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 →
My washing machine broke. This had me spinning because it was less than three years old. In fact, that was the problem. The machine would fill, suds, rinse, and then, instead of spinning, it would make a few demonic sounds, stop abruptly, and flash an error signal with an incessant ping that required me to stop whatever I was doing and unplug the machine.
Of course, it wasn’t the only thing that became unplugged because I was left to deal with 50 pounds of soaking wet clothes and piles of unwashed laundry. Worse, was the feeling that I had been betrayed by this costly machine which promised to turn shmuck into shine.
Long story longer, I spent 60 bucks for a repairman to tell me that it was a computer malfunction and I should just buy a new washing machine because none of them work for more than a few years and repairs are too expensive to justify. By this time, I was fantasizing about checking myself into a mental health facility. I figured they could do the laundry and make my meals while I take a long nap. Then maybe if I am up to it, I would play a game of Parcheesi with another guest.
My husband suggested a simpler (although less satisfying) solution and off we went to buy another washing machine. When I told the appliance salesperson about my trauma — figuring he was the next best thing to a trained mental health professional — he shrugged and said, “we live in a disposable society.” Read more →
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!
I was picking up throw pillows off my living room floor last week. (I don’t have toddlers but I have teenagers and there is a multitude of similarities). Anyway, I turned around from my pillow-pick-up and looked out the window to see a pink sky. To my surprise, there was a rose-colored glow on everything: the grass, trees, pavers – all of it. Pink. It was beautiful and eerie and made me feel as if the world had stopped and Jesus had come. Not long after that, the pink had faded into gray and torrential rain followed. Still, I kept thinking about the way the sky’s color palette changed from ordinary to awesome in what seemed like an instant. It reminded me of our faith journey.
Sometimes in our faith walk, it feels like we travel alone. Others may know our troubles but they don’t understand every notch and groove of the crosses we carry, nor do we theirs. As such, it is important to always practice compassion and take comfort in the mercy we are offered along the way. Our walks look different. Sometimes it’s the longing for a child, the reconciliation of a marriage, a better job, the healing of a loved one, unbearable grief, or addiction. Regardless of what it looks like, it requires the perseverance of faith.
For years, I wanted to publish a book about mercy. I wanted to write the book I needed to read but could not find. I pursued it. I experienced painful rejections, the almost but not quite, the close doesn’t count, and the dogged doubt that told me to quit. For some time now, that has been a part of my faith walk. Alone, in the dark, unsure, but trying to trust, I practiced patience and surrender, and above all, mercy. I persevered. Without mercy, I never could have kept going. It told me that it was okay to try. It taught me to love myself, not what others thought of me or my work. It reminded me that something far greater than earthy desires await. So, I trudged on, trusting that I would know when it was time to quit. I waited, sometimes even hoped, to get that message to move on. Yet, through Gods strength, I always managed another day.
Then, on an ordinary Wednesday, a publisher offered me a book deal. Just like that.
The walk that for so long felt cumbersome, lonely, and uncertain was over. The longing was no more. The wait ended. The sound ceased to be an echo. The darkness receded. I had my pink sky. There aren’t really words to describe what this meant to me, all the countless ways that I looked back and saw how God had intricately thread the tapestry of my journey. Every stitch was intentional. Every time I held on by a thread, he held me up. I could finally see his pattern that once seemed so haphazard. I think of all the people he sent at just the right time to keep me going, to encourage, to embody hope, and I am overwhelmed by the goodness of it all. Yet more than anything what strikes me is how in one instant everything can change. We walk in faith. We trudge along. We believe. We doubt. We fall down. We get up. Sometimes it’s awful. Sometimes it’s hopeful. And then, in the instant of his perfect timing, one walk ends and another begins. It’s like Christmas day on an ordinary Wednesday.
During the third week of Advent, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. While Advent is a penitential season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Christmas and the second coming of Christ, on Gaudete Sunday, we celebrate the joy of God’s redemption. With only a week of Advent to go, we pause and rejoice all that awaits. “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand,” (Philippians 4:4-5). As such, we switch from lighting purple candles on our advent wreath to lighting pink.
Pink is the color of joy. It is the fulfillment of the promise of our faith. Sometimes it’s the color of the sky reminding us of the miracles in nature. Sometimes it’s the color of our cheeks when we are flush with joy. Sometimes it’s the color we have longed to see for far too long. The color that shows up one day as the embodiment of a dream. Right now, it is my favorite color of all.
