For All Those Who Cannot Face Mother’s Day

When my mother turned 65, my sisters and I had pre-planned a quiet celebration for her at a local café called Samuel’s.  We met on a dreary Sunday afternoon for chai lattes, specialty coffees and cheesecake, while rain misted the windows and sidewalks outside the old heritage building housing the restaurant.  Upon leaving, we huddled together in the parking lot for a picture of this momentous occasion, quietly celebrated between three sisters, one sister-in-law and our beloved mother.  Shortly thereafter, we left and went our separate ways- unaware of what was to transpire just mere hours later.

That evening, my mother received a phone call from the manor where her sister and mother both resided, living side-by-side in adjacent rooms.  Her one and only remaining sibling, her sole (soul) sister, was physically very low.  Would she please come?  There were no guarantees of how much time was remaining.  My mom gathered up her belongings and left the next morning for Fredericton, and for the remaining two weeks prior to her sister’s home-going to Heaven, my mother stayed by her side.  Holding her hand.  Rubbing lotion into her soft skin. Adjusting pillows and uttering soft words of comfort.  Loving her sister the best way she knew how.

Little did my mama know that not even one year later- this time again just weeks prior to her 66th birthday, she would again make the trek to that same New Brunswick manor.  This time in the hopes that she would arrive in time to bid a tearful goodbye to her mother who had sadly fallen ill over the winter months and rather quickly took a turn for the worse mid-March.  Sorrowfully, Mom was not to be there for this quiet home-going.  She arrived to a closed door shut on an empty room, no welcoming smile to greet her.

All was silent.

I can’t imagine what that must have felt like to have seen the door shut like that.  To have realized that behind that closed door was no longer that comfort of the living. No tender smile or warm touch.  To my mom, there was the realizing that this chapter of her life- life lived with the constancy of family and heritage: it was now over.  Every one of her immediate family members- the ones she grew up with, lived with and loved- were now gone.  And all that awaited her upon arriving at the residence she had visited for so many years was the shell of the one she had forever before known as MOTHER.

This Sunday will be her first ever Mother’s Day lived without her mom.  I really can’t yet even imagine what this must be like.

There are so many people grieving the loss of a loved one in these difficult days leading up to Mother’s day.  There are children wondering how they will navigate the days leading up to this hugely celebrated holiday with its focus on cards, crafts and trinkets all made for mothers.  There are teenagers trying to process their feelings about what this all means and young adults trying to be there for their siblings in ways that a mother would, even though that is not entirely their burden to carry.  There are grown women who still crave their mother’s words of wisdom on the other end of the phone line or who yearn for the physical presence of their mother at the kitchen table; and there are husbands who are faced with being both mother and father to their Littles and Bigs, in the wake of their chosen partner in life’s passing to the Great Beyond.

How do we as people do these hard things?

Jason Tippetts, husband to Kara Tippetts of the beautiful blog Mundane Faithfulness wrote transparently these raw and beautiful words about life and its ebb and flow for those left behind:

“These are the events that I dread. I remember asking Kara to help me plan this year of firsts. I assumed a long and hard conversation, I would take notes and then feel better about the plan. But instead Kara’s answer was, “You will be great. You will know what to do!” Not the answer I wanted but it was the answer I needed. I needed to know that I could fumble through this, that I would do okay. That I could process through decisions without her input. I needed to know that whatever we as a family decided to do was okay. I so appreciate that freedom she gave me.”

To all those who are hurting right now and who dread this upcoming Sunday of celebration for one reason or another, know that whatever you decide to do (so as to pass the day, celebrate the day, commemorate the day or skip the day entirely for this year) it is all okay.

There is no right or wrong way to work through the pain of these difficult years of firsts.  You will know what to do when the day comes.  Do it and feel no guilt for your decision.

I know that there is no way to compensate for the loss of a loved one- no one human being can ever take the place of another precious soul.  But may we all be cognizant that there is much pain and heartache around us.  Sometimes the most beautiful of holidays can evoke the deepest anguish.

To all those out there who are hurting this Mother’s Day, may you find peace and strength and comfort from Above.

Love and light and hope to your and yours.

This messy, complicated life? {It’s worth it…}

She starts to talk, but her voice cracks. Tears are falling, even though I can’t see them over the phone-line. They’re there. Welling up in her eyes, free flowing down her cheeks. Splashing onto her hands and fingers- her chin trembling.

And even though I can’t see her- I know all about it, know that she is struggling. Struggling with accepting this. Struggling with understanding this. Struggling with living all this- putting one foot in front of the other. She is struggling with showing up each and every day to her lived reality.
Because showing up and facing this hard life that doggedly pursues us, day in and day out is one of the biggest obstacles we must overcome.

Life is hard.

