Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hanging Chickens and Hope

There is a day left of 2017 and I'm thinking about hope.  Mainly, because a few days ago, a well-bundled woman approached me as I sat in my very warm car in a parking lot, finishing some last-minute mascara application.  As she walked by, I couldn't escape her searching eyes, nor overlook her hood and bulky scarf, which indicated her plans to be out much longer than I.  I wondered if she was going to circle back to my car.  And she did. 

"I have to walk a long way to get my bike and I just wondered if you had any money or change for snacks or something to eat."

While I was looking in my wallet I heard her say, "I don't know your name, but God knows."  And I was thinking to myself, "Yeah, God knows."  He also knows that I gave her most, but not all of my money.  Maybe enough for a couple of value meals.  Maybe.  And lest you think I was having a "widow's mite" moment, I wasn't.  Embarassingly,  I kept my last two dollars. 

She thanked me enthusiastically and said things were looking up...She just got a new job hanging chickens for $12.43 an hour!

I congratulated her, walked into my work, and have thought about her every day since. 

I am in awe that her hope lies in a job that I could only cry at the thought of, much less do.

The apparent ease with which she asked for what she needed reminded me that blessed are the poor in spirit - probably aware of every blessing because receiving so often necesitates asking.

How many catastrophes I would have to endure to be so humble!

After long awaiting and receiving the Christ child in the temple, Simeon said, "Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled..."

And I wonder to myself, "Will I ever be at a similar place in my life?  A place where all promises have been fulfilled and my only earthly desire is to leave it?"  I hope so.  It seems like death by contentment.

Interestingly, I read Simeon's passage to a small group of nursing home residents during our weekly communion service.  I asked them if they ever imagined they would still be alive in the year 2018.  They all said no.

I wonder what it feels like to live longer than you ever thought you would?  As one widow with Stage 4 cancer said, "I believe if I had an On/Off button, I would push it now."  But, in her hard-earned wisdom, she admits that it is good we don't have such a button,.  We would all push it way too soon.

Hope is that invisible force that keeps pulling us through life, when we'd just rather not.  For a long time, I wondered what it was that kept people going after unspeakable tragedies and horrific losses.  I figured it was something other than great advice, although Winston Churchill ranks highly in my book, with his "When you're going through hell, just keep going."

I've often imagined what I now know to be hope, as a little God-fueled motor propelling us forward, in spite of any desire to move in such a direction.  Or any direction, for that matter.  I've seen it in the poor, sick and very sick, grieving and dying.  I've seen it in all who labor in the skin of humanity, and most recently, in the well-bundled and newly employed.

If you have labored your fair share, it is good to know that hope can be forged.

...knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   Romans 5:3-5

We can have a hope for a particular experience or outcome, a moment or a day, a lifetime or an eternity.  And we can have them all at the same time.

Simeon's earthly hope rested in the fulfillment of God's promise that "he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord."  My hope lies in this same God Who has brought me to where I am - in a town, far away from my birthplace and from where I met the man I would spend the rest of my life with, holding a job I couldn't have dreamed of, sharing a couch with children whose existence was dependent upon the meeting of those two strangers in the hill country, surrounded by a persevering people that keep me circling back, wondering what keeps them going.  I certainly couldn't have stumbled this far on my own, groping in the dark.

Let us not move one inch from our position of hope, be it hanging chickens, a happy death, or any place in between.

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  
1 Thessalonians 5:24

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Bit of Loneliness

I don't remember much in the way of loneliness throughout my life.  Certainly not after being at home with little ones for years on end.  My greatest fantasy was being alone.

My husband and I used to barter to be the first one out of the door on Saturday for "me" time.  In the end, I had to go first.  My sanity depended on it.  I used to wonder how long I could be in utter isolation (ideally, in some beautiful wilderness, rather than in some cell in Siberia), before I would actually feel lonely.  I guessed it would take a month or so.

This seems pretty heroic at the moment, because I'm coming off a week of feeling pretty crappy (and I think a bit lonely, if I'm being honest).  Some stubborn virus, I guess.  Mostly a week at home and off of work.  Between naps and movies and eating and drinking coffee to make myself feel better and getting on Facebook to make myself feel worse - Sheesh!  Do you have friends who celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas?  Some candy in shoes doesn't seem that hard to pull off, so I'm not sure why I can't quite get it together...  Anyhoo, I think lonely might be a pretty apt description of how I felt along with not feeling well, in general.  Fortunately, this never lasted longer than a school day at a time.

This makes me grateful for having kids at home, and think of those who haven't had the reprieve of a "school day" in fifty years or so.  In the world of my "work", I visit the moms, dads, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles that live in nursing homes.  They are bereft of any feeling that they are important anymore, that anyone is on their way, or will be coming soon.  They wonder why God is waiting so long to come for them.  And yet, they never complain about the time between my visits.  It is often many weeks, and they're simply grateful.  I think waiting and pride have a special relationship. 

Just a little empty waiting put my pride in its rightful place...

I had a little miscommunication with my husband when he said he was going to bring my medicine home at lunch time.  I told him a few hours wouldn't make any difference and he didn't need to make a special trip, which was true.  But, at the end of our conversation, I thought he was still coming.  And so, I waited, in and out of sleep, with one ear to the door.  After two hours passed, the tear that slipped out betrayed my big-girl-self. 

I felt so pathetic.  It was such a little, tiny thing.  But, then I remembered all of the times that my patients/friends tell me to wake them up when I come.  They're just sleeping because they have nothing else to do, they tell me.  And I don't.  I can't.  Even when I try, I slip in, whisper their name, oh so quietly, hoping not to actually wake them, and I slip out.  It's like some primordial instinct from my early motherhood, which quietly, but forcefully insists, "Never wake a sleeping baby."

I imagine myself being awakened by a well-intentioned person who wants to know how things are going.  Blech.  Fine.  Go away.  I'm trying to sleep.  

Why on God's green earth would I do that?!

But, that's me.  A person in the world, who is busy.  Busy giving love and busy receiving love and busy doing all of the stuff that means.  Busy in a world where the shortage is not love, but time (and sleep). 

They don't live in that world.  They live in the other one.  Where time and sleep are abundant and everything else is scarce.

The gift of this week is a resolution.  A very counter-intuitive one, but nevertheless.  Wake the sleeping.  There are no school days in nursing homes.

Advent is a time of waiting and seeking.  Feeling lonely isn't my favorite, but it is fruitful.  And for those of us who are waiting, let's remember that waiting implies hope.  If nothing is ahead, there is nothing to wait for.  In the meantime, as depicted in The Life of the Mystic Luisa Piccarreta, I've been enjoying thoughts of God the Father as Fire, Jesus Christ as Light, and the Holy Spirit as Heat.

