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

Too Small Coffee Table; Too Little Faith

I am trying to center myself so I can do what I need to do and be who I need to be.  This never seems to have anything to do with my daily tasks that are so time-consuming.  Regardless of how centered I am, I still have to scoop kitty litter and make supper.  I have to do life.  Yet often, life feels more adrift than this anchoring I seek.

The need for centering pulls at me reminds me that my busyness isn’t my primary business. I sit with it sometimes and try to make sense of what is so urgent.  It’s uncomfortable and I have to fight the urge not to get in my car and drive to the store to look for a new coffee table.  I’ve decided my coffee table is too small for my living room and even though that involved a small measure of math, it makes sense to me.  This centering that I crave – not so much.  I know it’s God by its persistence and truth be told, it makes the distraction of the coffee table seem like a welcome muse.

Then, of course, I question why I can’t sit with this God I adore and listen to what I need to do and who I need to be.  Why do I resist?  Why do I let myself succumb to distraction?  God probably doesn’t think the six-inch difference in a coffee table is paramount to his plans for me.

So, I still myself.  It chafes this stillness that God commands.  I listen to the emptiness of this space and try to discern what is so relentlessly nagging at me.  Is God in the quietness?  The busyness?  The mundane?  The despair?  The spiral?  The spaces between it all?  “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”  (Proverbs 15:3).

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

Mardi Gras and Happy Tuesdays

I used to live in New Orleans where the celebration of Mardi Gras is as huge as one of those oversized floats wobbling down St. Charles Avenue skimming the canopy of oak trees as krewes throw plastic beads at enthusiastic revelers.  Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, is when Christians are encouraged to reflect on repentance before the solemn season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  I never had the impression that the people smushed together on Bourbon Street reflected anything other than how alcohol really, really lowers inhibitions. Still, I love a parade and feeling like Mr. T from the 1980s television series, The A-Team with 40 pounds of shine dangling from my neck.

Shrove Tuesday is like New Year’s Eve in the secular world.  You celebrate, indulge, imbibe.  The next day you wake up pop some aspirin, chug water, and begin your resolutions.  Lent isn’t as much about resolutions as it is a time to make restitution for ways we have failed God.  Maybe that sounds like a buzz kill compared to the revelry of Mardi Gras or even the zeal of New Year’s resolutions, but I love the sobriety of Ash Wednesday.  I love going to mass and seeing the community of believers line up to face mortality with the meekness of remorse and hope that is mercy.  It’s not just lining up for ashes, it’s realigning ourselves with God.  It’s committing to taking off the weight of sin, to stripping away anything that separates us from our Savior and preparing ourselves for the joy that resurrection brings.

Read more

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

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

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.