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Let me sum it up for you: Grace — I don’t have it. Well, at least not outwardly. Not the kind of grace that shows up in the fluid movement of a dancer or the effortless courtesy of a good hostess. Certainly not the kind of grace Jesus’ mother Mary had, which was a complete freedom from sin. The kind of grace available to me (and to all of us) is pure gift, the redemption we receive only from God.

We give grace when we forgive one another. But it’s hard to bestow that kind of grace, hard to say, “I forgive you” without adding, “even though you’re essentially a bad person/ a selfish swine/possibly a criminal/not someone who deserves my friendship.” Grace doesn’t judge. It’s rather like mercy in that way, dropping “as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath.” Raindrops don’t choose where to fall. And if we want to be Christ-like, we can’t pick and choose where our grace falls either.

I’ll admit it’s a struggle. Lucky for me, grace is also a prayer. Maybe not this kind, but still — praying might get me there.

I was not built for grace.
It fits me ill,
a hair shirt at once too small
and dangling from my shoulders.
Still, I’ll have the mastery of it.
I will practice the fastening of buttons,
repeat the words until I mean them.
I will work at grace as at a puzzle,
trying the pieces, searching for a fit.
Perhaps the picture will never be clear,
but I will accept it as it stands, with holes
and jagged bits, unfinished but enough.
I will rain grace, fertile as a heavy cloud,
no matter how the stony ground accepts it.
But first, I must fill myself.

  1. ✅Summer Tick Check

Okay, kids. When you come back into the house after playing in the yard, shake out every piece of clothing you’re wearing to check for ticks. Turn it inside out. Hold it up to the light. Look in the mirror. Check every fold of skin. Turn around. Feel with your hands. Clear? Good. Oh, wait! Your hair! Run your fingers methodically through your hair. Cover every inch of your scalp.

Phew! That was close. Nobody wants to catch Lyme Disease!  Nobody wants something hijacking your head. Sticking its spikes into your skin. Infecting you with a dread disease that changes who you are. Sucks the life out of you. Stops you in your tracks. Puts your life on hold.

  1. ✅Summer Skincare Check

Sunscreen on or the trip is off. Down the shore, that sun can really do a number on you. Searing into your skin. Causing you pain. Creating lasting damage. Could lead to cancer, which could be fatal.

  1. Summer Psyche Check

Crickets…

Meantime, that cruel comment from your father bored into your brain and still comes up when the sad sets in. Meanwhile, that thing that happened when you were a child that they said don’t speak of to anyone reverberates in your life decades later. Changes you at the cellular level. But there’s no think-tank studying how to stop it from metastasizing. Only platitudes and placebos: stiff upper lip. Soldier on. 

Worse yet, there are the naysayers. Are you sure that happened? I don’t want to be skeptical but, you were so young. Maybe you were mistaken? 

No. It happened. And the pain you feel is real, but it’s a relic that has calcified into a stumbling block you still trip over.

You can release it. You don’t have to make your mind a mausoleum of dark days.  

You free yourself by excavating and examining said past pain this way:

Did I deserve this? Did I cause this?

No.

Why did no one stop it? Why did no one help me?

I don’t know.

Am I worthy of the good life has to offer? Is my life important?

Yes.

Shake off the debris of memory and walk your mind into the sacred space at the center of your soul.

Check yesterday off your list. Say yes to today.

Let the wounds heal into scars. Let the scars lead you to tend to other people in pain, healing both of you in the process. Don’t resurrect the past now that it’s laid to rest. Don’t give it power over how you feel by poking it and picking at it, revisiting and reviving it in perpetuity. Don’t give old pain new life. Address it fully and release it to make way for new Grace Gifts: joy, peace, love.

Be in this moment. Let tomorrow form into what it will. 

Life is good.

God is good.

All is well.

✅Check.

Dainty, white tea cup on a white table. Pink flowers in a glass vase are blurred in the background.

As I was meditating this morning, the soothing voice of Yoga instructor, Selena Lael, made it seem as if all was right with the world. 

“Exhaling fully,” she said, “and emitting a humming sound will activate the Vagas nerve.”

Well, I don’t know if I inadvertently activated the “Vegas” — as in Las Vegas — nerve instead somehow, but suddenly I was amped up and anxious. Alarms were blaring in my head. Oh no! I forgot there’s a bill on auto-pay! Is there enough money in my account to cover it?

