Hey, Joy, put a sock in it!

ImageTurns out, I talk too much.  I simply Can. Not. Keep. My. Mouth. Closed.  I should have been in the RUN-DMC video back in the day.

Last week I saw my friend Lilly exiting our church.  She had attended the early service and I was heading into the later one.  Lilly had just returned from a three month sabbatical and had used her time to travel all over the world.  She started in Canada and after a few stops in the States she wandered around all the places in Europe I’ve always intended to visit.  I stalked her on facebook like any good girlfriend would do, and when I saw her in all of her beaming glory walking down the front steps of the church I shouted “Liiiiiiiiilllllllllllyyyyyyyyy!” and wrapped her in a big hug.  And then I started talking.  And I couldn’t stop.  I prattled on and on about myself and my kids and all that we’d done all summer and the whole time Lilly was just standing there beaming and smiling and nodding and then I realized I was now late to church and I laughed – ha ha, ha, gotta run! – and I dashed into the service.  That’s when it dawned on me that this girl, whom I had missed so much, hadn’t had a chance to say one tiny thing about her amazing, probably-life-changing adventure.  Because I talk too much; I nevvah shut up!

Anne Lamott refers to an acronym for mothers-in-law or Grandmothers called W.A.I.T, which stands for “Why Am I Talking?”  When I heard her explain it, I immediately embraced it in theory.  (Am obviously still trying to shift it to practice.) It at once acknowledges that I have so much to offer and all of it is something almost no one wants to hear.  So, Anne Lamott just keeps quiet with all her grandmotherly advice.  I am supposed to be asking myself what the purpose of my words are, and whether they want to be heard by anyone in the room.  If not, I am practicing thinking those words instead of saying them.  You can probably guess how very challenged I am by this idea.

I was out for crepes with my daughter and her friend, Angie.

Me:  Angie, how do you get to your new school in the mornings?

Angie: Takes a bite of crepe and motions to me that she’ll answer as soon as she swallows.

Me, not missing a beat: Do you take the bus every day?  I wonder which bus goes from your house to the Haight?  I bet it’s two buses.

Angie: Still chewing, nods and holds up two fingers.

Me: Oh, so it is two buses.  How long does it take you?  Do you take the bus every single day?  Oh wait, did you mean you take it two days each week?

Angie: Finally, she swallows, and says: I take the bus on Mondays, yes it’s two buses, and my mom drives me two days and I ride with Samantha the other two days.  Then she takes another bite.

Me: Why do you take the bus on Mondays?  Wait, Samantha doesn’t live near you, how do you car pool with her?  Oh… I remember her father lives near you and Samantha must stay with him two days a week.

Angie: Still chewing, just stares at me.

Me: Just nod – is that why you carpool with Samantha?  And what is this about Mondays?  Why can’t your Mom drive you on that day?  Does she take a class that morning or does she work on Mondays?

At this point my own daughter can take no more and rescues her friend. “Mom, you are interrogating her!”  And that’s the first moment I realize I’ve been grilling this poor child. Honestly, I thought I was just making polite conversation.

Yesterday I was catching up with my long time girl friend, Sally, whom I probably hadn’t seen in over a year.  She’d invited me to come to Marin for a gentle hike, so I laced up my running shoes and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge.  After the initial hugs and hellos we set off through her neighborhood and headed west onto a dirt trail. Just as we had begun climbing the steep, apparently all-uphill route that was shockingly difficult, Sally casually asked, “So, how is your business going?” Suffice it to say that things are happening in my business and I am feeling very enthusiastic about the growth it’s experiencing. Booming might be overstating it a bit, but I could still easily talk non-stop for two hours about it.  But, at that exact moment I was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and was very aware that my heart was slamming itself into the wall of my chest and my lungs were threatening to revolt.  Shy of sending myself into full cardiac arrest, all I could squeak out was, “It’s going very well, thanks for asking,” and then I sucked in as much oxygen as possible to make up for the herculean effort of speaking.  And that is the only reason I didn’t bore poor Sally with Every. Single. Detail. right there on the trail.  Unfortunately, I think I made up for it later at her kitchen table when she was re-hydrating me after sweating all over the Marin headlands.

Last month I got that call. You know the one every Mother of a teenager is supposed to prepare herself to get.  “Mom, my friend is in trouble and we need to go pick her up.”  On the way there, I got coached. “Don’t ask anything about what happened or why she is coming over.  Just make casual conversation like this is normal. “  So I acted like this was exactly what I was expecting at 11pm on my Saturday evening.

Hello, sweetie.  So glad you could come over and I’ve been looking forward to meeting you too.  Have you had dinner? No? Well, let me heat up some casserole I happen to have in the fridge and here’s some sliced baguette to go with it.  Let me go make up the spare bed for you —  you girls have fun.” Basically, I was like a super-star mom… until the next morning.  Once the morning flurry was over and the house was finally empty, my daughter and I lay down trying to catch our breaths. I oh-so-casually let the question roll off my tongue before I could snatch it back.  “So…. did you ever figure out what was happening that made her call us for help?”  Off came the sleep mask, and the tone got cold, “Mom, you promised you’d be that Mom, the one anyone could call for any reason, no questions asked.  This is not our story; it’s hers.  Leave it alone.”    Once again, I realized how much trouble I have just keeping a lid on it.

I hope my daughter will trust me again the next time someone needs help.  I will try my best not to morph into the interrogator or insert myself too much.  I really do want to be that Mom, because I think so many of these kids need a judgment-free, grace-filled zone to enter when they get in over their heads.  But, boy, do I have trouble keeping my chatty, opinion-filled, question-driven self in check.

By the way, Lilly is coming over for iced tea next Monday. Because we are not planning on hiking together, I’ve asked her to bring some duct tape to keep me quiet.

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Grace for the Idiot.

One time, just for a few months, my schedule was a bit too ambitious.  Probably other people could have handled with ease what I had signed up to do, but I knew, looking ahead, that I would be working and busy from morning til exhausted night every single day for many months, and somehow I would still need to cook dinner and do things like hug my children.  I do this sometimes, this saying yes thing.  I love to be involved, work hard, initiate and try new ideas, and sometimes I forget not to do all those things at one time.  I have no trouble saying no to something I don’t want to do.  The trouble comes because I usually want to do so many different things that I end up saying yes with abandon.

In this story, though, once I realized that I had done it again – said yes to too much – it was too late to undo it.  I saw the coming busy season approaching and did what I could to prepare.  I shopped, wrapped and mailed all my Christmas presents by August of that year.  I hired a part-time cook to help with dinners.  I organized every junk drawer and corner of my house so that there wouldn’t be any last minute scramble looking for the stapler or scotch tape as we’re rushing off to school.  I wrote Sunday school lessons weeks ahead of time and gathered arts and crafts supplies for each week, stashed them in individual giant-sized Ziplocs and wrote in large sharpie letters on the bags, “loaves and fishes ” and “water into wine posters.”  Seriously, I tried to make it easier.  But it wasn’t easy.

