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)

“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.

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.

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.