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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7 Gifts from My Facebook Fast

7 Gifts from My Facebook Fast

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This past Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I fasted from Facebook and other media including newspapers, magazines, and TV in order to spend more time in prayer. I broke the fast only to watch a movie with my boys on Saturday night.

My primary motivation was to listen for divine guidance in my role as a voter, and to pray for our nation. This year’s primaries have jostled my nerves like never before, and I wanted to shut off the political loudspeakers and let what I’d already heard digest a bit. I figured that doing so would rid my head of static. I was right. But there were even more gifts from my fast than I’d expected.

Gift 1 – Freedom from the encumbrance of others’ views.
Democracy is based on the idea that every person’s voice matters. But it’s easy to forget that when we’re drowning in the latest sound bites, which fail to convey the totality of the political picture. To make reasonable decisions, we have to weigh facts and presentations against our own experiences and values. Doing that in an echo chamber is nearly impossible. Over the last three days, silence allowed me to hear the voice I should when I enter the voting booth – my own.

Gift 2 – Closeness to the people who really matter.
While being informed and voting is important in a democracy, I need to keep this civic responsibility in proper perspective.

If I’m trying to live in accordance with the plan I believe God has for me, I need to consider at all times my sphere of influence. Some people may connect with thousands. Me? So far in my life, I’m called to serve only a few. My position as a wife, mother, or community member may seem small on an average day, but what I do is critical and irreplaceable. It deserves my full attention.

So, liberated from distractions, I was free to love the people entrusted to my care better. I studied their eyes. Listened – to what they weren’t saying in words. Touched them. Gave and received hugs. Held hands.

Physical closeness matters – to them, and to me. When I think of who is really “there” for me – in the flesh with me, in good times and in bad – it’s these people. And they won’t be with me forever. Best to wrap my arms around them now.

Gift 3 – An increased sensitivity to my own emotions.
My daughter is an Irish dancer, and she and her school were invited to perform multiple times over the weekend at Irish Fests and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. I’m usually rushing to get her to these events, and then feeling a bit anxious when she heads out on stage, thinking about details such as whether her wig will stay put, shoes stay tied, and smile stay fixed if she slips on an unfamiliar floor. None of this has happened to her yet. But still – I worry.

On Sunday, I had a perfect seat to stage left and because of my fasting, noticed that I was able to focus on her dancing. I saw the muscles in her legs working in time to the Celtic beats, the sparkle in her eyes as she surveyed the room. Dancing gives my daughter joy. And without the extra noise in my head, I could share that joy with her. I could feel it in my gut.

Gift 4 – A deeper understanding of the value of time.
Truly, only God knows how much time I have. And how much I’ve wasted scrolling through photos of cute babies and puppies I’ll never meet in person. Or reading articles that just made me angry or sad. Countless hours. It’s silly, even stupid, when I consider that there’s no way of knowing if today is the last day of my life.

Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.

-Psalm 90:12

I learned to change this verse to a prayer.

Help me to live as if each day is numbered, so that I can gain wisdom as to how to spend my time.

A few hours into my fast, I knew that if I were given just a handful of days, I sure wouldn’t spend them on Facebook.

Gift 5 – More laughter.
I’m not an overly serious person, but no one would call me jocular. What I find funny often depends on my frame of mind. For example, when our family is eating out, I expect the kids to behave. Tableside antics need to be kept to a minimum. But Sunday night, we were sitting in Jack’s Fortune chinese restaurant when my 6-year old draped a napkin across his head and deadpanned, “Here comes the bride.”

I laughed right along with everyone else. He’s developing his own sense of humor, test driving punchlines to check our reactions. I might have missed out if my mind had been on its usual wander.

Gift 6 – A reawakening to my own interests.
In the quiet of the past few days, I finished a novel, worked on a couple sewing projects, and made a Norwegian dish that I’d never cooked before. With a clear mind, I was savoring each activity, appreciating it for the satisfaction it brings. Sweet moments like these give life color, and they filled my heart with a sense of gratitude.

Gift 7 – A reminder to ‘take the long view.’
My oldest is 13 – a challenging age. My husband and I are seeking ways to understand the pressures our son is facing, and also to help him identify his strengths and weaknesses.

The three of us had a couple rich discussions this weekend, talks that I know will affect the man he’s to become. What we do and say today changes tomorrow’s picture, for better and for worse. I don’t want to waste precious opportunities to give my son a faith foundation for this life, and guidance on how he’s to prepare for the next.