Also, I’ve got a stack of emails to reply to. Plus, I just dangled my preposition at the end of that last sentence. Aaaah!

So many things just seem so…unfinished. You tackle one situation and another one seems to spring up in its place. All these things are really just tasks on a to-do list, and we’ve all had moments where things have slipped through the cracks, haven’t we? But, looking back on the ledger of your life, you’ve handled such things before. You know how to plow through this pile of problems.

Eyes up. Gaze forward. Hands together in prayer. Shoulders square. One foot in front of the other.

There’s no need to gear up for a fight and “take on the day.” Put down your arms and take IN the day. The battle’s already been won. Do what you can to address what needs attention, and then, stop running in place. Be still, and breathe.

Settle into your comfy armchair with a fresh cup of coffee. Cover your lap with a soft throw blanket. Sit by the sunny window in the living room and pet the cat. Drink in the day that is right now, not the chaotic mess-fest you fear it may become.

It’s okay to stay in today and let tomorrow germinate in God’s garden. Who knows? Maybe the muck and mulch of fear and uncertainty will magically morph it into a beautiful, burgeoning blossom. But for now? Just be here.

Small gift with pale yellow wrapping paper, tied together with a bright, pink bow

A wise man once said, “God’s got bad gift-wrapping.”

Although you can’t see it right now, the things you’re going through that hurt like Hell will collude together with Providence to create a new path ahead of you. It’s a package of pain, mind you, yet somehow, still a gift.

Sometimes you feel so alone, you dig yourself a little hole and hide there, hoping the pain won’t go with you. But of course, it does. All you want is for life to be the way it was before. For those you held dear to be here. To have full vision, as you did before. To return to the place where life made sense. To turn back the clock to the good old days, when you had the luxury of taking it all for granted. You don’t want magic and miracles. You just want a normal day. Seems like it should be one word, “Normalday” as if it’s a location or destination. A mile marker of the soul that only you can see.

In time, you’ll find a place where a glimmer of grace resides and hunker down there until the sun decides to shine again. You find you’re still covered with prayer from afar night and day, and you see that the world has decided to start turning again. You come in from the cold and walk into the warmth of those who still hold you up and hold you dear and hold you together. 

But wait! This is the best part. This is the blessed part. You say it doesn’t feel like it? No. And it won’t for some time. You’re growing internally, expanding exponentially. You’re building the ability to bear up without knuckling under. To shore yourself up without getting pulled back into the morass of misery.

It’s a long walk to the promised land of “Normalday”, but remember: You will never walk alone. The ones you’ve loved and lost (including who you were in the past) are still with you somehow, and it is never a mistake to risk opening your heart because one day you will lose them.

Let them in. Let them go. Let love remain, even after they’ve gone. Let yourself grieve. Let yourself believe. Even after loss (of loved ones, of limbs, of sight, of jobs, of friends, of money, of “the one that got away”, etc.) there is life. And tomorrow the sun will shine again. You will rise to meet the day and be renewed. And look at you now! You’ve survived the worst of it, stronger at the broken places. Let the normal day begin.

The phone started ringing at about the same time the floorboards caught fire. There was smoke and voices, and I was walking into the bedroom and suddenly someone was telling me that my mother was dead. I’m not really sure what happened after that: Presumably, the plumber put out the fire he’d started while working on our pipes in the crawlspace. Presumably, I said some things, like, “When did it happen?” and “How can I help?” I do recall thinking that ordinarily, I would not have picked up a call at that hour. Any other week, I would have been on the phone with my friend in Chicago, chatting as we do every Friday. But I was sick, and my throat was sore, so I’d cancelled the call.

But of course, the hour didn’t matter. My mom had died in the morning, hours earlier, and whatever it was I should have felt at that moment — a sudden rushing of light and sound out of the world, a seismic shift in my soul — I didn’t feel it. I didn’t know. I should have known.

Since then, I’ve been reading a lot of books that deal with the death of loved ones, and in every one, the main character reacts sharply and immediately. She screams or falls to the floor. Something fragile is often dropped precipitously. For me, it’s like reading about other people visiting a country to which I have never been. They might talk about the scenery, the contours of the sand dunes, the bustling marketplace, and all I can think is: None of this relates to me. It is not at all like my own experience with grief. They are in Lichtenstein or Lebanon, someplace with a flag I would never recognize, and I am in my home, only something very subtle has changed. Were the sheets always that color? Didn’t we use to have curtains there?

