Who Are Your Cheerleaders?

Who Are Your Cheerleaders?

Mom, how did you do that?” my daughter asked me a couple months ago as she studied this old photo.

“Practice,” I told her, “And abs. I had really strong abs.”

I ignored her skeptical glare.

The truth is, some days I can hardly believe this myself.

But I was – at that point – fit and, come game time, loud.

Today, I make it a point NOT to raise my voice. And my abs? Well, I exercise, but I’m 45 and have brought 3 kids into the world. They are worth every bit of physical sacrifice, but I don’t wear bikinis anymore.

Way back then, I was a cheerleader, which in theory means we were encouraging others to play to their best abilities.

And whether we were effective at helping the football team win (questionable – but it was SO MUCH FUN!), the fact remains that our role precipitated one we’d all need forever.

Throughout life every person requires cheerleaders in some form. We need individuals who are rooting for us when times are hard and we forget how to summon the strength within ourselves to meet the current challenges.

So who are your cheerleaders?

Last week, I rediscovered a couple of mine when I suffered from a strong bout of anxiety.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, unease, and nervousness, sometimes for no apparent reason, but typically related to an imminent event with an uncertain outcome.

For me, the attack was triggered by the realization that at the writer’s conference I would attend on Saturday (my very first ever), I would show some of my work to editors, who could offer criticism. (The idea that they might also approve of it never factored into my thinking.) Selecting a piece and the idea of having to “sell” my writing to potential publishers filled me with such dread that I sailed right off the ledge of reality and into a pit of fear. I had myself convinced that I had never strung two words together that made a bit of sense, and that I must be a moron for ever having started a blog in the first place.

Thank goodness, I’ve learned that anxiety is not something you entertain, and I called in reinforcements, which arrived in spades in the form of four good friends.

One of them texted with me over two days until my head was in a better place. Here’s just a sample of her words to me:

This brief exchange illustrates how your best cheerleaders: 1) remind you that you can handle the struggle, 2) call forth your truest self, and 3) push you back into the game.

Your cheerleaders should be people who share your values. People who speak the truth about life in a tone that shows their love and concern for you and your welfare. They build up and never tear down. They should focus on what can be done instead of obstacles and limitations. They care about the state of your soul, mind, and body.

My cheerleaders also have these things in common with me: they trust God and have an interest in reading and learning about Scripture; they listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit; and they know that their identity is found not in their accomplishments or worldly assets, but is rooted in Jesus Christ and His unconditional love. If that last bit makes no sense to you, here’s a piece that might help.

As adults we don’t often publicly admit that we have moments of self-doubt, abject panic, and baseless fear, but it does happen. And we need people we can count on who won’t laugh at us or call us cowards.

We need people who will rush in to talk, laugh, cry, and pray with us. We need a loyal team.

So consider – who are your cheerleaders? And who do you cheer for?

Choose your core supporters wisely. And when you need them, don’t be afraid to call them in.

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words.” – C.S. Lewis

Shame On This Dog!

Shame On This Dog!

It’s public knowledge that dogs – as much as we love them – sometimes do disgusting things. Try as we might to keep them out of trouble, even the most adorable and lovable ones will occasionally drag their butts across a carpet, sniff the crotch of an unsuspecting guest, or worst of all, eat poop. Dealing with this nastiness is the dark side of pet ownership. You must be aware of the potential for your pet to act like the totally irrational and – heaven forbid I say it – bestial creature that he is, and be armed to the teeth at all times to fight the demons where they lurk.

And yet – doodoo still occurs.

Last week I was on the phone with the vet’s office giving them an update on our Beagle Luna (who currently has bronchitis), when I noticed that our other dog – a 22 lb. 13-year old mutt named Seamus – was voraciously chowing down on something in the far corner of our yard.

He’d had his breakfast of premium “keep your old-dog young and lean” kibbles just 2 hours before. Whatever this was, it was not OK.

I hung up with the vet, grabbed a Target bag and trekked out to deal with the “prize.”

I got closer and could see a fuzzy grayish cylinder protruding from Seamus’ mouth.

“Seamus!” I said in my best Mom-Boss voice. “Drop it!”

He ran.

Across the yard.

Wolfing down his treasure with a glee that brings new meaning to the verb I just used.

