We Are Only As Thankful As….

We Are Only As Thankful As….

Generally, we are only as thankful as our feelings about the last thing that’s happened to us.

I think that’s true, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

It takes effort to make a gratitude list. Though we may talk about our blessings, few of us actually sit down on a daily basis and consider what they really are. It’s especially difficult to do so when times are sad or hard.

On a beautiful Thursday morning this past spring, a group of women met at my friend Laura’s farmhouse for food and fellowship. Among them was a fair lady named Lin who, though she had been suffering for about 5-6 years with Parkinson’s and cancer, was not giving up on life. She was serving at her church, attending Bible study, and reaching out to friends to encourage them in their struggles.

Two seasons and many months later, on another Thursday morning in October, Lin’s body reached the end of its usefulness to her, and the Lord took her home. The nurses on watch in her last hours reported that she went peacefully.

Thursdays are when I gather with my friends to study God’s Word; it seemed natural that we should be together – a group who had prayed for Lin for a long, long time – when we learned of her passing.

Our parish priest spoke to our grieving group and said, “The Lord always answers our prayers, though often not in the way we’d like,” and reminded us that God had answered our many prayers to restore Lin to fullness of health – in heaven.

Then, as we remembered together, Laura said,

“I thought she always had a little bit of an edge.”

I caught myself smiling, because I knew exactly what Laura meant.

“But in the last year,” she continued, “it was like she softened somehow. When we were all at my house, I asked her, ‘HOW are you doing this? Living with all this?’ She said she didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her, because she felt it had made her less self-centered. More compassionate. More caring towards other people.”

Did you get that?

A woman who had suffered for years – years! – was grateful for the experience.

She had found grace in her suffering.

God had transformed her pain by moving her heart.

We shook our heads. It was incredible to think that Lin had considered herself self-centered. A woman beside Laura said, “She called me to see how I was doing!”

But God knows our innermost being, and if there’s work to be done (hint: there always is), He wants to do it.

Lin’s willingness to allow God into her suffering is what changed her understanding of her life’s circumstances from terrible to acceptable.

Can we ask for the grace to be blessed by the ‘awful’ in our lives?

Can we see beyond it with the eyes of faith, acknowledging a greater purpose?

When life seems to go off-track, and we are threatened by financial trouble, rocky relationships, or health crises, it’s easy to lose trust in God and question His faithfulness to us. We might even blame Him for the things that seem grossly unfair, because we wonder – if He really cared, why would He allow this?

But perhaps we have a small-minded, limited view of happiness.

In His loving embrace, God can use even this – whatever this is – to shape us to be more like Himself – perfectly loving, always desiring the eternal good.

In seeking Him, we find joy and peace to share with others. It’s a path we must take to appreciate.

Psalm 16:10-11 says:

You will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your faithful servant see the pit.
You will show me the path to life, abounding in joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.

God will not leave us forever in our pits of despair, nor will he let us lie in our misery today if we turn towards Him and say, “Help me, please.”

With Him there is hope for right now.

With Him there is hope for eternity.

May we learn to live like Lin, transformed by the love of God, expectant of the heavenly wonders to come.

September’s Wholesome List

September’s Wholesome List
An unusual approach for this month's list. I've got 5 questions for you about your life. Are you living it the way you say you want to?
Original photo by Anton Sukhinov on Unsplash. Words, mine.

September wasn’t a typical month. Yes, there was the back-to-school hoopla and a re-establishment of routines, but for me, two events also consumed a fair amount of my attention: a 5-day girls’ trip to Des Moines with my mom for the International Convention of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, and my oldest son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. (For a few more details, you can check out the highlighted links.) If you’re a parent, you know you can’t leave town or host an event without doing A LOT of prep work.

What this meant, in effect, was that I did a poor job of leaving myself a bread-crumb trail of observations for my monthly “wholesome” list. What I DID do, was contemplate what it means to: 1. try to live virtuously, and 2. belong to organizations that affirm and uphold values such as faith, trust, honor, kindness, justice, and thriftiness. Being part of a group holds us accountable to the values we profess.

Not all of us are “joiners,” as they say, but I would guess that most of us like to think of ourselves as “good people.”

Are we?

A friend of mine told me she once heard a priest ask the following in a homily:

“If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

That certainly would have gotten my attention.

For those of us who are Christians, it is a very pointed and appropriate question.

