Surrender: Into the Arms of God

Fully embracing the mundanity of my middle-aged life, I watched a documentary about an octopus. I won’t get into the details because you too may be interested in octopi documentaries so I don’t want to spoil anything. Yet one of the most interesting things I learned is that after an octopus lays her eggs, she quits eating and wastes away. By the time the eggs hatch, she dies. It’s like a Disney movie where the mom always dies and there’s an orphan having a coming of age adventure with lots of catchy songs that get stuck in your head.

For days, I kept thinking of the octopus laying there protecting her clutch of eggs while succumbing to starvation. I don’t know the biological reason for this. I just know that parenting in the later years feels like a separation comparable to death. And I apologize if that feels too dramatic for either a documentary or a Disney movie, but parenting during these years of increasing independence requires me to let go of all the details I have spent almost 20 years shaping. Having the privilege of being a mother has been the great honor of my life. As any mother knows, it requires stretching in ways that at times felt impossible. My role now is not so much to stretch but to contract, to loosen the grip on one of my greatest treasures so that the lull of life’s tide can carry him in a new direction. It feels counter to every instinct in my body. Yet, I understand that this has been my job all along – to give everything I could for him not because he is mine but so that the world can someday be his. Read more

Why Firewood Is the Perfect Birthday Gift

On my birthday, instead of getting diamonds, pearls, or even something useful like shower gel, I received a box of firewood. I was confused. I wondered, Is there a diamond wrapped in the box of firewood? Believe it or not, it was one of the more thoughtful gifts I have received from my husband. As I grow older or just grow, I want fewer things. The material becomes immaterial as I focus on creating moments that matter instead of curating a collection of stuff. Often, when reflecting on the busyness of the day, I realize how little time I spent with God. I figured if I could live more simply, I could live more saintly. So, I told my husband I want to live like people do on a farm. I guess the firewood was a more practical way for him to acknowledge this than giving me a tractor.

I don’t mean to disparage my lifestyle either. But sometimes conveniences designed to make life easier feel cumbersome. For one, buying in bulk is heavy. I need a farmhand just to load my car. And while I am grateful for medical care, my children have had more X-rays, CAT scans, and seen more specialists than seems plausible for healthy boys. On the farm, doctors would make house calls, eliminating tedious waits in an icy room with magazines about complicated crafts, intricate recipes, and impractical fashions. On a farm, folks only saw someone when they were dead, dying, or bleeding to death.

After listening to my conversations about farm living, my son told me he couldn’t do chores on the farm with a separated growth plate in his shoulder. I explained he could use his other arm, and like Gloria Gaynor, he would survive. I, on the other hand, would be like Eva Gabor on the ’70s sitcom Green Acres, if I actually had to live on a farm. It’s the concept of living simply that appeals to me. I have this notion that if I could pare down the complications of life, it would be easier to fixate on my goal for eternal life.

Here’s my list of ways to live more simply that don’t require overalls:

  1. Shop locally. While there are Amazon.com, mega-malls, and credit card points, there are also small businesses that are more interested in conversation than commission. One of the best things about shopping locally is that they carefully wrap your purchase in crisp white tissue paper and put it in a paper bag. I love that. It feels special like you just sold the farm to make that purchase.

 

  1. Buy what I need. The truth is we don’t need much. We need friendship, family, and fellowship. We need love and mercy. We need God and goodness. We need conversation and conversions. Other than that, we just need a toothbrush, a little food, and some good wine.

 

  1. Use what I buy. Waste is maddening. It feels gross, indulgent, and disrespectful. I am trying to be more conscientious by buying food grown on real farms—and only enough. One night, I bought one chocolate-covered strawberry for each of us. It was perfect and felt decadent to have just enough, instead of always having more.

 

  1. Offer thanks. There is so much to be thankful for and you don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to acknowledge life’s blessings. If you don’t think you are blessed, go outside. Feel the sunshine on your face, or the rain. Feel the breath you inhale. Feel the gentleness of the wind. Feel alive with possibility. Feel the fullness that is gratitude.

 

  1. Light a fire. You don’t necessarily need firewood to do this. You just need a spark—something that gets you excited, people who make you feel warm, passions that make you feel purposeful. Birthdays are finite. It is important to live like it matters, so the people in your life know they matter.

In the end, whether you choose city life or green acres isn’t important. It’s the time you spend enjoying moments such as sitting by the fire with someone you love that matter. Those moments are the best gifts you can give and the best gifts you can get.

