Category Archives: Life

40th day of Lent. Life is About More Than Curtains.

You are forgiven. Free. Jesus has taken everything you could throw at him. Your worst rants. Your fiercest moments of hate. He doesn’t say, “Is that all you’ve got?” He doesn’t say, “C’mon, you can do better than that!” He says, “I forgive, you. Even if there is more, I forgive you. Even if you insist there has to be more because I really don’t understand how bitter, frustrated, hateful, and flawed you are: I forgive you. Even if you’re not convinced of my love, of my forgiveness, they’re still yours.”

“I know there’s a bit of crazy in you, I do. Just the other day you were welcoming me, the way the people welcomed me into Jerusalem. We were talking, and I was loving it, because there is nothing better than being with you. Then something happened. What was it? I’m kidding. Of course I remember. That happened and you forgot that I was with you. You felt like you were alone. You believed that no one understood you. You became angry. I remember that kind of anger, that darkness. I know you know the story. The same people who welcomed me, crucified me. It’s ok. You were scared, just like they were. I understand, and I’ve already forgiven you. I’ve already forgotten what it was. You don’t have to hold on to what happened. You don’t.”

“I know you see everything you aren’t. I know what it’s like to do that. Do you know what I see? All that you could be. All that you are when you love someone freely and openly. All that you are when you love someone because they exist. When you’re loving that way you’re not attached to anything they’ve ever done that is good or bad in their lives. You don’t have amnesia, of course. But the good and the bad are simply moments that happened. The love you have for them has its own completeness. The one you are loving becomes enough the way they are. That’s what loving you is like, for me, all of the time. You are enough, as you are.”

“A number of years ago some friends of mine made a funny movie. There’s a great moment in it where a king is trying to impress upon his son his future inheritance. I’m sure you know this film. It was very popular. Anyway, in the scene I’m thinking of a father is standing at a window and says to his son: “One day, lad, all this will be yours!” And the son says, “What the curtains?” You said it with me! Ha! I thought you knew it. I love that film. Do you remember what he says next? Not many do. He says, “No, not the curtains, lad. All that you can see! Stretched out over the hills and valleys of this land!” All that you can see. Isn’t that marvelous? Those writers were spot on. You are glorious. So magnificent. You really are. Here’s what I’ve been trying to say. Life is about more than curtains. Come. Take and eat, that I might dwell in you. Find me in the people you share your life with. Be my body. Be me, in your corner of the world.”

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28th day of Lent. Mantras to Hold and Review.

Every week I visit my local hospital and spend time with patients in the rehabilitation wing. I go because I know what it’s like to stay in a hospital, and what it’s like to spend time with a loved one there. In the first instance, there are never enough visitors. In the second, it’s stressful for everyone. Your anxiety shoots through the roof. Being in a hospital, and spending time with family in one are scary experiences.

During my visits I typically tell patients three things:

– Work hard during rehab sessions. Rehab is training for the Olympics that is your life.

– Listen to your body. Being in the hospital, is stressful. It requires a lot of energy. Physical energy, and emotional energy. If your body is saying you need a nap? Give in. Indulge yourself. If you’re sad and need to cry. Let yourself do just that also.

– Be gentle with yourself. We want healing to happen as quickly as a microwave heats a slice of pizza, or pops a bag of popcorn.  Instead healing takes place the way snow falls, one flake at a time. As folks in Boston have learned, one flake at a time, adds up.

Growing in faith involves three similar disciplines:

– Instead of working hard at having more faith, or trying to live on the outside like Jesus, let yourself be present to the people that are part of your life. Do that and you’ve taken a step towards being Jesus for them.

– Listen to your body, and bring it with you to worship and prayer. The aches of your heart. The pressure of  living. Your anxiety, hurt, and fear. Notice them. Bring them to Jesus, and remember, you are already his body in the world.

– Be gentle with yourself. So many things in our culture encourage us to think about ourselves first.  To consume, and want more. If you find yourself busy and without any room for anyone in your life besides yourself? Don’t beat yourself up. Growing in faith happens slowly, bit by bit. If you beat yourself up, all that will do is shame you. You’ll think you’re a bad person, and not simply someone who made a mistake.

For me, the three points are mantras to hold and review.

 

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27th day of Lent. Missing 3.14.15 9:26, and Seizing John 3:16.

