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 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.

 

 

 

 


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Stick to the plan, God

All year long, I thought about what I would write on my 41st birthday – the end of a year spent doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  I have written this post many times in my head, sometimes with very powerful and profound thoughts.  But me, being me, I can’t remember any of those profundities now.

So here I sit, 41 years and 3 days old with the daunting task of trying to summarize this past year.  Although I was resolute that I would post this final account on my 41st birthday, it seems fitting now that I didn’t.

Since the beginning, 368 days ago, I had planned exactly how this project would go.  There was my plan (which was very good, by the way) and then there was God’s plan (which trumped mine, Him being God and all.)

I wondered why He couldn’t just stick to the plan.

It reminds me of when my husband and I carefully picked items for our wedding registry.  I thought, rather presumptuously I’ll admit, that people would stick to the wish list.  So when I started to receive some very unusual wedding gifts, I thought “STICK TO THE REGISTRY, PEOPLE!!!”

I know that is terribly crass, ungracious and un-bride like of me, but remember not to cast a stone unless you are without sin – or don’t harbor your own bad memories of receiving re-gifted wedding presents with remnants of Christmas wrapping paper still on the box. (We were married in January.)

Anyway, I guess maybe I have not changed that much in 15 years, because it would be a lie to say that I have not thought the same thing about this project.  “STICK TO THE PLAN, GOD!!!  JUST STICK TO THE PLAN!!!”

Of course, I was referring to my plan.

You see, there were many organizations I wanted to volunteer at.   I had lists of places whose mission corresponded to the 14 works of mercy. I filled out applications, made phone calls, emailed and was stunned by the lack of response I received.

Surely, with my college degree, nonexistent criminal record, and the fact that I was a live body willing to work for free, these places would want me.  Even if it were only to humor the crazy mid-life woman who excitedly explained to them that she was “going to spend her 40th year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy and writing about those experiences on her blog.”

Wowser, we got another crazy lady on the phone, they must have said after I hung up.

It was frustrating.  At times, I was half-considering standing on the side of a busy intersection with a cardboard sign which read “will work for free, mercy work only.”

Still, there was always work to be done.  There was the Burmese family that needed help burying their father after a tragic car accident.  There was the girl I called Mary, who had already experienced the devastation of abortion, contemplating the fate of another unborn child.  There was the agony of a silent retreat and the joy of collecting hopeful Bible verses for an 11-year-old girl with leukemia.  There were works that I did for people in my life, but never shared out of respect for their privacy.  There were posts that I wrote that remain unread because really, there were just some things I wasn’t willing to share.

None of that was to plan.

Within the first three months, I was ready to turn 41 and be done with it.

I was tired of worrying about what work I was going to do, what I would write about, what people would think, who would read it and perhaps just as important, who wouldn’t.

I lamented that I sound like a clanging gong or a self-righteous hypocrite.  I had gone from being very private about my faith to sharing it with a galaxy in cyber-space.

I reasoned that I was happier before this endeavor.  I had less self-doubt, or at the least I didn’t have cause to see my insecurities manifest every week the way it would when I posted my private thoughts in such a public forum.

But there is a lot of good that comes from such cathartic transparency too.

Quite simply, it helps you to get over yourself.  I stopped being so afraid of the long list of what ifs and who will, and adopted a much easier who cares approach.  And, I don’t mean that in a flippant way because truly I always cared very much, but I also learned caring too much wasn’t good for me.

As the months passed, I really did try to let go and let God.  But let’s be real, I don’t exactly excel at that.  Still, I began to trust that He was leading this journey, and perhaps (again, Him being God and all) knew what He was doing.

I came to realize that God played a trick on me.  I thought the actual works were the most crucial part of this journey by opening my eyes to the suffering of humanity, and it has.  Yet, opening my laptop and writing about God’s love has by far had the most impact on my life.  It is what has truly challenged me, inspired me and brought me closer to Him and more aligned with the person I want to be.  It has shown me the depths of humility and gratitude.