Rather than offer you 5 wholesome items to consider this month such as films, songs, or even yogurt, I have a few questions for reflection. See if you agree with me when I say that I think checking to see if our outer lives are truly aligned with our inner desire to be “good people” is a valuable and wholesome exercise.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do I have a personal creed that I (try to) live by?
  2. What are the components or virtues of this creed? Is it altruistic and centered on serving others, or not?
  3. How am I doing? Do my daily decisions (big and small) reflect my desires to live by my creed? If not, where do I need to make changes so that the virtues I want to develop further will manifest themselves in my life?
  4. Do those I love know which virtues matter most to me and why?
  5. Am I a good role model to the younger people in my life?

If we want to live with purpose and intention, we need to think about what we do and why we do it.

God didn’t create us to be automatons. He gave us reason and choice to promote His love in a world that needs to hear of it so very, very much.

To my Christian brothers and sisters – do not lose heart if you read these questions and realize you are coming up short. I know I am.

Remember that Jesus fills the gap between us and heaven, and He sent us the Advocate, “the Spirit of Truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” (John 14:17) Don’t give up when the battle is hard. The Holy Spirit fills our hearts and minds with wisdom, knowledge, and holy respect for the Father, and when we rely on Him – and not ourselves – He guides us to the Father’s will.

Think of a time when you offered up a faint prayer – a cry for help – and it was answered in a powerful, inexplicable whisper of peace that filled you from head to toe. You somehow knew the next step to take, the next words to say.

This is a small example of grace. Though we deny and forget God, He has never forgotten us. He’s loved us since before time began.

Perhaps we can take a step today to recommit ourselves to valuing and practicing the virtues He cares about most, leaning into His strength to carry us through.

The Great Scoutmaster’s Promise

The Great Scoutmaster’s Promise
Candles at my son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor signifying the Scout Oath
and the 12 points of the Scout Law.

I was having a hard time finding words.

My son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor had been Saturday night, and I was sending an email to the entire Troop – Scouts, leaders, parents, etc. – to thank them.

To thank them for helping our family prepare for this great celebration. For attending it in such force. And then for disassembling every piece of it and putting items away into cartons, closets, and cars with orderly and cheerful precision – without bending cherished photographs or neglecting to sweep up the last crumbs of crushed Doritos on the carpeted floor.

The event was so much more than the sum of its material parts, of course. But I was unable to say precisely why.

Just hours before, I had let the ceremony’s prayers roll over me….

God, we thank you for the opportunity to come together ….  Today is a celebration of a journey…full of challenges, friendship, struggles…. Little by little, month by month, and year by year, he was faithful and we celebrate his faith, commitment, and hard work.

With everyone in attendance, my husband and I recognized our son’s perseverance and efforts, the many merit badges he earned, his final large-scale community service project, and especially the character traits and leadership skills he’d developed along the way.

For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been molding boys into young men, and our son is no exception. We are in awe of what he’s accomplished by the tender age of 16.

But my pride wasn’t the point, either.

What was bursting at my seams? Why had it been so difficult to keep conversations light and airy on Saturday night?

I wrote my email Monday morning, attaching some additional words of thanks from my son, my husband, and me that had appeared in the program that was handed out to guests.

From my son (in part):

…I am honored that you have elected to spend your time here at my Eagle Court of Honor. You have each influenced me for the better in one way or another, and for that I am forever grateful.

And from my husband and me, to the Troop leaders:

….The thousands of hours you volunteer for these kids can never be repaid, and we are so grateful for your devotion…

I hit ‘send’ and resumed my daily tasks.

Later, a dear friend and Troop chair wrote back to me:

“Through His people, He gives back to His extra special Matthews family!  We love you all so very much!”

I could barely see through my tears to respond.

I understood then – and not for the first time in my life – what had actually happened.

It was evidence of the timeless miracle of faith – that when we walk toward God believing in His goodness, the outpouring of His love will be more than our arms and hearts and minds can hold.

I live (and have for some time) in expectant hope that God’s promises to me, my children, and you are true now and forever. His love for us is perpetually strong and faithful (Psalm 117), even when we are unaware of His presence in our lives.

God’s grace was present throughout my son’s journey in Scouting. In every Board of Review, camping trip, merit badge assignment, Scoutmaster’s Minute wrap-up at the end of every Wednesday night meeting – God was there in all of it, working through His good people who day-by-day live out virtues that please His heart. Virtues including kindness, obedience, trustworthiness, helpfulness, thriftiness, and more.

When the Spirit of God is present and moving, there is indescribable joy.

