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This is a picture of my mackerel-tabby, Squeaky, sitting on a cabinet in my bedroom, poking his nose through the blinds to wake me up.

When my cat wants me to wake up at the crack of dawn and I’m just not being cooperative, he clambers up onto the cabinet by the window and noisily pokes his nose through the blinds.

He’s sending a message, loud and clear: Is there food in my bowl? If not, why not? Since you’re up now (FINALLY!), are you going to play yarn-toss with me now? Or what?

People tend to do the same thing, but in a different way. They’ll come up with ways to rattle your blinds so you pay attention to them. Or it could be that they’re so involved in their own lives, they don’t realize they’re impinging on yours.

Take my neighbors, for example. Please! I jest, of course. They’re not bad. It’s just that they’ve got rambunctious youngsters who love to play on their backyard trampoline and they do so at full-volume. Today, their grandparents bought them a kiddie pool. Now they’re all screaming at the top of their lungs, splashing around, raising a ruckus and making it hard to concentrate.

But, if you think about it, my cat rattling the blinds to wake me up and my noisy neighbors are actually blessing accentuators. They point out the fact that I’ve got blessings in abundance. 

Normally, the neighborhood is peaceful. That’s why I notice the noise from my neighbors’ kids when it happens. It’s unusual.

Here is Squeaky sitting on the cabinet with the blinds now closed. The lighting from the window makes him look slightly blurry, like an animation.

Usually my cat is cuddly and loving. That’s why I notice when he’s doing something that seems obnoxious, like rattling the blinds. He doesn’t do it often. 

You may not even notice your blessings until something gets in the way of your basking in them.

Having patience with those around you when they get on your nerves will remind you how much you’ve got to be thankful for. 

brown and white short coated dog on white ceramic floor tiles
Picture of a door that is slightly ajar, open enough to see a sweet, brown puppy

Is nothing sacred? I thought, as they head-butted their way through the bathroom door.

Early on, it was my puppy, all floppy ears and fluffy tail. She’d used her considerable nose to push her way through the door, which had been slightly ajar. What’s doing? she seemed to say, with a tilt of her fuzzy head. With that, she sat down and took a nap.

Then it was my toddler, all cherub cheeks, binky and blanket in tow. He’d barge in like a mini-caveman and sit on the floor by the “throne.” Want some company? he seemed to ask. With that, he’d lay on the floor with his blankie and take a nap.

Finally, it was my cat, all wild whiskers and stealthy feet. He looked like a tiny, tuxedoed man, with dark pants tucked into white tube socks. He seemed to say, Are you aware that my food bowl is only 99% full? With that, he’d put his head down on the bathroom rug and take a nap.

“This used to be single occupancy,” I’d say to my audience, all of whom would just look at me, bemused.

I realized some things are sacred. These moments. The slow pace of time. The invasion of space. The crumbs and legos and dog toys strewn around the living room. Those moments were golden, although at the time, it didn’t feel like it. I often felt as if there were things coming at me from all sides and I never had a moment to myself.

We’ve all been through a lot lately, with COVID fatigue, political clashes, and the general sense of distrust that has set in.

It’s easy to slam the door, to shut everything bad out, but sometimes, when you leave the door ajar, good things come toddling in.

My mackerel-tabby, Squeaky, in his situation of blessings: napping on a comfy blue blanket on the golden-colored couch, while bathed in a patch of sun rays.

Before I start the day, I listen for God’s leading. What’s on my mind today? What’s on my heart?

So, at 55-years-old, I’m thinking about going back to college to finish my degree. I found myself thinking that if I’d accomplished this one specific thing, my life would have turned out better. 

But is that true? 
If I’d gotten my degree, I might still feel incomplete.
Okay. Got my Bachelor’s. 
Shoulder shrug.
Great. But you know what? I still feel incomplete. If only I’d gotten my Master’s! Okay. Got my Master’s. If only I’d gotten my Doctorate! Okay. Got my Doctorate.

Head shrug. Hmm. Still not quite “there” yet.

If only I’d gotten that research grant! Okay. Got the grant. 

If only my lab were bigger! Got the bigger lab.
I’ve got it now.
If only my lab coat were more comfortable! Oh, I could be so much more productive. Why, I’d discover great things, even unlock that last, implacable door and find the key to happiness! But alas. Scratchy lab coat. What can you do?

Soul shrug. It’s an impossible dilemma!
Maybe it’s not about waiting for the perfect circumstances. It’s okay to be where you are, as who you are. You’re not incomplete or broken. You’re you, in the process of becoming even more you. It’s not about perfection, but being in what I call, the “situation of blessings.”

Be around people who are warm, welcoming, and with whom you feel a kinship. Do the things you love, in a relaxed environment. That’s where you bloom into your own fullness. I may go back to school, and I may not, but I’ve learned a life lesson today. 

