The Gift You Should Give Yourself

The Gift You Should Give Yourself
Photo by Elisa Coluccia on Unsplash.

Can you stop for 5 minutes?

FULL. STOP.

Close your eyes and tune out the world, right where you are?

If you’re like me, you think, “Sure. Anytime.”

But doing it isn’t easy.

My oldest child will receive the sacrament of Confirmation in the spring, so last night I attended a meeting for parents of candidates. Appropriately, we began in prayer.

I closed my eyes, but not before noticing that the mom next to me kept glancing down at the phone in her lap, reluctant to put it away. She crossed and uncrossed her knees. Shuffled in her purse. Wiped hair from her face. Pulled herself out of her nylon parka, making “swish, swish” sounds which seemed amplified in the quiet church sanctuary.

The fact that I can tell you this is an indication that I myself was not ‘fully present to God.’

My mind was also very much here on earth, following its whims.

Sitting quietly is hard for us.

We firmly believe that busyness is such a hallmark of our time that we’ve allowed the noise of it all to sweep us away from what our souls actually crave: silence.

A Real Simple article from September 2017 traces the influence of noise on our well-being. Writer Florence Williams points out that while loud noises have always been a threat to our hearing, recent research links increasing noise levels with heart attacks and high blood pressure. There is an association between elevated noise in our environment and the release of stress hormones.

When you factor in visual stimulation – the way we are constantly bombarded with news, advertising, and even the accumulation of items in our spaces – it’s no wonder we feel some sense of peace just standing in a place that’s clutter-free.

So what’s the take-away?

We need quiet to find peace.

Quiet – and the practice of learning to be still – could be the very best thing you give yourself this holiday season and into the new year.

It won’t be easy. And not because you and I don’t have 5 minutes to spare.

Sit motionless with your eyes closed for 30 seconds and you’ll see that your other senses are amplified.

You’ll hear your own breathing and the air whirring about your head, feel shifts in your body, smell lingering odors, taste whatever you last ate…. You’ll experience any number of sensations before realizing your mind is cataloging them!

But we can change this.

Practice helps us progress.

After we parents at last night’s meeting finished our shuffling, we settled into clarity and calm. Eyes closed, I listened wholeheartedly to what came next – a song – and relaxed into its words of praise, letting the alto voice carry me toward a better frame of mind.

It wasn’t pure silence, but it was a start.

When we empty ourselves of ourselves, we find what’s greater than us.

Practicing silence, we hear the whisper of God.

So as you hustle around handing out presents to those you love, find a place in your day to… hush.

Stop where you are. Close your eyes.

Start with just one minute and grow from there. One day into the next.

But give yourself this gift, because we fool ourselves into thinking that stimulation is necessary and good, when the absence of it holds the promise of so much more.

From One Lit Lover to All Others – New Gift Ideas

From One Lit Lover to All Others – New Gift Ideas

My copy of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

My love affair began with Black Beauty. I was 7 years old and devoured it page by page after receiving it for Christmas, 1979.

The note from my aunt inside Black Beauty.

Yes, before that I had lesser crushes – The Velveteen Rabbit had nipped at my heart – but none that had ripped it wide open like this one horse’s life story, replete with trials, tribulations and a tear-jerking reunion. It was my first and truest relationship with a classic work of literature, one that would forever set my expectations about what a story is supposed to do.

From this I learned that a world of genius just waits to be discovered, and there is never enough time to read ALL THE GOOD BOOKS!!

What is your favorite work of classic lit?

Is it the ever-popular Jane Eyre?

The always delightful Peter Pan?

The idealistic Walden?

The transcendentally beautiful Leaves of Grass?

I’ll bet you can find a lovely artistic rendering of it here.

If you enjoy great design and want to give the literature lover on your list something he or she will actually use, check out this new site, Literary Book Gifts. Creator and designer Melissa has placed old fashioned line drawings on tasteful tote bags and t-shirts for men and women. Use the code GRETCHENMATTHEWS20 and she’ll give you 20% off any purchase, no minimum. 

