The Value of Life: An Unexpected Blessing in the Middle of the Storm

*This post first appeared at Our Sunday Visitor: https://www.osvnews.com/2020/04/20/the-value-of-life-an-unexpected-blessing-in-the-middle-of-the-storm/

As a Floridian, I’m used to the rush and rumble of hurricane season.  Being quarantined feels like a similar drill: gathering supplies, overconsumption of snacks, board games, and boredom.  There is also the obsession with news updates, the what-ifs that cyclone through conversation, fear of the unknown, and the prayers that calm the storm of anxieties within.

The main difference between hunkering down for a hurricane and huddling in our homes for a quarantine is that the hurricane only lasts a few days.  The storm passes and the focus shifts from preparation to recovery.  Being stuck in the purgatory of this virus, not knowing when or if life will return to normal; being isolated from family and friends; having the promise of cherished events broken; the loss of income and freedom, all while the looming fear of losing life centers itself as the eye of the storm, has cataclysmically and almost instantaneously redefined life.

As I have feebly tried to wrap my head around all of it — the world-wide scope, and the dire implications of noncompliance, I am in absolute awe of the measures that have been taken to protect lives.  Could it be that we actually value life after all? For so long, nations have chosen warped notions of freedom by legislating the killing of the unborn; they have confused justice with life-taking judgment through the use of the death penalty; and they have chosen money over the mercies of caring for the poor, neglected, and suffering.  The heroic efforts that are in place to protect and save lives are unprecedented.  The recognition of the value of life is a welcome gift amidst this suffering and sacrifice. It’s a chance to not only redefine life in terms of our routines but to re-root ourselves in the purpose of life by resurrecting God’s command to love our neighbor that for too long has been buried under the debris of sin, selfishness, and self-reliance. Read more

Smiling Hearts, Frozen Iguanas, and Viral Monkeys

Reality can be absurd.

During an unusual cold snap in South Florida, there were news stories cautioning people to watch out for frozen iguanas falling from trees.  Days later those stories were replaced by articles about people selling iguana meat – to eat.  I live in North Florida so when the temperature dipped, I only had to worry about covering my plants and wearing closed-toe shoes.  Still, I followed the stories about the non-native iguanas and the people who eat them.

More recently, I have been reading about sightings of non-native wild monkeys in the area and other parts of the state. Apparently, some of these monkeys are infected with a deadly strain of Herpes B.  These herpes positive primates have been known to attack when their territory feels threatened.  So, now not only do Floridians have to worry about being bonked in the head by a comatose iguana, or whether it’s actually chicken in our Brunswick stew or reptile meat, we also have to worry about diseased monkeys charging us.

And people think life here is just sandy beaches and lulling surf.

I often contemplate the absurdity of life. There is so much truth that reads like fiction.  So many realities that seem fantastical.  One of the biggest of which is that there exists a God who so madly loves us that he died for us.  Of all the ways he could have mesmerized, awed, and astonished us to show his love, he chose death.  I can’t say that would have been my pick.  On the surface, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that he willingly gave his life out of love for us.  When you contemplate the suffering that preceded his death, it feels as absurd as free-falling iguanas. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).  Much to the hindrance of my relationship with God, I have struggled with the reality of this truth.  How could he possibly know me so completely and still love me unconditionally?  How could he identify all my weaknesses and still want me?  How could he acknowledge all my failings and forgive me?   And my favorite wondering of all, how could he allow me to suffer when in a breath he could remove the entirety of the world’s suffering?

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Thanksgiving: It’s all Downhill

When I reminisce about Thanksgiving, I don’t think about food.  If I am being honest, I don’t even think about being grateful.  What I recall is the excitement of being out of school, the quiet wonder of gazing out the car window at the rows of pines that lined the highway as we traveled to my Granny’s house, and the creak of her screen door as it flew open and I rushed inside her modest two-bedroom home straight into her warm and wrinkly arms.

I don’t think about the turkey.

Instead, I remember running to the park with my brother and sister and our two cousins.  With a coveted cardboard box, we perched at the top of a giant hill that spilled onto an oval track. Squeezing together so we could all fit, we flew down the hill on our makeshift sled.  We slid easily on the dead grass beneath.  The nippy air rushed our faces.  My heart raced with a giddy mix of joy and exhilaration.  Then, having reached the bottom, we sprinted back up the steep hill to do it again with the same joyful tenacity as a Golden Retriever fetching a ball.  We were tireless despite our pounding hearts, icy hands, and the tattered box that eventually disintegrated into pieces.  I felt free.

I don’t think about sitting around a crowded table or how the brown gravy spilled onto my green peas.

