Clang the Gong: Sharing Acts of Mercy

Growing up I often watched The Gong Show, a television talent show where contestants would perform often dubious acts.  When celebrity judges were unimpressed with a performance it forced its end by clanging a gong.  I always felt sorry for the people who were gonged no matter how absurd their act.  After all, it took a lot of courage to sing about having a lizard on your head while actually having a lizard on your head.

I guess it’s because of the indelible mark that The Gong Show left on my juvenile psyche that when I think of the biblical passage warning against the boasting of good deeds, I remember the cautionary instrument as a gong.  “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2) When I realized the scripture referred to a trumpet, not a gong, I couldn’t help but feel as disappointed as a contestant reprimanded by the merciless vibrations of a rubber mallet’s clash on metal.

Regardless of the instrument used, I believe in clanging the gong.  And before you swing the rubber mallet at me, please hear me out.  I understand that this passage warns against bragging about our good deeds with the intention of building up our own ego or esteem with others.  Clearly, if that is our motivation, we are not acting out of love.  “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal,” (1 Corinthians 13:1).  (Finally, a bible verse with a gong in it!) Love, as always, makes the difference.  It’s out of love and with the intention of love that I find that the occasional clanging of a gong a powerful instrument to spread more love.

For instance, I typically offer mass for people who I know are going through a difficult time.  Doing this gives me inexplicable satisfaction.  Through the gift of the holy mass, I can share the incomparable peace of prayer with someone who is hurting.  Its power exceeds an army of clanging gongs.  Not only does offering my mass motivate me to attend additional masses as a means of helping others, but it also offers a source of comfort for the recipient.  Particularly when we are going through difficult situations it is important for others to know they are being prayed for, thought of, and held up.  I know when anyone has ever told me that they would pray for me it fills me with tremendous hope.  Hence, I clang the gong.  I don’t do this by telling everyone I know or posting on social media.  But I do usually tell the person that I offered a mass for them.

Recently, a friend told me how she paid for an employee to have a hair cut in a salon. The employee was not used to such a luxury and was incredibly grateful for the kind act.  My friend apologized for telling me about her good deed.  “I know I shouldn’t be telling you this because we aren’t supposed to do nice things and brag about it but it made me feel so good.” Her joy was manifest from love, not vain conceit.  It was the joy of the Lord — of living her faith. Who doesn’t want to share that?

I told her I was glad she told me — that it inspired me and reminded me of the countless ways there are to show love for our neighbor.  The gong is an instrument mostly associated with a reprimand for empty acts.  But there are creative ways to use it as a different kind of symbol – that of love.

Hi friends~ I think sharing our acts of mercy with the intention to inspire, evangelize, or comfort others can be very meaningful. I would love to hear what small acts you have done for others. Please share – not to be boastful but because these acts are beautiful and on this bitterly cold day, I think we can all use a little beauty!

Also, if you would like to watch the segment of the Gong Show where the man sings about a lizard while he has a lizard on his head, here you go! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwEXSQXfBWc

Read more: If/then: God Loves You 

The Best Gift to Get

While most people fret over not knowing what to buy someone for Christmas, I have a different sort of problem. I love what I buy for others so much, I inevitably want to keep it.

I recognize that my propensity to want to hoard other people’s Christmas presents makes me like Dr. Seuss’s mean-spirited character, the Grinch. In fact, I’m afraid if I took one of those mail-in DNA tests, I might discover that my ancestry doesn’t descend from royalty like one hopes but from a tribe of hairy, pot-bellied, avocado-colored men whose hearts are two sizes too small.

Besides worrying about this fundamental flaw in my genetics, it’s a terrible nuisance to realize you still have more Christmas shopping to do because you kept many of the things you bought for others. My husband, who is a gifted enabler, lovingly wraps the gifts I hoard and puts them under the tree for me. I think it’s a relief for him because he doesn’t have to work as hard at trying to figure out what to give me for Christmas. So, maybe on some level what I’m doing is altruistic.

I know this behavior hardly conjures scenes from the nativity. I suppose I wouldn’t have made a very good wise woman anyhow. I would meet sweet baby Jesus with the gold I bought for him forged into a stylish bracelet around my wrist while explaining to him that his gift would arrive on the next camel.

