Do You Get Sick of ‘Perfect’ Posts? Me Too.

Do You Get Sick of ‘Perfect’ Posts? Me Too.

Do you ever look at carefully curated Facebook or Instagram posts and think, “These people are making me sick. I can’t take any more of his/her ‘perfect’ life.”

I’m with you. There are days when I have to shut it all down, reminding myself once again that these worlds are a VIRTUAL reality, not life in itself.

Earlier this week, my husband and I posted a huge block of our 2017 summer vacation photos on Facebook, which we use to stay in touch with far-flung family and friends. It’s a helpful vehicle, and the grandparents have learned to download pictures they’d like to save so that I don’t have to print and mail copies. But as I hovered over the ‘post,’ button, I pondered the implications. Every action has a reaction.

What do people think when they see my family so seemingly carefree?

The truth about a family is what’s happening before a photo is taken, and after.

I’m not going to pretend we have major issues, crises, or drama in our home right now. I’m not going to make this more than it is. But little struggles can be stresses – even on vacation – so here’s a story along those lines.

My daughter ran past me in the hallway of our rented beach house, rushing to the garage. “Oh God,” she said, “My retainer. I’ll find it.”

This kid. Age 11. And her retainer is literally holding things in place while we wait between Phase 1 and Phase 2 of who knows how much orthodontia to make big teeth line up in a tiny mouth.

I knew what she’d done. She’d left it in the mesh side pocket of a chair for 5 hours under the beach tent, which had just been folded up and dragged back to the house minutes before. Bad news all around.

I immediately blamed myself for not remembering to have her leave it at the house in the morning before we’d set out for the day. Instead, she’d had to improvise in our sandy shelter, fearful she’d lose it while playing in the surf.

In the garage, tensions were rising as equipment was tossed about and my daughter explained to her dad what had happened.

“Did you find it?” I interrupted.

“No,” my husband said firmly. “We’re going back to the beach. How much is it going to cost when we don’t find it there?!!?”

He let out an exasperated sigh and they left.

After I told our other two kids what was up, I headed out too.

I talk about God a lot in my blog, not because I expect that all of my readers will share my beliefs, but because my experience shows me that He shows up in my day-to-day.

People think faith is about religious doctrine. But it’s not. It’s about opening yourself up to the possibility that God cares about you. You personally.

So as I walked, I approached Him in honest conversation.

Lord?

I felt His presence like a blanket on my shoulders.

‘Here I Am.’

Thank you for being there. For being… here. For always being here. Even when I’m not paying attention. And I know I haven’t been… paying attention. Not for awhile. I’ve been ignoring you this summer. I’m so sorry.

Thank you for not ignoring us. Thank you for this vacation week. For the great time we’ve been having together. For clearing my mind. For the quiet.

As you know, we’re missing this retainer. I don’t know if we’re supposed to find it. I’m ok with your plan if we’re not. But either way, please bring us your peace. Help us all to be ok with whatever happens next.

St. Anthony – my friend – I wonder what it was you lost and found? You know I hate your rhyme – but if you could ask the Lord for help as well that would be great.

Lord, please help. Please help.

By the time I got to the beach my husband and daughter were giving up. They had searched the spot where the tent had been and looked resigned and defeated. I told them I’d be back when I’d completed my own turns through the sand.

After about 5 minutes of shuffling my feet into layer upon layer of hot earth, I looked up to see my own likeness coming toward me – the 40-ish mom from the generic family that had spent the day 20-some yards away from us – tired and concerned in her wet and sandy bathing suit.

“What are you looking for?” she called out.

I explained.

“What color is it?”

No sooner had I uttered the words, “It’s pink, green, and…” then we both looked down, and two feet ahead, half- buried at a 45-degree angle, there it was.

I held it up and looked at her in amazement.

“Oh my gosh,” I said, breaking into relieved laughter. “Wow! Wow!! This is a beach! I mean, I was praying about it, but… It’s a beach!”

She smiled and said, “That’s what I do, too. I pray too.”

I looked at her straight on. “Thank you!!! Really. Thank you.”

“It wasn’t me.”

I nodded appreciatively.

Because we both knew.

It wasn’t her.

The “perfect” in this life isn’t what WE make of it.

It’s what HE makes.

Bragging on My Husband (Because…Bacon!!)

