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.

And, let’s face it, I could barely afford a taco trip to the drive-thru.  I certainly couldn’t afford pricey tree-hugging flip-flops, no matter how trendy they were destined to become.

Earth Day is April 22, and for whatever reason when I think of Earth Day I think of Birkenstocks.  I never considered myself an environmentalist back then.  It just seemed like too much work to take labels off cans, rinse them, and discard them into a separate trash container.  I liked to think I was doing my part by reusing the same plastic cup at nickel beer night.

As the years passed, I developed an affinity for nature.  Not just the spectacular grandeur of mountains or tropical beauty of beaches, but also the tiny buds that unfold into fragrant beauty, the cool feel of rich soil between my fingers, and the bees, butterflies, and birds that dance in communion with the wind.

Mostly, I love being outside.  Working in the yard is one of the few places where I feel completely at peace.  There, I have no sense of time, no need for email, no concern about social media, no worries about the future, and no misconceptions about who I am.  It’s a holy place for me as I recognize the wonderment of God that reaches down into the unseen earth as roots and up to the sky with an umbrella of branches.  The lessons I learn about life from nature are as uncomplicated as they are profound.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.  Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?  In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:7-10, NRSV).

Every one of them teachers, from the birds in the air to the flip-flop wearers of the world.  Every one of them is a creation of God.

This year’s Earth Day theme is Environmental and Climate Literacy.  I don’t really know what that means, and it sounds kind of boring in my ‘card-carrying member of the National-Parks-Service opinion.’  (Okay, I threw the card away because I hate paper! But they did send me one for my donation along with a pine-colored fleece throw.  So, I feel somewhat like an authority on this matter.)

Anyway, I don’t need to understand the theme.  At the end of the day, it seems as insignificant as your flip-flop preference.  All that changes with times, trends, and the progression of our opinions.  To me, honoring nature is every day, ever-evolving, much like that girl I was in college.  The one who eventually walked away from the environmentalist stereotypes toward the God who created it all, loves all, and is in all.

Now that’s something to celebrate whether it’s with tambourines or tacos.

 

How do you honor Earth Day?  Would you rather be in Nordstrom or in nature?  Since I am adaptable, I am happy to do both!  

Miss last week’s post?

 

 

Divine Mercy Sunday

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Since mercy is kind of my thing, I figure I should write about it.  Only, all I can think of are answers to the question, how did mercy become my thing? Mid-life crisis?  PTSD? Exposure to pesticides?

I have other things I am passionate about including cats, dogs, and color-stay lipstick.  Unlike mercy, those things make sense to me.

For most of my life, mercy felt above me like one of those words at the top of the hierarchy that I could never reach.  It was like the incense used during Holy Days that rose to meet the cherubs at the top of cathedrals.  It was an enigma, because I never took the time to contemplate what it meant, how it’s shown, and its source from which salvation hinges.

Now I understand that mercy isn’t just my thing, it’s all of ours.  It never rose to the spires of churches, it descended from the heavens reaching down to each of us.  It’s forgiveness, do-overs, compassion, and kindness.  I have been on the giving and receiving ends of these things my entire life, but I didn’t always recognize it as mercy.

I knew the relief from the burden of sorrow when shown forgiveness. I knew the hope of having another chance.  I knew the tenderness of comfort and the warmth of simple kindness.  I knew giving these things to others always made me feel better, taught me more about who I am, and had significance unlike anything on my to-do list.

Without mercy, I know I would have no shot getting into heaven. Mercy is like the golden ticket from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  It gets you access to the most magical place if you choose to redeem it, practice it, and share it.

Saint Faustina had a special devotion to divine mercy and joined the convent of Our Lady of Mercy in Crackow, Poland.  She came from a poor farming family in Poland who struggled terribly during World War I.  Growing up, she had only three years of rudimentary education.  That fascinates me, because I have tried to read her diary and it’s challenging, either proving its divine nature or my devolving brain.  Still, I love to read quotes from the notebooks compiled into her diary about the visions of Jesus she had.

In her diary, Saint Faustina wrote the words that Jesus spoke to her, “This Feast emerged from the very depths of my mercy, and it is confirmed in the vast depths of my tender mercies.  Every soul believing and trusting in My mercy will obtain it” (420).

I believe and trust in his mercy, because at some point my eyes were opened to it.  That has been a game-changer for me beyond my recognition of the genius of color-stay lipstick.  It became my thing not because it was suddenly available to me, but because I finally recognized it as having always been there, rescuing, comforting, and offering me redemption despite my unworthiness.

Saint Faustina also acknowledges the importance of works of mercy in her diary.  “Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for me.  You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere” (742).

So maybe you’ve never considered mercy your thing before. Consider it now.  Like Saint Faustina wrote, consider it “always and everywhere.”