Halfway through that particular overcommitted time period, my dear friend Shelly checked in with me to see what she could do to help.

(Side note:  Don’t you love it when a friend approaches you to offer to help when she sees that you’ve royally screwed up being in charge of your own tiny life?  She didn’t come to show me how this was all my fault and avoidable, but instead she came to see how she could alleviate my problem.  The world needs fewer I-told-you-so people and more how-can-I-help-you-get-yourself-out-of-this-mess-you-created kind of people.)

I had a mini-breakdown for a few minutes as I told her all the things that were going wrong with my grand plan. I had tried to control and predict every detail, but that wasn’t working. The woman who was supposed to be helping me with dinner actually was making our lives much harder.  My kids hated her food and she spent each afternoon in my home criticizing my freezer and pontificating about nutrition. The people I was supervising on a project were all doing things wrong and making each step take so much longer, and there were all sorts of spontaneous needs springing up from another assignment I was trying to finish.  No matter what I had done ahead of time or what I did in the moment, each commitment appeared to be failing.

I thought that if the people involved would just do things exactly as I said to do them, all would be fine.  “I just didn’t account for the idiot factor,” I told Shelly in disgust.  She looked at me with such kindness as she shared her little nugget of wisdom: “Joy, the idiot factor is all that there is.”

Years later, I am still processing that response.  If the idiot factor is all there is, then no matter what scenario I get myself in the middle of, there will always be idiots as key players.  Maybe the only predictable aspect of any situation is that it will be filled with idiots.

Recently, I drove a long way to take a friend of my 14-year-old to an unfamiliar airport.  We traversed two highways to get there and I am sure that at least one of them was planned by an idiot.  The drive took longer than Siri told us it would take (Siri was an idiot that day, too!).  When we finally parked in the hourly lot, I made the kids run! while dragging suitcases and stuffing iPhones into carry-ons.  We approached an airline employee and asked for some assistance working out a kink.  His mumbled response was so unhelpful I made him say it three times out loud in hopes that he would hear how inadequate it was.  He didn’t get it, and I ran my ragged trio of kids over to the next person.  She looked like she was used to being in charge, maybe a supervisor or something.  She glared at me while we described our little “situation” and then gave an idiotic response.  She even walked us over to another supervisor-sort and reiterated her dim-witted answer.  I stormed off and placed the girl I was in charge of in the security line and tried asking one more person for help.  You guessed it…. useless.

The child made it safely onto her flight and home to her mother and all is now well.  Later that night I was recounting the story to my long-suffering husband and I could see him flinch each time I spewed the word “idiot.”  And then I went up to another idiot to ask for help…

When I awoke the following morning I remembered Shelly’s famous line:  The idiot factor is all there is. 

It took a while, but eventually a bit of regret and humility entered in.  All those people I crossed paths with – all the idiots – they were people trying to do their jobs.   I don’t know what training they received, what pressures they face, how late they were awake holding a crying baby or working a second job, or what stories brought them this far in life.  I never took even a small moment to wonder about them.  I didn’t even show them basic politeness or smile while I was asking them for help.  I was just a frenzied mom shouting questions at them.  They could have easily thought, here is another fool, late for her plane, unaware of the rules of young people traveling alone and now because of her lack of planning, she wants me to make this into an emergency.  Lady, I deal with idiots like you all the time. 

What it took me a whole night of sleep to realize is that from their perspective, I was probably the idiot.  I bet at least one of them went home and told their spouse all about me:  And then there was this idiotic woman who was so stressed out that she couldn’t listen to my answer…

It seems perhaps we’re all just a bunch of bumbling idiots, whether we’re in charge of big teams of people or just late for a flight.  We’re all susceptible to poor reactions and impulsive moves that are only wrong in hindsight.  We need strangers and friends to help us out of our self-made messes, and clearly no one thrives or flourishes on judgment.  We all need… grace.

My faith in Jesus sometimes can be hard for me to articulate to others.  People have enough religious thumping as it is, and I don’t want to add to that noise.  But here goes a big piece of my own understanding:  Jesus is the haven for my idiocy.  He is where I feel most welcome to let down my guard, express my many failings, and drink in the soothing, restoring grace that redeems me in my worst moments.  The hope is that I’ll drink enough to share with those around me

So, the next time I think what an idiot! I hope I am able to stop myself just for a moment and remember:  idiots are all we’ve got in this world.  And the next time I make a bone-headed move, whether it is across a lane of traffic, a sarcastic retort to my kids, or a colossal mistake with a client, I hope the people I affect will offer grace for the idiot instead of the disgust I recently handed out.

For God so loved all the idiots….

  

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The Me I am Going to Be.

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I was sitting in a circle of meditating women the first time I knowingly met my future self.  Future-Me and Current-Me had a short, life-altering conversation that afternoon two years ago, and her answers to a few simple questions have guided almost everything I’ve done since.  With relief, I can look back at my growing-up-self, and see that my future self had been with me all along.  Although she mostly hovered in the shadows, she’d also inserted herself at key moments in my history to make sure I stayed on the path that leads to her.

I caught a whiff of her this weekend and my heart raced a little bit as I wildly looked around trying to hone in on her location and what brought her to me again. It happens like this for me.  I’ll stumble my way through life – cooking meals, shuttling people, running meetings, showing clothes, and then all of the sudden while I am pumping gas, I’ll know she’s there.  Sometimes I can’t figure out where she fits into the picture, but other times it’s glaringly obvious. The most recent rendezvous with her seemed pretty mundane.  I was standing in a hotel lobby and I turned to introduce my son to some women I barely know.  While he was shaking their hands, this random thought raced through my head: I have an awesome son. Boom, the floodgates opened and I was practically crying and holding back the urge to hug him and pour gushy emotional words all over him.  He’s a twelve-year-old boy and not really into all that.  Perhaps the tiny realization of the gift I’ve received in parenting was what made her show up.  It was almost as if she was shouting into a bull horn that only I could hear – This is a moment, Joy, lean into it and grab a piece to hide in your heart.  I’m not sure what was special about that particular moment, but I listened to her.  I’ve relived it a hundred times since it happened.  I can tell you what he was wearing and what the other women said to him and how one of them leaned back out of his view as she mouthed the words “He is so cute.” And how he was placed just to my left, but out of reach and when he finished shaking hands how he nodded and put his hands in his pockets and walked away in that slightly leaning forward manner of his.  I have no idea why this whole scenario made such an impression on me, but I’ve learned to listen to the nudge.

