What to Make of Unseasonable Events

What to Make of Unseasonable Events

There’s nothing like snowfall on the first day of spring to remind you that you are not in control.

Snow at this time is unseasonable.

Or so we think.

Every once in awhile our ideas of what is acceptable and what is not are turned upside down. We are forced to accept the unusual. The unpredictable. Even, the unthinkable.

For the last week and a half, that’s where I’ve been sitting with two friends.

A week ago Sunday, in a span of 12 hours, I got two texts from two different women I love, each of them asking me to pray for two women they love, who were suddenly facing their final days.

Even though I had never met them, I had known about Kat and Amy’s* battles with cancer. There were similarities: Both lived in mid-western cities. Both mothers – one of four, the other of two. Both fighting for a couple of years. Both cancers under control for a bit and then shifted dramatically. My friends were getting on planes to go be at bedsides and say goodbyes.

And along with my friends, I have prayed for each one of these ladies diligently.

Lord, please heal her from her infirmity. May she regain her strength, see her children grow up, and become a powerful testimony of your might.

But prayer has multiple purposes, and asking God to stem the tide of a ravaging illness is only one of them. Prayer is also about opening our hearts to God’s love in whatever form it arrives.

Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything. That seems easy enough to accept when life flows through the expected and happy changes: births, graduations, weddings, milestone anniversaries, and deaths following long, full lives.

But when mothers face death in their forties and fifties, leaving behind kids who have not yet reached maturity, we say, “It’s too soon.”

And as much as I have faith that God has a plan for children left behind, and while I KNOW and believe with ALL MY SOUL that He can work good from ANY situation, I sit in the stillness of a snowfall and just wonder why.

This is normal.

Not understanding why is not a sin.

Kat passed on Friday. It seems that Amy has a little time still.

To console myself I keep coming back to this…

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

He was at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and before he worked his miracle of raising his friend from the dead, Jesus wept.

If God knew that Lazarus would die, had a plan to raise him again, and still shed tears over the suffering that death causes in the world, he surely understands our sorrow now.

Our unknowing is the state of vulnerability in which God loves to work miracles.

He wants to show us He’s still here, and always will be.

Though we walk in the silence of an unseasonable snowfall we are not alone.

He sits with us as we cry. Soothes us with the prayers, words, and actions of others. Smiles on us in the beauty of the natural world. Woos us in dreams that gently coax us onward.

And snowy spring days like this one remind me that everything, absolutely everything, happens in His time.

 

*Names have been changed.

A New Use for Holiday Cards

A New Use for Holiday Cards

Let me ask you: What did you do with all of the Christmas, holiday, or New Year’s cards you received back in December and January?

If you’re like me, you held onto them for weeks, believing that one cold winter day you would sit down with a big mug of tea and re-read them, save the extra-special ones, and maybe even call or write those super-human individuals who had taken extra time to pen novellas of their lives in the past year. (Those people always impress me; I can barely get my cards mailed by Dec. 22nd, much less tell everyone what we did in the previous 12 months!)

Or maybe you even had grandiose plans of crafting with the cards you received – making a collage or ornaments out of them. Yes – one ambitious year perhaps you even admired all those sweet faces of your friends’ kids and planned to photograph each card, saving them to your hard drive or the cloud! (I actually did this. Precisely ONE time.)

But in all likelihood – you did none of that. You eventually let out a big sigh of co-mingled regret and relief, and recycled the colorful stash, secretly hoping that no one would ever ask you to recall the cards’ contents.

By now, the cards my family received would usually have been appreciated and tossed. But not this year.

This year, we are trying something new: we are making the cards a part of Lent.

In our home, we “say grace” before meals. It’s a good habit – one that’s meant to remind us from Whom we receive our nourishment.

Typically, we say the traditional Catholic blessing:

“Bless us, O Lord,
and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive,
from Thy bounty,
through Christ Our Lord,
Amen.”

It covers all the most important points and when said with genuine heartfelt devotion, offers the gratitude that’s due.

There is danger in repetition, however. After awhile, it can be tempting to ignore the words – to just go through the motions of saying them without concentrating on their meaning.

One way to recharge a mealtime prayer with its intended significance is to change it up a bit – not by re-wording it necessarily, but by adding to it.

