I was talking to Jesus one night before bed and told him that his will for my life appears fairly willy-nilly. What are we really doing here, God? This? That? Does it even matter? It’s as if he thinks I can read the signs he sends. I can’t even read a map much less fold one, so why he thinks I can discern his will is a mystery to me. Still, I come back to that longing to know. It’s like a kid the night before their birthday trying to figure out what their gifts will be. It’s a sleepless mix of exhilaration and anticipation and longing for the relief of just knowing. What a gift the knowing would be.
The next morning, my son had an appointment to have his high school senior pictures taken. I had reminded him the night before that mama doesn’t iron and he needed to have his clothes ready. When I saw him half-dressed in a half-ironed shirt, I was wholly annoyed. He explained that he had ironed his shirt and the wrinkles weren’t coming out. He said he was going to wear it a bit and that would make the wrinkles come out. Lord Jesus, I am supposed to send this child to college in a year? I told him to give me the shirt and I would iron it.
It’s not that I am unwilling to iron, it’s just that most things that have to do with domesticity fail me. The day before I texted a friend to ask how long to boil corn (10 minutes). It’s frustrating to do things that we aren’t good at. When I was a little girl, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a stay-at-home mom. I know in today’s world that is terribly lame but that was my wish, my will. While I’ve been able to do that and mostly love it, I can’t say I am particularly good at it. So, there I was ironing the already-ironed shirt wondering why the heat and the pressing and the willing weren’t working. Since we were running short on time, I called a friend for advice. She reminded me she was in a different time zone and still asleep. I explained my domestic emergency and necessary disregard for her slumber. She suggested that I spray the shirt with water. It turns out the spray bottle under my sink is a mix of soap and water so when I sprayed the shirt it bubbled up like a wound doused in peroxide. I just can’t imagine things like this happening to June Cleaver.
I was doing my teenage Uber driving duties and thinking about the advice that encourages parents to talk to children in the car. After all, they are a captive audience, don’t have to make eye contact (because God forbid, we have any of that), and both parent and child are physically restrained –that might not have been among the reasons listed but it does seem worth noting. We were on the return portion of our journey into silence and I was lamenting the misery of it when I looked out the car window and saw a man sitting on a bus stop talking to himself. Our eyes met and for a moment he silenced.
He was smoking a cigarette in the mid-day Florida heat. I checked the temperature on my dash and it read 98 degrees. I considered my relative comfort in the air-conditioned car and the ice cream in my freezer I planned to eat when I arrived home as a consolation from both the heat and the unwelcome hush of angst that tormented my drive. I recalled the smoking man in the intolerable heat, sitting in solace, speaking to himself. I thought of that moment our eyes met, and how for the first time that day I felt seen. It mattered not to me what I was seen as or how I might have looked or what he might have thought of me. The moment reminded me of the universality of God’s mercy at a time when I felt somewhat desperate for connection. I don’t know what he saw when he looked at me, but through him, I saw a reminder that suffering is not the only thing that is universal, God’s mercy is too.
While I consider my circumstances are likely better than his – the reality was at that moment, I felt as miserable as I perceived him to be. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others. We have standardized what we consider justifiable levels of loneliness, pain, emptiness, and grief, and if it doesn’t fall on the spectrum of horror or woe that we heard on the latest podcast then we feel like we need to buck up and go write in our gratitude journals. Before I understood the mercy of God, I would have thought the same thing. There were so many times that the pain and challenges in my life became a wedge in my relationship with God because I didn’t think I had the right to seek his mercy. I didn’t bring God what appeared to be trivial and trite by the world’s definition of suffering because it felt too small and I had been given too much. The problem with that thinking is that it separates us from God and from the mercy that heals, comforts, and forgives the wounds in our heart. We may not be worthy of God’s mercy or deserve it. Regardless, it pours out of him – a gift of unfathomable consolation that we choose whether to accept.
