Fair Well 2020

This year has been like a creepy stroll through a fun-house at the county fair– a maze of bewildering, distorted experiences where the walls narrow and bend while the floor beneath shifts in chaotic uncertainty and the exit seems to snake so far into the future that the tipsy-turvy wobble of reality starts to feel normal.

If I could find a way out, I would hide among the livestock and let puffs of pink sugar dissolve on my tongue while pondering the slanted profile of a goat.  Hiding for the rest of 2020 is tempting.  It’s been a hard year with way more steep drops and hard climbs than the ricketiest roller coaster.  I’m not a fan of roller coasters so I’m over it all. I’m ready to say farewell to 2020 — blow a goodbye kiss to it through my masked face and wait for next year.

But if I have learned anything, it is to be grateful for each day that I am given.  I used to think this kind of gratitude meant that I would be in a persistently good mood, that I would never be annoyed at the people in my life, and that I would be completely satisfied regardless of my circumstances.  It would be the pinnacle of my spiritual evolution with some ceremonial demarcation comprised of wrapping my head in a turban and singing Kumbaya to my cats.  And as much as I probably should wrap my head in a turban until I can see my hairdresser again, gratitude looks nothing like that. Read more

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

Project Gratitude: Lenten Reflection

Hi all, 

There have been moments during this Lenten season when I felt as if a list of 40 Things I Can’t Find at the Grocery Store would have made more sense than journaling 40 Days of Gratitude.  The world has changed drastically in ways that seem more like dystopian fiction than reality.  The days of the week melt into one long collective moment of waiting.  While the Lenten season encourages a pause, few of us have ever experienced such a drastic lifestyle change based on showing love for our neighbor by isolating ourselves from them. From “the last shall be first” to “It is in giving that we receive,” this new social norm reads like so many of the paradoxes that we find in scripture — the greatest being that through death we may have eternal life.

A lot of life doesn’t make sense.  Perhaps it was never meant to. Like Jesus dying on the cross for the will of God, for the salvation of humanity, and out of merciful love for you and for me — maybe there is something greater to all of this — for all of us.  More than ever, this Lenten season has taught me how to be okay with uncertainty.  I may know less about life than I thought I did 40 days ago, but now I have more clarity about what it is I really need to know — all of which begins on the cross.  There are a great many things to be thankful for this Easter, but what could be more important than that?

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 36: I am thankful for words.  They have the power to take us to far-away places and to ground us in the here and now.  Words can console and affirm. In this time of social distancing, they connect us and remind us that the most important word, love, cannot be quarantined nor can it die.  Love endures.

“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (1 Corinthians 13:7).

 

LENT DAY 37: I am thankful for being a mother.  Motherhood teaches us to endure beyond what we think is possible, wise, or just.  It stretches us to the edge of sleeplessness, worry, and flat out aggravation.  It rearranges priorities and for a good while household furnishings too.

But, my heavens does it teach us love! I can think of no better example of Christ’s love than the love we pour out for our children.  A love that is both sacrificial and joyful.  A love that is both boundless and bound for all time.  A love that is forgiving and yet requires no apologies.  A love with no conditions, no caveats, and no end.

It is the love that comes from God because it is the life that comes from God.  What an incredible blessing.  What an incredible God.

LENT DAY 38: I am thankful for everyday heroes.  They battle over evils of apathy, ignorance, and selfishness by doing simple acts of kindness.  They know that serving others isn’t just for warriors or royalty or storybook rescuers. True heroism is a simple willingness to love, serve, and not count the costs.  It doesn’t require a cape or a mask.  Just a big heart.

 

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Project Gratitude: Week (who even knows anymore)

Hi all,

What I have appreciated most this past week is how simple life has become.  Family dinners are lasting longer than seven minutes and teenage boys are speaking in complete sentences.  I don’t bother anymore with makeup or real clothes.  Hair washing is optional.  Other than walking the dog, shoes are obsolete. I like to pretend that I am one of the Ingalls girls from Little House on the Prairie or one of the March girls from Little Women because life is no longer about accumulation or accomplishment but just the simplicity of being and being together.  I know I don’t have the corsets or the bonnets like they did but I did make soup out of a ham bone.  I feel like that has to count for something.

