Enter to Win Two Books!

Wouldn’t you love to win something? And who doesn’t want free books?! Especially when they’re by Emily P. Freeman and Michelle DeRusha and will help you to make better decisions and leave the stress of this “get-ahead” world behind…

From Monday, April 22nd through Friday, May 3rd, 2019, I’m hosting a two-book giveaway with the hope of attracting a few more subscribers to my blog. To participate, just click this link! You’ll receive several points for subscribing to Like the Dewfall, and a few more if you follow me on social media as well! The more you enter, the better your chances (which are of course, related to the total number of entries). Only 1 lucky winner will receive both books through a blind draw on May 3, so enter often!

Thanks for your support. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Notre Dame de Paris and Legacies at Easter

Notre Dame de Paris and  Legacies at Easter

Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

On Monday, April 15, when the very first sparks caught deep in the forest of Notre Dame Cathedral’s 800-year old oak beams, my husband and I were singing the closing hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings,” at the funeral of a beloved man. His name was Jim, and he was the father of one of our dearest friends.

The church was packed, full of people whose lives had been touched by this husband of 51 years, father of 4, grandfather of 11, friend to hundreds, and volunteer whose time and contributions touched the lives of thousands through a long list of organizations within his community.

During the homily, the priest told a story about visiting the grave of Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the first person entombed within it. Wren’s gravestone reads, in Latin: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.”

Wren’s monument was the entire building. Spectacular, of course, but buildings do fall down.

Jim’s legacy is one of love and connection. It is a baton that has been passed on – and will be – for generations to come.

I was so grateful for the priest’s reminder as I drove home, thinking about people I love – people very close to me – who are currently suffering. Some have been fighting health battles for months with no end in sight. Others are dealing with very emotional issues – facing new realities, changed expectations, and daunting unknowns.

Like a devastating fire, suffering leaves marks on us and changes the way we move forward in our lives.

The temptation is to believe that a happy ending requires that we – like Notre Dame – be restored to some version of a former glory.

We think that with enough rest, medicine, good food, positive words, and advice from experts and well-meaning friends we can shore up our mental and physical strength and proceed as if nothing ever happened.

But what if we’re not supposed to? What if suffering – in all its forms – has a larger purpose?

What if it is supposed to change us forever?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction….” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Our suffering is allowed so that we might be brought closer to God’s face and then, in turn, use our experience to boost others on their journeys.

We are to pass the baton of Love.

So Jim’s life becomes a message of hope to us, just as Jesus’s resurrection – which we celebrate this weekend on Easter – is the tangible sign that with God, even death is not an end but an entryway.

Perhaps the Cathedral of Notre Dame will be rebuilt, but it can never be the same. The story must go on and be fashioned anew.

On Monday, we sat with our grieving friends and remembered that Jim was a man who gave generously of himself. He was beloved, because humans are attracted to the image of God reflected in a kind person.

Easter is coming. Suffering will end.

May Love be our guide to build legacies that last.

The Day I Stopped Judging My Neighbor

The Day I Stopped Judging My Neighbor

I’m finally speaking to my neighbor. Many years ago, we had a sort of run-in that I chose not to overlook. And I recently passed her two times in the Whole Foods supermarket before I decided to say something.

No. That’s a lie. It didn’t exactly happen that way.

Here’s how it did.

I saw the white-haired woman twice – once in the produce section and once by meats – before I headed over to the bakery to get myself a loaf of Italian bread. I decided to try the new slicing machine and was just reaching in to retrieve my freshly cut loaf when I heard a voice say,

“Is that thing turned off? Are you sure you should stick your hand in there?”

I turned my head to see her standing next to me. My neighbor. The woman with whom I had only interacted once in all the years we’ve lived on the same block, her backyard kitty-corner to mine. She always seemed to have the same stern expression on face, as if she were assessing the world and finding it unsuitable to her taste.

It was years ago when we passed in the street while walking our dogs. She and her husband had their two Jack Russells and I had my Beagle and mutt. From the other curb she greeted me only with unsolicited advice, saying that the double harness I was using – which connected to one leash – was “a very bad idea.” “Those things are terrible,” she yelled without ever saying hello. “They never work. It’s better to walk them on two.”

We had just gotten the dogs and I would learn she was right. But I was taken aback by her comments because I was in a tender spot. Our last dog had passed very suddenly just weeks before, and I was determined to do absolutely everything in my power to be the best possible dog mom I could be to these two new rescues.

