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.

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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

Stillness — the action of finding God

Be Still. God knows I heard this often as a child.  I remember one time my mom promising me a new doll if I would just sit still for ten minutes.  When you are a kid, ten minutes is an impossibility, a lifetime, a duration that exists in fairytales along with “happily ever after.”

Stillness remains a challenge for me.  By far, the hardest part of writing is getting myself to sit down.  I reheat my coffee, let the dog out, tell the cats they are pretty, stuff my face with white cheddar popcorn, nibble chocolate, check email, Facebook, scoop kitty litter, and reheat curdled coffee again.  Then, I sit, twitch, and fidget for a bit before I succumb to the stillness that begets words. It’s like an exorcism.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I am part of a group of women at my church who will be hosting a retreat this month, and we chose this as our theme.  It’s not a message we hear often, and it is certainly counter to what society encourages. Stillness is a renegade concept, a weapon that destroys the inauthentic notions of life.  I associate it more with someone like Yoda in a galaxy far, far away than I do anyone on our planet.

Our world teaches us our value is tied to busyness.  Go faster, be efficient, do more, be more, make more, and have more.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t be still.  Don’t stop and smell the roses.  Get them in the ground and check it off your list. Or better yet, pay someone to do it.  Your time is too valuable.  You need to be producing.

The message is clear, if you are still, the world will pass you by.  You will be considered slovenly.   You will miss out.  You will fail to measure up. You might as well be a concrete statue for pigeons to stoop (and poop) on.

When we believe these messages, eventually our motion spins out of control.  We lose touch with who we are called to be, the things we enjoy, and who matters most. We get lost and dizzy from all our spinning.  And tired.  So many of us are tired.

Last year for Lent, I challenged myself to spend ten minutes a day in stillness with God.  I was terrified.  I didn’t want to commit to such an endeavor and not honor it.  Usually, the things we need most are the hardest to do, the least appealing, and met by the most resistance.  But I decided to be brave and embrace the stillness that always eluded me.

And you know what?  I didn’t turn green like Yoda or get soiled by pigeons.  I didn’t even feel like demons were being dispelled from my body like I do when I sit to write.  I didn’t miss a single day of my commitment.

Contrary to what we may think about motion, the real action begins with stillness.  I was more calm, aware of myself, closer to God, and felt a genuine sense of peace.  It was so much more of an intentional way to pray.  I even read scripture before I started my timer so I felt more deliberate about my conversation with God.

I continued my habit for a while after Lent and then slowly traded the stillness for the unregulated motion that’s so much easier to fall into.  Like a child, I resist.  But I know that stillness waits for me, wants for me, and will embrace me anytime I am willing to surrender to its calm.

And the reward for stillness is far greater than a new toy.  It is a chance to sit with the knowing that is God.

Want more to help you on your Lenten journey read this.  

Self-acceptance blooms

Self-acceptance blooms

I repotted a plant this week, which became a lesson in self-acceptance.  Midway through, I could tell the flower was tilting, so I pulled the whole thing out, hollowed the dirt, carefully centered it, and filled the gaps with the black magic of Miracle Gro. Since it was still leaning, I added soil to the other side hoping its weight would tilt it vertically.

When I finished, I had a pretty plant in a pretty pot lurching asymmetrically like a staggering drunk.

Despite my efforts, it was crooked. This could be a metaphor for everything in my life, but it’s not. Well, maybe it is, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about self-acceptance.

My husband replanted the flower for me, and it looks lovely, nothing like the botanical version of the leaning tower of Pisa that it did when I planted it.

I have come to accept that there are many things that I don’t do well. So much so that I often find myself saying, “That’s not my gift to the world.”

Most of the time I’m okay with my lack of gifts, but the crooked plant bothered me. I love to work in the yard, to frequent garden centers, propagate succulents, and ask my husband to move heavy pots from place to place on the patio. So it frustrates me that I couldn’t do this well. My husband doesn’t even like yard work, yet it’s nothing for him to plant a flower upright. It seems kind of unfair.

Things that always appear easy for other people often felt hard for me. This always made me feel a little defective like maybe I should have a diagnosis, or my mother should finally admit she dropped me on my head as an infant.

Still, I realize that my focus shouldn’t be on what my gifts are not, but on self-acceptance.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our deficiencies and forget all of the things that we do well. We forget that God made us for a purpose and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with what’s on Pinterest. Maybe it doesn’t even have anything to do with what we want to be good at.  He just wants us to love him and others. This doesn’t require a complicated skill set, and I don’t think it’s something we could ever do wrong.

By distracting ourselves with that we are not, we lose sight of who we are, which is always going to be beautiful to God despite our inherent imperfection. This is the mercy of his love.

The most important thing I have learned is that God loves me regardless of anything I do or don’t do. He doesn’t measure my worth by what gets crossed off my to do list or what attributes the world might value. So much energy is spent trying to prove we are enough, we are worthy, and we have value. But we don’t have to prove anything to God.

Knowing this makes it a little easier to embrace and share my gifts with the world even if there are still many days that I struggle with identifying any. My gifts may not include planting a flower upright, yet miraculously I still grow towards the light.

After all, even a crooked flower can bloom.

 

I realize I need to start thinking more about what my gifts are to the world.  At first, all I came up with was making banana bread but before I knew it had added rescuing cats, reuniting dogs with their owners, being a good friend, loving my family, a few more things that had to do with cats, teaching Children’s liturgy, writing, and dancing to “I Will Survive.”  

What are your gifts?  Please share!  Sharing is a gift!  Also, if you liked this post, you may want to check out: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-need-in-your-life-right-now/