Piloting Through the Storm

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Summer break has officially arrived at our house today!!!

(And wouldn’t you know, it’s raining.)

((So the youngest one is already bored and it’s only 9:20 AM.))

(((Oh, goody.)))

Lucky for me, though,  this gloomy weather provides me with the perfect backdrop for what I wanted to write about today:  storms.

My sister-in-law captured this great photo from a midwest storm brewing near their house a week or two ago, and I thought it was a great illustration of something that is easy to forget when those more invisible, but equally– or sometimes even more severe–storms start to churn on our insides.  Whether it be a spiritual storm that tests your faith, a social storm that tests your integrity, stormy thoughts that test your attitude, or a physical storm that usually tests all three,  I thought this photo was a great reminder of something I read in Marianne Williamson’s Return to Love a while back.  In it, (and I paraphrase here) I read that in every storm, the sky does not go all black or all gray, the gray or the black temporarily blocks out the blue, but the blue is always there.

Now, maybe you’d realized that before, but I hadn’t really thought about it until just then as I read it.  It made me think of the few times I’ve been on an airplane and left the ground in the middle of pouring rain.  It’s not long until the pilot pushes the plane right through the storm and  finds that blue sky– making it a smoother ride for all of us on board– that I realize the vastness of the sky itself was a calm, constant blue all along!  I felt like this photo was such a great illustration of that very thing:  you can see the darkness beginning to creep in and cover the bright light, but you can also see that the light really isn’t going anywhere…it’s just getting covered up!

I thought about this as I walked with my family during the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life this weekend.  I was privileged this year to be joined by my friend, who has survived (and thrived) after a breast cancer diagnosis 18 months ago, along with her mother, a survivor who has been cancer free for 19 years!  I had just gotten to know my friend around the time of her diagnosis a year and a half ago, so I doubt I was much of a “blue sky” in her time of darkness.  But, I know of other friends of hers who were.  And I watched that process as people flocked to take care and help out where they could.  Today, she is healthier, stronger and arguably, “more alive” than ever after her difficult “storm”.

And while it didn’t seem related at the time, as I look back on it now, I realize there were two other events from this weekend that I’ll share because in my mind, they are relevant to this same idea.

The first event was a rather ordinary one for us, because after Relay for Life, we went to our usual Saturday evening Mass (the only difference being that all five of us looked more casual than usual in our flourescent green RFL t-shirts.   But, last year on RFL day, we arrived in rainbow tie-dye, so I think the congregation is getting used to it!)  At any rate, the homily by our deacon that day was about the miracles of Jesus and the variations in the understanding and explaining of these miracles over the last 2000+ years.  I know I’ve heard explanations before that some people feel takes away from the “miracle” of these events– particularly in regards to the feeding of the thousands.  That explanation is that it was through witnessing the action of Jesus’ sharing of the loaves and fish, he prompted others to take what little food they had hidden away in their cloaks and share it, too.  For me personally, I like this second explanation every bit (or maybe even more!) as much as I like the idea of  Jesus  mysteriously and miraculously multiplying the loaves and fish himself.  Because frankly, to me, whether we are fed miraculously by God, or we collectively come into the heart and mind of Christ to feed each other, a miracle has occurred as far as I’m concerned.  The details don’t really matter much to me.

Finally, the third event was the sharing of a story by my husband that one of his co-workers had shared with him.  It was a beautiful essay by Robert Fulghum, the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  The essay is a great illustration for learning the difference between an inconvenience in life and a problem.  And the essay summarizes the difference like this:

“One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.   If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem.  Everything else is an inconvenience.  Life is inconvenient.  Life is lumpy.  A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump.  One needs to learn the difference.”

And in that moment I thought of my friend, a survivor of breast cancer.

And I thought of Jesus working his miracles.

And I thought of my sister-in-law capturing this photo of the darkness temporarily moving in to cover the light.

And I hoped and I prayed that the next time I find myself in the middle of one of life’s storms, God sends me someone (or several someones) to help pilot me through that storm to be an earthly illustration of his constant light for me.  Because even though I claim to have the faith to get me through anything, like everything else in a storm, even my faith can become lost in darkness  from time to time.

And then I hoped and I prayed that during all the other times– the times of sunshine and brightness and peace in my life–that God gives me the strength and the wisdom and the courage to help pilot others through their storms.  To be a pinpoint of light for them in their darkness.

Because when it’s all said and done, whether I’m piloting others, or they are piloting me… being able to weather any storm life throws our way with the support of others?

Well.

That’s miracle enough for me.

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Something’s Gotta Give

May day!  May day!

Yes, it is the first of May.  And my introductory shout is both a celebration of that long-lost holiday of putting out flowers on doorsteps for others, and also that call of desperation we hear from captains of the air and sea when they are in trouble, and their ship or their plane is out of control.

