Consider…

Sitting around my kitchen table today, I told my two dear friends, “These last few days I just can’t seem to get my mind straight – to focus on any one thing.”

I had exercised, eaten healthy food, spent time in Scripture. Prayed. But even in prayer, my thoughts seemed less…linear. More like a silver sphere whizzing through a pinball machine.image

Maybe you’ve had a day or two like that. I want to make things feel less fuzzy. I want clarity. But it’s just not there. Not yesterday. Not today.

At least I know that’s ok. Living like this from time to time is OK. It really is.

So starting yesterday, I cobbled together this post. Because even in our mental meanderings, we can often still find moments of beauty worthy of our attention. When we have eyes to see, grace and gifts are everywhere.

Here’s what I’vimagee been looking at – just to appreciate them again….

Flowers. Photos of flowers, actually.

I love flowers. Many women do, of course. And none of these are around anymore. But they’re still beautiful.

Years ago, my husband started a vegetable garden in our backyard, and when he realized the things he wanted to grow just weren’t thriving there, he converted the whole bed to a cutting garden – of flowers – that bloom through the spring and summer, for me.

IMG_0593 Tulips. Daffodils. Black-Eyed Susans. Gladiolus. And Lilies (my favorite).

All but one of these photos (the roses) are of ‘gifts’ from that bed. And the roses were a gift from the ladies with whom I study God’s Word.

I take photos of the flowers that bless my home all the time, just so that I can continue to “consider the lilies.”

pink lilies 2014Consider the lilies, how they grow:

they neither toil nor spin; 

but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 

– Luke 12:27

When Jesus tells me to “Consider the lilies,” He isn’t just pointing them out. God never makes mere suggestions. He wants to me to study them.

See how they do not sweat? Notice how they do not strive? Understand…they grow toward the Light, accept the abundance and good things that come from above, and open themselves to reveal their full glory, in turn revealing the glory of their Maker. They grace the world with  beauty – a divine beauty. And when their brief lives are done, they have left us with a joyful, colorful memory of God’s amazing handiwork.yellow lilies 2014

In each beautiful bloom, the Lord has left me a message. And it’s about His Greater Love.  And His Purpose. For me.

Not a bad thing to consider, on days when clarity is beyond me.

I Can’t Hear Him

“I can’t hear Him.”

My young son is whispering, and I’m annoyed. It’s Mother’s Day, we’re in church (one of my favorite places), and I’m kneeling down for this sacred moment – the highest point of the Mass. The priest is consecrating the Host and my little boy is insistently chattering in hushed tones in my left ear.  Grrr. I just want quiet. I am not feeling holy.

“I CAN’T hear Him. I’ll NEVER hear His voice. Never!”

‘Uh-oh,’ I think. This is my fault. Try to do a good thing and…oh, well…

See, I was in Target on Saturday and in the $1 bins they had these cute little notebooks. I immediately remembered a suggestion I’d heard recently from Matthew Kelly, founder of Dynamic Catholic and acclaimed speaker and author.  He explains:

Our lives change when our habits change. Get yourself a Mass Journal and bring it to church with you each Sunday. Write down the one thing that God whispers into your soul.  This one habit will change your whole experience of the Mass, your relationship with God, and your appreciation of the Church. This one habit will help you become a-better-version-of-yourself, will make you a more engaged and contributing member of your parish community, and will invigorate your relationships.*

His straightforward idea was brilliant – a perfect way to focus my attention during the service, and on God’s will for me in the week Mass  Journalsahead. One thing. I can do that. And so can my sidekicks.

So, on the way to church I gave each of my kids a notebook and explained the idea.

“Write down the 1 thing God says to you,” I advised. “Not 2, or 5, or 8. Just one.”

My older kids (12 and 9) understood right away and didn’t object because the idea was very simple.  I could tell they were listening in church, and they were writing in their notebooks after the Gospel was read. But my little guy…Hmm.

