Easter Rose

During this Lenten season, I lost a dear friend unexpectedly.  It was a Tuesday, and I planned to go to the grocery store.  Instead, I was in the ER and then the ICU, waiting, hoping, and praying while trying to comfort her two daughters who are the same ages as my boys.  I had so many joyful memories with these girls:  picking blueberries on a hot summer day, watching them bob in the pool, laughing, and splashing with abandon, and chatting leisurely in their kitchen on carefree topics that meandered like the veining in the marble on their island.  We went trick-or-treating with them, hunted Easter eggs, and watched fireworks on the Fourth of July. Read more

God: the Mess We Make

I’ve been on a search for the holy grail of vacuums. This isn’t a new thing. I’ve been at it for years.  Other people travel the world, I buy (and, often return) vacuums.

I guess I am looking for the perfect vacuum that has among its features a desire to actually use it.  So far, all I have had is a longing for clean floors.  A friend of mine lent me one of those robot vacuums.  I figured even I could muster the motivation to try it since it only required me to push a button.

The dog and I suspiciously watched the wayward machine.  It was like a mini R2D2 after a night out at the bars.  It swayed in one direction and then the other, continuously running into things.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it.  It was trying so hard. Read more

Light: Out of the darkness

 

As a native Floridian, winters are hard for me.  It’s not just the closed toe shoes and the cumbersome layers of clothes that make me feel constrained liked a mummy wrapped in fleece.

It’s the darkness.

The shorter days, gray skies, and the browning emptiness leave flowers blighted and bare trees somber.  I don’t notice how much it affects me until spring arrives, and I am awed by the glorious light. I catch myself staring out the window. I see the green growth of new leaves on the mounds of sticks sprouting up from the earth and the reliable bloom of azaleas bursting bright with joy, but it’s the light, pervasive and ethereal, that captivates me. Read more

Searching: Might as well be fun

80'sMy son’s school had an 80s-themed fundraiser a-la Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” admittedly one of my favorite songs growing up.   But that was four decades ago!  Now I am a middle-aged woman who just wants a nap.  I mean they’re pretty fun, too, right?

It’s hard to believe that I can count my life in decades now.  I still remember the thrill of turning double digits, the big 1-0.  It was the following year, 1983, that Lauper released the ultimate slumber party song, “They just wanna, they just wanna, oh girls, Girls just wanna have fun.” 

In retrospect, I don’t know how fun the eighties were for me.  My parents divorced.  I was a latch-key kid living off Stouffer’s frozen fettuccine dinners, ice cream bars, and Cool Whip. It was a coming-of-age decade with all the confusion, angst, and acne that accompanies adolescence.

More than having fun, I think what I wanted was to belong.  I felt a little bit like an astronaut floating around in a space suit trying to find my people.  More so, trying to find myself.

I like to think that now that I am in my forties, I am more grounded, and certainly my faith is a huge part of that.  But there are still days that I wonder what I am supposed to be when I grow up, what I am here for, and how to make the most of the time I have left.  While the gravity of those questions should be enough to bring me down, the promise of my faith, of an eternal life with God, keeps me afloat as I search.

I went to the thrift store with two girlfriends to find an outfit befitting the decade with a penchant for legwarmers and leisure suits.  There were no dressing rooms, so we had to try poufy, lacy, neon, garish dresses over our clothes in front of mirrors in the middle aisles of the store.    We were a spectacle worthy of our own music video.

Okay, it was less Robert Palmer and more middle-aged mayhem.  I tried on an orange neon dress with a center slit so high I am pretty sure my son would have been kicked out of school if I wore it, and my friend delighted in finding the absolute ugliest dress I’ve seen in a long time. Our other girlfriend was like a stage mom, accessorizing us, tucking our post-baby parts into cast-off prom dresses and saying things like, “Oh, the reason you can’t find anything is that everything looks good on you.”  You have to love a friend that can lie like that!

I didn’t find anything that Thursday at the thrift store, but eventually I found something perfectly hideous to wear to the event.  Just like I have faith that I will someday find the answers to the weighty questions I sometimes ask.  If nothing else, I was reminded of how fun the search can be.  And, after all, girls just wanna have fun!