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 →
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 →
I was walking back to school on a Kindergarten field trip when I realized that my classmates were ahead of me. Panicked, I whirled my head around so fast that strands of dandelion colored hair lashed my face. My fears were confirmed. I was the last of my peers, only the chaperones were lulling behind. I darted forward to catch up but somehow tumbled over myself landing face first on the sidewalk.
I remember the sting on my hands and knees from the fall. The scabs on my face lasted for weeks before they faded into a bad memory. More than anything, I remember that feeling of being left behind.
In some ways, I still feel like that five-year-old girl, always trailing the pack, never on pace. Too often I feel like my life is not my own. I am pulled here and there by needs greater than my own ambitions. And I get frustrated. I wonder when it will be my turn. I think tomorrow will be different and the anomalies of today will pass and the plans I make can prosper.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future,” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV.)
I am glad God knows his plans for me but sometimes I think maybe he should clue me into them. After all, I am having a lot of interruptions in my plans and so maybe I am on the wrong plan. Maybe I could finally get ahead if I knew where he was leading. I would follow, God. I promise I would. It would be easier though if you could give me some direction, some yellow brick road so I can get out of this traffic jam to nowhere. Read more →
I love my dog. I know that’s about as interesting as one of those stick family decals on the rear window of a mini-van. It even sounds like something you might read on a bumper sticker.
This isn’t about bumper stickers though, but rather bumping along in life with worries that ping-pong around like reckless cars weaving through traffic.
Gus, is a faux-lab we adopted when he was a year old. I call him a faux-lab because he doesn’t like the water. This baffles me because his breed seems almost amphibious. He had been at the shelter for six weeks before we adopted him. I am not sure if that had anything to do with the sign on his kennel which read, “I eat blankets.” Since I like to hide underneath blankets when the world feels too wonky, I figured our shared affinity for bed covers might make a good match.
When we brought him home from the shelter, Gus was as shiny and black as a baby grand piano with dazzling white teeth as his keys. He is nine-years-old now. His muzzle is gray and his teeth aren’t quite as glossy. He doesn’t eat blankets, but he’s always there when I need one. The longer I have him the more grateful I am for his unconditional love and the uncanny way he completes our family.
The more I realize how dear this dog is, the more I worry about my next dog. I lament that I won’t be able to find another dog as perfect, that I won’t even like any other dogs, that when the dog I have dies I am going to adopt 10 more cats to add to the two I have and just call my life a dog-gone disaster with a dozen litter boxes to clean.
Breaking from my catastrophic thinking I wonder why I can’t just enjoy right now. Why am I wasting time trying to write a future when the only thing I can author is my present? Why is it that the more I know what I have the more afraid I am to lose it? Why can’t I be like the Beatles and just let it be?
Surrender is like giving up but with lipstick on. And it’s that lipstick that makes all the difference.
I’ve always been a lipstick gal. As a teenager, my mom took me and my siblings to the Florida Keys for vacation. I brought a container full of lipsticks lined up neatly with their labels facing outward, so I could read their colorful names. Who cares what you look like in a two-piece when you’re wearing Tiki Torch on your lips?
My mom was mad at me on that trip for something silly, like climbing out of my bedroom window in the middle of the night, and it was that container of lipstick that got us talking again. It gave us a neutral pallet to start a conversation that wasn’t tinted with admonishments or streaks of rebellion.
When I was a teenager, everything felt out of control, nothing like the rainbow of lipsticks arranged tidily in their box. I’d like to blame my hormones, parent’s divorce, algebra, and the clueless boys I had crushes on, but the reality turned out to be that so much of life is out of our control.
I know that is not motivating or inspiring or what anyone with their life mapped out on an Excel spreadsheet wants to hear. And it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have goals, plans, or a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I’ve just learned that there are many things I have to surrender.
When I was a child, I considered freedom to be something grown-ups enjoyed. They can eat what they want, stay up as late as they want, watch what they want, buy what they want, and do what they want.
Little did I know.
As a teenager, freedom meant breaking rules, rebellion, and choosing for myself. As a young adult, it meant not being tied down, buying something I couldn’t afford, and a readiness to explore my place in the world. As a new mother, freedom meant I had three hours when my children were in preschool to go to the grocery store, exercise, pursue an interest, shower, or do dishes.
Those remain the quickest three hours of my life.
Now I think about freedom not as what I can get away with, spend, or get done, but who I am meant to be. What was I created for? What’s constraining me from that?