Life Happens

I confess. 

When I used to drive by an unkempt yard, a run down house or ran into an untidy person, I would think, “Goodness!  Don’t they care about their yard, home or appearance?  They need to do better!  I would NEVER let my (fill in the blank) look like that.”

I don’t do that anymore.  

Because I’ve learned that there are all kinds of reasons a body may not be busy mowing a lawn,  painting a porch or even putting on matching socks.

Life happens.  

And when it does, it demands all my energy, effort and attention.  I don’t have the time or luxury of worrying about things that aren’t absolutely necessary for survival.

When Dominic left for Heaven, my priorities were immediately shaken out, sifted and re-ordered.  Not only the big ones-like spending more time with the people I loved-but also the smaller ones-like whether or not I swept the front porch before someone visited. 

More than four years later and I look around sometimes wishing I was better at keeping up with things, better able to tidy up,  decorate for the seasons, mend the fences, stay on top of clutter, or put together decent outfits.

But then I pause, breathe and realize that while the outside looks messy and unorganized and not at all like I’d prefer, my inside is focused on the things that really matter.

I am spending most of my time caring (one way or another) for other hearts. 

Now when I see someone’s home that needs attention or someone who isn’t put together,  I think, “What battle are they facing?  What life circumstance has swallowed up their time, energy,  and emotional reserves?” 

Because life happens. 

Whether we are ready for it or not. 

everyone is fighting a battle

 

Life is Absolutely NOT Fair

Raising four kids as critical thinkers and encouraging debate led to many, many long discussions about thorny theological, social and family issues.

As my children aged, grew, had more exposure to different people, places and philosophies, the discussions grew more complex and wide-ranging.

It was no longer enough for them that a particular point of view was MY opinion-they began to demand facts, figures, examples, references  and consistent logic.

I remember a particularly good but also frustrating encounter with Dominic when he was about 12 or 13.  As a middle child (third of four) and middle son (second of three), something happened where he felt overlooked, underrepresented and left out or cheated.

So he challenged me regarding whether or not his treatment was “fair”.

I honestly don’t even remember what he wanted to do or wanted to be excused from doing, but I do remember he was passionate about what he believed were different standards applied to HIM versus his brothers and sister.

I spent well over an hour exploring the concept of “fairness”-pulling out my best mom arguments that if we want every single thing to be exactly even then it doesn’t serve anyone well because sometimes one family member needs more grace or freedom or material resources and on another day it may be someone else.

He would not budge.

He wanted every sort of pie in our home to be measured, cut and divided in perfect portions-precisely fair regardless of need.

pumpkin pie perfect slices

There was no way to convince him that while this might be good for him one day, it might be awful another day when HE was the one who needed a little extra whatever (money, grace, clothes, rest or freedom).

It ended with him deciding I was unfair and he was given the short end of the stick most, if not all, the time.

Every morning I lean over to add food to the cat’s bowl which rests precisely where he stood when he was arguing with me.  So I’ve thought about that conversation often in these years since he left us.

And while I was on the side of accepting that things/life/situations are inherently unfair when arguing with Dominic, I now find myself on the side of lamenting the very thing I was willing to accept then.

its not fair peanuts

Because one of the things I’m learning this side of burying my precious child is that there is no upper limit to the sorrow and pain I may have to carry in this life.  And it’s no use comparing my burden to that of another-begging God to consider the differing weights and to make adjustments to lighten my load because it is heavier than that of another.

I do not get a pass on daily stress and strain. 

I’m not guaranteed physical health. 

I am just as likely as anyone else to get the grumpy cashier, to drop a dish or lose my keys.

I cannot point to a single stretch of more than three days when one or more minor (often major) disruptions, problems or just stinky situations weren’t piled on top of missing my son.

I can sit and soak and sour in my feeling that this is “unfair”.  I can allow my heart to become bitter because “other people have it better, or easier or have more”.

But all that does is ruin MY day, hurt MY heart, stop me from living MY life.

Life is NOT fair.

thankful for what is given rather than what is withheld

Things are not doled out with measuring spoons so that each person on the planet gets the same amount of love, of opportunity, not even the same amount of food or freedom.