I was trying to remember where I was at 9:26am last weekend on π day. I was on the road, somewhere between Pittsburgh and Brooklyn. The time came and went without me noticing it. Later, I remembered it was pi day as I looked at the dessert menu after dinner. A slice of Chocolate Pecan Praline pie, seemed like too much of a number of things. I passed. At 9:26pm I was on the back end of a birthday celebration with family. The exact moment slipped by then as well.

Steven Strogatz–a professor of mathematics at Cornell–has a lovely piece in The New Yorker about π and this pi day of the century.

“Why do mathematicians care so much about pi? Is it some kind of weird circle fixation? Hardly. The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach. Even young children get this. The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi.”

The article is worth reading and has some fascinating details about the significance of pi, and the way it’s “woven into our descriptions of the innermost workings of the universe.” Elsewhere, just for fun, Strogatz shows how you can calculate pi at home with toothpicks, or on your computer by following this link.

Pi, as Strogatz says, “puts infinity within reach.” The Bible verse often seen during sporting events–John 3:16–is thought to putting eternity within reach, to borrow a bit of Strogatz’s phrasing.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NABRE).

John 3:16 is a popular verse among Evangelicals who use it as a way summing up the Gospel. Unfortunately, it’s also one that’s easy to read as exclusive, because if you don’t believe then instead of eternal life you’ll have eternal damnation. I’ve been reading a lot about John 3:16. There are a bunch of excerpts from texts as well as links over at Paul Nuechterlein’s site Girardian lectionary, Much of what follows I found there. I’m still chewing on it, so it’s a little headier than normal, though I think you’ll be able to follow.

Anyway, N.T. Wright in his book, How God Became King suggests that if we’re reading John 3:16 as promising Heaven, we’re misunderstanding it.

“There we are, think average Christian readers. This is the biblical promise of a timeless heavenly bliss.

But it isn’t. In the many places where the phrase zoe aionios appears in the gospels, and in Paul’s letters for that matter, it refers to one aspect of an ancient Jewish belief about how time was divided up. In this viewpoint, there were two “aions” (we sometimes use the word “eon” in that sense): the “Present age,” ha-olam hazeh in Hebrew, and the “age to come,” ha-olam ha-ba. The “age to come,” many ancient Jews believed, would arrive one day to bring God’s justice, peace, and healing to the world as it groaned and toiled within the “present age.” You can see Paul, for instance, referring to this idea in Galatians 1:4, where he speaks of Jesus giving himself for our sins “to rescue us from the present evil age.” In other words, Jesus has inaugurated, ushered in, the age to come.” But there is no sense that this “age to come” is “eternal” in the sense of being outside space, time, and matter. Far from it. The ancient Jews were creational monotheists. For them, God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay.

If we reframe our thinking within this setting, the phrase zoe aionios will refer to “the life of the age,” in other words, “the life of the age to come.”… John 3:16 [then] ends not with “have everlasting life” (KJV), but “share in the life of God’s new age.” (pp 44-45).

A new age that’s possible now through God who is love, and “loves us at least as much as the person who loves us the most.” (Paul J. Nuechterlein). We have the capacity to channel love of that breadth and depth. What if we did?  What would our world look like? These words of Sarah Dylan Breuer paint a powerful image:

“How might the world be different if those patterns were disrupted, if you and I could be sisters and brothers in healthy relationship? … Let me put it this way:

What would our relationships look like if we shared one birth and were raised in one loving, supportive family? What would an economy look like that took seriously that we live and work in a world that is our common inheritance, and not a set of disconnected chunks of land and resources to be conquered like a Risk game board? What would a world look like in which we saw every child as our own little sister or brother, if “family first” included them all as our own flesh and blood?

That’s Jesus’ invitation to us today. Being “born from above” means that Jesus offers us freedom from relationships that ensnare, and the choice to relate to one another as beloved children of one loving God. It’s a choice not just for a new name:

It’s a new world of new relationships, of new and abundant life.” ~ Sarah Dylan Breuer

I missed the pi day of the century. I was going about my day, thinking about what I was going to do in the morning, and chatting in conversation at night. Both times 9:26 slipped right by. I miss moments where I have a chance to bring about “God’s new age” too. Catholics like to talk about conversion as something that is ongoing. Heralding in God’s kingdom is the result of a heart learning what it means to live a life in Christ. In this way, it’s our ongoing work, something to seize in as many moments as we can, being Jesus for others, and finding him in everyone we meet.

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26th day of Lent. Better, Stronger, Tougher, and Brimming with Love.

Last night I stumbled across this interview with Gabby Giffords.  Four years after being shot in the head, Giffords has lost most of the sight in her right eye. She has limited use of her right arm, and leg. She has Aphasia. What’s both hopeful and inspiring, is that she sees that she’s continuing to getting better.