 

Have you heard of Divine Mercy Sunday?  Do you do anything special to honor it?

Miss last week’s post?  Read more about Saint Faustina https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=510 and Divine Mercy Sunday  http://www.divinemercysunday.com/

 

 

God: the Mess We Make

I’ve been on a search for the holy grail of vacuums. This isn’t a new thing. I’ve been at it for years.  Other people travel the world, I buy (and, often return) vacuums.

I guess I am looking for the perfect vacuum that has among its features a desire to actually use it.  So far, all I have had is a longing for clean floors.  A friend of mine lent me one of those robot vacuums.  I figured even I could muster the motivation to try it since it only required me to push a button.

The dog and I suspiciously watched the wayward machine.  It was like a mini R2D2 after a night out at the bars.  It swayed in one direction and then the other, continuously running into things.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it.  It was trying so hard.

It reminded me of humankind.  The way we set off definitively in one direction and then suddenly veer into a different one.  We repeat mistakes and sins in the similar way the miniature vacuum kept roaming over the same area when, if it would just move a tad to the left (like I kept telling it too), it would have picked up the orange Dorito crumb that mocked it.  I followed the robot urging, directing, and cajoling this blind machine to see what I clearly could, but avoided doing myself.

I guess we are always looking for the shortcut, hack, or magic formula to make life easier.  This is often true with our relationship with God.  We want to do the minimum: check the box of Sunday mass, grace before meals, and a bedtime prayer.  We compartmentalize our faith, so that it doesn’t complicate our messy lives because following God can be as cumbersome as lugging the big vacuum out of the closet.

You know, the one that actually works.

We waste so much energy trying to change our lives, fill our void, and find our purpose when in the depth of our hearts we know that God is the only one who can fulfill these innate desires.  I do it too.  I keep God at an arm’s length, because it feels too scary to trust him completely.  I’m afraid to surrender to him, because I don’t know what he will ask of me.  I search for answers in other people’s well-meaning advice instead of seeking him, who knows everything and wants the very best for me.  Without God at the helm of our lives we are wandering aimlessly.  Maybe eventually we will find that crumb that eludes us, but he wants so much more for us than crumbs.

After watching that poor little robot frantically struggle to find its path, I couldn’t help but think of my own.  I went to the closet, pulled out the big vacuum and began the messy work of cleaning up.

 

Do you find that you often repeat the same patterns in life looking for a solution that’s going to make your life better?  That’s a tough question for most of us.  So, if you’d rather just comment whether you like those robot vacuums, I completely understand!

Did you miss last week’s post?

 

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?

 

 

Ash Wednesday and Opposites Attract

a couple in love I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year.   It has a certain yin and yang to it.  The commercial hawking of one compared to the saving grace of the other, proving once again that opposites attract.

The black ash symbolizing death countered with the puffy red heart celebrating love adds an element of realism.  And when you have a holiday as syrupy as Valentine’s Day, a-la doilies, hyped up expectations, and besotted poetry, that darkness is rather refreshing.

I know I sound terribly unromantic, but I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with those trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead.   (My poor husband is probably not feeling too wooed right now.)

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting.  It marks a season that is purposefully non-celebratory, while Valentine’s Day is about bubbly champagne, decadent desserts, and red roses.

I like the juxtaposition of it.  But there is also a commonality that exists between the two.  At the core of each is love and there is no greater example of that than God sacrificing his only son for our salvation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV).

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of God’s mercy, which has the power to take away the stain of our sins.  Our hearts, blackened by the wounds of the world, grudges, indifference, neglect, and injustice can be wiped clean.  We are called to seek mercy during the Lenten season.  It is this mercy that allows for everything:  forgiveness, second chances, redemption, and the glory of new life.  The days leading up to the victory of the cross are a sacred time to examine ourselves, our relationship with God, and our neighbor.

That might seem dull next to shiny, red, heart-shaped balloons bobbing and boasting like a frog bellowing for a princess’s kiss. Yet it’s anything but.  Everyone knows helium balloons eventually sink, chocolates are consumed, and flowers die.  But what God promises is eternal and real.  It has the power to heal the dark wounded places we hide from the world.  It forgives our failings and delights in our efforts to know, love, and serve him.   It carries us in our loneliness, desperation, and grief.  It doesn’t inflict pain like the thorny rose of the world but offers the bloom of eternal life.

Anyone who has moved past infatuation knows that love is messy.  It’s trying again, like Jesus when he fell carrying his cross.  It’s forgiving like Jesus did before he drew his last breath. It’s beautiful and redemptive like Jesus rising from the dead.

It’s fitting then that Valentine’s Day falls on as significant a day as Ash Wednesday.

It’s the perfect preface to the greatest love story ever told.