She and I both know it. In fact, we all know it. And don’t we all just wish we could fix it up and take away all the messy? Take away all the trouble and pain and struggle and heartache we and our loved ones must endure? We just wish it would all vanish, leaving us with happiness and joy and peace as a trade-off. Because everywhere we look, it’s there.

Heart-ache.

It’s there. In our conversations. In our homes and our families. In our schools, and workplaces and communities. In our nation and scattered heavily throughout our world. Pain and heartache are there every time we turn on the news, turn on the television. This world is so full of trouble- it’s depressing. It’s certainly one of the surest things we can count on in this life.

And wouldn’t life be so much better without it there- without all that misery?
Because life would be so much better if it were perfect. And sometimes we look around and we compare ourselves and our lives to others. Maybe it’s simply comparing ourselves to what we see as the ideal. Maybe it is someone elses marriage. Or their seemingly perfectly-kept home. Or maybe it’s their children that we see as so amazing- and what we wouldn’t give to have our children behave/perform/act in the very same ways.

Maybe it’s another person’s career we’re after or their success in life we want. Maybe it comes down to money and health and overall happiness. We crave for what we do not have. Maybe it’s just everything at times- because things just look so bleak in our own lives. We look around and take stock of our troubled, pain-filled lives- finding they always fall short of where we’d like them to be.

Our lives are hard.

Maybe we might look around and see something we don’t have in our lives and think “if I only had that one thing”- that missing ingredient (which, if we had it, then would make everything just as it should be). Maybe it is something we see as missing within us, some imperfection:

Our struggle with weight.
Our frustration with appearance.
Our un-acceptance of our God-given personality.

Or maybe what eludes us is closer to home.

Our difficult relationships with significant others.
Our parenting mistakes.
Our chaotic households.

And when these things we hold near and dear to our hearts are in turmoil, doesn’t everything else seem to be affected? The whole world appears to be in disarray. Our lives are so colored by the success of what is going on inside our own minds. If we are not at peace within, there seemingly is no peace.

And when we live in such a state of personal discontentment, we look out and see the larger world around us and believe there is absolutely no hope.
How can there be when life is so full of pain? So full of struggle?

And so, that is exactly what discouragement and despair and disappointment can do to us. They restrain us, detain us- hold us in bondage. They pin us down, hold us back. Lock us up and leave us in darkness. For despair would have us to forget the joy and the sweet beauty that pain in its hardship can bring.

For what caterpillar in its simplicity could ever imagine that out of the pitiful ugly would come beautiful wings?

What soldier could ever explain the surrender of leaving all so as to serve a greater cause? It is a sacrifice made so that peace might come. All that hardship and sorrow and painful separation from family done so as to bring peace and freedom to the many.

What mother can ever forget the joy of delivering her precious children into this world? A journey taken for both mother and child that calls for great sacrifice and huge cost. It is hard, messy, difficult work to be born- to give birth, but what joy and precious beauty is brought because of it?

And for all of us. We forget that we are being made beautiful in time as well. Our lives count for something bigger- this is not all there is. Our pain is making us stronger. Our hardship causes us to grow more deeply in compassion. Our struggle helps us to become more empathic. And in sharing our heartaches, we help others to know that they are not alone.

We never are- for He is always with us.

And sometimes we forget to acknowledge that we’re in this life together. We are in this with other people. In this life with a God that loves us- who is always rooting for us, wanting us to win. We are in this life with a God who doesn’t expect perfection- He just asks that we show up to the imperfect, messy lives He’s given us to live and give them our all. Give it “mostly enough.” And might we all remember- not one of us humans is doing this life up perfectly. Because there is no perfect in the here and now. No such thing as flawless in this life.

Perfection is an ugly myth- it is a lie.

But for those who believe in the fullness of time, we know that someday we will have that which slips through our fingers today. Someday we will know and understand. Someday it will all be clear. And we hold fast to the hope that there is more to living life than merely surviving the messy present. More to it all than merely enduring the day to day heartache. For this world is not our home- He has set eternity in our hearts.

The story isn’t over.

And all the pain and trouble and heartache of this life are here to grow our hearts in understanding- grow our hearts in love. One toward another. So that we can come to realize: life is worth the living- worth doing it together.

It’s worth it all in spite of all the trouble we must face as we go through.

We are not alone.

Mostly Enough

I shouldn’t feel this way.  But I do.

In spite of my best efforts, in spite of all I do, all I say and all I strive to be. In spite of how many braids I plait, clothes I fold, rides I provide, meals I make. In spite of how much I take an interest. In spite of how many emails I have sent concerning them, conversations I have struck up because of them. Tears I have shed over them. In spite of the concerts I have attended. Piano lessons I have paid for. Not to mention hockey and skating lessons, soccer and softball fees. In spite of the board games I have played and bike rides I have participated in. In spite of all the times I have lain in bed at night with them in the dark. In spite of every dose of medication I have administered and days I have taken to be home with them.