Hi all~ I wrote this post 100 years ago but since today is my 100th birthday I figured I would post it again. (I have decided to lie up about my age because then people are more impressed with how I look. Gee, she looks really good for 100.  No one ever says that when you tell them you are 48.)  Regardless of appearances or what number birthday this is, all I feel right now is gratitude. I am here. What a blessing that is despite whatever circumstances you find yourself in. On behalf of my centennial, it would make me happy if you did something today to celebrate the gift of your life. ~love, the birthday girl

Not to brag, but…

I know we aren’t supposed to brag but I’m not good at many things.  I didn’t make the cheerleading team in sixth grade.  I remember the awkwardness of getting picked near last for teams in P.E. class.  I didn’t even make grade school chorus – and everyone made the chorus.  Everyone, that is, except for me and a boy going through early adolescence whose voice cracked mid-syllable like a banjo with a broken string.   Eventually, his voice became smooth and steady while mine remains a unique mix of southern, nasally, whine.  It’s as if I speak my own dialect and apparently it should not be put to music.  As such, I feel like I get special dispensation when it comes to boasting.  After all, I feel like God would want me to focus on my strengths after so many obviously traumatic childhood experiences.

All that is to say, I am really good at finding shark’s teeth.  (I know I probably should have made sure you were sitting down for that.)  Last time I went to the beach I found 38 shark teeth in less than two hours.  Since I am a self-proclaimed-shark-tooth-finding expert, I feel obligated to teach others several important lessons from my experiences:

  1. There are treasures everywhere if you are only patient enough to look.  Slow down and pay attention to the gifts in your life.  I bet if you look close enough you will find way more than 38.

 

  1. Life is messy, but it’s also full of miracles. Notice them.  Like the debris of crushed shells on the beach, if we aren’t careful then all we will see are the broken pieces of our lives.  We can never lose sight of the way God redeems our suffering often surprising us with unexpected gifts of awe.

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Joy of Faith (and ice cream)

One of my doctors suggested I try a Mediterranean Diet after I had been diagnosed with a spontaneous carotid artery dissection. “Spontaneous” is the operative word here because it just happened and no one knows why.  It’s rare for people my age without some kind of underlying genetic disease or physical trauma like a car accident.  I had neither.

I have nothing against the Mediterranean Diet.  I like to eat fish and appreciate a plan that includes red wine.   For a few days, I considered it.  I wanted to be excited– to have some new regimen that would fix the broken parts of me.  I read a few articles that outlined the diet.  I even ate some walnuts. While I desperately want to heal, my diet is not the problem.  Whatever caused my artery to spontaneously dissect had nothing to do with what I ate.  I thought about the years I spent as a vegetarian, my almost-daily exercise routine, the half-marathons I had run, and the complete randomness of what happened — I realized I was basically that cliché of the uber-healthy person who drops dead.  Only I didn’t die.  By God’s grace, I am still here.

What I need most is not a new diet but to accept that we can’t control or fix everything (or sometimes much of anything). I’ve spent so much of my life not being spontaneous – thinking that if I followed the rules, the outline, the diet, and the plan, then I would be safe.  Of course, these things matter and it’s important to not be reckless with our lives or the lives of others. It’s just that we can easily get so focused on the regimen that we forget the reason for it.  I knew it wasn’t legumes and olives or even wine I needed.  It was ice cream. Read more

Faith in Quarantine

I don’t know if I am going to mentally survive the isolation of quarantine.  The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is skyrocketing here in Florida.  I am considered at increased risk for severe illness if I get the virus because of yet another dubious gift of 2020, severe stenosis caused by a dissected carotid artery.  Trust me, I wouldn’t want COVID-19 anyway, but I certainly don’t want to do anything to tip the precarious situation I am already in.  So, I stay at home.

I have a lovely home which I have gone to great lengths to find perfect throw pillows for but I am sick of being here. It feels like jail, only with comfy, well-coordinated pillows. Being quarantined reminds me of the birds we had as pets when I was growing up.  My friends hated to spend the night at my house because they would squawk and squeal like angry alarm clocks way before our teenage bodies were ready to wake.  And, no wonder the birds were angry – they existed in a cage of monotony.  Quarantining makes me feel somewhere between an inmate and a caged bird.