What do you remember most about the eighties?  Are you still searching for the same things you were then?  I am pretty sure all I was searching for was a decent boyfriend.  In retrospect,  I think the meaning of life may just be easier to find!  

Want to watch Cyndi Lauper’s video for this iconic song. Want to read more on aging?

 

 

Connections not Coincidence

In the ninth grade, a classmate accidentally shot himself and died.  His death was 30 years ago, more than twice my age at the time so it seems odd to notice these connections to it now.

I don’t recall much, other than feeling stunned and sad.  But I do remember leaving the funeral and seeing my Spanish teacher across the street with this pained looked of sympathy acknowledging the enormity of his loss was inexplicable, even to grown-ups. I sensed how bad she hurt for me, for all of us young people who had such little experience with death and tragedy.  The one who always had the answers had no more than her students.

Death is the great equalizer.

I haven’t thought of him in years until a friend acknowledged his birthday on Facebook.  But this isn’t about tragedy or death, but the way we are connected, albeit in ways that can easily be passed off as coincidence.

I recently returned from a trip and told my mom about deceased loved ones I lit candles for in different churches.  I lamented that there were others who I’ve known who died that I wish I lit candles for too.  She suggested that I light one candle for all those who passed.

Then she mentioned how this would include the boy from ninth grade who had died from the gunshot wound.  It had been three decades since we spoke of him.  It seemed like such odd timing: my mom thinking of him the same day I prayed for him at weekday mass and only two days after his birthday, without having any knowledge of either.  This convergence of recollection seemed like one of those God things. It had been 30 years and for all this to surface in a period of three days seemed supernatural.

I hesitated to write about it because it sounds either trivial or mystical.  We live in a world where we want to believe only what we see, hear, touch, and has been validated by science or a positive review on Amazon.  We brush off connections as coincidences and miss opportunities to acknowledge glimpses of God, which aren’t constrained by time or logic.

A fellow classmate honoring the birthday of a deceased friend, reminding others of a joyful life and a tragic death, inspiring prayers said by someone who remembers more the face of mercy in a teacher than the details of the funeral, and a mother who has known many of her children’s peers pass away acknowledging just this particular one, reminds me of our connection to each another that is undoubtedly threaded by God’s hand.

I suppose it sounds crazy to think these connections mean something and if you are open enough to think that they could the question easily becomes what do they mean?  But I don’t have any more answers than my Spanish teacher did on that sad day.  It’s by acknowledging the connection that I feel joy, more aware how those we mourn live on, and the very real ways that God connects all of us through him.

Too often, I am unaware.  I look at the concrete, the to-dos, and the should-have done, and I miss the many ways God shows his presence in the physical world.

I was lucky to be reminded of that presence by someone who has long since stopped having a tangible existence himself.  Yet he lives on in ways that can seem as elusive as the flicker of a candle, but nonetheless burn bright.

In memory of Michael Field. 

You may also want to read a post I wrote about another connection here.

Do you notice “coincidences” in life?  Those things that make you pause or send a tingle up your spine.  They always remind me how we are connected to one another through God and they always make me feel more hopeful about all that I cannot see and understand.  What do you make of them? 

 

Ash Wednesday and Opposites Attract

a couple in love I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year.   It has a certain yin and yang to it.  The commercial hawking of one compared to the saving grace of the other, proving once again that opposites attract.

The black ash symbolizing death countered with the puffy red heart celebrating love adds an element of realism.  And when you have a holiday as syrupy as Valentine’s Day, a-la doilies, hyped up expectations, and besotted poetry, that darkness is rather refreshing.

I know I sound terribly unromantic, but I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with those trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead.   (My poor husband is probably not feeling too wooed right now.)

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting.  It marks a season that is purposefully non-celebratory, while Valentine’s Day is about bubbly champagne, decadent desserts, and red roses.

I like the juxtaposition of it.  But there is also a commonality that exists between the two.  At the core of each is love and there is no greater example of that than God sacrificing his only son for our salvation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV).

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of God’s mercy, which has the power to take away the stain of our sins.  Our hearts, blackened by the wounds of the world, grudges, indifference, neglect, and injustice can be wiped clean.  We are called to seek mercy during the Lenten season.  It is this mercy that allows for everything:  forgiveness, second chances, redemption, and the glory of new life.  The days leading up to the victory of the cross are a sacred time to examine ourselves, our relationship with God, and our neighbor.