Adorable totes from Literary Book Gifts.

The totes are sturdy cotton, fully lined, and come in three different sizes. There are 64 designs to choose from, including every one of the books I’ve mentioned above.

T-shirts are soft and available in more colors than I stopped to count. And beyond literary designs, some also feature images simply reminiscent of old times and refined living….an antique desk, a typewriter, a tribute to Beethoven.

Pretty much everyone agrees, life is too hectic today. Slowing down with a good read – or being reminded that you should by a tote bag or a t-shirt – is a great way to encourage someone you love to make the most of their time in the new year.

Remember – Literary Book Gifts and use code GRETCHENMATTHEWS20 . And just so you know, I receive no financial benefit from your transaction. I just like the products and thought you might too.

Peace and blessings to you and yours – always. Happy Holidays!

5 Ways to Show Love from a Grateful Heart (The Promised “Stories” Post)

5 Ways to Show Love from a Grateful Heart (The Promised “Stories” Post)

November is a time to contemplate our blessings. So many of us are deeply thankful. And full hearts should spill over into good deeds in the world.

Over the last few weeks – via Instagram, Facebook, and emails to my subscribers – I’ve requested stories about the many ways I KNOW you guys show love in the world. And I waited to hear your responses.

Very few came.

I think you’re shy.

Or busy.

But I’m gonna go with shy.

You don’t want to tell me how you show love because you fear it will make you appear prideful. Boastful. Arrogant. As if you’re bragging that you do a lot.…And I get that. I really do.

But the good that we do can inspire others and – if done unselfishly – gives glory to God. Because He gives us all the means to do it in the first place.

So I’m going to proceed as I’d promised and share with you the little I have (and the little I did) and pray that you’ll find something to chew on here. Ok?

There are a few ways we can give out the love and gratitude we feel in our hearts, and here are a couple stories to illustrate them.

1) Begin where you are this very moment and seek to understand others who are right there with you. On the first day I requested stories, I heard from The Boundless Professionals, a young couple who maintains a travel blog and beautiful Instagram page of journeys to far-off destinations like South Africa and Zambia, as well as closer ones like San Diego and the Chesapeake Bay. They embrace a philosophy of no-debt living and had this to say about spreading goodness as they go:

“We feel there are so many ways to bring kindness to the world, and one of our favorite ways is to focus on having conversations with people who do not get to talk with others. Elderly, homeless, people struggling in small businesses. We love conversation, and whether it’s in a small town or in a large city, everyone needs someone to talk to!”

One of our greatest needs is simply to be heard, and you can give the gift of presence, listening, and conversation anywhere. It’s fun. Free. And maybe even freeing for your soul.

2) Share the things you love. My high school friend Howard – now an oncologist – has a sweet tooth. But he doesn’t hoard the treats. He maintains a drawer of candy in his office to share with his coworkers. They can help themselves to Snicker’s bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups any time they’d like. It’s the little things that make a day pleasant, right?

Given the nature of his work, you’d think he’d be a serious guy. And he’s a devoted doctor for sure. But his daily Facebook posts are laugh-out-loud funny, and he’s shown this sense of humor since way back when. He gives of himself, and there’s no greater gift. I’m sure his eyes sparkle when he has good news for his patients.

3) Remember your history. Your experiences are a road map to future contributions. A few years ago, a friend of mine had been through some difficult experiences with men. One in particular was not a gentleman. So for her birthday this month, she asked for donations to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. I was happy to oblige. In my senior year at Dickinson College, I received several weeks of preliminary training as a domestic violence counselor for the state of Pennsylvania, and spent time with fellow volunteers helping prepare a safe house for abused women and children. I heard stories that shattered all my preconceptions and learned that domestic violence cuts across all races, classes, education levels, and socioeconomic groups. My heart was forever changed.

If God placed an experience in your life, there’s probably something you can do with it.

