Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to Care

The thought seemed sparkly new, and I scribbled it down. Then I remembered an article I'd published twenty years ago in Moody Magazine, entitled "Back in Action." I'd written about being b-o-o-o-red with church - yawn - and deciding to get more (rather than less) involved. Soon I was caught up in serving and enjoying the people. It was the first time I learned this lesson: when you take care of something, you end up caring more about it.

It happened with the Cat from Hell.

As the last year of her life played out, she lost precious pounds, and also her hearing. I'd grown up in a minimal pet-care home where we rarely took a pet to the vet. Now I knew I had to, and did. And then she lost her vision. She became our Helen Keller cat, who still loved to go outdoors on a sunny day, sitting in her favorite grassy spots. Yet her body couldn't take much anymore. I was offering blankets, opening doors, turning on heaters. When her appetite waned, I began microwaving her food. I fed her minced prime rib. This was me doing this. Not a pet fanatic. With each action, I cared even more. In her last weeks I was bringing the water bowl to her nose. I had smothered the floor with puppy pads. I had taken to speaking comforting words into the fur along her frail spine, believing she could feel the vibrations. Two weeks ago, when she died, I cried for losing a brave, dear friend.

And so I've learned it again: anything you take care of, you love. If you are losing interest in a person, activity, job, relationship, God, a pair of shoes - begin to take care of it. Act as if it means the world to you. Soon it will, soon it will.

Good bye, Molly Cat, Molly Moe, Hellen Keller Cat, Creature, Molly Moses. Ear scratches and hugs...

Take a moment to reflect on someone or something you have learned to care about.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

At Checkstand Number One

So you're minding your own business, trying to ignore the bleak environment of discount shopping, expecting the usual jostling of grocery carts for the shortest line. You dutifully unload your cluster of tomatoes (on the vine, with little green crowns), bulk almonds (raw, unsalted), and Honey Bunches of Oats (for the husband), when you look up into the smiling face of a clerk who greets you warmly, cracks a joke, and engages you in friendly conversation. You relax. You're smiling now. You notice others behind you in line, also smiling. Patient, happy. There's something remarkable about this.

That something remarkable is Chris Pikey, employee of the local WinCo Foods. People have been known to wait half an hour to gain the privilege of being in his line. Chris knows that attitude is more important than prestige, and doing ordinary things with kindness and a sense of humor make a person extraordinary.

(Actually, a sense of humor was on my shopping list.)

I was so impressed with the way Chris changed my day, that first time he checked my groceries. I couldn't wait to drive across town for another trip through his line.

The steady chirp of the scanner pierced the air as Chris bantered. “Looks like you did great,” he told one customer with a burgeoning shopping cart. “Hey, stranger, what’s up?” he teased another joining the line. “Only one cart today?" he asked. "Where’s the rest of it?” And a little later: “So how’s your kid? I haven’t seen him since the birthday.”

I asked him how he stays so friendly and positive with everyone.

“You’ve got to live each day like it’s your last day," he said. "You’ll have no regrets. When I go up and see God, I’m sure he’s not going to tell me, 'You lived in a big house.' He’s going to say, 'I gave you this much time and what did you do with it?' Hopefully, the escalator up will not be broken."

I asked him how he keeps his sense of humor. “It’s the only thing you have," he said.

“How do you handle customers who try your patience?” I went on.

“I’ve been here fifteen years, so I’ve seen it all. People know if you come to this line, I don’t handle grumps. I handle cool people.” He smiled at a mom with toddler in tow. “Except for this one, she’s kind of a troublemaker.” The mom beamed back at him. “If I’m going to be here for 8 hours," says Chris, "I might as well have fun.”

“That’ll be $102.74. Have a good day!" he said, handing a receipt to a finished shopper.

“You too,” came the response.

“Oh, always,” he said.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Glory of Chores

Sigh. My life would be so much better without housework or yard maintenance or errands. Yes? No. Washing, straightening, or grocery shopping keeps the rest of life in balance and enables me to live in clean spaces, wear laundered clothes, open the refrigerator and find food. Such work is a fact of life.

I find myself rushing through it, though. There's a sense that I'm wasting my time and should get on to the next thing, or perhaps hire a housecleaner, yard person, someone else to do these tasks because they're unimportant. Which leads me to ask: what is important?

