Living a Paradoxical Life

“The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.”
― Kent M. Keith, The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council

Do you ever feel like you are trying to hold 25 corks underwater, but to the best of your ability you can barely keep one down under? Life is hard. There are a lot of corks, a lot of things to think about. There is your own life (and the aspiration and dreams you wish to chase). There are you own problems and battles to fight. There are your own inner struggles and outer turmoil with which to deal. Not to mention, everyone else around you living out their own stories amidst the backdrop of your own life. Somehow, their story gets intertwined with your story and then it is no longer just your life anymore: it’s our life you must think and worry over. In a world that is bent on breaking us down, I wonder: can we do things differently? Can we live a paradox? Can we live harmoniously?

Yes, but only:
If the expectation is hatred, let us then rather love.
If the expectation is blame, let us then exercise forgiveness.
If the expectation is shame, let us then give grace.
If the expectation is frustration, let us then exercise patience.
If the expectation is to react, let us then rather turn the other cheek.
In so doing, we live out life the Father’s way.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
The Beatitudes
He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5, NIV)

To which I say: Blessed then are those who live their life in paradox. For this is far from the natural bent our hearts would follow after.

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Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;

streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

O to grace how great a debtor

daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;

here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

The wind rustles golden grain, swaying so it sounds like tinkling bells.  Tiny cymbals.  I roll down the window as I drive up the lane just to stop for a spell and listen in on nature’s symphony. The air laden with the smell of dust and a dry grassy scent. The clouds are piled high and fluffy.  Beauty surrounds every angle from which I gaze.

My heart is part wonder, part sorrow.  There is always beauty in sorrow.  And it takes every effort to tune into the grace we have been afforded when our minds so easily slip,  so quickly bend toward the stress.  Our hearts must be trained to see more than meets the eye.  We must look with discernment for what lies beyond.  What we see is not all there truly is.

There is so very much more.

I walk into the barn and take in the musty smell of manure and hay and dust and years worth of sweat and hard labour.  I follow him as he paces the length of the barn and back again.  We lean into one another.  I wrap my arms around his chest and feel his beating heart.  What is our life work worth at the end of the day?  What legacy do we leave to those following in our footsteps?

How will we be remembered?

I step back, standing just upon the threshold of this doorway leading to another life and take in one last view before I turn away toward the sunlight and warmth of the day.

How is it that we are able to tune our hearts to sing grace even when the cords of those same hearts wring with pain?  Daily, we must train our minds to think on these eternal graces: love, joy peace.

Grace sustains in the midst of trouble.  Holding us, enabling us, propelling us forward.

There are streams of mercy, never ceasing at every vantage point. Our lives a song- only we can decide how that tune will be sung.

May our songs of praise be ever heard, our lives a melodious hymn of gratitude. For our blessings outnumber even our wildest dreams, our greatest aspirations.

Truth-telling time: I am hot mess

I get the call that I have forgotten-yet again– what I am suppose to be doing. This is me: post new-mommy brain, pre-dementia. There must be another label for this forgetfulness that I am so prone to that is more forgiving.

Having missed an appointment at the mechanic’s, I find that Husband, having not gotten me on my cell (phone turned down), has called the school TWICE to find out ‘where in tarnation’ I am. I am, of course, in my classroom (good teacher that I am)… tidying up loose ends, not a care in the world. I get paged twice over the school intercom (while I meanwhile attempt to run out of the classroom and into the room next door to mine, so as to answer his phone call…all while carrying on a conversation with a colleague—all as if my life didn’t depend on the next two minutes). Yes, this is me. Legitimately absent-minded.

This quick-thinking (or so I think) appears like it will work to save the day, but I soon come to realize Hubby has now given up on me and is pursuing alternative means. Read: he has left his own place of work and is now driving QUICKLY towards mine. I clue in pretty quick as well when my VP announces that he’s hung up on me- that it is TIME FOR ME TO VACATE THE PREMISES. I gather the girls, forget my lunch upstairs in the staff room fridge in the process- and thrust myself through the doors and towards my awaiting van. Which happens to now be parked in a small lake which has formed since I last exited the vehicle.

I pull out of the parking lot, turn onto the road and then honk at hubby as he goes by in the opposite direction, a man who appears to be looking a tad confused and a bit dazed at what could possibly be happening with his wife. She seems to have lost ALL her marbles.