In spite of everything.

I still don’t always feel I am doing enough.

So I sat with Husband on a Sunday afternoon on the edge of a bridge, lazily watching a river trout jumping in and out of the water, while minnows swam in a school right underneath our toes. I sat watching the breeze gently rustling the river grass while birds flew gracefully overhead. I sat.  On a perfectly beautiful autumn afternoon in the beauty of nature and the perfection of a gorgeous sunny day. And all I could think in those blissful moments that should have brought me peace and tranquility was how inadequate I felt as a mom.

How “not enough” I was as a parent.

No calling to mind of any of the above list could have really convinced me otherwise in that moment and time. I simply felt that I wasn’t doing enough. Being enough. Showing enough.

Felt I wasn’t enough.

And while it seems I have been succumbing to these feelings more and more lately, I don’t always have a reasons for why I do this to myself.  Why this happens. I know the research. I know what this generation is characterized by- indulgence and lenience. It is an age of tolerance and low expectations.  And I know my own story and personality well- I am an overachiever. A perfectionist. And as usual, somewhere deep in my perfectionist psyche, I am punishing myself for inadequacies that I think are there. That I felt others in my family could see and feel as deeply as could I.

My lack of patience. My quick temper. My exhaustion that affects both my mood and my energy level. My frustration. My intolerance. My tendency to speak without thinking carefully through beforehand. All combining to make me feel shame and despair- and added to that, make me even feel less than “not enough”: more like a complete failure.

Since Sunday, I’ve been thinking about these feelings. Ruminating about them in my head, if not even a bit out loud with Husband and my mom in casual conversation. And coincidentally, I happened to come across this little blurb from Jen Hatmaker’s new book tonight as I scanned her blog. Here’s what she had to say about her beliefs about parenting:

Only our overly-critical, overly-involved generation could possibly engineer such carefully curated childhood environments and still declare ourselves failures. We are loving, capable mothers reading the room all wrong.

Can I tell you my goal for my kids? That childhood was mostly good. People, I declare “mostly good” a raging success. If I was mostly patient and they were mostly obedient, great. If we were mostly nurturing and they were mostly well-adjusted, super. Every childhood needs a percentage of lame, boring, aggravating, and tedious. Good grief, life is not a Nickelodeon set. They need something to gripe about one day.

Mostly good is later remembered as “loved and safe.” I know because I now label my childhood “magical” even though my mom slapped me across the face in 7th grade and never bought me Guess jeans and accidentally left me at church numerous times. Mostly is enough.

You are doing a wonderful job. Parenting is mind-numbingly hard and none of us will be perfect at it and all of us will jack a thousand parts of it, and somehow, against all odds, it will still be enough.

Words like cool water on a parched tongue.

Mostly is enough.

And it’s okay to make a few mistakes along the way. In fact, it’s NORMAL.

Tonight, Daughter and I exchanged a few unpleasant words- mostly from my mouth, not hers. And after we got through most of the ugly, the message that cushioned all that had been said was the fact that we both really did love each other.  A lot. I know I sure do, and she tells me the same still, every night. Sometimes we Two have a funny way of showing it, but through it all, that love is constant in spite of the bad bits that tend to color our relationship. It is there, in spite of everything that makes me feel “not enough”.  Not good enough. And thank heavens for that. Because love remains in spite of the misunderstandings, frustrations, clashes and head-butting that sometimes occurs, I can carry on- with the understanding that love will also carry both me and my family through the good, the bad and the ugly. For love is and always will be a constant in this family: even when the storms roll in.  Even when the bullets fly.  It is and will be the foundation on which our family life is built upon. And although we might fight like it is 1999, we still love each other through it all.  We’ve committed to that.

We love each other. And that love, while imperfect, is never mostly enough.

It’s everything.

When Love Walks Among Us

I am walking tonight- solo, as the Two Youngest have a friend over and Husband is on duty back on the home front. I miss my walking partner on nights like this. Nights when it feels I am the Lonesome Isolated- walking when the rest of the world is doing more important things, living out more exciting plans than I.  When the rest of the world is organizing and doing things and gathering in places and spaces- making plans that I have not been privy to. Having fun being connected and together.  All but me: I walk alone.  And so tonight, feet slap pavement sounding loudly while hearts are feeling a tad bit blue and rather lonely.

It must be awful to feel lonely day in and day out.

I called my friend later and checked in about an activity our children are both involved in tomorrow. And after I tell her how happy I am that her daughter Zoe* has taken my own daughter under her wing, now that she has arrived a full-fledged member of intermediate school, my friend happens to mention something to me off the cuff. Something I find interesting in light of my feelings tonight.  Here’s how the conversation went down.

