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.
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 →
I have a secret file that I keep on my computer. I know that makes me sound a bit like a CIA operative working on top secret missions. (I cannot confirm or deny this). Admittedly, I have a pretty good cover. A married mother of two who writes about Jesus, hangs out with cats, and moonlights for the government while wearing yoga pants and a sweatshirt. You can’t make this stuff up. Or, can you?
Anyway, back to reality. I have this file that I keep on my computer labeled “encouragement.” I know you thought it was going to say “delusions of a Christian writer,” but it doesn’t. It simply reads encouragement. If you were to open it, you would find emails I saved from people who took the time to tell me how my writing touched them. I am not sure what compelled me to start it. (Maybe because I was consumed with self-doubt, terrified that the vulnerabilities I shared would humiliate myself and my family, and perhaps, worse of all, that I was leaving a paper trail of evidence supporting an extended stay in a mental health facility. You know, just your small, everyday concerns). When I would get an email of appreciation or encouragement, it made me feel less alone, braver, and best of all, that I was making a difference. I cherish them. Each kindness feels like a gift from God, encouragement made holy through the sacred gift of love in which it was made. Deleting them felt akin to throwing a fresh bouquet of flowers in the trash. I couldn’t do it. So, I started my secret file, a hoarder of happy words. Read more →
I just celebrated another birthday. Besides wilting skin, the imaginary birthday girl tiara on my head, and the presents I intend to buy myself, I think of the song Birthday by the Beatles on my 365th day of orbit around the sun. Anthony Michael Hall sings it to Molly Ringwald in the film, Sixteen Candles.“They say it’s your birthday, well it’s my birthday too, yeah!”
Whether it’s your birthday too, or just another day when age sixteen feels really far away, there are a lot of lessons birthdays teach.
This is what I learned from mine:
Birthday lists are important: Every year my husband pesters me to tell him what I want for my birthday, and every year I can’t think of one single thing to get. Yet, there are many things I want. I just talk myself out of them because I don’t want to clean puppy pee off the floor. Birthdays give us a chance to consider what we want. For many of us, that feels uncomfortable. Still, it’s important to know what you want in life, because it’s short, and precious, and as far as we know, we only get one shot at it. What do you want?
Gifts are great: Who doesn’t like opening presents?! It’s so fun to size up the box, give it a little shake, and then rip the pretty paper off that is suffocating the thoughtful gift inside. I haven’t always thought of my life as a gift. I have taken it for granted, given away too many days to sour thoughts and staid reflections. But, birthdays remind me to give gratitude to the ultimate gift-giver. I always try to offer thanksgiving to God, but on my birthday, I am especially humbled by his goodness. I see the gift of each day: the sorrows, joys, trials, and the spaces in between. All of it, a gift. All of it inspires me to try to be a gift to others. Read more →
The work of mercy that most embodies parenting is to instruct the uninformed. Only it took me a while to figure out that maybe it was me, the mama, who needed the most instruction.
From the earliest days of motherhood, when I frantically thumbed through pages of parenting books in the dark of the night in a desperate attempt to find a way to coax my son to sleep, I felt more clueless than confident.
No matter how many books I read, I could never get my son on a nursing schedule, sleep schedule, or a mama-really-needs-a-shower schedule. I had friends who were more successful with following the instructions, and, of course, I resented their efficiency and ease.
I like the month of June because I finally have time to think about new year’s resolutions. I can’t deal with them at the end of December when I am recovering from the Christmas frenzy. The months that follow feel like I am running just ahead of falling dominos. But now that summer is officially here, my year sprawls out in front of me like a beach towel on the sand. (Okay, half a beach towel.)
I am feeling so optimistic, I bought a new calendar. It was no easy feat, since apparently most stores quit selling them by the time Cupid starts shooting arrows through month-old resolutions to get its candy on the shelves.
I am trying to be a list person. Typically, my lists get left behind on the kitchen counter, or if they are more goal-oriented, require me to breathe into a paper bag. Instead, I am a do-one-hard-thing-a-day-and-act-peppy-about-it kind of girl. Read more →
I keep seeing ads for Mother’s Day with petal pink letters in frilly font and slight women wearing flowing flowering frocks. It’s like advertisers think mothers dress in doilies, cover their heads in bonnets with perfectly tied grosgrain ribbon, and smile demurely all day wearing pink champagne tinted lip gloss.
I guess I should be glad they think that. Maybe they don’t notice that my flowing hair is tied back in a rubber band because I haven’t washed it, the dew on my skin isn’t from sprinkles of rose water but the sheen of oil on my face that I didn’t have time to powder, and my tinted lips are from biting them in an effort to avoid saying something regrettable. Read more →
**This is a repost from five years ago. I have once again started a gratitude journal and am really hoping that it is something I can sustain long after all the turkey’s been eaten. I hope you will try it too!
It’s been decades since I have been in grammar school, so when I think of Thanksgiving and the gratitude it’s designed to evoke, pilgrims or Indians don’t generally come to mind. I think of whose bringing what, where am I supposed to go, when will I get my Christmas shopping done and why, oh why, do men watch so much football.
Back in 1621, there were no parades, no Black Friday circulars, and no grocery stores to buy the bounty. There were just groups of people from different cultures celebrating thanks. Read more →
Guess who has a birthday coming up?! No! Not Beyonce! Well, okay she does, but I am not talking about her or any other celebrity born in September — Pippa Middleton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Keanu Reeves or Harry Connick Jr.
Mercy me! I am talking about my own birthday!
As it turns out, I am not going to be 40 forever. Who knew? Read more →