Today I feel both a reason to celebrate, and a need to get my “ship” back in control.

The most obvious celebration in our household today is for my middle son, who turns 11.  Eleven!  As usual, my mind screams where did the time go?  It seems like only a few years at most that my husband and I were celebrating both the blessing and the bewilderment of having a second  healthy boy (11 pounds and 6 ounces of healthiness to be exact!) Still, celebrating him and the young man he’s rapidly growing up to be is so much to celebrate!

Then, there’s my call for help.  It’s to get me out of my own mess.  I keep reminding myself these are really and truly only problems faced by people privileged enough to live in First World countries like the good ol’ US of A.  So, please know that as I complain, I am also grateful.

The last month or two for me has been a ton of ridiculousness of volunteer activities and the like.  Not to mention anything that can go wrong seemed to go wrong for my husband at work, which meant later than usual nights for him as well.  It all ended last weekend in a big hurrah when I decided (only about a week beforehand) that being part of our neighborhood garage sale was also something I should do.

That makes perfect sense when you’re already exhausted from too much chauffeuring of kids to lessons and activities, volunteer commitments at their schools, and not disappointing the tens of people who look forward to my thrice-a-week blog.

Yes, when better to do a garage sale?  Oh, and a lemonade and bake sale put on by the neighborhood kids, along with my kids.  At my house.

Of course, I should do that, too!

So, Friday was a flurry of activity here trying to set up and price items for Saturday’s sale.  (No time for blogging that day).  Saturday morning the doorbell rang at ten to eight with the neighborhood kids raring to go. (Not entirely unrelated to my whole theme of the post today, their sale was *mostly* for charity–they each kept $5–and they ended up raising over $50 for Autism Speaks, so their story, too had a great ending!)

Anyhoo, then there was me, bleary-eyed and staring through the steam on my mug of hot green tea as I opened the garage door and the car loads of bargain shoppers swooped in.  And,  while most of the whole sale is a blur, I do remember this:  I remember having to use the calculator for a woman who was buying $6.70 worth of clothes and miscellany because she gave me a $10 bill.

I know.

(I know.)

As I slowly punched the numbers in she blurted out, “$3.30My change is $3.30!”

Yes, I know monkeys can do math better than I do.  But, my question is, can they do it on about four hours of sleep and with so many distractions going on around them?  My garage was full of people milling about and every other second one of the kids was asking me a question!   Anyway, luckily for me,  at the moment she told me what her change should be, my calculator simultaneously concurred.

And that’s when I realized I had no dimes or nickels for change.  (I’d planned on only pricing things in quarters, but obviously changed my plan without consulting my brain).

Lovely.

Anyway, it all worked out.  I told the lady to take the two 10 cent items for free.  She quietly thanked me and then, very kindly went to her car and returned with a dollar and 20 cents worth of dimes to not only pay for the two 10 cent items, but to also provide me with future dimes for change.

What is my point, you wonder?

I have no idea.  (I’m still really tired and it’s now Wednesday).

Which kind of is my point.  I had reached a point where nothing much was making sense at all anymore.  Why was I doing all this volunteering?  Why was I adding more things to do to an already overworked brain and body?  Why was I continuing to say yes to things, even though the most obvious answer should have been to say no?

I’m still not entirely certain, but I do know this:  no matter how hard we try to do everything and then some, we all have a breaking point. And at that point something’s gotta give. And, unfortunately, in my life, that usually means my husband and my kids have to put up with a tired, cranky wife and mother.

Sound familiar?

I wish I had a better answer.  All I know for sure is that along with my kids and husband, I suffered for taking on so much.  I didn’t want to be grumpy.  I didn’t want to be so tired.  And I didn’t want to be doing anything on the weekend besides enjoying my family (which I was not at all able to do because of all my “yeses” to other things).

So, when Monday came, I worked all day on some of the other volunteer things I’d committed to doing, and as I was able to cross more and more off my list,  I started to feel a sense of peace.  (Even though I had to sacrifice the blog again to get them done).  I started prioritizing and making a punch list.  Tackling one thing at a time.  And bit by bit my load has lightened.  And I have found stillness and peace and quiet again.

And yesterday, there in the stillness at the bottom of all of it, was God.  Waiting.  Holding it all up with me (or for me).  Reminding me that every decision I make impacts others.

Every decision.

It’s how I’ve come to understand what Catholics call “original sin.”  Our decisions have a ripple effect: on ourselves, on God, and on others, even  through the generations.

It’s a tough row to hoe, knowing this.

Still.

