Nov 29, 2016

The Stories We Tell

With the phenomenon of social media and status updates and cell phones and text messages, it’s no wonder that assumptions fly through the air faster than snowflakes in a winter blizzard.  We interpret our words down to the most miniscule of details, dissecting the meaning behind a statement under a microscope and then further forming an opinion of our own about what was said or not said.

For example, how many times have you been on the receiving end of a text message that was without simple, yet necessary punctuation, especially when that punctuation would have meant the difference between understanding and being entirely confused? 

Enter exhibit A:

That comma is unmistakably important, my friends, wouldn’t you agree?

Nonetheless, we live in a hasty world.  Our minds are too boggled and too laser-focused on our next task that the beauty is no longer in the details.  In addition to this, we know what we intended to say, so why can’t others read between the lines and comprehend our thoughts as well?  

What's most frustrating about this is that we expect others to interpret our intentions, but when they receive them in error, we turn around and fault them for it.  And by construing what someone is trying to say, we end up forming stories in our minds that may not be true.  When this happens, defensiveness and a host of other emotions are thrown into the mix, resulting in mass-confusion. 

Before you know it, distinct lines have been drawn in the sand. 

The stories we tell ourselves are incomplete.  It’s like taking a book, opening it up to the very middle and starting to read the story from that point forward.  It doesn’t work that way.  We need the backstory.  We need the details.  We need the beginning. 

The beginning builds the foundation, which then builds on the truth.  It’s our victory over the unknown.  It destroys the assumptions and erases the lines.
So, my friends, let us seek clarity behind every meaning, and may we remember that the only story we can accurately ours.
But when you do, please, don't forget the punctuation.


Nov 27, 2016


Since I, myself, have had my Christmas tree up since November 5th, I suppose I’m not really one to talk, but for the majority of you, I imagine you are officially running around, bustling and preparing yourselves for the impending Christmas holiday.  For so many, these four weeks leading up to December 25th can stir up all sorts of unwanted emotions, such as stress, anxiety, and full-on panic.  Family get-togethers may be the very last thing you want to take part in, for all their awkwardness and discomfort.  The lines at the stores can be overwhelming and downright frustrating (price-check on isle 2!) and last but not least, the financial pressure of relinquishing that credit card with each purchase can place such a weight on your shoulders that it’ll take six months just to work it all off. 

It’s no wonder people breathe a gigantic sigh of relief on December 26th.

About a week back, the Gospel reading for the day broke open my heart to allow some much-needed light to filter in.  If you look up the bible verses online, they’re titled, The Widow’s Offering.  In a nutshell, it tells the brief story of people who are willing to give of what they have.  The wealthy give of their many gifts, yes, but this poor widow, who has practically nothing, also gives of her gifts.  Jesus recognizes this offering, and then most notably, he recognizes the difference. 

Do we give from a spirit of wealth, or do we give from a spirit of poverty?  Do we give from our pocket-book, or do we give from our hearts?  Where is the true sacrifice? 

Tell me, is it more difficult to sacrifice our money, or sacrifice our love?

I was having a conversation one day with someone regarding the practice of abstaining from eating meat on Friday’s during Lent.  He made the very valid point that if you thoroughly enjoy eating seafood and so on those particular Friday’s, you go out to Red Lobster and gorge yourself on all things covered in butter and deliciousness, that’s not really a sacrifice, is it?  The point, the true intention, has been overlooked. 

Where will your spirit of giving, of sacrifice, emanate from this holiday season? In a world where more seems to be the end-goal, how can we set aside our stresses to achieve our true intention? 

Our heart’s offering?    

Nov 20, 2016


It’s almost as if it happened instantaneously, regardless of knowing full-well this is not the truth.  But every once in a while, I will look around at little kids who are running and chasing each other through their yards, or riding their bikes down the street, and then notice as they stop for the briefest of moments to catch their breath before taking off in a flurry again.  It seems as if their energy is boundless…and mine, very often, is not.

I wake up in the morning and groggily talk myself into escaping from the warmth of the covers.  It takes me walking a full step or two before the kink loosens from my lower back and even a few more steps before the arthritis that’s settling in my hip gives way.  I walk into the bathroom, turn on the light, and look directly into the effects from the previous night.  My face indicates the signs of a deep and restful sleep.  I look down at my arms and notice that they’re clearly marked with sheet-imprints, and my hair is tousled and unmanageable, to say the least.  I rub my eyes in circles with my fists; a last-ditch effort to fully awake to the day ahead.  I glance ever so slightly back at the mirror and catch my true reflection, which is precisely when they stop me in my tracks. 