We do finally connect- at the garage.  It is not, I’m afraid, the blissful reunion of which fairy-tales are made.

And you would assume, I’m sure, that I would use the five minute drive home in the truck, riding shotgun beside my Handsome Hubby…to apologize profusely and admit my wrongs. You over-estimate me yet again. Instead, you find me creating endless scenarios and reasons for which to cover my puny Behind, making excuses for why I had forgotten the appointment and on and on we go…as well as find me coming up with endless ways in which to complain about all the other things that have gone wrong with my day OF WHICH HUBBY HAS BEEN AN ACCOMPLICE IN MY ILL-ADVENTURES. Read again: it is entirely his fault that my day has now had the bottom fall out from beneath it.

But of course.

And so, I carry this sour mood home with me as I find umpteen more ways in which to complain and find fault with him and everything else in the world. There is no limit to my impatience.

All this, until I find myself standing at the sink with a scowl on my face and more words in which to throw scathingly in his direction… when I find gentle arms wrapped around my waist, kind hands holding me. His hands, holding me- this ball of tension, this ring of fire. And I feel within me the blaze simmer to a smouldering heat of warmth. And I let him hold me that way until I finally feel I can turn to him, tears in my eyes. Shame in my soul.

For what do I deserve- this mess that I am?  What do I deserve.  But more of the same of which I have offered- that, and then some. I receive back nothing but grace.

In talking about her inability to see the good in people- as she wished she could more often do, Doris Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, penned these words with regards to those people she served daily, who were found living as addicts and otherwise broken in spirit and soul:

“If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all. I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travellers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in His love.”

When I think of the absolutes of good and evil, I can only believe that God has called us to see in each other the good, while He gently reminds us through the grace that we receive of our own shortcomings. I only know of evil when I feel the warmth of good. I am only reminded of grace when I see within myself my own errors and shortcomings. There would never be a need for grace if I wasn’t in possession of a deficit of kindness somewhere along the line. And so today, I saw within myself the need for grace- because I was offered much. And so freely.

In writing about Doris Day, Philip Yancey (2010) had this to say ( and I paraphrase): It was Dorothy Day’s brutal honesty about herself- her unwed pregnancy, her biting tongue, her quick temper- self-owned flaws that society (no doubt) pointed out in her as wrongs. It was then her own failings that allowed her to show grace to others. Yancey went on to say that grace is there for those who see themselves as broken- not primarily for those who believe that all is well.

Grace abounds in brokenness.

It is the flaws that we own within ourselves that enables grace to shine brightest. I soon feel tears come to the surface as he speaks gently, showering gracious, loving- KIND words over me. Seeing yet again that because I have been shown grace, I can then use this occasion to myself show gracious kindness in return, first to him and then to others. Covering all with grace.

For all is grace, if it is anything at all.

And so, I am then able to cover all that is around me with that grace I now sense, knowing deep within my own soul that there is an abiding sense of Love’s Presence. All is forgotten and I am free to carry on.

Grace-infused.