While obviously, Ash Wednesday takes precedence of Valentine’s day, love and Lent aren’t mutually exclusive ♥ what are you doing to honor both today? Please comment! Want more related to Lent http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/ and http://mercymatters.net/2014/03/05/shine-this-lenten-season/

XO 

Teen Parenting– and a trashed manual

My son will become a teenager on Black Friday. Could there be a more ominous sign than that? While hoards of shoppers are waking up at 3 a.m. to suffer through lines and duke it out for deals, my sweet baby, ever so dear, will be entering the darkness that often accompanies the teen years.

As if he is already rehearsing for the big day of black, my house has recently been filled with a cacophony of slamming doors, woeful sighs and whispers under the breath that I am pretty sure do not include any sweet nothings. It sounds like a coarse symphony that does nothing to evoke my sympathies.

I called a friend a few weeks ago and in a prayerful plea, asked in the name of all that is holy, all that is sane, and all that is merciful, to lend me every parenting book she owns.

She brought me five.

The small stack of books sat in my office and my younger son asked me why I had so many teenager books. Before I could even formulate a response, he answered his own question — obviously remembering his brother’s upcoming birthday.   “Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long seven years…,” he said prophetically.

Seven years? Why do the terrible twos get all the notoriety? That’s one measly year and they are still small enough to be restrained.

As I read, I began strategizing, thinking of systems to implement and solutions to employ. I realized that, if necessary, doors could be unhinged. He would inevitably realize that not loading the dishwasher would be to his disadvantage.   And, I felt hopeful that discussions could be facilitated without anyone actually dying.

Ah, I was going to be the most brilliant teen mother ever.

I started writing a sort of manifesto for the teen years. I clicked away at the computer thinking to myself that I was doing the holy work of writing the instruction manual for parenting that I always wished I had.

Although my business interests have never evolved passed retail and at that, only on the paying side of the cash register, I had ultimately written my first business plan.

It read like a contract, with caveats and consequences included for clarity. It featured equations for various if/then scenarios and it clearly proved that my naiveté is boundless.

I actually believed that what I had written would be embraced – that is until I proudly emailed a trusted friend with the teen manual, which I intended to present to my son. She is tactful to a fault, so when she suggested that my glorious parenting plan would evoke a middle finger response I was stunned.

Really?

I reread my work. It was so beautiful. It had italics and bullet points and fancy words like parameters, privileges, outlined and occasionally.

I guess I could see where it was kind of bossy pants-ish, but it did include a smiley emoticon and an I love you.

I signed it not with the slang, Yo mama, but with the sincere, sweet, your mama that was so obviously me.

Later that night, with my two-page, single-spaced manifesto by my side I sat down and spoke with my son. Maybe it was because I was lulled by the soothing sound of the dishwasher that my tween ran without my mention, but I was uncannily calm. We talked about grades, basketball and ways he could earn extra money.

We didn’t hold hands, or hug or do anything that would invoke Norman Rockwell to paint us, but we talked. I didn’t boss or dictate either, yet I didn’t digress from making my expectations clear.

When we finished talking, he kissed me goodnight and there I sat – the manifesto, a mostly-read parenting book and myself.

I thought about ripping up my beautiful plan I had written about how the teen years would unfold in our home, but I didn’t have the energy to be so dramatic.   I simply folded it into a little square to put in the trash.

I guess what I realized is that maybe the reason children don’t come with instructions is because parenting isn’t meant to be precise. It might be insightful to read some books, or even to write your own plan about how you intend to parent, but often intentions and plans don’t really have much to do with raising children.

Like the rest of us, children are unique and, like it or not, have plans of their own. They will make their own path in the world and it’s our job to guide them as they do. It is a delicate balance between letting go and holding on. Sometimes it’s letting pieces fall where they may, and sometimes it means picking up the pieces and starting over again.

Maybe parenthood could best be described as prayer – a combination of something we hope for, ask of, praise, repent, and offer thanks. It is an active petition that is said every time we discipline, praise, share affection, or just sit and talk. The prayer does not end, like love, it endures time, tantrums and even teenagers. It is an offering of the best of ourselves so that someone we love can become the best of their selves. It is sacrifice, surrender, forgiveness, and humility.

Parenting may be described as more gut-wrenching than glorious, but it is no doubt the most Holy work we can do.

While my son may turn 13 on a day dubbed Black Friday, it’s no coincidence this falls the day after Thanksgiving. After all, he has been a blessing everyday of his life. He is a prayer and a gift.

Of course, I know the teen years won’t be easy, but I can’t help but feel excited about all that awaits.  The spectrum of joy, discovery and promise that lies ahead is sure to be anything but black.

 

Want more on parenting, you might like: http://mercymatters.net/2014/10/20/5-things-i-learn…ooler-about-life/