While I hate the tentative and devastating circumstances of this quarantine, I love the way I have seen the community show up for one another; the way the undeterred faithful huddle in front of their televisions to participate in the mass or to listen to the holy and profound words of Pope Francis; and the way my typically sleepy neighborhood is filled with children’s laughter, family walks, and driveways with pastel chalk mosaics.  Somehow life’s excess has been stripped away, and in its absence, I find that I have been left with so much more.  For this, I am profoundly grateful.

Here is what else I am thankful for: 

LENT DAY 29:  I am thankful for little things.  Cupping the warmth of my morning coffee; the velvet rush of the taste of chocolate; laughing with a stranger in the checkout line, and the warmth of the sun that reminds me to look up.  Little things bring big gratitude.

 

 

 

LENT DAY 30: I am thankful for good Samaritans.

My neighbor saw a man with cerebral palsy riding his wheelchair in the middle of a busy four-lane road and then onto an interstate on-ramp.  Fearing he was going to kill himself or someone else by causing an accident, my neighbor, along with some other motorists, used their cars to slow traffic and create a barrier around the man who appeared to be in despair.  Some of the Sisters from the Home of the Mother at Assumption Catholic Church came to the aid as well.

The story of the good Samaritan isn’t just in the Bible.  It’s the story of ordinary everyday people answering the call to comfort, serve, and love their neighbor.  It’s a story the world needs us to write wherever we are and however we can.

LENT DAY 31: I am thankful for healthcare workers.  Enduring long hours of the impossible, honoring the dignity of each patient, offering assurance, compassion, and calm, they are the heroes of our time.  Every day they manage to do what can’t be done. They are warriors for life and we pray that your lives will be forever blessed because of that.  Truly, we thank you.

 

 

LENT DAY 32: I am thankful for the Saints.  “Every Saint has a past and every sinner has a future,” Oscar Wilde.  Saints remind us of who we can be if we choose to act with the best parts of ourselves.  Their lives weren’t easy.  Their choices were hard. They experienced humiliation, hatred, and sometimes horrible deaths.  Yet, the commonality between them was their paramount love for God and the eternal life that is their reward.

How I want to be in that number when the Saints go marching in.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 33: I am thankful for the Holy Spirit.   The Holy Spirit is the fiery one of the trinity, the wild card that throws down courage, ignites fires, and takes us out of complacency into action in our communities.  I wouldn’t be posting right now if it were not for him.  Every day he makes this girl who was always scared of everything brave enough to write her truth.  We are told not to play with fire yet when I think of him, I can’t help but be drawn to the flame.  May you celebrate what burns bright in you and let your light shine.

LENT DAY 34: I am thankful for marriage.  Despite the inevitable melting and morphing of time, the constancy of having someone at my side during all of the iterations of life’s journey has been the greatest gift.  In the ordinary and in the extraordinary; the bad and the just bearable — marriage is cemented in the sacred sacrament of God’s love.  A holy and joyful adventure in unity.

 

 

LENT DAY 35: I am thankful for friendship.  Friends are a lot like shadows – they stretch ahead when our path is too hard, stand beside us when we are scared, and remain behind us when we fall.  They dance with us in happy times and remind us there is light in the darkness.

I love the shadows in my life who distance cannot divide, who safeguard my secrets, who believe in me more than I am capable of believing in myself, who know when to give me space and when to stay close.  The shadows of friendships edge the brightest parts of life, the ones that matter most– where laughter erupts, hurts heal, and acceptance is unconditional.

Yes, mercy matters and no one does mercy better than those we call friends.

 

What are you thankful for today?