She asks me first if I have heard the name Charissa* come up in conversation when talking with Daughter. No, I say. Oh?  Well Charissa has been hanging out with the girls too, she says (proceeding to tell me that Charissa is new to the school this year and that the girls had noticed her alone over lunch time). She continues to tell me that her daughter Zoe*- the same one that has taken care of my own dear one- took the initiative to go over to this young adult sitting by herself in the cafeteria and invite her to sit with her and her friends, one of which is Daughter. My friend mentions the fact that Charissa has a shaved head on one side and a couple different colors of neon framing her head on the other- not someone easy to mix in a group of unfamiliar faces. Maybe some of the other kids didn’t see her as potential. But Zoe* did.  And because she did, Charissa isn’t lonely anymore.

All it takes is one rock to start an avalanche.

That’s all it takes. And in like manner, all it takes is one person to begin a cascade of love. That love and care and compassion and concern- it’s a free fall after that one encounter. Because other people notice and become caught up in the action. It’s hard not to when you realize the possibilities. In choosing to love, we lose fear. In choosing care and concern, we lose disinterest. In choosing compassion, we eliminate indifference. By choosing grace we say no to cruelty. What’s not to choose?

We all feel alone sometimes. But it makes my heart sing to know that there are human beings like Zoe out there in the world noticing the faces of people who need love. We all need love, but some of us need an infusion of love in the in-between moments of life even more than others. For me, knowing that there are Zoes in this world makes me want to join the effort, get in on the love cascade. So that love can fall like rain and the lonely can feel they are with their people.

We all are their people.

And in thinking about Zoe and Charissa and all the other lonely, isolated solitary people in this world- myself included by times: it helps to know. We are not alone. We never are.  Not when Love walks among us.  And because we know this, we can then reach out in love to others- turning their isolation into connectedness.  Turning their feelings of separation into togetherness.

Creating a love cascade from a single act of kindness.

The Pursuit of a Joyful Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is hard to understand, to fully comprehend: how someone who brought so much joy to other peoples’ lives could himself be eluded by that same joy and wonder. And yet, here we are on a Tuesday night, grieving the loss of a beautiful life- grief those of us who loved his work feel in some form or fashion.

Another light has been extinguished. You are already greatly missed, Robin Williams.

I just came from a funeral home myself an hour ago- a loving father and husband lain to rest, his family sorrowing the loss. As I slip into the restroom to refresh, I overhear a conversation referring back to another deceased, sharing another room in the funeral parlor adjacent to the one I have come to bid adieu.

“I am so sorry for the loss of your father.”
“He would have been 93,” comes the reply. “He lived a good life, though.”
“Yes, but it is still hard,” says the first woman. “One is never ready to lose parent- it is never time.”

So too it is with the family I have come to give my deepest sympathies. It is never easy to say goodbye to those we love. Emotions strain to find the right words, the right sentiments at times like this. Saying goodbye is never easy.

It is never time.

And as thoughts drift again to the recent death of adored actor Robin Williams, comedian extraordinaire- I can’t help but wonder if his greatest legacy was that he lived as a father. His daughter Zelda leaves the following words written by Antoine De Saint-Exupery as a lasting tribute to her father’s legacy:

“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

I write often of care- specifically the care of Significant Others in our lives, and particularly as it concerns children and students. But without an understanding of the role that self-care plays as a first step in the process, we cannot truly understand the impact of care in our lives and in society. I often think of the airline rule to first affix one’s own gas mask before attempting to help one’s dependents. Is this not also true of everyday life at times? If we have not given our own bodies and souls attention and replenishing, are we really of much assistance and benefit to others? We must remember that we cannot run ourselves into the ground, depleting our own resources and ignoring our own needs and requirements to the extreme that we are of no earthly good to anyone else around us. Is it worth our while contributing to the world at large at the extreme expense of losing ourselves? These are tough questions to ask and perhaps the answers will differ depending on who is answering. One thing remains- without care given to ourselves, we eventually run down. We diminish. And the cycle of care cannot be continued without more care invested from either without or within.

Since the only dependable source is from within, that is where our greatest efforts must be concentrated.

Nel Noddings writes about caring for self in terms of meeting the physical, spiritual, occupational, recreational, emotional and intellectual needs of all human beings. If I had to pick one to focus on primarily (acknowledging, of course that the basic needs of the body must be met), it is my beleif that the spiritual needs are the most significant. For without an inner purpose and greater meaning to act as our guide, where are we headed? What direction do we choose? And what benefit is everything else going to be? We must decide what truly matters in this life; for me, I have found purpose, meaning and significance in the person of Jesus Christ.

