Marriage: Behind the Veil

It’s odd that we wear such fine attire on our wedding day when marriage is so messy.  It seems like it would be smarter to wear body armor or at least a sturdy raincoat to better prepare us.  Yet, the bride and groom don lace and bow ties, veils and patent leather, pearls and cuff links, willingly pledging themselves until death to the life of the other.

It’s all so genteel, it’s hard to imagine the years that follow are anything other than champagne and roses.  But champagne causes headaches, roses come with thorns, and marriage is messy.  It makes sense though because we humans are messy.  We come with pasts, preferences, and a penchant to think we are right.

Often there is no right, only two people who see things from different viewpoints. It can be ever so complicated.  I know marriages are not invincible.  I never approached the sacrament with body armor.  Like so many others, I began the journey in white lace, a full skirt, and optimism that outshined any intricate beading or sparkling tiara.

We start out thinking marriage is going to be a gentle dance like the carefully choreographed one we perform on our wedding day.  Inevitably, in marriage, there are missteps, clumsy moves, and moments when we or our partners let go instead of hold tight. Or sometimes, you just pick the wrong partner and no matter how many times you try to twist, they tango. Read more

Eternal Life and Disposable Society

My washing machine broke.  This had me spinning because it was less than three years old.  In fact, that was the problem.  The machine would fill, suds, rinse, and then, instead of spinning, it would make a few demonic sounds, stop abruptly, and flash an error signal with an incessant ping that required me to stop whatever I was doing and unplug the machine.

Of course, it wasn’t the only thing that became unplugged because I was left to deal with 50 pounds of soaking wet clothes and piles of unwashed laundry. Worse, was the feeling that I had been betrayed by this costly machine which promised to turn shmuck into shine.

Long story longer, I spent 60 bucks for a repairman to tell me that it was a computer malfunction and I should just buy a new washing machine because none of them work for more than a few years and repairs are too expensive to justify.  By this time, I was fantasizing about checking myself into a mental health facility.  I figured they could do the laundry and make my meals while I take a long nap. Then maybe if I am up to it, I would play a game of Parcheesi with another guest.

My husband suggested a simpler (although less satisfying) solution and off we went to buy another washing machine.  When I told the appliance salesperson about my trauma — figuring he was the next best thing to a trained mental health professional — he shrugged and said, “we live in a disposable society.” 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

Hearing God in a Noisy World

From the time the alarm clock pierces the softness of sleep, we are bombarded with noise.  The daily clamor comes not only from people in our lives, but the technology that pings incessantly and indiscriminately.  Add our inner barking voice, reminding us to do this, be there, and stop that, and it can feel like a cacophony of crazy.

In the racket of the babbling noise that cocoons the day in blasphemous sound, have we become deaf to the voice of God?  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) So often, we ask God for help, intercession, and mercy, but we never pause long enough in the grace of silence to let him fill the void.  It’s impossible to know his will if we can’t distinguish his voice from the commotion that commands our attention.

Jesus doesn’t strike me as a big yeller either.  He is the essence of love and love doesn’t compete in the shrill of striving.  His message is pretty succinct.  “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mathew 22:37-39).  Our ability to give and receive love is challenged by the surmounting noise that often has little to do with our souls.

Our souls crave the quiet that is God.  Often, when it comes to problem solving and big decisions, we rely on intellect.  Reasons, facts, and logic become the trinity we turn to.  The noise in our head sputters off a list of pros and cons.  We ask friends for advice.  We read books to guide us.  We troubleshoot and play out different scenarios, alternating the variables, and exposing flaws like a crime-scene detective.  Inadvertently, we create more noise for ourselves — obscuring the voice of God with the chatter of our reasoning.  The head talks, talks, and talks.  It means nothing if the heart is pulled toward something different.  Our hearts hold the voice of God.  Without quiet, we will never hear the whisper of his wisdom, the lull of his compassion, or peace of an answered prayer.

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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

Cost of a Dream

Some people believe we should do whatever it takes to make our dreams come true.

That perspective makes me tired.  Or maybe I am tired and more likely to pursue sleeping dreams than the do-whatever-it-takes kind.  While I would give anything for the people in my life, I can’t say the same for my pursuits.

I don’t lack ambition or commitment either.  If anything, I am guilty of skepticism for thinking this mentality is part of the happily-ever-after notion of dreams hawked by Hollywood movie makers.  But I am not really that cynical.  I love people who are passionate about their goals.  I admire the tenacity it takes to get to the proverbial there, to arrive, to live the dream.  I love an underdog, a comeback story, and an against-the-odds fight.

I am just not sure I want to be one.