“Seamus!!” I screamed, “I saaaiiid, ‘Drop it!’” as if reprimanding a toddler.

By that point I could make out that the victim was a squirrel. Only its’ tail hung out of our dog’s mouth.

Seamus stopped and hunkered down. Mouth covering his prey. Frozen. Waiting for me to make my next move.

I stood over him, hands on my hips, my pathetic plastic bag flying in the wind from between clenched fingers.

“Seamus!!!! We DO NOT EAT SQUIRRELS!!”

Did I really say that?!

Yes. Yes, I did.

I was losing my mind.

Here we go, I thought.

I reached down, grabbed him by the collar, wrapped the flimsy bag around the mangled squirrel tail, and pulled.

I’m fairly sure Seamus used the opportunity to savor the last juicy bits, because it felt as if he scraped off the insides as I pulled out what was left of the outsides: tail, two hind feet, and about two inches of furry skin that would have covered a non-existent spine.

Five minutes later we were back in the house. Seamus was strutting around like Henry VIII with a visibly swollen gut after a palatial feast, and I was back on the phone trying to mask my fear and trepidation.

“Um, yes.…This is Gretchen Matthews. We spoke just a few minutes ago? Well, now I’m uh…Now I’m calling about my other dog. Seamus. He… Well, hmmm. He was in our backyard while you and I were talking and…and…and he ate a squirrel.”

Shocked silence.

“I mean, he actually ATE a squirrel. I know this can’t be good for him. Microbes and diseases and who knows what!? What do I do?”

I heard shock give way to mild amusement in the tech’s voice. Then she reassured me that since Seamus is up-to-date with his shots he’d likely be fine, and that Dr. Roy* would want to speak to me after finishing with another patient. Meanwhile, I could try giving Seamus two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide (one T per 10 pounds of dog) to see if that would make him vomit.

Oh – if it were only so easy.

I put the ‘magical elixir’ in one of the kids’ old medicine dispensers, leashed up Seamus, and dragged him outside again. There was NO WAY squirrel was coming up onto my carpets.

Five minutes of attempted administration looked like a clown act gone off the rails. I pried open his mouth and got one drop in. That was enough to convince him he would have no more of it. So, I squatted on him like he was a log; and he backed out from under me. I cradled him next to my rib cage and he pushed off my thighs. In the end he was running around me endlessly, wrapping me in the leash loops as if I were a Maypole.

My neighbor walked by and took pity on me. She lovey-dovingly cooed over Seamus until he calmed and together we managed to get about one TEASPOON in.

I thanked her, and the pot-bellied mutt and I trudged inside, where I locked him in his crate and sat beside him, listening to his stomach gurgle for the next 15 minutes.

Dr. Roy called and told me there was a solution. They would put drops in his eye that would make him nauseous and in about 5 minutes he’d bring up the carcass.

I got our beloved mongrel to the vet immediately, where he was greeted at the door: “Here comes THE SQUIRREL EATER!!” and “Some dogs try their whole lives to catch a squirrel. Not bad for 13!!” Seamus soaked in his moment of fame, never flagging in his wags.

He weighed in at 23.5 lbs. Yep – that’s 22 pounds of dog and 1.5 pounds of squirrel.

The remedy worked as hoped, and when I talked to Dr. Roy later he asked me, “What did you get from him?” After I explained, he said, “Well, that makes sense. Because I got the rest of it.”

He told me it was all there – head, spine, innards. All of it. And when Seamus had finally given up the goods, he turned around and lifted his front paws up onto Dr. Roy’s chest, the way he always does when he’s perfectly content.

The dog was proud of himself.

“I heard you say to the staff that there was an eyeball lookin’ at you!”

“Yes, I was just having fun with them because they didn’t see the whole mess. And Seamus didn’t kill it; it’s pretty clear he found it dead. But he sure enjoyed it! I’m definitely going to tell my wife about this tonight. Once in awhile I see something a little unusual in here.”

Now, those of you who read my blog regularly know that I usually try to say something about life, love, and faith to encourage you. Today, I’m not so sure I have many words along those lines, except maybe these.

Dogs can’t change who they are. Seamus is – apparently – a squirrel eater. Given the right circumstances, your dog might be one too.