During the interview, CBS reporter Lee Cowan asks her: “As you recover, are you trying to get back the old Gabby or trying to find the new Gabby?” She doesn’t hesitate. “The new one. Better. Stronger. Tougher.” Followed by a grin. An inspiring story about a woman who isn’t looking back on what might have been, but looking forward and living into what is. Giffords husband, Mark Kelly, says at the end of the interview,

“You know, things happen to you in life, and there’s some things you can do something about, and there’s other things you can’t. You just have to move ahead.”

“Move ahead” Giffords says, echoing her husband. Cowan adds, “You just have to keep moving.” “Moving, moving, moving. Yeah.” says Giffords. There’s a lot of wisdom there. Wisdom that’s applicable to different kinds of trauma.

After being diagnosed with an incurable cancer, Christian Wiman didn’t go looking for the faith he had as child. Instead, he found comfort in thinking of Christ as contingency.

“All of human life is uncertain. I suppose to think of God in these terms might seem for some people deeply troubling (not to mention heretical), but I find it a comfort….If Christianity is going to mean anything at all for us now, then the humanity of God cannot be a half measure. He can’t float above the chaos of pain and particles in which we’re mired, and we can’t think of him gliding among our ancestors like some shiny superhero….No, God is given over to matter, the ultimate Uncertainty Principle. There’s no release from reality, no “outside” or “beyond” from which some transforming touch might come. But what a relief it can be to befriend contingency, to meet God right here in the havoc of chance, to feel enduring love like a stroke of pure luck.” ~ My Bright Abyss, pp18-19.

The idea of contingency it seems is important–for Wiman–because it helps bring to life the sense that “Christ’s life is right now.” (p.19). Our lives are always changing. One event links to another, which changes the next, and so forth. A God who’s actively participating in our lives is in this sense shifting with us, as thing change. This God of mercy looks ahead, and not back. This God tries to rally us toward a life where like Gabby Giffords, we’re better, tougher, stronger, and brimming with love (hence her grin).

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25th day of Lent. What makes a day good.

What makes a day, good? Is it an interaction where you see someone else’s day changing for the better? A blue sky that catches you by surprise with the depth of its color? A list of things made in the morning and checked off as you move through a day? The hug you share at the end of one? The kiss that begins it?

As I moved through my day, I wasn’t sure what sort of day it was turning out to be. While I made my bank teller’s day, and made progress on some projects. I wasn’t able to get much traction, with others. There were more things I didn’t even have a chance to think about, much less begin. Nothing bad happened. It’s just that it didn’t seem to stand out in any way. Mostly it felt, well, ordinary.

When Bud was in Middle School, I made a point of asking him every day how his day was. It’s a simple habit I still do. Then, “Normal” was typically the only thing he’d say. Just that one word. If he said more, it meant the day was exceptional. Moving through today, I was ready to label it as being normal in that way. Except I kept running into things that reminded me that in wanting to see changes or accomplishments of a certain magnitude before calling a day “good” I was missing the point.

Parker Palmer posted a beloved poem by Leonard Nathan–on Facebook–about accepting yourself as you are. In his comments about the poem he reminded me that what I was feeling wasn’t unusual,

“Given my small, ordinary, un-famous and fleeting life, what can I do that’s of true worth and value?”

“What can I do that’s of worth and value?” What am I doing even on this most ordinary of days?

With a Facebook status update Tim Madigan helped me take a step to an answer. He relayed how the day before, instead of speaking to a class of students about the way to write long feature stories, he instead talked about where the stories come from. Here’s what he said:

“Yesterday TCU journalism professor Robert Bohler invited me to talk to his sports writing class about how to put together a long feature story. I decided to talk about Fred Rogers instead, basically because I needed to hear the message of the great man again myself. So I told the students what Fred told me: It was okay to feel afraid, sad, angry, to feel like a mess inside because pretty much everybody does at one time or another. There is another word for mess, that’s human. But Fred taught that you don’t have to be a mess alone. He was so good at coaxing our messes out of hiding, receiving them with that supernatural presence of his, that compassion, that non-judgment, that wisdom, that love.. Yesterday, I could see in their young eyes that I was kind of rocking the students’ world. It certainly wasn’t what they expected. Me either, as far as that goes. What does “Anything Mentionable is Manageable,” or “That which is more personal is most universal,” or “Your place in this life is unique, absolutely unique,” have to do with sports writing? Everything, as it turns out.”

