Not Sure What to Believe Anymore? Encouraging Words for Today

Not Sure What to Believe Anymore? Encouraging Words for Today

My spirit stumbled as I read my friend’s words on Facebook this morning.

“I’m not sure what I believe anymore, as these past few years have been rough.”

She lost her dad to cancer two years ago.

Her mother is battling it now.

Yesterday, one of her closest friends became a widow who will raise a beautiful little girl alone.

Maybe you’ve faced similar heartaches.

Maybe you stand in the middle of a circle of suffering and spend most of your days staring at the misery, wondering, “How could God allow all this? It’s too much.”

You don’t have to be a believer in God to feel the desperation and loss of hope that Job experienced in the Old Testament book.

In great oppression men cry out;
they call for help because of the power of the mighty,
Saying, ‘Where is God, my Maker,
who has given visions in the night…

Though thus they cry out, he answers not…
– Job 35: 9-10, 12

Our souls demand answers. When we’ve reached the ends of ourselves we turn as a last resort toward the idea of heaven. Freedom from pain.

There’s a voice I hear from time to time – a memory that comes back at pivotal moments to buttress me.

I’m standing on a street in Paris during my junior year of college, just staring at my feet, complaining about my aching legs which are sore from miles upon miles of walking. The voice of my professor speaks close to my ear.

“Look up,” she says. “Always look up.”

Begrudgingly, I do. A colorful panorama of ancient, detailed architecture framed by clear blue sky awaits me.

There is so much more to discover than the layers of grime built up on my ugly black shoes and the cracked sidewalk beneath them.

I have come to know that the words, “Look up,” were etched into my mind for an even greater reason than to remind me of how earthly pleasures can distract or numb a tired mind.

But it is idle to say God does not hear or that the Almighty does not take notice.
Even though you say that you see him not,
the case is before him; with trembling
should you wait upon him.
– Job 35: 13-14

God may seem silent. He may not answer in a way that makes sense to our feeble minds. But he is ever-present. The Alpha and the Omega – beginning and end which frame our lives and time itself. Something in us recognizes this infinite power and heeds its call when we are fully honest about our need.

Our hope for our current circumstances is to LOOK UP and continually ask for the things He promises to give: Wisdom. Peace. An ability to recognize that His ways are not ours and that even in our sorrow, He will cover us.

I used to have trouble with this. A LOT of trouble with this.

My family of origin fell apart. I was betrayed by friends. I have struggled throughout my life with the demon of depression.

But I have come to know…

Dear friends and family will come to our aid. We will have the provisions we need to live in body and spirit. God will give freely – using those around us to show us His ancient, present, and forever architecture of Love.

Help Needed in Aisle 4!

Help Needed in Aisle 4!
Photo by Marian Trinidad. www.creationswap.com.
Photo by Marian Trinidad. www.creationswap.com.

“Help! Help on Aisle 4!”

I heard the voice from a few aisles over. It was a woman, sounding slightly annoyed but not exasperated. Like an employee on a walkie-talkie.

“Help, please.”

My, the bows and decorations I was looking at were pretty. And how pleasant it was to be strolling along with my cart, all by lonesome on this last weekday morning before school let out for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Hello?!” she called. Urgency had been summoned into her voice.

I took another sip of my tea. ‘It’s that time of year,’ I thought. ‘We’re all going to start getting uptight.’

But then – I was suddenly shocked by a heavy, greater awareness that no one was coming. In fact, this woman and I might be the only people in this quadrant of the huge store.

My hands let go of the cart and my feet started moving in her direction just as her strongest cry yet rang out.

Help! Help me, please! Someone help!”

My legs were moving quickly now, and my head felt light. My thoughts jumbled.

‘Am I floating? Is this my body? What’s going on here?’

Many aisles over I saw her, an elderly woman with two enormous storage bins placed on end in her cart, and her finger wedged between them and the metal bars of the collapsible child seat. She couldn’t reach around the bins to relieve their weight, and might not have been strong enough even if she could have. I pulled the bins off and she stared at me with a pale, relieved face.

“Thank you. Oh, thank you.”

“Is it broken? Can you move it?”

