Vanity: I Look Like a Basset Hound

Lately, when I catch a glimpse of my face it appears to be melting like candle wax or colorful taffy in the hot Florida sun.  It evokes the hollow horror of Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream.” Since I haven’t taken any LSD, I figure this droop must be part of aging.  I spoke with my doctor about the way my origami shaped eyelids are folding in on themselves, and she said that she thinks I could qualify for the medically-necessary surgery to put them back in their proper place so my vision isn’t impaired.  I didn’t know whether to feel validated by her comment or virtually hopeless.

Earlier that day I was speaking with a friend who is teaching a class on the Book of Ecclesiastes and he mentioned its humanistic view of vanity which goes beyond society’s obsession with appearances.  The only thing I knew offhand about the chapter is the passage that begins “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

It reads like beautiful poetry, a cadence of simplicity making sense of a senseless world: “a time to be born and time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,” (Ecclesiastes 3: 2-3).    A time to be young and cute with body parts in their proper spot and a time to have your eyelids tied up with thread so you can see every new crevice of decay.  Somehow that line must have been edited out.  I suppose for the sake of brevity, not lack of validity. Read more

Battling Between Balance and Busyness

When my son was seven years old, he was trying to balance.  One minute he was excitedly saying, “Look, mom, I found the spot!”  Moments later, mid-wobble, he said, “Oh, wait.  I lost the spot.”  Of course, it was losing it I related too.

Somewhere in the zig-zag of daily life is the sweet spot where we teeter in balance between work and rest, fun and fulfilling, and, social and silence.  It seems sometimes like we live in a world of extremes.  We have tiny houses and McMansions, hoarders and minimalists, and fast food and the slow-food movement.   There is polarization in almost every category of modern life. Perhaps it is our obsession with busyness, where this extreme has become most evident.  Busyness has become a badge that says my career is at a crescendo, my family is an extracurricular expert, and my personal life is a page-turner.  But are we really living a harlequin-romance novel amidst kids and career, or are we huffing and puffing from here to there, texting our spouses our agendas and their assignments, as we scurry our kids to their next activity?

The other day I was rushing my son to an orthodontist appointment when I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the car window I was squeezed between.  To my dismay, I was only wearing one hoop earring.  I looked like a rogue pirate without the talking parrot companion.  Instead, I had a teenage boy who doesn’t speak as my counterpart.  He only repeats “okay,” “I know,” and “fine,” as a series of responses.  “Polly wants a cracker,” has become, “Mamas going to go crackers if she doesn’t hear a complete sentence soon!”  (But that’s another conversation for another bottle of wine, as a good of friend of mine likes to say.) Read more

Fear, Fullness, and Underwear

I never understood the advice on public speaking about imagining your audience in their underwear.  Maybe it’s because I don’t multitask well but I can’t imagine talking about God’s mercy while also trying to focus on an array of undergarments. Besides, it’s just creepy. While the intent may be to make the speaker more comfortable, I can’t think of anything more uncomfortable than a room full of people wearing only bras and briefs.

I considered the absurdity of that advice while trying to identify what would make me most nervous about public speaking.  I figured if I addressed any unease, I would be better prepared. I wasn’t overly concerned about a word stumble and since I fell on my face in Kindergarten, I figured I had gotten that out of the way.  What I realized made me the most nervous was that I would hurry through, wish the moment away, and just get it done. The worst thing that could happen would be that I would miss my own talk by not embracing every moment with my fully clothed audience.  It is a gift to speak about mercy.  I wanted to be present. I wanted to experience the joy of it.

It made me realize how often in life I have shrunk from the fullness that God created.   I have held back.  Blended in.  Been too careful.  Too many times, I have listened to fear over the only one who can deliver me from it.  “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,” (Psalm 18:2).  I’ve always had a relationship with fear.  Maybe on some level, I thought if I kept it close, it would keep me safe.  But fear doesn’t keep us safe, it keeps us small.  It keeps us living in the shadows when God has called us into his light.  By trading fear for trust in God we can live in the freedom of his truth.  “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety,” (Psalm 4:8).  With God, we don’t need to be afraid.  He is strong enough to carry us through our suffering and merciful enough to heal our hurts.  Having a relationship with him doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen.  It doesn’t mean that we won’t fall on our face or some creepy person won’t picture us in our underwear.  It just means that with him, through him, fear is a farce of the devil’s making.  We don’t need strategies and sayings to make us courageous.  We simply need to trust that God has us in the right place to carry out his plan in our lives.

