Whale of a Summer: the Good Life

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

On Purpose: what’s yours?

Most of us overcomplicate things.  I like to think I am better at this than most people but I know it is not nice to brag.  It’s one thing to overthink where you want to go for dinner (I have heard some people do this).  It becomes ever more complicated when we fixate on something as weighty as life’s purpose.

By middle age, if not as early as middle school, we realize life doesn’t always go as planned.  Yet we live in a world where the plan is all important – we have books about it, calendars, and self-imposed criteria for how it’s all going to go down like we are detectives Sonny and Rico on the 1980s television series Miami Vice.  If we just plan life with enough precision, our boat won’t crash, drug traffickers will meet their demise, and life will be as sunny as a sweat-less day at the beach wearing pastel T-shirts and a white suit.  That’s the script we are asked to write from ourselves from as early as preschool when a sing-song voice inquires about what we want to be when we grow up.  As if it’s merely a matter of picking what color space ship we want to fly during our mission to Mars.

I don’t mean to sound cynical because it can be fun to make plans, motivating to set a course, and rewarding to achieve goals, but you know what they say – “life is what happens when you are busy making plans.”  A friend of mine, who could be anyone really because to some degree I think all of us have gone through this – is questioning her life’s purpose.  Again, I don’t mean to brag but I have excelled in exploring the same question.  “What am I doing with my life?”  “What color is my parachute?”  “What is God’s plan for me?”  “Seriously, God, is that the plan?” I could go on because like I already said, I am really good at over-complicating things.  My friend puts it more succinctly and asks: “what are they going to write on my tombstone, ‘a good friend to all?’”   While that is better than “she was hit by a bus,” I certainly appreciate her perspective. Read more

Easter: the Rising

Sometimes I feel like a tiny bird with an injured leg from an encounter with the claws of a crazed cat.  I know how lucky I am to be here and how much worse things could be; yet, still, I carry a limp from my wounds that sometimes keeps me tethered to the ground.  (I might start telling people that when they ask me how I am doing.)

Life is so darn messy and most of us try terribly hard to tidy what we can.  In its constancy, it can feel like a marathon, and like the tiny bird, we merely hop along.  One of my favorite quotes is from Saint John Paul II who said: “We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”  It conveys such unparallel joy – a skyward ascent of heavenly praise.  It hardly makes me think of hopping.

Indeed, we are the Easter people and we are meant to rise.  Lent is a time to unload the burden of sin we carry.  It’s a time to shed the miscellaneous and the excess.  It is a time to reconnect to God by disconnecting from our distractions.  Sometimes the Lenten experience feels empowering like a strenuous workout or the purging of an overstuffed closet.  Other times, it just feels hard.  All the emptying, sacrificing, and sustaining from a 40-day reflection can feel too austere for a hallelujah song.  No sweet little bird chirps that indicate winter’s hibernation is over.  Just a hop, hop.  Yet Easter is coming – not just at the end of this Lenten season.  Also, at the end of our lives.  In between, in the thicket of life’s doing and undoing, we rise.  Amidst the momentary affliction of life’s messiness, we remain upright.  “Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it,” (Ezra 10:4).  Even when it’s hard or feels impossible — when there is not enough money, not enough time, not enough of your poor tired soul to go around — be strong and rise. Read more

Encouragement: the Secret Worth Sharing

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

Marie Kondo Craze and Life-Changing Joy of God

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

Beauty in Being Good Enough

I always felt unremarkable, which I think I could have been okay with if the world didn’t always send messages that made me feel as if ordinary was an outrage.  When I was a kid, the word average meant you were like everyone else.  It meant you were okay.  You were enough.  You fell into the middle and you weren’t worried about being out-twirled at baton practice or made fun of when the metal bar fell on your head.

Those were happy days.  If, somewhat unremarkable.

But at some point, and maybe it was when I started paying attention, everything changed.  Being average meant you were like the less-than sign used in math – pointing in the wrong direction, open to the mundanity of mediocracy.  A losing symbol in a world that equates greatness with worthiness.

Whatever happened to good enough?

I suppose that is why I am so fond of God. While he asks me to be good, he has always believed I am good enough.  Of course, I didn’t always know that because I was too distracted with headlines on glossy magazines, books on bettering, and tried and true tips that felt like a tongue twister of tortured suggestions. Read more

The Meaning of Life: a letter to my son

Last year, seventh-grade parents were given the assignment to write their children a letter explaining the meaning of life.  Seriously?  Why not just write the cure for cancer?  Or, solve the problem of world peace?  Or do ninth-grade algebra? The meaning of life?! 

Of course, the best teachers challenge us.   As it turns out, the question is worth answering.  I am sharing my letter because at times I need to be reminded of its message.  Maybe you do too.  

