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Some people dive into life head-first. Others hang back and just dip their toes in the water. I’m trying something new: forging ahead heart-first, the way Mary, Jesus’ mother, did. She could not have known or been ready for what life threw at her — teen pregnancy, raising the Son of God, watching that beloved son die on a cross — but she moved through it, keeping “all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) She could only feel her way forward by trusting in her faith and love.

If life is handing you unfathomable circumstances, mysteries you just can’t unravel, that’s okay. Trust your heart, rather than your head, and take the next step.

When all your soul is cloaked
in darkness as thick as the pelt of a bear
and as unyielding to the touch,
crack open the delicate shell of your heart,
allow it to illuminate what it can.
As for the rest, there is only faith
which of course moves mountains,
but rubble, too, the pebble in your shoe,
the slippery sand sliding underfoot.
The heart touches trouble in all the right places,
moves the wound, stanches the bleeding,
keeps the dike from cracking as we pass,
not with understanding perhaps, but with
the eye of the heart, which witnesses
but does not judge. Understanding will come,
in this or other lives, slowly or like a fist;
it doesn’t matter now. For now, let love lead.

Scrolling through news headlines this morning on my phone, I clicked on an advice column that I enjoy and was surprised by the picture I saw. Normally, you can see the columnist’s face and upper torso in the picture, but today, due to a technical glitch, all you can see is her shoulder. 

This made me laugh. Why, this could be a cottage industry for her — an advice column about burdens we all must shoulder. “Talk to the shoulder!” could become a catch phrase. Her new book could be titled: “How to Carry the Weight of the World on Your Shoulders (and Get a Great Upper Body Work-out in the Process)”!

Because we can’t always see the bigger picture in life, sometimes the things we pray for really wouldn’t be good for us. Most of us have prayed for money, sometimes even a lottery win, but being filthy rich wouldn’t make you happier; it would make life harder. More taxes to pay. More “new friends” coming around asking for a piece of the pie. 

And that relationship you prayed would be “the one,” but wasn’t? If you have to compromise, accommodate and put yourself on the back burner, that wasn’t a relationship anyway, but a prison term. Why pray for what doesn’t serve you? 

While we see only a portion of it, God sees the whole picture. If he can hold up the whole world, you can rest assured, he’s got a shoulder for you to lean on, too. In the meantime, do what you can to improve your life. Surround yourself with positive people. Do your best at the work you do. Stay healthy and active — and try a few shoulder rolls to stay limber.😊

Nobody knows they’re a noodge, do they? I didn’t realize I was one myself until one day when my son was fixing his bed frame and I stopped in to offer “encouragement.” I’d say, “What if you tried it this way?” He’d say, “That won’t work, Mom.” I’d offer, “Do you need a wrench for that?” Finally he said politely but firmly, “That’s not helping. Please stop now.”

My version of “help” was really not helping. Sometimes when you don’t know how to fix an issue, you flutter about, making it even worse. Maybe that’s what’s going on with negative emotions that just won’t let up. 

That nagging voice in our heads that we call guilt really doesn’t see itself that way. In fact, it regards itself more as a quilt, seeking only to cover you with a patchwork of memories so you don’t make the same mistakes again. 

And fear is really a deer, lost in the woods, trying to find its way home. It doesn’t want to harm you; it’s just trying to navigate the unknown alone.

God embedded us with these emotions, so there must be a reason for them. Maybe it’s just to learn that our feelings — and in fact, most of the people in our lives — are trying their best. 

So, I know I’m a noodge at times, but I’m learning to scale back my fluttering and s/mothering of those I care about. Harping isn’t helping. Someday, I’ll be a former noodge. Maybe I’ll do a PSA to help others to deal with people like me. It might even help you as you deal with all those misguided emotions that hassle you relentlessly. Be patient with them, but be direct when need be, as my son was with me. “Move along, now,” you can tell them. “I’ve got this.”