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You’ve Come a Long Way Baby

Virginia Slims cigarettes used to have an empowering ad campaign directed at women, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”  If we ladies had come a little farther they would have left off “baby,” but it was the seventies and that’s as far as we had come: an anorexic cigarette, marketed specifically to our gender, empowering us to “bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.”  (That was another ad campaign for Enjoli perfume).

Personally, my idea of “coming a long way” has nothing to do with being someone’s baby or frying bacon.  Our world perpetually bombards us with messages meant to define the standards by which we measure our worth, success, value, and attractiveness.  These cultural norms permeate everything from what we put in our coffee to what we ink on our bodies.  A renaissance woman’s body would be considered chubby by today’s trends, just as the waifs of the eighties are considered a wisp of the athletically acceptable body type of today’s ideal woman.

And where is the God in any of it?

Would he measure how far we have come by what we smoke?  Or how we smell? By how we look in a pair of lululemon leggings? Or how capable we are of having a successful career while we fry bacon for our families?

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Fishing: Moments to Catch

Summer feels thick right now – the heat, the ebb and flow of vacationers, and the realization that its end is looming like the swarm of mosquitos that emerge at dusk.  I am kind of in a funk about it.  Thinking there are only a few short weeks of summer left, I feel panic rise like the scorching mid-day heat.  For three straight weeks, my family will be scattered in different places.  The final weeks of summer stained with talk of orientation, school schedules, and college applications.  Family time is back to being carved out like the mocking triangle eyes and jagged mouth of a pumpkin. I might as well get the Halloween decorations down from the attic.

When my husband asked me to go on the boat with him one weekday evening, I reluctantly agreed.  I figured it would remind me that summer is still here, in the now.  He likes to fish and I like to read.  Off we went, him with his poles, and me with reading glasses, a stack of old newspapers, a half-read magazine, and book. (I figured if we were stranded the reading material would be a good diversion.)  Within fifteen minutes, he caught three speckled trout.  Each time, I put my newspaper down and took a picture of him with his scaly trophy.  After comparing all three pictures I couldn’t tell a difference – same man, same fish.

 

 

 

 

 

The third fish he caught was the largest.  He kept the other two so I was surprised when he threw this last one back.  He said we had enough and then immediately cast his line again.  Baffled, I didn’t understand why he bothered casting when he didn’t intend to keep any more fish.  Putting down my paper, I looked up at the ease of the summer sky which was oblivious to my end-of-summer angst.  I thought that maybe my husband is onto something.  Maybe life isn’t about what we keep but moments that we catch — or even better moments that catch our breath. Read more

Death’s Bloom: Legacy of Love

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” seems like such a dark way to portray death.  Anyone who has ever lost a beloved knows that death is both cruelly final and endlessly enduring.  The love, influence, and lessons the deceased impart doesn’t stop with their heartbeat.

Sprouting from the death of winter into the hope of spring is the fragile bloom of memories that remain in our hearts.  It’s a beautiful gift that dulls the thorny sting of loss.

Recently, I attended the rosary of a friend who lost her mother.  Comforting the sorrowful and burying the dead are important works of mercy.  When my stepfather passed away, I remember well the people who attended the funeral or who stopped by with a meal.  It was such a comfort to have our loss acknowledged.  It reminds us that even though we lost a loved one, we had not lost love.  It envelops us in our cocoon of grief promising life’s joy will reemerge like a butterfly.  That’s a beautiful thing to be reminded of when you are grieving. 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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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

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire: Deciphering truth

In a reporting class, I took in college, if a student’s article had any factual errors, the instructor automatically took 50 points off their grade.  It didn’t matter how insignificant the mistake was it resulted in an inevitable failure on the assignment.  Fact checking was more important than your lead, punctuation, or your inverted pyramid.  The paramount significance of accuracy in news reporting was underscored.

While the search for truth was drilled into me, when I examine the stories of my own mind, I question why they contain so many inaccuracies.  If I were to grade myself most days, I would be in negative numbers for the stories I create about how others feel, the significance of an encounter, and the value of my contributions in various circumstances.

Too often the truth of who I am gets clouded by feelings.  For most of my life, I considered my feelings and the feelings of others to be more important than anything else.  It’s easy to believe that there’s nothing wrong with this way of thinking, even that it’s a noble pursuit. Perhaps if we could trust the accuracy of our feelings, this would be true.  But feelings are often to blame for facts being distorted into fiction. Read more

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