Project Gratitude: Week Four

Hi all,

I would like to tell you that we have been well here in the Q (that’s what I’m calling the quarantine because it makes me feel like I am at a trendy restaurant instead of at home in dirty pajamas with a bunch of sickies).  In the past two weeks, all four of us have had to visit the doctor, three out of four of us have had fevers and are on antibiotics, and one out of four us had an emergency root canal and an oozing-infected eye.  Our house sounds like a cacophony of coughing, nose-blowing, whining (me), and an occasional wince (dying tooth).  All this while worries about the coronavirus lurk in the crevices of my head that aren’t already filled with infected sinuses.  In addition, we have implemented a new homeschool regimen, a work from home office, and an innovative exercise regimen of video games, backyard pacing akin to caged zoo animals; and playing keep away from the pollen that won’t keep away.

Still, there have been bright spots — praying the rosary as a family; the intimacy of Sunday mass at home; a birthday boy to celebrate; and time sitting outside just being.  I appreciate the simplicity of this life in the Q, the perspective it illuminates about what really matters, and the extra time it’s given me to be with my family — as germy as they may be.  For all of it, I am thankful.

Here’s what else I am thankful for:

LENT DAY 22:  I am thankful for teachers.  Most of us who are just days into our unplanned homeschooling gig, are feeling homesick for the nurturing, committed professionals we entrust our children to daily.

To the teachers:

What can I say?  Thank you seems too trite, like a mere nod to your efforts when you clearly are worthy of an embrace.  At the same time, that’s awkward isn’t it — to have all of us mamas hugging on you?  Besides, it violates social distancing guidelines.

What can I do?  Nothing I could buy could compensate you for the way you have stepped up, poured out, and gone above in your efforts to educate your students. (I know I should try anyway.)

How can I show you how much you have made a difference?  From teaching my children to love reading to showing them how we love others, you have shaped them.  From ordinary moments, you uncovered interests, carved out strengths, and careened them away from wayward paths by your own beautiful examples of Christ’s love.

When would I be able to tell you how much you staying after school to host clubs and sports and extracurriculars has given my children confidence, tenacity, and cherished memories with their friends?

Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Likewise, I can never tell you where my gratitude ends.  It’s kind of like the last 10 minutes of class after a long day.  It just goes on and on.

LENT DAY 23:  I am thankful for my home.  I feel like I’m on house arrest with this quarantine and being confined to this space makes me realize how grateful I am to have it.  It’s a respite from life’s tilt-a-whirl spin — the place I feel most like myself.   It is freedom from all the world’s want. Content in the stillness of pleasures as simple as the cat folding its doughy body into a warm circle on my lap, I know peace.

Home shelters the love of my family; it shelters my heart.

 

LENT DAY 24: I am thankful for play.  I am thankful for big boxes that invite me inside – for spontaneity and silliness.  I am grateful for moments where everything isn’t serious or dire or urgent — when self-consciousness isn’t more important than self.

Play nice.  But make sure you play.

 

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 25:  I am thankful for nature.  This is where words fail me because what God creates in nature is so organically stunning that my words feel plastic in comparison.  So I will silence my words and listen to the ants march, leaves rustle, breeze whistle, birds chirp, and blooms whisper.   And I will be awed by the glory of God.

 

 

LENT DAY 26:  I am thankful for technology.  Most days, I would rather complain about how it pings at me; how it makes my already fragmented mind feel like it has 100 more tabs open; how it brainwashes my children; and challenges my own self-worth.  But today, huddled around the television with my family watching Bishop Estevez celebrate mass I realized how much good technology makes possible too.

I am grateful that in this time of social distancing, technology connects us.  It reminds us that we aren’t alone. It gives us a platform to reach out to others, to offer encouragement, and to share our faith.

Let’s show Covid-19, how we Christians do viral by using technology to spread love to our neighbor.

LENT DAY 27:  I am thankful for birthdays.  Life is a gift.  Birthdays remind us to celebrate.  It doesn’t matter how many candles are on the cake, or if no one can find the matches to light the candles.  It doesn’t even matter if there is a cake.  Ice cream is more important anyways.  What matters is that we recognize that every life should be celebrated and every day is a chance to be a gift to someone else.

(Happy 15th birthday to my joy, Alex. He didn’t get a train-shaped cake or the learner’s permit he so badly wanted today, but he has a mama that loves him more than anyone on this earth. I would like to think that makes up for all of it!)