I knew at the outset I was asking a lot. The kid starts Kindergarten in the fall. He writes his letters, but he can’t read. So, I told him I would write God’s message in his notebook for him. I mean, I couldn’t very well give the other kids a booklet and not him, right? That wouldn’t be fair. And now he says he can’t hear God. I didn’t quite foresee that difficulty, because this is the child who thinks of other people to pray for all the time. Every night during prayers, he asks God to surround everyone in the world with angels and help them have sweet dreams. He likes to read Bible stories and lights up when we talk about Jesus – who is, in his words, “the most, most powerful.” How do you tell a young child that the goodness in his heart is exactly the thing I want him to pay attention to right now?

His angst returned when we did our bedtime routine. I sensed there was more to this, so I pushed a little harder.

“What’s really wrong, buddy? We can put aside the journal until you’re bigger. That’s fine. You’re good boy. Why does this bother you so much?”

“I wanted to hear His voice FIRST!!!” he blurted out.

OH! There’s the rub. He wanted to know what God was saying before his siblings.

I knew we had to move away from the topic; he was just too worked up. So we read a book about spiders and called it a night. But his feelings struck me as universal.

When we’re listening for God, don’t we all want the satisfaction of hearing from him RIGHT NOW? Before anyone else? We love to be ‘in-the-know.’ And yet, sitting in faith can be like sitting in fog. What’s required of us is obedience and submission – the suspension of ourselves and our expectations as we wait for Him. He always fulfills His promises. He loves hearts that are turned to Him. But He’s sovereign. And good things come to those who wait.

“Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

– Psalm 27:14

*(Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living With Passion and Purpose, p. 205) – request your copy of this book and a Mass Journal at Dynamic Catholic.

Anything to Get to My Son’s Heart

I went into my son’s room just now to get this picture. My focus was really going to be on those two albums to the right – by TobyMac and Skillet. But one of our dogs followed me in and the picture turned out this way, which I think is kind of cute.

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See how her right ear is flipped out?  She’s a dog in motion, about to leave the frame to go sniff the pile of dirty clothes behind her and then settle in on that pillowy blue chair on the left side of the photo – all because these things are comfortable smells that remind her of my son. She likes to be around him. So do I.

And that’s a great thing. I’m savoring it because he’s 12 and I’m not sure what the teen years will bring. But I can tell you what he and I share right now. Music.

I was taking him to Tae Kwon Do practice last week, when “We Won’t Be Shaken” by Building 429 came on the radio. My son absentmindedly began singing. Strangely, the car was quiet. His siblings were both lost in their own thoughts. My son didn’t realize I was listening to him. Singing. Every. Word. Right. To. The. End.

When you finish reading here, click on the YouTube link below and listen. Perhaps you’ll understand why I was hiding my eyes, filled with tears of joy, when he hopped out of the car a minute or so later.

When my kids are in the car, I listen to either Christian or classical music, with few exceptions. Yes, I enjoy other genres of music and need my daily dose of news (when young ears aren’t listening), but I like the atmosphere that this music creates as we go about our activities together. And I also believe that the media we consume has an effect on what we feel, think, and become.

Scripture confirms this.

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” (Matthew 6:22)

The things we look at, read, and examine closely make their way into the fabric of our being and either work for good, or not. The books we read, shows we watch, music we hear, people we spend time with, matter. We need to choose wisely.

When I was about my son’s age, my dad gave me some Christian music that I listened to frequently. He had taken some time to figure out what was popular with young people in the 80s, and made selections that he thought I might like. He did a good job. The words of those songs made their way into my heart. I didn’t stay with the faith through my tumultuous teen and college years, but the lyrics I had learned and the Truth they spoke of, never left me. And when I was finally ready to turn toward the loving whisper that was gently beckoning me, I knew those songs had played an important role in my faith formation. To this day, “El Shaddai” by Amy Grant is still one of my favorites.