When it turns noon, I pretend my nightgown is really a sundress and carry on with the day’s inactivity.  And to add to my disdain, I get frustrated with myself for being so whiny about having no life when the whole reason I am doing this is so that I can have life.  So, I cram peanut M & M’s in my face and watch with envy as the hummingbird outside the window flutters from flower to flower in a fury of freedom.  I can’t help but wonder if she knows anything about the caged bird (not the one that sings – the angsty, squalling bird that tormented tired teenagers). Read more

Crisis of a Wannabe Gymnast

Sometime in my late 20s, I lamented to my boss that I was having a mid-life crisis.  I think this had something to do with the Olympic games that were being held that year.  I loved watching gymnastics and couldn’t help but think that it should be me on television in a leotard flipping and flopping and flying on behalf of my country.  Never mind that I had yet to take a single gymnastics lesson in my life.  My heart ached to do something with so much passion that it would literally propel me skyward — while also managing to land me firmly on my feet. Plus, I liked the sequins.

At the time, I was married with no kids.  With a career in fundraising for a children’s hospital, the work I did was inherently meaningful – and we have already established that I had a kind boss tolerant of premature mid-life crises.  I had a house, some cats, a dog, a good husband, and a job. And yet, I had this nagging feeling that if not an Olympic gold medalist, wasn’t I meant for more?

The question of purpose arises intermittently like a bad stomach virus that leaves me longing for the merciful reprieve of a saltine cracker. Life’s epic search for meaning seems like it should take a straight path hurdling over obstacles, dismounting into some profound contribution to humanity, and landing with the specter of triumph (and yes, maybe even a gold medal around one’s neck.)  Instead, it throws me off-balance like a gymnast teetering on the brink of a disastrous fall.  My trajectory towards something meaningful can feel like an angsty wobble of futility leaving me more frustrated than fulfilled.   The great mercy in having been through this multiple times is that I now realize our contributions to the world aren’t always noticeable — even to ourselves.  That’s the humility of it.

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Marlboro Reds and MRIs

Way back when kids actually went to school, I won the award for perfect attendance for not missing any school days in a year.  My mom always told me I was her healthiest kid.  I think she appreciated that I didn’t get sick on road trips or require multiple trips to the ER to be sewn back together from running into walls.  Discounting late-night runs to the border for Taco Bell’s Nacho Bell Grande and a fog of other questionable college choices, I have mostly lived a healthy lifestyle.

So after going through two ultrasounds, an MRI, a cat scan with angiogram, a needle biopsy in my neck, countless blood tests, visits with an internist, endocrinologist, neurosurgeon, vascular surgeon, rheumatologist, and a neurologist –  all in the span of three weeks, I considered buying myself a pack of Marlboro Reds to puff on as I rode off into the sunset on a horse that would likely buck, leaving me concussed in some cornfield wondering what became of that little girl’s certificate of good health. (Yes, that’s a long sentence but it’s been a long few weeks friends.)

Still, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude.  If I hadn’t noticed a lump in my neck that led to the thyroid biopsy and a diagnosis of a multinodular goiter then I wouldn’t have seen my doctor.  I wouldn’t have told her about the chronic headaches and cluster of bizarre symptoms that prompted the MRI.  She was as surprised as I was when the results showed severe stenosis in the carotid artery.  And on the day that I received the official diagnosis from the cat scan of a dissected carotid artery with greater than 70 percent blockage, I was terrified.  I called a nurse practitioner friend to ask for her opinion.  She just happened to live across the street from a brilliant and compassionate neurosurgeon who agreed to see me that day to explain the diagnosis and treatment. At the time, none of it felt like a miracle.  It was hectic, confusing, sordid, and surreal that this 3-inch space on the right side of my neck had not one but two separate and unrelated diagnoses. Each made more complicated by their proximity to each other. Read more

Works of Mercy: Stop the Wreckage

Do you ever just want to tell someone they are messing up?  “Hey, you! There is a train coming towards you at 100 mph and I am thinking you may want to get off the tracks?”  Presumably, we would all say something if someone was in physical danger, but when it comes to spiritual divergence it’s easy to stand idle and watch people get smushed.

Of course, we don’t want to think of it like that because we are good people.  We mean well.  In fact, it is often our meaning well that motivates us to keep quiet when someone is engaging in self-sabotaging behavior – and what’s more self-sabotaging than sin.  We live in a world where the prevailing message is to stay in our own lane, live and let live, and it’s none of our business.  There is an as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else mentality that might not be so absurd if it were possible.  If we all lived in bubbles and our actions didn’t affect or influence others then maybe this idea would float.   Certainly, we can’t decide for others.  We have control over so very little.  In many ways, surrender seems not only like the best option but the only one.