My life is not about accomplishing what I think I need to accomplish. That is merely a path to constant frustration and interruption. True, I have goals and dreams and projects and intentions. But in the big picture, I must remember, my true life is "hidden with God," and it's not about doing. That includes big doings, like working on my book or teaching a class, and small doings, like making my bed. When I look at it this way, I see the importance of a task isn't all that important!

In other words, inhabiting each moment wherever I am, is my true purpose. Whether I'm mowing the lawn* or peeling carrots or giving a poetry reading. Am I walking in love and grace? Now that's important. My life is a being, and I'm trying to remember that while doing chores. Breathing. Thinking good thoughts. Being fully present instead of rushing to get to the "real" purpose of my life.

When I remember to inhabit the moments of trivial tasks, they become wonderful. Magical even. Ordinary things are seeds of blessing.

A couple of writers from Wildfire Writing's Uptown class have created some poems about doing chores. So...

Is there a menial task you can infuse with a sense of purpose, rather than rushing through?

*Last month I mowed the lawn for the first time in my entire life. Golly. I don't know whether to be proud or embarrassed. I was ready to jump in again and do it the next week, but my husband insisted on taking over. When I did get a chance to mow again, I found out the secret reason why he's always done it: it's a pleasure. Scent of green grass. Rumble of motor. The sharp stripe of short grass unrolling at your feet . . .

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sacred Moments

"The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments, the moments which, if we don't look with more than our eyes or listen with more than our ears, reveal only . . . the gardener, the stranger coming down the road behind us, a meal like any other meal. But if we look with our hearts, if we listen with all of our being and our imagination - if we live our lives not from vacation to vacation, from escape to escape, but from the miracle of one instant of our precious lives to the miracle of the next - what we may see is Jesus himself, what we may hear is the first faint sound of a voice somewhere deep within us . . . " --Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

Monday, August 30, 2010

Favorite Lines from The Brothers K

I've sat through many a sermon in my life, but my favorite sermons have always come in the shape of novels. Here are some of the delightfully wise passages in The Brothers K which have made an impact on me.

"Like many a Christian before them, Mama and the Elder justified their machinations with Christ's famous sentence: "I came not to send peace, but a sword." And like many a Christian before them, they completely forgot that the only sword-shaped weapon Jesus actually used was the one He died on."

Simple, perennial, and profound.

"Only the written can truly live a life.
So who I was, what I was, had to be unwritten."

And so many times in my life I've gotten myself all "written" up, scribbled here and there, when I needed to be a blank page, waiting and ready and open.

"She tried the easy route first: scrunching up into an even tighter ball, she whimpered, 'Dear Jesus. Help!" The result was instantaneous.../'Phooey!' Bet said with a sudden strength born, I guess, of exasperation with her fear and helplessness. But...who's to say her prayer hadn't invoked Him so fast that both the exasperation and the phooey came from the Christ in Bet as He moved the frightened child gently aside, in order to help?"

Phooey prayers are just as valid - maybe more so.

More thoughts about the Christ in us, as seen through the eyes of a child.

Stories have always been the best way to learn things. I seem to recall a certain parable-teller who knew this...

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Streams don't struggle to flow
Fire does not try to be hot
Sometimes we just give

--Larry Logan

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


We awaken in Christ's body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous?--Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ's body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt,
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
we awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

--Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Quietude, Part 2

...continued from "Invitation to Enter into Quietude," by Brother Gerald Mathison.

...Although you could no doubt take advantage of this life*time to think out and resolve many matters for yourself, you stand a much better chance of having them resolved in much more meaningful ways, as well as countless other benefits for yourself, if you leave all this work up to God. He won't let you down. He asks that you be quiet and receptive so He might have the opportunity to "get a word in edgewise."

As the days of your life* go by, you may at times feel guilty for your inactivity. This is to be expected. However, please do not let such feelings deter you from relaxing and cooperating with God by trying to remain receptively open to Him. We are not encouraging you to do absolutely nothing during your life, but we are suggesting that it is very important that you greatly reduce your activity so you may enter more fully into the relaxed receptivity and peace that a life of faith offers. Perhaps you will find it helpful now and then to refer to one of the gospels (the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark Luke and John) as a means of support in your availability to God. . . . to assist you in your primary objective of receptive quietude, the passive form, the contemplative form, that will allow God to work in you. Rather than you "plugging in" to God, it is God who will be "plugging in" to you. Your ongoing desire to allow Him to come to you and be operative within you is the basic thrust of a successful life.