If I am always anything, I am always moving toward light and heat.  Now, I know why.  Care to join me?

Image result for fireplace

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Meet Mr. Griffin

Meet Mr. Robert Griffin.

Mr. Griffin is retired from the United States Navy and has been inspiring me for two and a half years.  I had the pleasure of visiting with him today, and a few sentences into our conversation it dawned on me... I wish you could be there.  To see what I see.  To hear what I hear.  To reap what he sows.  

So, I proposed the idea, and he agreed to meet you, too.

Mr. Griffin was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1987, which was probably 5-10 years after the onset of his initial symptoms.  He has been a nursing home resident for "a little over nine years".  He relinquished his driver's license on his 63rd birthday, and he lives as gracefully and gratefully as anyone I've ever known.

When I asked how he was getting along, he replied that things were the same, and God is good.  And then he said, I mean...
I wish... I could still walk...

 I wish...I could roll over in bed on my side, like I used to...

I wish... I could still go to my church.  I always feel loved, but there, it was something special.  They were my extended family.

And as he talked, I realized I have his wishes in spades.  I carry out his top three wishes hourly and daily and weekly and monthly and yearly and am rarely even conscious that I'm doing them, much less grateful for this same fact.  

I park as close as I can to wherever I'm going, so I have to walk less.  I'm annoyed if I'm rolling over in bed because it means I'm uncomfortable and awake enough to make a decision of any kind.  I enjoy going to church, but that doesn't mean I don't grumble about changing clothes or routinely explain to my precious offspring that they don't "have" to go to church, they "get" to.  

Mr. Griffin doesn't chastise me for my cluelessness or ingratitude.  He doesn't have to.  I'm immediately and painfully aware in his presence.  It is one of his many gifts to me.  

I asked him if there was anything else he wanted you to know and I wrote it down as he was saying it...

God is good, every day.

He is the same yesterday as He will be tomorrow.   

He has never given up on me, so I will never give up on Him.

I feel blessed, in a way, for how long it took from my initial diagnosis to going to a nursing home, because I know people who went from being diagnosed to becoming a quadriplegic in 2.5-3 months.  Everybody with MS is different.  I'm not sure why that is, but if it wasn't for my belief in God, I probably wouldn't be here now.  

Because if you don't have something to pin your hopes to, you'll give up...
And hope is what we've got.

Hope, that when we leave this earth, there is a God who will take care of us and restore our bodies.  

One day, I will be able to walk, and maybe run, 
jump, clap my hands, and praise God.  

Like in Amazing Grace, when we've been there for 10,000 years, it will be like an instant.  Because there is never enough time to praise God.

And to all of this, I say...Thank you, Mr. Griffin.  Thank you for being you.  Thank you for having your perspective and sharing it.  Thank you for being the face of perseverance, gratitude, and hope, as I (and now we) count our blessings this Thanksgiving.  May God continue to bless you and yours in abundance, as He blesses us through you.  Amen.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

In It To Win It

We made it!  

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary!  Where are the stickers and t-shirts?!  My runner friends call it swag.  Seriously, where can I find a 15.0 sticker?  I want one.

Not being a runner in the well-understood sense, I know marriage will be the longest race I will ever run.  I'm pretty sure it is a marathon on steroids.  You know the particulars of your own marriage and you know the particulars of mine, because I've shared them with the you.

I want to apologize if I have burdened you with the nuances of my emotional landscape.  As one who lives and works in the world of feelings and as a writer, it is my pleasure, privilege, and duty to attach words to things that can be difficult to explain and more difficult to admit.  The intention behind my transparency is always to instruct, encourage, accompany, and glorify God in the reality and dailiness of it all.   

Since writing last, I've heard from many people who are concerned for me and my marriage.  A sincere thank you.  You have been a great comfort and remind me of this...

2 Corinthians 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too.

I would like to comfort you, as well.  Brett and I have been married for 15 years.  What feels fleeting is not.  What feels irreparable is not.  What feels like loss is gain.  This month in the deep, in the desert, in the woods, or whatever you want to call it, has produced more fruit for me (and hopefully, us) than years combined.  I know my husband and myself better now than ever before.

I am in awe of that.  When you're a human being and married, life always comes one day at a time.  It is easy to believe that everything we believe, feel, and understand comes gradually.  This is simply not true.  Things can change in an instant, and they do all of the time.  The drop of a name, an eyeroll, a hint of ingratitude or contempt, a new baby,  a terminal diagnosis, a death, an unexpected gift or word of praise.  You name it...

All of my writings have been "blessed and approved" by my husband.  I love this about him.  It takes enviable confidence and incredible trust to give blanket permission to  another person, who knows you better than anyone else, to disclose whatever seems relevant to the thought for the day.  He can do this because he knows "we" are not going anywhere.  And I can write freely about all of the ups and downs, devastations and joys, because I know "we" are not going anywhere, either.

In the past month, I've watched a young couple make their vows and start their life together.  I've stumbled  around somewhere in the middle of  winning, losing, surviving, and thriving.  I've met people in the "sickness" part of their promise, where their own need becomes exclusively that of meeting the needs of their other.  All other needs, which once held a place of high regard and importance for them are left behind, and they do not see anything heroic about this.  I've attended a grief group for my work, where a dozen women shared the trials of continuing to live after their spouse has died, and how burning a candle in their place at the table might be a comfort to them this Thanksgiving.

I realize flames of hope come in as many ways as people, places, and times.  I am grateful for the journey of being married, for my fearless husband, and all of the people who walk with us in the adventure called life.  My new favorite quote, as shared with me by a dear friend, reminds me of the goal of it all.  Intimacy.

"Intimacy requires a clear self, relentless self-focus, open communication, and a profound respect for differences."                                  -Harriet Lerner

Saturday, November 4, 2017

In and Out of the Woods

My aunt sent me this great quote this morning. 

"Wear your heart on the page, and people will read to find out how you solved being alive."
-Gordon Lish

And that was just the push I needed to write from "the woods", since I am not out of them, yet.  As such, the stakes for writing (and everything else) feel a lot higher. 

If you've been traveling with me on this fear of abandonment stuff, you know the backstory.  If not, here it is on a bumper sticker.  There is some "trauma" from childhood that shows up in my adult life, specifically in marriage.  It is a fear reaction, and it is reflexive.  All I've been able to do is limp through it once it is triggered, and pray that I (and my husband) can recover before it happens again.

I put trauma in quotes, because I've never thought of my childhood as traumatic.  I have not been sexually or physically abused.  Emotionally and verbally, yes, but that is a late admission, as well.  The trauma I speak of, as best as my 40-year-old conscious brain can tell and a professional counselor can affirm, is experiencing an early divorce and 11 subsequent years of painful, tearful separations from my Dad whom I adored, after visiting him every weekend. 

