You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ category.

One morning, I tried a sample of skin cream my dermatologist had given me, and, as soon as I slathered it on, my skin began to burn. Next came the intense itching, and finally, an outbreak of acne. 

I called the dermatologist’s office, and told the on-call doctor I was having an allergic reaction to the sample. He said, “It’s probably not an allergic reaction. Everyone who starts with this cream has some mild irritation.” He proceeded to tell me not to worry and to start using the cream again a few days later.

I thanked him, hung up, and set about doing the things I knew would alleviate the pain: take Benadryl, put an ice pack on my cheeks, and drink lots of water. Far be it from me to correct a doctor, but his advice was unhelpful, so I didn’t heed it.

The next day, as my skin was peeling off my face in patches as if I’d been severely sunburned, I thought, What was the disconnect here? Was it just that doctors don’t believe patients? Men don’t believe women? The younger generation doesn’t believe older people?

It reminded me of the time I’d hired an animal control company to capture a groundhog. The young man arrived to set up what he called an “inescapable” trap, and, each time he’d set it up, he’d catch the groundhog, then lose it again. 

I called the owner of the company and told him the groundhog had escaped four times. “Impossible,” he said. “That trap is iron-clad. No way any animal can get out of it.” Far be it from me to tell a business owner he’s off-base, but I had video of the groundhog breezing out of the metal trap like a teeny Houdini.

I went back out to the yard and said to the young man, “The owner says the trap is impossible for a groundhog to escape from. Why does this keep happening?” 

The young man said, “Well, I’ve done this job for a number of years, and set this trap a number of times, and this is really hard to explain.”

At that moment, it occurred to me: Zero is a number. He’s done this job for zero years. He’s had zero training. And he captured zero groundhogs that day. What a life lesson this was for me!

When it comes to what’s happening in your life, you know the deal. 

When somebody tells you that your experience didn’t happen? They’re denying your reality. They can talk all day long, but if you aren’t getting what you need out of the situation, you’ve got a right — even an obligation — to show them the door. Wish them well on their journey…and may it be far away from you. What was it the Bible says about not being a clanging cymbal?  We don’t need noise without substance.  We need those who see and hear us.

Alt-text: This is Squeaky, my mackerel tabby with tiger stripes, sitting on my laptop as I try to participate in a Zoom meeting. He is sitting on the keyboard to keep warm, but also to discourage me from doing anything other than patting and playing with him. The laptop is on a dark brown and greyish-silver table and is next to my blue iPad. In the background, there is a peach-colored wall and two square, white windows. There is a black metal floor lamp with a white shade nearby. In the windows, there is a reflection of the trees in the backyard that is striated by the light coming through the bamboo blinds.

This morning, my cat, Squeaky, was tossing around his toys, and when one of them rolled under the couch, he looked at me with those piercing “guy-liner” eyes expectantly. “Can you get that ball for me, O Servant? Sometime today, please,” he seemed to say. Even silent, he’s pushy, but that’s part of his charm.

So I felt around under the couch and found the ball, but it was covered with dust. I picked off the schmutz, and, without realizing, touched my face. Uh-oh. I’m allergic to dust. Earlier this year, I got a skin infection from scratching my face after I’d dusted. Not again! I ran to the sink to wash the dust off my face.

Dust off my face. Huh. Isn’t that what we’ve all had to do recently as we get semi-sorta back into IRL (in real life) meetings using Zoom? If you’re going to be in a Zoom meeting on camera, you’re going to have to take your face out of storage and dust it off. 

Being on video means we’ve got to remember to do laundry the night before so we’ve got clean “work clothes.” In the morning, we’ve got to shower so we don’t show up with “Bedhead” hair on camera. 

As we get back into the swing of things, let’s all remember to dust off another thing we’ve collectively put on the shelf: kindness. 

It takes a lot of energy to deal with everything being thrown at us. As we all dust off our public faces, and remember how to conduct ourselves in public spaces, tensions flare. So if someone comes at you today in a bad mood, try not to respond in kind. Show grace and conduct yourself with dignity. You might just be the metronome of mercy that sets the tone for those around you. 

Picture of my tiny basement window, with a yo-yo next to it for scale. It is rectangular in shape, with two sliding sections. The basement is sparsely finished, and there is a pole lamp to the right of the window.

As I exercised in my basement the other day, I wandered over to the tiny window near my stationary bike and checked to see if it was locked.

Strangely, it wasn’t. Huh. That’s unsettling. I’ve lived in this home for 26 years and can’t ever remember checking that window to ensure that it was locked.

I stood there for a moment in disbelief. That’s a safety risk! Granted, you’d have to be downright Lilliputian to squeeze through that window, but I felt it was my duty to make myself worry retroactively. An unlocked (albeit diminutive) window for all these years! That’s very troubling! 

For some reason, I’ve always felt that part of my job in life is to worry. I should’ve been on the ball about this! I considered standing there in the basement and worrying retroactively. But for how long? For the equivalent of 26 years? Where’s that blasted “panic” button when you need it?!?