I would have told you before I began that I knew humility, but really what I knew was self-doubt.  I could have told you everything that I had to be grateful for, but it is different altogether to actually feel that gratitude.

It was all part of God’s plan, and as you would expect from Him, it was brilliant.

I concede it was even better than mine.

So, this post didn’t reach you when I planned for it to, nor does it read the way it did in my head at so many different points throughout the year.  Still, I trust that it is just as it was meant to be.

As for my plans for my 41st year, I have to admit I don’t have a clue.  I look back at the countless hours I spent on this endeavor and am just…. Well honestly, a little bit amazed at myself.  (If you didn’t hear that, it was definitely the sound of a clanging gong.)

I know I should be ashamed of that obnoxious sound, but I am proud of what I have done and more so, who I did it for.

Still, I don’t know where I go from here.  Strangely, I am okay with this.

I have a God who has been ever good to me.  I have each of you who have been ever gracious.  And, I live in a world that is ever desperate for love, hope and compassion.

I have faith that each of us can make it better.  I can make it better for someone.  You can make it better for someone, too. That is not something you do for just a day, or a year, or a mid-life crisis.

It is something we are all called to do with our lives, regardless of all the other crazy cruddy stuff going on in them.  So just be open and be willing.  Be kind and uncomplicated. Be gentle and compassionate.

There is much work left to do.  Trust me, you don’t need a plan.  You just need to get started.

Thank you for going on this journey with me, sharing your insight, encouragement and prayers.  It meant the world to me.  I completed all of the works of mercy, except one — visit those in prison.  Apparently, it is hard to get into prison without committing a felony.  Who knew? I am working on it though and promise, I am committed to going to prison.  How many mid-life mama’s say that?!  

For right now, I don’t want to worry about what’s ahead for this space or my life, I just want to share my sincere gratitude for each of you –for believing that we can all make a difference in the world and for understanding that it’s the simple acts of goodness that will ultimately make that difference.  Now, get to it.  Mercy me!  We’ve all got work to do…


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Bucket List

My son asked me the other night if I had a bucket list. This struck me as funny at first.

After all, he’s eight– what the heck does he know about bucket lists?  I am 40 and don’t think that much about them.  Of course, I saw the movie and understand the expression, but I can’t say I ever bothered to make one.

Partly because when I make grocery lists, I inevitably leave them on the kitchen counter and when I get home I find they are only useful for checking off the items I forgot to buy at the store. I am not sure what happens if you lose your bucket list. Do you forget what’s so important for you to see or do, the way I forget to buy Q-tips?

I am not that girl anyway.  I don’t have extravagant plans.  No desires to bungee jump, or go on safari, or make millions of dollars.  I realize that makes me kind of a bore.  But I’m afraid of heights, hate getting bit by mosquitos and presume I would also hate getting bitten by an African hyena.  As far as millions of dollars, I’m more neutral about the idea.  Still, that much money seems complicated, and the pursuit of it more so. Why would I include complicated on my list?

My son’s question seemed random, but then I thought about the last few days.  My husband and I enjoyed a nice beach getaway and spent much of our conversation reflecting on our lives. Maybe if we had a bucket list we would have been looking forward, but instead, we talked a lot about how content we are right now.

More than ever, I get what it means to be mid-life.  Not in crisis, but no longer a dependent child, like my first 18 years.  Realizing how far I am away from childhood makes me cherish the time I have now with my kids more than ever.  One day, my husband and I won’t be the most significant people in their lives.  They won’t rely on us the way that they do now.  We won’t always know what they ate for dinner or what time they went to bed or if they still play MineCraft on the Xbox in their free time.  (Please Lord, don’t let my boys grow up to be gamers.)

I get it though.  My time with them is fleeting.  Knowing this makes me hold on like hell to right now.   So I am.  I am holding on.  Because, I can’t imagine when my tenure with them is up that I will ever do anything else that matters as much.

So, if I bothered to make a list, I would put them at the top with a dash separating their names from the things I want for them — happiness and health, along with a sense of peace and purpose.

Gosh, after that I would be a Greedy Gretel to want anything else.

