“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” seems like such a dark way to portray death. Anyone who has ever lost a beloved knows that death is both cruelly final and endlessly enduring. The love, influence, and lessons the deceased impart doesn’t stop with their heartbeat.
Sprouting from the death of winter into the hope of spring is the fragile bloom of memories that remain in our hearts. It’s a beautiful gift that dulls the thorny sting of loss.
Recently, I attended the rosary of a friend who lost her mother. Comforting the sorrowful and burying the dead are important works of mercy. When my stepfather passed away, I remember well the people who attended the funeral or who stopped by with a meal. It was such a comfort to have our loss acknowledged. It reminds us that even though we lost a loved one, we had not lost love. It envelops us in our cocoon of grief promising life’s joy will reemerge like a butterfly. That’s a beautiful thing to be reminded of when you are grieving. 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 →
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 →
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.
I always felt unremarkable, which I think I could have been okay with if the world didn’t always send messages that made me feel as if ordinary was an outrage. When I was a kid, the word average meant you were like everyone else. It meant you were okay. You were enough. You fell into the middle and you weren’t worried about being out-twirled at baton practice or made fun of when the metal bar fell on your head.
Those were happy days. If, somewhat unremarkable.
But at some point, and maybe it was when I started paying attention, everything changed. Being average meant you were like the less-than sign used in math – pointing in the wrong direction, open to the mundanity of mediocracy. A losing symbol in a world that equates greatness with worthiness.
Whatever happened to good enough?
I suppose that is why I am so fond of God. While he asks me to be good, he has always believed I am good enough. Of course, I didn’t always know that because I was too distracted with headlines on glossy magazines, books on bettering, and tried and true tips that felt like a tongue twister of tortured suggestions. Read more →
Some people believe we should do whatever it takes to make our dreams come true.
That perspective makes me tired. Or maybe I am tired and more likely to pursue sleeping dreams than the do-whatever-it-takes kind. While I would give anything for the people in my life, I can’t say the same for my pursuits.
I don’t lack ambition or commitment either. If anything, I am guilty of skepticism for thinking this mentality is part of the happily-ever-after notion of dreams hawked by Hollywood movie makers. But I am not really that cynical. I love people who are passionate about their goals. I admire the tenacity it takes to get to the proverbial there, to arrive, to live the dream. I love an underdog, a comeback story, and an against-the-odds fight.
I am just not sure I want to be one.
Somewhere between the dream and the reality is the cost of pursuit. Whether in commerce or in life, we all have a price we are willing to pay to get what we want. Not all of us are willing to personify Rocky Balboa for the sake of our dreams no matter how much we admire a steely resolve to persevere and a cool moniker like “Italian Stallion.” Read more →
Often, I feel like Queen Elsa in the 2013 Disney film, Frozen, with let it go repeating in my head like a scratched record or a warped mix tape warbling words of what has got to be the greatest three-word sentences in the history of ice queens.
Let it go.
Life can feel like an avalanche of situations outside of our control. Other than our reaction to things, we don’t get a say in much. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have much to say, only that we don’t get to decide who listens, cares, or jams earbuds in their earholes when we speak. Despite my awareness of how much I need to let go of Every. Single. Day. I don’t want life to be merely a series of reactions to outside events. I want to be deliberate about what I let go of and what I strive to change.
Long before Elsa retreated to the ice castle, there was American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote the Serenity Prayer. I know he wasn’t royalty, didn’t have a 3-centimeter waist, and couldn’t turn people to ice with the flick of his wrist, but he did write a pretty good prayer. 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.
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 →