The Boy Scouts welcome Scouts of many faiths. Scouts are encouraged to be reverent in their own faith tradition and to be respectful of the beliefs of others.

But the fact is – few organizations welcome the reverence of God at all anymore.

Few groups pray together.

Even fewer which shape the character of young people suggest that honoring God is important, much less provide regularly scheduled meeting time to do it.

Those that do are places of special strength and character.

And – I would submit – of peace. And love.

Praise the Lord, all you nations! Give glory, all you peoples!

The Lord’s love for us is strong; the Lord is faithful forever. Hallelujah! (Psalm 117)

Choosing the Significant Over the Short-Lived

Choosing the Significant Over the Short-Lived
Me and some of our “Founders.” Having a bit of fun in Des Moines, Iowa,
at the 74th Convention of the P.E.O. International Sisterhood, September 2019.

Are you choosing what’s significant over what’s short-lived?

Alright. It’s a loaded question. And I bet you’re caught for a second – not sure if you want to read on.

Hear me out.

I spent a good portion of the last week in Des Moines with 6,000 of my sisters from the P.E.O. International Sisterhood celebrating the 150th anniversary of our founding. We hail from across the U.S. and Canada and every year give out millions in grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans to women pursuing higher education. We also have our own college – Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri – which we’ve owned outright and supported since 1927. Formed in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1869 by seven bright young ladies at a time when women’s education was hardly a foregone conclusion, we have never forgotten to be grateful to God for opportunity. We are drawn together by the core values and virtues to which we adhere: faith, love, purity, justice and truth. Check us out at www.peointernational.org.

Officers are chosen from among our sisterhood of 258,000, and Friday evening, I was standing with one of Iowa’s past state presidents who had been charged with the enormous responsibility of bringing so many women together for 4 days of meetings and parties. Though she had done a brilliant, brilliant job – she was, of course, exhausted – and still considering all the ways that each day could have gone better.

No matter how much goes right (and there was an overwhelming preponderance of excellency here), you will always catch wind of every little thing that doesn’t.

So I encouraged her.

“Look around,” I said. “Just look at all these women enjoying one another and making meaningful connections. Real connections. That’s what matters. You did this. Well done.”

I wanted to elevate the reality of the situation for her, because too often we lose the significant as we chase the ephemeral.

If you are like me…

  • you’ve got a to-do list a mile long
  • you haven’t called your best friend this week
  • you haven’t connected with that new friend you promised you would
  • but your phone is almost never beyond arm’s reach
  • somehow, you have found time to look at Facebook or Instagram…and you think you know what’s going on in acquaintances’ lives….and that matters to you….

Consistently, we are choosing the short-lived over the significant.

Where are our priorities?

Four days of deep, eye-to-eye contact with women I love from all over the country – some I know very well, some I would give anything to know better – reminded me that THIS IS WHERE IT’S AT.

Working on a long-term vision together.

Revisiting our ideals.

Or just sharing the day-to-day aches and pains.

Breathing new life into one another.

A quick text or a “your kids are so cute” comment on social media is no substitute for longer, substantive, and yes – face-to-face conversations.

We do not intimately know one another until we sit in the same space, hear the tremor in one another’s voices, watch and clasp each other’s hands, and see the crinkles at the corners of our eyes as we speak – or don’t speak – of love, woe, and everything in between.

We use the excuse that we are busy and can’t “get it together.”

We wear it like a badge of honor.

But c’mon. We know better.

We know small efforts yield big results.

So let’s just start.

Let’s get together. For coffee. For conversation. For the sake of love. And life. Women’s education and a sisterhood that endures. The future of the planet. Some other lofty goal that God has put on your heart.

For all that we know is good.

Choosing the significant over the short-lived.

For real.

10 Wholesome Things I Learned in July & August

10 Wholesome Things I Learned in July & August
Photo taken at the base of the Roundtower (c. 1100), Rock of Cashel.

I didn’t intend to take 8 weeks off from writing. But when late June arrived and the kids were suddenly home and alert every day between 8 and 3, eating all the time, leaving their drinking cups in every room of the house, and asking on an hourly basis for rides to other side of the planet, well, the warning signs were there that I would have a hard time keeping to a schedule. I beat myself up a bit, “shoulding” all over myself but that got me – predictably – nowhere. Yes, summer. I finally surrendered to its charms and just lived it.

By the end of July I had decided I couldn’t muster a Wholesome List. I would wait and give you one at the end of August – a double doozy of 10 good things to think about as we leave this season behind. Here it is, broken into two parts.

