman or stay a child, I too feel confused reconciling that beauty and youth really do fade despite my ardent efforts to retain them, and our culture’s obsession with marketing them. Yet in some ways I feel more beautiful and youthful than ever. Not because I am, but because my chronological age has allowed me the experience and wisdom to feel confident about whom I am which turns out is so much more than how I look.

I can spend an entire day in workout clothes, no makeup and hair twisted haphazardly in a rubber band, without any shame. Sometimes I feign shame, but really I am only trying to be socially appropriate. I have no shame. I never could have done this in my twenties – neither the feigning nor the fashion faux pas.

In some ways I feel like I am at the perfect point in my life. I am still fortunate enough to be in good physical shape and I know how to successfully conceal the occasional blemish or circles under my eyes.

But best of all, I feel good. I am happy and somehow that in itself makes me beautiful and youthful. I finally know what I have and at the same time can benefit from the wisdom to know that it’s fleeting. The phrase “use it or lose it,” finally means something to me. Because of my age, I’m not afraid to do things that scare me, I am afraid not to.

I may not look as good as the girl I used to be in old photographs, but that poor girl never realized how good she looked.

Aging is of course, relative. For my children, it is a conduit to freedom. The oldest who is still plenty naive, idealizes the notion of adulthood. He doesn’t see the responsibilities it brings, but only the liberation to eat hoards and hoards of candy. (Like that ever happens in adulthood, at least without unsightly consequences.)

What is that old adage — youth is wasted on the young? Instead of enjoying the exploration of fantasy, imagination and all that is magic in childhood, he is lamenting the limitations of his youth.

Trailing him is his younger brother, who is so eager to do all of the things his older brother does that he gets upset when their age difference is relevant. We just tell him he has more happy times left than his brother, hoping it will teach him the joy of looking forward instead of feeling like he needs to rush to keep up.

Perhaps the real challenge is to learn to appreciate the advantages of whichever age you find yourself whether it’s seven or seventy, knowing that each offers something unique. And all the happy times that make up a life don’t come at a single age nor do they stop at a certain one either.

It’s not that I think aging is so terrible. It would be foolish to not to recognize the wisdom and perspective that it brings. It’s just that it is such a reminder of our mortality. And while I have been aging since conception, it is only now that I feel like I am on the cusp of really grasping the enormity of it. Not just the wrinkles, but the time that they define.

What have I filled that time with?

The answer to that question is where the art of aging is most brilliant. Coloring experiences within the lines of time to create the life you want.   That is an art. Not the life you have. Not the life you settled for. Not the life you squandered. Not the life of perfection. Maybe not even a gravity-free life. But the life you created following your own unique desires. It will be the true legacy that has left color on this world. It is what transforms the science of aging into an art form.

So whatever you decide to fill your time with, I hope you will make it your masterpiece.

 

If you need a little help embracing aging, this article may help: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-nee…r-life-right-now/