Crisis of a Wannabe Gymnast

Sometime in my late 20s, I lamented to my boss that I was having a mid-life crisis.  I think this had something to do with the Olympic games that were being held that year.  I loved watching gymnastics and couldn’t help but think that it should be me on television in a leotard flipping and flopping and flying on behalf of my country.  Never mind that I had yet to take a single gymnastics lesson in my life.  My heart ached to do something with so much passion that it would literally propel me skyward — while also managing to land me firmly on my feet. Plus, I liked the sequins.

At the time, I was married with no kids.  With a career in fundraising for a children’s hospital, the work I did was inherently meaningful – and we have already established that I had a kind boss tolerant of premature mid-life crises.  I had a house, some cats, a dog, a good husband, and a job. And yet, I had this nagging feeling that if not an Olympic gold medalist, wasn’t I meant for more?

The question of purpose arises intermittently like a bad stomach virus that leaves me longing for the merciful reprieve of a saltine cracker. Life’s epic search for meaning seems like it should take a straight path hurdling over obstacles, dismounting into some profound contribution to humanity, and landing with the specter of triumph (and yes, maybe even a gold medal around one’s neck.)  Instead, it throws me off-balance like a gymnast teetering on the brink of a disastrous fall.  My trajectory towards something meaningful can feel like an angsty wobble of futility leaving me more frustrated than fulfilled.   The great mercy in having been through this multiple times is that I now realize our contributions to the world aren’t always noticeable — even to ourselves.  That’s the humility of it.

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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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Hearing: It’s Not 400 Children and a Crop in the Field

I was in mass listening to the cantor sing the responsorial hymn, “These are the people the Lord has chosen, chosen to be his own.” I thought, “Seriously? Really, God, these are the people you chose to be your own?  Was no one else around? It must have been some seriously slim pickings.”

I know this sounds rather cynical, but truly, we can be scary people:  mass shootings, human trafficking, abortion, sexual predators, greed, self-glorification…. well, just pick any day and read the headlines.

And I do believe people are good.  I do believe they mean well. I even think when someone claims they don’t believe in God that they really do – it’s just a little deeper inside – right beyond where they have looked.  And I always have hope that they will look a little farther someday and come to know what they believe.

Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone deliberately choosing our hot mess of a people that makes up humanity.

I peeked over to look at my husband’s missal wanting to read the words for myself. That’s when I realized, I misheard the lyrics.  It’s like when Kenny Rogers sings “Lucille.”  You may think he’s singing, “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille, with 400 children and a crop in the field.”  But it’s really not 400 children because that would be excessive, even by Catholic standards.  It’s four HUNGRY children! (Although, by either account, that was harsh of Lucille.)

What the cantor was singing was not “These are the people,” but “Blessed are the people that the Lord has chosen to be his own.”  Reading this, I felt the kind of relief that Kenny would have, had Lucille shown back up with a bucket of fried chicken, some biscuits, and a heap of cousins to harvest the crop.

It made more sense to me to contemplate the blessings of him choosing us.  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” (1 Peter 2:9).  Yet, he didn’t just choose us as an entirety of humanity but as individuals who he loves and longs for intimacy with.  “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me,” (Isaiah 49:16). Read more

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

Marie Kondo Craze and Life-Changing Joy of God

Oh the craze of Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant and author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  She has the country folding their clothes like origami and looking for sparks of joy in the mess of a categorical closet clean-out.  Her method, known as KonMari, has followers purging closets and piling clothes.  If the big, fat mess you make doesn’t give you a panic attack, then you proceed to touch each article of clothing.  If the sparks don’t fly, the item does, but not until you thank it for its service (and people think I am weird for talking to my cats).

I was looking at my closet and thinking how insane it would be to pull everything out.  I mean, I hung it up already.  It’s already clean and ironed.  It seems kind of sadistic to pile it like a heap of dead leaves.  After all, how much joy am I going to have from wrinkling perfectly ironed clothes and then rehanging them?  Then, I worried I wouldn’t find any sparks in my pile.  I would be like a homely girl that doesn’t get a Valentine.  No spark for you.  How sad would that be?  (It’s very sad.  I’ve been that girl).  I could be inspired to donate my entire closet, and end up joyless with no origami in my dresser.

Pondering her method, I wondered what it would be like to take a mental inventory of our lives and discover what sparked joy?  Would we start a fire?  Saint Catherine of Sienna said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”  But that wasn’t about deciphering joy, it was about discerning who God created you to be.  Sometimes that seems even harder than cleaning out closets and organizing tchotchkes.  Whenever I examine my life, trying to answer the weighty question of purpose, I feel a spark of panic, not joy.  Maybe Kondo would have me thank that question for its dubious service, and send it on its way.   Perhaps that works with the material, but when it comes to setting the world on fire for God, we don’t want to dismiss the unique purpose he created for us.  “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28). Read more

Hearing God in a Noisy World

From the time the alarm clock pierces the softness of sleep, we are bombarded with noise.  The daily clamor comes not only from people in our lives, but the technology that pings incessantly and indiscriminately.  Add our inner barking voice, reminding us to do this, be there, and stop that, and it can feel like a cacophony of crazy.