I know I risk sounding like a total nut job as I write this. If I named it intuition or gut instinct some of you might be more open to it.  It could seem less, well … spiritual.  Others would rather I use a language they understand and just listen to the Voice Of God and would be fine if I thought the Holy Spirit spoke to me at times.  In all honesty, depending on the circumstances of this strange emotional urgency, I call it all sorts of different things.

A friend of mine was searching for a school for her special needs son.  She sat in one after another admission presentations and during one of them she felt inexplicably weepy.  She called me that night and said “Either I am about to get my period or I just found the right school for him.”

Perhaps something similar happens to you.  You know that thing that helps you out when you are presented with two options and you just know which one to take? No amount of weighing or discussing really leads you to a logical decision, but deep inside the choice is crystal clear.  When I experience this, and the answer is obvious, I know it’s because that’s the pick that will lead me closer to the woman I met forty years from now.

Maybe you only sense this phenomenon in a more negative way, like in regret. I feel it there too. When I have that gutty guilty feeling that gnaws at me until I want to throw up.  I ask all my friends about what I did and they try to cheer me up and justify the thing I feel terrible about.  We all have those days.  Anybody would react that way.  You are only human.  I didn’t notice a thing. You were perfectly in your right.  But I know. Deep down, I know that whatever I did or said made me take a step away from my future self.  Or from the Holy Spirit. Or from God’s perfect will.  Or from the purpose of my life.  Or from listening to my intuition.

The sister of one of my friends repeats to her children, “Each day you get to decide what kind of person you will be.” I try to remember that.  I have a say in this matter!  My favorite Christian author/speaker is John Ortberg from Menlo Park, California.  I devoured His book, The Me I Want To Be, because it was like being given permission to be who I already know I am.  I try to reach that delicate balance between believing I am the master of my universe and can control everything, and being fatalistic and just letting life wash over me like an ocean wave without taking any responsibility for it.   Somewhere in the middle is this idea that I have a course to plot and there really is a way to get there.

After I met my future self, I realized that if God knew me in my mother’s womb, He likely knows me in my seventies as well. If He created me to be who I am, He created who I will become.  He probably wants me to follow the path to her as much as I do.

Here’s the thing that is complicated about chasing down my future self.  Only God and I have met her.  No one else gets those whiffs or emotional reactions when I bump into her.  Sometimes the choices I make with my life, my parenting or my career, well, they just don’t look right to those around me.  And I have to remember that other people don’t know the me I’m going to be and they have not been charged with the responsibility to get me to her.  That’s on me.  So, if I have to ignore criticism, endure well intentioned, but unsolicited guidance, or face down peer pressure to scramble my way to her, so be it.  I know where I am headed, and there are a million tiny choices that will get me there.

Question for you: Does any of this sound familiar?  What name do you give this idea? Can you remember the last time you experienced it?

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Expect the Unexpected

Last week, my fourteen-year-old graduated from the eighth grade with a moving and beautiful ceremony that allowed us to reflect on the previous nine years and a crazy-fun dance party where we celebrated and whooped it up.  Lodged right in the middle was a short speech given by one of my dear friends, Gordon Sharafinski.  The closing comments he offered at her graduation may have been his last public remarks because he retired a few days later.  The internet has been flooded with graduation speeches over the last few weeks, each one more inspiring than the one that pinged my in-box moments before, but the few words my buddy, Gordy, charged my daughter and her friends with are the ones that felt sticky and have been swirling in my mind ever since.  By sharing bits of his own story, he encouraged the girls to “expect the unexpected.”  He grew up a 10th child in an eleven-kid family in a tiny town in Wisconsin and became a parochial High School English teacher. Due only to many unexpected and surprising twists in his career, he is retiring as the Director of four prestigious independent schools in a city that many people would give their eye teeth to live in, and he gets to enjoy it for all of his days.  He wanted the girls to know deep in their souls that his life had not turned out exactly as planned, and it was much better because he had been open to unexpected opportunities along the way.

I glanced at my daughter sitting on stage, hoping she was soaking up his words. She reminds me of myself, full of planning, strategizing, and analyzing.  I know she won’t bob numbly through life floating on the waves of trends or friends, but I do wonder if she’ll notice open doors beckoning her if they are not listed on her grand plan. Gordy’s words made me think about how I landed in this gorgeous city and I feel the same way he does: only through strokes of wonder and grace, here I am.

My women’s group was studying “grace” a few years ago and had a loose working definition in our minds: Grace is an unexpected and unearned act of generous love.  For homework one week we were looking for examples of grace in everyday life and reporting back what we found.  I saw a grace-filled moment while at work.  I show racks of gorgeous clothes to women and help them select the pieces that are right for their budget and body.  I love my job and enjoy meeting new women through it, but most of the time it’s fairly straightforward and predictable.  On this particular night, a woman came very late with her 12-year-old daughter in tow.  She quietly shopped and didn’t need much help from me, but she conversed and took pointers from her daughter.  When she was finished shopping and ready to pay for her selections she quietly said to her daughter, “Would you like to pick out something for yourself?”  The daughter’s face beamed with surprise and gratitude as she rushed over and lifted the multi-colored cardigan she had been subtly stroking the whole evening. Watching this love-filled mother and daughter team, I realized I had fulfilled my homework assignment in noticing a moment of grace.

Gordy was telling my daughter that these kinds of grace-filled moments, the ones we are least expecting to see, actually point us toward the way.

On the last day of eighth grade, my daughter and a gang of friends left school and celebrated their final dismissal at a local burger joint.  At the same restaurant sat a long ago friend of mine in a corner booth. My daughter was a little girl the last time she’d seen her and she had one of those moments of shock we all have when time rears up and slaps us across the face.  You know what I mean, it happens when the niece we held in our arms becomes a bride, the neighbor we watched toddle across a lawn skates by on a long board and we notice he now has a beard.  Our own kids grow so close to our face that it’s like watching water boil, but other children appear to be eating miracle-gro in their cereal. After receiving a message from my old friend, “OMG, I just saw Emma and she is so grown up and tall!” my cell phone rang.  My breathless fourteen-year-old was shouting into my ear, “Mom, the weirdest thing just happened!  I saw Mrs. Wishner and said hello when we first sat down, and then when we went to pay for our lunch, the manager told us that she had already paid for us.  Mom, there are at least ten kids here and she paid for everybody.  We need to call her right now. Can you text us her telephone number?”  At bedtime that night she told me the story again and we tried to guess reasons why my friend had been so generous, but we came up empty.  The only explanation is that she showered my girl and her pals with an unexpected and unearned act of generous love. That’s grace!  That’s what my friend Gordy was trying to tell Emma to be on the lookout for.  Expect to find grace.  Don’t plot your life and assume you can control it all.  If you do that, you’ll miss these moments of grace that come storming in.