In July, I learned or observed that:

  • Surprise bouquets are the ABSOLUTE BEST. On the second day of the month, a dear college friend shocked me…..FOUR bouquets of tulips arrived on my doorstep from The Bouqs Co.! Gorgeous! (See photo below.) These sustainable, eco-friendly growers were new to me. They only cut what they sell, clipping flowers the day they are ordered. If there is a delay in the shipment, they will send more blooms to make up for those that might have died or wilted in the process, which is how I ended up with 4 beautiful bouquets. I was bowled over and felt oh-so-loved by my old friend. Go on – you know what to do. At the right time, make someone’s day.
Flowers from The Bouqs. Co.
  • Colorizing old films reawakens our hearts to history. When I was a little girl, I once asked my mother if when she’d grown up, the world looked black and white, like the pictures we’d seen of her. The truth is, we all get used to thinking of life ‘long ago’ that way – as discrete and removed from our current technicolor days. On a flight to Sacramento, I watched “They Shall Not Grow Old,” a 2019 documentary made by Peter Jackson, who restored and colorized World War I footage stored for the last century in the Imperial War Museum in London. He interviewed veterans and made the filmed soldiers “talk” using the veterans’ voices. As in other wars, boys lied about their ages to enlist in WWI. The faces of the kids in the battles – they were just like those of my 16-year old son and his friends. If you’d told me – there’s Jack and Joey and James – I could have believed you. It’s vital to pay attention to the beauty of every single life and count the true cost of conflict.
  • Maybe ‘killin’ it’ – in so many ways – isn’t so great. Stop and savor. Then do it again. While reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb, I came across this quote from the late psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm. He said, “Modern man thinks he loses something — time — when he does not do things quickly; yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains except kill it.” Sounds right to me. What do you think?
  • Bigger (natural space) is better…for my soul. In July, I visited Yosemite for the first time since I was 2 with some of my extended family to honor my grandparents who spent weekends there in the 1950s. The vistas are breathtaking and there is a majesty in the space that can only be experienced, not explained. Tension evaporated off my shoulders as I stood in the sunshine on Olmstead Point and took in the huge, panoramic view of Clouds Rest and Half-Dome in the distance. I find it impossible to think self-importantly when I can see that I’m a speck. From dust we came and to dust we shall return, but oh how He loves us as we stumble along our way.
At Olmstead Point. Yosemite National Park.
  • In the love of family is always the right place to be. I have a new nephew. He’s a beautiful gift my brother- and sister-in-law brought into the world in June, and our family is so thrilled that he’s here. The tough part is that he’s been having some health issues. He’s got a ventricular septal defect (VSD) — or “hole in the heart” — an opening between the heart’s lower chambers, and we all want desperately for him to be healed. Nevertheless, holding him – seeing his beautiful face and praying daily for God’s help – is joy itself. This is why we are given to one another – to reconnect us to what’s most important – Love.
With my precious nephew.

In August, our family vacationed in Ireland. My husband and I visited the Emerald Isle on our honeymoon 21 years ago, returned two years later with friends, and hadn’t been back since. We wanted to experience it with our kids – who give me something to think about nearly every single day.

  • If you want to see a place from a new perspective, give a kid a camera. You will get to see what interests her (or him), and if you’re lucky, some uniquely entertaining photos.
  • It doesn’t matter where you are – or how old the kids are – they will wrestle in the backseat. We drove at least an hour every day visiting sites and enjoying the scenery. (Listening to audio books such as The Lightning Thief – book 1 of Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson’ series – also helps pass the time). And honestly – they never complained. But – they did cut loose as needed.
Roughhousing. No matter where we go…
  • Live music blesses everyone. We caught some in Killarney and again in Galway, where we stumbled upon a show of world-renowned traditional Irish musicians and dancers – Trad on the Prom. My daughter does Irish dance, so it was a treat for her to get a photo with all of the dancers, including 6-time World Champion Claire Greavey. And I knew the evening had captured our oldest’s heart when I caught him trying to video Gerard Fahy – a master of the uilleann pipes, which have an ethereal, ghostly sound and are nigh impossible to learn.
My daughter in the middle of Trad on the Prom‘s world champion dancers. Claire Greavey is second from the right in the photo.
  • You don’t forget how to drive a manual, but doing it left-handed takes special fortitude. To get around, we rented a stick-shift Volkswagen Tiguan. My husband had driven in Ireland on our previous two trips but after this one – where he negotiated the tiny parking garages and narrow streets of 1,000 year-old Dublin before tackling the backroads of the Atlantic Way, constantly on the alert for daredevil mainland Europeans, I am sure of this: 1) I am glad he never asked me to drive, and 2) my guy can truly do anything.
  • The moments we remember most are the ones that brought us together. Like the adorable baby pigs we cooed over at Muckross Traditional Farms or how we got tired of bangers and mash and went for Indian food one night. Or better yet – when I made us pull over in a near-downpour in the Burren to see the Poulnabrone Dolmen – a tomb dating back 5,000 years that basically looks like a weathered table – and everyone hated it except me. I will never live down the teasing (and love) that came out in the laughter of that 5-minute stop.
  • And finally – A bonus observation! – The monks who isolated themselves some 1,000 years ago on Skellig Michael to pray and worship God in the quiet and rough elements were strongly disciplined in their practice and correct in their thinking. Traveling on a one-hour boat ride to see this sanctuary firsthand reminded me that carving out time for the Lord is a necessary part of my spiritual journey. Every era is turbulent in some way – ours is no exception – and our internal lives are challenged daily. To find the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), I need to regularly do as Jesus did – and go to my solitary places to seek Him – the only Source of refreshment and new life.
The beehive huts of Skellig Michael and its chapel below.