Soon enough, one of the dogs – our lemon Beagle – proved to be a real backyard nuisance, always barking at passersby, other dogs, and rogue squirrels seeking global domination. Or at the very least, to cross our yard.

And I began to feel a bit angry and ashamed. How could any neighbor not hate us for the ruckus our little girl canine makes?

I assumed the whole block was judging us.

Especially her.

Back at the bread slicer, I sighed to myself and quickly asked the One above for grace.

“You’re probably right,” I said to her, and pulled my hand out of the machine that might very well cut it off.

Instantly, a Whole Foods bakery worker appeared, assured me I was doing alright, and deftly slid the sliced loaf into a plastic bag. I thanked her and turned back to my neighbor, deciding in a split second to suck down what was left of my pride.

“I’m Gretchen. You don’t know me, but we’re neighbors.”

“I thought you looked familiar.”

“I’ve seen you out walking your Jacks with your husband.”

We exchanged pleasantries – about how long we’d lived in the area and how we ended up there. She’d also been a mother of three. Her husband also went to an all-boys Catholic high school and had done a long commute before he’d retired.

When we really listen to people, it’s always possible to find common ground.

A few minutes later, she said…

“We’ve had five Jacks total. Now just two. But John’s* been in a memory-care facility for two years.”

Her face softened all over and she looked away. She continued.

“They line them up 30 minutes before meals to go in to eat. Sometimes I don’t get there in time.”

Suddenly, I realized I’d read it all wrong. The face wasn’t stern; it was determined. Steadfast and purposeful in a difficult situation.

And she wasn’t the judgmental person. I was.

Then she asked, “Which ones are your dogs?”

I explained and she knew immediately, especially the Beagle.

“I’m so sorry about the barking,” I told her.

“Oh, it doesn’t bother me! I love that little dog! She runs along the fence line and talks to all the others. She wears an electric collar.”

“Yes,” I halfheartedly laughed. “She has to or she’d follow the scents right over our fence.”

“I understand! You can’t let a Jack run anywhere he’d like either. They don’t stay with you. An unleashed Jack is a dead Jack.”

We parted with ‘so glad to have met yous’ that I for one, certainly meant, because not only was she a pleasure, there was a real lesson for me in this encounter.

I am fatally flawed and need to consistently ask for the eyes to see as God does, for “man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Had I been more forgiving, had I decided to not judge this woman based on a faulty first impression or the look on her face, had I not unconsciously believed I was semi-omniscient and could read my neighbors’ minds – who knows what blessings of friendship we might have uncovered in all these years?

Grace happens when we put down our preconceived notions – when we surrender our assumptions and theories – and allow love to enter into in.

If we hold too tightly to what we think we know, we can’t see what’s still there for us to learn. And the picture is so much richer than we can imagine or see on our own.

*Not his real name.

God the “Father” – When Language Falls Short

God the “Father” – When Language Falls Short

Photo by Dylan Sosso on Unsplash

I call God my “Father.” But the word falls short in many ways.

Let me preface this by saying I have a gentle earthly father. One who spoke to me in childhood with kindness and patience, and talks to me now with respect and care. I always knew his intentions were good. I understood that he loved me, even when he disciplined me.

But many people don’t share this experience. The word “father” is a powerful trigger for deeply complex, old and painful wounds. It becomes very difficult to think of God in heaven as the Best Dad Ever when you perpetually wonder why you were paired with one here who left you aching.

I’d been ruminating on this subject for a few days when a long-forgotten memory sprang up while I was sitting in a streak of warm sunlight at my kitchen table, early one spring morning.

I’m four years old and it’s Christmastime 1976 in New London, CT. My parents are shepherding a Bible study group for cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where my father is an alum and is now working in the Admissions Office. This evening, some cadets are caroling at a retirement home, and my parents decide to take me along. I am the only child in the group.

I’m hiding from the tall, loud adults in my handwoven gray and ivory Icelandic sweater – each strand of it thick and soft – and distracting myself from the strange surroundings by playing with the round pewter buttons on my belly and twisting the thin belt between my fingers.

We walk through long corridors, passing room after room, singing “Jingle Bells” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Through most of the doorways, I see only feet. Feet covered with blankets. On beds. In wheelchairs.