Crossed wires. Chaotic interference. Misunderstandings. Bad intel. Instead of seeing things clearly in 2020 (yes, that’s an optometry joke), we seem to be struggling with miscommunication. Some of this derives from how we say things — using texts and social media tends to obliterate shades of meaning like inflection and sarcasm. But part of the problem is the simple rise of noise: Everybody’s talking, but no one is listening. And even the people listening aren’t really hearing. What can we do about it? Let’s start by uncrossing some wires.

Being human is getting us nowhere;
it is time for us to be animals again.
Let go of your body, settle into fur,
into feathers, into exoskeleton
and antennae, into scales, scruff
and haunches. Purr when you’re happy.
Growl when angry. Pester like a fly
until answers emerge. Most of all,
stop touching words as if each is a
thistle. Land on them as blandly
as a bee, touching lightly, springing
from petal to petal. Open your heart
to the simplicity of winter sleep,
tucked in together with no more
motive than merely getting through it.
Share your den with the whole wide world,
wordlessly, remembering our common blood.

How does social anxiety start? For me, it happened in grade school, when I first realized that being different in any way seemed to give some kids license to pick on others. I have red hair, freckles and glasses. Nuff said? Nowadays, I love my hair, but at the time, I wished I could blend in and be a brunette. I started to speak less often, not wanting to call attention to myself, and developed anxiety in social situations. 

As I got older, I realized that most people are so inside their own heads that they weren’t even thinking of me or anyone else. If someone wanted to make me feel bad about myself, it was usually a reflection of something going on in their own life. I came to the conclusion, “That’s their bad day.” It didn’t have to be my bad day, too.

There are so many types of anxiety that many are known simply by their acronyms: OCD, PTSD, GAD. When I was stuck in an awful job and a failing marriage years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). As I look back at the person I was, I don’t even recognize her. I haven’t felt that way in over a decade.

I’ve found effective relief-valves, such as meditation, with the HeadSpace app, support groups, round-loom knitting, and at-home cognitive behavioral therapy techniques. I’ve found ways to work around my visual impairment and MS to volunteer my time and talents in whatever small way I can. Having a project and a purpose every day when I wake up has improved my quality of life. 

Re-charging your batteries when your soul needs fuel makes it possible to keep powering down the road of life. And partnering with Providence can keep you on the right path.

Hey, everybody! Who’s fired up for the new year? Who’s ready to take 2020 by the throat and wrest it into something beautiful, profitable and astonishing?

Not me. Maybe not you, either. But guess what? That’s okay. Most of us don’t have a grand plan. We just keep on keeping on, as they say. This year, let’s be kind to ourselves. Think of all of your daily “yeses” as practice for the big “yes” coming for us all one day, down the line a smidge or a half-century. Whether 2020 is our best year yet matters less than whether we do our best with it, day by day.

No one’s ever ready
for the great not-yet.
You take it as it comes,
like eating an elephant,
bite by bite. The enormity
of the task must be blurred, blunted,
or else you will see nothing but
endless road ahead. Instead,
focus on the odd flower that
punctuates a field, the stray
dog at your heels, the friend
you espy from afar. Small steps.
The now of it. The real feel
of stones on feet, of air coursing
through you, the weight of your bones.
Let each step fall gently. Be prepared
to choose another route. Most of all,
be kind: to your feet, which bear you up,
to your companions on the road,
to the power that prompts you
as you walk each day into
marvelous, maddening newness.

It is the day after Christmas. How are you feeling? Overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Maybe you have that nagging feeling that — once again — the holidays have left you…incomplete somehow. What is that hole in our hearts, anyway — a longing for holidays past? Regret that Christmas didn’t “measure up” to our expectations? A sense that somehow we didn’t really get what we wanted?

Maybe what we’re missing can’t be bought from a store. And maybe that feeling you’re feeling is something helpful — a hint that this world isn’t meant to meet all of our needs. That longing you feel? Maybe it’s just a reminder that somewhere up ahead, something better awaits.

