Praying with a Pen

QUARANTINE WHITE SPACE: Fill it or still it?

What a strange time we live in. Could any one of us have predicted on January 1, 2020 that terms like “quarantine,”  “social distancing” and “shelter-in-place” would be part of our regular vocabulary by April 1, 2020?

I, for one, have abandoned all my well-intentioned 2020 New Year’s resolutions under these circumstances.

But no matter how we feel about the stay-at-home orders imposed, there’s one thing we all have to admit: Our collective pace of life has slowed to a crawl. Most of our extra-curricular commitments have evaporated from our hyper-scheduled schedules. My April monthly calendar looks like someone played a manic game of tic tac toe on it, with the O’s being a no-show and the X’s winning by a massive margin. And now that crisis homeschooling is coming to an end for most parents, the calendar gets even more spacious.

Whether we wanted it or not, if we are not front-line workers, we probably have newfound white space.

Are you familiar with the term white space? Check this out from my book, Praying with a Pen:  [White space is a concept I learned during my marketing and advertising career. It means advertisers shouldn’t cram a print ad with all kinds of pictures and information. They need to leave room for the readers’ eyes to move freely so they can absorb the information more readily. Our brains don’t respond well when the content is too dense and too complex. Ad designers need to intentionally create “white space” in the ad where no content exists in order for the advertising to be most effective.

We human beings need white space too—spiritual white space. Intentional breaks and gaps and pauses in our day, every day, to turn to heaven and talk to our God in order to grow in our spiritual life. Our lives need white space. Our brains need white space. Our souls need white space. ]

How long has it been since you’ve given your soul some white space? Now may be the perfect opportunity. Resist the culture’s cry to completely fill your quarantine down time with projects, puzzles, or pedicures!  There’s nothing wrong with any of those, of course—they are on my list too (the Good Lord knows what shape my winter feet and super-washed nails are in!).

But, epically funny memes aside, we now we have an unprecedented opportunity to carve out more time for prayer. To be still with our God.   

We did not choose this situation. It has been thrust upon us. It’s unsettling, disorienting, and for some, seriously hazardous.  What better time to increase our prayer life? And then years from now, when you look back on this era of quarantine, you can say you used the unexpected time given to you in the best way possible: To draw nearer to God.

Quarantine white space can be a blessing in disguise. Don’t fill it. Still it.  

Tiny Revelations

A BRIDGE BACK TO BLOGGING

Hello to all my blog friends, old and new.

Yea, it’s been a while. A long while, actually.

One of the reasons? Fifteen months ago, my 87-year-old mom, who suffered with some baseline dementia but who was living independently at home (with some basic support from all her kids), was hospitalized for five days for a heart-related event.

Chaos ensued.                                                   

I won’t go into details, except for two important lessons I’d like to share:

  1. For those of you with elderly parents with some dementia, beware: Hospitalizations often cause a level of added delirium from which they won’t likely recover. We weren’t aware of this, so we did not take steps in the hospital that would minimize the damage, such as facing her bed toward the window, limiting visitors, etc. While she did eventually recover physically, her mental downfall was precipitous and would have been permanent (and likely fatal) if we had not taken the risk, against medical advice, to get her out of the nursing home where she ended up in rehab after the hospitalization, and move her back to the familiar home where she has lived for 65 years. Not being dramatic here—we are convinced that moving her home literally saved her life. Was it tough on us? Oh yes. Were we prepared to handle our mom’s care at home? Not even close. Do I regret it? Not for a second.  Mom’s delirium eventually faded, but the whole experience did leave her with more advanced Alzheimer’s and the need to have someone with her 24/7. But otherwise, she’s healthy and happy, at least for now.
  2. God is in control.   I don’t act like it all the time, I don’t believe it all of the time and I certainly don’t trust it much of the time. But it’s true.  We just have to let him be the one in charge. And nothing like a crisis will reinforce that notion. It would have been so much easier to embrace this fact at the beginning of this debacle, but, me being me, I battled it every step of the way. I was by myself in the boxing ring with my gloves on and punching away at the problems and challenges on a daily basis. I fretted. I worried. I got angry and resentful.  But people, there came a day when battle-weary me with mysterious new health problems that had landed me in physical therapy—twice in one year—and with little energy and motivation left in my life, had to wave the white flag. I can pinpoint it to the night in December when, after a long  day of work and an even longer evening caring for my mom, I came home, went to the kitchen cabinet where I kept my medicine and, in a fog,  took my dog’s drugs instead of my own! That’s right, ladies and gents. I swallowed not one, but two pills that were laid out next to mine but meant for my little Shih-Poo, Sammy, who needed them for his seizures.

Chaos ensued.

When I retold this story to my high school friends at a Christmas gathering a week later, you could have heard the roar of laughter three states away. But the next day, one of those friends kindly got me to admit things might not be OK. I guess if you get to the point of taking your dog’s pills, you should probably take a deeper look at your life.

So that’s what I’ve done the past 5 months, with some success. I made some big changes in my mom’s care schedule and in my prayer schedule.  I made some bigger changes in attitude. And I’ve taken intentional, grateful inventory of the many graces that have resulted from the events of the last year.  I’ve learned so much about myself, in particular what God can do with me and in me if and when I allow it. I’ve learned about bearing crosses with grace (still struggle with that on the daily, but improving) and I’ve learned that Jesus’ Presence is ongoing. He does not leave us orphans. (Much more on this topic to come, God willing).

So there you have it–an account of my whereabouts in 2019. I hope to maintain at least a minimal presence on the blog from here on out. Time will tell.

But this I know more clearly now: Chaos WILL ensue. It’s inevitable in life.

And when it does, my job is to step out of the ring, give the gloves to God and let him fight the battles.

Catholic Sistas Post

Even If

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if.

READ THE REST OF THE POST ON CATHOLIC SISTAS HERE!

Catholic Sistas Post

A Deeper Look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

READ THE REST OF THE POST OVER AT CATHOLIC SISTAS HERE!

Catholic Sistas Post

Roadside Reality Check

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

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

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

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

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

READ THE REST OF THE POST ON CATHOLIC SISTAS  HERE

Praying with a Pen

“Among Women” Podcast with Pat Gohn

I had the honor and privilege a few months ago to be interviewed by the wonderful Pat Gohn, author of “All In–Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters,” and host of the popular “Among Women” podcast.  Her superb interviewing and editing skills helped me sound coherent on this broadcast and for that I am very grateful!

Tune in HERE to find out more about the wonders and rewards of establishing a persistent prayer journaling habit. My segment begins around the 18-minute mark, but be sure to listen to her fascinating presentation on Saint Olympia too!