Last Tuesday, I drove to beautiful Marin, a county just a few miles north of San Francisco, but a completely different climate and, some would say, culture as well, and attended a “Let’s celebrate that school is over Mom’s night out.” Our gracious hostess opened her home, hired valet parkers and delicious caterers and showered heaps of pampering on her girlfriends. I showed up that night thinking that the only gal in the room I would know would be my friend, the hostess.  All of the other women there were in the same school community and were celebrating the end of a year spent together.  I knew that I could only occupy the hostess for a few minutes and then I’d need to mingle and meet other women.  My friend, Stephanie, introduced me to a few gals. “This is my friend, Joy, from the city,” and then I excused myself to free her up.  I was standing in line for a drink when a woman started chatting with me.  She looked like all the other Marin moms out on the gorgeous deck, perfectly highlighted hair just brushing her sun-kissed shoulders.  I was feeling a little city-pasty-pale next to all the gorgeous warm weather gals and honestly wondering why I had come.  I’d rather catch up with Stephanie at a lunch for the two of us, and this party just seemed full of people who were already connected to each other. I was beginning to wonder if the rest of the evening would be spent awkwardly trying to enter into conversations between close friends and if I was really up for the job of casual socializing that night. The woman who was talking to me in the drinks line figured out that I was a lone ranger and instead of just ending our chat with the requisite, “Well, nice to meet you,” she said this instead: “Listen, it was great chatting with you and if later in the night you find yourself on your own, please don’t feel awkward just coming and standing next to me.  I’ll include you in any group I am standing in.”  Seriously, that is exactly what she said to me – totally unexpectedly and full of generosity.  I never saw her again that night because it turned out that I knew a whole gang of gals who were over-the-moon to see me and we giggled and caught up and celebrated another year of parenting under our belts. Even though I never had to call in my chit of grace with the beautiful Nicole, I am still thinking about her six days later and soaking up that feeling I get when grace is bestowed. I’m grateful, a little bewildered, and wondering how I got so lucky.

And that is exactly the path those eighth graders were being told to look for, and it’s the path I want to stay on.  I want to hunt down grace, and go after those unexpected moments like a momma hunting food for her young. I want to expect that generous love will find me, and I want to bask in the glow of having been chosen for surprising gifts from above. Meeting Nicole, seeing my shopper, Ruth, bless her daughter (named Grace if you can even believe that!) and listening to Emma recount Mrs. Wishner’s generosity were tiny bits dropped into my lap.  If I had been going too fast or planning for life down the road, I may have missed them altogether.

When I look back I can see that signs of grace have directed my path the entire time:

Unexpected Mercy, Next Right,

Surprising Love, Up Ahead,

Awe-inspiring Changes, ½ Mile,

T’was grace that brought me safe thus far…
and grace will lead me home.

Where has grace shown up in your life?

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Apology 101

I’m a little bit hung up on the subject of apology; just ask my husband.

When I first married Brad, I patiently explained to him that I never wanted to hear, “I’m sorry that you are so upset.” See, I think what that really means is, “I am not sorry for what I did, but I don’t like that you are angry and so, without actually admitting that I did anything wrong, I am having this conversation with you right now in hopes that you will feel better and we can be close again.”

No thanks. You can keep that sort of apology.

I also can’t stand apologies that end in “but.”  Like this:  I am sorry I treated you that way, but you drove me crazy!  To my ears it sounds as if the person saying it still feels right about what she did in the first place and she is using her apology moment to justify her previous behavior and maybe even convince me that I need to apologize for something.

Also, I hate apologies that have the word “if” lodged in the middle: I’m sorry if you are hurt.  But you are not sorry if I am not hurt? Puh-lease!

Since I have already outed myself as an apology-peeve, I’ll keep going…

I really hate any obnoxious and aggressive use of the word “sorry.”  Well, Sor-reeeeeeeee!!!  I think the word should be a bit sacred and I fear we misuse it so often that it loses its impact, especially when we throw it around in mocking, sarcastic ways.

I die a little each time I hear my kids say “I’m sorry” to me in a knee jerk way.  Usually they are not sorry, just bewildered, but they feel obligated to make amends.  “For what?” I’ll ask, and they have no idea.  They just sense I am mad and they desperately want to make things right.  (Side note: This always makes me examine how I am treating them and what exasperated tones and sighs I’ve been offering and usually ends with me apologizing to them.  This gets them even more confused, but I just can’t have them holding the fault simply because I am not present enough to treat them with respect!)

And then there are the apology forcers…  I overheard an adult who had used her authority in a draconian way and wronged a whole slew of kids.  They felt emotionally beaten up by her and some other adults called her aside to point out how her harsh words were affecting the kids.  She called them all together and said she had overreacted and they probably weren’t as bad as she had initially felt, and then she said “OK?  Can we all move on now?”  As if she were being put out by their hurt feelings.

A few weeks ago I witnessed one of those awful moments when parents act like children and I actually heard one father say to someone else’s mother – in ear shot of all the little third graders waiting for their turns at the koosh ball game – “F@#k this and F@#k you!”  Lots of gasps, dramas, opinions and authorities-marching-over later, he offered to her, “I shouldn’t have taken my frustration out on you.”

I noticed with curiosity that he did not offer a traditional apology.  He simply made a truthful statement come out of his mouth that in some round about way connected to the situation.

I think one reason apologies are hard for people is that in any given messy relational situation, it’s usually difficult to figure out who has done the most wrong.  A friend was explaining in detail a story of another friendship gone bad: Then I did this and she did this and if at that point she had apologized for that, we could have started over, but then she did this thing and then I went and did this other thing, and now neither will speak to the other and of course I can’t apologize – she should apologize! It’s just never clear-cut, and saying “I’m sorry” feels like you must be willing to take on all the responsibility of a given situation that you know in your gut is simply not all your fault.

When one of my own complicated friendships was swirling the drain, I attempted a Hail Mary and offered up an insincere apology.  I tried hard to fake how bad I felt even though I really thought she was the wrong one.  I didn’t want to lose the friendship and it seemed headed in that direction unless I figured out a way to intervene.  She smirked when I said the words “I am so sorry that I hurt you.”  She named all of the people who were peripherally involved in our struggle (whom she’d been keeping up to date on the demise of our relationship) and said she’d only accept my apology if I offered one to all of them as well.  I passed and let the relationship die a blessed death.  Am guessing I should have saved that initial apology for a time that felt more authentic.

So what is “making an apology” about anyway?  Should we say “I’m sorry” even if we aren’t sorry?  Do we ever help a relationship when we demand an apology? Who knows?  Life is waaaaaay too messy to have clear cut rules about this sort of thing.  I think guiding principles are the way to go.  Here are just a few of mine on the subject of apology:

1)   There are few things sexier to me than a husband who comes to me in humility and tells me he feels remorse about something that he did to me and doesn’t try to explain why, or help me see my part in it at all.