She wiggled her finger and massaged the long acrylic nail, which looked a bit twisted.

“Oh, goodness. I don’t know what I would have done if you didn’t come.”

For a moment, I said nothing.

“Are you going to be ok? You can get help loading these into your car.”

“Yes. I’m ok. Happy Easter.”

Then I just smiled.

“Oh! Oh! Gosh,” she laughed faintly, “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“You, too. Happy Thanksgiving.”

I walked away from her with the firm knowledge that I had – just then – been an instrument, and that I could not in any way take credit for what I had done.

Left to my own devices, I would have ignored her call, would have kept on putting decorations for my own future celebrations into my cart.

That’s just how self-absorbed I was. Am. Can be at any time.

But I wasn’t given a choice. I was given a gift of being made ready to serve in His way at His time. And He stepped in and moved me right to the place He wanted me to go.

In this time of Advent, as I await with expectant hope for the joys of Christmas, I want to remember that true gifts are not things – they are found in the giving away of grace that has been given to us. A humble, servant’s heart is what made Christmas possible in the first place, and it’s still the greatest part of this season. 

Lord, make me a channel of Your peace. Use me this Advent in the ways You see fit. Use me to give away Your relentless grace.

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

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I’m digging into my salad when I see that a friend has posted on FB a photo of his Yellow Lab sleeping in the grass and captioned it, “Dog days of August.”

Ah yes…dog days. Lazy days. I too want to do…absolutely nothing.

Just a few weeks left of summer vacation, and what a fabulous summer it’s been. Family trips to the Outer Banks and Maine, long days spent poolside, and plenty of time for reading, movie-watching, and sipping lemonade. Heaven on earth.

I appreciated the dog photo, because it reminded me that it’s easy to become lulled in these hot, humid days into taking this season’s blessings for granted. So here are three ways to renew your appreciation of August.

  1. Visit the farmer’s market. We go every weekend to find the juiciest corn, mouthwatering heirloom tomatoes, and biggest cantaloupes around. I love to fill my bags with the fruits of the earth, knowing that these fresh foods are divinely designed to nourish my body in exactly the right way. And oh – the peaches this month! Don’t get me started on my love for peaches…
  2. Make a date with a friend. In this season more than any other, it’s easy to lose touch with people because families go their own ways. Within communities there are fewer routines, and we don’t cross paths with friends we see on a regular basis at other times of the year. I saw a dear friend at Mass on Sunday, and we hadn’t connected in weeks! If you’re missing someone, let them know, and make a date to get coffee or have lunch. We are created to love; we need one another. We need to connect with our friends.
  3. Take a day trip. Go see something new. Or revisit someplace you haven’t been in awhile. We’re going to Ocean City, NJ – my husband’s childhood summer retreat – to eat pizza and play mini-golf. Take a short escape from the ordinary and go, while keeping your eyes open to the wonders that await.

As I grow in appreciation of the beauty of each season, I see the world for what it is – a home for me and for all of us, created in love, by Love Himself, to be cherished and utilized conscientiously. And the more I meditate on its offerings – the more I savor life in all its fullness – the more I realize that I can’t begin to count my blessings.

Happy are those who dwell in your house!

They never cease to praise you.

-Psalm 84:5

Scene from a Ballpark

Scene from a Ballpark
Orioles' Adam Jones - 2nd Image by Keith Allison - Creative Commons
Orioles’ Adam Jones – 2nd Image by Keith Allison – Creative Commons

The father and son walked a bit ahead of me as we exited Camden Yards on the second night in August. At first I didn’t realize they were together, because the father was white and the son was black. But then I saw their hands.

They were holding hands. To stay together in the crowd.

This wouldn’t have been notable, except that the son was about 13. I know because I have a son that age who is also nearly as tall as me.

As I got closer, I expected to hear a conversation I’d hear in my own house, but it wasn’t like that at all.

This boy was slurring his speech, and when he turned his head, I could see that it took effort for him to form words. But he was joyful in his attempts. And he was saying hello to every person who passed him.

A few returned his greeting.

Most glanced in his direction and then moved away.

Then one man struck up a brief conversation with him, asking him if he’d enjoyed the game.