LENT DAY 28: I am thankful for joy. It is of God – a glimpse of what awaits. Unlike happiness, it isn’t fleeting.  We experience it in the people we love, the memories we cherish, and in our relationship with Christ.

Joy to the World isn’t just a song we sing during Christmas.  It’s a call to love that we answer as Christians.

 

What are you thankful for today?

Project Gratitude: Week 3

Hi all,

Not sure about you, but I feel like I am living in the upside-down.  Don’t know what that is?  My point exactly.

No one could have known of the additional burdens we would carry this Lenten season.  The hardships of homeschooling, working from home, self-quarantining, toilet paper hoarding, and compulsive hand-sanitizing.  There’s too much news.  Not enough news.  Too much togetherness.  Not enough togetherness.  It would be easy to list grievances instead of gratitude.  Still, in all the viral mess that has come from this pandemic, I am reminded of the many things that I have to be grateful for.  I hope you are too.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY 15:  I am thankful for journalism.  Truthtellers.  Investigators.  Facts.  No bias and no bull.  It doesn’t always happen, but it is a great service when it does.  When we are better informed, we make better decisions; we make better citizens and communities.    Preserving the integrity of truth is paramount to a civilized society.

 

 

LENT DAY 16: I am thankful for hard conversations. Having an honest and uncomfortable conversation allows us to have healthier and more enjoyable relationships. Our feelings matter. Smushing down anger, hurt, and disappointment is like trying to deflate a balloon by sitting on it. It pops before it flattens. By letting go of our burdens, we are free to rise.

 

 

LENT DAY 17: I am thankful for food.  I hate being hungry.  Those who are around me hate when I am hungry too.  Still, I sometimes forget to be grateful for the abundance of food I have access too; the way it brings me together with people I love; and how it nourishes me so that I may live fully.

Now, if only I didn’t have to cook it!

 

LENT DAY 18: I am thankful for faith.  Schools, public events, and virtually life as we know it are under quarantine.  What a comfort it is to have faith that God will protect us, that his will for us is good, and that regardless of life’s uncertainty, we can turn to him during difficult times. Have faith that humankind will do all they can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by spreading acts of love instead.

In other words, share your toilet paper. Read more

Project Gratitude: Week 2

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY EIGHT: I am thankful for impromptu kindness.

This article is such a stunning example of impromptu ways that we good humans show love.  The more simple an act of love is — the more beautiful it seems to be.

LENT DAY NINE: I am thankful for life’s twists and turns.  It’s never easy to deal with the unexpected, the unwanted, or what feels like the unbearable.

It’s hard to walk in faith when we can’t see the next step.  But sometimes the twisty parts of life have a miraculous way of turning into something beautiful.

Trust the twist to bring you something better.

 

 

LENT DAY TEN: I am thankful for small businesses that give back to the community.

No glossy public relations material, no recognition in the newspapers, no oversized checks or inflated sincerity – small, community-minded businesses remember their roots.  They are vested in and genuinely care about the people they serve.  Often giving in-kind, from their own products or resources, or by donating their services, they remind us that we belong to one another.

It isn’t about how much they have to give but their willingness to share when they can.  It’s not corporate responsibility, it’s just caring.

Picture of Raymond Solomon of Solomon Ventures, whose generosity to different people and organizations — particularly Catholic Charities Jacksonville Camp I Am Special, has been such a gift to this community.

LENT DAY ELEVEN: I am thankful for a heathy body.  In my early thirties, a good friend of mine had terminal brain cancer.  She was a young mother whose whole life should have been ahead of her.  But it wasn’t.

At the time I was an avid runner.  I ran for her because she couldn’t.   I didn’t always love it.  Some runs were hard, hot, and endlessly long.  Still, I remembered what a gift these hard runs were – it meant I could feel the thump of my heart, the strength of my legs, and that my breath was ever precious.

It reminded me that I am alive and healthy and not everyone gets that.  It gave me pause to stop running and just be grateful.

LENT DAY TWELVE: I am thankful for Bishop Estevez.  During a newspaper interview in the quiet of an empty basilica, we talked about Jesus, immigration, and the role of the church and the individual.  Everything he said was worth quoting.  More so, it was worth living.

