You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘life-lessons’ tag.

body of water during golden hour
Picture of an orange, yellow and purple-streaked sky at sunrise over low-lying mountains and a slightly-rippled ocean.

A tornado spawned by Hurricane Ida hit us here in central Jersey last week, leaving destruction in its wake. We’d received a jarring emergency alert that said, “Take Shelter Now!” at 7:30 PM on Wednesday, so my son, Coleman, and my feline-overlord, Squeaky, joined me in the basement. We stayed there until the alert expired at 8:15 PM and we all went back upstairs. 

Thinking the worst was over, I grabbed my laundry and headed back down to the basement. Halfway down the stairs, I stopped. 

Just like that, the entire basement had flooded. Six inches of water? In fifteen minutes? 

So many things crossed my mind as I dealt with this crisis.

Why is everything going wrong all at once?

It’s not. It’s just another natural phenomenon. No need to take the weather personally.

We’ve been in this situation before. 

What you learn from one major drama makes you better prepared for the next one.

Wouldn’t it be better if I didn’t always have to soldier on through so many challenges alone?

Not really. It’s better to look back on your life and give yourself credit for dealing with challenges and learning to be self-sufficient.

How in the world do Lori and SueBE deal with all the tornadoes in their area?  

They get through it by heeding tornado warnings, getting to shelter with their families, and praying their way through the storm. And through life, for that matter.

So when the storms of life head in your direction, take one thing at a time. Put your hard-earned knowledge to good use. Flex your resilience muscles. Lean on friends for support. Call on God to get you through. Before you know it, the stormy night will pass and dawn will come, bright and clear as day.

Picture of a chocolate layer cake drizzled with ganache glaze and decorated with buttercream rosettes.

Last week, I celebrated my birthday, and started to think about things I’ve yet to accomplish. I realized that a life well-lived is one that’s in a steady state of grace. 

The contentment that comes from being shored up by grace doesn’t fall on a date on the calendar. It’s not measured by a number on the scale or the dollar amount in your bank account.  

The good life is the sense that you can count on what I call “mundane miracles:” a warm blanket to curl up in. A comfortable cardigan. A pair of sneakers that are broken in perfectly.  

My greatest “creature comfort” is a sweet, tiger-striped cat named Squeaky who trills, chirps and meows his way through the day. He knows when I need a gracious pick-me-up, and he’ll come over and sit near me, nudging my knees playfully.

I’m also truly blessed to have a son who’s considerate. Last week, when he ordered take-out and realized they’d forgotten something in the order he knows I was looking forward to, he looked genuinely annoyed. “Aw man! They forgot the cole slaw!” It was such a small thing, but these tiny grace notes accrue until you realize how blessed you truly are.

All of these things remind me that grace is a steady stream of positivity, unseen but on-scene at all times. Could be that this is God’s way of saying, “I’m here. All’s well. I’ve got you.”

It’s comforting to know, too, that my sisters of the soul, Lori and SueBE, keep me covered in prayer and send lo(a)ve in my direction constantly. I swear, there are moments during the day when I just KNOW one or both of them is thinking of me. 

So, feel free to wish me a Happy Birthday, but as I sit here basking in blessings, gifted with grace, most of the time, I’ve got a Happy Everyday. And I wish the same to you.

Social media can be a blessing. E-mail and this blog enable Lori, Ruth and I to stay in touch with each other in spite of the miles that stand between us. But last week was a blur of tweets and e-mails, heated Facebook posts and more.

Someone in one of the organizations I work with handled a question very badly on social media. She immediately realized what she had done but it was too late. The interaction had been screen-captured and shared. We spent 3.5 hours in meetings in just one day.

By the end of the week, I had little left to give. In spite of this, 400+ emails waited to be handled as did student papers and my own manuscripts. Screen time is unending, but I really needed to seek peace.

So I walked away.

Some people meet God in the kitchen, stirring and measuring and creating nutritious foods. And sometimes I choose this route.

Other people meet God in a box of paints or a ball of yarn. They create with color and texture. And sometimes I choose this route.

But the weather was mild for a Missouri summer. It wasn’t even terribly humid. So my husband and I put on our walking shoes and headed to the Missouri Botanical Garden. This is one of the places that I can go any time of the year and feel the presence of God.

In part, it is because I’m walking among mighty trees and . . . I don’t know. They look like palms or ferns and they are huge! There are pitcher plants and tiny plants with jewel-like leaves. There are gardens of delicious smelling herbs. Bees buzz around bright flowers. This trip there were even wind-blown sculptures on the lake and others shaped like origami throughout the gardens.

And there are people from all sides of the globe, speaking their many languages as they snap photos and point at the wonders before them.

There is no way that I can avoid seeing God. And as I walk and breathe deeply and bask in his presence, I feel the tensions slipping away.

I don’t know where it is that you go to feel the peace and presence of God, but can you do me a favor? Go there sometime in the next few days and refresh your soul. It is to easy to let this slide in the busy-ness of daily life. Take some time in the presence of God.

–SueBE

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. 

silhouette of two person sitting on chair near tree
Picture of two friends sitting in chairs seen in silhouette at sunset under a large tree. They are facing each other as if deep in conversation.

Happy as a clam.

Cute as a button. 

Fit as a fiddle.

Do these phrases even make sense? How do we know clams are happy? Has someone taken a seaside-survey?

A button, cute? Useful, maybe. But I’ve never seen a button in a beauty contest!

And a fiddle is fit? It looks like it’s wearing a tiny corset. Maybe this musical pun is a groaner, but that can’t be good for its organs! 

So how about this saying: Goody two-shoes. Do the baddies only wear one shoe? 

