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?
Tom Petty sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.” He captured in lyrics what we know from experience – the agony of the wait.
Last summer I experienced waiting in a completely different way, as hope. A publisher was considering my manuscript on works of mercy. We began conversations in June, and she presented the manuscript to her Acquisitions Committee in August.
In the time between, the waiting, I was so excited to have the opportunity. I felt like everything was coming full circle and that God really did have a plan for me. I worked hard polishing the chapters and helped put together a marketing plan, but I wasn’t anxious. Instead, I felt like I was in a pale pink bubble, not made by a fairy-tale godmother, but by God himself. I was on the cusp of a dream, closer than I ever thought possible. Instead of feeling like the waiting was the hardest part, I wanted to remain in it. It seemed too painful to be so close and experience rejection. For the first time in a long time, I felt genuine hope. I would have been content to float on that hope for the rest of my life.
The work of mercy that most embodies parenting is to instruct the uninformed. Only it took me a while to figure out that maybe it was me, the mama, who needed the most instruction.
From the earliest days of motherhood, when I frantically thumbed through pages of parenting books in the dark of the night in a desperate attempt to find a way to coax my son to sleep, I felt more clueless than confident.
No matter how many books I read, I could never get my son on a nursing schedule, sleep schedule, or a mama-really-needs-a-shower schedule. I had friends who were more successful with following the instructions, and, of course, I resented their efficiency and ease.
I like the month of June because I finally have time to think about new year’s resolutions. I can’t deal with them at the end of December when I am recovering from the Christmas frenzy. The months that follow feel like I am running just ahead of falling dominos. But now that summer is officially here, my year sprawls out in front of me like a beach towel on the sand. (Okay, half a beach towel.)
I am feeling so optimistic, I bought a new calendar. It was no easy feat, since apparently most stores quit selling them by the time Cupid starts shooting arrows through month-old resolutions to get its candy on the shelves.
I want to be on fire for God, but sometimes I feel more like the worn edges of two sticks that were furiously rubbed together but never produced a spark.
We aren’t even halfway through the year, and I have been to four funerals in almost as many months. I have tried to find light from each of the lives I mourned, to formulate a takeaway, some kind of life lesson that will make sense of all this sorrow. I did okay at first, feeling a heightened gratitude for my own life and the people in it.
The gift of death is that it edges life, delineating what matters most. Because of the sorrow, we see clearer, act more deliberately, and love more purposely. All the unimportant things that sent us into a frenzy are momentarily deemed inconsequential. The stark contrast between life and death gives us a clearer perspective and realigns priorities. Read more →
I am trying to be a list person. Typically, my lists get left behind on the kitchen counter, or if they are more goal-oriented, require me to breathe into a paper bag. Instead, I am a do-one-hard-thing-a-day-and-act-peppy-about-it kind of girl. Read more →
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.
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.