Walking the race

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

The Meaning of Life: a letter to my son

Last year, seventh-grade parents were given the assignment to write their children a letter explaining the meaning of life.  Seriously?  Why not just write the cure for cancer?  Or, solve the problem of world peace?  Or do ninth-grade algebra? The meaning of life?! 

Of course, the best teachers challenge us.   As it turns out, the question is worth answering.  I am sharing my letter because at times I need to be reminded of its message.  Maybe you do too.  

Dear Alex,

I have been asked to write you a letter explaining the meaning of life.  But seeing that only moments ago I spilled hot coffee down the front of my shirt, I am not sure I feel qualified to answer such a poignant question.

When we are children, we see the world in solid colors.  There are no shades or variations of pigments.  We learn basic colors early and life seems pretty simple.   As we grow older, things get more complicated.  There is no longer just the color blue but countless shades of it.

We have a lot more choices, but the right ones aren’t always clear.  A spectrum of possibilities exists as to what one’s life may mean.  That’s the beauty of life and the mystery for you to uncover.  I can’t tell you what the answer will be for you, because I am still learning what it is for me.

In some ways, the answer seems obvious, and I am tempted to spell it out.  But I resist the urge to give you a one-word solution, to pick one color from the few that existed when we were younger, to oversimplify, give away the secret, the magic formula, the profundity of life’s meaning, because of that word itself, love.  Love would be the easy answer.  God’s love, family love, married love, love of others, merciful love, eternal love, and unconditional love will be the answer many times over if you live life well.

I could do this, and I wouldn’t be wrong.  After all, love is as true as the color red. But it would be too simplistic, and life is many things, yet I have never known it to be simple. Read more

Made to Soar

I spend a lot of time with the devil I know.  A lot of us do.  We are stuck in careers, relationships, routines, and ruts that we long to change, but don’t.  There is a litany of reasons for this: fear, laziness, uncertainty, and lack of confidence.  It boils down to the notion that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.

Maybe it’s because we believe things could always be worse that we are willing to settle with the status quo.    Maybe it’s because change involves ripping off the duct tape that is holding us together while all our broken parts fall free.  Maybe we are waiting for a miracle.  Maybe today will be the day.

Maybe can be a terrible place to be.  It’s the hell of purgatory without the hope of heaven.  It’s wishing for different circumstances to determine your worth.  It’s a waiting, a longing, and often, a loathing that has nothing to do with God.

God is truth.  He doesn’t waiver and he doesn’t wane.  He wants better for us than we want for ourselves.  He would never ask us to settle.  He made us to soar.

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

I know many people who are more stuck than soaring.  I can relate as I have always been afraid to fly.  But I am tired of the devil I know.  I am bored with his same old lies.  Baiting us with fear, he snares us into believing we can’t do better, be better, have better. Read more

Lessons from my dog: Let it be

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?

Let it be. 

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Practicing What I Preach

Sometimes I look at my life, and I don’t know whether hypocrisy or irony is screaming louder.  I write about mercy,  because I believe whole-heartedly in its power to change lives and, in a broader sense, the world.  That is not hyperbole.  It is a truth that exists regardless of whether we acknowledge or believe it.

Despite my enthusiasm, doing works of mercy sometimes feels like a struggle.  You would think in my zeal, I would embrace them with a “Woo-hoo! Here’s another opportunity for me to serve!”  But often my “woo-hoo” sounds more like, “woe is me.”

Frequently the service we are called to do is organic, and, like the produce in the grocery store, organic always costs more.  It has always felt easier to serve when I plan for it, choose the capacity, and have had a shower.  When someone else’s misfortune interrupts my plans or to-do list, it can be frustrating.

Recently, I took my mom to the doctor, because she was sick.  I tried to be peppy about it despite my manic Monday mentality.  My mom was pleasant and chatty on the way to her appointment, and, instead of gratitude for her attitude, I begrudged it for being better than mine.  After all, I was the healthy one.  Why wasn’t I bubbly and bright?  Maybe she should have been driving me around! Read more

Below the Surface: Going Deep for God

I was in an existential funk questioning my purpose, God’s plan for me, and the universality of suffering.  Someone suggested as a solution that  I should be more shallow.  While I understood the spirit of love in which it was made, it was a funny thing to hear.

Besides, I’ve tried.  I’ve wrapped my self in the superficial that society hawks.  But when my closet starts to cram contents together, I am more interested in streamlining than another sale.

I am always telling my boys when they ask to buy something (that they already own four of) that it’s not going to fill them. I tell them God is the only one who can do that.  Of course, this does little to discourage their desires.  Still, I hope the message eventually settles in.

There’s nothing wrong with having nice things, enjoying a good sale, or a great pair of shoes, but the joy it brings is superficial, unsustainable, and nothing like the satisfaction we get from a relationship with God.  Thinking about the work of mercy to clothe the naked, it seems almost archaic considering the number of clothes we all own.  I recently visited several thrift stores for an outfit for an upcoming 80s fundraiser, and I was struck by the volume of clothes in these warehouse-size buildings.  It was astounding.  And while I understand that there are many areas in which this work of mercy still applies, such as a woman fleeing an abusive relationship, families who lose everything in natural disasters, poor families who can’t afford to replace their children’s outgrown clothes, and the homeless who lack proper shoes or jackets, I can’t help but think of clothing the naked on a deeper level. Read more

Catholic Church Sex Abuse Cover Up: Time to Go

I wasn’t going to write about the unconscionable cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I don’t have anything nice to say.

I am angry and it feels horribly unnatural to be angry at the church that I love. But the church I love doesn’t molest children and certainly would never cover it up and let victims multiply exponentially to maintain a sham of integrity.

Except they did.

It’s incongruous with the church I know who serves the poor, feeds the hungry, cares for the sick, educates, and indoctrinates. I have spent much of my life surrounded by Catholics.   Like most Christians, they are people who live consciously, generously, and with a fierce commitment to love and serve others.

Trying to reconcile the beauty of my faith with this grave betrayal feels impossible. Yet, I know that all things are possible with God and I pray for healing. I pray for the victims who were violated, shushed, ignored, and invisible to the church who betrayed them. I pray for those who served on the Pennsylvania grand jury who investigated these atrocities and advocated for their exposure foraging a pathway to justice for victims and a forthright accountability of the Catholic Church. I pray for the many good priests who dedicate their lives to the teachings of the church, who follow the rules, and who imitate the life of Christ in their ministry. I pray for Jesus, whose holiness was shamelessly used to facilitate these crimes. I pray for the grace to move past this. Read more

Surrender with Lipstick On

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.

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Sharing Sorrow

A classmate of my 4-year old nephew kept crying at preschool, so my nephew put his arm around him and asked what was wrong.  Through tears, the boy told him he missed his mom.  My nephew responded, “We all miss our moms, but we have to be here anyway.”  With that, the little boy wiped his face, walked up to the teacher and gave her his tissue.

(I know it would have been a cleaner story if the boy just put the tissue in the trash instead of getting the teacher all germy. But I just write the truth however unsanitary it may be. )

The teacher had already tried to comfort the boy, but it was my nephew’s ability to identify with what the child was feeling that finally helped him move on.  I think how much this relates to all of us regardless of our age or how we dispose of snotty tissues.

It’s a comfort to know we are not alone.  So often, in our sadness, loneliness, and lowliness, we feel like the only ones.  Instead of reaching out, we go further inward.  Our suffering becomes isolating and that makes us feel worse.

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Freedom to Serve

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?

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