I could have sat there forever in the presence of the holiness he exuded.  He made me realize how badly I want to sit with Jesus someday, how much peace there would be then, and how the words we say are nothing compared to the conversation of hearts joined in God’s love.

LENT DAY THIRTEEN: I am thankful for mentors.  People who have nothing to gain that are willing to help someone who can never repay it are remarkable examples of Jesus’s selflessness.  Endless good comes from those who share their time and knowledge.  One of the most impactful ways to change the world is to give someone the tools necessary to do it.

 

LENT DAY FOURTEEN: I am thankful for transformation.  A dead tree becomes a work of art.    Hurt enables compassion.  Defeat is a catalyst for determination.  Sinners repent and become Saints.  Faith sows the bloom of a divine eternity.  Possibilities are endless and no one is without hope.

 

What are you thankful for today?

 

 

 

 

Lenten Project: Gratitude

I saw a post about giving up social media for Lent.  Of course, I get the spirit of this because I am on it too much myself — as a voyeur, not a participant.  The truth is I don’t like to post because it makes me feel squirmy and vulnerable and more like a middle-schooler than a middle-ager.   So, giving up social media would be easy for me.  It would be welcome.  It would have kept me comfortable.

Since Lent isn’t about being comfortable, I had this crazy thought.  Instead of giving up social media for Lent, maybe I should embrace it.  Maybe I should lean into it.  Be uncomfortable.  Get over it.  While contemplating whether that is self-sabotage or a good plan, I received a text from a Jewish friend who told me about a Catholic who plans to send thank you notes to different people for 40 days, and how that makes more sense to him than giving up cookies.

Of course, it makes more sense and is a beautiful gesture.  The world always needs more gratitude.  I have a dear friend who always says, “What if the only prayer we ever said was thank you.  Maybe it would be enough.”  (A variation of a quote attributed to the German philosopher, Meister Eckhart).

As part of my Lenten experience, I am posting on social media every day something or someone that I am thankful for.  Because I know everyone is not on social media and because I don’t have time to write for both formats during the Lenten season, my weekly posts will be the week’s compilation of gratitude.  I hope it inspires your own.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” 

~ Meister Eckhart

LENT DAY ONE:  I am thankful for the inspiration I receive from others in my life.  I am grateful for the way that God works in all of us, how he binds and connects us and how the good that is done in the world spreads beyond what we ever see.

LENT DAY TWO:  I am thankful for the chance to serve.  For a few weeks I have driven around with homeless care packets in my car made by a church circle I am a member of.  While I have seen people in need, I was never able to stop to hand out a packet – until yesterday.

It was cold and rainy and as I was passing a historic shopping area notorious for no parking, I saw an empty space and just beyond it– a homeless woman.  It wasn’t my intended destination but it was where I was supposed to be.  I pulled into the spot, got the bag out of my trunk and handed the pack of toiletries and snacks to the grateful women.  Being able to give on such a gloomy day, filled me with a light that shines regardless of the weather. Read more

Mercy at the Bus Stop

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.

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Out of the Ash: American Heroes

I remember exactly where I was when a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It was a profoundly sad day. It changed lives and an entire nation. I will never forget the unthinkable, unimaginable horror as I huddled around the television watching the ash of innocence unite a country in anguished grief. As the morning went on, the plane crashes went from one to four, each one an almost unrecoverable blow of terror, multiplying devastation into exponential heartache.

A new commitment to patriotism rose like a phoenix out of ashes on that pivotal day. We were less naïve and more united. A surge of civilians stepped out of their air-conditioned offices and into the desert heat to join our military. They traded the comforts of civilian life for the trials of war to ensure freedom.

I don’t doubt the urgency of the call to serve that those newly converted soldiers felt. I was almost eight months pregnant with my first child on 9/11. Things that mattered to me before that day—the décor of the nursery, the name I would choose, decisions about going to work afterward, and finding a pediatrician—were suddenly inconsequential. Somehow, life as we knew it was in jeopardy. My body was full of the promise of life, and the sky was falling. Read more