The work of mercy, to admonish sinners, feels heavy and laden with judgment.   The word admonish is strong and clear.  It’s also downright scary.  Who wants to risk a relationship they value by pointing out the devaluing behavior of someone they love?  Who wants to have the hard conversations of correction that no one wants to hear?  Why wouldn’t we all keep quiet instead of blowing some obnoxious whistle of alarm?

My answer to this is to avoid the smushing.  The smushing that can cost people their jobs; the smushing that destroys marriages; the smushing that creates addicts; the smushing that buries someone in debt; the smushing that ruins friendships…the smushing that could have been avoided had someone been brave enough to say something. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.  But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1).

It is important to do this work of mercy gently and in the spirit of love.  No one likes hearing that they are messing up.  No one likes to admit fault or acknowledge that their actions aren’t in line with their values.  This is the hard work of love and one of the most beautiful acts of love we can do for one another.  The people in my life who I am most indebted to, most loyal to, and most grateful for are those who have risked having a hard conversation with me.  They came into my lane, got into my business, and pointed out the risks and consequences that went beyond the bubble of my life.  I know it all sounds terribly dramatic, or at least just terrible.  But when you really think about your own life, you have either been lucky enough to have someone yank you off the track or unfortunate enough that you wished someone had.

Most of us have been in that uncomfortable position of knowing someone is doing something wrong and not sure if they should say something or “mind their own business.”  I certainly can’t tell anyone what to do but I know for me, I have never regretted a hard conversation made out of love and I genuinely feel grateful to those who have guided me.  What about you? Would you say anything?  Would you want anyone to say anything to you?

Read last week’s post: Mercy! Being Mama is Hard

Be You: But Not All About You

We toured colleges with our son last spring.  In every tour, in every talk, we heard a similar spiel: “We want to get to know you — get a sense of who you are.  The best applicants are the ones where students are themselves.”

I hate to be cynical, but all the “just be you” enthusiasm made me skeptical since most of these schools admit like 5 new students a year.  Statistically, it doesn’t seem like being oneself is as important as SAT scores, GPA, or any other metric that funnels the throngs of applicants into a thread of coveted acceptance letters.  Highly competitive schools with high performing applicants humanizing their cut-throat admission policies with a warm, fuzzy, encouragement to simply be oneself, and as surely as the sun rises in the east you will shine.

Of course, we have all heard the same messages in our own lives.  It’s not a bad message either – to just be yourself.  In a day when diversity has become a means of deliverance, individualism has become an art of self-love.  Still, one can only play Mirror, Mirror on the Wall for so long without becoming utterly bored or an utterly boring narcissist.  Loving others has always been where it’s at – where we truly feel full, alive, and connected.  So, yes, be you but don’t be all about you. One of the things I love most about God is he loves unconditionally and universally.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28).  The world may classify its people into hierarchies, but God has none of that.  He made each of us unique and yet loves all of us the same.  How fun is that?  No competitions or emphasis on what makes you so special.  He eliminated that pettiness when he died on the cross for our sins.  It was the great leveler that gave each individual that has ever been or ever will be the same unequivocal opportunity for redemption.  Of all the world’s laws, treaties, pacts, covenants, and alliances I don’t know any that compares to him dying on the cross so that each and every one of us can have a shot at eternal life.

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Too Small Coffee Table; Too Little Faith

I am trying to center myself so I can do what I need to do and be who I need to be.  This never seems to have anything to do with my daily tasks that are so time-consuming.  Regardless of how centered I am, I still have to scoop kitty litter and make supper.  I have to do life.  Yet often, life feels more adrift than this anchoring I seek.

The need for centering pulls at me reminds me that my busyness isn’t my primary business. I sit with it sometimes and try to make sense of what is so urgent.  It’s uncomfortable and I have to fight the urge not to get in my car and drive to the store to look for a new coffee table.  I’ve decided my coffee table is too small for my living room and even though that involved a small measure of math, it makes sense to me.  This centering that I crave – not so much.  I know it’s God by its persistence and truth be told, it makes the distraction of the coffee table seem like a welcome muse.

Then, of course, I question why I can’t sit with this God I adore and listen to what I need to do and who I need to be.  Why do I resist?  Why do I let myself succumb to distraction?  God probably doesn’t think the six-inch difference in a coffee table is paramount to his plans for me.

So, I still myself.  It chafes this stillness that God commands.  I listen to the emptiness of this space and try to discern what is so relentlessly nagging at me.  Is God in the quietness?  The busyness?  The mundane?  The despair?  The spiral?  The spaces between it all?  “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”  (Proverbs 15:3).

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