The last day of vacation I woke up with a tingling feeling on my lips. When I looked in the mirror, even through the blur of twilight I could tell they were noticeably fuller — like the fairy godmother of plastic surgery had visited in the night. I checked different body parts to see if she had generously waved her wand in other places too. Sadly, it was just my lips.
As lucidity set in, I realized that my pink pout was the result of a sunburn from a long day of scalloping with friends and family. I had taken the necessary precautions to protect my skin. I wore a sunscreen shirt, a hat, and covered my face in so much SPF that I looked like a geisha on holiday. Although I remembered the SPF lip balm and even reapplied it along with my milky white sunscreen, it was not enough to protect me from hours of swimming and sunshine.
I cringed thinking of the resulting sun damage and started down the long twisty road of lament and regret I know so well. Then, for the love of mercy, I had a thought that I have considered often recently. It framed itself as a question in the highlight reel of my mind: Why would you ever think you would get through life unscathed?
Life is full of losses. We lose money. We lose jobs. We lose time. We lose things that are dear to us. We lose people we love. We lose. No one likes to lose either. We live in a world that tells us life is all about the win. We are encouraged to minimize cost and maximize gains. While that makes good sense in a lot of sunny scenarios, the reality is, sunburn or not – none of us get through life without experiencing a burn. Accepting this as part of our humanity somehow dulls the sting of it. Perhaps, so much of our suffering is exacerbated by our resistance to it.
By definition, the word “no” has a negative connotation. It conveys restriction, refusal, and denial. It’s a flashing red light blinking a warning to stop. It’s a shut door. The end of a discussion. A command to pause.
I grew up in the eighties when war was declared on drugs, and the best-known weapon was the three-word slogan, “Just say no.” I heard it from Nancy Reagan. It was espoused on popular sitcoms like Punky Brewster and Diff’rent Strokes. I read it on bumper stickers and posters. Just. Say. No.
Easy peasy. No was encouraged. It was advocated. It was celebrated. Like some algebraic equation, a negative turned into a positive. But like all ad campaigns, it ran its course. There was a new decade, new millennium, new drugs, and of course, new wars. “No” is once again true to its definition. It’s for the slacker. The one who refuses to lean in. The people who have limited constructs and little ambition.
Yes has become the world’s drug of choice. We are encouraged to go all in, have it all, and do it all. All for what? At what price? This 21st-century spin is blurring priorities. Everything has become important. Everything has to be done. It’s encompassing, egocentric, and exhausting.
I got the new Vineyard Vines catalog in the mail. One of its pages teased: 92 summer days ahead. I couldn’t help wonder if whoever wrote that sent their kids to Catholic School. I checked my own school calendar for accuracy and calculated we only have 68 days of summer. How’s that for a penance?
I don’t know why this struck me anyway. Maybe it was all the crystal blue water splashed on the pages selling pastel-colored polo shirts for $85 a pop. But, I couldn’t stop thinking of that number. It was so finite. So, use it or lose it. While summer has not officially started, I can’t help but feel a little panicked about its inevitable passing. It reminds me of how fast all of life is passing. I wonder how many whale logo purchases it would take for me to slow down and have some of those carefree moments like the people in the catalog.
I was grateful to Shep and Ian for reminding me to embrace the days ahead that sprawl out like a bath towel on the beach. Too short. While I don’t love lists because I can never find them after I make them, I made a plan for summer that would make any whale smile.
Forget about being mindful: Lord have mercy. There is so much pressure to be in the moment. I lost a great bulk of my mind during childbirth and what’s left of it doesn’t want to focus on putting a fork in the dishwasher. Most of what I do is just not that interesting and I know that would probably make Oprah sad for me. However, the season of life I am in is hurried and hectic, mundane and meaningful, and relies heavily on mercy and grace. So, I don’t have a lot left for mindfulness. Instead, let your minds wander. We use to do this as children — boredom would breed great imaginings, inventions, and undiscovered places. Let your minds drift away to a happy memory, a hope for the future, or a childhood dream. This makes putting a fork in the dishwasher so much more pleasant. 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
“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.