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Fair Well 2020

This year has been like a creepy stroll through a fun-house at the county fair– a maze of bewildering, distorted experiences where the walls narrow and bend while the floor beneath shifts in chaotic uncertainty and the exit seems to snake so far into the future that the tipsy-turvy wobble of reality starts to feel normal.

If I could find a way out, I would hide among the livestock and let puffs of pink sugar dissolve on my tongue while pondering the slanted profile of a goat.  Hiding for the rest of 2020 is tempting.  It’s been a hard year with way more steep drops and hard climbs than the ricketiest roller coaster.  I’m not a fan of roller coasters so I’m over it all. I’m ready to say farewell to 2020 — blow a goodbye kiss to it through my masked face and wait for next year.

But if I have learned anything, it is to be grateful for each day that I am given.  I used to think this kind of gratitude meant that I would be in a persistently good mood, that I would never be annoyed at the people in my life, and that I would be completely satisfied regardless of my circumstances.  It would be the pinnacle of my spiritual evolution with some ceremonial demarcation comprised of wrapping my head in a turban and singing Kumbaya to my cats.  And as much as I probably should wrap my head in a turban until I can see my hairdresser again, gratitude looks nothing like that. Read more

Not to brag, but…

I know we aren’t supposed to brag but I’m not good at many things.  I didn’t make the cheerleading team in sixth grade.  I remember the awkwardness of getting picked near last for teams in P.E. class.  I didn’t even make grade school chorus – and everyone made the chorus.  Everyone, that is, except for me and a boy going through early adolescence whose voice cracked mid-syllable like a banjo with a broken string.   Eventually, his voice became smooth and steady while mine remains a unique mix of southern, nasally, whine.  It’s as if I speak my own dialect and apparently it should not be put to music.  As such, I feel like I get special dispensation when it comes to boasting.  After all, I feel like God would want me to focus on my strengths after so many obviously traumatic childhood experiences.

All that is to say, I am really good at finding shark’s teeth.  (I know I probably should have made sure you were sitting down for that.)  Last time I went to the beach I found 38 shark teeth in less than two hours.  Since I am a self-proclaimed-shark-tooth-finding expert, I feel obligated to teach others several important lessons from my experiences:

  1. There are treasures everywhere if you are only patient enough to look.  Slow down and pay attention to the gifts in your life.  I bet if you look close enough you will find way more than 38.

 

  1. Life is messy, but it’s also full of miracles. Notice them.  Like the debris of crushed shells on the beach, if we aren’t careful then all we will see are the broken pieces of our lives.  We can never lose sight of the way God redeems our suffering often surprising us with unexpected gifts of awe.

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Crisis of a Wannabe Gymnast

Sometime in my late 20s, I lamented to my boss that I was having a mid-life crisis.  I think this had something to do with the Olympic games that were being held that year.  I loved watching gymnastics and couldn’t help but think that it should be me on television in a leotard flipping and flopping and flying on behalf of my country.  Never mind that I had yet to take a single gymnastics lesson in my life.  My heart ached to do something with so much passion that it would literally propel me skyward — while also managing to land me firmly on my feet. Plus, I liked the sequins.

At the time, I was married with no kids.  With a career in fundraising for a children’s hospital, the work I did was inherently meaningful – and we have already established that I had a kind boss tolerant of premature mid-life crises.  I had a house, some cats, a dog, a good husband, and a job. And yet, I had this nagging feeling that if not an Olympic gold medalist, wasn’t I meant for more?

The question of purpose arises intermittently like a bad stomach virus that leaves me longing for the merciful reprieve of a saltine cracker. Life’s epic search for meaning seems like it should take a straight path hurdling over obstacles, dismounting into some profound contribution to humanity, and landing with the specter of triumph (and yes, maybe even a gold medal around one’s neck.)  Instead, it throws me off-balance like a gymnast teetering on the brink of a disastrous fall.  My trajectory towards something meaningful can feel like an angsty wobble of futility leaving me more frustrated than fulfilled.   The great mercy in having been through this multiple times is that I now realize our contributions to the world aren’t always noticeable — even to ourselves.  That’s the humility of it.