Many blessings to you as we head into September. In closing, I can find no better words than more of those from St. Paul – who inspired me to begin these monthly lists in the first place:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Doing Ok? Reflect, and You May Find Out

Doing Ok? Reflect, and You May Find Out

Are you doing ok? Is this season – summer – going the way you’d hoped it would (so far)?

It’s taken me until mid-life to admit this, but I like my routines and have a difficult time when they’re changed. I become irritable. Sullen. Angry. And eventually, I’m sort of numb to those around me. Even I don’t want to spend time with me.

This came to my attention last week when I was snapping at my kids and husband hourly, and I finally realized that my days were looking dramatically different than they did just weeks ago. I needed to make a few changes to give myself some self-care over the summer months.

Renewing my commitments to daily prayer and Scripture time, talking through my feelings with my husband, doing a bit of exercise, and making an effort to see my friends went a long ways toward improving my mood. But so did one other thing I’d like to recommend: a gentle period of reflection.

Let me admit up front that I am not an expert in reflection. I’ve contemplated various periods of my life and written about many experiences, but I’m not someone who sits down every few months or even once a year and asks, “What is the overarching message of my current life? What do I need to learn?”

But now that I’ve done this, I can see its value. Annie Dillard famously said in The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”

So, what are we doing with our time? Periodically asking seems sage. Maybe even necessary.

In Episode 84 of her podcast, The Next Right Thing, Emily P. Freeman gives a great overview of how to do a reflection, and she encourages her listeners to start with the last 3 months. Using her questions as a guide, I recently reviewed April, May, and June. To trigger my memory, I reviewed the photos in my phone, my calendar, and a few of my to-do lists. You might try doing the same.

In the honesty of your own heart, ask yourself the following:

1) Which events were the happiest, most joyful, and life-giving for me?
2) Where did I experience disappointment, sadness, and fear?
3) What are my unresolved questions, both big and small, that bother me consistently?
4) Where do I use my time well? Where could I make better choices?
5) When I review my to-do lists, which things are consistently undone? Why are they undone?
6) What tasks make me feel most alive when I do them?
7) What small changes could I make that would imbue my life with more energy?
8) Can I ask God for the willingness to trust Him more in the areas where I need direction and help? How can I invite Him into my days?

If this exercise intrigues you, visit Emily’s site and dig deeper. My questions are very similar to Emily’s (because hers were great!) and in the same order, but they are far less comprehensive. She covers more topics.

We are here to live full, purposeful lives, but it’s difficult to do that when we’re rushing from one place to the next, meeting the demands of our days without drawing meaningful connections from our experiences. Take a little time to unwrap the gifts of the last three months; uncover the graces God has laid there for you.

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in June

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in June

We are halfway through 2019! Can you believe it? And as has been true for each month this year, I’m here to recap my wholesome ‘finds’ from the last few weeks. May they bless you or, at the very least, entertain you, for you are probably wiser than me and already know any bit of everyday wisdom I can share!

