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Ink Slingers

Even If

“When did I become such a worrier?” I asked my friend as we lamented various circumstances in our lives that were monopolizing our hearts and minds. She shrugged. At one time, in my circle, I was known as the calm, measured one— the one who took challenges as they came and didn’t look back with regret; or forward with worry. “She takes things in stride,” one of my supervisors stated in my employee evaluation when I was fresh out of college and ablaze with enthusiasm for my new career. Nothing seemed to bog me down.

Maybe the worrying habit started when we became parents, my friend and I surmised. Because if you ever had the notion that you had control over your life, that notion goes out the window after you have kids (can I get an Amen?).  Or maybe worry took root when I became a homeowner with a mortgage and unending bills to tackle. Or maybe worry became part of my DNA after my dad died suddenly, or when I had a miscarriage, or when the C-word began lurking in my husband’s medical charts— all times when I found myself on shaky ground that was once solid. I get it. If you have enough of those experiences, you can tend to worry about what’s around the corner. It’s the fear of “what if.”

But this I also know: When I let worry slither in under the door, (or, rather, when I march right up to the door and usher it in with great fanfare), I am turning my back on what the Lord has promised me. And you.

Our loving Lord promises that he will be there, in our tomorrow, just as he is here in our today. In fact, He’s already there! Think about that. He won’t abandon us. He is constant, everlasting, eternal. He is our Rock, our Fortress and our Stronghold! He crushes the “what ifs” with his love and peace and grace.

That means our worry is useless. It is unproductive and unnecessary. It is, dare I say it, worldly.

But, call me human, I still do it. So I need to remind myself (and perhaps you need to remind yourself too?) that even if bad things happen (and they will), Jesus will be there to help us through it. The Holy Spirit will guide us.  Something good will come of it. God will still be on His throne. Even if. Even if real and legitimate concerns arise. Even if a heartbreaking diagnosis is given. Even if a loved one is taken from us in an instant.

Even if.

When I pray during my morning prayer journaling time, I can ask for Jesus to shut down those pesky “what ifs” and instead give me the strength of “even if.” And you know what? That phrase is so much more helpful to have bouncing around in my brain. It establishes a kernel of courage deep within me. It lights a flicker of a flame. It compels me to turn to God and be not afraid. Because, even if, I will have Him. And that is all I need.

“Pray, hope and don’t worry,” said Saint Padre Pio. That’s our command, Sistas.

Even if.

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Ink Slingers

A Deeper Look

My mom and I share an interest in flower gardening. Over the years, she has given me many “starts” from her perennial gardens, and I try my best to keep them alive. Sometimes it works, other times I am forced to take the walk of shame from the flowerbed to the garbage can to toss the feckless, fruitless, failure into the bin.

A few years back she gifted me with one of her “money plants” that grew for years in wispy waves in the flowerbed along her garage. I always admired the cuttings she made from the plants every fall. Delicate, pearlescent silver dollars dangled from tall stems in a vase on her table. No additional flowers were needed to brighten the arrangement— these beauties made a bold enough statement on their own.

With that vision in my head, I planted her silver dollar money plants along my garage too, and took special care not to kill them. Turns out, these plants are hard to kill. In fact, given even slightly reasonable conditions, they will multiply. Massively. Like dirty laundry in the corners of your kids’ rooms. By the following fall, I had more than enough plants to create my own stunning centerpieces.

But there was a problem: My silver dollars weren’t luminous white discs. They were ugly, bumpy and brown! They looked dead. Oh no, I thought. Here comes another shameful trek to the garbage can. Stupid plants. What did I do wrong? I couldn’t figure it out. My money plants all died back over the winter, with no chance to adorn my table.

Calling in the Plant Calvary

The next year, I was determined to do better. The prolific plants doubled in number again! But when the end of summer came along I was in the same frustrating boat, staring with furrowed brow at a sad crop of dry, wrinkly pods. That’s it, I decided. Time to call in the plant cavalry (i.e., my mom).   

What she told me on the phone first made me fall silent. And then it made me smile. And then it made me laugh for a good long time.

I had been missing a very important piece of knowledge. I dashed outside to snag a stem of silver dollars and pinched a pod between my finger and thumb. Then I slid my fingers back and forth, ever so gently, and voila! The unattractive outer layer fell away and revealed the lustrous shiny coin I was yearning for. The ugliness that I had scorned for two seasons was merely a protective covering— a botanical bodyguard— that hid the fragile beauty beneath it.

 

Quick to Judge Instead of Love

Isn’t that the way it goes sometimes, Sistas? I pondered the notion in my prayer journal: We can be so quick to make judgments and come to conclusions that turn out to be so wrong. And I’m not talking just plants here, of course. Whether it’s the mom who is consistently late to her children’s events, or the co-worker who is struggling to stay awake, or the child who is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, we have to remember we are looking only at the unpleasant outer layer. We don’t know if there’s an elderly parent’s care making the mom late, or an abusive spouse situation creating the co-worker’s exhaustion, or a special needs diagnosis causing the child’s behavior. Only the outer layer is visible to us in that moment of time.