Somewhere between the dream and the reality is the cost of pursuit.  Whether in commerce or in life, we all have a price we are willing to pay to get what we want.  Not all of us are willing to personify Rocky Balboa for the sake of our dreams no matter how much we admire a steely resolve to persevere and a cool moniker like “Italian Stallion.” Read more

The Serenity Prayer and the Ice Queen

Often, I feel like Queen Elsa in the 2013 Disney film, Frozen, with let it go repeating in my head like a scratched record or a warped mix tape warbling words of what has got to be the greatest three-word sentences in the history of ice queens.

Let it go. 

Life can feel like an avalanche of situations outside of our control.  Other than our reaction to things, we don’t get a say in much.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have much to say, only that we don’t get to decide who listens, cares, or jams earbuds in their earholes when we speak.   Despite my awareness of how much I need to let go of Every. Single. Day. I don’t want life to be merely a series of reactions to outside events.  I want to be deliberate about what I let go of and what I strive to change.

Long before Elsa retreated to the ice castle, there was American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote the Serenity Prayer.  I know he wasn’t royalty, didn’t have a 3-centimeter waist, and couldn’t turn people to ice with the flick of his wrist, but he did write a pretty good prayer. Read more

Missing spirit; Christmas found

Like many parents, I introduced the Elf on the Shelf to my family years ago.  Every year, he flew in on December first and brought treats to my boys.  Sometimes he did silly things and sometimes he was too tired to bother and would just perch himself on a nearby object trying to look peppy.  I envied him because, even in his stillness, he brought joy.  Meanwhile, spinning like a rogue top from the Island of Misfit Toys, I was doing everything possible to make each moment merry.  Yet, no one thought I was cute or clever or fun.  Still, moving the elf each night made me feel purposeful about making the season joyful.

This year, the elf is laying face down in my dresser drawer between my camisoles and fuzzy socks.

Like the tape when I sit down to wrap presents, my Christmas spirit is lost.  Besides the missing elf, I have maintained the same traditions, attended the same parties, and surrounded myself with the same fa-la-la-la-la that suddenly feels more flat than festive.  It bothers me because I know the reason for the season.  I have even been mindful about spending more time with God, doing something every day to reflect on the joy of our savior.  I figured eventually the Christmas spirit would find me.  I would even pull that abandoned elf out of my drawer and spin an elaborate story for my teenage boys, explaining how the elf had been injured in a sledding accident and could no longer fly to the North Pole every night.  As such, he became a truck driver who sleeps in highway rest stations leaving treats for weary travelers.  My kids would roll their eyes.  I would roll out the Christmas cheer, and all would be right with the world.

Yet, each day felt like the one before.   Busy, but no genuine excitement for all the bustling.

Then I realized that maybe things don’t need to feel different.  After all, we are encouraged to keep Christmas in our hearts year-round.  More than anything, what embodies that for me are the people in my life.  They are my gifts.  Despite all the minutia that fills my day, they fill me with gratitude, laughter, and hope. It’s the simple moments of mercy they offer through kind words, concern, and unconditional love that keeps the contentment of a newborn king in my heart.  Their presence is a preeminent present I unwrap on ordinary days, moments that don’t typically have the pomp of the season that shines.  Yet they light my way with a steady glow that glimmers with the love of a baby born with a singular purpose, to save.

The Christmas spirit isn’t going to be found under the tree or from my semi-truck driving elf.   It is going to be where it has always been, in the light and love of my neighbor.  May you realize the power of your own light, because when the glittery garland is put away the world will still need your shine.

Share this with someone whose life is a gift to you and know what an incredible gift it is to me to share this journey with you.  Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

Walking the race

I was walking back to school on a Kindergarten field trip when I realized that my classmates were ahead of me.  Panicked, I whirled my head around so fast that strands of dandelion colored hair lashed my face.  My fears were confirmed.  I was the last of my peers, only the chaperones were lulling behind.  I darted forward to catch up but somehow tumbled over myself landing face first on the sidewalk.

I remember the sting on my hands and knees from the fall.  The scabs on my face lasted for weeks before they faded into a bad memory.   More than anything, I remember that feeling of being left behind.

In some ways, I still feel like that five-year-old girl, always trailing the pack, never on pace.   Too often I feel like my life is not my own.  I am pulled here and there by needs greater than my own ambitions.  And I get frustrated.  I wonder when it will be my turn.  I think tomorrow will be different and the anomalies of today will pass and the plans I make can prosper.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord.  “Plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future,” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV.)

I am glad God knows his plans for me but sometimes I think maybe he should clue me into them.  After all, I am having a lot of interruptions in my plans and so maybe I am on the wrong plan.  Maybe I could finally get ahead if I knew where he was leading.  I would follow, God.  I promise I would.  It would be easier though if you could give me some direction, some yellow brick road so I can get out of this traffic jam to nowhere. 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