Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.


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The problem of gratitude

It’s been decades since I have been in grammar school, so when I think of Thanksgiving, pilgrims or Indians don’t generally come to mind. I think of whose bringing what, where am I supposed to go, when will I get my Christmas shopping done and why, oh why, do men watch so much football.

Back in 1621, there were no parades, no Black Friday circulars, and no grocery stores to buy the bounty. There were just groups of people from different cultures celebrating thanks.

I do think I would have liked to be an Indian though – to wear my hair in braids, with a papoose of babies in the front and bow and arrow on my back. I think that would have been super cool. It appeals to me so much more than being a pilgrim girl and wearing one of those confining bonnets tied around my neck.

But whether you wear braids or bonnets or even flat iron your hair, most of us celebrate Thanksgiving. It makes us feel good to count each one of our many blessings from hot coffee to warm hugs, and having an excuse to eat copious amounts of food is like adding gravy to the mashed potatoes. It just makes everything that much better.

I only wish the spirit of this holiday lasted more than a day – that I could remember to be thankful all year long

But somehow, I usually forget.

I tried to start a gratitude journal once. I committed to write down three things everyday that made me thankful. On the days that I did it, I never wrote just three. There was no way I could limit myself when so many came to mind.  By the time I wrote three blessings, three more came to mind and then six, and then nine. At some point I realized math was happening- that gratitude was increasing exponentially and that the more I acknowledged my thankfulness the more there was to acknowledge.

I wrote about such moments as holding my nephew, going on a trip with my husband, coming home, lunch with my mom, walking with my friend, a song that reminded me of being pregnant with my first born and for times when his younger brother gently playing with my hair.

I also wrote some dubious things on my gratitude list that included sweating, hiding under the covers (no doubt from myself) and cleaning mildew.

It didn’t matter that it sounded kind of hodge-podge. It mattered that I felt gratitude and it mattered more that I took a few measly minutes to acknowledge it.

If it were an algebra problem, and it is perplexing enough to be one, then the unknown in the equation would be if it was indeed so great, so magical to recognize all the things I had to be thankful for — then why did I quit?

It was the giant X in a problem that ultimately had a very simple answer – choice.

To know gratitude is a blessing in itself, but it doesn’t happen on its own. Like so much in life, it is a choice. It is a decision we make, time we take, and selfishness we forsake. (That has a nice rhyme to it, so don’t be surprised if it shows up in a rap song someday.)

But when we don’t take time to choose gratitude, we choose otherwise.

Perhaps the lyrics of the song Freewill by the rock band, Rush, say it best “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

We have to choose to pause, to notice, and to acknowledge, otherwise by default, it seems we’ve made an entirely different choice. We inadvertently ignore the blessings of gratitude.

Each day we have the chance to notice all the abundance in our lives, all the beauty in nature and all the hope in humanity. 

It’s easy enough to make the choice on a day such as Thanksgiving when we are surrounded by food, family, and if you are a fan, you could even add football to that list. It’s the rest of the days that the choice of gratitude often gets left undecided.

I am thankful that the Indians and pilgrims chose gratitude and for the generations who followed them who kept the tradition thriving all the way into a new millennium, so that centuries later, I am reminded of my own choice.

The legacy of thanks is one that can expand into infinity, if we choose to decide, and if we don’t, well, we would do well to remember that we still have made a choice.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to list the three things I am thankful for today.

  1. Sleeping cats
  2. Goodbye kisses
  3. No mildew to clean

 

And of course, each of you.

What are you thankful for today?

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How to parent your teen — the manual that made it in the trash

My son turns 13 years-old on Black Friday. Could there be a more ominous sign than that? While hoards of shoppers are waking up at 3 a.m. to suffer through lines and duke it out for deals, my sweet baby, ever so dear, will be entering the darkness that often accompanies the teenage years.

As if he is already rehearsing for the big day of black, my house has recently been filled with a cacophony of slamming doors, woeful sighs and whispers under the breath that I am pretty sure do not include any sweet nothings. It sounds like a coarse symphony that does nothing to evoke my sympathies.

I called a friend a few weeks ago and in a prayerful plea, asked in the name of all that is holy, all that is sane, and all that is merciful, to lend me every parenting book she owns.

She brought me five.

The small stack of books sat in my office and my younger son asked me why I had so many teenager books. Before I could even formulate a response, he answered his own question — obviously remembering his brother’s upcoming birthday.   “Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long seven years…,” he said prophetically.

Seven years? Why do the terrible twos get all the notoriety? That’s one measly year and they are still small enough to be restrained.