We, on the other hand, are blessed with a Creator who will help us to grow into improved versions of ourselves. The men and women He intended us to be. All we have to do is ask Him for the grace we need to transform us from those who favor the ways of the flesh, to those who walk in the Spirit.

“I say then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want….Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.”

– Galatians 5: 16-17, 24-25

*Name has been changed.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Can you make your kids laugh?

Allow me to rephrase.

Do you make your kids laugh?

I am not widely considered to be a funny person, but I have found that making my kids laugh is one of the most underrated joys of parenthood.

It also happens to be the perfect antidote for my own bad moods.

We’re a little more than halfway through spring break and the kids are very PRESENT. With me 24-7. And I’m an introvert. I REALLY like my time alone.

You can see the potential for conflict here.

But lately, I’ve been reminded of a delightful truth: grace can even take the form of humor.

When I’m my most cranky and selfish – the moments when I want to go hide in a long bath, read my novel, and paint my toenails over and over again – those are the times when I find that humor helps the most.

And how does a non-funny woman become a comic for her kids?

I do something out of character.

A case in point: I have been known to dab for laughs.

I know, I know – it’s a 2015 move. (I think?) It’s not au courant. Cam Newton and the rest of the cool people have moved on. But that’s why it’s funny.

Do things your kids think you don’t know about in an untimely fashion (and out of the sight of their friends) and they’ll think you’re hilarious.

A few weeks back, it was just me and my two boys at dinner. The conversation was not award-winning and my mood could generally be described as testy, so to counter its effects I did the unthinkable – I dropped my fork and punctuated a sentence with a dab.

Four eyebrows were raised.

“Mom?!” they asked incredulously as I went back to eating.

“What’s up with you?!” I asked them, dropped the fork again, and jerked my arms back toward the ceiling.

They started to choke in fits of giggles. So I kept it up, telling them about something (I don’t even remember what), and ending each sentence with the trademark move.

Milk and water were snorted and tomato sauce spilled on the floor.

Silliness won the day.

And grace won too.

Like so many adults, I get caught up in my thoughts rather than allow myself to just move freely from one moment to the next, embracing the possible spark of joy that each moment holds.

I spend so much time considering the past or ruminating on the future that I miss the NOW.

So this spring break, I’m trying to allow humor to work its magic, because the joy I give to others bounces back and rejuvenates me.

My youngest is whining and says he’s bored, and man, I hate it when he does that. I tackle him as he walks by me, pin him to the floor, and tickle him until he shrieks in laughter.

My tween daughter is making a private Musically video to “Firework” AGAIN, and so I act it out with her, throwing myself in front of her iPad camera like I’m Katy Perry gone psycho.

Tired of the same-old, tired of yourself, and tired of your own foul mood?

Mix it up and and do something I’m sure you’ve done at some point before.

Surprise the ones you love with a move that’s hilariously out of (your) character. It’s a gesture of spiritual generosity you’re not likely to regret.

Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

For the most part, my kids hang together well. But other days I worry about whether they’ll be on speaking terms when they grow up. They bicker and taunt each other. They mimic one other until someone is yelling and slamming a door. Sarcastic comments have led to hurt feelings. They are not unique kids; they are American siblings. And I am always listening to my own inner voice that tells me when I need to intervene and when I shouldn’t. It’s a learning process for all of us.

Then – once in awhile – they surprise me completely.

Saturday, my 12 year-old daughter and I were in Pittsburgh for an Irish dance competition. She was tired because we’d gotten in late the night before, and after lunch she still had two dances to go when I told her:

“Don’t use up the tank on this third one. Save it. And then just give it all you’ve got for hornpipe.”

Hornpipe was the dance she wanted to win. She’d been dancing well all day, but this last dance was the one she needed to finish off her current level and move closer to becoming a champion.

“Mom,” she said, “You’re really bad at giving pep talks.”

“What?!!” I feigned surprise.

She smiled.

“You don’t want to hear from me?” I continued, knowing full well she really doesn’t, but by that exhausted point, I was clueless about what to say next.

“How about Dad? Does he give good pep talks?”

“Not really.”

“Huh. Who does?”

Then – shocker of them all – she mentioned her older brother.

“Really?!!? What does he say?” I couldn’t imagine a 15-year old being a font of wisdom.

