“Can I Take That Backpack For You?” – Words We Still Need to Hear

“Can I Take That Backpack For You?” – Words We Still Need to Hear
Photo by Charlie Solorzano on Unsplash.

Thank goodness I didn’t wreck the car when I saw them…I was staring so much.

They were three men walking in a line like ducks toward the school, one following another, on the sidewalk opposite me as I pulled out of a parking spot on a one-way street in historic downtown Annapolis.

They were slowed by the bumpy terrain – a place where bricks placed in a herringbone pattern are made uneven by centuries of wear and large roots of trees busting through at sporadic intervals.

Or maybe it was the men’s daughters who shortened their steps.

Tucked behind each dad, sheltered from passing cars and just barely in view, was a little girl holding her father’s left hand. In his right hand, each dad carried a tiny backpack.

And that last precious little girl? Oh – she was engulfed in story, her left arm waving around as she kept her face toward her dad’s, looking up for his responses. And he was nodding and smiling – fully focused, fully present to whatever it was she was telling him.

Three men. Three daughters. So beautiful.

I still remember being small and holding my dad’s big hand. It was warm and soft. And I knew I was safe when I was with him.

And I still remember what it was like to have help from others when I was vulnerable. Friends hauled my backpack for me in high school on more than one occasion when I sprained my ankles.

Perhaps your experiences are similar.

The truth is, we’re all still children at heart. We want two hands to be there for us. One to hold, and one to carry our stuff.

Hours after seeing the fathers and daughters, a dear friend of mine called and shared some concerns with me about one of her children.

In the beginning of our friendship, she used to apologize for taking up my time, but now we have an understanding. Our relationship has matured and we know – we are here to help carry one another’s burdens. We are here to hold each other’s hands.

I tell her my fears and she tells me hers. She admits her mistakes and I reassure her that I’ve made them, too.

We metaphorically link arms, and while one of us protects the other from the world’s traffic, the one who’s feeling vulnerable and small waves her other arm about and tells her story for as long as it takes.

We walk together over the uneven path.

As you’ve probably witnessed, the world consistently fails to appreciate the finer points of real, lasting, and genuine adult relationships. They are tender, sacred domains where vulnerability, weakness, and heart-to-heart sharing is not mocked and scorned, but cherished.

Only in admitting to one another that we are not perfect can we find communion.

Real love means letting down our guard with someone we trust, and offering to guard one another in return.

Our hearts are made for Love.

We crave it.

We want it in its purest form – born in perfection from the place where it is, was, and always will be – safe and eternally trustworthy, from beginning to end.

And to get more of it, we must give it away.

The next time you feel frail, weakened, or exposed – will you turn to a loyal friend – and better still, your Father in heaven – and say, ‘Show me where I can lay down this heavy load?’

And when someone comes to you with a backpack of worry, regret, or just fatigue from too much responsibility, will you help him or her carry it for awhile, while holding out your tender hands, offering your strength and protection?

Yes, we can do this. We can travel the jagged landscape of life, making one another’s burdens lighter with the love of God working through our hands.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

This post was re-published in October 2019 to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of this blog, Like the Dewfall. For another post on lifelong love, please see this one about my dear grandparents Hazel and Allen Smith, who were married for 75 years before passing on within 5 weeks of one another: “What Makes A Couple Truly Beautiful?”

Original Post:

Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.

 

All the days of my life

In our first week of dating, attending an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. January 1997.

The first 7,304

It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice.  Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath.  I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again.  Breathing that is.  But you get the point.

We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done.  I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.”  It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.

I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel.  But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before.  It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life.  I recall thinking calmly to myself,

“So this is her. The love of my life.  I knew she’d be smart.  Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”

And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.

Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences.  To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment.  The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come.  Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.

The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy.  I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach.  Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.

I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards.  I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later.  After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.

When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened.  It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.

And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.

May 23, 1998.

An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate.  That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.

That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups.  These include:

  1. No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns.  No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
  2. No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy.  We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
  3. Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other.  Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
  4. No quinoa. Ever.  I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit.  Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.

Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals.  Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws.  I still bring me into every situation.

That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together.  We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to.  For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert.  Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy.  On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.

Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple.  Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times.   But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.

When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road.  I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.

The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles.  Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about.  Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.

I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life.  Gretchen is my greatest blessing.

When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead.  And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.

Bad Day in London Town

Bad Day in London Town

This post was first published in October 2015. It is making a new appearance in celebration of this blog’s 5-year anniversary. Click here to learn more about me and Like the Dewfall.

I disappointed my daughter today. There was no way I couldn’t have. But this was a very big day, and even when the head understands the facts, the heart sometimes doesn’t.

I had never been on one of her field trips because, as a stay-at-home mom, my full-time job required full-time care of her younger brother. But he just started Kindergarten. So my schedule had freed up. Finally.

Three weeks ago I sent in a form volunteering to be a 4th grade chaperone on today’s day-long class trip to the colonial port of London Town, and I was one of six parents chosen to attend. My daughter was as excited as I’ve ever seen her.