All is Grace

2015-02-03 16.47.45

The sun beckons through the glass of my kitchen windows. We are now on Daylight Savings time and the possibilities seem endless for a low-key Monday evening. I suggest a walk through the field by snowshoe and then call for the girls to resume their igloo building while I finish up a few last-minute errands. I slip on my snowshoes and climb the steep incline to the field where the girls are forming a play-fire from some branches and small evergreens twigs. It is just one of those perfect evenings made for play and whimsy.
Husband and I set out through the field with the sun behind us, the effect of which makes the landscape a tableau of brilliant white as far as the eye can see. The contours of the land are increasingly difficult to navigate and predict, and I find myself catching a snowshoe here and there, nearly tumbling face-first in a less than glamorous free-fall. I steady myself and stay the course, sinking more and more the further we advance with the softer snow drifts.
We walk back to the old tree that marks the land. It has been a marker of the passage of time, but time does take its toll. A large branch has been whiplashed by our fierce winter winds and now lies perpendicular to the stately boughs that still stretch up to the sky. I rest over the branch for a while and gaze pensively off into the distance. Husband stands beside me and we pass the moments in silence.
I find myself thinking more and more about the moments and days and months and years that are quickly passing us by. It seems like five minutes ago that Husband and I first laid eyes on one another. In truth- that moment was 23 years ago. And with two decades and a bit under our belts, you would think we must have found the secret that happy couples ascribe to so as to keep the tenderness alive, keep the fires burning. Think we’d know the answers.
In truth, marriage is hard. It doesn’t get any easier either. But then again, so is life and it doesn’t get easier either.
I read tonight of Kara Tippetts, a beautiful mama and wife who is fighting cancer- but claiming that every day is grace. I think of my own dear warrior friend Wendy Gallant who lost her battle to cancer but has left behind her incredible legacy as a wife, mama, friend, community member and influence. I feel tears fall as I think that the world will be/is emptier for the loss of women like these two. I grieve the change that the passage of seasons brings.
Kara describes death as leaving the party too early. She talks about feeling like a little girl whose Daddy has come to pick her up before the birthday party has officially ended. She says it is not that she is afraid to die- she just isn’t wanting to leave yet. I wonder if this is how my dear Wendy felt. I’m sure she would have asked for just one more day if the suggestion had been offered.
Life is so difficult to comprehend even in its raw, jagged beauty.
I turn to Husband and I wrap my arms around his solid frame. I feel that this is where I need to be right now. Right here. We embrace in the quiet solitude. All is peace. All is grace.
We fight continually for that peace and grace to hold us even as the storms of life rage around our fragile vulnerability. We are so weak- so frail. And yet there is a strength that sustains even in the midst of life’s uncertainties. There is always enough grace for the day.
Grace holds tenderly.
And that is what knits me together in this fading light of the day. That Grace. Felt in a Husband’s embrace. Whispered on the evening breeze- I will always love you- for I always have. And I always will. A Father’s grace- eternal, sustaining and unending.
And it is enough. It is more than enough.

Does Being Average Make you Happier?

We are finishing up supper when a knock comes to the door. It is a family friend and acquaintance that we recently hired to construct a bookshelf for us just arriving for a quick check-in about a piece he’s already built. He wonders if it fits okay over the radiator. It does. In fact, it’s a perfect fit.

Earlier this month, this gentleman arrived in the middle of supper hour and spent the better part of the evening talking to both Husband and I about our dreams for our family room. What were we wanting him to fashion as an entertainment unit to house our most beloved pictures, books and games? At what level would we want our entertainment system to be set? What style should the framework be? What vision did we have?

As we talked, it became increasingly clear that this man cared a great deal about his work- and even more so, cared about our ideas, our thoughts and opinions. To illustrate my point, he had talked to Husband about some additional thoughts he had for this unit on the Sunday past- proving to me that if we were paying him for his time, we’d owe him for the incredible amount of thought he’s invested in considering our best options. You don’t get this kind of service from the box stores. To have him drive from town this evening for a five-minute drop-in just to check whether the piece he was building fit neatly in place, meant a lot.

In fact, it’s priceless in MasterCard terms.

Some might say that everyday people such as our retired friend who make furniture for pleasure- such as you or I, us plain-folk people: some might say we are not the ones that make this world turn. Not the ones who are the real movers and shakers. I read a quote about mediocrity lately and it said that being average should be feared- should push us to our limits, causing us to reach our true potential. Whatever that means.

To be honest, some of the most average people in my life have made the biggest impact. We don’t remember the chance encounters we have with celebrities (if we have them at all) nor do we chalk up as the most life-changing, the brief glimpses into the world of the extraordinary as the part of life that we could not live without. It is the average, everyday people and pleasures of life that we count as life’s greatest blessings.

After my last two posts on being average, I decided to share an article I found on-line and read called “The joy of being average” found at “http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2014/03/13/the-joy-of-being-average/  In the article, the author Sam expounds on the joys of being average, highlighting such benefits to life as lowered expectations, more safety, more happiness, less restrictions, more freedom, less pressure, among other benefits. In the article, he poses the question: should we continuously try to live up to our potential? Sam concludes that ‘no’, we should not feel that pressure- it is ours to choose how we live our lives, how we use or don’t use our potential.

I contend: there is joy in acceptance as well. I feel that in accepting that our lives are short, fragile and fleeting helps us to put perspective on things. Who are we really trying to impress? What really matters? What are the most important things in life? What decisions are the most crucial?

What really makes the difference?