So at every meal this Lent, we are taking a couple Christmas cards from our stack and praying for the families that sent them. Our prayers are not fancy or flowery, just straightforward expressions from the heart that the One who sees and knows all will grant our friends the virtues and strengths they need most.

If you wonder what that looks like, here’s what I said last night after the basic blessing:

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for our dear friends Pete and Amy and their children Brendan, Zach, and Ellie. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen them but we know they are in Your loving hands. Please watch over them and bring them closer to one another in 2018. We pray too for Uncle Bill and Clara. May you bless their new marriage and new home in California. Amen.”

Sharing these cards every night has given my husband and I opportunities tell our kids a bit more about old friends – people with whom we ‘swap’ Christmas cards but rarely see – people we knew long before the kids came along. It’s a side benefit I wouldn’t have considered before starting this Lenten effort.

Remembering people and holding them up….

We can start anytime.

Flip through your phone’s address book, glance over your Facebook friends, make a list of names.

Fold your hands and lift up a friend. Today.

How a Friend Saved Me Yesterday

How a Friend Saved Me Yesterday

“Are you writing your blog?” asked a cheerful voice I’d recognize anywhere.

“I don’t want to interrupt, but I do want to say hello, Sweetie,” my beautiful friend Ana continued, as she sat beside me at the little round table in the taekwondo school where our sons have practiced together for years.

I finally looked up, still scowling, still hunched over my laptop, and ignoring my daughter, who was now reaching across the table to slowly push down my screen and force an end to my misery. She too, wanted to rescue me.

“Yes,” I conceded. “I’m trying to write a piece about the presidential election.”

Ana’s eyes grew wide and everything I needed to know was right there in her expression.

“I know. It’s a bad idea. And I’m so, so frustrated!!”

I had been writing and rewriting the piece for hours, obsessing and rehashing, all the while feeling angry and uninspired – all of which are warning signs for me that I’m not in a good frame of mind and shouldn’t be writing on the topic. But was I paying attention to the little warning bells going off in my head? No.

Ana could see that, I’m sure. Because I probably looked like this.

Photo from http://jedaniels-adventures.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html
Photo from http://jedaniels-adventures.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html

It’s a small wonder she approached me at all. But she’s a brave one. So she then proceeded to do what good friends everywhere do.

Commiserate. Empathize. Act as a Sounding Board. Encourage. Divert from the Source of Tension. And Ultimately – Pull Me Out of the Muck.

And the stuff I was writing about? Well, “muck” is a nice work for it, isn’t it?

My friend reminded me to look for the positive. And in that moment, I just couldn’t do it on my own. So God sent her to me.

Today, I just want to thank the Lord for my friend Ana, and remind you that if you’re trying to figure it all out on your own, you’re working too hard. We were never meant to be alone. We have each other. By Divine design. Let somebody who cares about you defuse you today.

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. (Job 2:11)

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

3 Ways to Savor the Last Weeks of Summer

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I’m digging into my salad when I see that a friend has posted on FB a photo of his Yellow Lab sleeping in the grass and captioned it, “Dog days of August.”

Ah yes…dog days. Lazy days. I too want to do…absolutely nothing.

Just a few weeks left of summer vacation, and what a fabulous summer it’s been. Family trips to the Outer Banks and Maine, long days spent poolside, and plenty of time for reading, movie-watching, and sipping lemonade. Heaven on earth.

I appreciated the dog photo, because it reminded me that it’s easy to become lulled in these hot, humid days into taking this season’s blessings for granted. So here are three ways to renew your appreciation of August.

  1. Visit the farmer’s market. We go every weekend to find the juiciest corn, mouthwatering heirloom tomatoes, and biggest cantaloupes around. I love to fill my bags with the fruits of the earth, knowing that these fresh foods are divinely designed to nourish my body in exactly the right way. And oh – the peaches this month! Don’t get me started on my love for peaches…
  2. Make a date with a friend. In this season more than any other, it’s easy to lose touch with people because families go their own ways. Within communities there are fewer routines, and we don’t cross paths with friends we see on a regular basis at other times of the year. I saw a dear friend at Mass on Sunday, and we hadn’t connected in weeks! If you’re missing someone, let them know, and make a date to get coffee or have lunch. We are created to love; we need one another. We need to connect with our friends.
  3. Take a day trip. Go see something new. Or revisit someplace you haven’t been in awhile. We’re going to Ocean City, NJ – my husband’s childhood summer retreat – to eat pizza and play mini-golf. Take a short escape from the ordinary and go, while keeping your eyes open to the wonders that await.