In the racket of the babbling noise that cocoons the day in blasphemous sound, have we become deaf to the voice of God?  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) So often, we ask God for help, intercession, and mercy, but we never pause long enough in the grace of silence to let him fill the void.  It’s impossible to know his will if we can’t distinguish his voice from the commotion that commands our attention.

Jesus doesn’t strike me as a big yeller either.  He is the essence of love and love doesn’t compete in the shrill of striving.  His message is pretty succinct.  “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mathew 22:37-39).  Our ability to give and receive love is challenged by the surmounting noise that often has little to do with our souls.

Our souls crave the quiet that is God.  Often, when it comes to problem solving and big decisions, we rely on intellect.  Reasons, facts, and logic become the trinity we turn to.  The noise in our head sputters off a list of pros and cons.  We ask friends for advice.  We read books to guide us.  We troubleshoot and play out different scenarios, alternating the variables, and exposing flaws like a crime-scene detective.  Inadvertently, we create more noise for ourselves — obscuring the voice of God with the chatter of our reasoning.  The head talks, talks, and talks.  It means nothing if the heart is pulled toward something different.  Our hearts hold the voice of God.  Without quiet, we will never hear the whisper of his wisdom, the lull of his compassion, or peace of an answered prayer.

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FOMO and the Season of Advent

Just days ago, I spent the day giving thanks.  It wasn’t a restful day, but it was full of food, family, and a dance party with my nieces where I got to be the star Rockette.

Then, in a flick of a leg, it ended — the spirited kicks, the gratitude, and that content feeling that I had everything I need.  I know that’s not why they call it Black Friday but it seems apt that all the products they try to sell can make us feel as dark and empty as a turkey with no stuffing.

How strange it is to go from counted blessings to conspicuous consumption in just a day.  Stranger still, that it’s done in the name of Christ.  After all, he never owned much during his time on earth.  Jesus was concerned with miracles, not the material.  He shared compassion not coupons.  He wasn’t about making the deal.  He was the real deal.  That’s why we celebrate the gift of his birth.

But popping out of a day of thanks like a rogue jack-in-the-box, we are bombarded with glossy ads, lowest prices of the season, rebates, cyber sales, steals and deals, and all the promising thrills the hustle and bustle buys.

It’s exhausting and expensive and it’s what I do.  The season of Advent hasn’t even started and I already feel more harried than merry.  Even when I am not looking for anything in particular to buy, I am afraid not to look, because what if I miss out on something? As such, I have diagnosed myself with FOMO (fear of missing out).  I’m thinking this is a legitimate diagnosis since there is an acronym for it.

As it goes, I fear that if I don’t click on the link or the email or the buy button, then I am going to miss out on some “deal of a lifetime.”  My life will spiral out of control if I spend two more measly dollars than necessary to buy something.  My children won’t go to college. We will be financially ruined.  The Elf on the Shelf will mock me.  My nieces will find another star Rockette. Read more

Practicing What I Preach

Sometimes I look at my life, and I don’t know whether hypocrisy or irony is screaming louder.  I write about mercy,  because I believe whole-heartedly in its power to change lives and, in a broader sense, the world.  That is not hyperbole.  It is a truth that exists regardless of whether we acknowledge or believe it.

Despite my enthusiasm, doing works of mercy sometimes feels like a struggle.  You would think in my zeal, I would embrace them with a “Woo-hoo! Here’s another opportunity for me to serve!”  But often my “woo-hoo” sounds more like, “woe is me.”

Frequently the service we are called to do is organic, and, like the produce in the grocery store, organic always costs more.  It has always felt easier to serve when I plan for it, choose the capacity, and have had a shower.  When someone else’s misfortune interrupts my plans or to-do list, it can be frustrating.

Recently, I took my mom to the doctor, because she was sick.  I tried to be peppy about it despite my manic Monday mentality.  My mom was pleasant and chatty on the way to her appointment, and, instead of gratitude for her attitude, I begrudged it for being better than mine.  After all, I was the healthy one.  Why wasn’t I bubbly and bright?  Maybe she should have been driving me around! Read more

Sharing Sorrow

A classmate of my 4-year old nephew kept crying at preschool, so my nephew put his arm around him and asked what was wrong.  Through tears, the boy told him he missed his mom.  My nephew responded, “We all miss our moms, but we have to be here anyway.”  With that, the little boy wiped his face, walked up to the teacher and gave her his tissue.

(I know it would have been a cleaner story if the boy just put the tissue in the trash instead of getting the teacher all germy. But I just write the truth however unsanitary it may be. )

The teacher had already tried to comfort the boy, but it was my nephew’s ability to identify with what the child was feeling that finally helped him move on.  I think how much this relates to all of us regardless of our age or how we dispose of snotty tissues.

It’s a comfort to know we are not alone.  So often, in our sadness, loneliness, and lowliness, we feel like the only ones.  Instead of reaching out, we go further inward.  Our suffering becomes isolating and that makes us feel worse.

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