I stay by my mom’s side, listening to her lilting soprano and the swish-swish of her arms against her yellow parka.

We finally come to a community hall, where people sit in high-back chairs and more wheelchairs along the perimeter of a ring.

There is a small collective sigh.

My mother begins stroking my blond hair and saying my name, my age, and things about me.

A woman in the middle of the circle, hunched over in her wheelchair, fixes her deeply wrinkled face on me and smiles like a cherubim. With great effort, she raises her left hand and holds it, trembling, mid-air.

My mother runs her hand down my back and inches me forward until I take the last few steps to this woman on my own.

She sits above me on metal wheels, but I look into her peaceful eyes and feel the radiance of my rosy cheeks, the warmth of my tiny body in my woolen sweater, and without thinking, hold out my small hands to hers.

We clasp our hands together on the armrest and I notice how hers are bluish and ropy with veins, but soft, tender, and pulsing with life.

Looking up again, I see that we share this: life. And a desire to love.

I don’t know her, but I like being with her.

Her presence takes away my fear.

She sees beauty in me. And I see it in her.

That was more than 40 years ago.

I’m back in my kitchen now, remembering that we are all made in God’s image. We bear an imprint of Him.

In that moment, I saw peace, goodness, stability, kindness, hope, trust, and love.

I wonder how many days passed before that gentle lady went to meet her Maker, and how many other people saw God in her eyes?

When we recognize that God is present in all situations, we begin to understand His character and heart.

We begin to see that every life experience carries a whisper of His grace.

I call God my “Father” in the language of my faith tradition, and I always understood Him to be the origin of everything and the transcendent authority. I prayed to the Father alone before I ever became comfortable with His son Jesus Christ – whom I viewed as a divisive figure bent on punishing me forever. By asking God the Father to help me trust Him and by spending time in Scripture, my understanding of Jesus changed, and now He is my dearest friend whom I often visualize sitting with me when I pray. I’m comfortable when I read the words, “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)

But God’s qualities transcend the bodily distinction between the sexes. And God is continually drawing us to Himself.

God is neither masculine nor feminine, but both and all, and the more that I understand God as Creator, Friend, and Lover of my soul, the more I yearn to remember how this One Source of Life and Love met me in my past and beckoned me to Himself.

Do you want to remember, too?

I stretch out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

Teach me to do your will,
For you are my God.
-Psalm 143: 6,10

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in March

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in March

It’s the third edition of my monthly “Wholesome List” and maybe by now you’re getting the gist of it. I share with you a few things that I found (or learned about) which added value to my life because they were enriching or pleasant or meaningful in some way. Things that are wholesome contribute to our health and well-being, so I’m always looking for stuff along those lines.**

This month, 2 of the 5 items are reading material. Broadening my mind (or the mere attempt of it, anyway) makes me feel alive, and finding intriguing or enlightening books and articles has always been a favorite pastime. Here are a couple resources I wanted to share with you.

First – A book whose title piqued my interest: How Dogs Love Us by Gregory Berns. In amusing anecdotes (for dog lovers, anyway), Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University, recounts the process of training a couple dogs (including his own) to willingly enter an MRI machine, sit still for hundreds of scans, and respond to hand signals and scents while their brains are photographed. In the process, he discovers that dogs do show certain signs of brain activation similar to that of humans known to be experiencing love and affection. It’s an easy and interesting read. However, if you’re a dog person you might have already guessed the conclusion, because…well, dog people – we know. “Man’s best friend” didn’t get this moniker for no reason at all.

Next – As part of our Lenten practices, my 9-year old son and I have been reading a chapter of Love Does for Kids by Bob Goff every night. Through stories of his own childhood and ones from the days of raising his three kids with his wife (whom he always calls “Sweet Maria”), Goff draws parallels between everyday life and Biblical concepts. His approach is casual and conversational – not at all stilted or overbearing. So, Jesus comes across as the person He is – real, unfailingly kind, and eager to meet us right where we are. My son is anxious to read these lively tales every night – about American kids eating with foreign royalty, wedding cakes gone topsy-turvy, and neighbor doctors who rush in at a moment’s notice to stitch up split fingers at the dinner table. He’s glued to the details but never misses the bigger picture: God is SO powerful and SO full of goodness – there’s more than enough of Him for the whole world. My son is savoring this book and rereading it on his own, and it warms my mothering heart.

