The Meaning of Life: a letter to my son

Last year, seventh-grade parents were given the assignment to write their children a letter explaining the meaning of life.  Seriously?  Why not just write the cure for cancer?  Or, solve the problem of world peace?  Or do ninth-grade algebra? The meaning of life?! 

Of course, the best teachers challenge us.   As it turns out, the question is worth answering.  I am sharing my letter because at times I need to be reminded of its message.  Maybe you do too.  

Dear Alex,

I have been asked to write you a letter explaining the meaning of life.  But seeing that only moments ago I spilled hot coffee down the front of my shirt, I am not sure I feel qualified to answer such a poignant question.

When we are children, we see the world in solid colors.  There are no shades or variations of pigments.  We learn basic colors early and life seems pretty simple.   As we grow older, things get more complicated.  There is no longer just the color blue but countless shades of it.

We have a lot more choices, but the right ones aren’t always clear.  A spectrum of possibilities exists as to what one’s life may mean.  That’s the beauty of life and the mystery for you to uncover.  I can’t tell you what the answer will be for you, because I am still learning what it is for me.

In some ways, the answer seems obvious, and I am tempted to spell it out.  But I resist the urge to give you a one-word solution, to pick one color from the few that existed when we were younger, to oversimplify, give away the secret, the magic formula, the profundity of life’s meaning, because of that word itself, love.  Love would be the easy answer.  God’s love, family love, married love, love of others, merciful love, eternal love, and unconditional love will be the answer many times over if you live life well.

I could do this, and I wouldn’t be wrong.  After all, love is as true as the color red. But it would be too simplistic, and life is many things, yet I have never known it to be simple. Read more

Made to Soar

I spend a lot of time with the devil I know.  A lot of us do.  We are stuck in careers, relationships, routines, and ruts that we long to change, but don’t.  There is a litany of reasons for this: fear, laziness, uncertainty, and lack of confidence.  It boils down to the notion that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.

Maybe it’s because we believe things could always be worse that we are willing to settle with the status quo.    Maybe it’s because change involves ripping off the duct tape that is holding us together while all our broken parts fall free.  Maybe we are waiting for a miracle.  Maybe today will be the day.

Maybe can be a terrible place to be.  It’s the hell of purgatory without the hope of heaven.  It’s wishing for different circumstances to determine your worth.  It’s a waiting, a longing, and often, a loathing that has nothing to do with God.

God is truth.  He doesn’t waiver and he doesn’t wane.  He wants better for us than we want for ourselves.  He would never ask us to settle.  He made us to soar.

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

I know many people who are more stuck than soaring.  I can relate as I have always been afraid to fly.  But I am tired of the devil I know.  I am bored with his same old lies.  Baiting us with fear, he snares us into believing we can’t do better, be better, have better. Read more

5 Ways to Live Like it’s Summer All Year Long

In grade school, at the beginning of the school year, students are often asked to write about their summer vacation.  However, as the sun begins to set on the season, I am contemplating how to live like its summer all year long.

After all, some of the most important lessons in life are learned in the summer, away from the routine and rigor that may be necessary, but is nothing like a day at the beach.

Here are my top five ways to live like its summer – no writing required:

Be a tourist:  You don’t have to wear a camera around your neck to capture the best of life.  You just need the perspective of a curious tourist excited to learn, explore, discover, and indulge.  Be open to new experiences, people, points of view, and cultures.  There’s a whole world out there, so be willing to get outside of yours and pursue new opportunities, meet new people, and share new adventures. Read more

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

Freedom to Serve

When I was a child, I considered freedom to be something grown-ups enjoyed.  They can eat what they want, stay up as late as they want, watch what they want, buy what they want, and do what they want.

Little did I know.

As a teenager, freedom meant breaking rules, rebellion, and choosing for myself.  As a young adult, it meant not being tied down, buying something I couldn’t afford, and a readiness to explore my place in the world.  As a new mother, freedom meant I had three hours when my children were in preschool to go to the grocery store, exercise, pursue an interest, shower, or do dishes.

Those remain the quickest three hours of my life.

Now I think about freedom not as what I can get away with, spend, or get done, but who I am meant to be.  What was I created for?  What’s constraining me from that?

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A Horse, Of Course

I have never been a horse person.  In grade school, some of the other girls had pictures of the shiny brown mammoths on the cover of their Trapper Keepers, the eighties in-vogue binders with the velcro flap.  The horses had perfectly straight hair and were frolicking in a pastoral scene of rolling green hills.  I suppose it was designed to inspire students to organize their notes, which much like the attraction to horses, was a concept lost on me.

But all that changed with Ruby, a horse I came to know through a friend.

She and her family move every couple of years because of her husband’s career.  She handles the challenges with such remarkable grace that it would be easy to assume that it’s as simple as getting back up on that proverbial horse after an unanticipated fall.

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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

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

Earth Day: environmentalist evolution

Earth Day: environmentalist evolution

When I was in college, a friend often wore Birkenstocks, the backless shoes that are the tree-hugging cousin of the flip-flop.  The shoes reminded me of crunchy granola and the Hare Krishna food they used to give away on campus at the University of Florida.  This was back in the nineties before Nordstrom carried the comfort shoe in an array of pastels.   I was poor in college, so a splurge for me was a 2 a.m. run to the border for a nacho bell-grande.  In hindsight, I should have opted for the free food passed out by the bald people wearing white sheets and dancing with tambourines.  It was probably healthier.  But I was afraid if I ate the Hare Krishna food I would end up in a hallucinogenic state and disavow my beachy flip-flops for its chunkier cousin.

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God: the Mess We Make

I’ve been on a search for the holy grail of vacuums. This isn’t a new thing. I’ve been at it for years.  Other people travel the world, I buy (and, often return) vacuums.

I guess I am looking for the perfect vacuum that has among its features a desire to actually use it.  So far, all I have had is a longing for clean floors.  A friend of mine lent me one of those robot vacuums.  I figured even I could muster the motivation to try it since it only required me to push a button.

The dog and I suspiciously watched the wayward machine.  It was like a mini R2D2 after a night out at the bars.  It swayed in one direction and then the other, continuously running into things.  I couldn’t help but feel sorry for it.  It was trying so hard. Read more