This recurring pain was more than a 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15-year-old could process.  So, the thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and physical reactions that went with the pain got "stuck" in my brain.  Twenty five years have passed and it is still there, largely unchanged.

There are diagnoses that name this very thing and physiological treatments for "moving" the stuff into a conscious place where it can be processed.  I am looking into that and will keep you posted.  This is a new and exciting revelation for me.

Since visiting a counselor twice by myself and once with my husband, I have written a pain narrative, realized I am 100% responsible for regulating my own emotions, explored restoration therapy, made a plan, and decided I would work on detachment as a part of that plan. 

I felt more sure of this after reading an excerpt from Deep Is the Hunger by Howard Thurman...

"The basis of one's inner togetherness, one's sense of inner authority, must never be at the mercy of factors in one's environment, however significant they may be.  Nothing from outside a man can destroy him until he opens the door and lets it in."

I've read much on this idea, and know there's some truth in it.  So, I thought I would try it.  I closed the door on my husband.  He is the trigger for the old stuff, so I reasoned that if I didn't let him in, I would be safe.  And it felt safe.  But, it also felt unfulfilling, sterile, and not sustainable. 

Today is my first day of being less attached to the idea of being fully detached.  It doesn't work. 

So, I'm back in the ring.  

Leaving is not an option, but thinking about it is a friend that I like to keep close.  She reminds me that I don't want to leave.  I want to love and be loved.  Know and be known.  Understand and be fully understood.  Patience and perseverance.  We celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary in less than a week.  The woods are home to many a lovely creature.  And, right now, I am one of them. 


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Fear of Abandonment, Continued...

My second-to-last post about Fear of Abandonment was widely read (at least for my stuff), resonating strongly with many of you, and empowering a few.  So, I wanted to check in with you and update you on me.  If you're still standing in it, swimming in it, or sinking in it, I just wanted to let you know that you're not standing, swimming, or sinking alone.  'Cause I am, too.   

It's been a rough couple of weeks.  I could give you a thorough account of the few steps forward and the many steps back, but I want this to be fruitful for us, so I'm fastforwarding.  The latest development for me is a counseling appointment scheduled for next week.  First ever.  I am feeling excited, mad, hopeful, hopeless, and humbled about this.  

Recently, my husband recommended we "table" conversation on this issue.  It didn't feel great at the time, but since then I realized that "tabling" something can be progress.  The verb "table" means "to postpone the consderation of".  When two people are coming from two different places and speaking two different languages about a subject they disagree on, it is nigh impossible to feel like you're accomplishing anything, but insanity. 

In chess, I would call it a stalemate.  No winner.  New game.  If only.  

But, it's not chess.  It's my life and my marriage.  It feels like I'm standing inside the door of my heart and home, with my hand on the doorknob, and tennis shoes on my feet.  Despair is standing on the welcome mat on the other side, peering through the window, waiting to be invited in.  And I want to run.  

Physically, I hate running.  I abhor it.  But, emotionally, I feel like I could run forever. 

I just read "Understanding the Las Vegas Killer", and was intrigued when it said, "He once owned 27 residences in four states...".  And I realized he was a "runner", too.   If I actually ran when I wanted to run, and had money to buy actual places to run to, I shudder to think how disconnected I could be from life in one place and from the people who live there.  Blech.

This is why "tabling" is a good thing.  You can't table something, if you don't come back to discuss it.  It doesn't allow for one-way tickets.  It implies taking more time to work at something that isn't working.  

We love to say "Timing is everything."  If that is true, and I think it is mostly true, in that it is critically important, we need time.  A continuation of time.  Not five minutes, not two weeks, but as much time as it takes to get back to good.  And this is one of the many places my husband is better than I am.  He is good at being a grown-up, and being where he's supposed to be, and doing what he's supposed to do, while I'm listening to a broken record that no one else can hear, and wondering where can I run to?  

So, I think of all of the couples I've met who have been married over fifty years and how many of them say none of their married years could be described as easy.  And I think of one woman, in particular.  She was married to an alchoholic for sixty years.  When I asked her how many of those years she would consider good, she said, "The last ten."  Her husband finally stopped drinking when his grandchildren came on scene.  She and her children learned how to love him in those last ten years, which was a real blessing, because it meant they could miss him when he died.  And they do. 

So, in this case, and in mine, and maybe in yours, it is good that "Nothing stays the same." 

May God and time and change be with us, and may no one sell us a one-way ticket.  Amen.    


Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Keyhole

I went on a little excursion with the boys today, to check out a new fishing spot one of them keeps talking about.  The fishing spot is a drainage hole that doesn't drain.  But, that doesn't deter boys.

Or the little girl who looked on while they played.  No one talked to her, and with her bike parked alone on the trail, it seemed like she was quite alone.  After she warmed up, she said she liked walking through the water to the other side, because it seemed more dangerous, and she liked showing she was braver than her friends.

This open need to show her bravery and to feel special confirmed my belief that she probably didn't feel special often enough.

But, the conversation rolled on, with some mention of figure skating, and I was secretly glad she had some interest beyond watching other kids play without her.  And then...

She pulled out her phone and showed it to me.  "This is a video of me figure skating."

And her 9-year-old self was stunning.  Flying around the rink in the spotlight that was hers alone, to the music that was hers alone.  This particular performance was just one in a string of performances over the course of five years!  Goodness me!  I'm not sure how I didn't fall out of my chair, but I suspect gravity was just being nice.

I couldn''t have been happier to have gotten her so wrong, and remember how much I love happy surprises.  Like when I looked at this picture I took a second time, and noticed that it looked like a keyhole.  Which was an awesome surprise, because the only thing I saw when I took the picture was my son.  Kind of like when people take pictures and a ghost or something otherworldly shows up later, without the spine crawl.  And I remember how much I love happy surprises. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What's Real in a World of Illusion

I’m at a Disney World Resort, sitting on a patio on a “boardwalk”, eating lunch by myself in the same place I ate lunch by myself yesterday.  I’m here because I tagged along with my husband and five other women for a work conference.  If you read my post yesterday, you have permission to laugh.  In light of a series of recent conversations, it seems that this was intended to be the backdrop for Heidi’s 2017 Brokenness Retreat.  First, last, and only.  Hopefully.

This seems so ironic, because the last time I was here was 23 years ago.  I arrived with my high school show choir, the day after the accident which claimed my mom’s mobility.  I didn’t want to go, but everyone convinced me it was best.  Disney is known as a magical place.  I know it as a world other than my own, but maybe not quite magical.  Not at first. 