Bragging on My Husband (Because…Bacon!!)

My husband performed something of a miracle this week. He made bacon.

He didn’t cook bacon. He MADE it. From scratch.

He cured the pork all week long and then smoked it on our back porch this afternoon.

When he pulled the slab of mouth-watering goodness out of the smoker, cut off a thin slice, fried it in a pan for just a minute, and gave me the sizzling piece – I thought perhaps I could live on just this for the next few years.

My husband’s slab of homemade bacon. Right out of the smoker.

I have often said that there are five reasons I could never be a vegetarian:

1. Pancetta.

2. Prosciutto.

3. Salami.

4. Carpaccio.

5. BACON.

Note – four of these are cured pork and the first and the last are very similar. Bacon is smoked, while pancetta is not.  (A little shout out to Bart Simpson fans here! I absolutely love this clip too!!)

It was a GREAT afternoon!

If you’ve eaten at our home, you know my husband is a culinary wizard. I like to say that I cook for sustenance and to feed our family during the week. But on the weekend and when we entertain, the love of my life cooks for fun and relaxation. He’s made his own marshmallows, candied oranges, corned beef, sausage….even his own hot sauce (after growing his own peppers first – multiple kinds for the right mix of flavors, naturally). And these are just the things that immediately come to mind because he’s made them in the last year or two! We’ve been married 19 years. Do the math. The number of delicious meals he’s made is mind boggling!

People say my guy is a “foodie,” and I guess that’s true. But I think he’s also gifted. And what that means for me and our kids is that we’re very, very blessed.

If you ask him, my husband will tell you he enjoys cooking. And he likes to see people take pleasure in the fruits of his efforts.

Which is the way it’s supposed to be.

Because when you bless others with a God-given gift, it will bring you joy.

What are your gifts? Do you know?

Do you often sell yourself short?

Don’t think you have to have stellar musical ability or athletic prowess to be considered gifted.

One could argue that the world needs people to exercise their ‘quieter’ talents even more.

Are you a good listener?

Are you patient and calm when others would rush a tender soul?

Do you create warm and inviting spaces where people like to gather?

Are you a natural ‘encourager’?

Are you good at problem-solving?

We all have gifts, and no two of us are the same. Imagine if everyone used his or her gifts to their fullest extent.

Your gifts were given to you for two reasons: to help build up the world, and to bring you joy in the process.

That’s something delicious (like bacon!) to think about today.

 

Bless us, Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord, Amen. – Catholic Mealtime Prayer

When Our Animals Pass On – Some Words of Hope and Consolation

When Our Animals Pass On – Some Words of Hope and Consolation

Some people just aren’t ‘animal people.’ They can’t help it, really. They just haven’t ever connected with a dog, cat, or some other creature in that deeply beautiful and inexplicable way that changes everything about how a person sees the world.

And then there are the rest of us.

Too many times over the last couple months I’ve watched friends wish a forever goodnight to a beloved dog or cat, and every time I hear of an animal passing, I go back to the days of losing the ones who were most precious to me.

There was Sassafras – the Puli I grew up with  – a Hungarian sheepdog who looked like a Rastafarian. She endured hours of ‘dress up’ as I styled her in my old baby clothes.

Crash – our 107 lb. Yellow Lab – who was afraid of linoleum, occasionally howled when he heard sirens, and adored flowers so much that if I came home with a bouquet, I had to let him smell it right away or he’d tackle me trying.

Crash. He loved flowers and wearing bandanas.

And Shiloh – our Golden Retriever – a big, red, fluffy guy who befriended all the neighbors and was so diligent about “checking” on our infant daughter I had to close the door to her room or he’d wake her up by pushing his nose through the slats of her crib.

It’s this last dog I think of with regret.

Regret. Commingled with our cravings for peace and comfort, it’s often the unspoken part of loss.

Sometimes it’s big. Sometimes it’s not. But one way or another, it can creep in.

We got Shiloh – a 9-week old puppy – on December 22, 2003 when our oldest son was not quite one year. I house-trained him in the dead of winter by strapping my son into his high chair, giving him a handful of Cheerios, and running Shiloh outdoors. He learned inside from out, but was never trained in obedience. My husband and I fully admit – our timing in getting this dog was not among the best of our decisions.

Shiloh on the day we brought him home.