Third – Are you afraid of shots? Or know a child who is? When my daughter ended up in the hospital this month (read the story here), I saw first-hand this amazing tool in action: a Buzzy Bee. It’s a small vibrating device that temporarily confuses the body’s pain signals and makes procedures like getting an inoculation or an IV set in place less painful. My daughter said she couldn’t even feel her IV needle prick, just a small sting after it was all over. Anyone who dreads daily injections or the screaming that accompanies vaccination day needs one of these.

Fourth – I really stepped out of my comfort zone this month and learned that I could do some public speaking when asked. I told my personal story to about 40 women at my weekly Bible Study – Walking With Purpose. Afterward, on Instagram I said, “I outlined the many ways the Lord beckoned me to Himself over several decades, through both easy and painful times when I wanted nothing to do with Him, until I finally realized He was my soul’s true desire. It was the perfect venue for sharing, as these women are my friends and sisters in Christ, and I have felt loved every time I’ve walked through the door for the last nine years. Do you have a similar fellowship that encourages you? We need people who accept us as we are, cherishing the pieces of our stories as the gems that made us who we are today.” When I’d finished speaking I was so ready to sit down I hardly looked up at the audience again; it was quite an emotional moment for me. And I was surprised to receive such warm, encouraging feedback – and even a couple requests to start a podcast! What do you think? Would a podcast be a good addition to this blog? What would you like to hear? Interviews? Reflections? Please send me an email by using the ‘Contact’ tab at the top of my site! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Finally – And on a much lighter note, have you ever repeatedly bought something for other people (i.e. your kids), but never tried it yourself? So it was for me with Trader Joe’s yogurt cups, specifically the Strawberries and Cream/Peaches and Cream/Bananas and Cream flavors. Hello?!! Where has my mind been every time I opened my fridge? And why am I always only eating Greek yogurt? This stuff is so, so tasty. That’s all I have to say about that.

Thanks so much for reading this month’s (longish) edition of the Wholesome List! Spring has finally sprung so enjoy! Be well, love well, and keep your eyes open to grace in your life.

With gratitude for you,

Gretchen

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Do You Have Your Own Hogwarts House? I Do.

Do You Have Your Own Hogwarts House? I Do.

Do you have your own Hogwarts house? I don’t mean which of the 4 houses brilliantly imagined by J.K. Rowling for the Harry Potter** series do you think you would fit in, but do you have your OWN house?

Perhaps you should.

My family and I are big Harry Potter fans. Last summer during our vacation we finished up our 2-year adventure of listening to the entire series of audiobooks on long car rides (having already read them in print, of course). Then we visited the Pottermore website, created accounts, completed the online quizzes, were “sorted” into houses, and determined where our supposed loyalties should be.

According to Pottermore, my house is Ravenclaw – home of intelligent, creative, wise wizards. My patronus (spirit animal) is an otter (just like Hermione’s!), and my wand is Hawthorn Wood with a Unicorn hair core, 12 1/4” long and of quite bendy flexibility. I’m to use it with care and confidence, or it will create problems for me, as “hawthorn wands, which are complex and intriguing in their natures, [are] just like their owners who best suit them.”

I took this all in stride and my family hasn’t really pinned these descriptors to me, probably because we all know it’s just in good fun, plus – I had made a declaration months before.

In dinner-table conversation one night, everyone was busy trying to choose houses for one another when I announced, “I’m in my own house.”

“What do you mean?” they asked. So I explained.

“My house is called Dinglepouf, and it’s a very small house. Just for me.”

I was pressed for details…so I fashioned them on the spot.

“My colors are pink and green and my symbol? The Cockatoo. Because I think they’re cute and hilarious…all that hopping up and down with feathers puffed atop their heads.”

This was met with incredulous amazement. And laughter. But it was quickly accepted as family fact, and no one questioned me further.

And how could you? There’s only one member of my house, and so any of her qualities are those of the house as well. In general, she is sensitive, inquisitive, and a seeker of knowledge. She’s devoted to the people and pursuits of her heart, soft-spoken, and a lifelong daydreamer who still laughs at silly puns and other forms of low humor. People have often told her she’s sweet, but those closest to her know she can be mean, and that she outrageously stubborn.

And – she likes her own space. Hence, her own house.

Imaginary lives are entertaining. But we know where to draw the lines.