It’s not possible to make sense of things as they once were, because time marches on and things change. 

Old sayings are like old ways of doing things.

It might’ve made sense to someone, at some point in time. But we’re in a new era. So just as a general rule, and public service, let me offer some sage counsel.

When someone confides a painful truth to you, please do not do this:

  • Gaslight them (say, “I’ve never experienced it, thus, it hasn’t happened to you.”)
  • Blame them (say, “What did you do to cause X? What were you wearing/saying/thinking,” etc.)
  • Snow them (say, “I know exactly how you feel.” No you don’t. You know how you feel. What they’re going through is another person’s situation.)

Show up as a friend, and if that person with a painful truth wants to talk about it, honor that. If they don’t, you know the drill…. Honor that. Silence isn’t the enemy. They may just want to sit and “be.”  

Come to think of it, there are some wise old sayings that still hold true, like this one: “A sweet friendship restores the soul,” Proverbs 27:9. Give your friend in pain space when they need it, and solace when they ask for it. You’ll know how to be there when you listen with your heart.

Potbelly stove - Wikipedia

Picture of rusty, brown pot-belly stove

At the physical therapy center last year, I sat on a table, getting TENS unit therapy for the pain in my legs. 

There were several patients there that day, and most were pleasant enough, considering we were all in various levels of pain.

An older man named Steve was getting treatment for his neck on the table next to mine. “Women always let themselves go after marriage,” he said to his physical therapist. “They never put themselves together with hair and makeup. And the worst part is, they always gain weight.” He shook his head.

There was silence as the other patients and physical therapists around him — all women — processed what he’d just said. Lying on the table there, his own gut was what one would call “voluminous”. He had the girth of a pregnant woman carrying triplets. As he stood up, it occurred to me that he resembled a pot-belly stove: short, squat, and kind of rusty.

That insult to women hung in the air until finally, his physical therapist said something to the effect of, “Sometimes, we just can’t see ourselves as others do,” which I thought was just the right amount of diplomacy and wisdom. Nothing else needed to be said.

This time in history may be remembered for many negatives: the pandemic, divisions based on race and politics, and most notably, an alarming deficit of empathy.

Whatever negativity you encounter today, rise above the visceral instinct to “put someone in their place.” Remember, Comeuppance Coordinator is not an actual job, even though it’s a way of life for many on social media. Keep in mind that everyone is an amalgam of humanity and divinity. This mindset will help the world find its way back to grace again.

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.

purple petaled flowerMy favorite show lately is the comedy “Black-ish”, and in one episode, something unexpectedly good happens and a character exclaims, “Look at God!”

That phrase has been on my mind lately, as I’ve tried to come to terms with things I don’t quite understand, like how a woman’s body changes with age. Often, the changes are given “food” or “nature” names, like crepe-y skin, cottage cheese cellulite. Crow’s feet. Let’s not forget spider veins.

But all of this can make us forget we women are unique phenomena, capable of creating life, shouldering the weight of the world, and keeping the home fires burning.

These miniature miracles are often taken for granted by those of us who count on the sustaining grace of our sister-friends. That happened to me recently when my thoughtless words wounded a dear friend of mine. I probably assumed she knew I hadn’t meant any offense, as she’s used to my occasional bouts of blunt bluster. 

When I realized I’d been an Epic Tool, nay, a Stupid Stunod (as we say in Jersey), I emailed her again, apologizing for causing her pain. She didn’t reply right away, and during that time, I felt utterly bereft. Had I pushed her away forever? 

Luckily, she gave me a second chance, and it made think of all the second chances God had given me in life. Sometimes I think of my time in prayer as a chance to air a laundry list of Stuff I Don’t Have But Need, Like, Yesterday, and this is what I feel in return on my heart: Food on the table? Clothes on your back? A warm place to lay your head at night? Friends who love you through it all despite your flaws and failings? Peace in your heart? 

Bask in your blessings. Forgive those who cross you. Weigh your words and soften your tone. Don’t make a problem your personal piñata, swatting at it fecklessly. Do what you can and release it into the care of Providence. Look at everyone you’ve got in your corner. Look at all the love in your life. Don’t look at the mulch piling up on top of you. Look at the flower you’re blossoming into, not despite it, but because of it. Walk in faith through this valley, my child. Look at God.

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.

Squeaky and the Squirrel

Twice today, I turned on the microwave to heat up my coffee, only to realize my mug was sitting on the counter. 

Twice today, a squirrel slammed into the window, full-force, and rappelled his way into the bird feeder. This is the self-same bird feeder advertised on Amazon as “squirrel-proof.” Oh har! 

Is this a strange day? Heck, it’s a strange week. Month. Time in history. It’s hard not to feel discombobulated.

In this surreal era, people are on edge. It doesn’t seem to take much to set them off.

In these times, maybe the best we can do is not make things worse. That may sound like a low bar, but if these fraught days have made reasonable people become unreasonable, it won’t help to lecture them.

It surely won’t help to ram your grocery cart into them, as one mask-clad woman did when she crossed paths with another woman who refused to wear a mask. 

Some people are using the mask issue as an excuse to act inappropriately, and viral videos have taken on a whole new meaning.

It’s hard to believe that these words need to be said, but here goes: Don’t get into someone’s face because they’re putting your health at risk by not wearing a mask.

Did you read that line? Read it again. 

Have we all taken leave of our senses? 

The virus isn’t to blame for virulent ideologies and vile behavior. 

You can’t be the boss of everyone, but you can be responsible yourself. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. Do what you have to do as a citizen — Pay your taxes. Don’t jaywalk. Post no bills.

And when you’ve done all you can, keep calm and leave the rest in God’s hands.

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