Mercy at the Bus Stop

I was doing my teenage Uber driving duties and thinking about the advice that encourages parents to talk to children in the car.  After all, they are a captive audience, don’t have to make eye contact (because God forbid, we have any of that), and both parent and child are physically restrained –that might not have been among the reasons listed but it does seem worth noting.  We were on the return portion of our journey into silence and I was lamenting the misery of it when I looked out the car window and saw a man sitting on a bus stop talking to himself.  Our eyes met and for a moment he silenced.

He was smoking a cigarette in the mid-day Florida heat.  I checked the temperature on my dash and it read 98 degrees.  I considered my relative comfort in the air-conditioned car and the ice cream in my freezer I planned to eat when I arrived home as a consolation from both the heat and the unwelcome hush of angst that tormented my drive.  I recalled the smoking man in the intolerable heat, sitting in solace, speaking to himself.  I thought of that moment our eyes met, and how for the first time that day I felt seen.  It mattered not to me what I was seen as or how I might have looked or what he might have thought of me. The moment reminded me of the universality of God’s mercy at a time when I felt somewhat desperate for connection.  I don’t know what he saw when he looked at me, but through him, I saw a reminder that suffering is not the only thing that is universal, God’s mercy is too.

While I consider my circumstances are likely better than his – the reality was at that moment, I felt as miserable as I perceived him to be.  It’s easy to compare ourselves to others.  We have standardized what we consider justifiable levels of loneliness, pain, emptiness, and grief, and if it doesn’t fall on the spectrum of horror or woe that we heard on the latest podcast then we feel like we need to buck up and go write in our gratitude journals.  Before I understood the mercy of God, I would have thought the same thing.  There were so many times that the pain and challenges in my life became a wedge in my relationship with God because I didn’t think I had the right to seek his mercy.  I didn’t bring God what appeared to be trivial and trite by the world’s definition of suffering because it felt too small and I had been given too much.  The problem with that thinking is that it separates us from God and from the mercy that heals, comforts, and forgives the wounds in our heart.  We may not be worthy of God’s mercy or deserve it.  Regardless, it pours out of him – a gift of unfathomable consolation that we choose whether to accept.

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Sunburn and Silver Linings

The last day of vacation I woke up with a tingling feeling on my lips.  When I looked in the mirror, even through the blur of twilight I could tell they were noticeably fuller — like the fairy godmother of plastic surgery had visited in the night.  I checked different body parts to see if she had generously waved her wand in other places too.  Sadly, it was just my lips.

As lucidity set in, I realized that my pink pout was the result of a sunburn from a long day of scalloping with friends and family.  I had taken the necessary precautions to protect my skin.  I wore a sunscreen shirt, a hat, and covered my face in so much SPF that I looked like a geisha on holiday.  Although I remembered the SPF lip balm and even reapplied it along with my milky white sunscreen, it was not enough to protect me from hours of swimming and sunshine.

I cringed thinking of the resulting sun damage and started down the long twisty road of lament and regret I know so well.  Then, for the love of mercy, I had a thought that I have considered often recently.  It framed itself as a question in the highlight reel of my mind:  Why would you ever think you would get through life unscathed? 

Life is full of losses.  We lose money.  We lose jobs.  We lose time.  We lose things that are dear to us.   We lose people we love.  We lose. No one likes to lose either.  We live in a world that tells us life is all about the win.  We are encouraged to minimize cost and maximize gains.  While that makes good sense in a lot of sunny scenarios, the reality is, sunburn or not – none of us get through life without experiencing a burn.  Accepting this as part of our humanity somehow dulls the sting of it.  Perhaps, so much of our suffering is exacerbated by our resistance to it.

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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!

 

 

 

Advent, Pink, and Happy News!

I was picking up throw pillows off my living room floor last week.  (I don’t have toddlers but I have teenagers and there is a multitude of similarities). Anyway, I turned around from my pillow-pick-up and looked out the window to see a pink sky.  To my surprise, there was a rose-colored glow on everything: the grass, trees, pavers – all of it.  Pink.    It was beautiful and eerie and made me feel as if the world had stopped and Jesus had come. Not long after that, the pink had faded into gray and torrential rain followed.  Still, I kept thinking about the way the sky’s color palette changed from ordinary to awesome in what seemed like an instant.  It reminded me of our faith journey.

Sometimes in our faith walk, it feels like we travel alone. Others may know our troubles but they don’t understand every notch and groove of the crosses we carry, nor do we theirs.  As such, it is important to always practice compassion and take comfort in the mercy we are offered along the way.  Our walks look different.  Sometimes it’s the longing for a child, the reconciliation of a marriage, a better job, the healing of a loved one, unbearable grief, or addiction.  Regardless of what it looks like, it requires the perseverance of faith.

For years, I wanted to publish a book about mercy.  I wanted to write the book I needed to read but could not find.  I pursued it. I experienced painful rejections, the almost but not quite, the close doesn’t count, and the dogged doubt that told me to quit.  For some time now, that has been a part of my faith walk.  Alone, in the dark, unsure, but trying to trust, I practiced patience and surrender, and above all, mercy. I persevered.  Without mercy, I never could have kept going.  It told me that it was okay to try.  It taught me to love myself, not what others thought of me or my work.  It reminded me that something far greater than earthy desires await.  So, I trudged on, trusting that I would know when it was time to quit.  I waited, sometimes even hoped, to get that message to move on.  Yet, through Gods strength, I always managed another day.

Then, on an ordinary Wednesday, a publisher offered me a book deal.  Just like that.

The walk that for so long felt cumbersome, lonely, and uncertain was over.  The longing was no more.  The wait ended.  The sound ceased to be an echo.  The darkness receded.  I had my pink sky.  There aren’t really words to describe what this meant to me, all the countless ways that I looked back and saw how God had intricately thread the tapestry of my journey. Every stitch was intentional. Every time I held on by a thread, he held me up.  I could finally see his pattern that once seemed so haphazard.  I think of all the people he sent at just the right time to keep me going, to encourage, to embody hope, and I am overwhelmed by the goodness of it all.  Yet more than anything what strikes me is how in one instant everything can change.  We walk in faith.  We trudge along.  We believe. We doubt.  We fall down.  We get up. Sometimes it’s awful.  Sometimes it’s hopeful.  And then, in the instant of his perfect timing, one walk ends and another begins.  It’s like Christmas day on an ordinary Wednesday.

During the third week of Advent, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. While Advent is a penitential season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Christmas and the second coming of Christ, on Gaudete Sunday, we celebrate the joy of God’s redemption.  With only a week of Advent to go, we pause and rejoice all that awaits. “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance.  The Lord is at hand,” (Philippians 4:4-5).  As such, we switch from lighting purple candles on our advent wreath to lighting pink.

Pink is the color of joy.  It is the fulfillment of the promise of our faith.  Sometimes it’s the color of the sky reminding us of the miracles in nature.  Sometimes it’s the color of our cheeks when we are flush with joy.  Sometimes it’s the color we have longed to see for far too long.  The color that shows up one day as the embodiment of a dream.  Right now, it is my favorite color of all.

May it be yours too.

This is me signing the book contract! I know I should have dressed for the occasion or at least gotten out of my pajamas. But, seriously, I didn’t care what I looked like, I was too happy! I felt like Tim Tebow must have during one of his many signing ceremonies (only not as good looking, and with a needy dog on my lap, and readers in my hair, and coffee instead of champagne, and morning dishes surrounding me, and my husband as my paparazzi). Still, it was messy, wonderful, and perfectly pink.

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.

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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