5 Warm & Fuzzy Things from October – The Monthly “Wholesome List”

5 Warm & Fuzzy Things from October – The Monthly “Wholesome List”

For much of the Northern Hemisphere, October marks the beginning of sweater season, a time when we seek out coziness. Warmth at this time of year might be a cute fall welcome mat or a mug of steaming cider. Or it could be something more enduring, like the loving arms and lilting laughter of family huddled together on a jolting hayride, memorable for decades to come.

All of us want the kind of joy that comes with feeling snug and secure, and the confidence that we are headed toward something good. And we like anecdotes, images, and items that point us toward that soulful desire.

Because I try every month to bring you 5 things I encountered which were in some way pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, honorable, just, or worthy of praise (per Philippians 4:8), this October I wanted to find a balance between the warm and fuzzy feeling we’re looking for, and the lessons we can learn in its presence. Here goes…

1) We are all lovely. And we all bear scars. Lions are my favorite animals so I will stop to look at just about any lion picture. But this one – this one took my breath away. It was posted on Instagram by African Animals with the caption “Fought for his kingdom.”

 
 

 

 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by African Animals (@africanimals) on

Since Christ is called “the Lion of Judah,” you know what I thought of immediately and about what He does for those who love Him. But I also paused just to study this cat’s gorgeous face. His scarred eye. His tough, humble stature. God didn’t spare beauty in any single creature. Let’s think of this the next time we gaze into the face of another person long enough to see past their hurts.

2) We are working toward a bright but hidden future. I am not an insect aficionado, and probably neither are you, but who knew these guys could be so adorable? I was walking my dog Luna, saw this little caterpillar almost hidden in the grass, and scooped her up to investigate.

Moth photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren – Pyrrharctia isabella – Isabella Tiger Moth. Other photos are mine.

Her hair was not as soft as it looked – it was wiry – and being defenseless, she immediately curled into a ball. Google told me that she’s a pyrrharctia isabella – The Wooly Bear. She eats all kinds of common plants and hibernates under rocks and logs in the winter, so in all likelihood, she was having a fairly industrious day when I gave her a terrible fright. In the spring, she will become a very pretty but seldom-seen moth. We’re a lot like her, plugging away at our tasks, never sure if our efforts will pay off in the way we hope (perhaps not even really thinking about their long-term import). Yet we must trust in the promise of goodness to come. And it does come to those who wait and believe.

3) We can beautifully pass love on. I attended 3 funerals to support grieving friends this month, so I spent some time considering how we mourn and ways we can honor our loved ones who have gone on. During these days, a priest I greatly admire posted this poem on Facebook. From what I understand, it is often used as a meditation in Reform Jewish liturgy before Kaddish, a hymn of prayer praising God and ending with a plea for peace throughout the world. The poem is exquisite in its sensitivity and expresses the deepest wishes of so many of us.

“Epitaph”
By Merrit Malloy

When I die
Give what’s left of me away
To children
And old me that wait to die.

And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I’ve known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on in your eyes
And not your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn’t die,
People do.
So, when all that’s left of me
Is love,
Give me away.

4) We can and should find practical ways to recycle things we are no longer using and make kids in need smile at the same time. This month, I learned about LEGO Replay, a pilot program sponsored by LEGO through which you can donate your old used bricks for less fortunate kids. Just box up your old pieces, visit the LEGO Replay website, print off a shipping label, and call UPS and tell them you have a box for pick-up. The pilot program will run through the spring of 2020, so jump in now to participate. For more information visit the LEGO site here.

5) We want to encourage one another. I was in a Starbucks when I saw this sign:

Curious as to what people had written, I pulled out a few of the notes. Here’s what they said:

You can tell from the handwriting that these message-bearers are of varying ages. What’s wonderful is…

Good will is ageless.

I pray these people will share their uplifting messages daily in the ways they speak and interact with others, because our voices, words, and body language matter. Very much.

If, however, we find ourselves struggling to be gentle and kind – there is hope for us. One thing I know that helps for sure – is prayer.

In October, I learned an acronym for a morning prayer routine while catching up on Emily P. Freeman’s podcast, The Next Right Thing. In Episode 90: Start with this Simple Rhythym, she shares a technique she calls PRWRP.

P is for prayer and it can be brief – like 15 seconds, just saying thank you for the day. R is for reading the Word of God, and I follow the Scriptures of the day that the Catholic Church is reading around the world, but you could use whichever biblical book(s) you are currently studying. W is for writing – a short time of journaling your thoughts. R is for reading again, a short segment of spiritual material. Currently, I’m reading 2-3 pages from Treatise on the Love of God by Francis de Sales. And finally, P is for prayer – a closing conversation with your Creator. The whole process could be long or quite brief, though I generally find, the more time I spend in prayer, the better my days go.

That’s it for October’s Wholesome List. However you are growing in your spiritual life, I wish you peace, love, joy beyond all human understanding, and lots and lots of warm fuzzies in your heart. May we all become ever more thankful in November!

Blessings,
Gretchen

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.

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.

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.