As I read, I began strategizing, thinking of systems to implement and solutions to employ. I realized that, if necessary, doors could be unhinged. He would inevitably realize that not loading the dishwasher would be to his disadvantage.   And, I felt hopeful that discussions could be facilitated without anyone actually dying.

Ah, I was going to be the most brilliant teenage mother ever.

I started writing a sort of manifesto for the teen years. I clicked away at the computer thinking to myself that I was doing the holy work of writing the instruction manual for parenting that I always wished I had.

Although my business interests have never evolved passed retail and at that, only on the paying side of the cash register, I had ultimately written my first business plan.

It read like a contract, with caveats and consequences included for clarity. It featured equations for various if/then scenarios and it clearly proved that my naiveté is boundless.

I actually believed that what I had written would be embraced – that is until I proudly emailed a trusted friend with the teen manual, which I intended to present to my son. She is tactful to a fault, so when she suggested that my glorious parenting plan would evoke a middle finger response I was stunned.

Really?

I reread my work. It was so beautiful. It had italics and bullet points and fancy words like parameters, privileges, outlined and occasionally.

I guess I could see where it was kind of bossy pants-ish, but it did include a smiley emoticon and an I love you.

I signed it not with the slang, Yo mama, but with the sincere, sweet, your mama that was so obviously me.

Later that night, with my two-page, single-spaced manifesto by my side I sat down and spoke with my son. Maybe it was because I was lulled by the soothing sound of the dishwasher that my tween ran without my mention, but I was uncannily calm. We talked about grades, basketball and ways he could earn extra money.

We didn’t hold hands, or hug or do anything that would invoke Norman Rockwell to paint us, but we talked. I didn’t boss or dictate either, yet I didn’t digress from making my expectations clear.

When we finished talking, he kissed me goodnight and there I sat – the manifesto, a mostly-read parenting book and myself.

I thought about ripping up my beautiful plan I had written about how the teen years would unfold in our home, but I didn’t have the energy to be so dramatic.   I simply folded it into a little square to put in the trash.

I guess what I realized is that maybe the reason children don’t come with instructions is because parenting isn’t meant to be precise. It might be insightful to read some books, or even to write your own plan about how you intend to parent, but often intentions and plans don’t really have much to do with raising children.

Like the rest of us, children are unique and, like it or not, have plans of their own. They will make their own path in the world and it’s our job to guide them as they do. It is a delicate balance between letting go and holding on. Sometimes it’s letting pieces fall where they may, and sometimes it means picking up the pieces and starting over again.

Maybe parenthood could best be described as prayer – a combination of something we hope for, ask of, praise, repent, and offer thanks. It is an active petition that is said every time we discipline, praise, share affection, or just sit and talk. The prayer does not end, like love, it endures time, tantrums and even teenagers. It is an offering of the best of ourselves so that someone we love can become the best of their selves. It is sacrifice, surrender, forgiveness, and humility.PatanganFamily2014_107

Parenting may be described as more gut-wrenching than glorious, but it is no doubt the most Holy work we can do.

While my son may turn 13 on a day dubbed Black Friday, it’s no coincidence this falls the day after Thanksgiving. After all, he has been a blessing everyday of his life. He is a prayer and a gift.

Of course, I know the years ahead won’t be easy, but I can’t help but feel excited about all that awaits.  The spectrum of joy, discovery and promise that lies ahead is sure to be anything but black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Why you should consider a life makeover

Whenever I feel like things in my life are more chaotic than calm, I say I need a life makeover.

I wake up and have no gas in the car, no milk for the kids, no idea where my keys are and no sense of how I will ever get through the day’s to-do lists – mostly because I have no idea where I put it.

Well, ever since I finished my year of doing Works of Mercy I have felt as if I needed a blog makeover.

I have thought a lot about whether I want to keep Mercy Me! going and, if so, what I want it to be.

Towards that effort, I have rewritten my About Me page so many different times I was starting to feel like Sybil battling multiple personality disorder.

But makeovers are far different than mental illness, although sometimes they do make you feel a little crazy.

Whether you are trying to change your look or your outlook, makeovers really aren’t about becoming someone else. They are about refocusing on who you are and reevaluating your life to make sure who you are and how you are living are in alignment.

I know that’s not how the makeup gal at Sephora would explain a makeover. But despite her efforts, finding the perfect shade of lipstick is often the result of trial and error and the help of a really honest friend.

I think the same is true whether you want to makeover your family, your spiritual life, your career or, in my case, this blog. We evolve, and giving ourselves a makeover is just part of being mindful about the way we want to live and the things that need to change to make that happen.

For the direction of the blog, please check out the makeover of my new About Me page https://mercyme40.wordpress.com/about/, and if you have not already signed up to receive the blog via email, please do so.