4) Step out of your comfort zone to give. Spreading kindness may require you to do something a bit uncomfortable, but one of my favorite sayings is “Never ignore a generous impulse,” so I try to follow where the Spirit leads me.

In this case, I wrote a note to Michelle Ostrelich, a woman who ran for the New York State Senate this year and was defeated. It takes great courage to run for office, especially without any background in politics, and that’s what she did. She stepped up to speak on behalf of groups she was concerned about and truly listened to the people in her community, and friends – that is honorable work. I wanted to encourage her and let her know that she inspired me and I hope she continues in her pursuits.

Even with a small personal connection – her husband is the aforementioned Howard (whom I have not seen in person in 25 years) – writing the letter felt very, very strange. We have never met. To her it would have come completely out of the blue. But the gesture was well received, and that’s how it often is when we obey the “nudge” to do good. To extend our hearts. It’s weird until it’s not. Try it and see.

5) If an idea keeps hitting you, there’s a reason. Some call it “holy discontent.” Others call it “fire in the belly.” They are the subjects or issues that make us angry. Move us to action. Push us to make a difference.

What riles you up? The one thing that just rips your heart to shreds? You cannot help but rise out of your chair saying, “That is NOT right!!”

Could it be that this one thing (or more) is the way that God is asking you to move in the world?

I admit, I haven’t yet fully figured out how to deal with my holy discontent. It’s violence against women. Specifically rape. I CANNOT stand portrayals of it in movies – so much so that I’ve become a fearful film watcher and this limits my range of choices. But so be it.

Years ago, I heard about the Fistula Foundation, which provides restorative surgery to repair obstetric fistulas to women in developing countries. A fistula is a hole between a woman’s vagina and one or more of her internal organs. It can be caused by many days of obstructed labor or by sexual violence, and the result is that without surgical repair a woman becomes permanently incontinent of urine and/or feces. The majority of women who suffer with fistulas are rejected by their husbands and shunned or cast out of their communities because they smell. They end up living as outcasts.

In 2018, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a partner of the Fistula Foundation, won the Nobel Peace Price for his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where rape is a tool of war. He works at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and has cared for 50,000 victims of sexual violence since 1999, and there is no end in sight. Read more here.

So, as you might have guessed, on “Giving Tuesday” this week, I gave to Dr. Denis Mukwege’s efforts in conjunction with the Fistula Foundation.

This is not enough. My hands, my ears, my words, my time, and my money are of course still needed. I must make myself available to know how, when, and where to go next.

In prayer, I am being called every day to act according to God’s will, and it’s my responsibility to listen and respond.

Only in this way – through each of us – can the world be changed for good.

I am reading an amazing book right now and will cover it in another blog post, but among its main points is this:

To truly show love in the world, we must first recognize the humanity of every person.

The late Elie Wiesel – Holocaust survivor, teacher, activist, author, Nobel laureate, and adviser to world leaders, explains:

“To be human is to share a common origin. And if we share a common origin, our destinies are entwined. What happens to me will eventually happen to you; what happened to my people is a foreshadowing of what will threaten the world. Auschwitz led to Hiroshima and who knows what else? Therefore the most important biblical commandment is Lo taamod al dam réakha, ‘Thou shall not stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow human being.’ The word réakha, ‘fellow human being’ – it is universal. Anyone who is suffering, anyone who is threatened becomes your responsibility. If you can feel this and act with even a bit more humanity, more sensitivity, as a result, that is the beginning.” (from Witness, by Ariel Burger, p. 147-148)

Contemplating Home and the Passing of Days

Contemplating Home and the Passing of Days

Fall is turning to winter and we are, once again, considering Christmas preparations. But as we do, I think back on the events of my fall and they seem to coalesce around one concept: HOME.

What a loaded word that is.

HOME. My third-grader listed it as one of the places he most likes to go on his “All About Me” poster for school. This blessed me greatly. For him, home is close to what it should be – a refuge and stronghold of love.