Giggling for the first time in hours she said, “Stuff like, ‘Kick the dancer in front of you.’”

“Oh!” I laughed, “That would never occur to me.”

“Of course not, Mom! You’re you.”

She got in line for her third dance and I texted her brother, saying his words were needed.

Right away he responded with this.

I stared at my phone like it was the best Christmas present I’d ever received.

You are going to do great…I have faith in you…

Did I read that right?

I read it again. And again.

After she came back, I handed her my phone and told her to call her brother. She snatched it with gusto.

A few minutes later she returned, laughing and smiling broadly. Her brother’s encouragement strengthened the words of his text, and hearing his voice soothed her soul. Just like that – he had completely changed her day.

Parents are a family’s leaders. But we often feel sidelined, taken for granted, and forgotten. Most of our work is unseen. While we may ultimately be remembered for the jobs we dutifully perform to provide, to feed, to enable participation and so forth, we are seldom thanked for the even more important work we do: building character in our kids, and showing them how to forge relationships in their lives. 

When was the last time you heard a kid say, “Thank you for teaching me forgiveness and gratitude. I really love my sister/brother”?

Yet this is what we do, every time we speak to our kids about why we treat one another with respect and love, and why we expect them to behave with decency and goodness.

Instilling virtue in kids is like throwing cooked spaghetti at the wall. Do it enough and eventually a piece sticks.

Or so I keep telling myself.

It had been awhile since I’d seen a reminder that this was still truth.

My daughter’s hornpipe dance was absolutely beautiful – probably the best I’d ever seen her do it. And her smile and posture – my gosh….She was on fire with joy.

In the end, she got fourth place. Not the first she wanted, but she had no regrets and had made no mistakes. Judging is a little subjective, and she’ll get her first another day.

And on that day, her brother will be cheering for her while I root for the two of them, from the sidelines.

How I Made My Little Boy Cry and How I’m Mending His Heart

How I Made My Little Boy Cry and How I’m Mending His Heart

I made my little boy cry last night, and I am not proud of it.

It was a typical Thursday. We live in Annapolis and my daughter had Irish dance class in Columbia, which is about 40 minutes away. (Yes, for this particular style of dance, her experience level, and the coaching, the drive is worth it.) So – I was bringing her and another dancer home, when she announced that she was hungry. Understandable at 6 pm after an intense workout. I put my plans for reheating the leftover Mexican casserole on the back burner, so to speak.

We stopped at Chick Fil A. There was another passenger in the car: my 8-year old son. He’d been with us for the entire trip up to dance and back (as he often is) and I was fairly sure he was hungry too. So I fed everyone.

The other dancer’s mother picked her up and we headed home, but not before making yet one more stop to drop off some paperwork for my oldest child’s Boy Scout troop that was due before the coming weekend.

We got home at 7:45. I told my little guy that his dad would be late, and to get a shower. He obeyed me. Then I sat down with my oldest son (age 15, who himself had just arrived home from school and crew practice) to discuss his day while we ate the aforementioned casserole.

At 8:15 my youngest walked into the kitchen and propped his skinny arms up on the far side of the island. I turned around from the sink, hung up the towel, and faced him.

“Ok. So you’ve got 15 minutes before bed. Want to go read a bit before lights out?”

Surprise, bewilderment, and sadness crossed his face all at once.

“Aren’t we going to have dinner?”

I was taken aback.

“You ate at Chick Fil A. Are you still hungry?”

His eyes began to flood. He nodded slightly.

I handed him a banana from the fruit bowl on the counter between us.

“Oh, bud. Come sit down.”

We walked over to the table, and as he slid into a chair and opened his banana, his welling eyes spilled over and he began a full-on cry.

“What’s wrong?” I stammered. But even as I said it, I knew.

“Is it about having dinner? Or just being together…at dinner?”

“Being together,” he managed to say.

I was convicted in where I’d wronged him, and also deeply thankful that all the sacrifices my husband and I make to force as many family dinners a week as we can are paying off. Dinner is often late and preceded by many “appetizers” – plates of cheese and crackers or apples meant to “hold you over” until everyone is home and able to sit down. But our kids love to be together. We are bonding a family, and this little boy’s crying heart was proof.