When your pockets are as empty
as the sack of your heart,
when you ache for a place
you’ve never been
and cannot find,
you will remember
what you did not get.

It was a stable, warm with hay
and the breath of cows,
a haven heavy with a sense of rest:
a knowing that all is well,
finally, at last and forever.
Do not fret, for this will come.
Keep walking toward the light.
Never let go of the longing,
for it will guide you,
sure as any compass.

“Author of all that is good”: That’s God. Or at least it’s one of God’s common descriptors. When I heard it at Mass the other day, I gave it a good think, this time from a blogger’s point of view. God really is the author of all that is good. But we have a role to play, too. Good is transmitted from God through us, into our acts and words, in whatever role we play: as parents, caretakers, teachers, and yes, even writers. If we are open to it, that is.

 

 

All good is of God,
but who can face it?
Who would not be struck blind
by the beauty of it?
Like coffee too scalding for the palate,
it must be tempered,
sugared, cooled for a receptive tongue.
Who will tend to it?
All of us: the child, when it smiles,
the nurse with deft hand
and bandages, the poet whose fingers
pause above the keys,
listening, receptive as antennae,
waiting for word. Can you see
the author of all that is good
reading love into being?
And will you make it your mantra,
translating and decoding,
through touch and word and deed?
We are needed.
Listen for instructions.
Pass the word.
Dwell in it
as if it were your own skin.

 

 

December 21 — that’s the day winter officially begins. Yet, somehow (and I can’t be the only one!), I’m already tired of it. If it’s not winter yet, then why is it so cold? Why are we beset with snow and wind and slush and gray skies? Calendars and almanacs may be useful, but they can’t tell us how we feel. Only we know that. And in this Advent, this time of waiting, I am feeling ready for something new. Something wonderful. (P.S. A thank-you to my good friend Marilyn Rausch for the term “hyacinth of the soul”!)

In this winter by another name,
this still-point of seasons,
in trees stripped clean,
in a sky black with grackles,
ground as hard as haters’ hearts:

I am waiting for a hyacinth of the soul:
something fragrant and unexpected.

Something’s coming
with a gift already purchased,
bought in blood, so long ago.
I have only to hold it in my hands
to know it. It feels like the sun,
wobbling weak as a new calf,
standing. Sniffing springtime.
May the light find us ready
to stand awhile and bask.

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles with the theme of scientists being taken aback by fascinating finds. First, they were “stunned” by the discovery of a black hole with a mass seventy times larger than the sun.  Next, they were “shocked” when they found a 2000-year-old mass gravesite of Germanic warriors in Poland, complete with “mystery urns.”  Then, they were “fascinated” by the research that shows dangerous bacteria communicate to avoid antibiotics.

(That last one makes me think of sinister cells in tiny leather jackets and tattoos, roaming around the body causing trouble. “Cheese it, pals, here comes the fuzz. We’ll meet back at the gall bladder later. Let’s am-scray!”)

I’ve also noticed that “breaking the internet” is a thing lately. For instance, Jennifer Aniston joined Instagram and broke the internet. Oh dear. I hope they can fix it by later today, cuz I’m planning to curate some more cat pictures for my humble bloggie.

Article writers use dramatic tags to garner more views, but the truth is that not everything is over-the-top and out-of-control. Hyperbole and hysterics only add stress to our lives, but the world still turns like clockwork every day. Seasons change on schedule. Most of the time, life is low-key.

It’s easy to forget the small moments of grace that don’t scream for attention, like the fact that the new mailman, Bob, brought the mail to my door this afternoon in the wake of recent snowy weather. “I’ll check in if I see you haven’t had a chance to get to the mailbox,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

Sage advice from a kind soul. All of those small moments of grace over the course of a lifetime add up to a good life, well-lived.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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