My heart gave thanks for this generous soul, because the moment he engaged the boy, both he and his father turned toward the man and gave huge welcoming smiles.

The boy named a couple things he’d liked – the four home runs, cotton candy – and then something he didn’t. And the banter that ensued was typical Northeast stuff – a repartee of “no-way-c’mon-yeah right-don’t gimme that.” And for a bright moment, the boy was not “special needs.” He was just a kid at the ballpark with his dad.

Valuing a person means recognizing the sacred within – the holy that comes from beyond the boundaries of time, space, body, gender, race, or ability. Thank God for those who know true beauty when they see it.

No More Summer Scrooge

No More Summer Scrooge

 

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I used to hate summer. I was a Summer Scrooge.

I only lightly concealed my loathing of the heat and humidity. I never wanted to be outside. I harbored resentments – for my fair skin that burns like bacon, blue eyes not meant for bright sunlight, and tender feet that just won’t tolerate hot cement, sand, or even flip-flops. Strange, you think? It’s true. The thought of something stuck between my toes all day long makes me cringe.

But my feelings were a prison of my own making.

It’s amazing how years can go by before you realize that you’re missing out on whole seasons of your life because of the way you look at them. 

I’ve learned – the words that ring in my head and my heart frame my perspective.

So, 7 years ago, I decided to make summer different. It happened like this….

I had a friend who seemed to treat every day like an adventure, even if she never left her home. One weekday afternoon, I was sitting in her bright yellow kitchen while she cooked, eating olives from a ornate blue and white bowl that was part of a set.

“I love these bowls,” I told her, which matched a platter covered in cheese, crackers, and cured Italian meats.

“Thanks! They’re from Portugal. We got them when Tim* was stationed in Rome.”

Five of the six kids we had between us were yelling and charging happily all over her house, occasionally running through to snatch a slice of provolone or salami.

“And you’re using them today?”

“Why not?” she laughed. “What good are they doing in the cupboard? I use them all the time!”

“What if they get broken?”

“Well, then they do,” and she tossed her long hair as if to say, ‘But we really used them, didn’t we?’

That small exchange made an impression on me. Yes, other people had told me, “Use the good china,” but until that moment – I guess I hadn’t heard the message: Live today.

Even as a stay-at-home mom doing the usual thing on a random Tuesday – Live today.

And I decided to make a summer plan.

In the beginning, my summer plan entailed my own physical happiness. I found a non-sticky sunscreen and decided I was worth the expense, shunned capris and shorts and settled on the fact that skirts were more comfortable for me in the heat, and discovered that playing in the pool with my kids actually is more fun than sitting on the side watching them.

But by leaping those physical hurdles, I also found strength to focus on my deeper, emotional hurdles. Like how to use the summer months to draw closer to my children emotionally, when holding them at arms’ length would be easier for me. I’m an introvert with currently very extroverted children, and all this ‘togetherness’ can be challenging.

But the summer is time we will never get back. So I’ve learned to pray and ask for discernment from God about how to spend these days well.

I don’t always get the answers I want. As one would expect, there is less time for me and my pursuits, and in the short-term that can be frustrating. (i.e. I’ll be blessed if I can write one blog piece a week from now thru August!)

But because of my willingness to bend to Him, He is helping me to make the very most of now, learn from the past, and have fewer regrets later. It’s a hard thing to admit that I’m a better mom to my third six-year old than I was to my first child when he was six, but good parenting is about continuing to grow, and I so desperately want to be good – for them. I am being formed into the woman I was intended to be and the Creator is creating the best summers of my life.

This coming week, we’ll be on vacation, and I intend to spend equal time on the beach reading and building sandcastles. But I leave you with some recent words from my youngest son.

He and I were driving to the gym in silence when he blurted this out. I scrambled to get it down as soon as I could. I was in awe of what I’d heard, knowing I had to preserve it forever. He said,

“Every day is special. 

Because God is always with us.

And every day is a birthday.

And a new baby is born.

And a new house is built.

And a car is fixed.

And flowers are planted.

And gardens grow.”

 Amen.

Every day is special.

 

 

*Not his real name.