I stagger forward toward the mirror for closer examination and I’m astounded at how thin the skin around my eyes has become.  Was it always this way, I think?  The lines of age are profound and while I can do my best to mask them with a day’s worth of makeup, I can’t forget they’re there.  When did I grow old, I wonder? 

I’m afraid that as the years continue to pass, my reflection will only mirror deeper lines and thinner skin right back at me.  Yet just as the wrinkles I have now do, each future line will tell a story.  And, when it comes down to it, isn't that the best part?   
My life has been full and interesting and grace-filled, in every imaginable way.  My wrinkles are from those endless amount of days when I cried myself to sleep – for my own heartache and for the heartache of others.  And they’re also from those moments of being doubled over in a complete fit of laughter.  From the smiles given to family and friends and then extended to complete strangers.               
There are days when I want nothing more than to turn the odometer back, to reverse time and be as vibrant as those little kids who run and chase each other.  But with each year and with each additional wrinkle, it's important to remember how we are growing to become more and more authentic. 
And that, my friends, regardless of age, is the purest form of beauty. 

Nov 17, 2016

Spaces to fill

With the upcoming weekend forecast of the weather turning colder, I know I will find myself adding on an extra layer of protection to prepare myself as much as possible for the inevitable chill to settle in and stay put for a while.  

And as so many of you are, I'm sure, I am blessed and grateful to be able to escape from the harsh elements and take up space in a nice, warm house, filled with lots of color and surrounded by personal photos of those I love, which, all combined, make it feel cozy and just as it should feel – like home.  

While I don’t see it so much where I’m living now, in my previous home, I would notice that in the wintertime, the house would shrink a bit from the cold, resulting in a few hair-line cracks here and there, on the ceiling and on some of the walls.        

Yet in the summer, those cracks were never quite as noticeable.  The warmer and more humid weather would expand the walls further apart, closing in the gaps.  But I always new they were still there. 

Just like my old house, I, too, have many cracks and flaws – in my life and deep in my soul.  Places where I’m more vulnerable to the effects of immorality than others.  Areas where I let greed, jealousy, and frustration invade so severely that the good appears to have no hope of revealing itself.      

Which brings me to the question of, how am I really living my life?  Am I living with honor and integrity?  Humility and gentleness?

Do I apply the same rules to others as I do for myself? In this social-media-crazed society, it’s easy to point fingers and condemn others for how they act while remaining safe behind a computer screen, but why is it when we’re faced with a difficult situation, we give ourselves a free pass to react in a different way?  We open the door for our own pride, but close it to others.

The reality is that I live in an imperfect world and I am an imperfect person.  And so perfection will always be out of reach for me and for you.  However, our capacity to fill in the cracks of our lives with truth and nobility is always in reach.  

Very often, it’s even closer than we think. it possible to attain greatness, even with our flaws? 


I do believe it is.

Nov 15, 2016

Close Your Eyes

I’m in the process of reading an incredible book these days, entitled, “Tattoos on the Heart – The Power of Boundless Compassion” by Gregory Boyle.
It's the story of (Fr.) Gregory Boyle himself, who for over twenty years now has been involved with gang-intervention in the hardest hit areas of Los Angeles.  He conveys story upon story of the people he’s had an opportunity to meet and work with, deep within the mess, and how, with faith and assurance in God’s plan, has witnessed first-hand how offering people a chance they never believed they could have in the first place, their lives can catapult them in a completely different direction.
Within these brilliant and heart-tugging pages, Father Greg speaks of spiritual blindness, something I’m sure we’ve all heard of at one point or another.  He delicately explains how we often need to close both eyes in order to see clearly with the other one – our heart.
As with so many things in life, I feel like it’s easy to grow complacent.  Just the other night, in fact, I gave a brief presentation about the Catholic Mass to a group of RCIA candidates (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and I, myself, admitted how frequently I overlook the miracle of what really happens each time the bread and wine are consecrated at the Eucharistic table.  The true sacrifice is, sadly, lost on me because I’m accustomed to seeing it played out each and every week.  Can you even imagine?  Being so familiar to the point of disinterest by the witnessing of a such a miracle?  What a shame and dishonor to our Lord! 
Complacency is also the reason, I assume, that I struggle to get healthy and stay healthy.  Maintaining a diet and exercise program becomes monotonous and before I know it, I’ve consumed a day's worth of calories in just one sitting.  Or, it could also be the reason that my New Year’s resolutions go flying out the window shortly after trying to incorporate them into my daily life.  I start out strong, but falter after time...