There is hope!  And my hope comes from knowing this:  that the ripple effect is also true of our good deeds, when we follow the promptings of the Spirit.  I remember having a conversation with my priest at my last parish in Wisconsin, and he told me that following the Spirit is like throwing stones into a pond.  We let the Spirit carry out our work like ripples on the water…and sometimes?  Sometimes, they touch something and bounce back to us!

And that’s why I have hope.  Because, while I know that my crabbiness and crankiness has a ripple effect, I believe that my good deeds do, too.  Otherwise, why would the lady who was only minutes earlier yelling at me about her change (and hinting–not so subtly– at my idiocy) return with not only payment for items I’d offered her for free, but also with change to spare?

It’s the miracle of mercy.

And it is why I have hope that when my earthly life is over, those who have known me will  remember me not for the stained and blotted effects of my thoughtless,  hurried and sometimes cruel choices, but rather that they will feel their hearts flooded by the loving and heartfelt goodness that comes from the light of the Spirit within me.

Because it shines in us all!

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5

My (not so obvious) Easter Miracle

The candy is mostly gone and the world assumes Easter is over. Not exactly. The momentum that may appear to have been stuffed in a tomb is, instead, loose in the world. The Season of Easter provides 50 days in which to get used to the concept that the stone has been pushed away. The momentum is sufficiently ample to hold all our sorrows and enable us to risk the abundance of joy. -Helen Barron

I loved this little thought Helen Barron shared in her Easter newsletter from Candlepress. I think of all the momentum I had going into Lent and the changes I wanted to make. What a long haul those 40 days seemed once I got into the middle of them and how many times didn’t I want to just “go back” to the way things were?

But now, Easter is here, and I can see (when I take the time to reflect) that I have been changed. Not in the ways I’d hoped or planned, perhaps, but I’ve changed all the same. In “giving up” my excuses, I have noticed changes in the following areas:

  • Diet and exercise: I have not had a Diet Coke  in almost two months, and I now exercise a minimum of 4 days a week (but usually 6). This has not amounted in the 20 lb. weight loss I’d dreamed of that all the infomercials promise, but I have lost 5 lbs. and I continue to eat better each day.
  • Writing: I think the calendar on the  right is proof enough that I have been able to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for almost a month!
  • Household chores: I’ve always had a set schedule for chores since the time I was very young. What’s happened over the course of the past 13 years that I’ve stayed home, however, is that I’ve found my motivation for staying on a schedule to fall into the category of the most mundane. I mean a girl can only clean out toilets every Tuesday and Friday for so long before she really starts to doubt that maybe there’s something more.   But over the course of this past Lent, I’ve told myself it doesn’t matter if they’re dirty or not, I’ll do it anyway to save myself having to do it  when they’re really dirty.  And while I haven’t been perfect about it, I’ve certainly been more routine in the last 40 days than I have for quite some time. Which brings me to my final realization…
  • Being less than perfect: This is an odd one for me to realize, because I would have never said I was perfect before. Or probably even a “perfectionist.” But as I peeled back through the layers of why I’d failed at keeping routines down before (like diet and exercise, writing, and chores) I came to realize that I would stray from the plan at the slightest sign of it not being perfect. In other words, I’d think that if I didn’t exercise right away in the morning, I might as well not exercise at all that day. And if I missed one day, then I might as well miss two because “the week’s been shot,” etc. The same goes for writing. If I couldn’t put out something that felt “complete” I  didn’t want to post it. And, of course, the chores… why wash dishes right away this morning, when they’ll be dirty ones again by lunchtime?  But that’s what I’ve learned: life isn’t perfect.

But, of course, life isn’t meant to be perfect.

It’s meant to be lived.

Sure, we should make plans and try to keep some balance in our lives by striving for our best work.

But we’re almost always going to fail.

In fact, I’ve come to believe we’re meant to.

Because, as C.S. Lewis once said, “All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.’ ”

And seeing it in this light, from the most ordinary of “duties” has, for me, brought God from “out there” to “in here.” I’ve long understood, of course, that God would care about whether or not I broke a commandment, but would he care if I broke a promise to myself?

One month later, five pounds lighter, a calendar full of regular blog posts, and the house a bit cleaner, I have to admit I’ve changed.

Or rather, Some Thing has changed me.

In ways I never thought possible.

My “perfect” stone has been “pushed away,” and opened a space for an abundance of joy in the most ordinary of ways.

It may not sound like much…but it’s my Easter miracle.

 

P.S.  Check in with me Friday, and I’ll show you around the new place here at The Mystic Mom!  Also, I apologize if you received this post in an incomplete mess yesterday.  I was “housecleaning” here on the blog and accidentally published this before it was properly “cooked.”  Oops.  Good thing I’ve gotten OK with being less than perfect! 🙂