Where is “there” anyway? Doesn’t matter. Right now, just be here, reading this blog. In the palm of God’s hand. In your situation of blessings.

silhouette of three people up on mountain cliffI loved Lori’s post about our confab the other day. It was so nice to see my sisters-of-the-soul, almost in person. Her characterization of me as a ballerina impersonating a longshoreman sent me into spasms of snorts (laughter, that is). I’ve been trying to come up with a word to combine those two terms. Balleshorman? Longshorina? Either way, it’s me all over! As we say in Jersey, not for nothin, but she’s on the money.

We’ve never met in person, so this call was truly an event. I could see SueBE as a professor in a college setting, as she just has a way about her that says, “Trust me. I know my stuff.” She’s warm and wise, and feels like family.

I could see Lori as a poet-in-residence at an idyllic lakeside writers’ retreat. She’s got a way about her that says, “I feel things deeply, and can put emotions to music till words dance on the page.” She’s refined and regal, and feels like family.

During the call, workmen were bumping around in my basement, tearing down walls and cleaning out the mess caused by a broken sewer pipe. I was concerned because they had asked me which walls to cut down, even though I had previously told their associate all of the details. What if they cut out the wrong wall? Threw away boxes of mementos inadvertently?

Then as we started chatting, my cat, Squeaky, climbed up onto the desk, and right into the camera shot. I loved that Lori and SueBE would get to meet him; however, I hadn’t taken my Benadryl to help with my cat allergy that morning. Before long, my face flushed and I felt the itching start. I didn’t want to pause the call, because it was such a momentous occasion, so I soldiered on through the allergic reaction.

It was so good to be together from afar, and even though I wasn’t fully myself, I felt like we were all present enough to create the foundation of our sacred space. A shared, virtual meeting room in which we talk about joy, grief, hope, the pandemic, politics, prayer. The stuff of life. I know that when any one of us isn’t able to be wholly present, the others will step up so we can shore each other up.

Dear readers, finding your sisters- (or brothers) of-the-soul is highly recommended for your mental health, for spiritual sustenance, and a whole heck of a lot of fun. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world with friends on the same frequency. You know they’ve got your back, and you’ve got theirs, whatever may come.

We’ve been dealing with quarantine and conflict for some time now, and it’s taking a toll on everyone, so it’s important to remember to shore yourself up from the inside.

How do you do that? By reminding yourself of the blessings still in your life, like the fact that your pets are happy to have you home all the time. Well, until they start to feel you’re crowding them, at which point, they’ll have a cat caucus and decide how to address the situation.

Cats have their own unique way of communicating when they need something. Feed me, my cat will say, staring at his empty bowl. Play with me, he’ll say, swatting the air with his paws. They don’t need no stinkin’ words!

Of course, even those of us who know how to use our words find it difficult to say what we need. For example, it’s universally hard to say, I need help. People with mental health issues are often encouraged to “tough it out,” which is not very helpful, especially in times like these.

Another challenge is learning how to say, Please stop helping me. I can do this for myself. 

Maybe we could all learn from this store in Bangkok, which has two types of shopping baskets: a black one for shoppers who want to shop on their own, and a pink one for shoppers who need help as they shop.

Say what you need clearly. You never know who might be standing by, waiting to help you. And if you don’t need help, you may know of someone who could use a hand. Staying centered through prayer and perseverance shores you up so you can become a conduit of grace for all those you meet.

selective focus photography of green succulent plantMindfulness is knowing where you are, literally, figuratively, physically and emotionally. If your body is sitting in a chair in the kitchen, but you’re agonizing about an unpaid bill or the broken fence, you’re not fully present. You’re neither here nor there.

Could it be that, when you woke up today, you didn’t realize that this is Everything-Goes-Your-Way Day?

The thing is, if you’re focusing on yesterday’s problems or tomorrow’s uncertainty, you might miss it.

Your mission today, should you choose to accept it, is this: get up, get dressed, and be blessed. As long as you don’t start to think, Okay, what’s the catch? you’ll be the recipient of grace today.

One might think: This is impossible in the time of COVID-19. There are protests going on about police brutality towards people of color. Nothing is normal at all! 

But this is a war on many fronts, and you’ve been through battles before. What did you do when things went haywire? When you lost a loved one or a job? When your child ran away or got hurt? Life doesn’t stop at the catastrophe. It’s where a new path creates itself.

If you’re at home right now and you’ve just had dinner, bask in the blessings. Experience the present. If the neighbor’s kid isn’t practicing the drums tonight? That’s a blessing. If the mail didn’t contain any bills today, bask and breathe. Bad news and big disruptions get enough press. Let’s give our blessings some attention.