In the silence of media-free days, I can hear the whisper of the One who helps me lead my children and explore the abundant life intended for us. I gain confidence that my voice really does count – with Him who reigns supreme.

And as for the candidates I’ve been ignoring temporarily, I will pray they receive the same gifts given to me. Because a deep, strong understanding of our proper and humble size compared to Him, is valuable in a public servant.

Waiting by the Door

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The dog is waiting for his Master.

He sits on the cold bricks and fixes his gaze on the door of the establishment where the one he loves has gone.

The icy wind blows his hair, and flaps his ears.

He sits. Stoic.

He’s lightly tethered to a chair. He could walk away with it. Drag it behind him and try to free himself. But he doesn’t.

Once in awhile, he turns his head and looks in either direction, surveying the scene.

But he always comes back to this position. Eyes forward.

Waiting for the Master to return.

Waiting for the Master to tell him what’s next.

Waiting to be taken to someplace they’ll go.

Waiting for the assurance and love that he knows will come.

His loyalty is evidence of their powerful bond.

The dog trusts and respects the Master.

So he waits.

Patiently.

I could learn a lot from the dog.

 

Holy Moments – Day 29 – Impossible!?!

Sunday night my husband and I were visiting with old friends. Our conversation covered a wide range of topics, as it always does with this particular group. The topic of college football came up for a very short time, and I had a fleeting thought…

‘A part of me wishes I’d gone to a bigger school – one big enough to have teams with televised games – so that as an alum, I could be a fan.’

It’s a thought I’ve had before. Not something I dwell on. I truly loved my college and my educational experience. Those were some of the very best, most formative years of my life. But still…

I almost said this thought aloud, but at the last second, I felt held back.

“No,” said the whisper, so quickly I barely perceived it.

‘But there aren’t many of us around,’ said my internal voice.

Again, quick as a flash, “It’s your story.”

I’ve heard this whispered refrain before – a reminder that there is nothing wrong with where I’ve come from, and that my choices and the lessons I have learned from them make me who I am today.

But still, don’t we all have these silly, niggling, petty wishes that mean nothing in the grand scheme of our lives? Or even on the small scale? I’m not even a sports fan, for crying out loud! I know almost nothing about football or basketball; I’m drawn to the camaraderie. I’d just like to wear a sweatshirt for a place people have heard of – a name I don’t have to explain.

All of this brings me to today, and the play date I’d arranged for my youngest son and one of his kindergarten classmates, a boy I’ll call Jack. We’d seen Jack and his parents at Mass for years. Years. And the boys had sized one another up from the time they were toddlers. It was nice to see they had become friends in school.

I got to talking with Jack’s parents when I dropped my son off at their house. Our prior exchanges had been very pleasant. They seemed like a peaceful family.

We had already established that the two ‘dads’ had both grown up in Philadelphia. Jack’s dad’s cousin had been in my husband’s high school class. Pretty nifty. We quickly discovered the two dads knew some other people in common because of work in DC. Also cool. And we knew Jack’s parents had met in college. So, today, at a natural point in playing “getting to know you,” I asked,

“Where did you guys go to school?”

“Dickinson College??”

“I went there!!”

He had answered like a question, of course, assuming I wouldn’t know the place. And I had responded in a tone like, ‘What?!?? Impossible!?!! That’s MY school,’ as if no one else in the universe had gone there. Because truly, that’s how it feels sometimes when your college has only 2,000 students.

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We all stared at one another in bewildered amazement. We got right to the details. We’d graduated two years apart, and I was in France when they were freshmen. Our time on campus only overlapped one year. And – they were athletes. I was not. In a tiny school, we had missed one another. But still. Incredible.

And now our young sons are friends. They brought us together. Ha! More smiles.

Most people look at this situation and think, “Oh, what a nice coincidence.” But I don’t believe in coincidences any more. I used to, until I started to view my life with less cynicism, and more wonder. I opened myself up to the possibility that I was not the One in control. The possibility that there is more – more than I can see – going on behind the scenes of my every day. And when I leave myself open, when I view life through the eyes of faith, dazzling days are just handpicked, or rather – Hand-made, and handed right to me.

imageDickinson College. Indeed, it is part of my story. A thread, a small school, in the fabric of my life. And He who creates, sees, hears, and notices EVERYTHING, even the petty thoughts of my mind, decided to make my day by showing me that He can weave together even the tiniest of threads, the ones long gone from my daily activities, to make something new.