That might seem dull next to shiny, red, heart-shaped balloons bobbing and boasting like a frog bellowing for a princess’s kiss. Yet it’s anything but.  Everyone knows helium balloons eventually sink, chocolates are consumed, and flowers die.  But what God promises is eternal and real.  It has the power to heal the dark wounded places we hide from the world.  It forgives our failings and delights in our efforts to know, love, and serve him.   It carries us in our loneliness, desperation, and grief.  It doesn’t inflict pain like the thorny rose of the world but offers the bloom of eternal life.

Anyone who has moved past infatuation knows that love is messy.  It’s trying again, like Jesus when he fell carrying his cross.  It’s forgiving like Jesus did before he drew his last breath. It’s beautiful and redemptive like Jesus rising from the dead.

It’s fitting then that Valentine’s Day falls on as significant a day as Ash Wednesday.

It’s the perfect preface to the greatest love story ever told.

While obviously, Ash Wednesday takes precedence of Valentine’s day, love and Lent aren’t mutually exclusive ♥ what are you doing to honor both today? Please comment! Want more related to Lent http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/ and http://mercymatters.net/2014/03/05/shine-this-lenten-season/

XO 

Stillness — the action of finding God

Be Still. God knows I heard this often as a child.  I remember one time my mom promising me a new doll if I would just sit still for ten minutes.  When you are a kid, ten minutes is an impossibility, a lifetime, a duration that exists in fairytales along with “happily ever after.”

Stillness remains a challenge for me.  By far, the hardest part of writing is getting myself to sit down.  I reheat my coffee, let the dog out, tell the cats they are pretty, stuff my face with white cheddar popcorn, nibble chocolate, check email, Facebook, scoop kitty litter, and reheat curdled coffee again.  Then, I sit, twitch, and fidget for a bit before I succumb to the stillness that begets words. It’s like an exorcism.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I am part of a group of women at my church who will be hosting a retreat this month, and we chose this as our theme.  It’s not a message we hear often, and it is certainly counter to what society encourages. Stillness is a renegade concept, a weapon that destroys the inauthentic notions of life.  I associate it more with someone like Yoda in a galaxy far, far away than I do anyone on our planet.

Our world teaches us our value is tied to busyness.  Go faster, be efficient, do more, be more, make more, and have more.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t be still.  Don’t stop and smell the roses.  Get them in the ground and check it off your list. Or better yet, pay someone to do it.  Your time is too valuable.  You need to be producing.

The message is clear, if you are still, the world will pass you by.  You will be considered slovenly.   You will miss out.  You will fail to measure up. You might as well be a concrete statue for pigeons to stoop (and poop) on.

When we believe these messages, eventually our motion spins out of control.  We lose touch with who we are called to be, the things we enjoy, and who matters most. We get lost and dizzy from all our spinning.  And tired.  So many of us are tired.

Last year for Lent, I challenged myself to spend ten minutes a day in stillness with God.  I was terrified.  I didn’t want to commit to such an endeavor and not honor it.  Usually, the things we need most are the hardest to do, the least appealing, and met by the most resistance.  But I decided to be brave and embrace the stillness that always eluded me.

And you know what?  I didn’t turn green like Yoda or get soiled by pigeons.  I didn’t even feel like demons were being dispelled from my body like I do when I sit to write.  I didn’t miss a single day of my commitment.

Contrary to what we may think about motion, the real action begins with stillness.  I was more calm, aware of myself, closer to God, and felt a genuine sense of peace.  It was so much more of an intentional way to pray.  I even read scripture before I started my timer so I felt more deliberate about my conversation with God.

I continued my habit for a while after Lent and then slowly traded the stillness for the unregulated motion that’s so much easier to fall into.  Like a child, I resist.  But I know that stillness waits for me, wants for me, and will embrace me anytime I am willing to surrender to its calm.

And the reward for stillness is far greater than a new toy.  It is a chance to sit with the knowing that is God.

Want more to help you on your Lenten journey read this.  

Prayer and a Prostitute Ministry

I was reminded of the power of prayer by some of the people who need it the most.  I often travel on a portion of highway littered with seedy motels, drug dealers, and prostitutes.  It’s been that way as long as I can remember. My oldest son knows it as the road where we have the drug talk, again.