2000 years ago, I believe that very Person willingly chose to lay down His life for me. And it wasn’t a suicide pact or mental illness that compelled Him to the cross. It was love. And because of that Love, I too am free to love. Free to care. Free to give my life in service to the Call. Free to give my love with generous abandon. Free to live- free to really live.

I am free.

And even though I know that death will one day call, I daily make it a priority to care enough for myself to ensure that when that time comes, I am ready to die. No stone unturned. Living my life as if today might even be my very last (we never can know). Living each moment, each day with joy, passion, wonder and care. Living with a healthy appreciation for the fact that Death is part of life. Even as I focus on living my life to the fullest.

Even as I live this brief expanse of time that we call life with a wild and beautiful pursuit- the pursuit of a joyful life.

On secrets and toppling walls…

I watch him build the wooden walls of his tower, painstakingly. One by one.  They stand in solidarity for mere moments, only to topple before even I can add another brick. This is child’s play, and it is fascinating to watch him. These walls are made for crashing, in his view. In his mind’s eye. This is amusement and discovery and cause-and-effect. This is pure delight. His sole reason for creating is to therefore demolish. To knock down, tear down- flatten. He is happiest when things fall over. When walls come down.

And so am I.

These walls we’ve built up to protect us- they are false protection. We build them high and bolster them with whatever is at our disposal. We claim we haven’t enough time to explain the reasons for their existence- we’re too busy. And no one would even understand their purpose anyway. That’s what we say. We say they’re necessary- we need these walls. They are protection. It’s a cruel world out there- someone is always trying to attack. To assault. And we’re always on the defensive. We need these walls, or so we think- we’d be devastated without them. We’d be naked. Wide open for onslaught.

Our walls. Built to shut the world out. To keep the world from knowing. Knowing our little secrets, that is.

Those shameful, little secrets.

Secrets…that we are trying to keep hidden.

About marriages which are failing.

About struggles we’re having with anger. With doubt. With depression. With disappointment. Fear. Anxiety. Disillusionment.

Secrets about our struggle with abuse.

Secrets about our addictions.

We keep these secrets because we are afraid. We’re scared.

Petrified that someone will find out.

Because if anyone ever knew our secrets, they might come to discover our frailty. Our weaknesses. Our imperfections. We’d be exposed and heaven help us- what could happen then?

No one ever enjoyed feeling bare and exposed.

Wide open for humiliation.

But what if in toppling those walls, we were known. Truly known.

Known for our humanity. For our beauty. For our uniqueness.

What if we were known and loved for our imperfections. Known and loved in spite of our flaws and failings?

What if telling- what if sharing secrets brought us freedom? What if speaking our truths allowed us to breathe again?

What if we were lovingly held, even in our brokenness? And rebuilt anew?

Again and again and again.

Because that’s what living sometimes entails: a process of starting over. A renewal. A chance to have a new beginning. A chance to say, “I’m not hiding anymore.”

What if beauty were to come from ashes.

Sometimes it takes feeling scared to bring us closer to the Sacred. And while we might falter, while we might fall- we are held. In Arms of Love.

May we never forget: Our secrets are merely precious stories waiting to be told.  And walls are meant for toppling so those stories can be re-written. Retold.  Time and time again.

The Power of Encouragement

Cool winds blow as the sun goes down on yet another work week. I grab my laptop computer from the back seat of the van- a bag full of papers, my purse and jacket, then head for the house. Stone walkway under my feet showing signs of wear. Four cats waiting on the steps.
And I sigh. I have really been discouraged lately. So many things coming at me from all directions and they all seem to culminate during the month of November. Parent-teacher interviews, report cards, committee meetings, community and church commitments, university papers due, sickness in the family. And then there’s just the regular,old day-to-day grind- running thither and yon with kids in tow while I drag bag upon bag of STUFF everywhere I go. Grocery bags, back-packs, Zuca figure skating bags. My big, black purse. It feels sometimes like I’m living out of these bags. Add to all the above- the weather is changing and I think I just might have a touch of seasonal affective disorder.

And I’ve already mentioned my thoughts on Christmas being right around the corner.

Yesterday, I spent the better half of the morning at the dentist fixing yet another broken, worn-out tooth. Gotta love root canals. And this morning, Husband woke up with what he perceived as being a piece of gravel in his eye which turned out to actually be a wood chip. He spent the morning at the hospital and now is sporting an eye patch which gives him a slight edge over Jonny Depp as my most favorite-est pirate ever.
I arrive home to find him on the couch with Youngest sprawled over the top of him like an afghan. “I’m hunnnnngry,” she whines. And so it begins. Welcome to my Friday.