And I fervently hope my children will always feel this way about the home they’ve grown up in.

HOME is where we live, where we once lived, and what will be our place of living at some point in the future. And yet despite our best efforts to make HOME stable, it is perpetually in flux.

From one year to the next, home changes.

Because the people are changing. Moving in and out. Closer and farther away.

This is my lesson from fall 2018.

Last month, I sat across from my 15-year old son at a wedding our family attended, and felt the years stretch out ahead and behind.

The bride was radiant (as all brides are) and the groom was dazzled by her. Family and friends wished them well and prayed for their happiness. I was especially hopeful, as the bride is a diamond of a person whom I’ve known for 15 years. Yes – ever since she started babysitting an infant boy – who grew into the teenage boy sitting across from me at her reception dinner. Back then, she herself was his exact age.

I see the way his increasingly broad shoulders fill out his blazer, how remarkably relaxed he is in a tie, joking with his teenage sister in a manner closely approximating adulthood. There are clear outlines of the man he will become; only the shading need be filled in.

And I returned again to my mind’s refrain – the one I’ve heard daily since September.

I miss him already.

He’s only a sophomore in high school. A couple years to go.

But you can see a bird is going to take flight when it raises its wings off its back, and that’s where we are now.

How do you sit with melancholy?

The instability of knowing the inevitability of an event that is both happy and sad? Desirable – even prayed for – and yet – not exactly what your heart craves.

He will be leaving his home.

I can stand back and watch time pass quickly – like sand through an hourglass – or I can break open the glass and examine each grain.

So I watch him eat. I listen to him laugh. I hear his stories and respond empathetically. Try not to react with alarm when surprised or concerned. I ask questions that I hope will bring us closer, and when he shares with me – I thank him. His life is his. I know this. And yet….and yet….

Home is where we want to be….together. But togetherness is fleeting. All homes are temporary shelters of love since the members come and go. They draw closer to us. And pull away. For days, months, years, or forever.

There is no real home here on earth.

I bear this in mind, and take my heart to the only One who can console, and who loves my son more than me. It’s his Creator, and mine, after all.

And while I pray for my son’s protection, I am reminded that this boy was given to me for a time, and no more.

Let’s live the days as if they are numbered, for indeed – they are.

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. – Psalm 90:12

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

Today is World Kindness Day. I wrote another blog post about it yesterday, but the real question is this: How will we mark this day?

We all know from experience that…

A good seed planted in darkness can burst forth to produce a tree large enough to host entire communities in its colorful branches.

Things that start small can become big.

So what seeds of kindness will you plant today? Tomorrow? For the rest of this month? I want to know.

Are you making soup for a neighbor?

Giving more than usual to a charity of your choice? Which one? Why?

Mending a relationship because you know you’re not guaranteed tomorrow?

In November, we focus on gratitude. And gratitude is good. Very good.

But it isn’t enough to be thankful – to sit around enjoying the fullness, ruminating on all that’s pleasing or teaching us. We are called to share what we have and know.

If we have love – we share love.

If we have hope – we share hope.

If we have means – we share our treasure.

If we have time – we give hours or moments – with intentionality.

If we have hands, or feet, or ears, or eyes…..If we’re alive, friends! (so that’s all of us) we offer ourselves. Whole and present when nudged to do so.

When you hear the whisper in your heart….Help her. Go to him. Say this in peace….Do it. And make a mental note.

This is God’s work in the world.

And then, please share your stories with me. I’m saving them for an end-of-the-month blog post, where I’ll offer a few tips about the ways we’ve all found to share love throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

Your kind acts will inspire others. And wouldn’t more love and kindness be a nice gift for the world?

Tomorrow’s “World Day of…”

Tomorrow’s “World Day of…”

Photo by Dawn Lamper. creationswap.com

Do you know what tomorrow is? November 13?

It’s World Kindness Day.

Haven’t heard of it?

