Summer feels thick right now – the heat, the ebb and flow of vacationers, and the realization that its end is looming like the swarm of mosquitos that emerge at dusk. I am kind of in a funk about it. Thinking there are only a few short weeks of summer left, I feel panic rise like the scorching mid-day heat. For three straight weeks, my family will be scattered in different places. The final weeks of summer stained with talk of orientation, school schedules, and college applications. Family time is back to being carved out like the mocking triangle eyes and jagged mouth of a pumpkin. I might as well get the Halloween decorations down from the attic.
When my husband asked me to go on the boat with him one weekday evening, I reluctantly agreed. I figured it would remind me that summer is still here, in the now. He likes to fish and I like to read. Off we went, him with his poles, and me with reading glasses, a stack of old newspapers, a half-read magazine, and book. (I figured if we were stranded the reading material would be a good diversion.) Within fifteen minutes, he caught three speckled trout. Each time, I put my newspaper down and took a picture of him with his scaly trophy. After comparing all three pictures I couldn’t tell a difference – same man, same fish.
The third fish he caught was the largest. He kept the other two so I was surprised when he threw this last one back. He said we had enough and then immediately cast his line again. Baffled, I didn’t understand why he bothered casting when he didn’t intend to keep any more fish. Putting down my paper, I looked up at the ease of the summer sky which was oblivious to my end-of-summer angst. I thought that maybe my husband is onto something. Maybe life isn’t about what we keep but moments that we catch — or even better moments that catch our breath. Read more
The last day of vacation I woke up with a tingling feeling on my lips. When I looked in the mirror, even through the blur of twilight I could tell they were noticeably fuller — like the fairy godmother of plastic surgery had visited in the night. I checked different body parts to see if she had generously waved her wand in other places too. Sadly, it was just my lips.
As lucidity set in, I realized that my pink pout was the result of a sunburn from a long day of scalloping with friends and family. I had taken the necessary precautions to protect my skin. I wore a sunscreen shirt, a hat, and covered my face in so much SPF that I looked like a geisha on holiday. Although I remembered the SPF lip balm and even reapplied it along with my milky white sunscreen, it was not enough to protect me from hours of swimming and sunshine.
I cringed thinking of the resulting sun damage and started down the long twisty road of lament and regret I know so well. Then, for the love of mercy, I had a thought that I have considered often recently. It framed itself as a question in the highlight reel of my mind: Why would you ever think you would get through life unscathed?
Life is full of losses. We lose money. We lose jobs. We lose time. We lose things that are dear to us. We lose people we love. We lose. No one likes to lose either. We live in a world that tells us life is all about the win. We are encouraged to minimize cost and maximize gains. While that makes good sense in a lot of sunny scenarios, the reality is, sunburn or not – none of us get through life without experiencing a burn. Accepting this as part of our humanity somehow dulls the sting of it. Perhaps, so much of our suffering is exacerbated by our resistance to it.
The other day I was rushing to get somewhere when I was stopped by a red light — a very long red light. Heart-pumping, brain-whizzing, grip on the steering wheel clenching, I felt certain the world would end if the stoplight didn’t turn green that instant. I watched enviously as cars whizzed by wondering when it would be my turn, wondering if the light was broken, wondering how much longer I could possibly wait as all of humankind seemingly passed by at an unimpressive 40 miles per hour.
That’s what it feels like with God sometimes – an agonizing, monotonous wait. “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Certainly, God’s timing is not my own. I have known this for some time and while I try not to begrudge it, there are moments in my prayer life where I feel the same urgency I did that day at the stoplight.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” (Matthew 7:7). Stop at a red light and it will turn green. Presto. Prayer answered. I feel like that scripture should come with a bible-sized addendum outlining exceptions, exclusions, and caveats to explain the time gap between asking and receiving.
By definition, the word “no” has a negative connotation. It conveys restriction, refusal, and denial. It’s a flashing red light blinking a warning to stop. It’s a shut door. The end of a discussion. A command to pause.
I grew up in the eighties when war was declared on drugs, and the best-known weapon was the three-word slogan, “Just say no.” I heard it from Nancy Reagan. It was espoused on popular sitcoms like Punky Brewster and Diff’rent Strokes. I read it on bumper stickers and posters. Just. Say. No.
Easy peasy. No was encouraged. It was advocated. It was celebrated. Like some algebraic equation, a negative turned into a positive. But like all ad campaigns, it ran its course. There was a new decade, new millennium, new drugs, and of course, new wars. “No” is once again true to its definition. It’s for the slacker. The one who refuses to lean in. The people who have limited constructs and little ambition.
Yes has become the world’s drug of choice. We are encouraged to go all in, have it all, and do it all. All for what? At what price? This 21st-century spin is blurring priorities. Everything has become important. Everything has to be done. It’s encompassing, egocentric, and exhausting.
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