Deep breaths! Okay.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” a wise sage once wrote. Every problem is a project in disguise. My worry about that tiny opening that only a leprechaun could fit through was really a window of opportunity. A learning experience, taught by the Great Teacher.

It’s not my job to stress over problems I didn’t know existed. My job is to do my best in this moment, grateful for the grace that has kept us covered through the years.

“Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad,” Proverbs 12:25 NASB.

Here’s the good word: whatever is too heavy a burden to bear is not yours to carry. Hand it off to God and bask in the blessings of each new day.

Picture of a cup of brown coffee in a small, white, ridged mug, and a pink, puffy pastry on a dainty, flowered plate next to an open book.

Thank you for meeting me where I am, even when I forget to be present. 

As I lumber up, into the day, I feel as if I need to plow through a massive to-do list to earn my keep in the world. 

And, inevitably, every day, it’s the same old thing. Too much to do. Not enough (insert one: time, money, resources, etc.). Crisis du jour appears. 

But today, I received a reminder that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Somehow, even when I feel I don’t have everything I need, “enough” always seems to find me.

Every dollar that comes to me was routed through the Bank of Goodwill/God’s Will. Every time I see a number on my phone that makes me exclaim, ”Well, hello there, dear heart!” — that’s a bonus. 

And when I’m too focused on challenges, I flip the script in my head. There’s a pile of innovative solutions (neé “problems”), and a folder filled with “unpaid bills” that’s actually a map/manual of finding a way. 

Looking back, when I had too much, I used it all up; still, I wasn’t satisfied. Now that I have just what I need, I appreciate it like nobody’s business. 

Thank You for giving me the good sense to be grateful for what I used to take for granted, like the heat in this home. Also, the warmth in this home. A cat who sits next to me as I knit, fascinated by the ball of yarn. Family and friends who check in with me “for no reason” when I just happen to be feeling blue. Food on the table. Bear claws from the bakery. Coffee perking. A tiny pitcher with real cream for that cup of Joe.

Sometimes you just need to look at your life in the clear light of day to see how blessed you really are.

green ceramic mug beside book
Sepia-toned picture of an open Bible next to a coffee mug on a wooden bench. It is situated next to a peaceful body of water that is shimmering in the sunlight.

So I was wondering aloud what the latest ache on my body meant…arthritis? A fissure in a bone? Some kind of new mystery malady that hasn’t yet been discovered and will have to be named after me?!? It could be anything! 

Luckily, I was with my physical therapist, who’s got a good head on her shoulders and her feet firmly planted on the ground. (Let’s explore those phrases for a moment. Who has a bad head on their shoulders and is levitating? I’d like to meet them. Hm. Or maybe I wouldn’t!) 

Anyway, she said, “Always start with the simplest thing first.” So it turns out that I slept funny. Another phrase to explore. Since I consider myself an undiscovered talent in the world of comedy, ladies and germs, I always sleep funny! Ba dum bum. Is this thing on? I’m here all week!

I’ve come to realize that experiencing trauma as a child can imbue your worldview so that you end up seeing catastrophes in every minor event in your life. How’s that for an abrupt change from a light-hearted blog post to an in-depth exploration of the psyche? But so much of life is a combination of light and dark. Joy and pain. 

Somehow, the muscles you tone while lifting heavy burdens are the same ones that help you hold onto what brings you joy. You come to appreciate the people who light you up when they walk into a room. You realize that small comforts (your cat, old movies, fresh-baked muffins) are a big deal. You learn that if you don’t loosen your grip on the injustices you endured, your hands won’t be open to reach for blessings that want to find you.

You have to clench it to carry it. What if just for today, you loosen your grip on it and leave it in Higher Hands? When the past crosses your mind today, just say this: “That was then.” Today, all is well.

white house under maple trees
Picture of a white house with forest-green and red trim, with a tree in front on the right side, and a white picket fence. There are autumn leaves of gold strewn on the ground.

If home is where the heart is, why do we spend so much time away from home? Most people are at work all day so they can make money to feather their nests. And then they’re never there!

Even with all that effort, they can end up feeling at loose ends, as if they still haven’t “arrived” yet — even when they’re home.

So I wonder: is there some kind of metaphysical map somewhere that tells us how to get “there” — wherever “there” is?

What if you could order “the good life” online?

e-Bay’s “You Complete Me” Package:

  • Neat and tidy house in the suburbs
  • White picket fence
  • Perfectly-coiffed spouse
  • 2.5 semi-well-behaved children 
  • Fluffy the dog, optional

“Best You Yet” Medical Makeover:

  • Liposuction is first, then we’ll strategically remove internal organs you’re not using (appendix, a rib or two, spleen). 
  • Next, that portion of your brain you never really put to good use will be trimmed. You know, that part with “logic” and “reason” in it.😉 
  • Act now and we’ll throw in a free set of Ginsu knives!

But the truth is “the good life” is closer than you think. 