  • First, I’ll start with my most recent revelation, which is that in my early 20s, I had horrible taste in movies. I didn’t especially like Rocky, I thought Jerry Maguire was unconditionally wonderful, and I was bored silly by The Quiet Man, a classic made in 1952 and starring none other than America’s most famous actor, John Wayne. The infantile film critic in me was uncovered when I watched each film for the second time this month – the first two on a flight to Denver, CO, for a memorial service, and the last one with my husband and our kids in preparation for our upcoming family trip to Ireland. Now the kids finally know who John Wayne is (can you imagine not knowing!?! ha!), and I am questioning how fully developed my frontal lobe really was when I was 23. You should try this same exercise. Re-watch the films you once hated and loved. You might surprise yourself.
  • Next, if you’ve got teenagers, you know it can be difficult to bridge the generational gap. Chances are, you have different opinions about music. My oldest son is learning to drive, so we’ve been spending a lot of time in the car this month. One artist he’s shared with me on our longer rides is Lindsey Stirling, a classical crossover and rock violinist. He first heard her music featured in an Irish dance show. (His sister was also in the show, but perhaps that was beside the point?) In any case, I actually enjoy Stirling’s vibe! Who knew we’d find such a connection? Where there is peace while driving, mothers are grateful. And gratitude and good music are wholesome indeed.
  • Third, and now this is exciting – I learned how to revive wilting hydrangeas. I had gotten 6 stems of them for a dinner party and they looked just beautiful until the following morning. Droopy and sad, they resembled Snoopy in a rainstorm. So I scoured the internet and found a solution that actually worked! 1) Cut the stems at a 45 degree angle. 2) Make another 1-inch cut length-wise up each stem, starting at the bottom. 3) Submerge the stems in boiling water for 30 seconds (no longer) and then plunge them into clean lukewarm water. They will be bright green and the blooms should revive in a few hours. All but one of my 6 stems came back in full and lasted more than 8 days! This photo was taken on day 5.
  • Fourth, I read a few good books this month, but the best one BY FAR was Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I hardly know where to begin to explain why this text is so moving, so tender, so evocative and powerful except to say that Manning reaffirmed for me what I knew several years ago when I first truly encountered God and came to the understanding that He loves me (and you) personally. God is not interested in our posturing, law, or good works. Through Jesus Christ, he has made visible his invitation to us, and when we put aside our foolish pride and admit we are all paupers and in desperate need of His extravagant love, then He can make something beautiful of us. Each of us is made in His image, and He is for all of us. “God is a Being for others, not a Being for Himself alone,” Manning writes (p. 123). That’s why He is the very definition of Love. It’s the best book I’ve read in awhile. Period.
  • Finally, if you’re on Instagram, here are a few photography pages you really need to check out. They’re devoted to wild animals and especially the sea – a place many of us would like to be on a hot day! There are a couple photos on Sea Legacy that are so breathtaking my oldest son swore they were paintings and not actual shots.
  • Christina Mittermeier
  • Paul Nicklen
  • Sea Legacy
  • These pages are also in line with the two television series my youngest son and I have been glued to over the last few months: Our Planet and Planet Earth II from the BBC (both available on Netflix and narrated by David Attenborough). Like the TV series, the Instagram pages I’ve recommended are mesmerizing because they capture the indescribable beauty of our world. Let’s do what we can to care for it in whatever small ways we can.

That’s it for June. Thank you for reading! Look for a blog post later this week.

With gratitude for you,

Gretchen

Helping Our Kids See So-Called “Failure” in Another Light

Helping Our Kids See So-Called “Failure” in Another Light

‘Tis the season – for baccalaureates and graduations, end-of-the-year recitals, class parties, and team dinners. All kinds of awards are given out for the kids who exemplify the traits we all admire: hard work, good citizenship, perseverance, dedication, sportsmanship, and congeniality.

And we’ve all seen the important messages telling us to remember the kids who won’t get awards, since it’s true that oftentimes virtuous, good-hearted people are the least celebrated.

Yet what’s also happening under the surface at this time of year, is a certain degree of parental angst. A battle within of pride versus humility. The knowledge that as parents we are somewhat responsible for our kids’ success, yet wholly inadequate to account for most of it.

Try as we might to encourage our kids, point them in a good direction, and set them on a course for success, they are each working with a particular set of skills and abilities. And to a large degree, they must their provide their own initiative and fuel to go forward.

Then, we have to be there to help them when things don’t quite work out.

Sometimes the victories and the so-called ‘failures’ happen simultaneously. In the same season.

One kid receives an award and sets a personal record or is offered a spot on a team, while another falls short of a goal. Lessons will be learned from the lead-up to these events, but meanwhile, the tension between kids can threaten familial peace or the bonds of friendship.