Every single day I heard: “Mom, I can’t wait until” “Mom, it’s going to be so much fun!” “Mom, you’re finally coming!” “Mom, I’m researching colonial hairstyles so I can do my hair.” 

But trouble began to rear its head yesterday when the Kindergartner came home with a stomach ache and a low fever. A fever one day means no school the next. I didn’t panic, but this was not good. Not good at all.

My husband had a huge presentation this morning, so even as I lined up a daytime sitter for my son (no small feat), I prepared my daughter for the possibility that I couldn’t go if her brother’s illness got worse.

She hid her face behind a pillow, giant tears rolling out of her big blue eyes, red blotches of grief creeping up her fair face, and she wailed, “Why?!!! Sick now? Tomorrow??!! Of ALL Days?!!”

Today came and my son woke up with a rash and a higher fever.

I called and told the sitter to come just for the morning – that I would make a cameo appearance at the field trip site for one hour. And then I made a strategic early-morning strike on the doctor’s office and pharmacy to confirm my own motherly diagnosis and then do battle via antibiotics on my son’s attacker: scarlet fever – a form of strep.

Despite the fact that I had told her the plan, my daughter was thrilled when I got to London Town, and crestfallen and angry when I left exactly one hour later. I made the most of it: I took photos of her role-playing a slave in colonial garb, watched her make corn cakes with her hands, and laughed with her when we both saw our first wild groundhog wandering the settlement.

But as I was driving home, I couldn’t get her embittered eyes out of my mind. She was still just so disappointed.

What could I tell her? What could I say to help her through this experience? After all, the day didn’t go the way I’d wanted it to, either.

I stopped at the supermarket and bought her some mums, then left them in her room with a long note in which I made the following points:

  • Today was tough for both of us, and like you, I am angry, sad and disappointed. But we both love your brother, and in an imperfect world, people get sick. It’s not anyone’s fault.
  • Even though I would have liked to stay with you all day, I am grateful for the time I did have with you, and for your inquisitiveness. You asked thoughtful questions about the role you were playing, and the house we were touring. I am grateful for the chance to watch your graceful hands learn to prepare food, and for hearing your laughter with your friends. Your teacher also said I can come on another trip.
  • Even though it didn’t go the way we’d planned, I had a good day, and I hope in time you’ll remember it fondly too.
  • I know there is an ache in your heart and I couldn’t fill it. But by thinking of the things that you are thankful to God for, you will find that the Lord can heal that ache with joy. When we are grateful, it’s hard to hold on to anger and disappointment.
  • I love you.

Like children, we have much to learn. And we grow in spiritual maturity a little bit at a time. Today, I was reminded that gratitude must be cultivated. It is a slow process but can yield rich rewards.

Thank you God for giving me an opportunity to re-learn this lesson today, and for showing me how to share a grateful heart with my daughter.

31 Days of Seeing Beyond

31 Days of Seeing Beyond

This was my very first post. It appeared on October 3, 2014. I’m reposting it in celebration of my blog’s 5th Anniversary. Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey.

Three deaths over the last month have left me tired…..and sad. My beloved great aunt……a dear friend’s niece who took her own life… and my stepsister –  who passed after nearly 4 weeks in the ICU fighting to recover from extremely rare childbirth complications.  It’s my stepsister’s passing that brings me most often to my knees. I cry out to the Lord on behalf of her third child, a now 1-month old baby boy who will never know his mother.

They say there is a cycle of grief.  It has various stages. And I’m watching devastated people go through it now.  But in the midst of all this anguish, I  have been blessed to remain thankful and aware of God’s infinite goodness. I have also been given new opportunities to serve Him, and follow Him more closely – sometimes in ways that push me beyond old boundaries. I posted a prayer for my stepsister on Facebook. And soon, the family requested more.  It seemed the Lord wanted to use me.  It made me both nervous and strangely excited – not because people appreciated my writing, but because I had stumbled upon a way to really serve. And I learned – when there are people hurting, perhaps then more than ever, the Lord wants me step out of my safety zone and walk in new terrain, keeping my eyes on Him.

About 10 days ago, I saw the invitation from Myquillin Smith to take the 31-Day Challenge and write in October. I could hear the whisper that always leads me to good places — “Try this” — and felt that tinge – of joy.  And as I sat down to write tonight, I remembered a verse I taped to the front page of one of my journals four years ago when I first intended to write in earnest – but never really did.

A bruised reed he will not break,

a smoldering wick he will not quench….

             —  Matthew 12:20

The Word is full, so full, of promises. And for myself and so many people I love, I am holding on to this one right now.  Whether we are writing or just trying to get on with living day by day, the terrain in my world seems new and tough.  We are bruised and bent over, trampled and beaten down, hardly like flames alight. But when I fix my gaze on Him, when I ready myself through surrendering prayer, I am given all the strength I need.

Lord, help us. Thank you for the confidence you’ve given me – the knowledge that you alone are fully trustworthy, and that you are my only true help – my Savior.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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)

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.