2)   I feel safe enough to examine my own heart and motivations when a friend is doing the same thing.  When she has the courage to approach me and share her regrets, I am more easily able to do the same thing. I usually have no urge to drive the screws in deeper or keep her at arms length. Because her willingness to be vulnerable shows me she cares for me, I pull her closer into my heart.

3)   My relationship with my kids is only strengthened when I refuse to sweep my actions under the rug and instead go to them and admit that I was mean, snarky, critical or mocking.  It sucks to say things like that out loud, but it feels so much better to be forgiven for it.

4)   If I am ever feeling “owed” an apology, it should make me wonder what in the world the relationship means to me in the first place.  If hearing the words “I’m sorry” will make all the difference, I am probably in an unhealthy, power struggling relationship to begin with and I need to leave it or figure out how to begin a new dance with that person.

5)   If someone demands an apology, I have two choices.  Give it authentically and not make excuses, or be prepared to move on from the relationship.

6)   It’s within my right to ask for forgiveness and admit that I feel remorse about my actions.  What the other person does with it is pretty much out of my control.

Just after I finished typing this, I had dinner with my twelve-year-old and asked him what he thought about the topic of apology.  “It’s what you do when you know you did something wrong and you really want the other person to know that you know you did it and you want them to forgive you because you care about them and you want to stay friends even though you messed up and did the thing you feel sorry for.”  Boom, ‘nuff said.

Ok, and then after cleaning up dinner and doing another quick revision and almost pushing the “publish” button, the garage door opened and in walked my fourteen-year-old, just home from a babysitting job.  I heated up some dinner for her and we chatted about her day, which had been very long and had included one teensy, tiny, sharp-toned snap at her younger brother.

“What can I do to show him I am sorry?” she asked.  Literally, right after I wrote all of the words above she asked me that. I am not lying.

“Just say it like you mean it,” I suggested.

“He’ll just forgive me too fast, and I want him to pay attention and tell me how much it hurt his feelings.  I know…. I’ll make him hot chocolate and bring it to his room and that will make him listen to me longer while I tell him how sorry I am.”

Seriously, sometimes these kids appear to be raising themselves!

 

 

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The guitar teacher who made a difference.

Yesterday I had a rare moment of clarity.  Time slowed down and the audible buzz that seems to accompany all of my movements silenced itself.  I could almost feel a repetitive warning, saying this is important, pay attention!  This is important, pay attention! pounding in my chest.

After an unusually hectic Sunday morning, I arrived just in the nick of time to my daughter’s end-of-the-semester guitar recital.  We do this twice a year and always look forward to it, but this one was special because it was Emma’s last at her current school – she’ll be off to high school in the fall.  I watched thirty minutes of tiny Kindergarten bodies barely able to hold their guitars and marked the passing of time by noticing that the fifth graders were getting really confident and attempting more challenging pieces.  I’ve enjoyed seeing the same faces on stage and in the audience semester after semester.

Before I knew it, it was Emma’s turn, and her teacher made a little speech before she played.  This is when the moment happened.  Patrick is a quiet, unassuming and gentle man who’s never flustered.  While he was introducing Emma, he fought back tears, covered it by strumming his guitar for a few seconds, and then they moved into her song.

After her performance, she sat down next to me, let her own tears flow and whispered, “I had no idea it was going to be like that.  I will miss him so much.”

I just sat there stunned.

When Emma was in the first grade she wanted to learn how to play the guitar, but I insisted she learn the piano.  She has long fingers seemingly made to span the keys, and the truth is that I had always regretted quitting piano lessons myself.  I quoted a random recommendation I had read that said all musicians needed to start on the piano because it offered a basic knowledge that could then be applied to other instruments.  I told her she had to take piano for at least two years.  Emma obediently agreed, and off she went each week to a group lesson and eventually to her own private lesson.  She did well, but was never passionate about it.  When the time came to sign up for the third year, she reminded me of our deal.  “You’re quitting?”  I asked in astonishment.  “No, I am not quitting, I am goal oriented, and taking guitar lessons has always been the goal.  Piano was just a way to get there,” the nine-year-old responded.

Through a referral, we found Mr. Patrick Francis to teach her, and he told me how to buy the cheapest, smallest guitar.  For the first two years, Emma wanted her younger brother and me in the room with her and Mr. Francis.  We’d color, read books and listen in.

Emma has always been a tightly wound achiever-perfectionist sort of person.  Mostly, the world has acknowledged that by setting the bar just a little bit higher than she can reach.  It feels like well-meaning teachers and coaches are often pushing her to do and be more.  I see what they see.  She is a creature humming with potential, and they think if they just light the fire hotter, or wring one more accomplishment out of her, they will have harnessed it all.  It’s really hard to be that kid, the kid everyone thinks can do anything and smile while she’s doing it.

Mr. Francis took a different approach with her from the beginning.  Guitar lessons were her time to relax and explore her passion.  They’d listen to Beatles songs on his iPod and then he’d teach her how to strum along.  When she was in fourth grade she wanted to learn Dani California, but she didn’t have the confidence to sing along at her recital, so Patrick sang the song while she strummed.

 

During a particularly stressful time last year, she asked him if she could skip the recital.  For weeks she had been worrying about and dreading it.  “Of course you can skip it,” he assured her, and they resumed their weekly practices.  She never felt she had let him down, or that she hadn’t met an expectation.  Patrick’s just that way.  He rolls with it, and lets her take the lead.

Patrick moved to Asia for about a year and Emma tried two other guitar teachers.  David lasted a few months, and Randy lasted a few weeks, and then she took a hiatus from the instrument.  It sat, mostly untouched, in her room and I didn’t mention it.  When we received an email from Patrick that he, his wife and new baby were returning to San Francisco and he’d be teaching again if she wanted to continue, Emma’s face was bathed in excitement.

They picked up like they had never been apart.

I’ve been right there watching this relationship, this education and this growth in her, but I never really saw it until yesterday.  In a flash, I saw how this man’s influence had offered my daughter a chance to become more of herself.  He was able to stop the achievement train in her childhood for just thirty minutes a week.  Where other instructors may have been able to squeeze another effort or accomplishment from her, Patrick was able to quietly grow her confidence in herself and her love for the guitar.

In my stunned moment, I saw it all.  I saw the fragile-yet-determined little girl lug her guitar into his classroom and sit silently while he tried to figure out what kind of music would spark her interest, and I saw the confident fourteen-year-old comfortably gushing to him about her new favorite band.

But mostly, I saw that where my role ended as a mother, I had been lucky enough to find another adult who agreed to lead my child.  She needs more than I can give her, and not just because I can’t teach her guitar.  On the list of forty developmental assets for adolescence, number three reads:  Other Adult Relationships | Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.  She needs to see herself reflected from many angles in order to know and discover who she is and decide who she wants to be.  In our modern lives filled with busyness, and with family scattered around the country, finding healthy relationships with those “three or more nonparent adults” is tricky to say the least.  As I saw Emma and Patrick standing there together, my heart leaked a little.  So much is ending for her right now, and so much new is just around the corner.  Gratitude was oozing from my soul that Patrick had been a part of what had brought her this far.