What to do?

How do we, as parents and mentors, respond?

As in all things, let Love lead the way. Here are 4 small steps to consider:

1) Focus on what gives your child LIFE. Activities that diminish his or her spirit will not enhance growth toward the person God has created this child to be. Does the sport or subject bring out the child’s best qualities, allow her to develop her skills in useful ways, make her feel valued and appreciated, allow her to display her inborn talents? Think about the long-term objectives of the activity, not the short-term goals.

2) Remind the child of other occasions when he or she overcame setbacks. It’s practically a guarantee that this disappointment is not the first in this kid’s life, and it won’t be the last. Learning to handle adversity is a valuable life skill. Let’s make sure our kids know their own histories. They don’t have to feel perpetually defeated.

3) Ask if the child would rather be doing something else, and listen carefully to his or her interests. Our secret dreams reveal our desires, and while they may seem far-fetched once vocalized, they hold keys to the divine plans for our lives. You might ask, “Does this mean that if my child wants to be a singer I should drop everything and look for an agent?” No – but it might mean that he should learn more about music.

4) Remember the adage, “God never closes a door without opening a window.” It grows out of the faith St. Paul expressed in Romans 8:28, that “[W]e know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Made in His image, our lives are not meant for our own glory; we are here to serve Him in His infinite love, and nothing could be more important or more beautiful than working toward that particular goal. We can teach our children to see every hurdle, every roadblock, every detour they encounter with faith that He who has loved us all from before time began can and will make something wonderful of even this.

Planting small seeds with this attitude about personal growth pays off. I had a conversation with my 9-year old this week that surprised me. It wasn’t exactly about holiness, but it was about encouragement, something I was delighted to see him passing on.

God was there in the midst of two kids, one helping the other one out. At the end of a baseball game my son told me,

“Adam* was crying after he struck out. So, I gave him a pep talk.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, ‘Striking out is your next step to greatness.’”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

*Not his real name.

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in May

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in May

The title tells you what this monthly post is typically about: 5 Wholesome Things I’ve learned in the last 30 days. But this time, I’m going to broaden the scope just a bit and add in stuff you already knew but might not think about every day. Observations that make you feel better about life – because we all know our mood is elevated when we focus on what’s good and pure, instead of what’s demoralizing and evil. Right? Ok. Here goes.

  • The fierce, protective spirit of motherhood is alive and well. In May we celebrated Mother’s Day, so women who mother in all kinds of ways got much of the attention they so richly deserve. But even as they were lauded, women’s selfless instincts shone. Twice this month, I saw women display crazy mothering proclivity when they stopped traffic to save small animals. The first ran from her truck and held out her arm to halt three lanes of cars so a mama duck and her 8 ducklings could cross the road. The second sprang from her sedan and dashed in flip-flops about 20 feet behind her car to snatch a turtle from the center of the lane and lay it in the grass before the next car came up behind. On both occasions, I was driving past, and my teenage daughter – sitting in my passenger seat – declared, “I would do that, Mom.” Her comments made me smile, shake my head, and launch into lectures about how dangerous it is risk life and limb to save adorable, helpless animals from oncoming cars. But the desire, bravery, and inclination a woman has to do this? I get it. I really do.