So, I’m listening to the radio, and to my kids, paying attention to which artists, both secular and Christian, they are responding to. And I’ve gone out on a limb and bought my son, and my daughter, CDs I think they’d enjoy with messages I’d like them to hear. I’ve been blessed for my efforts, because they are playing those CDs, singing along, engraving Truth on their hearts without even realizing it. Some of this music isn’t exactly my taste, but it’s definitely grace in action.

Flat Tire

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I turned onto the small street next to my youngest son’s preschool and checked my rearview mirror to make sure no one was behind me.  Then I stopped, rolled down the front passenger window, and handed my phone to my older son (12).

“Take a picture of that taxi’s rear tire,” I said.

“The flat one?”

“Yep. Just the tire. For my blog.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s been like that for two weeks.”

He turned from the open window, his expression a mixture of surprise and judgment.

“Why don’t they fix it!??!” he asked.

“I don’t know. Just take the picture.”

My son’s reaction was exactly the one I expected. To be fair, it’s been mine, too. As the days have passed, I keep wondering why in the world someone doesn’t come out and change the tire, for goodness sake. How hard could it be? And it’s a taxi – of all things. This driver could be out there making money from the use of this vehicle if only he or she would change the tire.

But then again….maybe making this change is harder than I think…

Perhaps the person would need help with the jack and lug nuts, and doesn’t feel comfortable asking any of the neighbors. Worse yet, maybe no neighbors have come forward to offer assistance.

The taxi is not in pristine condition. It is dinged and battered. It’s traveled more than a few roads. The driver might have purchased it on a hope and a prayer, and doesn’t have a spare tire, or funds, to get a replacement. Perhaps this tire was the last straw on this vehicle, and the owner has fallen into despair.

Though spring is here, there is still sickness going around…remnants of flu and winter viruses that knock people out for weeks.  There are more serious diseases too, of course. The driver, or that person’s family, might be ill and need costly medical care.

The possible reasons for this unchanged flat tire are endless. And I will likely never know why the situation is as it is. However, it has made me think: Where is my ‘flat tire’?

What aspect of my life do other people see and say, “She should really fix that”? Is it the way I dress? Or do my hair? Something about my home? Or maybe something less superficial… A relationship? A character defect?  A career choice? A religious practice?

It bothers me to think about that, because I don’t want people scrutinizing my life and making judgments about it. My guess is, you don’t want others to do that to you, either. No one else has the inside scoop on what’s up with me, or you.

Besides, how do I know whether something in my life is a ‘flat tire’ that requires attention and care? That can be tough to see. And how long can it stay ‘flat’ before it’s holding me back from something more that I could be doing with my numbered days? Further, where do I go for guidance and help with changing that ‘tire’?

The answers to these questions are all one and the same. We are told, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37) The emphasis in this teaching is not that we are to be concerned with whether other people will judge us, but instead to keep our focus on the Lord, trusting in His promise to “make all things new” – even us. (Revelation 21:5)

So when I’ve filled my head with so many ‘flat tires’ I believe everyone else sees when they look at me, there’s only one way to find real relief. I go into my room, close the door, get on my knees and listen for the “tiny whispering sound.” (1 Kings 20:12)

 

Awaken to Change

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I wonder how many people in my part of the world noticed the change in the atmosphere today. Despite the gauzy rain and cloudless sky, the land was brighter. A miracle happened last night. As far as my eye could see, every single forsythia plant bloomed sometime between dusk and dawn.

I drove around town marveling at the sight of it. Never mind that I can’t breathe (and it might just be because of this plant, or a brand-new cold, I’m not yet sure). My eyes are clear and wide-open, taking in this handiwork – which happened while you and I slept.

Millions of yellow flowers on thousands of plants opened themselves in unison to the world – bright beacons of hope to remind us that while today there is drizzle, tomorrow the sun is coming….Yellow and gold, warm, and refreshing, ushering in a light-filled season after a long period of cold, grayish days.