I don’t know where Emma will be in ten years, or whether she’ll still love the guitar as much as she does now.  It doesn’t really matter.  No matter how she turns out, I’ll have some other adults to thank for helping her get there, and Mr. Francis heads the list.

A few weeks ago she brought her iPhone to her lesson and played Patrick songs from her new favorite band.  He hadn’t heard of One Direction, but they chose a song for the recital.  Below is the video of their final performance.  To Patrick:  Thank you for investing so much quiet and intentional energy into Emma.  Your patience and gentleness were just what she needed to flourish.  I hope that people somewhere someday pour bits of themselves into your baby boy.  Perhaps then you will know how deeply we appreciate you and what a difference you’ve made. 


Lessons Learned

 

When that Mama worry takes ahold of a woman you can’t expect no sense from her.  She’ll do or say anything at all and you just better hope you ain’t in her way. That’s the Lord’s doing right there.  He made mothers to be like that on account of children need protecting… Helping that child be up to the Mama.  But God never gives us a task without giving us the means to see it through.  

                                    – Florence’s voice in Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan.

Mothering has offered me many opportunities to grow past the simplistic outlook that life should be easy, and I’ve mostly ignored these moments.  I’ve never been able to embrace the idea that hardship brings about blessings, but I hear enough people recite it as truth that I am trying to embrace it.  I have seen children, my own included, go through painful seasons of social difficulty and against all odds, come out on the other side, maybe not stronger for it, but strongish.

Often, the only blessing I can see in the face of suffering is the gift of offering empathy to others who will someday walk down the same path of pain.  In the spirit of sisterhood, I send these lessons learned out to all the broken hearted mamas who will watch their children suffer under the words and hands of cruel kids.  I wish that I was a clinical psychologist or at least understood the social lives of children better, but I don’t.  I just know that when kids go through these sorts of rough patches, the watching of it can be very painful on their mothers.  (The following list assumes that your child is not being physically harmed, but is enduring verbal teasing, lack of friends, and social isolation.)

Why this happens to some kids, how they spiral and what intangible powers are at work is all still unknown to me.  Why and when it stops and turns around also seems unpredictable and random.  But here are some lessons I learned that I hope makes traversing the path during this season a little easier.

Lesson #1: Always remember, this too shall pass.

This is the most important lesson, so I’m putting it first. It will not always be this way.  This season is not a predictor of things to come.  I know your worse case scenario and it’s not pretty.  You are imagining him homeless at age twenty-five, wandering the streets with his hands in his pants. I promise you that is not where he is headed. One day in the not-so-distant future you will happen to glance over at him when he doesn’t know you are watching and you will see a bright-eyed, happy, well-adjusted boy who has friends and loves his life. In that moment, it will actually be hard to remember the kid who came home from school each day crying, the one who couldn’t seem to navigate any of the social dilemmas or status-jockeying that seemed to come easily to his peers. (But of course you will remember, because Mamas never forget.) Hear me: he will be joyful again. This is only a season.

Lesson #2: Keep it positive.

As frustrating as it is to see what is happening, try your very best not to pile on.  Sometimes it’s so obvious what she is doing wrong and how she is setting herself up to be picked on, but when you start sentences with Oh my God, if you are ever going to have friends, you need to stop doing this, it just feels like more people hating on her.  She already knows she is making social mistakes and she doesn’t need your yelling about it.  Recognize how deeply disappointed you are that your kid is “like this,” go into your closet and yell and scream at how unfair it is. Leave your disappointment right there in your closet and walk away from it.  It’s not doing you or your daughter any good.  She is the kid you got and she is the one who needs you right now. That means that when you hear that she fell on the gym floor sobbing when someone called her a retard, you give her a hug and a big smile and you say, I wonder what might have happened if you had stuck your tongue out at her instead of crying? instead of throwing your hands up in the air and shouting How many times have I told you not to cry at school?  When she tells you that everyone at recess was in a two person game and there were no three person games so she grabbed the ball and ran away with it to pout in a corner, don’t give a big sigh and say with exasperation, When will you ever learn?  Don’t allow her to misinterpret your own frustration with blame.

Lesson #3: Stay away from the bullies and their parents.

Allow yourself to daydream about all the ways you’d like to inflict pain on the mean kids and their clueless parents. Get creative and think up wild scenarios.  And then leave them in your daydream and go about your normal life.  Do not act on any of them because doing so will make things much worse for your child and you will be modeling retaliation.  I know it’s hard to understand this right now, but those mean kids are most likely kids on the receiving end of similar treatment.  Likewise, calling the kids’ parents and politely explaining what is happening is tricky terrain.  If your intention is to build community and strengthen your friendship with those parents, by all means, make the call.  But without those guiding intentions, the call usually ends badly.  When you are ready, say a prayer for those kids.  The words will likely stick in your throat the first five hundred times you try it, but eventually it will become a habit and will feel good.

Lesson #4: Recognize that your pain is separate from his pain.

This is a tricky one because it comes close to implying that you are making it all up in your head and he is just fine and nothing is really happening. I know you are hearing enough of that kind of thing already, so trust me that I am not going in that direction.  But it is very important that you figure out what kinds of things this experience is bringing up in you.  Rejection, betrayal, loneliness, shame and disappointment are just a short list of what you are probably dealing with.  If you’ve never been to therapy, now is a great time to check in with someone who can guide you toward healing. Your kid needs you to be healthy in this way so you can provide him solid support.  If possible, don’t operate from your own well of emotional need.  Get yourself together and be crystal clear about what you are feeling as compared to what he is experiencing.

Lesson #5 Cancel your Friday night plans.

I know a million parenting books will remind us that we are called to be Parent not Friend and I usually agree with them.  But these are not normal times and you are going to have to take on a new role in her life and it’s called B.F.F.  No matter how bored you are with the card game, ping-pong, scrabble, or the Nancy Drew computer game, you play it.  I don’t care if you hate watching fantasy or romantic movies, you go with her and act interested while you are there. Never say, Wouldn’t you rather invite someone your age to go with you?  If she had that option she would already be calling friends. Pointing it out is just rubbing her face in it and the message you want to convey is this: You are fun to hang out with and your interests, opinions, and comments are fascinating to me. You are all she’s got right now and you need to keep her social and active!

Lesson #6: Don’t be disappointed in your own friends.