Celebrity, both at local, regional, national and international levels, as enticing as it might look and seem, is just a mirage. The people behind the celebrity still have to get up in the morning and face themselves in the mirror.  They still live and die. And so do we.

The question should not be based on how to live up to one’s truest potential but rather focused on perspective: how can I live my life with joy and contentment? Gratitude and grace? And what non-essentials can I eliminate so that I don’t miss the boat and waste this one chance I have at truly living life well?

Being average isn’t a wasted opportunity, a shameful decision.  Living simply is not to squander one’s life; but chasing after dreams that are only a mirage certainly are.  Life is beautiful- even when it is average, ordinary and simple, and living an average life is more than admirable when we can do so with joy and contentment. When we choose to embrace the life we’ve been given, average isn’t ordinary.

It’s amazing. Truly amazing.

Worthy of Grace

There once was a little girl. And she was a beautiful child- a funny, wise, intuitive, kind and loving child. Her mama and daddy loved her to the moon and back again.  They loved her so much.

The little girl loved to play and laugh. She loved life and she was full of joy. Everything about that little girl proclaimed exuberance, enchantment, enthusiasm and excitement. She was a beacon of light to all who knew her well.

One day, that little girl was playing- having fun with her friends. Being a kid. But as she was caught up in what was happening around her, she forgot herself for a moment. A decision that would serve to unravel her composure. Would serve to undo her reputation somewhat.

And so while she was playing- in a moment of little-girl impulsivity, she opened her mouth and words came flying out.

Words.

The words weren’t really like her. They were a bit ugly and mean. A bit hurtful and sharp. And as soon as she said them, the little girl realized that a line had been crossed. That a heart had been hurt. That the words from her mouth, which were now floating out there in the big, wide space that she and others occupied, could not be gathered back in or be reversed. Couldn’t be hauled back and erased. For the words had been spoken- they were now out there in the atmosphere- out there in the air, somewhere. They were now audible and had been heard- hanging suspended in time and place as if they were a pendulum ready to swing.

As soon as she said them, the little girl regretted her decision. She knew better. She was a kind little girl, and saying mean and hurtful things was not her usual style. But she had spoken, and the consequences of speaking are always to deal with what comes next.

The aftermath.

That little girl- she cried. She cried and she cried and she cried when she realized the power of her words. She cried and she cried when she understood the significance of it all. And even though she had been given time in which to process the earlier decision to speak, time in which to take stock and move on- that little girl, she couldn’t shake the deep-seated feelings of shame she was experiencing for having failed. Feelings internalized for having fallen short from the mark- the expected standards she usually exceeded.

After some time had passed, the little girl and her mama were together in the kitchen talking. And the mama decided it was the right moment to talk about what had happened. And so they did- they talked. And as they talked, the little girl told her mama she was afraid to face the people involved in her story because she knew she’d disappointed them. She knew that she had failed.

She was very anxious about it all.

And as her mama watched her little girl’s face- a sweet little face etched with worry and concern, eyes welling up with tears: her mama made a decision that she hoped would give the little girl some hope. Because she loved her so. So that mama- she told that little girl about grace.  Told her that tomorrow was another day. That the mistakes of today were now forgiven and that tomorrow would be a fresh beginning. That there was always another chance. That there was always another opportunity to get it right. There was always tomorrow.

There was hope through the wonder of grace.

And what the mama really meant to say, in not so many words, was that there are second chances- possibilities. All found in hope through redemption, found through belief in Love’s amazing grace. What the mama meant to say was that there is deliverance in aspiration.  Aspiring to believe. That’s what starting over is for, that’s what it’s all about. Because if we live our lives in constant shame for what we’ve done, failing to embrace the hope we’ve been given, we never come to realize the power in redemptive love. Never come to realize that this is where it’s at: renewal begins with pain. Growth comes through anguish. Possibility is the offspring born of disappointment. Grace. When we make mistakes and fail, there is always the chance to begin again. Always the opportunity to start over.

There is always tomorrow.

Redemptive love and healing grace makes this possible. And what better example of the power of redemption can we find than of the story of the prodigal son.

The little girl- she clung to her mama’s few words like a lifeline. She wanted to believe. And so she did- she chose to believe that even she was worthy of redemption. Even she was worthy of a fresh beginning- today, tomorrow- and every day after that.

And so she was- worthy of grace.
How very much she was.

The Story of the Prodigal Son
“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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.