If they were, my burden might very well be greater instead of less.  

And if  I take a moment to consider the overall sweep of my life, then I have to admit that I am, in fact, blessed.

dom looking up with camera

I had my son for nearly 24 years and nothing can take away those sweet memories and the light and life I carry inside my heart because of that.  

So I will use my mom voice and remind myself that life isn’t fair,

but that doesn’t mean it’s not good.  

collect beautiful moments

 

 

 

It’s The Little Things

I am oh, so grateful for every single thing someone does to encourage my heart.  

And I try hard to pass it on.

Because, really, when you think about it, it’s the little things that either wear us down or build us up.

says something small but fits into the empty space in your heart

 

The daily drip of encouragement or criticism is what shapes our hearts most. 

The hardest stone can be worn away by water over time.  And the softest earth can be packed firm and resist any new seed when trod upon and squeezed dry by drought.

Words are not neutral.  They either build up or tear down.  

And so many hearts are holding onto hope by the thinnest thread.  

I want to be the person that helps build it into a lifeline, not the one who snaps it in two.  

all you have to do is care coffee cups

 

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice….

There may be some mamas that don’t drill this into their children but if there are, they don’t live south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Every time there was back and forth in the back seat or on the front porch and Mama overheard, we were told, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

Parents weren’t interested in policing every errant word out of the under 18 crowd’s mouth back in the day.

It was a simple (and effective!) rule:  If what you want to say does not meet the criteria of T.H.I.N. K. (true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind) then

just.

don’t.

say.

it.

THINK ACRONYM

I wish grown-ups would follow the same advice. 

Especially when it comes to offering up “helpful hints” to broken hearts.

In that instance it is rarely a case of another person aiming to be ugly or to hurt someone, but words are not neutral and they do hurt when tossed out carelessly by people who really just don’t understand another person’s pain.

So, for those who are tempted to fill empty spaces with empty words, may I help you apply the T.H.I.N.K acronym to the kinds of situations more likely to face us as adults?

T-Is it true?  You may think that giving out a Bible verse would automatically mean you were safe on this count.  Yes.  God’s Word is truth.  But how we use it and whether or not we understand the context can make a particular application of God’s Word UNTRUE.  And even if we get the context right, hammering a heart with a Bible verse may not be helpful.  You are not the Holy Spirit.  Let Him breathe truth gently into a wounded heart.

H-Is it helpful? This is tricky because sometimes what is helpful for one person is unhelpful for another.  I try to use this as my litmus test:  When have I ever been distraught and helped by someone pointing out the obvious? Or laying out a plan of action (when they don’t have access to the full picture)? Or reminding me that “all things work together for good” when right now all things really stink?  If there is any doubt about whether or not what I say will be helpful, I swallow my words.

I-Is it inspirational?  The word, “inspire” has roots in the the idea of breathing into someone or something.  Will my comment put wind in a person’s sails?  Will it breathe courage into his or her heart?  Will it lift them up and help them hold onto hope?  Is it the equivalent of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or am I instead sucking what little breath they have left out of their body?

N-Is it necessary?  This single criteria helps me hold my tongue so many times.  I might think of lots of things but is is necessary for me to speak them?  Am I warning someone of impending danger or am I just trying to make myself sound wise or insisting on making a point?  To be honest, very few things I have to say are necessary. Most of the time a hand on the shoulder, a hug, a smile, a friendly nod are the only thing someone really needs.

K-Is it kind?  The word kind comes from the same root as “kin”-which means family.  Is what I’m going to say something I’d want someone to say to me or my close family?  Am I treating (with my words) this person they way I want to be treated?  The Golden Rule, rules.

I can’t claim to always follow my own good advice.

But when I do, I find that I am building people up, not tearing them down.

There’s enough tearing down in the world.

I want to speak light and life.

a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle

A Trail of Love Crumbs

I used to read- a LOT.

By that I mean I often had five or six books going at a time and typically finished four in a week.

Since Dominic ran ahead to heaven I find I rarely have the attention span for books anymore.