My heart and soul understand the forsythia’s message, awaken to the change, and respond….

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
announce his salvation day after day.

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them.
Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice
before the Lord who comes,

who comes to govern the earth,
To govern the world with justice
and the peoples with faithfulness.

– Psalm 96: 1-2, 11-13

 

Beautiful Faces. Beautiful Song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Green Cake

The nurses asked me to hold his thin little arms down at his sides while he sat facing me on the examination table. “Hold tightly,” they said, “because there will be a pause.” Each nurse had two syringes, and I could see my son eyeing them with trepidation. My head flooded with thoughts.

Four vaccinations for my five-year old. How have I blocked the memories of doing this with my older two??

This child causes me angst…I know what’s to come, or… not, rather. At one-year old, the doctor stabbed him in the leg with a shot, and he didn’t flinch. When he was three, he cut his forehead open on a tree branch, and he stayed still as stone while the ER doc glued the 3/4 inch tear in his paper-thin skin back together. This is the child who doesn’t cry. At least not when I wish he would.

So I braced myself. And they jabbed him with needles. It felt like it was my heart being stabbed. He didn’t make a sound. I saw his body tense, and then his left arm start to bleed after the first jab on that side. The nurse wiped the blood down his arm in a long red streak and kept at her task. Another needle in, and my young man just flared his nostrils. He watched it all – the crimson cotton balls, the band-aids, the nurses’ murmured consolations, the collection of trash, and their hasty departure when it was all over.

I hadn’t moved from in front of his knees. His eyes were just spilling over when he looked at me squarely and said simply,

“It hurt-ed, Mommy.”

And all I could say before hugging him to stop my own tears was, “I know. I know.”

I am so, so blessed. My son is healthy. And in the local newspaper this week, there was an article about a fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s. Wonderful, generous people shave their heads after collecting donations for children fighting cancer. Families engaged in this awful fight have seen their kids stuck with more needles than they could ever count.

I was thinking about that when I went to bed last night after watching my son be so brave about four little shots, and I woke up this morning, determined to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day thankfully – as the Feast Day that it is. Saint Patrick said:

 “Hence I cannot be silent, and indeed I ought not to be, 

about the many blessings and the great grace

which the Lord has deigned to bestow upon me.”

So, I put off my to-do list and made it a day about enjoying my son. He will start Kindergarten in the fall. This is my last St. Patrick’s Day with a preschooler in the house. How did we spend it?

He took a very loooooong and leisurely bath, with bubbles of course, and used almost an entire tube of red bathtub paint turning the water an atrocious shade of pink. This also enabled the plastic Spiderman band-aids to fall off – and neither of us was sad to see them go.

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We attempted a St. Patrick’s Day photo shoot with our “Irish” mutt, Seamus, and got one Facebook-worthy picture out of the experience, along with lots of giggles.  Our Seamus is so darn sweet.

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We baked a cake, made frosting, licked beaters, and even managed to get some green stuff on the cake. We also jazzed it up with dark green sprinkles, because they make everything better!

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And we played Cars 2 on the Wii. I lost every single race. You’re shocked, right? In his knowing way, with all the wisdom of his 5 blessed years, my son reassured me that I will get better. I couldn’t care less. Just to see his smile….

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Whether you are Irish or not, may you and yours be especially blessed this Saint Patrick’s Day. Slainte!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pocket Cross

A friend of mine told me that her parish priest once asked this question in a homily:

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

Great question.  Ever since I heard it, I keep revisiting it, because really, if I’m a Christian, does my life demonstrate my love for Christ?

I thought about this question today when I opened up my wallet – not to give away money, though maybe I should be doing more of that.  No, I thought about it because the light bounced off my little stainless steel cross, and the minute I saw it I thought about my dad.