As I grow in appreciation of the beauty of each season, I see the world for what it is – a home for me and for all of us, created in love, by Love Himself, to be cherished and utilized conscientiously. And the more I meditate on its offerings – the more I savor life in all its fullness – the more I realize that I can’t begin to count my blessings.

Happy are those who dwell in your house!

They never cease to praise you.

-Psalm 84:5

My Facebook Problem

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2009 was the year. I signed on to Facebook and so did just about everyone else I knew. It seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork. Men and women from high school, college, jobs I’d had, and my community, all became ‘Friends.’ It was nifty really, to find that despite all of the dreaming, planning, and working we’d done, we had similar lives. In essence, we all cared about the same things.

Like most people, I typically only post good stuff on Facebook. Or the things in my life for which prayer or consolation are appropriate. I hope they are events that my ‘Friends’ see as relevant and noteworthy, because we all want to find that others relate to us. But we don’t need to share everything. No one wants to see dog vomit, right?

Several years ago, my dad asked me how many ‘Friends,’ I had. When I answered, he probed a bit.

“Do you actually know all of them?”

I told him, “Yes. Or I knew them fairly well at some point in my life.”

That all changed sometime in the last couple years, because now I have ‘Friends’ of Friends. They are people I have minimal knowledge of. People who really don’t know me. You probably have some ‘Friends’ of the same sort.

If, in real life, I would usually have no idea that ‘Jen So-and-so’ vacations in the Caribbean twice every year, why in the world am I spending time viewing photos of her beachy getaways? And if ‘Dave What’s-his-name’ has political opinions that unnerve me, why am I allowing his caustic comments to get under my skin? I have learned to switch my news feed settings, but there is A LOT of stuff out there that doesn’t pertain – in any way – to me.

I justify my time on Facebook by acknowledging its value. There is useful information that helps my writing and guides my reading. And if it weren’t for this social medium I wouldn’t have known that an old, dear friend lost her niece to suicide, or that the prayers of thousands are helping to heal another friend’s husband – a Marine who was gravely injured overseas. I want to know what’s going on, and if I can contribute something worthwhile to my friends’ lives, however remote they might be.

But instead, I am sucked in by catchy (though not original) everyday truths about coffee, friendship, parenting, or the mourning process. ‘LIKE’ and Repost if You Agree!

Last week, I shared my woes with a friend. A “real-life” “in-the-flesh” “we met for coffee” friend. Together we renewed our vow to only look at Facebook at certain times and for certain reasons (mine having to do with participation in a writer’s group). My efforts have been valiant, but I am still not following through on that promise. I have wasted time – scrolling.

This morning, the Word spoke to me loudly.

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.

-Ephesians 6:10

As a Christ follower, I have been made a new creation and given the enormous power of the Holy Spirit to overcome my flesh, which is prone to stray from the abundant life that He has envisioned for me. If I’m struggling in my inner battle, it’s because I have NOT relied on Him.

This life is a concrete, physical life – NOT a virtual one. God designed it that way. He gave me, you, and all my ‘Friends,’  bodies with which to taste, touch, smell, hear and see the physical world. In these ways, we can truly experience the richness of life, and by extension, the richness of Him.

Lord, renew me today. Help me to dispense with the wasted time I spend dabbling in worldly chatter – which I KNOW diverges from the fullness I have in You.

 

Holy Moments – Day 24 – Thunder Road

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How do you know when everything is right with the world? For right now. Not the big world – out there. I mean the little world. The one that matters most to you. The one within the walls of your home?

One of the ways I know it is when the people I love express themselves with music.

We were driving home from Philadelphia on Friday night, having spent a relaxing and very happy Thanksgiving with my husband’s family, and then relishing an afternoon of catching up with a close friend whose camaraderie with my husband spans nearly three decades.

