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.
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
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.
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/
**This is a repost from five years ago. I have once again started a gratitude journal and am really hoping that it is something I can sustain long after all the turkey’s been eaten. I hope you will try it too!
It’s been decades since I have been in grammar school, so when I think of Thanksgiving and the gratitude it’s designed to evoke, pilgrims or Indians don’t generally come to mind. I think of whose bringing what, where am I supposed to go, when will I get my Christmas shopping done and why, oh why, do men watch so much football.
Back in 1621, there were no parades, no Black Friday circulars, and no grocery stores to buy the bounty. There were just groups of people from different cultures celebrating thanks. Read more
Whenever I feel like things in my life are more chaotic than calm, I say I need a life makeover. I am sure a therapist would say it’s a need for self-improvement.
Either way, I wake up and have no gas in the car, no milk for the kids, no idea where my keys are and no sense of how I will ever get through the day’s to-do lists – mostly because I have no idea where I put it.
Well, ever since I finished my year of doing Works of Mercy I have felt as if I needed a blog makeover.
I have thought a lot about whether I want to keep Mercy Me! going and, if so, what I want it to be. Read more
I don’t think I ever learned in school a fraction of what I learn from my children. Childbirth alone was an education – even with the epidural. From their birth on, my boys continue to enlighten me as they change. Recently, my 7th grader switched middle schools and in doing so taught me a few new lessons about life.
- Change is okay. You know that song by Davie Bowie, Changes? Ch ch ch ch changes – turn and face the strain… Well, first off it turns out I have been singing it wrong my entire life. Who knew? I thought it was “strange” not “strain!”
After all, change is strange. My son had been at his school since pre-school and only had two more years left before he would graduate to go to high school. He loved his friends. He did well academically. I did not see any reason to change.
But he did.
He was open to the experience of an academic magnet school, to be the new kid, to start over.
Starting down a new path is probably one of the bravest things we can do. To risk the unknown is scary. To walk away from the safety, the comfort and the convenience of our situations to try something unfamiliar can be daunting. But by allowing the possibility of failure we also allow for the greater possibility of success.
Ch ch ch ch changes…
- Listening is really important. While we did not consider the magnet option until the beginning of the summer, I could hear the need for change throughout the past school year.
Only I didn’t listen.
When he talked to me about being bored at school, I thought he was just being a typical adolescent. I was not as open or as patient with him as I should have been. I thought the problem was with him. Rather it was with me.
We all go into situations and conversations thinking about our own point of view, and often are not very open to hearing anything, which doesn’t support that. However, listening to another perspective with the intent to understand is often more enlightening than interpreting conversations into our own viewpoints.
- Pigeonholes are for desks, not for people. I assumed my son would never consider leaving his school because I thought I knew him.
After all, he is my child and we have spent a considerable amount of time together.
I would have told you that he would NEVER switch schools. And, that he would be traumatized from that kind of change.
But I saw him from my own perspective, which is colored from my own experiences. I would have been devastated to switch schools at his age so I assumed he would have too.
One of the greatest things about life is that we can start over. We don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. We can start anytime we want. We tend to get stuck in our labels and in our self-defined regimens. Worse still is that we pigeonhole others.
We fail to see the multi-dimensions of our neighbors and ourselves. I am a mother, a Christian, a writer, a friend, a wife, however I am not singularly any of these things and together I am more than the sum of these parts.
Free yourself and the people in your life from the constraints of what you think you know. If you want to change, then change.
Fly free, little pigeon.
- Fight for what you want. Once I realized that my son needed something different than what I planned for him, I dedicated myself to making sure he had it. It wasn’t easy. There were forms, rules, bureaucracy and waiting lists. So, I made phone calls to guidance counselors, principals, county school administrators. I showed up uninvited and unannounced – I asked questions and asked for prayers (from the people working in the public school office no less — they probably prayed that they would never have to see me again.) I did everything I knew to do that remained in the bounds of sanity.
But the truth is, it was out of my hands once I turned in the application. Still, I couldn’t be complacent when my child wanted this so badly; when he felt like it was what he needed.
So I fought. Often, it really isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about knowing you did all that you could. It’s about showing someone else that you believe in them; that they are worth it to you; that even if you don’t prevail, you persevered.
There is really no losing that kind of fight.
- Endings are really just new beginnings. I hate when things are over. I get nostalgic and weepy. I cry until my eyes burn and my head aches. I don’t know if that is normal, but it’s just what I do so I try not to beat my self about it.
So of course, this was no different.
But I realize he couldn’t embrace all that awaited him and remain where he was. He was indeed giving up a very special community of friends and teachers, a place where he had been loved and cherished, a place I knew he would miss.
Still, at the moment of his goodbye he was on the cusp of a new beginning.
Sometimes in life we have to let go of something so we can make room for something else– new experiences await, new friendships, new ideas. The possibilities are endless and they begin with an ending.
So those are the most recent lessons I have learned as a parent. I am all the wiser for what my son taught me and only hope to be so brave as “I turn and face the strange… ch ch ch changes”
I really think “strange” sounds better than “strain.” I think I am just going to keep on singing it wrong.
Sorry, David Bowie.
Often children are our best teachers. What have you learned from your miniature-guru? And, perhaps just as important, do you think strange makes more sense than strain?! Ch ch ch changes… To read more on parenting: http://mercymatters.net/2014/11/25/how-to-parent-yo…-it-in-the-trash/
The transition from summer to fall is always difficult for me. September through December is jam-packed with, you know….everything. It starts to wear on my confidence.
Seriously, if I listed it all out, you would be breathing into a paper bag right now. I know because I just wrote about half of the activities here and had to run to the kitchen to look for a bag. Of course, I could only find plastic bags, which seems like a suffocation hazard. So, I decided it would be better to just delete that paragraph and save you all from hyperventilating and searching in futility for a paper bag. Read more