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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Sharing Sorrow

A classmate of my 4-year old nephew kept crying at preschool, so my nephew put his arm around him and asked what was wrong.  Through tears, the boy told him he missed his mom.  My nephew responded, “We all miss our moms, but we have to be here anyway.”  With that, the little boy wiped his face, walked up to the teacher and gave her his tissue.

(I know it would have been a cleaner story if the boy just put the tissue in the trash instead of getting the teacher all germy. But I just write the truth however unsanitary it may be. )

The teacher had already tried to comfort the boy, but it was my nephew’s ability to identify with what the child was feeling that finally helped him move on.  I think how much this relates to all of us regardless of our age or how we dispose of snotty tissues.

It’s a comfort to know we are not alone.  So often, in our sadness, loneliness, and lowliness, we feel like the only ones.  Instead of reaching out, we go further inward.  Our suffering becomes isolating and that makes us feel worse.

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Freedom to Serve

When I was a child, I considered freedom to be something grown-ups enjoyed.  They can eat what they want, stay up as late as they want, watch what they want, buy what they want, and do what they want.

Little did I know.

As a teenager, freedom meant breaking rules, rebellion, and choosing for myself.  As a young adult, it meant not being tied down, buying something I couldn’t afford, and a readiness to explore my place in the world.  As a new mother, freedom meant I had three hours when my children were in preschool to go to the grocery store, exercise, pursue an interest, shower, or do dishes.

Those remain the quickest three hours of my life.

Now I think about freedom not as what I can get away with, spend, or get done, but who I am meant to be.  What was I created for?  What’s constraining me from that?

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A Horse, Of Course

I have never been a horse person.  In grade school, some of the other girls had pictures of the shiny brown mammoths on the cover of their Trapper Keepers, the eighties in-vogue binders with the velcro flap.  The horses had perfectly straight hair and were frolicking in a pastoral scene of rolling green hills.  I suppose it was designed to inspire students to organize their notes, which much like the attraction to horses, was a concept lost on me.

But all that changed with Ruby, a horse I came to know through a friend.

She and her family move every couple of years because of her husband’s career.  She handles the challenges with such remarkable grace that it would be easy to assume that it’s as simple as getting back up on that proverbial horse after an unanticipated fall.

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Parenting: Instructing Mama

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.

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Mothers: Strong as they are soft

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