Monday, March 18, 2019

H-ang O-n P-ain E-nds

I guess it was appropriate to start Lent in such a way. The worstest of days, that rolls into an entire week.

Some weeks - not just some days - are like that. They go from bad to worse to the worstsest.

It turns out, we were not the only ones.

Far and near, friends and family, the week unfurled its folds filled with unwanted surprises, one after another.

Somehow, we all made it to Sunday which to the casual eye looked like just an ordinary, humdrum Sunday.

But to us, nothing could be further from the truth. We were like survivors of a shipwreck, each clinging to something - anything! - until we were washed ashore,  nerves shredded, souls banged up, barely holding it together.

As we stood in circle, recounting our hair-raising 'week from hell' experiences, a strange thought crossed my mind,

This feels a little bit like heaven.... Despite all odds we made it! Now we are finally together and telling and hearing each other's stories of life and death, unembellished, unedited...

In that telling, a thread appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.  A shy, unpretentious gift of gratitude.
Not manufactured, obligatory, polite grateful. Definitely not faking-it grateful. But genuine, put-my-hand-on-my-mouth-in-awe-how-lucky-I-really-am grateful.

It's as if each of us, over the course of the worstest of weeks, lost something precious and gained a new set of eyes to see that despite the loss, there was still so very much we have that we don't deserve. That we take for granted day in day out.

And we almost became grateful for the worstest of all weeks...

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Welcome to Lent 2019

Today is Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent.  

I had horrible night’s sleep last night, largely because of a colossal screw-up that caused our son to miss out on an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity that had the potential of shaping his future in significant ways.

As much as we may be tempted to point fingers and blame someone, it was nobody’s fault. Or perhaps, we all played a small part in it, inadvertently creating a tiny easily overlooked crack here and another there. All of them combined caused this chance to slip into nether. By the time we realized, it was too late. There was nothing anyone could do about it.

The screw-up ended up having a ripple effect on several fronts. Rattled by the disappointment of this loss, our son left a clear plastic bag with sixteen giant lollipops and sixty dollars inside an envelope with his name written on the front – his school orchestra fundraiser – in the 7th period.   When he tried to retrieve it, it was gone. My kids laughed at me when I pointed out that the rightful owner was easily identifiable.

MOM, do you realize what kind of school we go to??? Do you realize what kind of WORLD we live in???

All this left me utterly drained and beyond exhausted, but presumably, not exhausted enough to get good rest.  I was already awake for hours at six o'clock when there was a loud knock on our bedroom door. Our daughter was asking for advice on how to best treat cat throw-up on her favorite blanket and the armchair slipcover. Some was on the carpet, but my husband was taking care of that bit. Carpet disasters are his specialty.

I rolled out of bed and went to the laundry room.

Her vomit looks like poop! This is going to be the last bag of this kind of cat food, I don't care how many coupons we have, I mumbled looking for Spray and Wash. 

In the back of my mind I was thinking, What a way to start Lent, the first thing to face - dribbling cat diarrhea-looking vomit!  

The little Optimist inside me was hoping that with such a start, things can only get better. At the time, she didn’t know that this, by far, would be the best part of my day.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Heirloom Tomato

Back in September of 2015, in anticipation of my parents arrival to Florida to spend winter with us, I planted some tomato seeds. It was in hope against hope, given my steady track record of failure. A preemptive strike against boredom they threatened would most certainly kill them inside our home in American suburbia.

The seeds sprouted – I’ve seen that before, and by the time Mom and Dad arrived they were the size of respectable seedlings.  That’s as far as my success ever reached. Respectable seedlings.  Only a whiff of a promise of home-grown tomato, nothing more.  

With little else to do, my parents threw themselves into caring for the garden.  Raking, watering, pruning, and tending to the seedlings.  Under their supervision they grew and grew, their limbs stretching tall until they had to be staked, and eventually the first blooms appeared followed by the tiny round balls.  

With my own eyes, I got to see the tomato in the making, and it was … marvelously addictive.