God has made us all in his image. We are unique, fabulous creations of His— no two of us are alike! Yet we live in a fallen world with challenges, complexities, and outright sin. These factors can give us an uninviting outer shell and can also hastily cloud our initial perception of others. The foggy glasses of snap judgment can prevent us from seeing the beauty that most certainly exists right below the surface of each one of us. I, for one, don those foggy glasses of snap judgment wayyyy too often.

Saint Mother Teresa teaches us, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” So let’s give each other a break, shall we? We all have struggles, we all have faults, we are all sinners. Let’s look beyond the outer layer, avoid snap judgments and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Better yet, let’s show some love. Let’s vow to save a seat for that latecomer, bring a cup of coffee to that co-worker, and give an empathetic smile to the frazzled mom in the grocery store.

People, like plants, deserve a deeper look.

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Ink Slingers

Roadside Reality Check

In the midst of this busy, hot summer, I’ve been trying to faithfully log 30 minutes of speed walking/jogging (I have never found a good name for it. Is it wogging? Jalking?) almost every morning. It hasn’t been easy; I am often unmotivated by the heat and humidity. Plus I, as a woman in my mid-50s, have chronic shin splints, creaky knees, and arthritis in my hips. But I know I need to stay active to keep the cholesterol from skyrocketing, not to mention keep the mid-life muffin-top from overflowing even more, so I trick myself by saying my wogging time is my “think and pray time.”

I live on a country road that’s so country it’s just one notch above a dirt road. It doesn’t even warrant a real name– it goes by a mere letter: “D.” The advantage of jalking on Road D is that I do, indeed, get quiet think and pray time. I am more likely to be interrupted by screeching killdeer or scurrying groundhogs than by a truck or car whizzing by. I can get in a full rosary without distraction. But for a number of years, while pondering and praying over life’s issues, I have wogged along the shoulders of Road D in the same fashion: Going on the South side heading out, and on the north side heading home. The gravel crunching under my Nikes as I dodged the deer tracks, the chunks of broken-off asphalt and the occasional beer can. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I made an impromptu change. I moved from jalking along the side of the road to wogging smack dab in the middle. It was a simple move– maybe six feet over. But what a difference it made! Suddenly, I was out of the shade of the giant oaks and into the bright sunlight. I could see my end goal (home) better. I enjoyed a smoother surface underfoot: The crunch morphed to a soft thup thup, thup thup on the pavement. The road seemingly stretched before me, like one of those horizon shots from a car commercial. It was refreshing to move from the sidelines and onto the straightaway. My spirit instantly lifted.

This little variation in my routine made me wonder: Are there other areas of my life where I am on the sidelines, making some progress but not willing to take any new risks? Am I stuck in a rut, assuming the path I’m on is best; when I haven’t noticed the more exhilarating path just a few steps away? Or worse, maybe I did notice it and I chose to ignore it. After all, the side of the road is safer and more predictable, while the middle is more risky and vulnerable. It takes a bit more courage and effort to run my race from that center position. It’s easier to keep wogging along the sidelines doing the “same old same old.”

As I pondered my new routine during my prayer journaling, I experienced a gulp-worthy realization: Yep, my spiritual life is probably too comfortable as well. I am missing opportunities, hampered by routine. I am playing it too safe. I am on the sidelines.

When I returned to the Catholic Church a short five years ago, I had all kinds of zing and zeal to learn (and re-learn) Church teachings and Traditions, but I am now admittedly in a bit of a lull. I don’t want to fall into the trap of mediocrity or be too fearful to make a change or start something new in my spiritual life. Instead, I want to be the kind of Catholic who continuously seeks growth, lives an “in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world” life, and is not afraid to take bold action in the name of building the Kingdom.

Doesn’t that sound like a worthy goal, Sistas?

What little change can we make today that will freshen our faith?

Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to infuse us with courage and a renewed outlook, and to challenge us to take a few risks. “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure,” said St. John Paul the Great. He was right. But guess what? We can’t experience that adventure from the sidelines. We have to get out there, in the middle of it all, and take a step toward growth and transformation. We have to try a different path, blaze a new trail, forge an alternate route. In God’s name and with God’s help, we can do it!

(Wogging or jalking not required).

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Ink Slingers Mary Beth

Murky Waters and Marvelous Mornings

 

Murky Waters and Marvelous MondaysTo passersbys, I must have looked like some kind of crazed fisherman. There I was, standing at the end of our dock, thrusting a weighty, steel pond rake deep into the water, and then pulling it slowly and awkwardly back up to the dock with a rope. Maybe they thought I was angling for supper. Maybe they thought I had spied some kind of mini-Loch Ness monster and was vying for a spot in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Maybe they thought it was some strange kind of aerobic exercise program I was into. Or maybe they are used to seeing weird things going on around our place and paid no attention (this seems the likely response). Whatever the case, I looked ridiculous. But I didn’t care. One of my dock chairs, a vintage “hotel chair” that I had recently refurbished, had fallen victim to a vicious thunderstorm and had plunged into our pond. I couldn’t allow my prized Pinterest project to rust away at the muddy bottom; I was determined to fish it out.