Neither had I.

Not until I saw it on a “Content Calendar” created by Amazon for bloggers and other creatives like me. But apparently it’s been around since 1997 and even has an official flower, the Cosmos bipinnatus. Pretty little thing.

(In other news, National Button Day is coming up on Friday, November 16. Don’t miss it.)

Humor aside, perhaps we really do need a day every year to reconsider the merits of kindness. Especially now.

For clarity’s sake, let’s review the word’s definition.

Kindness is the quality or state of being kind – and that is, having a sympathetic, helpful, forbearing, or gentle nature. (Combined definitions from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.)

We can all think of someone we know whom we consider to be kind. And a few whom we think are not.

We also know what it feels like to extend kindness, and to be on the receiving end of such a gift.

(A door held open, a garden bouquet, or some of Mom’s fresh cookies come to mind.)

And all too often, we write off certain people as “unkind.” The truth is, they probably do the same to us. We can all seem cold and unfeeling at times.

We know what kindness is and what it isn’t – and that we don’t see true kindness nearly enough.

In today’s world, strength and power are prized over self-sacrifice and humility – two components that are necessary to make an act kind.

Kindness goes farther than tolerance, which is also touted as a modern virtue. But tolerance of others – simply living side by side with them without doing them harm – does not require the deeper level of compassion that kindness brings to interactions.

Kindness creates connections; when it’s sustained over time, it builds bonds.

Kindness is about extending grace and love. It’s meaningful because it’s a movement of the heart.

The giver’s heart touches the heart of the receiver, and both feel the tug of something more.

A vastness…the Truth.

Our hearts are connected to our souls, friends, and our souls know what’s what….

That every person is to be valued beyond measure. Every person is imprinted with the eternal.

We are here to love and be loved. And acts of kindness remind us of that.

Few of us are actually cold as stone. Most of us beat with warmth at our core.

Imagine…. if we were really convening with our hearts, souls, and Maker before we set out each day….

If every decision was based on the principle that each person unequivocally mattered….

If we always took the time to look into one another’s eyes….

And listened for as long as necessary to find common ground until we could say in all sincerity, “I sympathize. I understand.”

That would be a kind world. We wouldn’t need World Kindness Day.

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The tiniest phrase in a recent article about the latest massacre – the one at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh – infuriated me.

It said the shooter “raged against Jews.”

Who are these “Jews”?

I’ll tell you who “they” are. Over the course of my life, people – who happen to have Jewish heritage and espouse a time-treasured faith – have been to me one or more of the following: family members, neighbors, classmates, teachers, doctors….friends.

They are people I love, respect, and deeply admire – just as I would anyone of integrity and goodness who seeks to do unto others as he or she would do unto himself or herself.

And over this week, as I cried for the beautiful people who lost their lives while worshiping God, I considered the state of things…a nation where “raged against Jews” still seems an apt phrase.

Our world repeats many lies to its constantly thrumming drum, but the biggest one is this…

There is a “they” – separate from us – that we can treat as “other.”

The list of self-identifying groups and sub-groups is endless….Christian (i.e., Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical and hundreds of denominations in-between), Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Democrat, Republican, Men, Women, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Straight, LGBTQIA+, Graduate of Such-and-Such College, Having X Degree, No-Degree, Hard Worker, Slacker, Pro-this, Anti-that – you follow?

Add on your own tags – the ones you apply to yourself – as many as you can think of – and stand in your circle to see how many fellow humans are left there with you. One? Two? None?

When we push outward we discover we are all alone.

There is NO “they.”

They are us.

And we are them.

Mother Teresa said it best when she declared, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another.”

I don’t know much about the shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue, but I do know this: his hatred was homegrown and it started as a seed in his heart.

The call to action for us as citizens of the world is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

There are no caveats in that.

No exclusions if we think the person has strange ideas, smells, does her hair in a funny way, or is infringing on our space.