I coaxed him into my lap, grateful that he’s still small enough to kind-of, almost, fit there, and snuggled with him.

We talked it through. I apologized for all the running around, for failing to explain the day’s turn of events better to him as they were happening, and for not paying closer attention to how he was feeling along the way. And I told him that being together was important to ALL of us.

As a down payment on my renewed promise to reconnect with him, I let him stay up an extra 15 minutes, and we read together. Actually, he read to me, which is what he wanted, and I tell you, after all that driving, it was sort of nice to lie on his carpet and hear a story about a brave mouse going on an adventure.

I’m reading a great book right now called Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx. Marx is a journalist who spends a year with football coach Joe Ehrmann, a former Baltimore Colt, and his team at Gilman High School. The book was published back in 2004, but the lessons for raising kids – especially boys – are timeless and perhaps more important today than ever. Ehrmann argues that our lives are to be other-centered rather than self-centered, and that we find purpose when we choose this path.

When we focus on building and sustaining meaningful relationships over success by any other measure, our lives are more fulfilling and we find the satisfaction that we crave. Empathy is the key. We must develop empathy for one another – the ability to be touched by the pain and plight of others.

I looked at my son and wanted him to know that he was understood. Known. Heard. And cared for.

All it took was a couple moments and a renewed commitment to pay attention to the things that he values. Time with his family. Hugs and laughter at dinner every night.

I could do that. Just BE with him.

And you can do it too.

There is someone you know who has a silent crying heart right now. And your empathy is the key to changing things just a tiny bit for him or her.

Will you stop your endless driving, and sit and listen today?

What to Make of Unseasonable Events

What to Make of Unseasonable Events

There’s nothing like snowfall on the first day of spring to remind you that you are not in control.

Snow at this time is unseasonable.

Or so we think.

Every once in awhile our ideas of what is acceptable and what is not are turned upside down. We are forced to accept the unusual. The unpredictable. Even, the unthinkable.

For the last week and a half, that’s where I’ve been sitting with two friends.

A week ago Sunday, in a span of 12 hours, I got two texts from two different women I love, each of them asking me to pray for two women they love, who were suddenly facing their final days.

Even though I had never met them, I had known about Kat and Amy’s* battles with cancer. There were similarities: Both lived in mid-western cities. Both mothers – one of four, the other of two. Both fighting for a couple of years. Both cancers under control for a bit and then shifted dramatically. My friends were getting on planes to go be at bedsides and say goodbyes.

And along with my friends, I have prayed for each one of these ladies diligently.

Lord, please heal her from her infirmity. May she regain her strength, see her children grow up, and become a powerful testimony of your might.

But prayer has multiple purposes, and asking God to stem the tide of a ravaging illness is only one of them. Prayer is also about opening our hearts to God’s love in whatever form it arrives.

Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything. That seems easy enough to accept when life flows through the expected and happy changes: births, graduations, weddings, milestone anniversaries, and deaths following long, full lives.

But when mothers face death in their forties and fifties, leaving behind kids who have not yet reached maturity, we say, “It’s too soon.”

And as much as I have faith that God has a plan for children left behind, and while I KNOW and believe with ALL MY SOUL that He can work good from ANY situation, I sit in the stillness of a snowfall and just wonder why.

This is normal.

Not understanding why is not a sin.

Kat passed on Friday. It seems that Amy has a little time still.

To console myself I keep coming back to this…

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

He was at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and before he worked his miracle of raising his friend from the dead, Jesus wept.

If God knew that Lazarus would die, had a plan to raise him again, and still shed tears over the suffering that death causes in the world, he surely understands our sorrow now.

Our unknowing is the state of vulnerability in which God loves to work miracles.

He wants to show us He’s still here, and always will be.

Though we walk in the silence of an unseasonable snowfall we are not alone.

He sits with us as we cry. Soothes us with the prayers, words, and actions of others. Smiles on us in the beauty of the natural world. Woos us in dreams that gently coax us onward.

And snowy spring days like this one remind me that everything, absolutely everything, happens in His time.

 

*Names have been changed.

A Good Spin On a Bad Day

A Good Spin On a Bad Day

It seemed to have been a bad day.

My teenage son sat at dinner and told me he’d walked to the bus that morning in the slush and rain, soaking his shoes right through. He felt just mediocre about how his classes had gone and then said,

“Coach was yelling at me a lot during practice.”