My 13-year old daughter enjoys playing online quizzes. She likes to see which celebrity’s style she supposedly matches, car she should drive, city she might prefer, or animal she would be if she were to miraculously transform.

And she likes me to play along. Sometimes, I do.

“Mom,” she said recently as she pointed to one such quiz on her iPad. “What do you really want from your life? Fame? Money? Power? or Other?”

“Other,” I answered.

“What do you mean?”

“What I really want is for my kids to grow up and have a close relationship with God.”

Her face crinkled, eyebrows pinched in the middle.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“But this is about YOU. What do you want?” she asked again.

“To live forever with God.”

She smiled and shook her head.

“Mom! You’re no fun!”

She was laughing and I knew she wanted me to be more accommodating to the quiz.

“I know. My answers don’t fit. But that’s often the way it is for me. I think differently.” I met her gaze, then added, “And that’s good.”

She nodded because she understood, chose ‘Other’ for me, and for the rest of the quiz I picked whatever sounded alright until I ended up being a blue aardvark or something at the end. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is this: our kids are listening, and observing what we believe. About ourselves. About life. About where we find meaning and purpose.

It’s great to be a member of a “house” or a team – to find commonality and fellowship, to contribute our talents toward a greater cause, to be part of a unified effort – but each of us individually is worthy of celebration and we don’t need to be afraid to step apart.

I don’t want my daughter to pigeonhole herself. She CANNOT be pigeonholed. All of her traits, gifts, and talents are far too robust and varied for her to ever fit into just one category. It’s the way she was fantastically created. I don’t want her to be anyone but herself. Though I tell her this, I also have to lead by example.

In my adult life, I have been intrigued by personality-type frameworks such as the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, and I know that I am not alone. I recently enjoyed Reading People by Anne Bogel (Free on Kindle now!), a thoughtful overview of several of these popular frameworks, which can provide us with valuable insights on our inner lives and the ways we interact with others, especially those who seem so different from us. Knowing our “type” – be it an ENFJ, or a Number 2 with a 5 wing, etc. (see the book if that’s all goo to you) – can help us in our careers, marriages, parenting, and spiritual lives. These frameworks are more meaningful, grown-up versions of “type” quizzes.

BUT, even if we can be grouped because we are similar to others, we are still uniquely made by One Creator. No two people are even remotely the same.

I am uniquely created to fulfill God’s purpose for my life, just as you are uniquely created by Him for yours, and each of my kids are for theirs.

And my life’s purpose is to love and serve God – my maker and lover of my soul – in all the ways He calls me right here and now. On paper yours might be the same, but it will play out in countless different ways.

This is a process of discernment which basically boils down to asking Him on the daily: 1) Where do You want me to show love? 2) Where do You want me to give of my time, talents, and treasure?

It took me a long, long time to figure this out, but once I did, all my days – even the bad ones, all through my history of pushing Him away – made sense. In light of this calling, in the light of God’s unending love for me – a deep, unshakable joy welled up from within, and I am happy to share it with everyone – especially my kids.

When I tell them I have my own house or that I want to live forever with God, I’m not saying it’s not good to be part of a team.

I am saying – embrace the person God made you to be, and know that this world can’t pin you down. You were made to go far, far beyond it. You are unique. You are wonderfully made. You are beloved. Don’t you ever, ever forget it.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! – Psalm 139:13-14

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

What Does the Cashier See in Our Eyes?

What Does the Cashier See in Our Eyes?

Photo by Barrett Baker on Unsplash

“What does the cashier see in our eyes?” I wondered as my teenage son and I approached the woman at counter number 17 of the Motor Vehicle Administration, after waiting for 3 1/2 hours to replace his lost learner’s permit.

Does she see anger? Frustration? Impatience? Or can we turn that all around?

While we were waiting, I’d been reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly,** in which she writes of the many virtues of sharing our vulnerabilities in order to live wholeheartedly – that is, in a manner that creates meaningful connections between ourselves and everyone we encounter.

In a sidebar that stretches across three grayed-out pages she highlights the way service people are often treated, recounting a story where she was caught on the phone in the middle of a drive-thru and had the presence of mind to tell the cashier:

“I’m so sorry. The phone rang right when I was pulling up and I thought it was my son’s school.”