Instead, I remember curling up next to my Granny and reading from her stack of magazines.  I remember the gentle roll of her belly with each inhale and exhale.  I folded into her quiet breath and wasn’t distracted by the din of the television or the mundanity of adult conversation. I felt safe. Read more

College Applications and Love Redeemed

It’s the Fall of my son’s senior year in high school.  The seeds we planted in the blind enthusiasm of grade school, protected from the ambivalence of middle school, and fertilized with a hearty mix of encouragement and extracurriculars through the high school years have culminated into a small crop of college applications, deadlines, and gut-wrenching decisions.  Our mailbox is jammed with colorful college brochures, inviting postcards, and glossy magazines that clearly explain the absurd-cost of college.  For months, we’ve binged on the propaganda.  We’ve made our list.  We’ve pared down our list.  We’ve reevaluated and we’ve changed it – sometimes all in one day.  At times, motivations and decisions seemed logical, and, just as often, the experience has felt more like a diagnosis of insanity than a direction to begin anew.

It’s been exciting, exhausting, and frustrating.  There have been hard talks and heartfelt moments of hope.  It has brought us closer in ways that feel like a cherished parting gift which right now we have the joy of opening, but will ultimately close this chapter in our lives.  Undoubtedly, the best chapter I could hope to write.  It is not lost on me that all our efforts, not just to send him off to college, but to prepare him for adulthood, inevitably mean a parting of ways.  Every act that brings him closer to his goals is taking me farther from the child I want to hold onto.  Yet I know I can’t keep him.  He needs to go and I need to let go.  It makes me think a lot about what love means.   So often, love is more of a surrender than a holding on.  Love is another’s heart that we don’t get to keep no matter how much it has imprinted our own.  It’s helping someone meet their goals knowing that getting them there will cost a piece of you.  It’s explicably worth the sacrifice, the heartache, and the cavernous emptiness that makes you wonder if your heart is imploding.  Love is the illogical dying on the cross for unworthy sinners that Jesus endured.   It’s letting go of what you want to give someone else a chance at what they want.  It’s beautiful and boundless.  Despite breaking us into a million pieces, it inevitably makes us more whole.

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Ash Wednesday and Opposites Attract

a couple in love I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year.   It has a certain yin and yang to it.  The commercial hawking of one compared to the saving grace of the other, proving once again that opposites attract.

The black ash symbolizing death countered with the puffy red heart celebrating love adds an element of realism.  And when you have a holiday as syrupy as Valentine’s Day, a-la doilies, hyped up expectations, and besotted poetry, that darkness is rather refreshing.

I know I sound terribly unromantic, but I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with those trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead.   (My poor husband is probably not feeling too wooed right now.)

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting.  It marks a season that is purposefully non-celebratory, while Valentine’s Day is about bubbly champagne, decadent desserts, and red roses.

I like the juxtaposition of it.  But there is also a commonality that exists between the two.  At the core of each is love and there is no greater example of that than God sacrificing his only son for our salvation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV).

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of God’s mercy, which has the power to take away the stain of our sins.  Our hearts, blackened by the wounds of the world, grudges, indifference, neglect, and injustice can be wiped clean.  We are called to seek mercy during the Lenten season.  It is this mercy that allows for everything:  forgiveness, second chances, redemption, and the glory of new life.  The days leading up to the victory of the cross are a sacred time to examine ourselves, our relationship with God, and our neighbor.

That might seem dull next to shiny, red, heart-shaped balloons bobbing and boasting like a frog bellowing for a princess’s kiss. Yet it’s anything but.  Everyone knows helium balloons eventually sink, chocolates are consumed, and flowers die.  But what God promises is eternal and real.  It has the power to heal the dark wounded places we hide from the world.  It forgives our failings and delights in our efforts to know, love, and serve him.   It carries us in our loneliness, desperation, and grief.  It doesn’t inflict pain like the thorny rose of the world but offers the bloom of eternal life.

Anyone who has moved past infatuation knows that love is messy.  It’s trying again, like Jesus when he fell carrying his cross.  It’s forgiving like Jesus did before he drew his last breath. It’s beautiful and redemptive like Jesus rising from the dead.

It’s fitting then that Valentine’s Day falls on as significant a day as Ash Wednesday.

It’s the perfect preface to the greatest love story ever told.

While obviously, Ash Wednesday takes precedence of Valentine’s day, love and Lent aren’t mutually exclusive ♥ what are you doing to honor both today? Please comment! Want more related to Lent http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/ and http://mercymatters.net/2014/03/05/shine-this-lenten-season/

XO