Madigan told a story he “needed to hear” himself. That story allowed him to rock the students world. Listening to our gut, is a small way we exercise trust in ourselves. For me his story helped me see that I hadn’t been accepting the day for what it was.

Today I also watched a video clip from the CBS Sunday Morning episode that aired on March 1st. The clip is about a high school basketball team displaying a trough of March-sanity. When they learned the team they were playing didn’t have any fans, they recruited some for them.

Steve Hartman, the CBS reporter conducting the interview, comments in the clip, “This is not what I’ve ever heard sports be.” In reply, Hudson Bradley–one of the players who recruited fans for the other team said–said, “I think in a way, this is kind of how sports should be. It’s kind of shown me the real impact that encouragement and support for anybody can make.” In a voice over, Hartman quotes Bradley saying, “We all need someone to believe in us. We all need someone who knows our mistakes, and loves us anyway.” Just like that a small gesture transforms a game, and becomes something a group of boys will “never forget.” A small gesture, and a remarkable story.

Afterwards I thought about how I’d made my bank teller’s day. I didn’t transform her sense of her profession, as Tim may have with the class he spoke to. I didn’t give her a memory she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life. All I did was deliver a few boxes of Girl Scout Cookies she’d had trouble finding. She thanked me three times. When I turned to leave I heard her ask a colleague, “What kind do you want?” My yes to her request for cookies, was a connection that facilitated another one with her colleague. Little moments like that? They’re what makes a day good.

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24th day of Lent. Three Glimpses Into How Pope Francis Is Changing The Church.

On the fifth of March, James Martin, SJ, Manhattan College’s Natalia Imperatori-Lee, and Andrew Sullivan met for ninety minutes at Fordham Prep. to discuss “How Pope Francis is Changing the Church.” Here are three glimpses of the wonderful conversation that ensued. I offer them as koans for your reflection. If after seeing them you wish to view the entire conversation, you can see it here.

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23rd Day of Lent. Adult Dance Classes, and Bill Murray’s I am.

Every morning like most people, I take a quick look at email to see if any important messages came in overnight. Today the message that leaped out at me had as its subject: “Adult Dance Classes.” It was striking, not important. My mind started spinning. My first thought–pre-coffee–was that “Adult” meant sexy, and not that the classes were for adults and not children. As my coffee brewed I wondered, “how sexy?” They couldn’t mean Chippendale lessons, could they? Would that be a Groupon? I’m not sure I’d want to take that kind of dance lesson. I’m not sure anyone would want to see me dancing like Chris Farley in an SNL skit. It’s not that I think I look like him. It’s that I know I don’t look like Patrick Swayze. Maybe the class is something closer to Swayze’s dance in the film Dirty Dancing? That’s more reasonable. Though any woman I lifted into the air would end up crashing to the floor on top of me. Yep. I know who I am.

From email, I did a quick check of Facebook to see if anyone had a birthday today. That’s where I found Bill Murray’s answer to one of the worst questions reporters love to ask of athletes, politicians, and celebrities in press conferences: “How does it feel to be you?” To his credit, he turned around the question and presented it to everyone there:

“Let’s all ask ourselves that question right now: What does it feel like to be you? What does it feel like to be you? Yeah. It feels good to be you, doesn’t it? It feels good, because there’s one thing that you are — you’re the only one that’s you, right?”

“You’re the only one that’s you, right?” That’s a fundamental observation we hold to be true, often to our detriment. I say detriment, because our sense of being unique selves can keep us from understanding how alike we are. We want what each other has, just because they have it. We imitate each other, we make people, and brands, and cultures our scapegoats (Girard). Yet the differences between us are trivial. Michael McCullough, in a wonderful podcast at On Being drives home how alike we are, saying:

“[I]n a world where we hear a story a lot that there are genetic differences among persons, those genetic differences, for the most part, are trivial. They are trivial, trivial, trivial. They are just filigree. In all of the important ways, we are the same genetically. Our brains are largely the same.”

So, “you’re the only one that’s you” and the differences between us are “filigree.” In light of that paradox Murray’s next comments make complete sense.

“[W]e get confused sometimes — or I do, I think everyone does — you try to compete. You think, damn it, someone else is trying to be me. Someone else is trying to be me. But I don’t have to armor myself against those people; I don’t have to armor myself against that idea if I can really just relax and feel content in this way and this regard.”