Our daughter arrived two years later, and I was perpetually preoccupied with the work of mothering young children. Shiloh just didn’t receive the one-on-one time and love he so richly deserved. We lost him to an irreversible heart ailment at 8 years old; it was far too soon.

Shiloh as a young pup.

I went to the vet on Valentine’s Day in 2012 to be with him at the end, and the doctor gave us a few minutes alone to say goodbye.

I looked into his eyes and was overcome, so I sat on the tile floor, and with my arms wrapped around his huge red neck, I poured out my pain-filled heart.

There was so much to say. So much I still wanted to do. And couldn’t redo. And all I was left with was precious little time.

I told him I loved him.

I thanked him for his constant devotion to me and our family…for the joy he had brought to our lives.

And then…

I followed my soul’s prompts…and I asked him for forgiveness.

I said I was sorry. I listed many things I did that I regretted, and all the things I didn’t do that I regretted even more.

And this dog knew.

Why am I sure?

I saw it in his eyes.

There is one thing domesticated animals do better than their people: they love unconditionally.

And he did.

Just then, he leaned into me – physically and in spirit. He rested his head on my shoulder and licked my tears.

If every life moment is a glimpse of the divine, what was I seeing just then?

These critical life lessons:

Do not look back and wish for something else. We must live and love right where we are. To do otherwise is futile.

Forgiveness is a matter of turning the heart in the right direction: owning up to wrongs and then relinquishing them. Often, the hardest person to forgive is ourselves.

If facets of God can be seen here on earth – present in the unconditional love and forgiveness of an animal who trusts us and accepts us as we are – then in the same way, we can rest in the knowledge that if we approach Him with contrite hearts, admit our mistakes and ask for mercy, it will be granted to us.

And what of the animals? Where do our friends go?

I appreciate the words of Pope Francis:

“Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all.” – Laudato Si

It warms my soul to consider this…to savor the fact that the God of my experience and understanding so loves the whole world, and God wants me to experience perpetual joy and love to such a degree, that He will use any means necessary to show me this Truth….

Even a dog – here on earth, and someday, forever with me in heaven.

Shiloh dressed for Halloween. He had a funny birthmark on the middle of his tongue. And a beautiful, beautiful heart.

Bringing Love to Family History – Step 1 of a Journey

Bringing Love to Family History – Step 1 of a Journey

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I was reaching for hand lotion that I keep by the kitchen sink, and I almost missed the little miracle. Do you see it?

It’s a moth. Camouflaged on the granite countertop.

Perfectly still.

But very much alive.

Moth on the counter.

I’m embarking on a journey of writing a book about my family history, and considering it is a lot like contemplating this moth.

In the frozen life of family snapshots, there is a movement of people with vibrant personalities and stories to tell.

Yet many of them – the real people and their stories – are hidden.

And just like the ornate moth, each one deserves more than a glance.

Look closely at one thing for awhile and you’ll eventually see the myriad shades of gray and brown which cover it. The explosion of subtle colors are its essence and truth.

So it is with us and our lives. Nothing is straightforward. Nothing is one-sided.

Our perceptions and memories of events, people, and places are incomplete, mere shadows of the full picture.

This book – however hard I try to be accurate – will be nothing more than impressions of the people I write about.

But should I despair?

No.

I talked to my grandma just 4 days before she passed; 48 hours before she couldn’t speak any more. And after she thanked me for speaking at my grandfather’s memorial service the previous week, I told her I’d thought of things I could have said and didn’t. She replied (and I wrote it down verbatim),

“We do that…When we think back, we think, ‘Why didn’t I say that or do that?’ It’s not productive.”

She was right, of course.

It’s not productive.

Wishing things were somehow different is not helpful.

It’s not productive to belittle ourselves in the now for what we couldn’t or didn’t do then. We can only work with what we have, and when we sit and reflect in gratitude, we always find we have enough.

Because what we have, what I have to give in this endeavor, is love in the telling.

I will lay out my plan for this book in posts to come, but for now I’m ruminating on the need for family history to be – first and foremost – an excavation of the sentiments and values that bind us together, no matter the personalities or circumstances involved. Any details which might devalue a person in a reader’s eyes must be sifted and viewed in the way the One greater than ourselves views us. That is, with love and tenderness. A person’s mistakes and trials should never become fodder for our gossiping minds, but instead be seen for what they were or are: the struggles which lead to the development of character.