They will not understand what you are feeling.  They are looking through their own unique lens and simply cannot see or feel what you are experiencing.  You will feel let down if you expect them to make any sort of difference.  Feel grateful if you find even one friend who will let you vent about it.  You probably sound like a broken record, and if even one gal pal has the patience to let you tell your stories over and over again, you are lucky.  Let them off the hook! You are alone in this and you are strong enough to handle it.

Lesson #7: Don’t blame!

Yes, kids are being mean and people need to protect your son from it. This season is hard to understand, layered with complexity, and all the players involved — including your sweet child — are flawed human beings.  The adults in his life (the teachers, the youth group leader, the coaches) are likely trying very hard to help.  Do engage those adults and partner with them to support your family.  But leave blame behind.

Lesson #8: Act!

Switch schools, get her into a social skills group, hire a shadow, sign her up for karate lessons, get her evaluated or simply try some new summer camps.  Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by this.  Getting help is not the same as deciding all this is her fault.  Sometimes tweaking one small aspect of the equation is all the help she will need, but you won’t know what will help until you try something.

Lesson #9: Show him unconditional love.

I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised to notice all the ways our parenting offers conditional love.  Think about how you give a hug or a kiss or an I’m proud of you! when he gets an A, cleans his room or clears the table without being asked, and how often you offer a frown, a sarcastic comment, or a frustrated tone when he disappoints you.  All that adds up to a clear understanding of conditional love whether you mean to pass that along or not.  Now that he is in trouble, you’ve been given the perfect opportunity to adjust your parenting so that you discipline, guide and well, parent with unconditional love.  If the world were writing all the rules right now, he’s falling to the bottom of the food chain and is feeling pretty love starved.  You have a chance to make a difference. Show him how loved and valued he is.  This season can really stretch our abilities and our emotional bandwidth.  Anxiety and worry are exhausting and I am betting they are filling your days and nights.   The Five Love Languages of Children might be a great book to get you thinking about creative ways to show unconditional love.

Finally, Lesson #10. Root her identity.

Only you know your value system and what your family culture honors.  But consider this: there will always be a better skier, a smarter science major, a tougher basketball player and a more skilled flute player. During this time when she is feeling torn down by her peers, honoring and celebrating her natural gifts is very important.  Helping her find her worth outside of these gifts is difficult but much more life-giving. Be careful about the message you send her during this time.  When you are tempted to say things like The kids pick on you because they are jealous that you are smarter than they are, choose instead to say, I’m proud of your compassion and how you help people.  I hope today gives you an opportunity to help someone. When she graduates from this difficult phase she will be sustained for the long haul if her value is placed in something more eternal than her GPA.  Her sense of herself has to come from a deeper place, a place we might call her soul. She needs to know that no matter how others treat her, or how accomplished she becomes, she is known and loved.  This is the hardest lesson of all. We live in a pressure-filled, accomplish-driven world.  Rising above it to a place of spirituality, surrender, trust and hope is the challenge placed before you.

Mama, you’re going to get through this in one piece and so is your loved child.

Photo credit


Cousin Katie

My cousin, Katelin, writes a blog called by their strange fruit that examines Christianity’s often bungled relationship with race/racism, and the consequences for modern ministry & enduring injustice.   Last week she peeked at joylibby.com while I was pondering ideas about Lent and left such a beautiful comment, I wanted to share it with you.  If you’d like to check out Katelin’s writings about race, lots of great interviews, book and movie reviews, guest bloggers and some downright funny stuff, hop on over to her by clicking here.  Here’s Katie’s comment….

 

I really related to this post! I grew up non-liturgical, but have recently been discovering the beauty of the tradition. I went from scoffing at ritual and pomp, to understanding the value of remembering the powerful/holy nature of a timeless God that is worshiped over hundreds of years by a shared heritage and tradition. That isn’t to say that we idolize ritual, but can enjoy the benefit of building good habits in worship as we do in the rest of our lives. At my core, I’m still a non-denom praise-and-worshiper, but have enjoyed the richness that the liturgical calendar can bring.

One year for Lent, I chose to give up my coveting of time. I tended to hoard ‘time’ like a treasure stored in a barn. I would be jealous of others’ time and stingy with giving my own. I was stressed, and frantic and I tried to buy more time in my day. ‘Time’ was my currency, often valued much more highly than money. But did I ever tithe my time? Did I give 2.4 hours every day to God?

So that year for 40 days, I gave up my obsession with time. When I was tempted to freak out about a lack of time in my busy schedule, I reminded myself of my commitment to release those fears to trust in God’s divine schedule. I was scared that I wouldn’t be productive, that I would fall be hind on my ‘to-do’s, but I was amazed at the freeing, life-giving effect it had on me. It was particularly salient the following fall as I entered my last year in college with an understanding of a need to prioritize relationships over ‘time’, which had been placed on a pedestal. Of course, I need to remain responsible with my studies, but made sure to also carve out space to commune completely unproductively with the folks in my life that I would probably never get such a luxury with again. It was one of the smartest things I did in school.

I still struggle with ‘time’ idolatry. I certainly don’t tithe time with nearly the same discipline I tithe money, but the journey continues and it started with one Protestant’s curious exploration of Lent. ‘Giving up worry and replacing it with Trust’–this should probably be the next step for me.

That was a lot I know, but it’s been on my heart lately, and your post stirred it up.


Grasping Ash Wednesday

I asked my twelve-year-old son at dinner last night to explain to me his grasp of the meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent.  It took him a while to stop asking if he was “right,” and just relax into explaining his understanding of it.

On Ash Wednesday we take the ashes from the burned palms from last year and wear them on our forehead.  We spend forty days fasting from something that is bad for us because Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness.

I quickly texted some friends and asked them to ask their children.  I was guessing that if I wanted to understand the tradition, I needed to ask the next generation of participants, those who embrace it with hearts wide open.

The ashes are from the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday, and we put them on our head on the first day of lent to remind us that we came from dust.

To me, Lent is a time of preparedness as we prepare to remember the death of Jesus.

We also think about all Jesus has done for us, so we fast and give up things we love in the name of Jesus Christ.

Lent is the time where you get to focus on your spirituality and God, by listening and learning about Jesus’ suffering. If I give up Internet time or junk food I want to do so not just to say “I gave this up” but because I’m inspired to prepare for Easter and better appreciate His suffering not mine.

When I was growing up I heard nothing about Lent or Ash Wednesday and our church didn’t follow the centuries old liturgical calendar. I didn’t know any Catholics except my great-grandmother and she was housebound, so I didn’t witness her religious rituals. Now I understand that many Christian traditions follow the Church calendar.  In fact, my own church will be holding an Ash Wednesday service this evening, and one of my favorite Pastors posted a beautiful piece about the day and its meaning.

