When my children were young, as routine as saying my nightly prayers before bedtime, I would recount all the mistakes I had made with them that day. Some failings felt so significant that I would measure them in how many extra years of therapy they would require. While most people worry about saving for retirement, I worried about saving for my children’s counseling copays when they were grown and their mama-messed-me-up issues would manifest like a scary clown face popping out of a Jack-in-the-Box.
Motherhood was hard and it seemed like the harder I tried, the more aware I became of the spaghetti sauce dripping from the kitchen ceiling. (Truthfully that scarlet drip would have been there regardless of my children because whenever I am in the kitchen catastrophic events occur.)
Now, a mother of teenage boys, I look back on those years and the litany of suffering I subjected myself to and I realize how little I knew God. I couldn’t show myself any mercy because I had yet to know his. God was this perfect being who couldn’t possibly understand the trials of being an imperfect parent. He had never wrestled anyone with an arched back into a car seat or saw the need to abandon the baby’s stroller in the parking lot after realizing it was more likely that he would collapse from frustration than the too-complicated-to-fold buggy. Of course, Jesus did wrestle demons and I am sure collapsing was a possibility when he endured 40 days without food or water in the desert. Still, in those early days of motherhood, I relied more on parenting books than our perfect father. Read more
The color black is symbolic of funerals, representing everything from the heavy grief that overshadows the bereaved to the most common color-choice for attire. How strange then that the decision on whether to attend a funeral isn’t always as clear as the delineation between black and white. Many people fall into a gray area of not knowing the deceased well, but still wanting to support the grieving. It can feel like an awkward palette from which to draw — blending the darkness of death with the comfort of light.
Last year, I attended several funerals. It felt unnatural to lose the people that I lost. Too young. Too loved. Too unbearable. Too many. At this point, I have decided you don’t move on from grief you carry it with you – this incredulous realization that you will never see someone you love again. The reality folded up reverently and tucked away in the gap created by the loss in your heart. Every now and then, you unfold it, look at it in disbelief, and weep for a love that was once tangible. Then, if you’re lucky, you wipe away the tears and find the smile that acknowledges the best parts of your loved one you’ve kept alive by the illogical, eternal merits of love. You breathe out, fold it back up, and carry on. The losses from last year were close to me. The black I felt was as dark and as empty as a galaxy without stars. I never thought twice about whether I would attend the funerals.
Sometimes, it’s not that clear. We aren’t always close to the deceased. We aren’t sure if it is appropriate. If we are being honest, we aren’t certain we want to go. Generally speaking, they are not a lot of fun. There is nothing to me so private as grief, so I understand the feeling of not wanting to intrude, pry, or feel like a gawking voyeur during moments of another person’s certain despair. I also know what it meant to me when I lost a close relative and friends who did not know the deceased showed up. They weren’t there for the dead, they came for the living. Seeing some of the people who were there for me was so touching that momentarily I didn’t feel grief, I felt love. It was a beautiful gift. I don’t know how much vacillating they did between black and white before deciding to go. I just know in that gray area of uncertainty they chose to come, bringing me a moment of mercy that was as restful as the color white on tired eyes.
I remember exactly where I was when a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It was a profoundly sad day. It changed lives and an entire nation. I will never forget the unthinkable, unimaginable horror as I huddled around the television watching the ash of innocence unite a country in anguished grief. As the morning went on, the plane crashes went from one to four, each one an almost unrecoverable blow of terror, multiplying devastation into exponential heartache.
A new commitment to patriotism rose like a phoenix out of ashes on that pivotal day. We were less naïve and more united. A surge of civilians stepped out of their air-conditioned offices and into the desert heat to join our military. They traded the comforts of civilian life for the trials of war to ensure freedom.
I don’t doubt the urgency of the call to serve that those newly converted soldiers felt. I was almost eight months pregnant with my first child on 9/11. Things that mattered to me before that day—the décor of the nursery, the name I would choose, decisions about going to work afterward, and finding a pediatrician—were suddenly inconsequential. Somehow, life as we knew it was in jeopardy. My body was full of the promise of life, and the sky was falling. Read more
Sometimes I look at my life, and I don’t know whether hypocrisy or irony is screaming louder. I write about mercy, because I believe whole-heartedly in its power to change lives and, in a broader sense, the world. That is not hyperbole. It is a truth that exists regardless of whether we acknowledge or believe it.
Despite my enthusiasm, doing works of mercy sometimes feels like a struggle. You would think in my zeal, I would embrace them with a “Woo-hoo! Here’s another opportunity for me to serve!” But often my “woo-hoo” sounds more like, “woe is me.”