It’s easy to witness the devastation of drugs on that stretch of highway. Women of all ages, who I could easily portray with vivid and acute adjectives, I describe with only one word: hollow. They are a shell of who they are meant to be. Their eyes are large and blank. Despite their feigned hospitality, their desperation is obvious. The essence of their existence is missing, despite the sway of their bodies. Hollow.

And it feels wrong to just drive by.

But I do, just like everybody else. Well, almost everybody. A few years ago, I wrote an article for the newspaper about an organization called Grace Ministry of Helping Hands, a non-profit that helps women in the grips of drug addiction, alcoholism, and prostitution. Every two weeks volunteers minister to these women, bringing them toiletries, offering them a way out, and if they are not quite ready to leave their brokenness behind, planting an incorruptible seed that is the redemption of Christ.

I love their mission – the grittiness of it, the discipleship, the message of hope, and, more than anything, the mere acknowledgement of these outcast women. Just their willingness to see them as children of God instead of sexual objects, addicts, and throwaways is so incredibly Christ-like and beautiful.

Not far from that highway, I recently saw a woman slouched at the entrance of the post office. She was frail as if pounds were shed along with her dignity, and there wasn’t much left of either. I walked passed her and avoided eye contact. Of course, I didn’t feel like I had much dignity for my cowardly inaction. It bothered me to walk by her and do nothing just as it does to drive by those women on the highway.

It’s hard to know what to do. If I give money, it will likely be spent on drugs. I didn’t have any food to offer her, assuming it even appealed to her in her waif-like state. I couldn’t take her home with me, because my husband would have a fit, and I really wouldn’t know what to do with her when I got her there.

I kept thinking, “What can I do? What can I do?” And then I remembered, prayer. I can always pray. So I did, all the way home.

Later that evening, I got an email that Grace Ministries was helping a former prostitute and drug addict set up her new apartment. They were looking for household items. It felt like such an answer to my prayer. I donated some towels and a gift card to a grocery store. I knew it wouldn’t specifically help the lady I saw at the post office, but it would help someone in a similar situation.  I trust that God will reach that other woman, too.

It was such a gift to be reminded that there is always hope and there are more than addicts, dealers, and prostitutes that walk that stretch of highway.   There are disciples of grace, reminding us that the constancy of God’s mercy is a path available to us all. “Come, follow me” (Mathew 4:19, NRSV).

 

Have you ever felt like you wanted to help someone, but you weren’t sure how?  What do you do when you find yourself in a similar situation?  Please share your experiences in the comment section.  These issues are complicated and there is so much we can learn from each other. This is also about an answered prayer.   To read more on prayer: http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/

To learn more about the work of Grace Ministry of Helping Hands visit their website at http://graceministriesjax.org

Self-acceptance blooms

Self-acceptance blooms

I repotted a plant this week, which became a lesson in self-acceptance.  Midway through, I could tell the flower was tilting, so I pulled the whole thing out, hollowed the dirt, carefully centered it, and filled the gaps with the black magic of Miracle Gro. Since it was still leaning, I added soil to the other side hoping its weight would tilt it vertically.

When I finished, I had a pretty plant in a pretty pot lurching asymmetrically like a staggering drunk.

Despite my efforts, it was crooked. This could be a metaphor for everything in my life, but it’s not. Well, maybe it is, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about self-acceptance.

My husband replanted the flower for me, and it looks lovely, nothing like the botanical version of the leaning tower of Pisa that it did when I planted it.

I have come to accept that there are many things that I don’t do well. So much so that I often find myself saying, “That’s not my gift to the world.”

Most of the time I’m okay with my lack of gifts, but the crooked plant bothered me. I love to work in the yard, to frequent garden centers, propagate succulents, and ask my husband to move heavy pots from place to place on the patio. So it frustrates me that I couldn’t do this well. My husband doesn’t even like yard work, yet it’s nothing for him to plant a flower upright. It seems kind of unfair.

Things that always appear easy for other people often felt hard for me. This always made me feel a little defective like maybe I should have a diagnosis, or my mother should finally admit she dropped me on my head as an infant.