I have to admit, I have felt a surprisingly strong resistance to the “unrealness” of the place I’m staying, The Boardwalk Inn.  The buildings are real, the water is real, and the wood that makes up the “boardwalk” is real.  But, the “boardwalk” goes in a circle around a manmade lagoon, has a lighthouse, and a beach with a concrete beginning and end.

And I think to myself, “Hey.  You’re not tricking me.”  This is an approximation, a fabrication, and a manipulation.  I’m not settling into this fictitiousness.  I have a passion for real (nevermind I believe my fears with no basis in reality, without a second thought).  But, I work to shed pretense, not live in it.  This is not what I’m about.  Not that I can’t relax here, but don’t think I’m buying it for a minute.

And then, beginning with this little lunch spot, real things started to happen. 

Yesterday, it was the guy proposing to his girlfriend thirty feet from where I was sitting, and a couple from the North of England, who are on their fourth generation of making memories here, in a place that is magical for them.  Then, my aunt came to visit, whom I haven’t seen for years, and we connected in ways heretofore unimagined.  

Here, in this place that is made to look like someplace else.

Today, when I came back to my new favorite spot, my waitress greeted me with, “How’s your retreat going?  Unsweet iced tea, again?”  And I felt seen and known, at least a little.  The couple sitting next to me were from Atlantic City, where the real boardwalk is, and they told me the funniest thing.  They prefer this one!  Hahaha!  And the fake “boardwalk” grew a little more real. 

I thank Cathy, my waitress, and my lunch neighbors, Roger and Iva, for making that happen.  I thank 35-year Disney employee, Kennedy from the Bronx, who remembered seeing his first clean street here, for answering that he’s “magical” every time he’s asked, welcoming everyone home, and handing out stickers until the tendons in his wrist beg him to stop.  

And, thank you to my real lunch date, the very real grackle coveting my very real tortilla chips, as the most likely source for his next very real meal.  

Thank you all for being the magic in my Disney experience.

Walt Disney said, “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the park.  I want them to feel they’re in another world.”  I can see that he’s succeeded.  But, I can also see that the magic in my world will always come from the people in it.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Fear of Abandonment

I have a fear of abandonment.  I've been writing in this space for five years and you probably don't know this about me.  Family members who have known me for most of, or for the entirety of my life, didn't know until recently, when I invited them in to this secret and shameful place.  I imagine this feels akin to an alcoholic's public admission of being an alcoholic.  It feels liberating.  And yucky.

I've been married a month and a half shy of fifteen years.  This fear, dressed as insecurity, has been an intermittent, spasmodic struggle throughout.  Interestingly, as far as I can tell, it doesn't show up anywhere other than in my marriage, and show up it does.  Always with full force.  It is triggered by occasions when my husband is in mixed company, and I am elsewhere.  In my body, it manifests as an unininvited pit in my stomach that demands my full attention.  In my mind, it travels like suspicion, and in my emotions, it feels like fear and betrayal.  I've tried to whisper reassurances to it, suffocate it with reality, smash it with Scripture, pray it away, ignore it, bore it to death, and nothing works.

It must be confronted.  But, not until I am fully humiliated by telling my husband that I am struggling with this.  Again.  UGH.  There is not a bold enough bold or italicky enough italics or a large enough font to properly convey the feeling behind that little three-letter word.

Through my education, some periodic bursts of internet research, and discussion with friends and family with degrees in personal development, I have learned that this fear stems from forming insecure (as opposed to secure) attachments in my childhood.  Depending on who is writing and reflecting on attachment theory, it seems the nature of these attachments are established as a model for future relationships, some time by the age of six.  (Man, that seems like such a short period of time, to be screwed up forever).

I have a very, very poor memory, so, I cannot consciously recall or point to the reasons this problematic manner of attachment is my very own.  But, I have parents and siblings and the collective experience of our life together.  This history includes my parents' divorce when I was four (while divorce is consistently hailed as a major culprit for insecure attachments) , and a string of possible contributing events and relationships for the next twenty years.

It may become important to more fully understand these reasons, as I move forward in the healing/managing process, but for now, I think it is enough to know that the reasons were a real and sufficient cause for being periodically and devastatingly afraid.

I'm afraid of being rejected or replaced.  I am afraid of playing the fool.  I am afraid of not being enough.  I'm afraid of coming up empty-handed, through some fault of my own.   I would say I'm afraid of being alone, as the word abandonment implies, but I am not afraid of being alone.

And so, I write.  I write to understand myself and I write here, because I believe sharing this with you is my duty.  Maybe you don't have the words.  Maybe you haven't had somebody who will give you fifteen years of grace to look at something you don't understand and will put up with your hiding or lashing out when you are afraid of it.  Or maybe you can't relate to any of this, but you know somebody who can.

God only knows.

May the God whose ways are not our ways, and the peace that surpasses all understanding, be ours.  Amen.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Waiting for a Storm

Waiting for a storm is weird.  Hurricane Harvey is somewhere off the Texas Coast and headed this way.  Some have packed and fled, others are probably still packing, and soon, others will just be fleeing.  This far inland, we're just expecting a rain event, but the town is stirring.  The grocery stores have been depleted and gas stations overwhelmed.  My husband is sitting at his post in the Emergency Operations Center and all of our rescue and response people are prepped and standing by.
And I wait.  I usher my kids outside to play, because it looks like its going to be days before we see the sun again.  My gas tank is full, we have plenty to eat, and coolers in the front yard to catch rain water, in case we need it.  (It turns out, you can drink the stuff and most of the world does).

I put a puzzle on the table, to encourage us to spend time together, instead of separately doing that which pleases us alone.  And I think about Noah.  How weird, wild, lonely, and desperate it must have felt to be him!

It would be like this waiting now, but as the only person with the weather channel.  All of the wood stacked up, and the running around, and people friending him on Facebook like crazy 'cuz they're starting to realize something's up.  I can't remember how long he worked on that ark (and I'm on a roll, so I don't want to take time to look it up), but how many times was he tempted to jump ship? Pun intended.

It takes a lot of faith to brave the crowds to sufficiently stock up for a moderate storm.  How much more to brave the crowds, whom you've known your whole life, and lived near, and maybe even loved, and for them to think you're a raving lunatic?  Sheesh!

It kind of reminds me of this thing called life on this thing called earth preparing for eternity, which we cannot see, but know, or suspect is coming.   Even the best weatherman knows neither the day nor the hour.

God, grant us the grace to use this time well.  Amen.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Like Superheroes in Heaven

I meet a lot of amazing people with equally amazing stories, but I rarely cry.  Yesterday, I was only on my second visit of the day and knew it was going to be a tear-jerker, pretty soon after walking through the door.