Dear Alex,

I have been asked to write you a letter explaining the meaning of life.  But seeing that only moments ago I spilled hot coffee down the front of my shirt, I am not sure I feel qualified to answer such a poignant question.

When we are children, we see the world in solid colors.  There are no shades or variations of pigments.  We learn basic colors early and life seems pretty simple.   As we grow older, things get more complicated.  There is no longer just the color blue but countless shades of it.

We have a lot more choices, but the right ones aren’t always clear.  A spectrum of possibilities exists as to what one’s life may mean.  That’s the beauty of life and the mystery for you to uncover.  I can’t tell you what the answer will be for you, because I am still learning what it is for me.

In some ways, the answer seems obvious, and I am tempted to spell it out.  But I resist the urge to give you a one-word solution, to pick one color from the few that existed when we were younger, to oversimplify, give away the secret, the magic formula, the profundity of life’s meaning, because of that word itself, love.  Love would be the easy answer.  God’s love, family love, married love, love of others, merciful love, eternal love, and unconditional love will be the answer many times over if you live life well.

I could do this, and I wouldn’t be wrong.  After all, love is as true as the color red. But it would be too simplistic, and life is many things, yet I have never known it to be simple. Read more

Birthday Lessons for Everyday Life

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

5 Ways to Live Like it’s Summer All Year Long

In grade school, at the beginning of the school year, students are often asked to write about their summer vacation.  However, as the sun begins to set on the season, I am contemplating how to live like its summer all year long.

After all, some of the most important lessons in life are learned in the summer, away from the routine and rigor that may be necessary, but is nothing like a day at the beach.

Here are my top five ways to live like its summer – no writing required:

Be a tourist:  You don’t have to wear a camera around your neck to capture the best of life.  You just need the perspective of a curious tourist excited to learn, explore, discover, and indulge.  Be open to new experiences, people, points of view, and cultures.  There’s a whole world out there, so be willing to get outside of yours and pursue new opportunities, meet new people, and share new adventures. Read more

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

I love the summer.  I stay up too late.  Sleep in too late.  I eat too much watermelon and wear too little makeup.

We are in the thick of the season, or at least the Florida heat is as thick and greasy as the layers of sunscreen I diligently apply so I don’t look like the watermelon I so love to eat.  Everyone is hither and yon, in the mountains, at the lake, in camps, and on vacations to places near and far.  Other than a few conversations about summer reading, the dreaded school word is kept outside with the pesky mosquitos.

After the July 4th holiday, I start to get a little panicky about summer’s inevitable passing and think of that soap opera, Days of Our Lives, that was popular when smut television was still a noveltyBefore an episode of affairs, amnesia, and bizarre afflictions, a prophetic voice would announce, “Like sand in the hourglass, THESE are the days of our lives.”

Whoa. Kind of makes you want to get your act together, doesn’t it?

Actually, it doesn’t.  It makes me want to pack up my act like a circus performer who has been on the road too long.  It makes me want to enjoy my days.  It makes me want to quit planning, forecasting, and fretting.  It makes me want to step back from my pursuits and spend more time with my people.  It makes me want to let go of all that I can be and just be.  Be enough.  Be loved.  Be unencumbered.

I know mercy doesn’t go with summertime the way a salted margarita does, but if there is ever a season to practice compassion toward oneself, it’s now.  Generally, we all have a little more time, a little less stress, and a little more flexibility within our routines.  So, use it.  Use every single grain in your hourglass this summer.  Use it to reflect, rest, and renew.  Use it to notice the abundant instead of the overwhelming. Use it like a firefly to emit light in places that have been dark for too long.

Follow the cues of the season and stretch long like a summer day.  Let go of the wave of day to day stress and float on whatever calm you can create.  Let the balm of mercy protect you from rays of negativity that do nothing but burn us out.

Life is generally hard, and right now, it is certainly hot.  Mercy is like a cold glass of lemonade just waiting for you to take a sip and be refreshed.  It’s sweet and tart and, while yummy any time of the year, it seems especially so in the summer months when we have a little more time to savor the flavor.

It also goes great with Ella Fitzgerald’s iconic song, Summertime, which lyrics remind us:

One of these mornings you’re gonna rise up singing

And you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take to the sky

It’s a much gentler reminder of life’s brevity than the foreboding voice that warns of sand slipping through the hourglass.  But either way, THESE are the days our lives, and at least for right now, if we choose mercy, it’s Summertime and the livin’ is easy.

Make it a day you’ll never regret.

I am going to take a few weeks off from posting to enjoy the summertime with my family and to practice a little of the mercy I so love to preach.  I hope you find a way to do something to embrace what’s left of the season and to also practice some self-care.  What do you plan to do with the grains of sand left in your hourglass this summer?

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