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Under the Tree: Overrated

It was Christmas Eve and I couldn’t wait for Santa to come.  I am not even sure I believed in Santa at this point in my childhood, but I believed in presents and that was good enough.  I had trouble sleeping, and hearing the rustle of last-minute gift-wrapping upstairs only heightened my anticipation.  During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I prowled the attic, my mom’s closet, and any other place I could think to snoop. The idea of being surprised was overrated.  Practically speaking, I could just as easily be surprised by looking inside a plastic bag while standing barefoot on the attic’s plywood floor.  I felt certain that I had watched enough television to feign astonishment on Christmas morning.  I even fantasized about my Emmy-award winning performance.  It would be as bright and colorful as the lights on the tree that would spotlight me.

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for during all that prowling but that’s part of the journey of discovery, right? It’s the thrill of seeking, of what could be, — maybe even of finding something better than we imagined. In my case, what I found didn’t compare to the curated wares hawked in the Spiegel catalog I carefully perused as a pastime. There was a Tootsie Roll piggy bank filled with chewy chocolate jerky.  Meh.  Fun socks — as if those two words could possibly go together.  Toys that were obviously for my brother.  I certainly had no use for G.I. Joe.  He was too short to use as a suitable partner for Barbie.  Then there were a few miscellaneous clothes that I hoped were for my sister because they weren’t quite cute enough for me.

I wanted a fur coat like the one I lovingly pet in the department store inspiring a lecture from my mom on animal cruelty.  What seemed crueler was her begrudging me this accessory that I was certain would make me look as glamorous as Sue Ellen on the Friday-night soap-opera, Dallas.  (If they didn’t want children to watch such smut, they should not have run it after an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard).  I would have settled for a rabbit’s foot keychain like some of the other girls at my school had.  They were supposed to bring good luck.  Who wouldn’t carry around two inches of a dead animal foot in exchange for a little luck?

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Hearing: It’s Not 400 Children and a Crop in the Field

I was in mass listening to the cantor sing the responsorial hymn, “These are the people the Lord has chosen, chosen to be his own.” I thought, “Seriously? Really, God, these are the people you chose to be your own?  Was no one else around? It must have been some seriously slim pickings.”

I know this sounds rather cynical, but truly, we can be scary people:  mass shootings, human trafficking, abortion, sexual predators, greed, self-glorification…. well, just pick any day and read the headlines.

And I do believe people are good.  I do believe they mean well. I even think when someone claims they don’t believe in God that they really do – it’s just a little deeper inside – right beyond where they have looked.  And I always have hope that they will look a little farther someday and come to know what they believe.

Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone deliberately choosing our hot mess of a people that makes up humanity.

I peeked over to look at my husband’s missal wanting to read the words for myself. That’s when I realized, I misheard the lyrics.  It’s like when Kenny Rogers sings “Lucille.”  You may think he’s singing, “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille, with 400 children and a crop in the field.”  But it’s really not 400 children because that would be excessive, even by Catholic standards.  It’s four HUNGRY children! (Although, by either account, that was harsh of Lucille.)

What the cantor was singing was not “These are the people,” but “Blessed are the people that the Lord has chosen to be his own.”  Reading this, I felt the kind of relief that Kenny would have, had Lucille shown back up with a bucket of fried chicken, some biscuits, and a heap of cousins to harvest the crop.

It made more sense to me to contemplate the blessings of him choosing us.  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” (1 Peter 2:9).  Yet, he didn’t just choose us as an entirety of humanity but as individuals who he loves and longs for intimacy with.  “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me,” (Isaiah 49:16). Read more

Battling Between Balance and Busyness

When my son was seven years old, he was trying to balance.  One minute he was excitedly saying, “Look, mom, I found the spot!”  Moments later, mid-wobble, he said, “Oh, wait.  I lost the spot.”  Of course, it was losing it I related too.