I am excited about this journey into my family history. I am eager to see what’s hiding in plain sight.

When I Think of Her

When I Think of Her

I think of her most often when I’m doing the everyday tasks. So that’s all the time.

Folding laundry.

Combing a child’s hair.

Setting a table.

Sweeping the floor.

Making dinner.

Piano music is playing on the radio and I’m doing this last thing – crushing ground beef against the side of a pot to ensure that it browns evenly – when I start to cry.

Grief is like that. It sneaks up on you at the strangest moments.

I turn the stove down and wander into the family room, letting the meat rest until I can slow the sobs.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Something she can’t do anymore.

I cry harder.

I have faith. I trust that all is well.

But sadness is…It just is.

How many days did my grandma move in a trance around her home mourning the people she’d loved and lost?

Oh, stakkars liten” I hear her say, as she called me when I was a child. It’s Norwegian for “poor little one.”

We carry these precious pieces with us – the knowledge that we were loved, even as love was shown in the words chosen to comfort us in our everyday distress.

And this is just a small part of what I want to write about.

Some of you are aware, and others are just hearing, that I want to undertake a new challenge. I’d like to write a book for my kids about how love and grace have shown up throughout generations of their family, as it has in all our families, if we look closely enough.

I don’t know how long this will take. It could be quite a long process. But I will document it here on my blog and share how it goes with you, while offering what I hope will be useful observations so that if anyone else should like to undertake a similar adventure they can learn from my experience.

If you haven’t done so already, I invite you to sign up to receive updates by email. Look for the green box in the sidebar above. Thanks for joining me.

How to Know When Following Your Heart is Right

How to Know When Following Your Heart is Right

I lost my grandpa this week. The pain is new and deep, and I know that I will miss him for the rest of my life.

Memories comfort me, yes, but so does something else. The knowledge that I told him on so many, many occasions that I loved him. I did not let key opportunities slip by.

Just a week before my grandpa passed, my family and I had gathered in his retirement home in Seattle, WA, to celebrate his and my grandma’s 75th wedding anniversary. They were married in January 1942, just a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Grandpa realized he’d be entering the Army Air Corps and knew he couldn’t go without his love. Allen and Hazel were high school sweethearts who truly grew up into adulthood together. As Grandpa said just a few days ago, “We met in May 1939, and I knew she was the one for me.”

Over the years, our family gathered from across the U.S. to celebrate 4 of their major milestone anniversaries: 60, 65, 70, and 75. At the 60th, I hardly said a word about the love and pride I was feeling. But something changed by the 65th, and today I suddenly realized why.

It was January 2007. I was midway through the 8-month process of learning and discernment that is required of people who wish to enter the Catholic Church – smack dab in the middle of the longest stretch of time I had ever spent considering God’s Word and thinking about His role in my life. And since we often can see with clarity in hindsight those things which seem muddled in the moment, now I know that God was working in my heart and gently coaxing me on to joy in the pursuit of His purposes.

Not everyone is comfortable expressing love in words, and the truth is, it wasn’t always that way for me. On the flight out to the West Coast in 2007, I wrote a letter to my grandparents that I planned to read at the anniversary dinner. I was full of adrenaline as my pen shot across the pages, charged with emotion as I lay down memory after memory, puffed with happiness at the thought that I would be able to share them with Grandma and Grandpa. And when the time came to read, I was shaking all over. It wasn’t seamless, but I got through it, word by word, my voice faltering and cracking.

My family praised me, but what meant the most was the knowledge that my words were a gift my grandparents truly treasured. Grandma called me over with a gentle wave, held my hands in both of hers and said, “Gretchen, dear, have you ever thought about being a writer?” She knew I wrote nonfiction educational materials, but she was talking about something more. She was urging me forward. “Yes, Grandma. It’s actually what I think I want to do.” “You should do it.” She nodded slightly to indicate her seriousness and squeezed my hands. “You should do it.”

Me reading to Grandma and Grandpa at their 75th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, nearly two weeks ago.

I had reservations and told her so – that I didn’t think I had any worthy material, had no idea what to write about. She listened lovingly and nodded understandingly, but my grandma encourages regardless of fear. She is a quiet repose of strength and confidence.