I want to share this visit with you, not because I cried, but because he said I could, and you should know this man, and the wisdom he embodies.  I suspect, a man rarely seen, and less often appreciated.

A man in his 60s, lying alone in his hospital room, turned his head toward me as I entered.

It was apparent that he was "handicapped", as he called it.  He said he was born prematurely, one leg was bigger than the other, and what happened to all of the light wheelchairs?

Within minutes, I learned that his brother died on November 1, and "50% of me died that day, too". The floodgates opened.  He used to live with his brother and attend the church where he preached, but then he died, and now he lives in a nursing home.  "Nursing homes are freezing."

Ugh.  I hate being cold and I certainly can't imagine living in a place where I could never get warm. Pretty much my definition of hell, actually.  More tears.

He had multiple medical issues going on, recounted the numerous falls out of his wheelchair, including the one when he hit his head on a table leg and everyone thought he was dead.  But, he said he looked up and waved and said, "I'm here."

Saint Teresa of Avila once said something like, "Even if you have a life full of nothing but suffering, when you look back on it from heaven, it will seem like but one night in an inconvenient hotel."  I sure hope she's right.

I knew I was in the presence of a saint in this man's room.  But, the following confirmed it.

The surrounding circumstances were unclear, but once he was a spirit, floating above his body and the grass.  Do you think you were in heaven?  "I know I was.  The colors are much brighter there than they are here!"  (I hear that a lot)  "Did you know that when you're handicapped and you go to heaven, you're re-done all over?  Like a superhero."

No, I didn't know that.  Not for sure.  I mean, not like you.  Can I share your story with people?  I think they'd really like to know that.

"I'm looking forward to my funeral!  Don't be sad.  I'll be with my brother and the Lord will be at his side.  People will be singing and praising the Lord.  I want the same songs my brother had at his funeral (and he listed them).  I want a blanket on my casket that says, "This lamb went to be with the Lord."

Tears were streaming down my face, and a physical therapist walked in.  And this is what it's like to be a chaplain.  In heaven and at a funeral in one moment, interrupted, and moved along in the next.

So, that was it.  I had to leave, so I left.  Sad, but rich, and with a clearer and more convinced picture of heaven and all of the superheroes who live there.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

When the Song is Over

I usually write when I have a thought or series of thoughts that I can't quite shake.  If those thoughts have the potential to make you laugh or think, I gotta do it.  And, to be honest, I haven't stopped thinking about singing the National Anthem three days ago.  If I hadn't made the mistake of asking my friend to video it, I could have smoothed over all of the rough parts in my mind, and just incorrectly and happily remembered that I sang it perfectly.

But, I did ask her, and so I can't.  I've played and re-played the video, wishing I could have started on the right note (the very lowest one that would actually come out of my mouth).  Instead of blankly staring at the Ross Volunteer Company posting the colors, I wish I would of been busy finding the starting note in my head, and more importantly in my vocal cords, to make sure I got it right!  Man!

A few notes in, I realized that I was committed to singing in a key I never practiced in, and would not have wanted to sing in, at any price.  In the end, the high parts were in a falsetto I never use, and cringe-worthy, at best.  To my surprise, the crowd jumped in on the last note with whistles and applause.  I attributed it to their patriotism, forgiving and/or forgetful natures, gratitude it was over, or glad-it-was-you-and-not-me celebration.  I work with a great group of people.  That would be just like them.

Today, in an effort to make myself feel better, and put it behind me for once and for all, I sheepishly googled "worst National Anthems" and was delighted when YouTube responded by offering the Top 10 American National Anthem Performance Fails.  My youngest was within earshot.  He heard the first sample come through my phone speaker and said, "Is that the worst?" to which I answered in the affirmative.  "Are you on there?"  No (Eyes flash from- phone-to-son-back-to-phone).  A few more samples played, and then, "Is that you?" Grrrr...

I should have brought earbuds.

I closed YouTube more grateful than I have ever been for Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, and Cuba Gooding, Sr.

Before singing (like for a whole month and every day beforehand), I asked God to bless my singing of the National Anthem, and was really hoping that if He wanted to humble me, it would be in a less public, less observable way than during that 1 minute and 20 seconds.

I guess God knew that was a powerful set of minutes.  Those minutes could deliver some ripe and tasty humble-fruit that could make enough humble pie to serve myself and the nation I was singing for.  Maybe for years.

And this all reminds me of a 12-year-old girl we met last weekend.  She was a guest at the rental house next to ours on the Colorado River.  If she had a volume knob, it was turned to Max.  You couldn't not notice her.  She seemed to run wherever she went and had as much to say as volume to say it with.  She baited her own line, took her fish off the hook and threw them back in the water, like somebody who'd been working on a fishing boat for thirty years.  Her expertise was volunteered when any one of us lacked 100% confidence in any moment.  I think she's the only the person who could take a fishing pole out of my 8-year-old fishing expert's hands to see if he had something on the end of his line, which is exactly what she did.

I was equally intrigued and annoyed by her bouncing back and forth between our dock and theirs, and with her total lack of self-consciousness.  She ushered the relaxation off the dock with her bounding, volume, observations, and opinions.

But, when we got back from the beach one evening, their stuff was all cleared out.  They were gone.

The following morning, I found an old styrofoam cooler by our dock that I hadn't seen before.  I lifted the lid and found this floating inside:

And although it looks like a piece of paper, wet from floating in an old styrofoam cooler with shrimp in it, it tastes like humble pie.

We spent the weekend enduring this beautiful, outspoken fisher-girl and she left us with what she had.  And took the time to write a note.  And wished us well.

God doesn't need to put me on a stage in front of 2,000 people to humble me.  He just needs to surround me with people who are better at being people than I am.  And He does.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

39 and NOT holding...

Today is my last day in my thirties.  Tomorrow is my 40th birthday, and I don't think I could love that idea any more.  For real.  This surprises me because I've heard forty bad-mouthed my whole life.  I think of black balloons and pending hospitalizations from spontaneous bodily disintegration.

But, if 40 is old (which it isn't), and old is wise (which it can be), I'm celebrating that.  The wisdom of growing older, of knowing more and more who I am and what I'm about.  That is an incredible feeling.

If I had to deliver a 40th birthday speech to the whole world in ten seconds, I think it would be this:

Some things need doing better than they've ever been done before.  
Some just need doing.   
Others don't need doing at all.
Know which is which!
(author unknown)


Let your God get bigger, and try to imitate the God you believe in.  

The End.