I sit down at the computer to take a peek at messages and e-mails when I find it. A letter from a woman I know vaguely. Opening the letter, I am completely taken back by the words I read. And what I read was this: the most beautiful, sweetest note I have ever received about one of my children from outside the family.

The tears started to fall as soon as I realized what the letter was about. It was a note of encouragement- completely unexpected. Apparently, I have a child who has befriended a child in class who is experiencing some difficulties; and this child of mine has used every opportunity to make a special connection with this other child- so much so, that my child’s name has been coming up at home as someone very special to this other child. Particularly in light of some of the extenuating circumstances going on with the child in mention. The letter was detailed and the closing line said this:
“I just wanted you to know that you have an amazing {child’s gender} and ask if you could please thank {your child} for me. I’m sure you’re very proud of {them}.”

I couldn’t hold back the tears. Honestly. It just blew me right out of the water.

And it reminded me yet again of the strength one can find in encouragement. Encouragement: it’s such a simple concept yet so profound. We can make the choice to say words that tear down or say words that build up. And even more significant- when we think a good thought about someone, we can choose to keep that good thought to ourselves or we can choose to share it.

How many times have I thought something about someone that made that person stand out as special and unique in my mind, but then got distracted and forgot to tell them what I was thinking? Too many times to count. And I miss out on sharing how that person has touched my life- and they miss out on feeling encouraged.

After I received that note today, I got to thinking: it wouldn’t take much to write a quick note to ten different people about either something they’ve done that I noticed as unique and important- or something someone connected to them has done that just made my day better in one way or the other. It wouldn’t take much effort. But in so doing, ten people would potentially have that same overwhelming feeling of encouragement that I had when I arrived home today. Which would be so worth it. Such a little thing to do- write a note of encouragement- but so very, very profound.

So. I want to challenge the people that read this tonight: think of ten people who have touched your life in a special way. Or not. Think of ten people that you know might just need the encouragement. Maybe they are not the kinds of people that hear nice things said about them very often: those people need encouragement the most. Or think of ten children of ten friends of your’s that you know you could say something nice about. Ten co-workers. Ten neighbors. Ten random people that you vaguely know but whom you know enough about to encourage. And just do it. Encourage them. Write something really special and see what it does for both you and them.

I’ve been discouraged lately. Maybe a lot of us have been. Anybody there? Anybody with me on this one?

Here’s what I know for sure about discouragement: it flips itself on its back when faced with an encouraging word. Discouragement doesn’t stand as much of a chance when over shadowed by encouragement. That little note tonight did more to lifts my spirits than that woman could ever imagine.

What little note could you write tonight that might make all the difference?

Those kinds of days…

There are days when frost covers barren ground. Like a heavy cloak. When tiny buds on frozen tree limbs shimmer with an icy glaze. When tiny shoots of new life, thwarted in process of emerging forth. Are interrupted. Dark, heavy clouds hang low and ready.

There are these kinds of days.

When table talk is centered around what might be, on doom and gloom. When faces are grim. When voices are raw with emotion. When secret disclosures are proffered and understanding is sought after. When you just feel like you can’t take anymore of this murky mess. That they call living.

Authentic. Raw. Transparent.

It’s tough, this business of living real. Of really living. Of making a living of this messy here and now.

There are days like this.

And there are days when darkness pervades. Thick and stifling. Like a deadly gas.
When the outlook from this vantage point seems bleak. Hopeless. And the possibilities are shunted aside in favor of the grim reminders.

There too are days like this: sometimes.

And there are days. When you drive from home to work to home to ‘who knows where’. And you feel like it’s all a rat race. And it feels endless and ‘who knows where you’ll get the strength to carry on tomorrow’. And you can’t stop because you know you’ll never get started again.

Those kind of days.

And then. When you are nearly ready to throw up the white flag, throw in the towel, give up the fight. Something little catches your eye. It’s so little, you almost miss it. A smile. A picture drawn with crayons. A funny cartoon.

Or maybe. Someone throws out a rope- a lifeline that snags your heart. An ‘I love you’ spoken at just the right time. A tender squeeze. A kind word of encouragement. An eye-to-eye conversation that lasts longer than five-seconds.

And on those days when life goes from futile to promising. Just because of something little, because of something small but mighty.

(because of a little game changer)

Count it as a sweet reminder. A blessing. The silver lining. A token to the surety that while life might be brutal, it is also beautiful. Brutiful. Exquisite in a fleeting, fragile way.

And because it is such and so much more, those smallest of gestures- those beautiful reminders of humanity that we also call kairos moments- they mean so much more. Than they ever would have otherwise.

On those kinds of days.

Life Lived in Hope…

Is it possible to live life without regrets?  To ‘do it up right’?   To both live and finish life with a feeling of satisfaction, with a sense of accomplishment and pride that one has given one’s best?  And lived one’s life to the fullest of potential?