Warrior in the Rain

Warrior in the Rain
Photo by Ryan Wilson. Portland, Oregon. unsplash.com.
Photo by Ryan Wilson. Portland, Oregon. unsplash.com.

This morning I was reconsidering a post I started last winter and never finished. Sometimes that happens. I drift along, writing about a moment that captivates me, but then I’m not sure why I had been told to pay attention. The lessons we learn can be months – or years – in the making. Today, as summer dawns, I’m leaning forward to hear His whisper on this memory.

Cold rain pelted the colonial streets when I dropped my kids off at school this morning. 38 degrees and gloomy. I was turning left when a couple started to cross the road right in front of my car, walking a black Lab.

I saw her first.  She was bundled up in a parka, hat, and scarf, and working hard to hold on to the pulling dog, who was giddy over his outing despite the weather, his tail whipping him into a full-body wag.

Then I looked at him. He was oddly serene – a dreamy, almost complacent expression on his face – and he had chosen strange attire. His muscles were lightly concealed by a t-shirt – and shorts! He held an umbrella over the woman, even as the driving rain splashed against his bare limbs. His gait was strong and steady, but ever-so-slightly unnatural. 

Then I saw it – his prosthetic leg.

I assumed he was military, a warrior injured while serving our nation. But it could have been an auto accident or something else, of course.

Nevertheless, in the two seconds I studied his face, I saw resolve. Perhaps the kind that comes from having faced fear and done the next right thing despite it. Or from the hard work necessary to overcome a challenge you never thought you’d encounter.

Why was I directed to remember him?

Maybe because we all face obstacles to a smooth walk.

Despite my best efforts, I still struggle with comparing myself to others, fear of judgment, paralyzing perfectionism, and an inner critic who won’t shut up. When no one is counting on me, I’m also rather poor at time management and start projects I don’t finish. Then I worry that somehow these failings will become my legacy.

I could resign myself to these negative thoughts and let the foes of my spirit finish me. I could assume that I can’t improve my gait.

Yet I believe that God is pulling for me. His Word is replete with promises of His Love. 

And He is sovereign over all – even over the various forms of darkness that plague my mind, creating muddy puddles on the sunniest of days.

He says,

…be transformed by the renewal of your mind…

-Romans 12:2

This is a command. To allow myself to be made better. To be made new. By Him.

Through Him I will find the long-term resolve I’m looking for.

My ability to walk naturally through life without fear or pain is directly related to my willingness to yield to His Love.

Can I yield a bit more today?

Riveting Like Rosie

Riveting Like Rosie

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I’ve always liked “Rosie the Riveter,” the iconic WWII figure famously portrayed in this painting by Norman Rockwell. Years ago, I had a copy of this print in my office. Rosie symbolized the thousands of women in industrial jobs who replaced men gone to fight. She embodied the spirit of a new phase in American life.

I look at her and I see Resolve. Tenacity. Perseverance. Strength. Courage.

And I know that under her tough-as-nails exterior, she was also tender and womanly. To convey her feminine charms, some artists even portrayed her with noticeably red lips.

I can relate to Rosie’s “taking care of business” attitude, and I suspect that most American women do.

But I also wonder about her quieter moments. The ones where she kept her home together. Held her kids. And perhaps marveled about the way thousands of little bolts can hold one big vehicle together.

I have a riveting gun too, you see. It’s just invisible. Its’ bolts are tiny interactions, layered one on top of another over months and years until hopefully, finally, in the end, my contributions will have aided in the creation of a self-sufficient and loving adult. Three of them, in fact. At least, this is what I envision.

I get so consumed with trying to make sure that everything is powered down and in place that I can forget the beautiful whimsy of working on long-term projects that are large, grand, and so very, very important. And also so very different, complicated, and not “projects” at all – but God-given gifts who are entrusted to me (and my husband) for a time.

I can fail to really see each one of them at all. 

That is, until I experience a moment like the one I experienced tonight. Because – let’s face it – my kids’ growing up experience isn’t just about them, is it?

It was all normal enough – laying out my son’s clothes for school tomorrow.

Except that tomorrow is his last day of kindergarten.