Somewhere in the zig-zag of daily life is the sweet spot where we teeter in balance between work and rest, fun and fulfilling, and, social and silence.  It seems sometimes like we live in a world of extremes.  We have tiny houses and McMansions, hoarders and minimalists, and fast food and the slow-food movement.   There is polarization in almost every category of modern life. Perhaps it is our obsession with busyness, where this extreme has become most evident.  Busyness has become a badge that says my career is at a crescendo, my family is an extracurricular expert, and my personal life is a page-turner.  But are we really living a harlequin-romance novel amidst kids and career, or are we huffing and puffing from here to there, texting our spouses our agendas and their assignments, as we scurry our kids to their next activity?

The other day I was rushing my son to an orthodontist appointment when I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the car window I was squeezed between.  To my dismay, I was only wearing one hoop earring.  I looked like a rogue pirate without the talking parrot companion.  Instead, I had a teenage boy who doesn’t speak as my counterpart.  He only repeats “okay,” “I know,” and “fine,” as a series of responses.  “Polly wants a cracker,” has become, “Mamas going to go crackers if she doesn’t hear a complete sentence soon!”  (But that’s another conversation for another bottle of wine, as a good of friend of mine likes to say.) Read more

Marie Kondo Craze and Life-Changing Joy of God

Oh the craze of Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant and author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  She has the country folding their clothes like origami and looking for sparks of joy in the mess of a categorical closet clean-out.  Her method, known as KonMari, has followers purging closets and piling clothes.  If the big, fat mess you make doesn’t give you a panic attack, then you proceed to touch each article of clothing.  If the sparks don’t fly, the item does, but not until you thank it for its service (and people think I am weird for talking to my cats).

I was looking at my closet and thinking how insane it would be to pull everything out.  I mean, I hung it up already.  It’s already clean and ironed.  It seems kind of sadistic to pile it like a heap of dead leaves.  After all, how much joy am I going to have from wrinkling perfectly ironed clothes and then rehanging them?  Then, I worried I wouldn’t find any sparks in my pile.  I would be like a homely girl that doesn’t get a Valentine.  No spark for you.  How sad would that be?  (It’s very sad.  I’ve been that girl).  I could be inspired to donate my entire closet, and end up joyless with no origami in my dresser.

Pondering her method, I wondered what it would be like to take a mental inventory of our lives and discover what sparked joy?  Would we start a fire?  Saint Catherine of Sienna said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”  But that wasn’t about deciphering joy, it was about discerning who God created you to be.  Sometimes that seems even harder than cleaning out closets and organizing tchotchkes.  Whenever I examine my life, trying to answer the weighty question of purpose, I feel a spark of panic, not joy.  Maybe Kondo would have me thank that question for its dubious service, and send it on its way.   Perhaps that works with the material, but when it comes to setting the world on fire for God, we don’t want to dismiss the unique purpose he created for us.  “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28). Read more

Hearing God in a Noisy World

From the time the alarm clock pierces the softness of sleep, we are bombarded with noise.  The daily clamor comes not only from people in our lives, but the technology that pings incessantly and indiscriminately.  Add our inner barking voice, reminding us to do this, be there, and stop that, and it can feel like a cacophony of crazy.

In the racket of the babbling noise that cocoons the day in blasphemous sound, have we become deaf to the voice of God?  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46) So often, we ask God for help, intercession, and mercy, but we never pause long enough in the grace of silence to let him fill the void.  It’s impossible to know his will if we can’t distinguish his voice from the commotion that commands our attention.

Jesus doesn’t strike me as a big yeller either.  He is the essence of love and love doesn’t compete in the shrill of striving.  His message is pretty succinct.  “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mathew 22:37-39).  Our ability to give and receive love is challenged by the surmounting noise that often has little to do with our souls.

Our souls crave the quiet that is God.  Often, when it comes to problem solving and big decisions, we rely on intellect.  Reasons, facts, and logic become the trinity we turn to.  The noise in our head sputters off a list of pros and cons.  We ask friends for advice.  We read books to guide us.  We troubleshoot and play out different scenarios, alternating the variables, and exposing flaws like a crime-scene detective.  Inadvertently, we create more noise for ourselves — obscuring the voice of God with the chatter of our reasoning.  The head talks, talks, and talks.  It means nothing if the heart is pulled toward something different.  Our hearts hold the voice of God.  Without quiet, we will never hear the whisper of his wisdom, the lull of his compassion, or peace of an answered prayer.

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