And if so, how is this done?  If not possible, what then?

I am sitting in the dentist chair, waiting the verdict.  Another tooth ache.  I’ve known this pain before, and the last time, it cost me thousands.  The dentist looks my mouth over, carefully inspecting the problematic incisor, finding not just one, but two hair-line fractures in two separate teeth.  The unfortunate result of grinding my teeth at night.   My unconscious world, where frustrations are vented with a merciless malevolence.  I wish there was an easy answer, a quick fix for this latest dental discovery.   But she and I both know the difference.  There is not.

My mouth and aching teeth are in bad shape.  And it all comes down to stress.

“You need a vacation,” she says smiling.  I grin wryly and pretend like this all is half-funny.  But it isn’t.  It’s my life.  My reality.  And the only set of genuine teeth I’ll ever own.

I wish I could keep them.

While diagnosing the problem, the “s” word comes up.  Stress.  She and I both know it, it’s the culprit here.  And what can be done about it, really?  It’s everywhere.  At home, at work, in relationships, woven inside each and every aspect of my life.  An element of feeling that life is pressing in on me with demands of one kind or another.  And it makes me wonder.  What can be done to remedy my situation, knowing that some things in life just ‘are what they are’?

Some sicknesses are visible.  They are easy to see and therefore more accessible for garnering support.  Those high-profile sicknesses.  We all know someone with this unfortunate fate.  And life is like that sometimes: it allows us to live emotionally unarmed and in full, open view.   Because there is no hiding with cancer.  Or Parkinson’s.  Or Multiple Sclerosis.

But other sicknesses are less visible. Less high-profile.  They allow the bearer of such misfortune the occasion of pretending that all is well.  That they are fine, that life is good.  And that they are not really sick, or stressed or overwhelmed.  They’re just “having a bad day”.  One with such knows the difference, but all the same.  It’s an easy way out when neither the explanations are forthcoming, nor the listeners sympathetic.

Sometimes one can mask signs of greater problems behind a facade, failing to convey the true gravity of the situation.  And these signs, symptoms and perhaps even diseases vary greatly in scope of intensity and severity.  One can suffer from depression, anxiety, panic-disorders and yet, at times, hide behind a mask of wellness pretending that life is fine.  That things are okay.

But in truth, things are not okay.  And that is the problem.  Not only are things not okay, the person living with such must also at times pretend that things are still fine and well.  Even in the midst of life crumbling around them.  Teeth crumbling inside them.  And there is more where that came from, ground down teeth are just the tip of the iceberg.  This I know for sure.  Add to this unflattering visual, loneliness, isolation, despair,  exhaustion and fear.   The complete formula for a toxic brew.

Yes, these hidden sicknesses are less visible.  But just as deadly.  It might take longer, but they are out for the throat.  For blood.  And they will show no mercy.

It is not easy to find solutions when life feels empty.  When life feels hopeless.  And to think we only have one chance at this gig.  We can’t go back and undo the past.

I recently read an article called 5 Top Regrets People Have At The End Of Their Lives.  And it made me think.  We all come to a final point, a destination where we will have to face our life as it has been lived.  At that time, we will be faced with the following questions.  Have we had the courage to be true to ourselves, living the life we knew was our destiny?  Have we worked harder than necessary, squandering the most precious of all resources: time?  Have we had the courage to express our feelings?  Have we made lasting relationships with the people that matter the most?  Have we allowed ourselves the luxury of choosing happiness over the tragic settling for a life lived in fear and sadness?

These are important questions, worthwhile to ponder and reflectively answer.  And if there are one or two for which one can find it in themselves to truthfully answer and then instigate a change for the better, than the questioning has been a valuable exercise.  These questions needs be asked before the end, before it is too late.  Because life is never lived in reverse.  And if one knows better, they are then able to at the very least choose to think better.  If not live better.

I add to these former five, a final question.  Are we ready for our next life?

In this world, we have been promised there will be disappointment.  There is a longing inside us all for something better.  For something more.  For home.  For me, that home of which I speak is a better place than earthly here.   Here, life is what it is.  I can’t always change everything in my life that causes me stress.  Even through the power of positive thinking.  Some sadnesses and heartaches follow to the grave.  Freedom is possible from the power of some, yes.  This is the present hope.  But not from all.  That is the reality of living.

But there is always hope.

My hope is placed firmly in something better.  Someone better.  Whom I will one day meet face-to-face.  At another time and another place.  Whom I shall see, touch and know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  And while it is true that my teeth will not always last me.  That I will always dye my hair because I am growing gray. That I ache in places I never use to.  That I have regrets.  That my life is not all I thought it would be, that life has not lived up to my wildest expectations.