I have a feeling that Jesus can also sense when we’ve grown complacent; complacent with prayer, with our spiritual growth, and with our desire to walk beside people rather than always ahead of them or above them. 
Closing both of our eyes allows us to view the world from a different perspective.  We start to listen differently and respond differently because we are listening and responding from our hearts, which is where we find compassion and empathy and kind-heartedness.  We set aside our judgments and misconceptions and enter a unique realm of possibilities and freedom from the walls we've built.  We see things we haven’t seen before, such as beauty and pure, unabashed splendor. 
I wonder what this world would be like if we all strived to live from a place of love and acceptance? 
I do know this: we are limited only by the boundaries we set for ourselves.
So close your eyes.  Open your heart.  And then see where the world takes you.

Nov 13, 2016


In just ten short days, Thanksgiving will be upon us.  The endless banquet of food will be displayed before us in all it's glory and my stretchy-pants will be in full effect.  I'll be too full for dessert, so I'll pass on the pumpkin pie until five minutes later, when I cover it with so much whip cream that we'll have to break open another tub.  Naps will be taken and leftovers will be sent home for days to come. 

It's hard to believe though, isn't it, that we are mid-way through November already?  Even harder to sit back and wonder at where the year has gone... 

While it's no secret to those that know me that Christmas is my most favorite holiday, Thanksgiving evokes the same feelings, just without all of the festive decorations.  The concept , regardless, remains the same.  We are allowed to take a step back from our overloaded schedules and hopefully, from our incessant need for social media, and look around us to see the beauty and the hope and the love that we've been given.

Yet it should go without saying, however, that we are also surrounded by those who struggle to find the blessings in their lives.  It could be your next door neighbor, the person sitting next to you in church, or the elderly person in front of you in line at the grocery store.  Men and women, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons ~ those who are without family and friends, or suffering from emotional or physical challenges, or perhaps just recently lost their jobs and are consumed with thoughts of, how will I provide for my loved ones?  How will I make it through tomorrow?

We are being flooded on a daily basis with opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others, yet we are also flooded with a checklist of worldly to-do's that we're determined to check off first.  But that's not what God asks of us.  He asks us to choose wisely, and very often, that means life must wait. 

Throughout this entire season, I'm challenging myself, and you all as well, to give from willing hands.  What does that look like, might you ask?  It looks a lot like going outside of the box and truly giving from the deepest part of our souls.  And it requires our time.  Our precious, limited, and very sacred, time.

Take a few moments a day to say a prayer for someone who asked you to do so, but really set aside what you're doing to say the prayer.  No rushing through the words or giving up if you're not sure how to begin.  Offer their request up to God and ask of Him, thy will be done.

Do you have a friend that has been going through a tough time in her marriage, or at her job, or simply struggles to get through each day?  Invite her over to your house, toss your distracting cell phones in a basket and tuck them away for an hour, while you sit and visit over a warm pot of coffee.  Listen to her as she forms the words she's desperately needed someone to hear, with no agendas and no plans for solving all of her problems.  Just be

Our God is a forgiving God.  Jesus, himself, instructed Peter in the Bible (and therefore, he instructed each of us) that he should forgive his brother not seven times, but seven times seventy times.  Over and over and over again.  God forgives us at least that many times, therefore, why should we not extend that forgiveness to others?  So let me ask you - as this holiday season approaches - who in your life needs your forgiveness?  I know it's hard.  I know you want to hold onto those battered feelings with all your might.  But will this grudge be worth it on the day of judgment?  Consider loosening your grip and releasing your love back to the one who has wronged you.  Because as little Carolyn in the movie, 'Elf', says, "It won't hurt so much after awhile".

In the Catholic church's liturgical year, the first day of Advent is also considered the New Year, which begins this month on November 27th.  So together, my friends, let's promise to give from willing hands and compassionate hearts, so that in the end, we can truly reap the fruits of a beautiful life.

Nov 10, 2016

The Road Up

This picture.  It speaks so strongly to me.  The moment I saw it, I could imagine myself standing at the bottom of that snow-covered hill, the sun shining brightly off the surface back at me.  Millions upon millions of chilled, sparkling crystals, which, at first glance, resemble a sheet of glass or a crisp, white sheet before being thrown on top of a bed. So clean and pure; full of possibilities and opportunities and hope.  