Frequently the service we are called to do is organic, and, like the produce in the grocery store, organic always costs more. It has always felt easier to serve when I plan for it, choose the capacity, and have had a shower. When someone else’s misfortune interrupts my plans or to-do list, it can be frustrating.
Recently, I took my mom to the doctor, because she was sick. I tried to be peppy about it despite my manic Monday mentality. My mom was pleasant and chatty on the way to her appointment, and, instead of gratitude for her attitude, I begrudged it for being better than mine. After all, I was the healthy one. Why wasn’t I bubbly and bright? Maybe she should have been driving me around! Read more
I was in an existential funk questioning my purpose, God’s plan for me, and the universality of suffering. Someone suggested as a solution that I should be more shallow. While I understood the spirit of love in which it was made, it was a funny thing to hear.
Besides, I’ve tried. I’ve wrapped my self in the superficial that society hawks. But when my closet starts to cram contents together, I am more interested in streamlining than another sale.
I am always telling my boys when they ask to buy something (that they already own four of) that it’s not going to fill them. I tell them God is the only one who can do that. Of course, this does little to discourage their desires. Still, I hope the message eventually settles in.
There’s nothing wrong with having nice things, enjoying a good sale, or a great pair of shoes, but the joy it brings is superficial, unsustainable, and nothing like the satisfaction we get from a relationship with God. Thinking about the work of mercy to clothe the naked, it seems almost archaic considering the number of clothes we all own. I recently visited several thrift stores for an outfit for an upcoming 80s fundraiser, and I was struck by the volume of clothes in these warehouse-size buildings. It was astounding. And while I understand that there are many areas in which this work of mercy still applies, such as a woman fleeing an abusive relationship, families who lose everything in natural disasters, poor families who can’t afford to replace their children’s outgrown clothes, and the homeless who lack proper shoes or jackets, I can’t help but think of clothing the naked on a deeper level. Read more
The work of mercy that most embodies parenting is to instruct the uninformed. Only it took me a while to figure out that maybe it was me, the mama, who needed the most instruction.
From the earliest days of motherhood, when I frantically thumbed through pages of parenting books in the dark of the night in a desperate attempt to find a way to coax my son to sleep, I felt more clueless than confident.
No matter how many books I read, I could never get my son on a nursing schedule, sleep schedule, or a mama-really-needs-a-shower schedule. I had friends who were more successful with following the instructions, and, of course, I resented their efficiency and ease.
I am trying to be a list person. Typically, my lists get left behind on the kitchen counter, or if they are more goal-oriented, require me to breathe into a paper bag. Instead, I am a do-one-hard-thing-a-day-and-act-peppy-about-it kind of girl. Read more
This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Since mercy is kind of my thing, I figure I should write about it. Only, all I can think of are answers to the question, how did mercy become my thing? Mid-life crisis? PTSD? Thought it sounded cool?
I have other things I am passionate about including cats, plants, and color-stay lipstick. Unlike mercy, those things make sense to me.
For most of my life, mercy felt above me like one of those words at the top of the hierarchy that I could never reach. It was like the incense used during Holy Days that rose to meet the cherubs at the top of cathedrals. It was an enigma because I never took the time to contemplate what it meant, how it’s shown, and its source from which salvation hinges. Read more
“Reunited and it feels so good,” are lyrics from the 1978 song by the vocal duo, Peaches & Herb. But upon returning a stray dog, the lyrics that played to the song’s melody sounded more like, “Reunited, and it feels like crud!”
It was far from peachy.
When I found the elderly dog, he was thin, filled with fleas, and uncharacteristically aloof for his breed. After twenty minutes of convincing him I wasn’t a serial killer, he reluctantly succumbed to my coaxing him into the backyard. Within minutes he escaped and sat stubbornly in middle of the road. I directed cars to drive around us while begging him to follow me. Perhaps, the dog binge-watched Criminal Minds before running away, because he clearly knew the finer points of stranger danger. After getting him into the backyard for the second time, I jammed logs in the passage in the gate he eluded, creating fine fence folk art that I am sure would become the envy of my neighborhood. Then I went back inside to post his picture on lost-dog websites. Read more
Guess who has a birthday coming up?! No! Not Beyonce! Well, okay she does, but I am not talking about her or any other celebrity born in September — Pippa Middleton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Keanu Reeves or Harry Connick Jr.
Mercy me! I am talking about my own birthday!
As it turns out, I am not going to be 40 forever. Who knew? Read more