I think the way he points out that armoring ourselves is a choice is precious. It’s optional. A choice you don’t have to make. How do you avoid doing it? Murray leads everyone gathered at the press conference in a short meditation. His goal is to encourage “the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now.” If you can develop that sense “Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere.”

What he’s describing is living life as Parker Palmer likes to say, “inside out” as opposed to “outside in.” People who know who they are are, who accept and own their flaws as well as their strengths are people we describe as grounded. Meditation can help get you to that place because it help us quiet our minds. Without thoughts spinning through our heads–the way they were in mine this morning–we can begin to find rhythm to our being, and work on sustaining that grounded experience. In Christian terms, the ultimate ground of being, is God. The ability to sustain living from this place is possible because opting out of the “armoring” we feel we have to do, opts us in to the flow of who and what God is. That is what living Christianity is about.

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22nd day of Lent. The Cornucopia I’d Forgotten.

Yesterday I stood in the middle of Sahadi’s–a specialty foods store in Brooklyn Heights–staring at their selection of nuts and dried fruit. I was there with two wonderful friends. One said, “What do you like? Nuts? Dried fruit? Do you like hummus?” And the other, “Isn’t it amazing? Pick something. We want to buy you something.” “Oh, I have no idea” I said. And, “You don’t have to do that.” I was overwhelmed with the cornucopia of products, the commotion, and absolutely taken with their adorable toddler. Couldn’t I just keep playing with him?

There are multiple ways to express love. What’s less obvious is that there are ways we prefer not just to receive love, but give love as well. I didn’t realize people had a bias about love until several years ago when I read Gary Chapman’s book The Five Languages of Love. In his book Chapman does a nice job distilling five easy ways or languages of loving. According to Chapman, some prefer to show their love with physical touch, while others prefer to show their love through acts of service. There is also spending quality time, sharing words of affirmation, and receiving gifts. The idea is not that we don’t value all of these ways. Most people do. The key insight is that because we prefer some more than others it is helpful to appreciate the love language your partner has so that you can love them in ways they’ll appreciate, and easily see. It’s also important to understand theirs so that you can remember what is important to them as they go about loving you. Who wants to miss being loved?

Standing in Sahadi’s, it became clear that it would make my friends happy if I picked a few things. They–I know this is obvious–were simply trying to show me their love. When it comes to loving, the worst thing we can do, is refuse. As Michael Himes points out in the talk I listened to the other day, unrequited love is as painful as it is because we are made in the image of God, who is love. When our love is rejected, the pain reaches to our core.

We left Sahadi’s with five pounds of love. As we walked away from the store, I picked up their toddler. “Would he let me do that?” I wondered. At first it didn’t go well. I tried facing him forward. “Mommy?” he said plaintively. That was better but not good enough. I lifted him high into the air, and then down. High into the air and then down. “Look honey, he’s smiling” my friend said to her spouse. As we walked my actions gave them both a small break from actively parenting. I was delighted. Being of service is the my favorite way of expressing love.

As we parted I remembered something I’d left out of yesterday’s refection about grieving. It’s something David Malham says about love in his piece Momento Mori:

“The awareness of premature or unexpected endings can motivate us to routinely demonstrate our love to those important to us. Let’s not save our affection, as if a rare wine, for special occasions. Give and receive it as essential nourishment.”

Love given and received, overflows. It’s too easy to forget this cornucopia is there when you’re with people you love. I forget all the time. Today, with quality time, five pounds of gifts, and a toddler lifted high, I remembered.

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21st day of Lent. I know too many people who are grieving.

I know too many people who are grieving. Women who were in marriages they were committed to working on, enjoying, and seeing through when one spouse died too soon. Yesterday would have been the birthday of one. It was the anniversary of the passing of another. Two days ago I spoke on the phone with a third widow. Seven years ago today my friend Mary (not her real name), lost her husband to cancer.  In the last four months five friends have lost parents. Several more have celebrated the anniversary of a parent’s death.

A few weeks ago I took a “when will you die” quiz on Facebook. The result was ominous. According to the quiz, I’m going to die in six years. Yes. The how is the crazy part. I will die in childbirth. As a male, I could not believe the result. Then the answer came to me.  Of course: Science! I’d love to live to 100, and be as whole at that age. I know if I reach it, I’m going to want to keep going. But a lot of that is out of my control.

Oliver Sacks recently announced that he is terminally ill. With the time he has remaining he says, “I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”

“I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight. This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well). I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment — I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future.”