I must have surprised her because she got huge tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea how humiliating it is sometimes. They don’t even see us.” (p.149)

Brown goes on to explain,

“I see adults who don’t even look at their waiters when they speak to them. I see parents who let their young children talk down to store clerks. I see people rage and scream at receptionists…

When we treat people as objects we dehumanize them. We do something really terrible to their souls and our own. Martin Buber, an Austrian-born philosopher, wrote about the differences between an I-it relationship and an I-you relationship. An I-it relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat as objects— people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task. I-you relationships are characterized by human connection and empathy.

Buber wrote, ‘When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.’” (p.149-150)

I finished the three pages in Brown’s book and handed it to my son.

“Read this segment,” I said, and he did, agreeing with all of Brown’s observations about the current state of our society – people so involved with their phones and so wrapped up in themselves that they never once look a person across the counter from them in the eye.

If we know in our hearts that every individual is made in the image of God, imagine what we’re missing when we don’t stop to appreciate that kind of beauty every time we encounter it in a person each day.

And if we are God’s vessels – broken but still useful – can’t we summon enough courage to step out of ourselves so He can use us to promote peace in the world?

The rewards far outweigh the risk.

By the time we got to counter number 17, my son and I were tired, hungry, and more than ready to go home. But we both knew the woman who greeted us was doing her best. We smiled and were courteous. And lo and behold – she smiled back. We made small talk. She was surprised and laughed a little.

We learned she has kids of her own, was sympathetic to our situation, was patient and understanding.

Most importantly, we looked her in the eye as we spoke to her. And I saw she had big, brown gorgeous ones with tiny gold flecks and long, black eyelashes. And her hands moved across her keyboard with confident grace because she was very quick and knowledgeable in her work.

I’m glad I took a few moments to really see her – yet another one of God’s masterpieces.

****This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

I Am Where I’m Meant to Be

I Am Where I’m Meant to Be

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

“I am where I’m meant to be,” I kept telling myself as all my Friday plans were ditched and I succumbed to day two of a migraine.

Things happen for a divine reason and here I was, re-learning what it means to be present. My daughter was home sick and we’d just come through a rough 72 hours.

I walked into the family room to check on her – my daughter-patient – lounging in front of the TV. I was thinking I could console her in some way when she reached her arms up to me. There was a fraction of a smile in her eyes and I realized in an instant, she wasn’t asking for a hug, she was giving one.

“Mom.”

I let myself sink down into the soft couch corner beside her and rested my head on hers, our blond hair commingling on the blue pillows. We exhaled at the same time.

“I need to work on an article,” I said.

“No, you don’t.”

“I also need to write a blog post.”

“No, you don’t.”

“My head still hurts.”

“I know. That’s why you need to just sit here and be a couch potato. With me.”

There is a connection between a mother and her daughter that is unique. And when the nurturer in the daughter is born, it is with a wordless tenderness.

Late night on Shrove Tuesday, my daughter had come down with severe stomach pains. They were bad enough to bring on tears, and she is not the crying type. We rushed to our hospital’s pediatric ER and spent the rest of the night there. She had many ‘firsts:’ her first IV, first ultrasound, and first MRI – as the pain, which she rated an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 – moved from all over her belly to the lower right quadrant. If you’re guessing appendicitis, so was everyone else.

The tests were all inconclusive, but thankfully, the pain was gradually subsiding by Wednesday afternoon. It seemed to be some weird viral issue. She could go home under the condition that she should return if things got worse or a fever developed. As it turned out, the slight, residual pain would last a few more days, and my mothering eyes didn’t rest until my daughter seemed fully herself once again.

I make it sound like it was all bad, don’t I? It wasn’t.

Ever since I acknowledged my dependence on God so many years ago, I carry within my soul an abiding sense of peace that doesn’t waver, even when circumstances make my mind wander into a land of worry and concern.

So when I pray, the two – mind and soul – are both at work. With my mind, I address the One I know is my ever-ready and ever-present help.

Watching needles going into my daughter’s veins….

Lord, steady her. Please relieve her pain.

As I saw her organs flash across a screen, images in black and white…

Please Lord, help this radiologist to find the problem.

And from my soul, words of praise and hope sometimes bubble up spontaneously. While standing next to the MRI, holding my daughter’s hands, extended above her head as she tried to remain still, my heart and soul sang the songs of my childhood.

Father, I adore You
Lay my life before you
How I love you

I didn’t know what the diagnosis would be, but I had faith that God was there.