From what I understand, Facebook has changed its algorithm to make it harder to see posts from businesses or blog sites. While I have no idea what an algorithm is, it sounds like it could be related to Ebola or worse, algebra. Either way, signing up for email is really the only way to ensure you will receive posts.

I hope you will also take some time to reflect on your own life. What do you like about it? What needs to change to make you like it more? What is no longer serving you that you could let go of? Do the people you cherish know how you feel?

It’s never to late to live the life you want, until it is. So consider giving yourself a makeover.

Or if all that feels too overwhelming, just go buy yourself a new lipstick … and smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Art of Aging – how to turn wrinkles into a masterpiece

I don’t know if there is an art to aging. Certainly, there is more science involved. Cells breakdown; muscle tone sinks further beneath dimpled skin; lines grow like vines– first around the face, then down the neck until they travel throughout the body wrapping themselves in and around every crevice– confirming the theory of gravity first introduced by Sir Isaac Newton himself.

Yes, there is plenty of science behind our journey towards decay. However, I have never been too interested in science. All those formulas, hypotheses and experiments don’t begin to explain the incredulous emotion involved in realizing that the image in the mirror is reality, while the one you identify with more closely can only be found in old photographs (like the ones taken with actual film.)

Pondering this is enough to give anyone frown lines.

I was stunned when I found my first gray hair. My hairdresser literally pulled it out of my head to convince me, because I kept insisting that what he was calling gray was actually a sun-kissed streak of blonde. Unfortunately there was no mistaking the silver, wiry thread pulled from my scalp. I took it home with me secured on the back of a hot pink post-it note. It sat on my desk for a month before I finally threw it out, more so because I didn’t like the clutter on my desk, than because I had accepted that my head was the origin of the hair.

Like an adolescent who is wavering between urges to become a woman or stay a child, I too feel confused reconciling that beauty and youth really do fade despite my ardent efforts to retain them, and our culture’s obsession with marketing them. Yet in some ways I feel more beautiful and youthful than ever. Not because I am, but because my chronological age has allowed me the experience and wisdom to feel confident about whom I am which turns out is so much more than how I look.

I can spend an entire day in workout clothes, no makeup and hair twisted haphazardly in a rubber band, without any shame. Sometimes I feign shame, but really I am only trying to be socially appropriate. I have no shame. I never could have done this in my twenties – neither the feigning nor the fashion faux pas.

In some ways I feel like I am at the perfect point in my life. I am still fortunate enough to be in good physical shape and I know how to successfully conceal the occasional blemish or circles under my eyes.

But best of all, I feel good. I am happy and somehow that in itself makes me beautiful and youthful. I finally know what I have and at the same time can benefit from the wisdom to know that it’s fleeting. The phrase “use it or lose it,” finally means something to me. Because of my age, I’m not afraid to do things that scare me, I am afraid not to.

I may not look as good as the girl I used to be in old photographs, but that poor girl never realized how good she looked.

Aging is of course, relative. For my children, it is a conduit to freedom. The oldest who is still plenty naive, idealizes the notion of adulthood. He doesn’t see the responsibilities it brings, but only the liberation to eat hoards and hoards of candy. (Like that ever happens in adulthood, at least without unsightly consequences.)

What is that old adage — youth is wasted on the young? Instead of enjoying the exploration of fantasy, imagination and all that is magic in childhood, he is lamenting the limitations of his youth.

Trailing him is his younger brother, who is so eager to do all of the things his older brother does that he gets upset when their age difference is relevant. We just tell him he has more happy times left than his brother, hoping it will teach him the joy of looking forward instead of feeling like he needs to rush to keep up.

Perhaps the real challenge is to learn to appreciate the advantages of whichever age you find yourself whether it’s seven or seventy, knowing that each offers something unique. And all the happy times that make up a life don’t come at a single age nor do they stop at a certain one either.

It’s not that I think aging is so terrible. It would be foolish to not to recognize the wisdom and perspective that it brings. It’s just that it is such a reminder of our mortality. And while I have been aging since conception, it is only now that I feel like I am on the cusp of really grasping the enormity of it. Not just the wrinkles, but the time that they define.

What have I filled that time with?

The answer to that question is where the art of aging is most brilliant. Coloring experiences within the lines of time to create the life you want.   That is an art. Not the life you have. Not the life you settled for. Not the life you squandered. Not the life of perfection. Maybe not even a gravity-free life. But the life you created following your own unique desires. It will be the true legacy that has left color on this world. It is what transforms the science of aging into an art form.

So whatever you decide to fill your time with, I hope you will make it your masterpiece.