Anthony DeMello would say Sacks is awake, and understands that the most important question isn’t whether there is life after death. It’s whether there is life before death (Awareness, p. 42). The women I know who are surviving spouses engage life, the way Sacks hopes to. They’re remarkable that way, though I can’t imagine any of them saying there is anything that isn’t ordinary about the way they’re living their lives.

This week David Malham writes in the New York Times about his mortality. He has ALS. A retired grief therapist, he describes the his response to his diagnosis as follows:

“I knew not to spend more than a few minutes with “No!” In that regard, as in many others, Buddhists have it exactly right: Getting enmeshed in a resisting “no” and in the unanswerable “why me?” is a recipe for self-inflicted suffering. I knew to focus instead on “what now”? What do I need to address — with myself and with others? How do I respond to the reality of a terminal illness? (A year later, “no” still makes infrequent appearances, but it remains unfed so the visits are brief.)”

“Why me?” is an unanswerable question that traps us in what’s happened. “What now?” is about possibility. Two short questions. One traps us, the other frees us. It presumes there is more. That the person grieving will make it to that more, that next.

Malham notes the way grief therapy has changed over time:

“Over the years an interesting change in grief therapy has been the emphasis on resilience; the awareness that people normally find healthy ways to adapt and live with loss. That’s not to say it’s a quick and easy task. It’s not that grieving suddenly ends and the person forgets and moves on. No, what happens is that a weight that initially feels unbearable becomes, in time, manageable. The grief becomes compact enough, with the hard edges removed, to be gently placed in one’s heart.”

Seven years later, that’s what I’m seeing happening with Mary. It’s magnificent.

We’re halfway through Lent. It is as good a time as any to think about the changes you’re trying to make. Which question are you asking? “Why me?” or “What’s next?” As anyone who’s experienced loss of any kind knows, when it happens you don’t know how you’re going to get through it. Mostly you just do. A lot of that is about finding your resilience. As you move through the rest of the Lenten season, don’t mourn who or what you aren’t. Find your resilience and lean into it. It’s the way through to the changes you want to make. Your way into the Kingdom of God that is always at hand, always now.

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20th day of Lent. My favorite birthday quote’s reset.

This afternoon Sweets asked if my birthday had been a good one. “Good? It’s been wonderful!” I said. I smiled. “Really? Did you do something fun?” “Uh. No. I had a normal day.” “But you said it was wonderful? If you didn’t do anything, what made it wonderful?” “All the people.” At that moment my phone vibrated, informing me that a text had come in. Somewhat reflexively she notified me as well, “Dad, you have a text.” “I know,” I said. “Aren’t you going to answer it?” “I’ll look in a second.” “Dad you have to answer it. It might be important.” She picks up the phone to see who’s messaged me and says, “How do you have so many new texts?” “Now you know why it’s been a wonderful day.” “But you haven’t read them?” “I’m reading them in bunches. They’re really wonderful.”

In a way, my favorite birthday quote came to life today:

“Birthdays are so important. On our birthdays we celebrate being alive. On our birthdays people can say to us, “Thank you for being!” Birthday presents are signs of our families’ and friends’ joy that we are part of their lives. Little children often look forward to their birthdays for months. Their birthdays are their big days, when they are the center of attention and all their friends come to celebrate.
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We should never forget our birthdays or the birthdays of those who are close to us. Birthdays keep us childlike. They remind us that what is important is not what we do or accomplish, not what we have or who we know, but that we are, here and now. On birthdays let us be grateful for the gift of life.” ~ Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey.

Nouwen’s words that “what is most important is … that we are, here and now” are words about things that don’t typically feel important. I wake up every day. Is that special? Yes. Does it feel special? Not really. Often I’m on autopilot until I’ve had my first cup of coffee, sometimes it takes two. Until then, I don’t notice anything. Mostly I move through the day being me. I’ve been me my entire life. It doesn’t feel special either. The things I do, and the connections I make feel more important because they’re things that are more likely to generate a compliment, and increase my sense that I have some control of my life.

In contrast, Nouwen’s saying that most days I have it all wrong. My life isn’t ordinary. It’s precious. This me that I am will happen once. That once is now.

Maybe that’s why it’s hard to pass up a birthday wish. Isn’t that funny? Happy Birthday! They’re two words that almost have to be said. Perhaps that’s because deep down we know those two words give us a chance to remember what’s most important. In saying them we’re reminding ourselves, and each other of the truth they hold. Today my friends helped me reset. They helped me remember that it’s good to be. I hope you remember what’s most important also. I’m glad you’re here. And when your day comes, Happy Birthday!

 

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