Grief has been like stumbling through a fog. I’ll see something on TV and think, “I should tell Mom about that” at exactly the same moment I also think, “There is no Mom to tell.” I start crying at church, my nose running into my mask. I keep expecting something to happen (just as I did when my father died) — that she will come to me in my dreams with a message or appear to me in the form of a faun outside my window. But nothing like that happens. She’s just gone.

People say a lot of comforting things when they find out your mother has died. But my father-in-law said the best thing: “The hardest part of growing older is the loss of those you love.” That felt real to me. I want to believe (do, in fact, believe) the comforting phrases about where my mother is right now and how she is at peace, but it’s hard when the only empirical evidence I have is a void. Empty space. Trinkets: her patent leather purse, her jet earrings, a sweater that does not fit. Like me, my mother hated taking photos, so I only have a few. Not nearly enough.

I have her letters, written to me throughout my life, though I can’t bear to read them. Some day I will. But when I try to imagine the woman who will do this, she does not look anything like me. She looks like my mom. And that’s someone I’ll never be, or I wouldn’t miss her half so much.

Red, heart-shaped lit candle on a shiny, grey granite counter. A bouquet of pinkish-red flowers with deep green leaves are blurred in the background.

Dear friend enduring dark days: I am here for you. Beloved sister of my soul, you are not alone. If only I could send an angel to enfold you in its sheltering wings. Cover you with a prayer shawl infused with golden light to cast out bleak thoughts. Send a forcefield to protect you from enemies without and doubts within. Send you my heart so you feel how loved you are in each beat. Lend you my shoulder to carry the weight of all you have to bear. Lend you my ear to listen as you tell me your troubles.

But all I can do from afar is pray for you, remind you that you’ll weather this storm. Quietly help you heal with the age-old elixir of listening mixed with loving-kindness. Dear heart, with the tincture of time, with a foundation of faith, you will survive. Holding God’s hand, trusting your heart, you will come back to life again. And when you’re ready to fly again, spread your wings and wend your way skyward.

Till then, do what you know innately to do. One foot in front of the other. Chin up. Eyes ahead. Call on God to carry you through. And let me walk with you as you do.

Over it. Those are words I hear a lot lately. Folks are tired of the pandemic. Tired of being abused by employers. Sick of inequality, insufficient health care, the gridlock in Washington, even the weather. I, too, have been struggling with the state of my personal life. My beloved cat, Roux, died of kidney failure. Relationships I thought were solid have turned toxic, and I don’t know why. I’ve struggled with writer’s block. I just feel…tired. And I know I’m not alone. Life is out of balance. Maybe if we all fling ourselves at God at the same time, things will even out?

Speak to me of balance
of the trick
of the flick
of the wrist,
all balls in the air —
it’s quite an act.
I sit in the minute
before it all drops,
expecting chaos,
braced for pain.
Someone — some saint, perhaps —
step in and save my act.
All I know of life
is the just getting by,
the daily glide along the wire,
betting on the skin of my toes,
when what I need is a net.
God get us out of this circus.
Retire us to a place
where being is enough:
Hands empty. Soles on the ground.

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. 

The magic of Christmas is this: That something so small could change the world. That a girl from a “nothing” town could be chosen as the mother of God. That a stable could be the birthplace of a Savior. That a baby — a tiny, helpless baby — could be God incarnate, our salvation, the ultimate game changer, taking us from Old Testament “eye for an eye” to New Testament “forgive seven times seventy times.” God truly is a master of surprise.

Something so small:
the cowrie shells of his nails
(an oasis in the desert!),
the questing bud of his lips,
opening like an orchid.
His hair, fine and spare,
brushed ‘cross a skull
still red with effort,
soft beneath the hand.
Slitted eyes, seeking light,
seeing only subtle shapes.
Yet armed as any animal,
able to grip and startle, track and root.
This, then, will change the world:
hands so small will touch a cross,
flailing legs will lead us to heaven.
To trust in this is to pick cattle over comfort,
seeds over trees, a star that shines so seldom,
yet points the only way. And so we follow.
All that God is fits in the crook of an arm,
swallows us like an ocean.

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.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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