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 →
Sometimes I feel like a tiny bird with an injured leg from an encounter with the claws of a crazed cat. I know how lucky I am to be here and how much worse things could be; yet, still, I carry a limp from my wounds that sometimes keeps me tethered to the ground. (I might start telling people that when they ask me how I am doing.)
Life is so darn messy and most of us try terribly hard to tidy what we can. In its constancy, it can feel like a marathon, and like the tiny bird, we merely hop along. One of my favorite quotes is from Saint John Paul II who said: “We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” It conveys such unparallel joy – a skyward ascent of heavenly praise. It hardly makes me think of hopping.
Indeed, we are the Easter people and we are meant to rise. Lent is a time to unload the burden of sin we carry. It’s a time to shed the miscellaneous and the excess. It is a time to reconnect to God by disconnecting from our distractions. Sometimes the Lenten experience feels empowering like a strenuous workout or the purging of an overstuffed closet. Other times, it just feels hard. All the emptying, sacrificing, and sustaining from a 40-day reflection can feel too austere for a hallelujah song. No sweet little bird chirps that indicate winter’s hibernation is over. Just a hop, hop. Yet Easter is coming – not just at the end of this Lenten season. Also, at the end of our lives. In between, in the thicket of life’s doing and undoing, we rise. Amidst the momentary affliction of life’s messiness, we remain upright. “Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it,” (Ezra 10:4). Even when it’s hard or feels impossible — when there is not enough money, not enough time, not enough of your poor tired soul to go around — be strong and rise. Read more →
Last year, a friend of mine was taken to the emergency room. She had the flu and was in critical condition. Before I rushed to the hospital, I prayed a rosary for her. The memory is like a blur. My head was racing, my rosary beads were twisting, my stomach was clenching, my hands were shaking, and my heart was aching. Even though I sat in a chair in my living room, every part of me seemed to be in motion. I was anxious to get to the emergency room, but from somewhere inside a voice repeated. Pray. Pray. Pray.
When I finished the rosary, I went on Facebook and begged others to pray for her. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I know it included “even if you don’t pray – pray anyway.” I’m not usually that bossy in Facebook posts so I hoped people would get the seriousness of the situation. Even if it wasn’t their friend or their situation, even if they were estranged from God, I needed them to pray. I needed help for my friend. I figured if someone didn’t have their own faith, they could borrow their neighbors and throw something up to God. He’s a great catcher. That’s what he does over and over again – he catches us. He doesn’t get caught up in who knows who, or the grudges someone is holding against him. He isn’t keeping score. He just catches.
I don’t know how many people prayed for her that day but it seemed like an awful lot. At the hospital, I prayed with her children. Friends texted that they were praying. I called our church and asked them to send a priest to pray too. He came and administered the sacrament of anointing of the sick. The doctors were doing everything they could, her friends and family were covering her in prayer, and she was fighting like the warrior she was. Read more →
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 →