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Life is hard. There’s no denying it. But during this Easter season, we are reminded that there is proof of the resurrection all around us.

Fact:
Friends will betray you
they will dine beside you
then sell you out for silver.
The road will always be uphill
and the load will nearly break you.
(Others can ease it, briefly,
but they cannot die for you.)
You will taste sweat, blood, bitter
liquid; your body will snap, sag,
breach and be broken. You will die,
ultimately, alone.

Fortunately, friend,
One has gone before
holding hope in his hands like a loaf of bread.
Even as you close your eyes
to all of this, you will open them again.
Like an Easter lily, you will wear white.
Like Easter morning, you will be born.

What story are you telling?

Something to remember on dark days … Faith won’t solve the problem, but it is the beginning.

Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
   than a house full of feasting, with strife.
Proverbs 17:1

Even with the help of a kind-hearted friend, I was wiped out at the end of yard sale day.

They’d plow through the neat piles of clothes labeled with yellow sticky notes that listed the size and price. What size is this? They’d yell across the driveway. How much is this? I’d say, It’s on the label. Oh, they’d yell. Is this negotiable?

We were charging two dollars for a pair of Levi’s with the tag still on. They’d try their best to lean on us to take one dollar.

Really?

It wasn’t the physical exertion, though that can really take a toll. No, it was the energy it took to deal with a few of the people who’d left their manners at home, along with their wallets, apparently. One woman said, Oh, I forgot my purse at home. All I have is fifty cents for this scarf. Will you take it?

The first time I heard that one, I didn’t realize it was a technique to get a better deal. At the same yard sale, a man said he’d forgotten his money clip.

While nobody expects to get rich from the proceeds of a yard sale, I really didn’t expect to feel depleted at the end of the day. My friend had really done all the work, but just being there was wearing.

Why is it that the slightest hint of getting a deal brings out the worst in us?

It was the first – and only – time I’d ever participated in the block yard sale. Ever since then, I’ve reminded myself to consider this when I accept an invitation or take on an obligation: How will it make me feel? Do I really want to do this? Is it worth it?

That soul-draining day taught me something. If you don’t safeguard your own peace of mind, somebody will try to put a pricetag on it. Check your back for sticky notes, use the good sense God gave you, and keep on moving.

My son is eighteen-years-old, and, as you can imagine, I’m keeping him covered in prayer. At the same time, I’m trying to keep my distance.

After all, he knows how to navigate the world, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. I have to remember that I’ve raised him to the best of my ability, and now the rest is up to him.

Still, occasionally, if my prayers were read aloud, they would sound frantic. Because sometimes, that’s just how I feel.

He’s going to college. He’s got a steady girlfriend. He’s driving on New Jersey’s busy highways.

The other day, I prayed anxiously. I’d been thinking of all the things I hoped for him in his life, and felt tight. At the end of the prayer, I spoke to myself, just as if in conversation with a friend, trying to understand why I felt so unsettled.

I hope he does well.
I trust God knows what he’s doing.
I believe it all works out in the end.

Breathing in and out a few times slowly, I went into my sunroom and sat in the spot on the couch bathed in soft light rays. Just as my cat might do, basking and being. Just being.

There was a subtle shift in my soul and I exhaled, speaking out loud the words I had just said, only this time, I changed the punctuation slightly. When I put the emphasis back on Providence instead of on the problem, a wave of of peace washed over me.

I hope. He does well.
I trust. God knows what he’s doing.
I believe. It all works out in the end.

“What if you woke up and the only things that remained were the things you gave thanks for yesterday?” This is something I read on Twitter recently, by a site called Amazing Grace.

Staying in a state of grace is putting God back in charge. You know. Where he was all along. It’s okay to let go of things you really can’t control anyway. Just a gentle reminder from someone who’s been there.

There’s a commercial making the rounds (for an investment firm, I believe) that asks, “How do you measure success?” The point being, you ought to be saving for your retirement so that you can do bucket list-y things like climb rocks or volunteer teach. But there is a finer point to be discussed: What makes a life successful?

Is it the accumulation of money or things? As nice as things can be, they cannot be taken with you after you shuffle off this mortal coil. (Unless you’re a pharaoh, and even then, tomb robbing can really put a dent in your feline sarcophagi collection.) People talk about “successful businessmen.” I assume they mean a person who has made more than he’s lost. But often that’s not really the case. The “successful businessman” has often accomplished his feats through financial manipulation, the sweat of other people’s brows, or outright chicanery. That doesn’t spell “success” to me. More like “not caught in the act and appropriately punished.”