But my first encounter with Ash Wednesday came only eight years ago.  I was scheduled to speak at an elementary school on the topic of “Passing on Faith to your Children.”  A large group of mothers showed up, and just across the hall from our meeting room was a chapel where many of their sons would be celebrating a service for Ash Wednesday a little while after our own meeting had begun.  After a few minutes of warm up, I dove into my notes about the ultimate importance of modeling and connecting with our children with whatever faith we held.  As I spoke of the value our children receive from watching us, most of those moms flew out of their chairs and raced across the hall to join their boys in receiving ashes.  It was affirming to know that my words had inspired them, but I learned about double checking dates and conflicts before organizing an event like that!

Today, I have loads of friends who participate in Lent and for a few years I watched from afar.  We moved our lunch dates around so we they wouldn’t be tempted by a chicken burrito on Fridays and I supported their chocolate fasts.

Two years ago I began writing spiritual reflections on Scriptural passages as they were calendared in the Catholic Church liturgical calendar.  I learned that every day of the year all Catholic priests speak from the same set of scriptures. Each week I would read the passage designated for a particular Sunday and attempt to write a thoughtful response.  By living inside this organized rhythm of Scripture, I began to see how the cycle of the yearly calendar led me through many important stories and passages to see the Bible for what it can be: a narrative of God’s love for us.

In my role, I wrote only about the specific Gospel readings (ya know, the Scriptures that come from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and mostly tell stories about the life of Jesus), but there are actually four or five scriptures combined for each day that always include an Old Testament passage, a Psalm as well as something from the Epistles.  If a person attends Mass every day for three years straight she will likely hear a sermon from every piece of the Bible.  And if a person wanted to organize herself for daily reading, she could click here.

If you attend Catholic mass (or any other denomination that follows the liturgical reading schedule) on Sundays during Lent you will hear two familiar stories: Jesus fasting in the desert and winning the fight with temptation, and Jesus taking Peter, James and John up to the mountain top.  I wrote about those stories during Lent last year, and appreciate that the calendar has circled us back to them. This year you’ll also hear about Jesus cleansing the Temple, the famous John 3:16 that you’ve seen on posters at football games, the Kingdom principle of giving up your own life for Jesus and gaining it back, and finally on Palm Sunday you’ll hear about the woman with the alabaster box.  Temptation, Ecstasy, Righteous Anger, Love, Self-denial, and finally, Humility.  Seriously, the 2012 Lenten season is packed with good stuff!

Last year about this time, I was deep in pain in my mama’s heart. I was alienating people around me with my constant worry and stress and I was beginning to feel crazy.  I couldn’t sleep well and I certainly wasn’t thinking clearly.  Along came Ash Wednesday and I decided to participate.  I gave up worry and tried to replace it with trust.  It was the single biggest game changer of my 2011, although one friend encouraged me to pick something easier for my first try, like chewing gum.  Every time my stomach began to roll and the obsessive thoughts entered, I had a reason to ignore them.  I would close my eyes and take a deep breath and imagine trust flowing in through my nostrils and down into my lungs and flowing to every part of my body, pushing out the stress.  There simply was no room left for it.

So perhaps my son was right that Lent is about giving up something bad for us.  Or maybe the other kid is right that we must give up something we love.

I am reminded of the story of the blind men touching an elephant and trying to describe what it looks like.  Each was feeling a different part – the smooth tusk, the wrinkled skin, the rough and sharp toenail.  Each was right, but none was grasping the whole picture.

Maybe the whole picture is too big to see.  Perhaps some years I need to learn that in the end I am nothing but dust and other years I need to know that my celebrations from last year will end in ashes this year.  Sometimes I need to fast in a way that pains me and other times I need to fast in a way that saves me.  Some years it’s a stretch for me to get over my petty self and connect with His suffering.

But each year, I probably could use the forty-day reminder that redemption is on the horizon. Resurrection is bigger than differences in tradition, worries in my heart, grasps of understanding, chocolate and chewing gum.  Alleluia, He is Risen will ring in my ears soon.


Valentine’s Day: Whatev….

If I write one more blog post about marriage or love I think even  I  will throw up in my own mouth a little bit.  Seriously, enough already! It gets to be nauseating listening to someone pontificate about love.  But, tomorrow is Valentine’s day, so I think I have one more gushy post in me and then I promise I will stop.

Am planning to spend VD with a bestie girlfriend and my favorite son.  We’re going to cook, chat and have a great time.  I’ll miss my husband a teensy bit, but no more than I would on any given Tuesday night.  He’s not the grand gesture kind of guy, he’s more the I-love-you-today-and-I’ll-love-you-again-the-same-amount-and-with-the-same-devotion-and-stability-tomorrow type.  He’s definitely the kind you marry.

This week I came across an essay I wrote a while ago about love.  At the time, I was working on a book idea that explored each month of the year through the eyes of a spiritual seeker-mother-wife-modern woman.  Some day I may gather up all those months and do something with them, but for today, in honor of Valentine’s Day and as a tribute to my dear stable man, I offer you “February.”

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February is the month that always shines bright red in my mind.  Surely this must be because I’ve had years of Hallmark marketing overloading me with images of cupids, shiny doily hearts, red roses and chocolate boxes tied with a red bow.  But in my mind, each month brings a new color and February is definitely all painted in red.

The subject of February might seem obvious, it’s Love.  Right now I am humming that popular Michael Bolton song Love is a wonderful thing. This song was released when I was eighteen years old and in the throes of discovering what love can be.  The song says, well, obviously that it’s a wonderful thing, but also that it will make ya smile through the pouring rain, Turn your world into one sweet dream, and finally it promises that it will take your heart and make it sing.

It’s raining as I type and I can hear the drops pounding above me on the skylight and at least for this morning, I am very sick of the rain this season.  It seems like it has appeared too often, stayed too long, and given us all cabin fever.  I am still smiling, however.  Is it love that is making me smile through the pouring rain?

In February falls a holiday that has caused way more grief for men and women than it has ever helped: The dreaded Valentine’s Day.  I remember some doozies from my dating days, particularly from teenage years.

One boy bought me a white fluffy teddy bear, which I pretended to find thrilling and then I heard his father whisper to him, “See I told you she’d like it; they all love teddy bears.” But inside I wanted to scream But I am not five years old! Another boyfriend and I had a very intellectual discussion about Valentine’s Day and I shared my thoughts that couples should find ways to make each other feel loved and special regardless of the date. I told him that I found Valentine’s Day to be a pitiful excuse to lavish material things onto a relationship and call it cared for. I told him about an older couple I knew who had been married for thirty years who ignored Valentine’s Day altogether and instead had a little basket in their bedroom where they would each place gifts for the other.  They upheld this ritual just here and there throughout the year.  She baked shortbread cookies for him and put them in there; he purchased her new sewing scissors and she was excited.  My boyfriend agreed with the philosophy and therefore did nothing on the big day, and of course…. I was crushed.

Finally, one of my favorite boyfriends, a real sweetie… [to keep reading about love, click here…