I would go on to write another letter for their 70th, and deliver it with less anxiety than I had on the 65th. And when last weekend came, I was filled with calm and a deep conviction that I was doing the right thing, regardless of whether the thoughts I expressed were the same thoughts as those of others in the room. It turns out I was right – Grandpa was just a couple days from meeting his Creator, and this was my last chance to pour out my heart to him.

How can we know when we’re on the right path? How we can know we are saying or doing what we should? For me, there are a few indicators:

1) I ask who I’m serving. Who am I doing this for? If my actions are born of love, a desire to be in community and relationship with others, and above all, if I’m aiming to please God with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength, I’m probably headed in the right direction.

2) I consider the voices I’m hearing. Encouragement and gentleness come from Love (with a capital “L”). He does not chastise or tell me I’m an unworthy, useless, untalented wanna-be. If negative voices are dominating my thoughts, I must call them out to fight with the blinding light of Truth. God is Love. He is Light. There is no hate and no darkness in Him. And He alone can give me the strength and confidence I need to move forward, if I surrender to His good will and love for me.

3) I remember in faith that I am not an accident. The desires of my heart to do good work in my life were planted there by the One who loves me more than I can comprehend, and wants me to enjoy life to the fullest. My desires are part His divine plan.

In His Word, God tells us how to live joyfully, and He promises us that we are all given gifts. Don’t we believe that He’ll help us to use those gifts? Don’t we know without having seen that Love is real, and therefore we can step out with our talents, trusting in that Love to see us through? We move in faith, believing that He has blessings in store for us if we work with Him, if we don’t give in to the lies that plague us.

“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” – Hebrews 3:15

If It’s Going to Be, Is It Up to Me?

If It’s Going to Be, Is It Up to Me?
Photo by Jerome Prax. Unsplash.com.
Photo by Jerome Prax. Unsplash.com.

So it’s the last day of my Month of Good News 2016, and I have not fully completed the challenge. Including this post, I’ve done 22 in 31 days. Not bad by most standards. But not up to my expectations. I had wanted to post every single day during October.

Yet have you noticed – that oftentimes our expectations are unrealistic?

It’s fairly easy to see that our expectations of others cannot be fulfilled. When was the last time you asked a family member to complete a task and they did it exactly and precisely the way you wanted? The timing might have been off, or something else wasn’t up to snuff. They bought the ‘wrong’ brand of orange juice, missed a few spots while cleaning the bathroom, or didn’t arrange the towels, dishes, magazines, shirts etc. the way you would. The truth is, no single person can meet our expectations unless we decide to relinquish those expectations.

Now, consider yourself. Are you always faithful to your resolutions? Do you eat healthfully, get enough sleep, exercise, return all phone calls and emails, remember and check off each item on your to-do list, speak kindly to every person you encounter, and thank God for your life and all of its blessings (both seen and unseen) – every single day? Every 6 hours?

I am not. I fall short.

In my Bible Study group a week and a half go, I once again came to the realization that if I am to ‘treat my neighbor as myself,’ I need to think about the impact of my attitude and actions. Not only is it important to display the qualities of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love to the neighbors – especially the 4 living in my home – but it’s also imperative that I show myself the same consideration.

And – I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty hard on myself. If I don’t meet my own expectations, I’m likely to come unglued. As my best laid plans are derailed, I become cranky, resentful, and angry. But instead of dropping my lofty, ‘perfect’ plans, I tend to unleash my emotions on the people I love most. Or I get a migraine – in which case, I’ve turned the fury on myself.

So, a week and a half ago, I asked the women in my Bible Study group to pray that I would slow down and be more fully present to both my neighbors and to myself.

Those faithful friends of mine prayed. And my eyes were opened.

It’s one thing to say we need to be “good to ourselves,” and yet it’s another to do it, largely because we are flawed and limited in our ability to help ourselves.

When I was in 6th grade, my teacher Mrs. Walker had a motto on the ceiling of her English classroom. It said, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

Such a truism can be inspiring to a degree, but as we earnestly meet the challenges of daily life for years, we eventually realize the limitations of mantras like this one, which are premised on the idea that I alone can do whatever it is that needs to be done.

I hit a wall in the last ten days, and clearly saw that I can be a writer, but I can’t generate material that I don’t have. I simply didn’t have enough things I wanted to say, much less time to research and write them, here at the end of October. The schedule is just too full of practices, awards ceremonies, family visits, birthdays, and costume sewing (as well as meals, exercise, and homework). Yes, I could have started writing back in August and then posted everything I’d accumulated in October. But I don’t work that way.

