Practicing What I Preach

Sometimes I look at my life, and I don’t know whether hypocrisy or irony is screaming louder.  I write about mercy,  because I believe whole-heartedly in its power to change lives and, in a broader sense, the world.  That is not hyperbole.  It is a truth that exists regardless of whether we acknowledge or believe it.

Despite my enthusiasm, doing works of mercy sometimes feels like a struggle.  You would think in my zeal, I would embrace them with a “Woo-hoo! Here’s another opportunity for me to serve!”  But often my “woo-hoo” sounds more like, “woe is me.”

Frequently the service we are called to do is organic, and, like the produce in the grocery store, organic always costs more.  It has always felt easier to serve when I plan for it, choose the capacity, and have had a shower.  When someone else’s misfortune interrupts my plans or to-do list, it can be frustrating.

Recently, I took my mom to the doctor, because she was sick.  I tried to be peppy about it despite my manic Monday mentality.  My mom was pleasant and chatty on the way to her appointment, and, instead of gratitude for her attitude, I begrudged it for being better than mine.  After all, I was the healthy one.  Why wasn’t I bubbly and bright?  Maybe she should have been driving me around! Read more

Below the Surface: Going Deep for God

I was in an existential funk questioning my purpose, God’s plan for me, and the universality of suffering.  Someone suggested as a solution that  I should be more shallow.  While I understood the spirit of love in which it was made, it was a funny thing to hear.

Besides, I’ve tried.  I’ve wrapped my self in the superficial that society hawks.  But when my closet starts to cram contents together, I am more interested in streamlining than another sale.

I am always telling my boys when they ask to buy something (that they already own four of) that it’s not going to fill them. I tell them God is the only one who can do that.  Of course, this does little to discourage their desires.  Still, I hope the message eventually settles in.

There’s nothing wrong with having nice things, enjoying a good sale, or a great pair of shoes, but the joy it brings is superficial, unsustainable, and nothing like the satisfaction we get from a relationship with God.  Thinking about the work of mercy to clothe the naked, it seems almost archaic considering the number of clothes we all own.  I recently visited several thrift stores for an outfit for an upcoming 80s fundraiser, and I was struck by the volume of clothes in these warehouse-size buildings.  It was astounding.  And while I understand that there are many areas in which this work of mercy still applies, such as a woman fleeing an abusive relationship, families who lose everything in natural disasters, poor families who can’t afford to replace their children’s outgrown clothes, and the homeless who lack proper shoes or jackets, I can’t help but think of clothing the naked on a deeper level. 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?

Miss last week’s post?

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.

Read more

Rest in Peace

I want to be on fire for God, but sometimes I feel more like the worn edges of two sticks that were furiously rubbed together but never produced a spark.

We aren’t even halfway through the year, and I have been to four funerals in almost as many months. I have tried to find light from each of the lives I mourned, to formulate a takeaway, some kind of life lesson that will make sense of all this sorrow. I did okay at first, feeling a heightened gratitude for my own life and the people in it.

The gift of death is that it edges life, delineating what matters most. Because of the sorrow, we see clearer, act more deliberately, and love more purposely. All the unimportant things that sent us into a frenzy are momentarily deemed inconsequential. The stark contrast between life and death gives us a clearer perspective and realigns priorities. Read more

Homelessness: a Foggy Issue

While eating breakfast in a quaint French café in San Francisco with all the clichés of lace curtains, marble top tables, and chocolate croissants, I watched a homeless woman rummage through the trash outside.  She had plastic bags stuffed in the holes in her shoes, and she didn’t appear much older than me.

I grabbed my son’s half-eaten breakfast sandwich off his plate wrapped it in a napkin and ran outside.  The homeless woman was walking briskly down the sidewalk, and I had to run to catch up.  The travel books never mention what to do when you encounter homeless people in other cities, but it’s probably poor manners to chase them. Read more

Grace: the hour I first believed

Laura is pictured on the far left with some of her sisters from Saint Gianna Circle who supported her during her illness and were graced by her friendship.

Writers are told to write what you know.  I started writing about mercy for the exact opposite reason.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I didn’t understand it.  It was a word with a heavy veneer covering the solid wood underneath.  While I almost never heard the word outside of a church, I could see the need for giving and receiving it everywhere.  It’s as ancient as the air we breathe and as transparent.  It’s easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it and life is suffocating without it.

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Tell me what you want what you really, really want

My son drew this picture of Jesus of the Eucharist when he was 11-year old.  It hangs in my hallway.

I have a new computer and noticed at the top center is an icon of a little light bulb that reads, “Tell me what you want to do.”  Maybe it’s because I had a perpetually messy room as a child and watched too many episodes of “I Dream of Jeannie,” but I’ve been looking for a light bulb like that my entire life.

Haven’t we all?  How much simpler life would be if we could just get what we want, what we think we need, what we know will finally fill that persistent ache of our humanity.  When I look at my life, the things I wished for as a child, the vows of certainty I made as a teenager, the ambitious plans I made as a young adult, and the middle-age accumulation of decades of yearnings, efforts, achievements, and disappointments, I wonder why I long for anything.  It hasn’t been a ‘your wish is my command’ experience, but it has been magical, even if that magic felt black at times. Read more

Spring Christmas

A friend of mine confessed on a recent girls’ night that her Christmas tree was still up.  It was past mid-March. New Year’s resolutions had already been forgotten, Cupid already shot his arrow, leprechauns already spent their pots of gold, and cumulus clouds were already forming April showers in the skies, so I didn’t really know what to say.

She seemed relatively nonchalant about it, and I told her I didn’t know whether she had become fully liberated or if she had simply gone over the edge.   There seems to be a fine line between those things. Read more