And whether you happen to agree with me when I say that God created each person – and in His own image – formed to be imperishable for all eternity, unique and sacred as an individual – I would venture this…

Deep down you know that freedom from self-absorption and egotism – those inclinations that isolate us and proliferate fear by pushing others away – means reaching out and extending the thing we all want most. Love.

We all play a role in making this world the place we want it to be.

Call out the darkness and bring it to light.

The darkness within each of us is where the battle is waged.

There is no THEY.

There is only US.

And LOVE that surpasses us all.

Here’s What You’re Doing Right

Here’s What You’re Doing Right

I’ve been deliberating for days about how to open this post. But since the words won’t come I’ll just say this to whomever you are who needs to hear it: “Here’s what you’re doing right.”

You might be having doubts about doing anything right.

I get it because I’ve been there….recently.

Sitting at an intersection wondering if my daily life is making any difference at all.

Maybe you’re concerned about a loved one, a difficult job, a good friend with personal troubles, or the general state of the nation or world….something along these lines. These things may keep you up at night. You never seem to have the right words of consolation and don’t know what to do. Despite your best efforts you can’t shake the feeling that your days are fits and starts – that you are not making any real progress in helping anyone toward a better future.

If that’s the case let me tell you what I saw sitting there at the intersection, listening to those negative voices in my head that threaten to bring me down if I don’t beat them back with a huge stick at every turn.

Within 30 seconds, I spotted two things: a man on the sidewalk giving directions to a driver who had pulled over onto the shoulder; and a woman stop to pick up a black garment hanging over a metal railing. She unfolded the garment and I saw that it was a sweater. Her face lit up with surprise and delight. Clearly, it was hers – a lost item now found.

The man giving directions….the unknown person who placed that lost sweater on the railing where it would be visible….they have something in common: they performed the simple, good, and oh-so-important deed of showing up.

And whether you realize it or not, whether you feel like you’re doing anything of note or not – you are doing this one important thing too.

You are showing up.

I am showing up.

When it feels like we are making no progress, no forward steps, no visible change – but we continue to get out of bed and live each day with kind intentions – however small, however feeble – we are showing up.

We are showing up when we hold a door open to a stranger, offer kind words to a grumpy cashier, call a friend we know is lonely, and even make a bit of room to the poor driver shoving his/her way into our lane just before the exit.

We are showing up when we keep to our routines, such as predictably shuttling and feeding kids, day in and day out. It creates for them a sense of security and safety that gives them freedom to explore, knowing they have a haven, a refuge to come back to when the world seems cold.

We are showing up in our workplaces when we collaborate with our colleagues, are enthusiastic and thoughtful, and contribute energy and ideas that fuel success.

We are showing up in our neighborhoods, towns, states, and nation when we vote, write our representatives, and make ourselves heard. And that matters – because whether we see the fruit of our efforts now or later, generations are watching and taking their cues from us. Our ideas and our voices – they matter.

And most importantly, we are showing up when we meet every single person who crosses our paths today with eye contact, sincere regard, and kindness – when we see them for who they are – children of a loving Creator who made each of us unique and dearly beloved.

When we love one another as God calls us to love ourselves – unconditionally – that REALLY matters.

You, friend, are doing this. You are SHOWING UP in your life.

So you are doing the most important thing of all.

Rest in this. Be easy on yourself today.

It’s Time to Go to Bat for Kindness

It’s Time to Go to Bat for Kindness

“Ah?! What was wrong?!! That one was good!”

Coach Smith* groans with feigned anger, looks at me through the chain link fence, and laughs. He’s a college mathematics professor and father of three boys, the youngest of whom played baseball with mine in the spring. Now, on fall Wednesday nights, he’s taken it upon himself to help the boys on his old team brush up on fundamental skills.

Most of the time he’s got a few assistant coaches to help him (i.e. other dads), but tonight he’s all alone. His attitude never flags, though his arm and shoulder are clearly tired. Each kid is getting about 20 balls both times he’s up for batting practice, and for a 40-something guy, a couple hundred curve balls and speed balls don’t fly as easily as they used to.