  • Kind and decent men are everywhere. You’d think from the news that we have to beware of nefarious men lurking in every corner. But I can think of at least a dozen men this month – all of them strangers – who were gracious to me. They held open doors, gave me directions, offered to help load groceries into my car, politely answered questions about products I was buying, and simply wished me good day. It may seem strange to point this out, but when we are individually thankful for the good men in our families, yet buy into society’s lie that all men are predators, it’s time to reconsider our thinking. And many men are cheering women on in all kinds of endeavors – and our sons are noticing. A former Blue Angels pilot came to speak to my son’s 3rd grade class this month. It was a day my little boy will always remember, and he has since regaled me with many of the stories and facts the pilot shared. This gentleman made a point of telling the group, “There has never been a woman Blue Angels pilot [of the F/A-18s], but I have met many women I think would make good ones.” I wasn’t there and I can’t read minds, but I’m guessing when they heard that, a few girls sat up straighter in their seats. I know my son did, and he was happy to tell me all about it.
  • Decluttering is liberating. My husband and I ordered a dumpster this month and while it sat in our driveway for a week our family cleaned out our garage and backyard, tossing our trash into the green monster with glee. (Well, I felt gleeful; everyone else was less excited, but hey – the work got done!!) In the photo, you only see the topmost layer: branches from a tree we trimmed. But under that are huge rusted pieces of our dismantled shed, broken flower pots, random chunks of plywood, old hoses, two beleaguered dog houses, and much, much more. Without all this stuff, our entire property feels bigger and fresher. Getting rid of what’s broken and no longer useful is exhilarating. If you haven’t done any spring cleaning, go purge a junk drawer and live the dream!! You already know how good you’ll feel!
  • Spring weather and a walk with a friend is good medicine. I’m not going to point to any studies confirming this statement, but sunny weather lifts our spirits. We all know this is true. Don’t you just love to be outside on a 75 degree day when the sun is warm, a light breeze blows, and you’ve struck up a good conversation with someone you trust? I’ve been walking once a week with a friend this May, and while we haven’t cured cancer or solved global conflicts, we have found some measure of peace by discussing the topics that scare and delight us as we stroll along. As Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good [more satisfying] reward for their labor.” (The Amplified Bible) True friends are gifts from the best Giver of all. Spending time with such people are part of His plan for us – a way in which He wants to bless our days.
  • The people surrounding us – physically – matter the most, most of the time. For two 4-day weekends this month, I spent very, very little time (i.e. less than 10 minutes total) on social media, and for someone with multiple accounts this was unusual. I like Facebook and Instagram, and I try to limit my screen time in general, but this was different. Both weekends, I focused on being present – to my mother in Florida for Mother’s Day, and to my husband and kids for Memorial Day. And the truth is – no online ‘friends’ missed me, and if my faraway friends had important news to share, I heard about it later, directly from them. Why? Because the people who need me mostand who I need most – are living and breathing in the same spaces as me. I think you know it’s true in your life as well. Let’s not waste time living vicariously in curated feeds or mindlessly scrolling for memes to make us laugh. With God’s help, we can be wiser than that; we can learn to see our days for what they are: numbered, precious, and meant to be given in love to those with whom we actually share them.

Wishing you peace and joy in June and always!

Amidst Angels: A Short Post on Gratitude

Amidst Angels: A Short Post on Gratitude
U.S. Navy Blue Angels, 2015. Photo taken at Hospital Point, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.

“It’s so beautiful,” I said as we watched the Blue Angels making the final pass of their 2019 flight demonstration over the Severn River.

“Mom, you think everything is beautiful,” replied my teenage daughter.

I looked over at her – sandy blonde hair – taking videos with my phone.

Yep. Beautiful.

Me and my daughter at the 2019 Blue Angels flight demonstration.

Practically all of Annapolis clamors to find a spot somewhere near the water to view the planes at 2 pm on the Wednesday of Commissioning Week – those 5 blissful days in May when the Academy sends off its newest batch of brilliant officers to represent our nation across the globe. I give that praise with no sarcasm whatsoever. They are – to a woman and man – among the very best and brightest our country has to offer.

So we’ve come to watch the flight demonstration honoring them every year for the past 12? I’ve lost count. Except when the Blue Angels were grounded because of weather or budget cuts (2013), we were there. With friends or by ourselves, we make this annual pilgrimage to appreciate the display of skill, training, courage, complete trust and raw nerve it takes to fly one combat airplane at 800 mph just inches from another. The show celebrates those who serve. It is about noble character, sacrifice, and working as a team for a cause greater than one’s self.

The elegance and energy of the moment will take your breath away.

And the glinting sun on the wings, the howling engines, and the cooling breeze make me wistful. In this week, more than any other in the year, I feel the passage of time.

My wedding anniversary…the near-end of another school year…the dying away of the spring flowers and the full-on growth of green shade for summer…all are happening right now in this week.

Is there a spot in your geography which makes you grateful? Where you see your days spread out before and behind you? You remember the good and the bad simultaneously? You hold the joy and the pain together as one?

2019. View across the Severn River.

The key to a full heart, I’ve found, is taking an inventory of the GOOD and raising it up high.

Even when there’s hurt. Even when there’s suffering. Even when concern is knocking on your door.

My days are not the same as they were just last year or two years ago, and I’m sure yours aren’t either. There has been success and sadness. There have been sound decisions and bad ones. And there are battles still being waged.

But in our favorite spots we are reminded that we are never independent of God’s grace. His presence – which continually blesses us despite all the ways we continually screw up – is just that – PRESENT. Always.

Every year, I stand on Hospital Point and I just feel so darn thankful to be alive. And this time, I knew why.

It’s all beautiful. All of it. Beautiful.