“What about?” I asked.

“Keeping my back straighter.”

My son is a novice rower, and learning the correct technique is what this year is all about.

“Was he disparaging or encouraging?”

“Mmm. Encouraging,” he admitted.

“He wants you to get better?”

My son nodded.

“And did he single you out, or was he yelling at others too?”

“He was yelling at others too.”

“Right. I see. You know, I heard on the radio today that the average American has 60 bad days a year. That’s slightly more than 1 per week.”

My son looked up from his plate and gave me a begrudging grin.

I left it at that.

Sometimes we need to hear a few well-placed questions and a relevant tidbit to help us turn our perspective slightly, from a jaded to a more positive point of view.

The same is true in the spiritual life. If I consider all my trials as personal attacks, I will become disheartened.

But if I recognize that in my human condition I am not alone in my suffering, I can take a step toward seeing things more clearly.

There is Someone Who is willing to carry my burdens for me and give me His strength in return for my trust in Him. I can draw new strength from Him to carry on, and someday He will show me the reasons for my trials.

Cast your care upon the Lord,
Who will give you support.
God will never allow
The righteous one to stumble.
(Psalm 55:23)

Thankful Little Boy: Letting Gratitude Live

Thankful Little Boy: Letting Gratitude Live

The small voice spoke from the silence of the back seat.

“I am thankful for Mike.”

“I’m sorry, Honey. What did you say?”

“I’m thankful for Mike. He told me how to get the cars on.”

“Which cars?”

“The new ones. For my Anki Overdrive. I didn’t know how to get them on right and he told me today at lower lot. I’m so thankful for him.”

“Oh. Oh yes, that was certainly nice of him. So, you’re thankful for him, and his friendship.”

“Yes.”

End of discussion.

I looked in the rear view mirror to see my little boy smiling to himself.

My son received a car and track system from Santa at Christmas, and got a couple new components for his eighth birthday this past weekend. I didn’t know he had any questions about how these supplementary pieces would work, because he never had questions before. But with kids, sometimes things are hidden from you.

In any case, he has a friend. A friend who helped him. Gave him a few directions while they stood in line, waiting for their parents to pick them up from school.

And my young son is vocalizing his gratitude about that friendship.

Letting his gratitude LIVE in his heart, and not be a fleeting moment of forgotten, “Thanks.”

Wonderful.

Why do we – as adults – make so little of gratitude?

And find it so hard to verbalize it?

Or allow ourselves to get hung up….

On what others might think if we just said the words, “Your kindness means so much to me”?

Or on the timing of such a remark?

Or on the “appropriateness” of it?

Why do we let the moments that touch us – go?

Isn’t life lived in the tiny, every day moments?

Shouldn’t we be most grateful when they are undeniably beautiful?

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

A New Use for Holiday Cards

A New Use for Holiday Cards

Let me ask you: What did you do with all of the Christmas, holiday, or New Year’s cards you received back in December and January?

If you’re like me, you held onto them for weeks, believing that one cold winter day you would sit down with a big mug of tea and re-read them, save the extra-special ones, and maybe even call or write those super-human individuals who had taken extra time to pen novellas of their lives in the past year. (Those people always impress me; I can barely get my cards mailed by Dec. 22nd, much less tell everyone what we did in the previous 12 months!)

Or maybe you even had grandiose plans of crafting with the cards you received – making a collage or ornaments out of them. Yes – one ambitious year perhaps you even admired all those sweet faces of your friends’ kids and planned to photograph each card, saving them to your hard drive or the cloud! (I actually did this. Precisely ONE time.)

But in all likelihood – you did none of that. You eventually let out a big sigh of co-mingled regret and relief, and recycled the colorful stash, secretly hoping that no one would ever ask you to recall the cards’ contents.

By now, the cards my family received would usually have been appreciated and tossed. But not this year.

This year, we are trying something new: we are making the cards a part of Lent.

In our home, we “say grace” before meals. It’s a good habit – one that’s meant to remind us from Whom we receive our nourishment.

Typically, we say the traditional Catholic blessing:

“Bless us, O Lord,
and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive,
from Thy bounty,
through Christ Our Lord,
Amen.”