So what is success? I posit to you that it means being a good person. Specifically, if you were to die tomorrow, could others remember one good deed you did? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Start digging and see what you come up with: “I loved my parents” (except when you didn’t); “I gave to charity” (sometimes, and maybe only for the tax break); “I cared about the environment” (unless you’re that one young woman who hasn’t created any garbage in three years — and you’re an American — you probably flunk this one outright); “I wasn’t actively hurtful to people” (congratulations, you’ve lived up to the minimum requirement for morality). The list, disappointingly, goes on.

I don’t say these things to make you feel bad, Unspecified Reader. I put myself through this test and came up with a review not much to my liking. Most of us have not done one shining, unselfish deed in our whole lives. Mostly we do good because it makes us feel good. But is that enough?

Is it enough to require of ourselves that we more often do right than wrong? Will our lives be summed up on an old-timey scale, balancing the good against the bad? Will it take more than a preponderance of evidence to convict or acquit us in the final scheme of things?

I think we were put on this earth to be our best selves, to live up to our God-given potential not as athletes or businesspeople or celebrities, but as fully functioning, empathetic, loving humans. And whatever we do that does not push us closer to that goal is probably a diversion at best and a trap at worst.

So, I put it to you: Are you a success? Have you done one good thing? Name it.

In a dream the other night, I was given some sage advice. I was told, “It’s not solve the problem. It’s resolve the energy. How do you get from down to up. That’s what matters.”

That’s been true in so many situations in my life.

When the Great Gatsby came out a few years ago, I was really looking forward to seeing it. I got my ticket and found a seat in my local theater. About two hours into the movie, I noticed it was sapping my spirit and affecting my energy.  It’s not that it was a bad movie, but it got so sad that it was really bringing me down and I felt like I wanted to ditch it. I held off, thinking that others in the audience might look askance at me if I did.  

Due to health issues, I was using a crutch. I’m visually impaired. If I were to leave, I’d have to find my way down the steps in the dark, tap-tapping as I go, drawing attention to myself.  Should I stay and feel deflated by this bummer of a movie?

As I was pondering this question, a character said, “Sorry you have to be going.”

I thought, hm. Is that for me?

The other character replied, “Yes, sorry, I have to be going.”

Does that confirm it?

“Here, let me show you to the door.”

Okay, God. I get it.

Later, Leonardo!

It’s okay to decide that how you feel matters. We spend so much of our time pre-processing our potential actions to run them through the filter of norms and expectations that we don’t even put our own state of mind on the list.

Honor how you feel. If something/someone is bringing you down, catch the bus on out of there. You’ll thank me for this public service the next time you’re in this situation. Just do me a favor – send me your Milk Duds when you leave the movie! 🙂

Since we lost our cat Bella two weeks ago, the house seems empty. The irony is, we still have three cats. They are elderly, quiet, less active than they used to be. They are also the last three of a “pride” that once numbered eleven. Going from 11 to three is a dramatic decline. We feel like empty nesters.

Two feelings have arisen in me simultaneously: A desire to adopt more cats plus an equal desire to never adopt again. It is difficult for me to not want to help every stray and needy animal that’s out there. On the other hand, every time we lose one, it hurts dreadfully. I don’t want to hurt again, even though I know I will as three becomes two becomes one becomes zero. Each of our adoptees filled a special space in my heart. They taught me about patience, nurturing, joy and love. As they leave the earth, they take that piece of me with them.

I’ve had to analyze why it is I want to reopen what’s left of my heart to another animal. I think it’s because it’s easier to love animals than to love people. Cats appreciate the smallest luxuries, especially after a life on the streets: a warm bed, plentiful food, a clean box. But people? They’re complicated. Jealous. They come with baggage. It’s harder to please them. It’s harder to show them love. There’s no guarantee that they’ll purr in response to your efforts.

I clearly have a lot of love to give or I wouldn’t have adopted so many animals in my lifetime. What makes it so difficult to transfer that loving from animals to people? Maybe it’s because I understand cats. I can communicate with them. People, not so much, even though we do share a species, language and culture. You’d think it would be the other way round.

And it brings up the following question: Why can’t we accept the simplest acts of love from one another? Why do we look into every gesture, every word, for subtext, motive, hidden agendas? Probably because we’ve been hurt by those things before. If we could give and receive love as easily and freely as animals do, we’d probably be a lot better off. If all it took to restore someone’s good mood was a scratch behind the ears, I’d be doing a lot more scratching. And those good moods would be creating a mountain of good will.

So don’t be put off if some lonely looking woman comes up to you and offers you a sardine or rub under the chin. It’s just me, looking for connections in a simpler, stranger language. Take it as a compliment. Or hand me a kitten. Either way, I’m good.

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