But every now and then I find a book that can hold my attention and I read like I used to-carrying it with me from the kitchen (where I read as I wait for cookies to come out of the oven) to the bathtub (where I read as I soak my achy joints).

EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON (and other lies I love to believe) by Kate Bowler is one of those books.

everything happens for a reason book

I heard an interview of Kate on an NPR program while driving.  She had me in tears and rolling in laughter all at the same time.

And this bargain loving, never-pay-full-price mama came straight into the house and ordered the hardback book off Amazon.

It lived up to every expectation.  I felt like I was sitting across from someone who truly “gets it”.

The author is not a bereaved parent but is living with Stage IV metastatic colon cancer.  Her life is, as she describes it, “Stuck in present tense.

So, so many nuggets of wisdom and truth hidden in these pages.

But the one that resonated with my heart the most is this:

My little plans [thoughtful gifts, words and actions] are crumbs scattered on the ground.  This is all I have learned about living here, plodding along, and finding God.  My well-laid plans are no longer my foundation.  I can only hope that my dreams, my actions, my hopes are leaving a trail for Zach [my son] and Toban [my husband], so, whichever way the path turns, all they will find is Love.

When I read it, I nearly shouted aloud, “THAT’S IT!!!”

Her heart sings the same song as mine.

Very few of us will do great things, remembered in history books or blazoned across the front of granite edifices.

Most of us will only do small things.

But we can do them with great love.

not all of us can do great things typewriter

Dominic left this earth before he even had a chance to do great things.  Twenty-three years taken up by growing to adulthood and going to college and then law school left little time for solving the world’s big problems.

But he left a trail of love crumbs.

One that can be followed from his heart to dozens of others.

IMG_1816

That’s what I want my legacy to be:  A trail of love crumbs. 

I want tiny bits of me scattered far and wide-a wild and winding path made by relentlessly giving away all I am and all I have.

My name won’t be engraved anywhere but on my tombstone.  

But I pray my love is engraved on many hearts.  

the answer is still and again love

 

 

Love in Action: Some Things Hurt

Bereavement has not made me a perfectly compassionate person.  I still say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and sometimes don’t do the right thing.

But it HAS made me more aware that what I do/don’t do/say/don’t say can either speak life or death to a struggling heart.

And I so want to speak life and courage to everyone I meet.

Before I lost Dominic, I know that I, like others who had never experienced the death of a child, undoubtedly said and did things that were hurtful instead of helpful.

I painfully remember sharing at a Thanksgiving women’s gathering and, meaning to encourage the ladies, said something like, “I think we are able to better face the big disappointments or trials in life, but find the daily drip, drip, drip of unfulfilled expectations to be a greater challenge.”  A bereaved mom in attendance set me straight (in a very kind and gracious manner!).

That exchange has come often to my mind in these months after burying my son. I wish I could go back and have a do-over.

Read the rest here:  Loving Well: Some Things Hurt

Life is Short, Be Swift to Love

Grief has worn away some of the sharp edges of my personality.

I’m still prone to impatience-especially when faced with incompetence or hateful behavior in others.

But I’m learning that walking gently through life is not only good for others, it’s good for ME.

Life IS short.  ‘

Not just the life of a child or teen or young adult cut down by accident or disease.

But even if I live my “threescore and ten” the Bible talks about, it will STILL be short.  Seventy, eighty, one hundred years set on the timeline of history or eternity is less than a pinpoint.

What do I want my legacy to be?  What do I want to leave behind for others to remember, to ponder, to carry in their hearts attached to my memory?

small things with great love

That’s easy.  I want my legacy to be love.

I want people to remember that I treated them with kindness, that I respected them as persons, that I reached out, reached down and never separated myself from them by false barriers, foolish divisions or fake measures of who is “better” and who is “worse”.

forget what you say 3

More than anything I want people to feel that I made their burden lighter, not heavier.

So much of life is hard. 

So many things happen for which there is no remedy. 

I can’t choose everything, but I can choose love.

Life is short and we have not much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark way with us. Oh, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.

– Henri Fredric Amiel