We ate the tomatoes off those vines all through June the following year. Before they left, my Mom made sure to set aside some seeds for the next year’s planting.

Those children were eaten in 2017, and their children in 2018.

I admit at times I was tempted to abandon the whole idea, but it must be in my blood now because sooner or later, despite all objections I can’t help but…It's my version of The Call of the Wild. 

Usually, we would have a few plants, a dozen at the most, which is plenty to ‘service’ our tomato-devouring family.

Last year, the day after Christmas, against all rational reason, I opened the bag of what I guess we can  now 'officially' call 'heirloom' tomato seeds and did it again. As I said, normally we only had few tomato plants which was just about all I could handle. This weekend I counted fifty-six tomato seedlings that have sprouted from a single tomato! Fifty-six!!!  I wonder if we should be a Guinness Book of World records?

We went to the landfill to get compost and I scrounged for pots in the garden corners and the back of the garage.  I washed all that I found and filled them with warm, wet dirt, poking a hole for each seedling, then gently slipping it in.  

Now there is an army of pots on my back patio! 

I can’t help but feel a bit possessive, like a mother with a brood of babies she doesn’t want to entrust to some neglectful stranger. I don’t want them to go to someone who will take them only because they were free (or cheap) and then throw them into a corner of the yard and forget about them until they are all dead.

I want my babies to go to someone who will nurture them, give them what they need and protect them from adversaries of all kinds. Someone who would tend to them until they are filled with blooms and produce a bumper-crop of tomatoes for all to enjoy. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Creative Valentine

Yesterday while I was making chocolate truffles as Valentine’s gifts for our kids’ teachers, our 15 year old daughter mentioned somewhat casually: 

I know the names of all the bones in our body.

You do?!!! What are they?  I ask, rolling the dough into a cylinder before I cut it into equal size wheels, to be turned into balls.

Starting from the top she points at her head and begins reciting, 

Cranium, mandible, maxilla, parietal bone, temporal bone…  She keeps going, moving down her body, pointing and naming, naming and pointing.

I am genuinely impressed.  I certainly can’t name all the bones in my body, and if asked, I might miss even some major ones.

When she finally gets to her toes, I tell her that.  She smiles and adds,

I know the muscles too.

No way!!! My eyeballs just about pop out of their sockets. With renewed vigor I roll the truffles - teachers deserve every ounce of love and encouragement no matter shape or form.

Oh yes!, she beams and proceeds to name the muscles. When I blurt out, Gluteus maximus, she corrects me,  

You are going out of order, mom – you have Gluteus medius first.

I laugh and let her finish, now almost worried-impressed.

While I roll the balls – uneven and a bit lumpy – I marvel at God’s outrageous creativity that started with a pinch of dust between his fingers and was fashioned into bones and muscles, organs and their varied functions, vascular and nervous systems, all masterfully connected and put together into a being that can see and hear, eat and taste, breathe and smell, think and understand. 

Feel. Hot, cold, scared, excited, in love, sad, satisfied. 

Able to speak, translate, write poetry, create songs, dance, build buildings, bridges and underwater tunnels.

Able to laugh. Cry.

Transform food into an art form, binary code into Internet, wind, water and electrons into electricity. 

We are made in God's image and our creativity is an expression of his own creative nature. 

Limited and imperfect,

uneven and lumpy,

just a tiny fraction

 broken, mangled and sometimes misguided

but still

rather amazing

reflection of his character and being.

Using our creativity - in its many, varied, uniquely personal forms is one of the best gifts we can give back to him.

In what way can you express your creativity today?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Resolution Revolution

Being a firm believer in 'walking the talk' has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. This is fine with me. I found very little in this world that nourishes humility so well as steady diet of eating your own words. 

My New Year's resolution at the beginning of January wasn't an exception in this regard. It's been exactly one month since many of us have decided to take a plunge at giving ourselves, the world, God and the universe one more chance to make it a little better place.

One month later, some people have made it a better place even without making any resolutions at all while others have made it worse without even trying. I guess each of us has our own special gift.

Which brings me back to my resolution. 

As long as I can remember, I was told that I have a gift of words. I humbly agreed and proceeded to use this gift, for better or for worse, and became 'the Writer' in the family. Safely pigeonholed inside my 'domain' I marveled, oooo-ohed and aaaaa-ahed at all the other gifts distributed to other people. I would lie if I said I was never jealous, but mostly I've been amazed at the incredible diversity and power of various creative expressions.

If there was one gift in particular, however, that I really really wanted was being able to draw and paint. Especially watercolor. 

Alas, that wasn't my gift. I can draw a stick figure and that’s about it. I wasn't the Artist. I was just a writer. And not particularly good writer. I never even published a book!

All these years this was my mindset. Some of you may say that I've been held captive, imprisoned by my very own limiting beliefs.  That I have been living in a tiny dark musty cell of a self-made jail, without a warden except for the one residing inside my head.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

The New Year's Challenge

We were at a New Year’s Eve party when a friend asked me if I would be willing to teach her how to paint.  

There was no alcohol involved and even if there was, she's not the drinking type.

Of course NOT! Why would you even think such a thing?!!?!, was my gut reaction.  

My gut is generally a pretty good guide, as long as I eat healthy, exercise regularly, have a good night’s sleep and not get into a fight with my husband or children.

Under those conditions, my gut shoots near-perfect almost every time while maintaining exceptionally good connection with my head.

What my head knew in this instance was that I’d just picked up a brush and a pan of watercolor paint for the first time in my life in the last quarter of 2018.  My head also understands that having a total of three months of painting experience may earn me a title of apprentice but certainly NOT a teacher.
I am not particularly talented. I am a slow learner.  And teaching is definitely not my spiritual gift. 

Still, despite my gut, despite my head, I kept my mouth shut.  I think I was stunned.

Some people interpret silence as agreement.

I've been scratching my head ever since, wondering why amidst all the painting pros, You-Tube tutorials and resources she asked me to help. I could easily come up with a slew of serious, substantial reasons why I am uniquely unqualified for the job. 

But, the more I reflected on our evening together, this golden thread of somewhat outlandish logic started coming together and I begun to  seriously consider accepting her New Year's challen... I mean, invitation. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Crack that Saved Christmas

I don’t know what exactly happened nor when or how...

Nobody assumed responsibility for the crime.

Perhaps somebody sneezed.

Or coughed.

Or took a deep breath and exhaled too hard.

Or gave them a mean look?

Maybe there was no crime committed at all...

Maybe it wasn’t anything that happened from the outside that caused it.

Perhaps it was from the inside - the internal weight of the burden held by the delicate vessel over time… until it became too much...

Without a bump, a look, a cough, a sneeze or even a breath, the rocks cradled inside the glass vase became too heavy to hold in, and all of a sudden, all by itself, the vase... cracked




From the inside -

- OUT!

I know that most people do not walk around like see-through glass vases, revealing the burdens they carry inside their fragile frame. But the burden is there. And it is heavy.  

Ironically, Christmas season, despite all the good intentions of good people to bring 'good news of great joy', often makes the burdens even harder to bear.  The crushing weight of loneliness, illness, broken relationships, grief and loss is only intensified by the pressure to act happy regardless of how one genuinely feels on the inside.  

No wonder the cracks are appearing all over the carefully decorated facades. 

Tempers flare. Arguments erupt. Depression deepens.

Which makes me wonder if these cracks could be the best gift of the season, after all...

An invitation to forgo the rush…

Let go of the pressure...

Simply skip the pretense…

A call to pass over the unreasonable expectations and demands on time, wallet, physical, mental and emotional energy…

...and take a breath… 

...and another deep breath…

Until we can hear our own soul breathing again.

And who knows? 

The good Lord might surprise us and reveal that 

the Christ Child 

is already cradled there, 

just waiting... 

waiting for us to come... 

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29