Still, I realize that my focus shouldn’t be on what my gifts are not, but on self-acceptance.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our deficiencies and forget all of the things that we do well. We forget that God made us for a purpose and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with what’s on Pinterest. Maybe it doesn’t even have anything to do with what we want to be good at.  He just wants us to love him and others. This doesn’t require a complicated skill set, and I don’t think it’s something we could ever do wrong.

By distracting ourselves with that we are not, we lose sight of who we are, which is always going to be beautiful to God despite our inherent imperfection. This is the mercy of his love.

The most important thing I have learned is that God loves me regardless of anything I do or don’t do. He doesn’t measure my worth by what gets crossed off my to do list or what attributes the world might value. So much energy is spent trying to prove we are enough, we are worthy, and we have value. But we don’t have to prove anything to God.

Knowing this makes it a little easier to embrace and share my gifts with the world even if there are still many days that I struggle with identifying any. My gifts may not include planting a flower upright, yet miraculously I still grow towards the light.

After all, even a crooked flower can bloom.

 

I realize I need to start thinking more about what my gifts are to the world.  At first, all I came up with was making banana bread but before I knew it had added rescuing cats, reuniting dogs with their owners, being a good friend, loving my family, a few more things that had to do with cats, teaching Children’s liturgy, writing, and dancing to “I Will Survive.”  

What are your gifts?  Please share!  Sharing is a gift!  Also, if you liked this post, you may want to check out: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-need-in-your-life-right-now/

Mass Shooting: Finding Light

Mass Shooting: Finding Light

Man on the boat

There is so much information about the mass shooting in Texas.  I read one news article about how 8 people in a single family were killed during the Texas shooting at First Baptist Church. It said that one of the child-victims had won an award at the 4-H Club the day before. It was just a small detail. The article didn’t even identify the gender of the child.

This morning I was in a particularly good mood and for some reason this made me think of that child. I thought how happy she must have been to win an award. I imagined the light it must have brought to her face despite the forthcoming darkness that would reign from a hail of bullets the very next day. I thought of her mother, who was also killed, and all the busying mothers do on Saturdays. I imagined her pride and joy in her child’s accomplishment, along with all the ordinary things she did that day.

It seemed strange to associate my happy mood with any aspect of this tragedy – even if it was an event that preceded it. But such are the times we live in when our hearts are expected to endure such unfathomable evil and unimaginable suffering when they were meant for love and mercy. It makes everything feel a little wonky and wayward.

After all, how are we supposed to reconcile this? Do we just move on in our busyness? Do we lose ourselves in sorrow? Do we harden our hearts and seek the sinister? Do we blame, criticize, and cajole to push our politics and preferences in an attempt to bring ‘good’ from this tragedy?

Likely, the response for many includes some version of the above.

I didn’t intend to write about it. There is no need to belabor this tragedy by pouring out a litany of raw emotion. Most of us share the same horror, grief, and feelings of helplessness.

Lamenting on how horrific it is, exploring the magnitude of loss and grief, mental illness and gun control, and politics and policies feels cliché. It’s not that these things don’t matter or that the time isn’t right for such discussions. But somehow, all of that feels like a distraction. It takes the humanity out of it.

Our humanity is made to love, create families, cherish children, respect life, and worship God. By all accounts, the victims of this mass shooting seemed to be embracing the best of our humanity.

That’s what I want to remember.

I don’t want to dwell on the evil that must exist to execute such devastation. I don’t think I could ever understand it. It’s an aberration of what we were created for and an abomination that calls into question the evolution of our collective humanity.

I was in a happy mood today.

I don’t say that with any irreverence to this tragedy, but because it made me think of it. It made me think of that child, her family, and how they spent their last full day on earth. They died a dark, undeserved death but they lived the light of humanity reminding us of simple Saturdays, sacred Sundays, and legacies of love that outlive the notoriety of a mass shooting and the hype of such horrors.

For all of us trying to live the best of our creation, that light shines on. Certainly, that makes me happy.

If you are willing to share how you intend to let your light shine as a legacy to those who died while representing the best of our humanity, please comment below.  We could all use a little extra happiness right now.  

If you need a little hope, this might help: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/19/heaven-is-for-re…-is-for-miracles/

To read more on the family killed: https://www.today.com/news/3-generations-holcombe-family-killed-texas-church-shooting-t118500