In what ways can you reduce your activity, letting God "plug into" you?

*I've substituted "your life", "life of faith" or "life" for the word "retreat."

Monday, April 12, 2010


I am basking in some simple truths about quiet and receptivity, found on a leaflet, received by my friend Clemie and forwarded to me. It is a personal reflection of Brother Gerald Mathison of Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As guestmaster, Brother Gerald shares this wisdom with all retreat guests. I am using portions of it, and do so with permission.

Invitation to Enter into Quietude

Living in our modern day society demands a great deal from each of us. The mounting anxiety from these demands seldom permits time for us to "go apart" and be separated in order that we might take stock of our lives. A spiritual life*, however, does allow us the opportunity to "go apart."

...Our society has ingrained in us that we find success only when we put forth effort. A life of faith*, however, is a little different from that. When we "go apart" for a spiritual life, we are seeking to make ourselves available so God can work in us and speak to us. He is not able to do so if we keep ourselves continually occupied and busy with doing things that WE think will make for a successful life. We need to be quiet. We need to convince ourselves that it is perfectly all right to be quiet during our life, that quietude is not a copout but a state of receptivity. If we allow our mind and body to be quiet, they are free to be open to God. If we, however, keep our mind and body occupied with over-activity, they are not nearly as able to quietly open to God who is the actual director of our life.

Through quietude, are you making yourself available to God?

*I have substituted the word "life of faith" or "life" for the word "retreat" all throughout.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Little Way

My poet friend David has made it a habit to share poems of truth and healing with co-workers and family members even when they "don't get it." I can't think of any better way of being a good-news-a-gist.*

David says, "I kept sending them poetry because I knew it went in . . . a little way."

*Literal meaning of "evangelist."

Monday, March 1, 2010

All-but-forgotten Hope

Today's post is from my other blog, but (shhhhh!) really belongs here!

Seems we never hear about hope anymore. What about it? Hope gets short shrift because it doesn't have the flashiness of faith or the fire of passion. It looks rather ordinary, pale and old-fashioned, and is confined to church pews and grandmothers' attics, gathering dust along with other once-admired jewels.

Hope has been shamed for its soft ways and quiet words. It says, "Some day," and "maybe," and "could."

But hope is what keeps people from dying inside. Hope sustains life. Hope endures change. Hope waits, when impatience and selfishness fight for first place in line.
Where faith is too loud or too bright, there is hope. Where faith cannot take root for shallow soil, there is hope.

Even in the rain, hope looks out the window. It hums a tune, counts falling stars. Without hope we would have apathy and despair. We would never try. We would never begin a thing. We would never consider what life could be.

We would leave miracles to giants of faith. We would never think to dream.

There is no such thing as false hope. Indeed, hope gentles the soul through endings just as much as beginnings. Without hope we could not turn off a light, close a door, or bury someone we love.

Hope lies low, stays out of trouble. You have to coax it out of hiding. But once you see it there standing by your side, you realize it has never left you, and never will.

What role has hope played in your life?

Monday, February 22, 2010


Hear that? It's the sound of living. Life is clunky.

And it is all right.

It is a relief to assent to the clunkiness of life on Earth, where even a great and blessed thing isn't always great and blessed, whether it be a spouse, a child, a job, a friend, a house, a stomach to feed. This is an odd kingdom where a lover isn't always loverly, where a happy ending often circles back to a meagre beginning, and where even a dearest companion may let you down.

It rattles and clangs and clunks, this life. But it moves along. Breathe and go with it.

Stress Myth

Somehow I've gotten it into my head that I'm not being obedient or diligent if I'm not a little stressed out. The American way.

Well, that's just gotta go. When the whole world is in a panic, when society seems to require doing, overdoing, striving, and overstriving, God wants me in a place of peace. Whatever happens: unhurried, unpanicked. Care free.

What's your attitude toward that visitor, Stress? Like me, do you sometimes encourage it just a bit too much?