My dad is an intelligent man. An engineer and former military officer.  A man of principle.  A man of faith.  He can certainly explain his belief in Scripture, but for me, his quiet, reverent heart has always spoken most clearly to me about The Lord.  And if he were accused of being a Christian, his life would turn up lots of convicting material, but hidden on his person would also be one thing in particular…

When I picture my dad stepping up to pay for something at a cash register, I see his gentle hands cupping three things: coins, a silver pocket knife, and a stainless steel cross.

That cross.  It has always been there.  It serves as an outward sign of the personal relationship he’s been ready to share – freely, as it was given to him.  Over the years, he’s witnessed silently to countless clerks who saw that cross, one at a time, as he opened his hand to pay for groceries, meals, hardware, craft supplies, gifts, newspapers, sodas, and more.  It’s evidence of a Christian that just keeps turning up, and for my dad – a reminder to himself that his God is Emmanuel – always with him.

 

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Burst of Color

The household woke up disappointed, our hopes dashed when the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl last night in what seemed the worst possible way. The Hawks were within one yard of scoring a TD on the Patriots in the last minute of the game, only to have the ball intercepted by a nimble and perfectly-positioned Patriot defensive back. Because of family allegiances, we were really excited for the Hawks, and the stunned silence we fell into those last few seconds of the game persisted into today.

Sometimes when you wake up in a ‘blah’ mood, it can be hard to shake it. Especially when the morning is a gray and rainy one, like today was.  And when your daughter is fitted with orthodontia at 9 a.m., and decides this is going to be one of the worst things that’s ever happened to her, the day starts to roll downhill a bit faster.

These are caviar problems, for sure.  But still.  Don’t we all do this?  Be in a ‘yuck’ mood just because?

So, my funk is exacerbated by having felt a little far away from God the last few days.  That, and the headache I’ve started.  I rub my forehead while I sit in the car line, which has backed up onto the tiny street behind my kids’ school.

‘I should have left the house 5 minutes earlier and I wouldn’t be so far back on the street. Punctuality. I’m still failing there.’

It would be easy to continue berating myself, but instead, I offer up this thought.

‘I want to hear You. To see You.’

A moment or two later, I look to my left. Directly to my left. And I see this:

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Four purple flowering cabbages.  Brassica oleracea.  Someone took the time to plant this burst of color in a narrow strip of dirt between an old brick driveway and an even older adjacent Colonial-era home.  Who but the person who gets into that car ever sees them?  And yet, there they are on this cold, February day.

I sit and stare, because I have been driving this street every school day for 7 years, and I have never noticed this small piece of earth, that has always held the potential to grace my day.

 

“You will seek Me and find Me

when you search for Me with all your heart.” 

– Jeremiah 29:13 

What’s My Message?

I was making a left turn into the library, waiting for the long line of cars to pass, contentedly listening to the song on the radio, when my reverie was interrupted by something that caused my stomach to plummet into my abdomen. It was a vanity plate on a passing car.

“H8TNWRK”

Hating work. In a millisecond, my eyes shot up to the sulking man driving past. I pulled into the parking lot, just in time to watch a young mother joyfully kissing and smiling at her toddler as she snapped the child into her car seat. What opposites.

You might think I’m being overly sensitive here – that the man makes light of his life by putting it on a vanity plate, and hey – why shouldn’t he?  But I believe the mouth reveals what’s in our hearts, and I’m guessing this man’s discontent runs deep – that he’s very dissatisfied and probably doesn’t know why.  So I stopped right there in my car and thanked God for this man and the talents he’s been given, and asked that he be reminded that his gifts are meant to be avenues to joy. That somehow, he would see God in his life and through his work.

I went about my day but this man’s vanity plate has stayed with me. And I keep asking myself why it has. I think the answer is that like it or not, we all advertise something, and I’m concerned about my message.  I want it to be that I love God above all and am thankful to Him for all that I have. But I am flawed and I know it. I fail to remember my first love sometimes.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. 

– Psalm 19:15

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