The biggest problem, aside from the utter clumsiness of the process, was that I had no idea where the chair might be. The pond water was murky and unsettled after the storm and I couldn’t see a thing. I was casting randomly, from one side of the dock to the other, and even into the deepest water off the edge of the dock, to no avail. I was sweating, the rake was heavy, and the rope tied to the handle of the rake was leaving angry marks on my palms. I was getting nowhere fast, so I decided to abandon my efforts and resort to my typical Plan B: Ask my husband to do it. Plan B usually works, but this time hubby was busy and couldn’t get to my request right away. I was disgruntled and discouraged.

The next morning, I walked out to the dock prepared to begin my rake-flinging spectacle once again when I stopped and smiled. There was the chair, in a mere six feet of water off the side of the dock. Six feet of clear water. I was amazed; I could see it plain as day. I waded in a few feet, grabbed the bottom rung of the chair and pulled it right out. No need for flinging, no need for acrobatics, and no fear of onlookers questioning my sanity.

Later, I pondered this development in my prayer journal: What a difference a day makes, Lord, I wrote. Many times I am faced with a challenge, and the situation seems overwhelmingly cloudy and confusing. I’m not sure which way to go. Nothing I try seems to work. I get disgruntled and discouraged. And then morning comes. I have rested, I have pondered, I have prayed. Things are now clearer. The solution appears. I can proceed.

The experts tell us to wait 24 hours before responding to a complicated or contentious situation that needs our response. There’s a truth behind that practice, my friends: The passage of time gives us a chance to calm down, gather more information, and regain perspective. For us Christians, it also allows us a chance to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance and the right words to use or the best action to take. Waiting—and praying— can bring about a much better result.

Are you in the middle of a puzzling situation, Sista? A day makes a difference. Rest, ponder, pray. Try not to worry. Give the murky waters time to settle and the Holy Spirit time to work. You’ll be amazed at what a fresh outlook the morning brings— with no fear of sea monsters, sore hands or becoming the talk of the neighborhood.

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Ink Slingers

On Potholes, Pity Parties and Problematic Pants

“They’re just so ugly,” I told my sister-in-law last week. “They don’t fit, I did not order them and I do not want to wear them.”

“And they are so not in your color wheel,” she said sympathetically.

“I know, right?” I countered. “Obviously there was no consultation involved. I would like to return them.”

“But you can’t,” she said.

“I know,” I sighed.

The offending piece of attire we were bashing? My Big Girl Pants.

I was not in the mood to put them on. I knew I had to, but that did not stop me from whining about it.

The Big Girl Pants are never a welcome sight in my world because they signify a looming cross that I will need to take up and carry. I had hoped that I had successfully avoided the need to don the Big Girl Pants for a short time, all the while dreaming that it was a permanent separation. Nope. They were back. They were insistent. And they were definitely accompanied by a cross.

We all have crosses to bear in this life. I often tell my seminar attendees that Jesus did not say, “Pick up your Ghirardelli chocolate bar and follow me.” Or, “Pick up your new car and follow me.” Or “Pick up your lotto winnings and follow me.” No, sorry. He specifically said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”  And, because they are crosses and not feather pillows, they are uncomfortable. They are heavy. They can even hurt. We don’t want to pick them up at all, much less carry them around for any significant length of time. 

But despite the oh-so-wise things I say in my presentations, when this new cross of mine was on the horizon I spent some time prayer journaling, a.k.a. having a downright pity party about it. Try as I did to avoid the pothole of sadness and despair that is often associated with a cross, I ultimately flung myself headlong into said pothole. I implored. I complained. I got mad. I brazenly suggested other options to the Creator of the Universe: “Why couldn’t it be this way or that way instead, God?”

Lucky for me, the Creator of the Universe is used to my brazenness and has an endless supply of compassion and mercy to offer whenever I’m wallowing in the pothole of self-pity. He gives me time to adjust, and then he miraculously and generously pours out all the grace and strength and perseverance and courage I will need to carry my cross. He picks me up out of the pothole and helps me get into those Big Girl Pants. He’s done it before. Every single time, in fact. And I need to trust that He will do it again. He will not abandon me. And if I allow Him, He will also show me the good that comes from all of this.

So off I go now, shouldering my invisible, yet undeniably burdensome cross. But by the grace of God (and some also-invisible, divinely woven Big Girl Pants) I hope to accept and carry my cross in a more peace-filled manner, and avoid the potholes and pity parties along the way.

“Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.” -St. Francis de Sales