He was there in the consoling words of the nurse who made my daughter smile as she put in the IV; in the kindness of the staff who brought us warm blankets so we could try to sleep; and in the gentle eyes of the doctor who listened carefully to the story of my own appendectomy and readily admitted that yes, appendicitis runs in families, so I had every reason to be suspicious when my daughter doubled up in pain.

The goodness God gives to us through the people who cross our paths gets passed on when we give it away.

We are His hands in the world.

And sometimes, His love comes back to us in the form of a needed hug from a daughter-patient.

God is always with us, and our souls want to talk with him.

Our relationship with God depends less on what we do than on which direction we face.

Are we turned toward Him? Or away?

There’s only one place I’m meant to be. Wherever I am, that’s looking up at Him.

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in February

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in February
Photo by K. Bingel

At the end of January, I started a monthly series highlighting a few wholesome things I’d learned over past several weeks, and now I’m carrying on the new tradition.**

Why “wholesome?” Because things that are wholesome contribute to, or are associated with, a state of well-being, which is a glimpse into the kind of life we are meant to know as we walk peacefully with God.

When Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), He gave us the promise of eternal life, but He also wanted us to know that we can enjoy the here and now. We can have some fun while we wait in hopeful expectation of God’s mercies.

So here are a few delights from February:

  1. Re-adopting a childhood habit can be a very good idea. When I was a child I read constantly. My parents had CB radios in their cars and encouraged my sister and me to have ‘handles’ just like them. Mine was “Bookworm.” So is it any wonder that I’d become an English major (well, double major of English & French), or that my not-so-secret fantasy is always to retreat to a quiet corner with a big, fat memoir? But we give so much up in adulthood, so this year I’ve made an effort to read more. A LOT more. And Anne Bogel’s podcast “What Should I Read Next” has been a big help. Her fascinating interview (#165) with James Mustich, author of 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die added another level to my self-created challenge, so I used a Bas Bleu gift certificate I received at Christmas to buy this doorstopper, which checks in at 948 pages. Having read only 95 of his suggestions, I’ve been eager to dig in. This month, I read Night by Elie Wiesel and wrote a blog post about it. In March, I’ll be reading Beryl Markham’s West With the Night and C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Nirvana for a bibliophile! I’ll be in a corner if you need me….
  2. A son can make his mother proud…especially when he challenges her. Early on in the month, my 16-year old son and I had our first-ever, slightly heated exchange over an issue in the national news – the wall at the southern border. We weren’t totally opposed to one another, just both expressing concerns, and before things got truly uncomfortable my husband wisely said, “Let’s just admit that no one in this room is an expert on this subject or has any firsthand knowledge. We don’t live in a directly affected area.” We both conceded immediately. Aside from the fact that it was fascinating to see my son’s critical thinking skills in play, what impressed me more was the question he threw out to me just before my husband stepped in: “Mom, what are your sources?” I was stunned with shock and pride. Thank God for bright young minds who are considering the sources of information, and checking their credibility and trustworthiness. Carry on young people, carry on.
  3. The latest food fad – avocado toast – is actually pretty good. My husband went on a business trip to NYC and had breakfast in a place with limited offerings. He ended up eating avocado toast, which was – as you’d imagine – avocado spread on toast – and, with a little twist on the obvious, a lightly poached egg. Surprise, surprise – he found it tasty and we replicated it at home. Now I’m buying 7 avocados a week and our daughter is making avocado toast for after-school snacks every day. There are certainly worse things.
  4. The “good camera” is still worth using. In one of this month’s blog posts, Study Birds and Turtles – Or How to Love in Life’s Mundane Moments, I featured a photo of me and my oldest son when he was about 18 months. It was taken with a Nikon N70 back when that was still an expensive camera. We bought it used, and it was worth every penny. Today, we’re all taking pictures with our phones and the quality seems alright most of the time, but when I found this particular shot my heart fluttered. I could see so clearly every detail of my son – even the little curl at the back of his head. I remembered a friend’s recent comment, “Twenty years from now I might regret not making the effort to get out the nice camera and take better pictures.” Indeed. My intention for March is look ahead two decades, and then do what I think Future Me would appreciate.
  5. I learned new ways to pray. I began the month on a weekend retreat with fellow mothers from my son’s all-boys Jesuit high school. In fact, one of those moms took the photo I used in this post at sunset on the second day. In our fellowship together, my prayer life was strengthened in two ways: First, I was taught a new way to pray the Rosary. The Scriptural Rosary incorporates a verse of scripture between each Hail Mary; it helped me to focus more clearly on the mystery of Christ’s life contemplated in each decade. You can order the book we used here on Amazon. Second, I learned the Suscipe, a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola incorporated into his Spiritual Exercises. I loved it enough to place it in a frame on my desk where I can offer the words to the Lord daily. I leave it here with you in closing.