It covers all the most important points and when said with genuine heartfelt devotion, offers the gratitude that’s due.

There is danger in repetition, however. After awhile, it can be tempting to ignore the words – to just go through the motions of saying them without concentrating on their meaning.

One way to recharge a mealtime prayer with its intended significance is to change it up a bit – not by re-wording it necessarily, but by adding to it.

So at every meal this Lent, we are taking a couple Christmas cards from our stack and praying for the families that sent them. Our prayers are not fancy or flowery, just straightforward expressions from the heart that the One who sees and knows all will grant our friends the virtues and strengths they need most.

If you wonder what that looks like, here’s what I said last night after the basic blessing:

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for our dear friends Pete and Amy and their children Brendan, Zach, and Ellie. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen them but we know they are in Your loving hands. Please watch over them and bring them closer to one another in 2018. We pray too for Uncle Bill and Clara. May you bless their new marriage and new home in California. Amen.”

Sharing these cards every night has given my husband and I opportunities tell our kids a bit more about old friends – people with whom we ‘swap’ Christmas cards but rarely see – people we knew long before the kids came along. It’s a side benefit I wouldn’t have considered before starting this Lenten effort.

Remembering people and holding them up….

We can start anytime.

Flip through your phone’s address book, glance over your Facebook friends, make a list of names.

Fold your hands and lift up a friend. Today.

You Don’t Need a Valentine to Be One

You Don’t Need a Valentine to Be One

Valentine’s Day is upon us. The celebration of the heart.

Three years ago, my daughter and her friend made Valentines for our whole neighborhood.

No. I’m not kidding.

(If you aren’t familiar with it, feel free to read the story above by clicking the purple words and then come back.)

I was astounded by the girls’ actions, and I’ve never forgotten watching them spread light in a dark world.

I was in awe of their enthusiasm. I was enamored with their openness.

They reminded me of a simple lesson: Don’t ignore a generous impulse.

Even if you are not a Jesus-believer, you probably know this verse, a favorite of mine:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

Notice, there are no caveats in that command. (i.e. Only love those who love you, who live with you, who look like you, who are convenient to love, etc.)

If you’re really going to do it right, love demands a lot.

Walking in faith, you learn from experience that loving well isn’t something you do by yourself.

Knowing True Love is being in relationship. With Someone. The One.

He – the Spirit – makes it possible for us to really love others, because we alone do it so very, very poorly.

We think that Valentine’s Day is all about romantic love. And for most people, it is. But I would argue that it can be so, so much more. Because the world needs LOVE — in all its biggest and most brilliant, and smallest and very humblest forms.

I was thinking along these lines when I gave a short presentation to a group of 20 women a year ago. I told them the story of my daughter and her friend, and I explained the following:

“Don’t ignore a generous impulse. We all know that our world is beautiful, but broken. Lately, when we read the news, it may seem particularly dark and ugly. But the light isn’t far off. It lives within each of us. And we see it when we give it away….While many people told the girls how much they had appreciated the Valentines, the real gift the girls received was the joy they’d given themselves.”

Following the promptings of the Spirit will in all likelihood move us beyond our comfort zones. But how is God ever supposed to share ALL THE LOVE He has to GIVE if WE don’t step out and SHARE IT with OUR very own hands?

After speaking, I gave out 20 very basic valentines that I’d put together myself, and I invited the group to think about the people in their lives. Friends. Colleagues. Neighbors. Acquaintances.

I asked:

“Do you know a woman who was just diagnosed with a devastating illness?
Do you know someone going through a divorce?
Have a coworker who has a troubled child?
Have an elderly neighbor who lives alone?
Is there someone in your circle who is bearing a heavy, heavy burden?
Is there someone you can just tell feels hopeless?
Is there someone who seems fearful?
Is there anyone you haven’t thanked for a kindness you’ve been shown?

Valentine’s Day is about love, and we can make it about so much more than romance and friendship between elementary school classmates. Let’s use it as an opportunity to reach out and say, “I see you, I value you, and I care about you.”

We wrote those Valentines to the people we felt might need a bit of True Love, and gave them away.

Maybe tomorrow, you could buy or make a simple note, and then extend your heart and the Spirit to someone in your circle who might appreciate a little something sweet.

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. (Hebrews 4:7)