 

Photo from www.flickriver.com

 

Holy Moments – Day 4 – French Apple Orchard

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Do you have a favorite photo of yourself? Most people probably do, though they might be hesitant to admit it.

I happen to like this one of me. Note that you can’t see my face and I’m kind of far away. The fact that I’m in focus without being large and loud is what I like about it. It is well-suited to my personality. And of course I’m guessing here…but I think this is how I’m viewed by the One who truly sees me best. All in focus. But in proper perspective. Small.

A girlfriend of mine took this shot in October 1992 in an apple orchard in Roussillon, France, near the Abbey of St. Martin de Canigou. If you’re ever in that area and are feeling athletic, you too should trek up the mountain to see this majestic abbey built into the cliffs. My photos don’t do the abbey justice, so check out my link to the website or visit Wikipedia to get a sample of the Middle Age architecture we were there to see.

But the special moment of that day for me was holding the apple in the orchard. Surrounded by hush, I was unaware my friend was snapping the shutter several yards away. And the fruit itself captivated me. It was a pretty green – somewhere between pear, lime, and chartreuse – and it was pitted and imperfect, but still a gorgeous shape, and edible. Though I didn’t know why at the time, just looking at it, thinking about how it had grown from the tree next to me, holding it and rolling it around in my hand, all of this – was calming. A balm to my spirit.

When I’m open to wonder, when I allow myself to be amazed like a child, I can see that sitting in the presence of His creation is sitting in holiness.

For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  – Colossians 1: 16-17

Just Having Her Here

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Me and Mom.

Mom came for a 4-day visit and left yesterday. She lives in Florida and I’m in Maryland, so visits require scheduling and travel.

Over dinner Sunday night, we discussed family mysteries and unanswered questions – particularly the ones we wish we could ask the women who came before us and who have since passed on. There are many puzzle pieces missing, and while we have plans to do a little research, we know it may only get us so far.

Thinking about these women – my grandmothers and their sisters, all the ‘greats’ on my mother’s side – I wonder endlessly.

Which qualities did they like most in themselves? Which did they like least? Where, if at all, did they find emotional connection? With whom did they have their closest relationships? In times of trial, poverty, war, disease, abandonment, and the loss of husbands and children, where did they find strength? In several cases, we don’t know anything about their faith lives. So I wonder… How did they carry on? What did they believe?

And finally, what were their greatest successes? And by that I don’t mean the worldly definitions of success….I mean – at the end of their lives, what did they want to be remembered for? And do we remember them for that?

In the midst of this conversation, Mom turned to me and said,

“You know my story, right?”

I nodded weakly. It was such a loaded question. I know so much about her life, but to know her story? A person’s depth is endless. Another human being can hardly fathom it. How I’d love to say I fully know her, that I can understand her every experience, thought, heart and soul’s desire, but I am limited in my ability, and there is more to discover all the time. I hear something new every time we talk. Each encounter with every person I meet is like that – if I’m listening.

And Mom and me? Our time together is finite. Just like everyone’s. It’s not because of geography.

Her desire that I know her – that I know her story – is the great call of each soul. We all have this need to be fully known. And there is only One who can meet this need, who knows our story better than we do, who has been writing it with us and for us since before time began.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

-Luke 12:6-7

Bump in the Road

image“Mom!” she yells. “Why are you turning around?”

“There’s a sign back there. I want to take a picture of it. For my blog.”

“Why?”

“Because.”

And for once. For once! She doesn’t press. ‘Because’ is enough of an answer. I thank the Lord for this small mercy.

I don’t know how I could explain it to her anyway….The many reasons why I called her grandmother yesterday, just because I needed my own mom for a few moments…

When I dialed Mom in Florida I looked at the clock and assumed I’d need 10 minutes to vent – to really get it all out. Ten turned into 30, and Mom listened patiently – to all the ways the state of the world had gotten me down. She offered only words of encouragement, a tiny bit of advice, and the gentle reminder that, “The devil loves to see us stewing in anger.”

Deep sigh…I know. I KNOW. And don’t our moms often tell us the truth? Whether we really want to hear it or not?

And then later I see a sign. Literally. A SIGN. Telling me again that all the things I vented to my mom about are just BUMPS. Bumps. And I have been forewarned.

This world is not perfect. And it will continually disappoint me because I was not made for it. I was made for more.