May God bless you and keep you in March, and may you enjoy fullness of joy in your walk with Him.

Suscipe

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

-St. Ignatius of Loyola

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?

How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?
Witness by Ariel Burger and Night, by Burger’s teacher, Professor Elie Wiesel.

Are you an activist? Is activism something you do – or observe?

Last night I finished Night by Elie Wiesel. It’s a short book I meant to read for years, and I put it off out of selfish knowledge that its contents would rattle me. And they did, because every word is true. I felt physically ill. I don’t remember the last time I read something this painful, powerful, important, or necessary.

In the very unlikely case you’ve never heard of it – Night is a harrowing first-person account of survival in the Nazi death camps. Taken – along with his family and the entire Jewish community of Sighet, Transylvania – to Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel recounts with lucidity, humility, and eloquence the unforgettable anguish of passing through hell and leaving behind every person he had ever loved. Deeply observant, this Jewish teenager faced a prolonged dark night of the soul unimaginable to most. I defy anyone with a heart to read this book and remain unmoved.

You will read Night and feel bereft. But there is a mighty epilogue. Elie Wiesel was much more than a survivor. Before his passing in 2016, he wrote 40 books (both fiction and nonfiction), was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the French Legion of Honor, and most notably, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. He taught Humanities at Boston University for nearly 40 years.

In conjunction with Night, I recently devoured a sort-of primer on moral education – Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger, who was a student of and later an assistant to, Elie Wiesel in Boston. It’s the next best thing to being in Professor Wiesel’s classes, pondering eternally significant questions such as, “How can we make the world a more compassionate place?”

Which brings me back to the whole point of this post – the steps we take after we are consumed with sadness and fury over the injustices in the world.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Professor Wiesel said he had faith. “Faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.” (emphasis mine)

To sit on our hands and do nothing when we are outraged is to fuel evil’s fire.

We may feel powerless, but we are not.

“Walt, a retired academic dean who [had] attended Wiesel’s classes for over a decade, [said], ‘My problem is, I do something small, write a check or something, and I feel better. I don’t want to feel better; I want to hold on to the outrage so I can do more. How do I do that?’

[Wiesel replied,] ‘The question is, how real are other people to you? Do you feel their suffering?…We can feel overwhelmed….And you can remain asleep to others’ pain. We need to find a balance between sleep and paralysis. Start with one person. A person is not an abstraction – we must be against abstraction. Six million pairs of shoes taken from children in the camps are a statistic; one is a tragedy.

But don’t just write a check; help them somehow with your own effort, your own energy. Buy them food and bring it to them. Help them find shelter. Speak to them, take the time to really speak and listen. Who will listen to them? We must be the ones who do. This means that your feelings of anxiety or calm, your presence or lack thereof for another person, your smile at a fellow human being or your turning away, your feeling overwhelmed and how you manage that – all of these little, internal things contribute somehow to the destiny of the world.’” (Witness, p. 176)

We cannot live lives of vicarious righteousness. We must step out and take action wherever we see a need. Big steps. Small steps. Forward steps.

So I ask you, and I ask myself, “How I am doing this new year, living an activist’s life? Am I obeying the daily, divine call to love?”

Am I feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Giving shelter? Speaking up – loudly – for the defenseless and oppressed?

Am I listening without judgment to the person who suffers from addiction? Am I offering compassion to the one who is sick, the one whose marriage is failing, the one whose child is estranged, and the one who has lost his job? Do I give rapt attention to the one who talks aimlessly because she’s been lonely for ages?

Who will welcome these battered hearts, if not me?

Am I asking God for help in discerning my next steps, and am I willing to accept that I am part of a greater whole, and that because God so loved the entire world, I must as well?

Or am I avoiding pain, because getting involved might cost me something?

These are questions for the would-be activist. Questions for you and me.

“We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them,” wrote Elie Wiesel.

So – how are we doing?