In my early twenties, I came across a poem in a gift shop in Savannah, Georgia. I bought the book and decided that I wanted to live the way the 85-year-old author would if she could live her life over.
These are her words:
If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.
Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.
If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.
– Nadine Stair
As young as I was, I understood the wisdom in her words. I recognized my own tendency to carry a parachute in my purse “just in case.” I knew I worried too much about the future and too little about making the most of the present. I didn’t eat enough ice cream and I was terrified of making mistakes.
The fanciful imagery of her words reminds me of giddy laughter, fireflies, and long, lazy naps with the cat. Over the years, I thought of how those images juxtaposed against the harder realities of life – loneliness, loss, and suffering so painful that we can’t imagine anything as hopeful as a daisy. What Ms. Stair wrote was a reminder to make beautiful moments right now regardless of our circumstances.
I ran into a tree –with my face. When I mentioned this to my mother, she assumed it was with my car and I spent some time pondering whether that indicated she gave me too much credit or not enough.
I was walking down the sidewalk looking left because even though I’ve been told my entire life to watch where I am going, it seems as if all the interesting things are either to the left or right. To my left, a woman clothed in pajamas was begging a tow truck driver to remove the boot from her car. I was immersed in their interaction when the tree attacked me. The assault wasn’t like the one in the Poltergeist movie where the tree wrapped people in its python-like branches. It was a knock in the face so hard that my earring popped out and I had to sit on the sidewalk for a minute and say bad words while trying not to cry. Not sure which kind of tree attack is worse.
I have small cuts on my jaw and ear that can easily be covered with makeup and hair. It annoys me that they look so minor when hours later I can still feel the throb from the jarring hit. It seems like I should have an imprint of bark on my face or a dangling ear, but sadly, I look relatively normal. It made me think about the wounds we carry and how the ones that hurt the most are often unseen. This pulsating pain walks with us no matter which direction we are headed. Few know the extent of our injuries and sometimes we too ignore the ache of our wounds. We try to be tough. We try to move on. We think the heart heals as intuitively as our bodies do from injury or sickness. We assume healing will just happen without acknowledgment or effort the way bruises fade from darkness into nothingness. Yet our hearts were not made for darkness and nothingness. They were made for love and the consequences of that ability to stretch and surmount and pour out and let in — is a vulnerability to being hurt. Jesus knew this. He loved unequivocally and it motivated his willingness to suffer for us so that we could also know great love.
When my children were young, as routine as saying my nightly prayers before bedtime, I would recount all the mistakes I had made with them that day. Some failings felt so significant that I would measure them in how many extra years of therapy they would require. While most people worry about saving for retirement, I worried about saving for my children’s counseling copays when they were grown and their mama-messed-me-up issues would manifest like a scary clown face popping out of a Jack-in-the-Box.
Motherhood was hard and it seemed like the harder I tried, the more aware I became of the spaghetti sauce dripping from the kitchen ceiling. (Truthfully that scarlet drip would have been there regardless of my children because whenever I am in the kitchen catastrophic events occur.)
Now, a mother of teenage boys, I look back on those years and the litany of suffering I subjected myself to and I realize how little I knew God. I couldn’t show myself any mercy because I had yet to know his. God was this perfect being who couldn’t possibly understand the trials of being an imperfect parent. He had never wrestled anyone with an arched back into a car seat or saw the need to abandon the baby’s stroller in the parking lot after realizing it was more likely that he would collapse from frustration than the too-complicated-to-fold buggy. Of course, Jesus did wrestle demons and I am sure collapsing was a possibility when he endured 40 days without food or water in the desert. Still, in those early days of motherhood, I relied more on parenting books than our perfect father. Read more →
All of the hoopla of a new year — a new decade can feel overwhelming like the throngs of crowds who enthusiastically greet it in celebration when the clock strikes midnight. This year I slept right through it. Partly because it makes more sense to start anew with a proper night’s sleep and mostly because I am just not that into the hype of a new year. I’m not interested in goal-setting or resolutions or crushing it (whatever “it” may be.) It’s not because I’m complacent or lack ambition or betterment. It’s just that for me, resolutions never seem to be the way to affect genuine life change.
By nature, I was always a rules person. I played by the rules. I made countless rules. I was disciplined (and neurotic) enough to think the criteria I set for my life was paramount to achieving success or at least to maintaining order.
Not in the span of a day or even a year, but in incremental shifts and small seemingly insignificant moments, I realized that however well-intentioned my resolutions were, they were feeding a mindset of unworthiness. Instead, I began to consider the threshold of unconditional love that is the basis of Christianity. I tried to wrap my head around the enormous truth of being loved right where we are and I started to question the motivations that ruled me. I came to know mercy in a meaningful way. I didn’t use it as a crutch to allow myself to do whatever I pleased. It wasn’t an invitation to complacency. It was motivation to stop putting emphasis on the worldly and pay more attention to the worthwhile. It was permission to let go of the perfect and find grace in imperfection. It was possibilities made endless through the merits of forgiveness, the boundless pursuit of compassion, and the insurmountable power of love.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 →
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 →