I cautiously think about taking that first step up the hill - how deep will the snow be, I wonder?  Are my boots tall enough, or will I feel the sudden and shocking chill of the snow crumbling over the top of them? To be honest, I don't really want to ruin the smooth surface - the picture of perfection - by placing my feet into it, because I know it will never be the same once I do.  I won't be able to take back my steps and smooth the snow to look like it did before.  But then again, if I don't, how will I ever make it to the top?  How will I ever know how big and strong that tree is up there, if I don't, one day, stand directly next to it, under it's vast umbrella of protection? It appears so small from down here, but up there, I bet the trunk is sturdy and well-weathered after years of growth. I imagine you can see as far as the eye can behold from that viewpoint, and I bet it's absolutely magnificent.  

So I decide, hesitantly, to take my first step...and then the next, and the next. One foot in front of the other; that's what I'm telling myself.  About halfway up the hill, my legs start to get a little tired; the snow is much deeper than it looks. My feet are getting cold, but I don't have much farther to go, so I press on. The air is thin and brisk and chills my insides as I breathe in and out at first, but eventually I can feel my body warming up from the exertion of each step forward.  I remove one of my gloves and then another and unzip my coat a bit; ironic how the cold doesn't feel so cold anymore.  It's hard to believe, but I'm almost to the top now and even though I'm tired, my pace quickens at the thought of this journey being complete.  I glance back for a brief moment at all those footsteps buried deep and I'm amazed at how far I've come already.  I think to myself, I really can do this.  And I don't know if it's possible, but the sun almost feels brighter and warmer as I get closer.  

Just a few more steps...     

Wow!  I place my hand upon my chest and take a deep breath in, because, oh my gosh, you should see the view from up here.  It's spectacular! The tree that once looked so small is looming next to me and it's roots are sunk deep down, buried underneath the blanket of snow. The branches are more brittle now, but I know that they, too, will come back to life very soon. And it's amazing how quiet it is standing here; the only sound is the light breeze and my labored breathing.  I lift my face up to the sky and the sun...oh friends...the's so bright and warm and brilliant.  I feel a small smile start to form across my face and a peace begin to permeate my entire being from head to toe.  I never imagined I could feel this good.  I guess the journey wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.

I finally open my eyes and as I squint back down the hill, I can see someone standing where I once was. They appear to be anxious and struggling, looking from side to side, trying to decide if they, too, should take the first step. Someone looks like they've been here before, they think, but they must be stronger than me.  You see them start to turn their back on the journey and you know what message their heart is beating to; this is too hard.  I'll never make it.

I call out to them, Stop!  Don't go!  They turn back around, wondering if they heard my voice by mistake. They place their gloved-hand up to their forehead to shield their eyes from the sun and they recognize me standing at the top of the hill.  They call up to me, how were you brave enough to travel all that way?

I hesitate for just a brief moment before responding ~ trust me, it wasn't easy, but wait right there for me...I'm coming to get you.  I can help you on the journey.  I'll give you my hand and we can do it together.

...And so it is...
You see, my friends, I believe it's more than ok to look back on the journey you've traveled, especially if it's to lend a hand to someone else.
Because I promise's always worth the trip.

Nov 8, 2016


There are several definitions of the word fierce.  One meaning I found is to display an intense or ferocious aggressiveness, while another is to show a heartfelt and powerful intensity
So different, right?  How can the same word produce such distinctive meanings and possible outcomes? 
Intense and aggressive versus heartfelt and powerful.  
If I had to describe myself in various terms, I would say that, for the most part, I am a people-pleaser who will do pretty much all that I can to avoid confrontation.  These adjectives aren’t necessarily traits that would coincide with a spirit of fierceness, would you say?  On the surface, they simply don’t appear to go hand in hand.
Being a people-pleaser in my world means that I strive to flow with the current rather than stopping to adjust my sails in the opposite direction.  It often means that while I might disagree with the way things are moving, I will swallow my pride in order to give others the satisfaction they're looking for. 
And then when it comes to confrontation, my motto has always been this – pick your battles.  That attitude, however, has often come at an expense.  It’s like walking into battle without a shield; you run the risk of getting hurt and wounded from whatever you might encounter on the ground.  It’s tiring and overwhelming and eventually, defeating.  It’s choosing to lie down and succumb to the pain rather than to stand up, knowing deep down you can bravely, and courageously, move forward. 
I have never been a fierce contender – intense and aggressive.
When I was in prison, I can’t even begin to describe the spectrum of people I came across.  There were those who fought with fierceness; they battled for their personal space and long-lost freedom – freedom that, no matter how hard they tried, would never be returned to them - not confined within those four walls, at least.  They built up tough, invisible, unbreakable shields around themselves, defying anyone to try and break through.  If you happened to be unlucky enough to do so, you must suffer the consequences. 
Fierce.  Intense and aggressive.
Then there were the others; the ones who felt it all; every emotion and every attack like a dagger to the heart.  These were the ones I would sit with and listen when they told me that the streets were more than they could bear.  That alcohol and drugs were too powerful for them to turn their backs on.  That they had no idea what it was like to be surrounded by a loving support system of family and friends.  And that prison was a thing of paradise compared to being homeless. 
Fierce.  Heartfelt and powerful
Listen, we can travel the journey any way we choose, but the way in which we carry ourselves will impact how we arrive at the end of the road.  Broken and battered or whole and complete. 
I desire to be bold, yet respectful.  I want to stand up for my beliefs, yet remain humbleBut more than anything, I hope to be fierce.
Heartfelt and powerful
I’m up for the task.  Are you?