Or as Someone said a long time ago: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Tomorrow will be here soon enough, with whatever the day brings. Just for today, be here, now.

purple flowers in tilt shift lensThe lockdown due to COVID-19 has changed our lives and caused hardship, but it’s also a chance to take stock of the blessings we all take for granted:

  • A steady supply of food and water (so you can make meals, eat too much, try to exercise it off and, finally, re-hydrate).
  • Paper products for the posterior (like those inexplicably sold by a family of bears on television).
  • The ability to travel wherever you’d like at any given moment (to spend money in foolhardy ways, then wonder why you’re always broke).
  • Being able to get together with friends who just “get” you (so you can split a piece of cake three ways, thus draining all the calories out of it).
  • Interactions with humans (just the pleasant ones. The unpleasant ones, not so much. Feh.).
  • Information (from reliable sources who help us live healthier and happier lives. Not from ones promoting dangerous misinformation).
  • Income (if you work and are currently on furlough), so that you have enough Outgo (the monetary opposite of income) to pay the bills.

For me, this time in our history is about remembering that all of humanity is connected. The virus is passed from one human to another, but so is compassion. People are healing each other by treating them in hospitals, volunteering to deliver groceries to those who can’t leave home, and by the kind gestures being shared online to keep us all in good spirits.

Just as you “suit up” to go to the grocery store — mask, gloves, sanitizer in hand — remember to keep that same kind of armor around your psyche. Focus on what you can do, stay positive, and leave the rest in God’s hands. 

This morning, I reached for some clothes to put on and must’ve inadvertently grabbed my cranky pants. Before I knew it, I was grumbling about things that aren’t really problems at all. 

As I started to make breakfast, I thought, Oh great, I’ll make breakfast and then I’ll have to wash the dishes right away so they don’t pile up. It was a problem with a built-in solution. Don’t let them pile up! Wash as you go. It might take longer to make breakfast this way, but I’ll end up in a better frame of mind.

Then I thought, It takes forever for the water to warm up in the morning so I can wash the dishes! But actually, it gave me a moment to adjust the thermostat. It’s chilly today, and I thought, It takes so long for the house to heat up in the morning! But actually, it gave me an excuse to stealthily sneak into my son’s room and abscond with the warm, cozy scarf I knitted “for his birthday,” fully intending to use it for most of the day when he’s at work or school! Please don’t tell.😇

These small annoyances are blessings in disguise. They give us moments to reflect on the things we take for granted. Being able to count on food on the table. Heat in the winter. Hot and cold running water. They’re tiny reminders to reflect on the sustenance and providence we’re blessed to receive every day.

This morning I woke up and was so tired, I slid right back into that pocket between sleep and wakefulness. That seems to be the place where I hear sage advice from someone.  (God? My own psyche? Relatives who have passed on?) 

And this time, I heard these words:

Expect the best like a dinner guest and set it a place at the table.

Then someone (my mother? A teacher?) said to me:

What are you punishing yourself for?

And I realized it was both a mildly exasperated, head-shaking statement, as well as existential question.  

So I had to mull it over. What am I punishing myself for? What do any of us give ourselves angst over?

  • Choices you made when you had no choice.
  • Stopgap measures that turned into persistent problems.
  • Mistakes that led to doing penance in perpetuity.

Many of us feel we’re in that pocket in between what we’d envisioned life would be and life as it is actually lived. We may end up making peace with where we are and making do with what we have. But maybe “expecting the best” is the mindset that precedes its arrival. Or perhaps it’s the clarion call your blessings need to hear. 

What if they’re flying overhead right now, waiting for you to tell them where to land? If changing your mind meant changing your life, we’d all set that extra place at the table. That way, when “the best” comes knocking, it will already feel right at home.

What if you found out you’d never be able to lose weight as long as you held a grudge in your heart? Say you hatched a plan to exact revenge and succeeded in getting your “pound of flesh,” only here’s the catch: you have to wear it on your person as a saddlebag! I can only imagine how quickly most of us would find a way to be forgiving.

We seem to hold onto grudges as a means of survival, as if being cynical will protect us from being hurt or betrayed ever again. Perhaps your body is listening and thinks you want to keep a wall between you and the possibility of being wounded again, a “blubber buffer,” if you will.

Or maybe God’s getting tired of hearing you complain about that last boyfriend who never bought you flowers, and now he’s gone and married a florist! The injustice! So the maker of all things decides to teach an object lesson. You stop hurting when you stop hating, child. Until you do, I’m going to physically add weight to you until you get the correlation. Zap! You’re zaftig.

Whatever the particulars were, whoever the players were, the only way to release yourself from past pain is to love yourself more than you hate the ones who hurt you.

When you lighten up and let go of that heavy burden, the least that will happen is that you’ll have more time for the blessings in your life. You may not lose weight, but you’ll lose hate. And that’s how you make space for grace.

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