I eye my son at home plate, look back at Coach on the pitcher’s mound, and raise my arms in mock despair. I have no idea why my 8-year old son didn’t swing at the first 10 or so balls that were pitched to him, or this one either.

Coach just smiles and reaches into his bucket again.

“Ok. Get closer to the plate. Let’s try again.”

He grabs another ball and throws it toward home.

Finally, there is contact. A long drive toward first.

“Good job!”

Before we leave, I tell my son, “Coach Smith was really nice to throw you so many balls. It’s been a long day for him. Be sure you say thank you,” and my son nods vigorously as I watch him trot off to show a tiny bit of gratitude.

We know kindness when we see it, but sometimes we need to be prodded into acknowledging it.

I would argue that right now is a critical time to point out when someone in our midst is going out of their way to be kind and generous with their spirit, time, and/or resources.

On a day when a father/teacher was helping kids learn American baseball, the FBI was investigating a Supreme Court nominee for alleged sexual assault.

No matter your feelings on this particular matter, one thing’s for sure: this type of news stirs the stomach.

We hear so much unsettling and distressing news every day. Headlines concerning both natural and man-made crises never end. And you don’t have a to be a social psychologist to understand that spending too much time reading and reflecting on the news can negatively affect your emotional and mental health.

Social media compounds the problem. I treated myself to a 1-week Facebook fast awhile back and found it enhanced my life in ways that I would do well to remember more frequently. It was especially  helpful for me as I processed the competing claims of candidates vying for elected positions.

So – if our media-saturated environment is bringing us down, one way to lift ourselves up is to consider the good we see around us in local, less-publicized venues, and – most importantly – to talk about it, especially with kids, who need real-life, accessible role models and reminders more than ever.

By choosing to highlight the kindness we see in others – be it in our homes, schools, workplaces, supermarkets, libraries, or while waiting for a train – we can refocus our lives for ourselves and our families on what really matters – the way we are to treat one another, day in and day out.

*Not his real name.

One Fun Book – One Beautiful Dream

One Fun Book – One Beautiful Dream

The burnt chicken on the cover speaks to me. Maybe because it sums up my current mojo…My mojo for like, the last 15 years.

When this book was released in the spring of 2018, it was the week of my youngest son’s First Communion, and despite the fact that family were coming in from 4 states to celebrate, I made a little time to read it – late at night, curled up in my bed, laughing out loud – because I just couldn’t put down this page-turner, Jennifer Fulwiler’s, One Beautiful Dream.

Having recently ‘met’ Jen through podcasts of her daily Sirius XM radio show and our shared connection in #hopewriters, I knew I couldn’t miss out on this book. I too am caught up trying to navigate the treacherous terrain where family life meets personal passions, and I desperately wanted to know how to say yes to them both.

Jennifer is a master storyteller with a coach’s spirit, and this book did not disappoint. Through this memoir, she has lifted me up – painting a raw and honest portrait of motherhood, faith, and a desire for something more.

After describing a harrowing supermarket experience in Chapter 1 (achieved while pregnant with 2 toddlers in tow) she writes, “On the average day I found myself exhausted, my brain running in the red zone like a car about to overheat….All of my personal goals had been buried for so long that I was starting to forget what they were.”

Amen to that. I have been there and you probably have too. This friends, is a woman I get. She is unflinchingly real.

Life with a young family feels – more often than not – like only partially controlled chaos, but there is deep and meaningful beauty in it, and Jennifer Fulwiler has found it. As a fellow Catholic convert, mother, writer, and survivor of disastrous supermarket visits and pointed (i.e. ‘unsolicited’) advice from “Green Bean Ladies,” at the supermarket, I salute Jen in this achievement. I love it.

Oh – and Jennifer? – if I were ever to come to your home, I would devour your burnt chicken and bless the hands that prepared it, too.