My baby’s last day of kindergarten.

His navy blue shorts and white shirt suddenly looked so, so small.

A metaphorical hammer was coming down on my head as I realized he wouldn’t fit into these clothes come fall. They are already tight, and he’s our last child.

He’s my baby.

I stood there. Suddenly fighting to breathe.

I ran to his bed, where he lay, silently sleeping.

I stroked his hair. Touched his cheek. Held his hand.

Wiped tears from my face with the back of my other hand.

There were so many projects I had planned to do this year while he was spending days in kindergarten. Some got done. Others didn’t.

And? No one was keeping score.

But like Rosie, I was doing the work of a new phase in my own life.

Invisible rivets. Laying down the foundation for what will be when he  finishes 1st grade, and 2nd, and 12th, and so on.

A new phase means changing some things and building on others.

I think of Rosie. She says…

Look ahead with Resolve and Courage. Be Riveted to Hope.

When Did We Stop?

When Did We Stop?

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When did we stop?

When did we stop walking through our lives with wonder?

Looking for the next amazing thing?

Seeking out another delight?

Expecting a miracle around the corner?

A bunny in the bushes?

That we’d surely see…while wearing shockingly purple glasses with no lenses….just because?

When did we stop dancing through life knowing the wonderful was coming?

The promise of it has always been there.

Let’s reawaken our souls to it today.

However far back we need to go, let’s go there. Let’s go back to when we simply accepted that there was so much we didn’t know, and we just trusted, and lived in awe. 

You visit the earth and water it,
make it abundantly fertile.
God’s stream is filled with water;
you supply their grain.
Thus do you prepare it:
you drench its plowed furrows,
and level its ridges.
With showers you keep it soft,
blessing its young sprouts.
You adorn the year with your bounty;
your paths drip with fruitful rain.
The meadows of the wilderness also drip;
the hills are robed with joy.
The pastures are clothed with flocks,
the valleys blanketed with grain;
they cheer and sing for joy.

-Psalm 65:10-14

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

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We attended a wedding and got a thank-you note. But I wasn’t expecting one. The bride and groom had already sent us a note for the gift we’d given them. ‘Hmm,’ I wondered as I opened it, ‘maybe they were worried they had overlooked us, so they’re sending another one.’

Nope.

“Thank you both so much for joining us as we celebrated our big day. We hope you both had a great time as well!!”

Who does this?

Who spends postage to thank guests for their presence, instead of their presents?

Almost no one. And that’s why it’s so remarkable. And sweet.

The truth is, we are grateful to have special people with us, in good times, bad times, and in-between times. The trouble is, we neglect to tell them we are thankful that they are there.

Jesus said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Something to think about.

When You’re Trying to Measure Up

When You’re Trying to Measure Up

I was at the gym yesterday (a minor accomplishment in itself), and I took a pure barre class. I think of it as “Ballet for Dummies and Non-Dancers.”

We didn’t have a barre on the wall; instead, we used folding chairs, balls, and elastic straps for balance and resistance. I hadn’t been there for awhile, and it showed.

The full-length mirrors made it possible for me to check my alignment (or lack thereof) during each exercise and, like three-way mirrors in department store dressing rooms, they dispelled any illusions I had about my physique. Further, the rubber bands we used proved that my arms are not as strong as I thought they were.

In short – I’ll just say there is work to be done. And I am loathe to do it.

But I made it through the class, vowed I would be back, and trekked off to the locker room to shower and get on with my day.

That’s when I heard her crying – a woman in the aisle of lockers adjacent to mine. She was on the phone, upset, and angry.

“I’m at the gym, God damn it!!” she said. “I’m trying!!”

I’m not sure what the conversation was really about. Whether it had to do with fitness or myriad other things. But I could tell her spirit was depleted. For whatever it was that was bothering her, she needed reassurance. She needed help in letting go of expectations – her own or someone else’s. She needed to know unconditional love.

This world would have us believe that we are measured by our output. That we have to perform every day. That these things determine our value. But that’s not the Truth.

We are loved beyond measure, simply because we ARE, by One who calls us “lilies among thorns.”

Today, as I tend to my sore spots, I will rest in that.

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