Nov 6, 2016


The day God decided I would exist in this world is the same day he also decided not to bless me with a green thumb.  While I can appreciate and admire a beautiful landscaping project or enjoy the smell of blooming and vibrant flowers, I have this uncanny inability to take care of all things green and growing.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard plants whisper, aahhh...go away, whenever I am near them.  And for some reason, I always find myself confused at the difference between annuals and perennials. I feel like annuals should mean that plants/flowers come back every year…annually…right?  Doesn’t that make sense to you as well?  But I guess it actually means that you have to re-plant them, annually. 

Huh.  Odd.

I have a soft spot in my heart for traditions, which might explain my fascination with the whole concept of annuals vs. perennials.  Traditions are the same over and over again...annually.  They begin a certain way and with each year and the passing of time, they grow to have a deep and almost magical, meaning, to them.  During my childhood, birthday’s had many traditions, one of them being that my mom would make any flavor of cake requested by the person celebrating (my favorite was chocolate cake with chocolate frosting...yes, all the chocolate, please).  We would typically have dinner, open presents, and then have cake.  It was familiar and known and set it stone.  I found great solace and comfort in that stability.

However, as I’ve gotten older, it seems as if things are changing and traditions are slipping away.  We are all busy and there are families and kids and meetings and all the other things on the schedule to work around.  Life is no longer moving in an annual, or I should say, perennial-type fashion.  And so that stability, at times, feels fleeting.

The first year I was separated, Christmas morning brought a jolt of unfamiliarity into my world.  In the past, I was accustomed to waking up early (Santa had come!) with my husband and two dogs, making a warm cup of Christmas coffee to sip slowly on, turning on the TV so that 'A Christmas Story' could play in the background ceaselessly, and then sitting on the floor to open presents.  I was surrounded by all sorts of festive Christmas decorations and those I loved the most.  Peace.  On.  Earth.  I could look out my large picture window and see the cars driving by, splashing the slush of the snow off their tires.  And I could place my hand on the cool, dewy window, yet feel the warmth of the furnace and a soft, cozy blanket. 

But that first year away was…lonely.  I woke up to an empty bed in a basement with no windows to the outside.  It was still cozy and warm and my Christmas tree was still bright, but everything else was missing.  My perennial-life had now become an longer the same year after year.  I would need to make new memories and new traditions going forward.  The known had become the unknown.    

But here’s what’s important to remember.  Not everything is sustainable.  Not everything will stand the test of time.  This summer, I lost my beloved, stubborn and precocious four-legged friend, Chance.  He passed away at the wee age of nine, much too early in my selfish opinion.  The day we put him down, I couldn’t begin to imagine how my heart would recover from such a loss.  He was my constant, every day, love and laughter.  He was there…and then just like that, he wasn’t. 

We lose things and people and pets and our hearts mourn for the perennial-life; the life that wishes for things to forever remain the same; unchanging.  But things and people and pets and you and me are just here for a short time.  This is not all there is, and oddly enough, I am comforted by that.  I am reassured by the changing times and the ways we must morph into new and better-beings when the situation calls for us to do so.   We can cherish our traditions and hold them with precious and lasting hearts, but we cannot expect this life to stay the same year after year.  We must realize that the framework of our lives is not set in stone. 

Annuals and perennials.  I still mix them up from time to time, but that’s ok. 

I’m learning to adjust.  In all ways of growing.