Ecclesiates says "there's nothing new under the sun", but I still experience things for the first time, all of the time.  In a couple of days, I'm supposed to sing the National Anthem for more than a thousand people (Pray for me, I'm terrified!).  In the past month alone, I made a meatloaf without a recipe and it was delicious (A miracle worthy of investigation by the Magisterium), attempted reading War and Peace (and decided it was in the "things that don't need doing at all" category), had a patient climb out of a hospital bed to get on her knees for prayer, did my first podcast, made a new friend, and peed in a Gatorade bottle. 
If I live to be 85-90 (my loose ideal), I can only imagine what that list will look like by then.  Or maybe I will be like my 99-year-old patient who is still "disgusted with her prayer life".  If I die tomorrow, I am grateful for the list, so far.

In the next 40 years, I want to learn Spanish well, continue learning to play the guitar, walk the Way of St. James, and keep the better-than-good things I already have, which are many.  In a word, relationships.  

I have friends, family, and an incredible job as a chaplain in a healthcare system.  Meeting people, learning their stories, and sharing in their joy and pain, are among my greatest privileges and treasures.  

But, I start and end my days at home.  My priority, crowning achievement, greatest challenge, inspiration, thrill, and triumph is living under the same roof with these people.

If they were not who they are, I would not be who I am.  At the end of my life, I pray that if I haven't done anything else, I've done well by them, and by all whom God has entrusted to me. 

And so I pray.  


Saturday, July 8, 2017

My Friend With an Empty Vacuum Cleaner Bag

I got a little time to myself yesterday.  My husband took the boys shooting and no one needed me for hours.  I was already out, so I took myself to lunch and went from store to store, shopping for a rug to go under a particular chair in my house, or anything else I couldn't live without that was less than five dollars.

And this is happening more and more, only subtly, here and there.  The guys all want to see this action movie or that war documentary, and I'm out.  Sitting in the other room, doing whatever girl/Mom activity I choose.

I used to be the generator, facilitator, supervisor, or recipient of every activity my boys dipped their toe in.  Every activity.  And it was exhausting.  I see parents of young children, now, and remember just how exhausting.  I admire them so much.

Overall, my thought about raising kids who are growing up and seemingly need me less and less, is one of great joy.

But, there is the occasional, and always unexpected, lump in my throat.  Like when I was on my way home from Wal-Mart the other day.  I passed the elementary school that my older boys attended and my youngest still attends.  But, only for two more years.  And in that moment, I felt like I was visiting this town from the future, where elementary school and boys who go there, are but a foggy and distant memory.  And I wanted to cry.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn captures this feeling perfectly in The Cancer Ward, as one of his cancer-stricken characters reflects on his life:  "Sometimes I wonder whether the children were real, whether I didn't just dream them.  Maybe they never existed?"

It's clear, now, that my children are real.  Their bodies are lounging around my living room (including the one who is sharing my couch cushion), Lab Rats is on TV, there are army guys by my coffee cup, a t-shirt on the floor, and dominoes are strewn all over my dining room table.  The evidence of real children is all over the place.

Among our summer sojourns, we've made a friend at the park.  He frequents it five or six times a day, because by his own admission, he doesn't have anything else to do.  He's divorced and his children are grown.  He admits that sometimes, he vacuums, just for something to do.  The bag on his vacuum cleaner stays empty, because his house never gets dirty.

Surely, this will never be us.  Right?!  

But, surely, it will.

Our friend reminds me that I'm living the American dream.  To be happily married, with young children, and time to enjoy all of it...

I'm afraid to admit it, but I need the reminder.  It is easy to miss the treasure of the dailiness - between basketball practices, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and repeating, while never, ever asking myself, "Did I really need to sweep or vacuum?!"

So, in case you don't have a wise friend at the park with an empty vacuum cleaner bag and time to enjoy your kids, I'll loan you mine.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Singing For the Belly Dancers

I did something tonight I haven't done for years.  I sang and played the guitar at a once-a-month-downtown-stays-up-late event called First Friday.  I set up in my old place, but other than the buildings looking the same, it wasn't anything like it used to be.  Now, there's an approval process, obtaining and posting your permit, snow cones, kettle corn, clowns, musicians scattered about, and lots and lots of people.

As I continually discern God's will for my life, I consistently have the feeling that music is supposed to be part of what I'm doing.  But, it is so easy to talk myself out of it.  I keep asking myself, "Can a simple girl like me, singing simple songs, with a simple guitar played very simply, really glorify the Lord?  I'm sure the answer is yes.  At least I'm sure in my head.  Or is it in my heart that I'm sure?  I'm not really sure where I'm sure, I guess.  But, I'm pretty sure.

When you're only one person and you can't agree with yourself, I think it is important to make an effort to stay as objective as possible.  To that end, I've kept a little book for several months now of reasons I should keep singing.  It starts with a note to myself, and is slowly being filled with encouragement to praise God, for as many reasons as there are ways.


With the exception of one entry, it is all Scripture.  The exception is pretty exceptional, though, and my mind returns to it often.

When we sing, we repossess some of the Eden that we lost when Adam fell...Music stirs our hearts and engages our souls in ways we can't describe.  When this happens, we are taken beyond our earthly banishment back to the divine melody Adam knew when he sang with the angels, when he was whole in God, before his exile...the devil...forever plots how to make humanity stop singing...The devil wants to thwart confession, stop forgiveness, and silence our songs of praise, because they frighten him.  
-St. Hildegard of Bingen

And so, I sing.  Opportunities come up here and there, things go well, and momentum builds.  And instead of just accepting opportunities that come, you start looking for them.  And you end up at First Friday, because you can and it's free.

And you come without a microphone or amplifier because you can't remember if you need all of that. You don't have it anyway, so going without makes a lot of sense.  The open parking spot, a stone's throw from where I was supposed to set up, was a sure sign of God's providence.  With my first tune underway, I noticed some activity across the street.  A sound check was proof their amplifier was working.  The shimmery skirts, bare midriffs, and cameras were working, too.

Oh, man.  Maybe I was a little premature about crediting providence for my parking spot, because I was pretty sure this wasn't where I wanted to be.  Do you know that feeling when a beautiful girl walks in the room and you go from feeling normal/great/beautiful to ugly?  Blech.  Have you seen Monsters Inc.?  I felt like Randy, the purple chameleon, blending into the wall of the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

How those girls have that kind of courage and move like that, I have no earthly idea.  Sheesh!  No wonder Herod offered half his kingdom! I'm pretty sure it was after watching something like this.  And I had to submit a video to make sure my music was family-friendly?!

So much for repossessing some of Eden before Adam fell.  I think he fell a bunch of times tonight.