My friend, Tina, said to me, “Enjoy this day. It’s the only one we have.” And she was right as rain! The past is a ghost and the future is a fantasy. So what should we do on this only day we have? This one right here, that the Lord has made.

Well, the Biblical answer is “Rejoice and be glad in it.” 

What if that was the key to life? Here’s a hint: it is!

No matter what’s piled up in front of you, just remember Who’s behind you. God’s got your back, so keep looking ahead. Travel at Godspeed and you’ll arrive “there” right on time.

Shelley Flannery and I became friends over matching shoes. This was back in first grade, when such things were not only possible but probable. We both wore red Mary Janes on the first day of school, and that, as they say, was that. It seemed a perfectly reasonable basis for a friendship, especially as the first thing I’d ever read (two years earlier, in my sister’s first grade primer) was a story about two girls bonding over having worn the same red dress to school. First grade primers are never wrong.

Finding common ground gets harder as we grow older; instead, we become focused on differences. Yet just the other night in the grocery store, this occurred: a man tapped my husband on the shoulder, and when he turned around, the man quickly apologized, saying, “I’m sorry; I thought you were my friend.”

To which my husband responded, “I’ll be your friend!” And the two shook hands. Maybe it can still be that easy. Maybe if we search out the things that unite us instead of the things that divide us, there’s hope for us yet.

You cannot find
what you do not seek.
Keep to what you know at heart:
We are all of us moving sacks of miracles,
made of the same well-trod dust.
Nothing plumed, furred or scaled
can know us better: know the feel of air
sluicing through our nostrils, the taste
of fruit (honey-smothered summer),
the way our bodies feel in flight.
Let us stumble over serendipity,
and finding it, delight in it.
Come, find yourself in the last place
you’d ever think to look,
in the body you do not know,
in the immanent place
our souls converge.

As autumn rolls in with blustery winds and leaf-strewn lawns, I find myself in a contemplative mood. This season, to me, is evocative of change and even sadness. It was in autumn that my father died. Several of my friends are also facing losses and challenges of a deeply personal kind. How we weather the season depends largely on thorough self-care and unflagging support from those who love us. Prayer, of course, always helps, too.


In the autumn of our days,
may all fall softly.
May heartache land lightly,
astounding us with color:
russet, gold, garnet.
Let us note the blue of the sky,
even as it bulges gray with rain.

May we, like the beasts,
gather what we need
in empathy and acorns,
scattered seed and gentle touch
to last the lean months ahead.
What we cannot glean,
let us amply share.

two white and yellow ceramic mugs
Picture of a yellow mug with the words, “So Very Blessed” on it, along with holiday decorations, including a small orange gourd and autumn flowers.

Looking out the window on this beautiful fall morning, I saw that the bluebirds (Indigo Montoya and Azure Likeit) were eating the food I’d put out for the stray cat (Vanessa Vavoom, who’s got a luxurious orange and white, flowing mane). 

At the same time, the squirrels (Steve & Shirley Squirrely) were stealing the seeds I’d put out for the birds.

No matter how you plan, life happens the way the leaves fall. The wind carries them off and they land on new real estate, far from where they started.  Everything changes and that’s the way it’s meant to be.

This is what I was thinking recently, when there were so many things to get done and nothing was going as intended. I wished I could get it all under control.

But wait: that’s God’s job. There’s no way I can get my arms around the world and suspend it in space. Nor can I go back in time and change seminal moments so that I wasn’t deeply affected, even to this day.

But I can be blessed, right where I am. Sit on the couch next to the cat as he basks in his own blessings: a nice perch by the window to monitor the wildlife that dares to populate his yard. Catnip toy to gnaw on. Soft blanket to curl up in. A cool breeze on an autumn day with Mom nearby, working away on her computer. Squeaky has got it good! And, you know what? So do I.

“Good” is being content with where I am right now, while still trying to improve whatever needs fixing.

“Better” is when I trust that God has got my back, no matter how long the road ahead may seem.

“Blessed” is my birthright. The state of being in which I know all is well, no matter what is going on around me or inside me.

All in all, life is good, but it could be better. And it will be, as long as I focus on my blessings and leave the rest in God’s hands.

It is the way of things: Sometimes your prayer life will be rich and flowing, a jar of honey, a full wineskin. And sometimes, it won’t be. These are the dry times. And while of course we look primarily to our higher power for relief, sometimes relief flows through our fellow humans. Sometimes the smallest gesture can make a difference. And this is why I write: to gesture. Similar gestures are always welcome. Right now, I could use a few.

There will be dry times,
sere times,
times when parched prayers
crack and crumble to ash
before they can be mumbled
from lips numbed by dust.
There will be times so arid
rote turns to rictus
and you parch like a mummy
buried in sand, the weight of which
will not yield. When this happens,
remember: there is water somewhere,
a spring underground.
Your body will arch like a dousing rod,
knowing it, sensing it.
If I find it, I will tell you.
If you find it first, please come
with ladle or cup, thimble or thermos.
We must refresh each other
or we will die before we find
the single thing we seek.

Archive

Have a Mary Little Christmas

%d bloggers like this: