Escapism

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Yesterday morning, I was scurrying through the bathroom on the way to do something with some kid to get them ready for school when I heard the radio announcer talking about a show that night, and having tickets to give away. When I realized what the show was, I dove for the phone, because except for Christian, we were uncommitted and this was one of the shows I had intended to try to get tickets for in the first place before, well, the last few weeks happened.

So I got the tickets and I told the kids we were going to an acrobatics show, but I didn’t really know what it was, and truthfully I was kind of nervous, because I was tired and emotionally drained and the last thing I wanted was to have to buck up four whiny attitudes, and I was terrified that I’d remembered wrong and what we were getting ourselves into wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

Well, it wasn’t exactly what I’d been picturing, but it was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen. I wince on behalf of my community, which didn’t attend it well, because I can’t imagine the audience that wouldn’t like it:

In a week when sorrow feels numb and outrage feels impotent and discouragement is threatening to feel like despair at the end of a series of weeks that feel like being on the receiving end of a whack-a-mole, I am so, so grateful for an hour of pure delight and wonder and escapism…with no need for violence or villains.

And the fact that all my kids adored it…even the tween who hates EVERYTHING.

And the wonder of watching what the human body is capable of.

And a haircut.

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Look, my laptop takes such poor quality pictures, it almost looks artsy!

And secondhand scarves, because I love scarves.

And a good conversation with a friend.

And the tone of my husband’s voice on the phone in the background.

And the return of anxiety, because it’s teaching me about the relationship among anxiety, scrupulousness, and hampered spiritual growth, and challenging me to move forward.

For a good air-clearing within my marriage about where we stand on a particular point of stress in our world, which may be a baby step, but it’s still the first step forward.

For a weekend of baby love, and the promise of another one coming up.

And for a woman willing to spend a weekend with my crazy kids so we can have aforementioned baby love weekend.

For a massage. Because maybe my back won’t hurt in the middle of the night tonight.

For college students who want to work with the Down syndrome community…because we have so many ideas and zero time and energy to bring them to fruition!

For dipping below 130 on the scales again, however fleetingly.

For being too busy to cook desserts, which makes it slightly more likely that I could pull it off two days running.

For homemade yogurt and kombucha, and the way I feel different…even if it’s totally psychological.

And for homemade sourdough bread.

And a really good walk this morning.

And rain. Because oh, how we need rain, with our crunchy grass in September.

That’s my gratitude list. Are you thinking of yours?

 

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What if Thanksgiving Wasn’t Just One Day?

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I took some heat last spring after I published my rant on the topic of Mothers Day. But in the months since, I’ve come to realize what was bothering me was the question of gratitude, and what precisely that means.

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Image by KateWares, via Flickr

As mothers (and fathers!), we do a lot for our kids. We give and give and give until we’re worn out. And the thing is, we don’t really need to be told “thank you.” Right? Wouldn’t we all rather our kids show us their appreciation every day, rather than getting cards and crafts and/or a fancy dinner one day a year?

If your answer to that question is “no,” this post probably isn’t for you.

But if your heart lit up, going “Yes, yes yes!”, then it’s worth thinking about Thanksgiving as if we were the kids in that equation, rather than the parents.

In other words: Does God (or the great nation of America, if you’re not the believing type) want/need our “I’m grateful for” lists on this on one day, only to have us revert to business as usual the following day? Or would the world–and not coincidentally, we–be better off if we showed our gratitude in our actions on Thanksgiving Day and every other day, too?

(In case you’re wondering, that’s what you call a rhetorical question.)

My point is this:

If I am grateful for the roof over my head and the food on my table, the best way to show it is to do something to ease the suffering of those who don’t have the same benefits.

If I am grateful for my spouse and children, the way to show it is not to focus on what annoys me about him/her/them, but on what makes them such a gift in the first place.

And if I am grateful for the gift of free speech, I should not abuse it by hurling insults, invectives, half-truths, false news stories and outright lies at anyone, no matter how high the stakes.

In other words, the best way to honor Thanksgiving is by living out mercy.

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Image by peregrine blue, via Flickr

 

Cover artIf you use Joy to the World: Advent Activities For Your Family during Advent, I’d like to suggest that the Advent Calendar is a really good way to put this idea into practice. Why? It offers a structure, and structure can make the difference between lasting change and a quick reversion to “business as usual.” Here are a few ideas to stuff your Advent calendar with mercy in motion:

  • Pull a page (or a few!) from the Random Act of Kindness calendar
  • Make dinner and take it to a homeless shelter. (Make it communal by asking for help from friends on Facebook.)
  • Ring the Salvation Army Bell.
  • Go Christmas caroling and collect canned goods for the local food bank.
  • Choose a charity and let the kids donate from their piggy banks, or do chores to earn money to contribute.
  • Make gift bags with cereal packets, water bottles, gloves & scarves for homeless people.
  • Have the kids help pick out Christmas gifts for families in need, via giving trees or Toys for Tots.

What other kid-friendly ways have you found to teach the practice of mercy?

And with this post, and the last week of the Church year, we farewell Mercy on a Monday. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

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The Grace to Let Enough be Enough

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More“What come next?”

There was a period of several months recently when Julianna was constantly asking this question: when a song ended on a CD, at the end of a scene in a movie, whenever we got back in the van after running an errand or going to a lesson.

Lately, it feels like the two younger boys have taken up the standard she dropped. The whole time we were at the Lake last week, it seemed the moment we left one attraction they were demanding to know what the next one was. Frequently asking to do other things that weren’t on the agenda at all. Since we got home, I’ve been on full-speed ahead, trying to catch up with everything I didn’t have time to do before we left and while we were gone. And yet the kids are coming to me with deep sighs and saying things like “When do we get to go on the carousel?” and “I want to go to the arcade at the mall!”

I came down pretty hard on that last one. “We just went to an arcade–at the Lake!” I said. Quickly followed up by a (short) lecture on ingratitude and an attitude in which nothing is ever enough. (Because we all know how effective Lectures were when we were growing up.)

But short as that lecture was, I could see in their eyes that they Weren’t Getting It. And I took a look inside myself and had to wince at what I saw.

Because I have this problem, too. Christian ends every day by taking a survey, generally of what went right: what we accomplished, what he’s thankful for. Meanwhile I’m always fighting this rumbling dissatisfaction, this desire for more, more, more. If I managed to write a text for one verse, I’m dissatisfied because it wasn’t two. If I write half a chapter on a novel, I’m frustrated because it wasn’t a thousand words. Or because I’m afraid it’s episodic, and I’m terrified that it’s never going to live up to the potential of the concept. (Because this concept? It’s a good one. Really good.) When we finish a project, I feel a brief satisfaction, and then it’s right on to the next thing I haven’t gotten done yet. And of course, the list of things I want to get done literally never ends.

This is how I’m able to “do it all,” as people always put it, but it definitely has a dark side. I love everything I do, but, German-like, I have trouble drawing a line and letting go when it’s time to do so. I have trouble living in the moment.

But it drives me crazy when I see it in my kids. Perhaps it’s because they are trying to make their ingratitude my problem. I look at the kaleidoscope of experiences they’ve had and I’m just thunderstruck at how it’s never enough. I take a deep breath and I remind myself that kids are always clueless, self-absorbed, and developmentally incapable of the kind of awareness I’m able to exercise. I tell myself surely I was the same way, and this is just part of the process of raising holy terrors into holy men and women.

But I also think I have some work to do in my own soul. This Chade Meng-Tan book I’m reading is slow going because I feel I should be practicing, not just dinking around with it, and I have too many other irons in the fire to devote the time properly. But in the way it resonates with my experience reading Thomas Merton, whose words in turn resonated with what I have experienced sitting in nature, I know that the key to this whole puzzle resides in a quietness of spirit that has to be cultivated.

So there’s my next challenge. And perhaps—just perhaps—my efforts will enlighten my children’s lives, too.

Gratitude, Sadness, and the Call To Look Outward

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Photo by godutchbaby, via Flickr

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and the thing to do on such a day is to make a list of everything I’m thankful for, like some proof text to show that my heart is in the right place.

But I can’t make myself do it.

It seems strange for gratitude and sadness to occupy the same space. And yet I think they are inextricably intertwined. How can I pause to exist in the moment in my own, beautiful, privileged world, and not feel a moment’s pain for all those whose world is so much more stark, and painful, and frightening?

I’ve never been big on writing public “I’m thankful for” lists. It’s always felt a little self-aware, a little complacent, even. Everybody’s lists look the same. I’m thankful for my family, my home, my job…all good things, and I could keep a running tab of my blessings from now until eternity and never reach the end of it. And yet the more I think about what I’ve been given, the more I realize how much of what I’m thankful for is denied to an overwhelming number of others no less deserving. To make a public list feels like rubbing it in the face of those who’ve been dealt a crappy hand by life and an “accident” of birth.

The line between those of us who have and the multitudes who do not seems so clear. For the next five weeks or so, while we consume unhealthy amounts of food and add to our need for storage space, we’ll also be giving to various charities, both at home and abroad. But once that donation is sent, do we think about those people anymore? Or do we consider our duty done until next Christmas?

Reflections like these make me uncomfortable.

I know we’re not all called to give away everything in order to live in solidarity with the poor. But it’s so easy to get my blinders on and wander through my life focused on me, my family, my concerns. I can’t give to every organization that sends me “begging letters,” as my grandmother used to call them. But if all I do is send a hundred bucks at Christmas, and then wait twelve months to do it again—or at least, until a natural disaster or a refugee crisis looms—that feels wrong. Not enough.

I’ve never been a fan of pledging a monthly donation, but maybe the pain of having to make space for others, month after month, is exactly the point. Maybe I need to be afflicted every few weeks. Maybe I need to make room for that sadness, in order to truly live in a space that can be called…thankful.