And there I was, moving in and out of invisibility, wondering where I misunderstood what God was asking of me.  Until friends showed up.  And show up they did, in a steady trickle throughout the two-and-a-half hours I was there.  A pleasant surprise, every one of them.  In those moments, I felt like maybe I hadn't gotten it all wrong.

I was really grateful for those moments, too, because there were others that were as cringe-worthy as the friend-moments were terrific.  Like when the guy on a bicycle parked two feet from my face and told me I needed a pick, smack in the middle of nailing Amazing Grace.  Or when the little boy looked in my guitar case and said, "You only have one dollar in there.  We saw another guy who had a $20 bill in his."  And later, "You only have two dollars in there."  If only I needed an accountant.

His report got me thinking, though.  Either they're being very generous "over there", or I must suck, or he put that money in there himself.  This made me consider putting some of my own money in, to encourage other people to put their money in, but even the thought made me feel kind of sleazy.

So, I played until my fingers rebelled and my pride was begging me to go.  I laid my guitar on top of the four dollars in my case and saw somebody approaching out of the corner of my eye.  It was one of the belly dancers.  She introduced herself by saying, "We were across the street."  I wanted to laugh out loud.  I'm pretty sure everyone knew where they were.  I certainly did.  She offered me a dollar tip for my beautiful music and a sweet apology for their music being a little loud.  I was as charmed as I was flabbergasted.

It is easy to equate stares and applause with being observed, and assume that if we don't see ourselves being observed, then we're not being observed!  I would have bet any amount of money they neither saw nor heard me.  It's a good thing I didn't.

And that's the thing.  You just don't know.

So, you dance like nobody's watching, and you sing like you're in the Garden of Eden, and you beg God for the courage to do it again, and get chicken strips and an icy Coke on the way home because you're proud of yourself for trying, even if it wasn't anything at all like what you imagined it would be, and you're glad it's over, and you've been reminded that friends and carbonated drinks make everything better.    


Monday, May 29, 2017

Day After Day, Week After Week, Month After Month, Year After Year...

I finished a book today that I bought four years ago for my husband.  It was recommended by a beloved priest then, and again last week by my spiritual director.  

It reminded me of something I used to know and how it inspired me when I learned of it, and motivated me to practice it consciously, at least for a little while.

The vision of the kingdom, the call of Christ to labor and suffer with him, has overtones of a great and noble crusade - yet we must each of us translate that vision and retain that spirit in the routine, humdrum events of every day at a time, frustrated and perhaps discouraged, each twenty-four hours filled with as many defeats and frustrations as victories, each hour made up of sixty minutes of humdrum things and little people busy and concerned about many other things, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year...

...Each day, every day of our lives, God presents to us the people and opportunities upon which he expects us to act.  He expects no more of us, but he will accept nothing less of us; and we fail in our promise and commitment if we do not see in the situations of every moment of every day as his divine will...

I simply cannot be reminded of this enough.  Brother Lawrence in the The Practice of the Presence of God and Fr. Jean Pierre de Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence have been two great teachers for me on the subject.  But, I read them so long ago, and had forgotten, again.  So, thank you, Fr. Walter Ciszek for reminding me, yet again, to celebrate the sacrament of the present moment!  

Wrapping up Memorial weekend and kicking off a summer with boys ushers in a lot of memorable moments...
Like trying to build a hobbit house under a trampoline

Hanging out with friends and explosives
Launching a cardboard paratrooper from a rooftop

Shooting an AR-15
Fishing, again.
And finding a little beauty in a fungus for me, in the middle of all this boy stuff
And these are just from the last two days.  But, I know there are exponentially more unphotographed and unrecognized moments than photographed and fully present ones.  That's okay.  It will always be that way.  But, the gap doesn't have to retain its seismic features.  I can close it, little by little.  Not by taking more pictures, but by being present and remembering, believing that the details are the expressed work of God.  

This is not easy, but for me, very worthwhile.  If I can work to believe that God is at work in my life (because, sometimes it is work), all of the moments that come to us, come with their own sense of peace and joy.  People, places, inconveniences, and drastic changes in the plan can be received with new energy and acceptance when considered as the will of God, hand-delivered.  

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!  
Mark 9:24

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Fish, The Calendar, and The Hood - Happy Mother's Day!

Mother's Day is upon us and I have to admit I always feel a little giddy when it rolls around.  I know it's going to be a good day, for sure.  Because, along with my birthday, it is one of two days out of the year I don't cook and I don't feel guilty about not cooking.  Cards?  Probably.  Gifts?  Probably not. Not cooking?  Definitely.  Every time.  Happy Mother's Day to me...

Today, motherhood looked like this.

I caught this catfish.  It bit my bait on my line on my fishing pole and I reeled it in until it was completely out of the water and laying on the sidewalk.  My son told me to text the picture to my husband and tell him he caught it.  I texted the picture, but didn't write anything.  My  husband assumed my son caught it.  I was going to let that ride.  At least until we got home.

But, then.  Then my son, who prides himself on being a fisherman, told a fellow fisherman that he technically caught it, because he saw it first.  Oh, no.  Nope.  This was the biggest fish I've ever caught in my life. So, today, motherhood was a little private conversation in hushed tones about not taking credit for things you don't earn and giving credit where credit was due, and "You're not the only person who can catch a fish around here."

Yet another picture perfect example of feeling like a great parent and a jerk all at the same time.  Say cheese.

Not long ago, there was another conversation.  This one was about basketball and the place it holds in a person's life.  This "game" was soiling attitudes, self-image, brotherhood, motherhood, and annihilating character like no game ever should.  So, this mother painted a pretty good picture of a basketball-less life and closed the conversation with a fiery ceremony burning all of the negativity written down (as an I'll-be-waiting-for-you-to-show-it-to-me-when-you're-finished-assignment), up.  Burned it up.  For real.

Haven't heard one negative comment since.

I heard once, that convincing your kids that you're crazy, can encourage obedience and good behavior.  They don't know what that one thing is, that is going to make you crack.  I think it's working.

Also working, is this...

This is the fruit of my silent retreat this year.  Intentionality.  Each day of the week, every week of the year, one of my guy's names is written down.  That is my cue to make an effort to engage with them for at least 15 minutes, in a way that makes them happy.  

This was going along beautifully, and unannounced, for about a month.  Then, one of the boys saw my calendar.  Hey!  Why is each of our names written down on your calendar?  I explained.  

Word traveled fast.  It's been several months now, and talk about accountability.  Sheesh!  "Mom, whose special day is it today?"  It's 9:00pm.  "Umm, it's yours, but since it's so late, let's do it tomorrow and I'll double your time."  Say cheese.

It's eye-opening to see who always gets their time, on time, and who often gets overlooked.  Gotta be careful about those "easy" ones!  They just don't demand much, and can slip through without a lot of fuss.  Yikes.  Accountability might be just the thing. 

