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

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).

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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.

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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