I crave the purity and loveliness of the One in Whom there are no imperfections. And so no matter what might fall or spring up in my path today, I must keep my eyes on eternity and on Him whose perfect sacrifice has washed me clean from the ugliness I loathe in myself and others.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33

Look again at this photo. On the left there’s a father with his child on his shoulders. Dad carries the weary child, and from the new vantage point, the child can see a bit farther. It’s exactly the way my Father in Heaven wants to carry me. And you.

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Brownie Points

Have you ever stood in the corner of your kitchen, hiding from your youngest child, and eating the very last brownie – just before you dash out the door to pick up the other two kids, while thinking two things?

1. Now the three of them won’t fight over it….

And,

2. Man, I deserve this.

Here’s the (partial) proof of my stolen moment.
I only thought to take a picture for you after my first bite. Sorry!

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Truth be told, I started writing this piece in June just before school let out for the summer, dropped in the photo, and never finished it. But some things don’t change. Here I am, mid-July, still feeling that I ‘deserve’ something along the lines of a brownie every day.

What is that ugliness inside me that argues for more despite all that I already have? And more significantly – why can’t I shake that rascal voice on my own?

I was thinking last night about the futility of my own thinking. About the fact that none of my lingering issues over the years – the ones that have plagued me and developed into worry, fear, anxiety and obsession – none of them have been solved by my intellect. So, mulling things over for any length of time – wondering why I might have been in a funk, wanting to withdraw from friends and the like  – won’t help me.

At the same time, talking these things through with well-meaning people won’t help either unless those people are the kind that point me in the direction I already know I need to go. Back to do the work that needs to be done.

Because over the years, I’ve learned that the most effective way to deal with ME is not to huddle in the corner of my kitchen eating the last brownie and justifying it with “good reasoning.” No. I need to turn myself over to the One who knows Me best.

But He is a gentleman. He doesn’t chase after the woman He loves. He waits patiently for me, and then loves with tender abandon so that I remember that my heart, in fact – my life, was made to glorify Him.

So this morning, I grab my tea and head to my desk with my Bible, book of verses, and journal. I tell the kids I’ll answer their questions – about re-wrapping an injured hand, and whether we can melt some crayons and coconut oil to make homemade lip-balm today – after I spend some time with God.

And this is Our time – me and The Lord. And hiding here with Him is the best place to find refreshment. So much better than a brownie.

The Lord is my strength and my shield,

in whom my heart trusted and found help,

So my heart rejoices;

with my song I praise my God.

Psalm 28:7

 

Not Prepared, But Not Alone

imageThe words on the brand-new patch seem ironic this morning.

“Be Prepared.”

As if my son could have been ready for the emotional roller coaster he rode yesterday. It was his alone – not really a journey for the rest of us.

He’s been a Boy Scout for just one year, and last night he completed his Board of Review for the fourth rank, and was awarded it – First Class. He was thrilled. It was a goal he’d been working toward for months; he’d wanted to be First Class by the time he leaves for Scout camp this summer, and we were so proud of him for following through.

But sometimes highs are just a little tainted, and so this one was.  Before he left for the meeting, he realized that his beloved fish, “jerk fish,” – the same one I wrote about here a few months back – had died. This little fish had lived for 6 years and was my son’s personal, first pet. It was bad news.

When we got home from the meeting, we buried him in the garden. My poor son was so upset. It broke my heart. I know how he hurt – how he’d cared for this animal, put effort into its life. But I reminded him of all the things he had done well for this fish, and of the fact that God designs his creatures with finite life spans, for reasons only He understands.

My son’s eyes never left my face as I told him these things. Then he hugged me for a long, long time.

In victories and loss, we have one another, and the knowledge that others can empathize. This too, is a gift from the One who promises to never leave us alone.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed,

yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken

nor my covenant of peace be removed,”

says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

– Isaiah 54:10

Beautiful Faces. Beautiful Song.

I don’t know why I feel compelled to post this.  I don’t have much to say.  Just…

I see beautiful faces everywhere, every single day. Each one is absolutely unique.

Photo Credit: Ken Wu, www.unsplash.com.
Photo Credit: Ken Wu, www.unsplash.com.

And every day, I am dazzled by some natural phenomena – weather, animals, plants.  Most still carry on in mysterious patterns, independent of human control.

My own heart has a pattern – a rhythm set before I gained consciousness, a rhythm not started by me.

I find these things awe-inspiring, and humbling, and my soul wants to celebrate the Only One who deserves the high praise that should be accorded the most Glorious Being who could create these things and set them in motion.

That’s how I feel every time I hear this song – my current favorite. My heart and soul leap with praise to God.  Maybe you’ll feel the same way.