But, kids and husbands aren't the only ones who get overlooked.  I just realized (and we're a couple of months in, here) that my name is not on my calendar.  What was I thinking?!  There's nothing like celebrating Mother's Day to encourage a little self-care.  Next year, for sure.  It's not like anyone else has a calendar with my name on it.  Next year.  Hold me to it, will you?

If you know me, you know I love quotes.  I only have one quote about motherhood, but it is definitely my favorite.  And not just because it was my son who said it.  Or because I know what it means. Even after trying to get him to explain, I'm still not sure.   

Rough, with walls filled with drawings done when no one was looking and difficult to escape?  
If so, I think he nailed it.

"Motherhood is like any other kind of hood."  

Happy Mother's Day from the Hood!
(whatever that means...)

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tree of Hope - A Lesson in Adaptation

Late last week, we traveled to San Antonio for our nephew's graduation from Air Force boot camp. Since my Facebook account is deactivated, I was doing what people used to do in the car - Looking out the window.  And I saw this:

And I exclaimed.  But, by the time everybody else looked up, our minivan traveling 75mph, was too far past for anyone else to see.  We took note of the upcoming intersection and surrounding landmarks, so we could stop and get a good look on our way home the next day.  And we did, which is when this picture was taken.

It took me awhile to put words to what my soul already seemed to know and understand.  The words sound like they're coming right off the page of a Marine's combat manual...Adapt and overcome.

I felt proud of this tree and grateful to it for teaching me its secrets, hard-won.  

I thought about which came first, the chicken or the egg.  The fence or the tree.  I don't know for sure, and I'm not sure it matters, but I bet it was the tree.  And if so, there was obviously no parent tree around to settle the age-old "I was here first!" argument. And so it grew, in spite of having been there first.

It grew and grew, and it leaned just a little with the weight of the seasons.  One day, it noticed something unlike itself.  Something hard.  Something uncomfortable.  Something immovable.  

Incapable of running away, the tree had to choose between giving up or pressing on.

It pressed on.  But, not just on.  Around.  Around that thing that made it so uncomfortable. Completely around that thing.

And now that thing is a part of itself.  

Maybe the strongest part, as a friend pointed out...  

How long do you think that would take, my son asked?  I don't know, son.  I really don't know. Probably a long time.  Seems to be a tree thing.

But, for people, there are a lot of hard things in life and fences are the least-hard of all.  

ALS, cancer, losing someone you love and feel lost without, struggling with depression, alcoholism, being laid off, and sometimes, just getting through an ordinary day in an ordinary life.  These are some of the fences in the lives of people I love.  And these are just a few.

They look very different from one another, but they're very much the same.  They're hard, uncomfortable, and not going anywhere any time soon.   

Take heart, my friends.  
The tree knows best.  
When even one day at a time is too much... 
lean on the fence, 
and rest.  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Cutting the Facebook String and Flying Free

I deactivated my Facebook account four days ago, right after I left my weekly holy hour.  It was an hour of realizations.  During this hour, I was reading a book, and I realized how much I was enjoying reading and being fed by the content of its pages.  I also realized that I don't read at all like I used to, which was a lot.  I also realized that the reason for this is Facebook.  Every free 5 or 10 or 15 minutes was consumed by consumption of social media.

I've known this for a long time, of course.  My awareness of it was never more evident than when I found myself envious of the people I visited in the nursing home.  Envious of the time they haven't wasted on Facebook, and the pressure they don't feel to post pictures of their last Bingo game and their family and friends during their visit on Sunday.

During my hour in the chapel, I felt like God handed me the grace I have been praying for (for about a month), to detach from the world, except to engage it for His glory.  I can't describe the freedom I feel.  But, if you are a frequent Facebook visitor, my guess is that you can understand.

Over the years since I established an account on Facebook, it has been a love/hate relationship, at best.  When it has come up in conversation, it sounds like this is how it is for most of the people I know.  There are lots of reasons for this, and some are different than mine.  But, for me, it was like always being tied to something by a string of varying strength.  It was always pulling on me.

Apparently, FOMO is a real thing for kids these days.  Fear of missing out.  I don't think this describes my tied-by-a-string-sensation, but I think vanity and social responsibility do.  I didn't want to overlook or ignore any possible attempts to receive feedback, respond, share, or engage with my 500-something friends in a meaningful way.  But, curiosity moves in quickly once the scrolling begins, and who knows how many minutes have passed, or what life I have missed in my own living room...

Did you get that gift from Facebook at the end of last year?  The one that showed all of your friends, how many items you liked, etc...?  I was horrified.  Did you notice what they didn't include?  The hours you spent on Facebook.  Good move.  

In addition to being a "time suck", as one of my favorite friends calls it, another problem for me, is that Facebook feeds my temptation to let other people's opinions, comments, and likes influence my opinion of myself.  Not good.  And it keeps me in the center of my world.

I don't want to be the center of my world.

John, the beloved disciple, writes of the Pharisees, "for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."  In the same Gospel, Jesus says, "How can you believe who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?"

Ummmm...  I don't know?

My most recent Facebook flurry was the posting of a slew of pictures from an incredible Spring Break trip with my family to Big Bend State Park.  I don't know how much time I spent selecting pictures from all that were taken, later deciding which ones should be on my profile, wishing my husband had tagged me in his pictures, because those were different than the ones I posted, and so on.

Later, I was thinking about all of the people who didn't go anywhere on Spring Break.  I was thinking how they might already be feeling badly about not going anywhere.  Especially, if they wanted to.  I would have.  I remember being at home many a Memorial Day, sad, because I knew I should be lakeside, having a picnic somewhere!  And, not that we're responsible for how other people feel about what happens in our life, but I felt sad anyway, thinking that my Spring Break pictures could have been salt in a wound for somebody who was already feeling crappy.  Blech.

So, with these realizations and the gift of answered prayer, I am free.

Now, without Facebook, my phone is for talking, checking texts and emails, googling stuff, looking up the daily Gospel readings, listening to music, and tuning my guitar.  That's it!  HOO and RAY!!!

In the last four days, I've finished one book and am well into another one.  I actually used my phone to call someone (my brother to see if he would send me a picture of his new puppy).  That wouldn't have happened before - my brain and time would have been too clogged with all of the stuff of Facebook.  And I probably could have caught a glimpse of that puppy somewhere on his timeline, anyway.  It is good not to know everything, all of the time.  It forces being personal and intentional. Both good things in my world.

'The soul that is attached to anything however much good there may be in it will not arrive at the liberty of divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken the bird cannot fly.'
St. John of the Cross