I want to have fresh things to say, as the Lord prompts me to say them.

And whoa – right there in that statement came my moment of reckoning when I understood the real Truth.

My limitations are the exact points where God wants to step in and give me the strength, creativity, and time that I am so desperately craving.

The question is not, “What can I get done?” but instead, “What does God want to equip me to do?”

As I evaluate my tasks for the day, I need to ask,

  • Does this activity have eternal value?
  • Is it something God would want me to focus on?
  • Will He be upset with me if my expectations are not met?

Failing to meet our own expectations is actually a blessing. It’s a correction to our human tendency to make ourselves a higher priority than God.

In my case, it was also the answer to a prayer.

He came alongside me and in His gentle way said, “I will help you write, but it won’t be on your schedule. It will happen on mine. And I will help you to be the good mom and wife you want to be. Let Me fill you. Let Me be your peace.”

God promises to be with us every step of our lives, but it’s up to us to turn to Him and say, “I trust you. Please equip me with your grace, because I am weak, but You are strong.” (Philippians 4:13)

He will give us grace. Guaranteed.

This is the very best of all Good News. May we carry it with us, and share it with those He places in our paths.

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

-2 Corinthians 12:9

Wrapping Love Around Goodbyes (Two Years Since Claudia’s Passing)

Wrapping Love Around Goodbyes (Two Years Since Claudia’s Passing)
Bleeding Heart Flowers. Photo by By Wuzur - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Bleeding Heart Flowers. Photo by By Wuzur – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

You could tell it was a goodbye just by the way they hugged.

I saw the two women locked in an embrace as I passed them in my neighborhood. They stayed wrapped around one another for longer than two friends typically would, were it just an average parting after a breezy Tuesday lunch.

And when they pulled apart, one dabbed her eyes with a tissue, while the other patted her shoulder.

I don’t know them – don’t know what kind of a goodbye it was. Maybe an altered way or place of living? An illness that makes days less fruitful or pleasant? Or was it a more permanent farewell?

They were near the animal hospital just up the road from me, and if you’ve ever lost a beloved pet you have empathy for that kind of grief. But they were also in a driveway, surrounded by homes. And people experience all kinds of goodbyes every day for reasons far beyond our understanding.

There is suffering. There is separation. People we love go. They move from us here on earth – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And they leave this earth altogether, traveling to a place we can’t see or feel. Only heaven knows why. Only heaven can help us bridge the distances that swell up between us and those we love.

My heart lurched when I saw those women, and it’s no wonder. Today I wish I could wrap my arms around so many others who are hurting from goodbyes, too.

This day marks two years since the passing of my stepsister Claudia, the remarkable woman whose fight for her life over three weeks in an ICU became a focal point of prayer for hundreds. So many people miss her feisty spirit, yearn to see her brown-eyes dance, ache for her laugh. I owe this blog to her, and to the whisper that came to me in the weeks after she went Home, after the Lord stepped in and gave me a bravery I’d never had before, to pray publicly for her on Facebook. Desperation makes us humble. Faith makes us bold.

Grief is a terrible process, and I have no eloquent words of wisdom. It seems to me especially hard for parents, because the death of a child – no matter how old that child is – defies human logic. It goes against what we think of as the “natural order” of things. There is simply nothing to compare to the sadness I have seen in the eyes of grieving parents.

I wish I could be with Claudia’s mom Ingrid in Texas today – to hold her hand and remind her that her beautiful daughter lives forevermore with the King. She was and is God’s child, and nothing can ever separate her from His love, through the saving grace of Christ Jesus our Lord. But since I can’t grasp Ingrid’s hand or wrap her in my arms, I will call her. I will “reach out” with my voice.

Physical closeness can be uncomfortable for many of us, but when someone we love is gone, it’s reassuring to feel the strength of another standing by, ready to literally hold us up as waves of sorrow threaten to drown us. If you are mourning, or experiencing a goodbye of any kind, my heart and prayers are with you today. And if not, please ask God to open your eyes to where your capable hands can be ready to serve. Our world needs you, because our world needs God’s unfailing love, pouring out from your heart.

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

Tomatoes_Summer2016

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.