We had been fed – in every sense of the word – and I could feel that all was well when the conversation started to wind down and we turned to music. The shuffled iPhone selections weren’t quite as satisfying as they had been, probably because they weren’t being ignored any longer. My husband grabbed the phone and tried out the voice command ‘Siri.’

“Play ‘Thunder Road.'”

‘Thunder Road.’ I couldn’t help but break out into a huge grin as the opening notes hit the speakers.

I pictured the very first Bruce Springsteen concert I’d been to – in 1999 – with my husband and the friend we’d just visited that afternoon. We’d reveled in a 3-hour concert during which Springsteen took NO breaks while still insisting that his band did. I’d never seen a performer so committed and passionate, never realized the depth of his lyrics. We were leaving the stadium when our friend declared, “That was a religious experience.”

An appreciation for beauty can do that to you.

‘Thunder Road’ finished playing.

“Play ‘Jungleland,'” my husband said, and he told our daughter to take off her headphones.

She plays piano, and she liked hearing the piano in this song so much that we played it again. There were other songs, too, a panoply of lovely and lively sound that stirred the minds and hearts of the five people in our car, carrying us home and bringing us together.

Beauty and love will do that – bring people together. And right there, all is well, and we can see the Something Greater than ourselves.

 

Holy Moments – Day 15 – Secret Dream

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Hearing encouragement from the right person can make all the difference.

I have a friend who spoke the secret of my heart out loud.

She had no idea that’s what she’d done at the time she said it. But with her words, she gave a dream wings.

“You should be a writer.”

In the very early days of writing my blog, it was her voice that gave me the confidence to click the ‘Publish’ button.

And to write again.

I quickly realized I needed to thank her.

So I did.

And then, well, grace came back to find her, too.

Because in big and small ways, that’s what He does.

Our emails mark the trail….

From: Gretchen  
Sent: Sun 10/05/14      4:20 PM
To: Laura 

Laura,

So, I’m sharing this with you because I keep feeling prompted to do so…probably because on more than one occasion now you’ve told me I should be a writer. Whether you were serious or not, I don’t know, but you couldn’t have known you were speaking truth to a private dream.

So – after years of thinking about it, I’m finally taking the leap and trying a little bit….[I] created a blog…It isn’t perfect…I’ve posted for 3 days and hope to be faithful to it….I hope you’ll pray for me. 🙂

Here’s the link….

Blessings,

Gretchen

 

From: Laura
Sent: Mon 10/06/14      10:07 AM
To: Gretchen

Wow Wow Wow…

I had just arrived home from taking the kids to school. I was still sitting in the garage waiting for Joel Osteen to come to a break in his talk so that I could run the XM radio inside to finish listening there. I was debating whether this particular episode was even worthy of my time as I had to get on with my “daily duties” and it wasn’t particularly striking a chord with me. I decided to ease my guilt by multi-tasking – I began to check the emails on my phone.

He kept stressing the point about how even a passing statement to someone that seems like nothing, could mean the world to them. We have no idea about how we can affect the course of someone’s life. We should never underestimate ourselves and the power of our words. I thought, “Ok. Makes sense. Still, no big aha moment.” …and then I opened your email…I may not have given any propulsion to your dream, but I feel like God was telling me, “Yes, even YOU, Laura.” My fists were clenched and waving as I audibly got the willies- in a joyful way. God is fun sometimes!

I went to your blog and read every last bit. You are amazing! 3 People?!

I hope you shout it from the rooftops so that everyone can experience your talent and inspiration! (add to favorites-click!)

In the meantime, I WILL pray for you and I will remember today’s message for a long time.

L

 

From: Gretchen
Sent: Tue 10/07/14       7:53 PM
To: Laura

Laura,

What an awesome experience to have all of those “promptings” for me to tell you then come together so that Monday morning you would get your God moment. He really is amazing. :).

Thank you again for the encouragement. I think the three followers are all friends…. My confidence goes up and down.

I’m certainly not ready to post it to FB or anything.… Facing that fear is hard.

But anyway – every bit of support is awesome, and helps me feel like maybe I’m on the right track.

Blessings,
Gretchen

 

I did eventually post to FaceBook and over time, in infinitesimally small ways, living a secret dream started to feel less scary. More like taking flight.