I still have hope.  For somewhere more than this.  For a better then, beyond the darkness of now.  And for the One who truly understands.  That this life was never meant to be the be-all-and-end-all of living.

It’s just our practice run.

This I hold to, like unto a drowning man holding fast to that life-giving flotation, thrown overboard.  Holding fast.  To the belief that there is more.  So much more.  And that the best is yet to come.

Isaiah 40:28-31:

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the Everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

The Christmas blues…

After a busy day at church, complete with a Sunday School Christmas concert practice, accompaniment on piano during the service and a fellowship meal to prepare, eat and then clean up, the last thing I feel like doing is digging out Christmas ornaments to deck the halls.   Falalala….falafel.  ‘Cause I feel like the former ground-up chickpea concoction is what sums up my Christmas ho ho at the moment.   And it doesn’t help matters that I have an empty tank when it comes to bottling up Christmas cheer.  The emotional kind, that is.  I am just not feeling it right now.  And everyone else I talk to seems to have Christmas spirit in excess.  Even Christmas bucket lists which are on their way to culmination as I write.

I wish some of this joy would rub off on me.

While I mentally decide whether or not to start a project I am not committed to completing, I continue to stave off the rugrats while telling them for the umpteenth time that ‘no, we are not putting the tree up this afternoon’.   The tree is just more than I can handle right now.   And then I feel guilty for being The Grinch.  So I put on my flip-flops and head down to the cellar.  To look for my first box of Christmas cheer in the form of dozens and dozens of little figurines that I have “collected” from the school flea markets over the years.  (And then tried to hide in various locations around the house as soon as they were opened.)

(Note:  My Darling Daughter found one particularly hideous Santa that I had stashed underneath my kitchen sink and then remarked about how odd it was to find it there, as she had picked it out for me the year before and presented it to me on Christmas morning as a present.  Ouch.  That puppy is going in a special spot this year.  Definitely getting a promotion from the dark recesses of the nether regions behind the dishwasher detergent.)

Speaking of dark.  It is dark down here in the cellar and I cannot find a thing.  Everything has moved since I was last down here.  The totes that I think are Christmas ornaments and decorations end up being boxes of scarves, soccer cleats and winter coats.  And then I start to look around even more.  Now that my eyes have adjusted, everything looks …well, really dirty, messy and just plain gross.  And cluttered.  And…, oh forget about it.  I am going to have to get a little busier before I get down to finding the Christmas cheer.

Argh.  So now I have to sort through the cellar clutter before I even get to the task at hand (which is not what I really want to do anyway.  That is, decorate.)  I begin wading through Rubbermaid containers filled with stuff.  Too much stuff.  And when I finish, I have two over-stuffed blue bags to send to the Sally Anne.  And one empty tote.  This is a good thing.  I survey the damage and feel a slight improvement in my mood.

Back to the decorations.  I head upstairs with the selected ornaments and other paraphernalia and I begin to enlist some help.  Where are my Christmas elves?  No one is interested.  Everyone has things to do.  Because Christmas decorations are not as exciting as a Christmas tree.  There now.  Isn’t it funny how this works out?  These best of intentions always seem to get the better of me.

And here I am even tonight.  A counter full of things that need a spot.  Candles missing light bulbs.  Too many Santa ornaments on the counter to count.  And no desire to make the move to place it all in its temporary December home.  And an ever-depleting tank of Christmas spirit.

This Christmas, I had decided that I was going to stop placing expectations on myself.  As I usually outdo my own list each year.  And here is where the rubber meets the road.  I am trying to do everything…making everything perfect for everybody.  Cooking, cleaning, decorating, writing, reading Christmas selections, buying, wrapping, singing Christmas carols, visiting, baking, Yankee swapping, Christmas partying and on and on we go.  And then I end up feeling that the bubble bursts for me on Christmas day.  And now here I am this year,  feeling that I cannot keep up to my own good intentions.

So, this is where I am at.  I am going to do what I can when I can with what I can.  As much as I can.  And that is all.  Because it is not worth it to complete an endless Christmas to-do list and lose my Christmas spirit.  And if that means that Santa is sharing a counter with the salt and pepper shaker and the candles are only lit on one half of the house, then so be it.  Because I have some Christmas cheer to seek out.  And I have a pretty good idea that it is not to be found in a crazy to-do list.

And the other thing I am going to do is search deep within myself for truth and meaning.  So that I can seek out what is the truth about Christmas in spite of it all.  And here is tonight’s truth:

“Christmas is a time for simplicity.  A time to examine the heart and weed out that which clutters the soul.  A time to re-examine the need for stuff and the desire to simplify.  After all, the Christ-Child was born into poverty.  And I am humbled to have been born into so much more than this, a life of privilege, richness and hope.  May I never take it for granted.  May I ever be grateful.”