It’s so easy to think though that where you are now in life will remain.  That we will always be in a particular situation or status, even that we will always want the same things.

We evolve.  It isn’t about creation or evolution theories either; it’s about changing and being changed by life.  Life is not stagnant, and sometimes that’s to your advantage and sometimes it’s not.  I don’t know why it’s like this — just that it is.

The human spirit is malleable.  It adapts to circumstances of love, loss and loneliness. Somehow it almost always survives.  Its evolution is far more fascinating than watching a monkey turn into a man.

Of course, my husband and I talked too about what we thought our lives would be like when our boys were gone, but I’m not so naïve to think we get sole authorship of that chapter of our lives.  That would be like thinking just because my son said he’s going to be a coin expert when he grows up that he will be.

I just think the possibilities for all of it are endless, and lists themselves are lifeless.

Before my son received the sacrament of First Holy Communion, he attended preparation retreats on Saturdays.  After each one he would bring a little gift home from the Sisters.  One of the gifts was a small bag of mustard seeds.  Attached to it was a piece of paper with a verse from Mathew 17:19-20.  “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

It stayed on the windowsill of our kitchen for a quite a while, and I found myself reading it several times a day.  At first, it didn’t mean too much to me.  We don’t have mountains in Florida and the thought of commanding one to move was just a bit beyond my faith threshold.  Yet, as the days turned into weeks and I continued to read the small slip of paper, I began to think beyond the words of the verse, beyond the mountain.

I thought of what it meant to believe in the infinite.  I thought of self-imposed limitations and how they inhibit our movement in life like the strings of a puppeteer.  I thought how amazing it is that God loves us so much that He wants us to live without the confines of only what we can see and touch.  He wants us to believe past the physical to what we can feel and dream and create with the gifts He’s given us.

The verse helped me believe more in myself.  After all, I felt certain that I had faith at least the size of a mustard seed, so why should anything be impossible for me?  I dared to imagine a limitless life and it was more exhilarating than thoughts of hanging upside down from a bungee cord (which sounds absolutely terrifying.)

Of course, I know several people who have bucket lists, and I can see where it’s a fun thing to consider.  But I have yet to master my lists of corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy, and would consider it a real coup if just once I remembered to bring my grocery list with me to the store.  Besides, it is said that life is what happens when you are busy making plans.  Maybe sometimes our plans are not nearly as extraordinary as the unexpected journey that awaits.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in my life or in the lives of those I cherish.  I just know I am content at this very moment and I am grateful to have a glimpse of what it means to believe that with God nothing is impossible.

I still don’t have a bucket list and believing in the limitless possibilities that come with faith makes me feel more certain than ever that I don’t need one.  I haven’t planted the mustard seeds either. Instead I pinned the small packet to my bulletin board.  But attached to that verse, the seeds are anything but dormant.   They grow possibilities.  No water or sunlight needed — just a little faith.


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Drive-thru Religion

I think I hit rock bottom last week, but really, who can remember?  It seems more often than would be possible for someone without a dementia diagnosis, I forget things.

Actually, it’s more that I am distracted than forgetful.

I can’t always remember if I washed my face in the shower and fear that I am often repeating this task. Or, I inadvertently put shower gel instead of face wash on my Clarisonic which results in a vibrating, floral-scented, foamy mess.

The week before, when I was cutting Brussels sprouts off its stalk I was half way finished before I realized that I had thrown the tiny cabbage-like balls into the trash can instead of the bowl that conspicuously sat on the counter.  I also opened a box of granola bars to throw into our snack bin and tossed them in the trash instead.

Frustrating, but relatively harmless, I spend a lot of time digging things out of the trash and re-washing body parts.  But sometimes the consequences are a little less benign– like when I accidently donated my husband’s suits to charity instead of taking them to the drycleaner.  That was costly.

My real wake-up call came the other day when I went through the Wendy’s drive-thru and was corrected by the cashier because apparently I was repeating myself.  “Ma’am, you already said you wanted an unsweet tea to go with your #1,” she reprimanded.  Geez, cut me some slack I thought.  I stammered along with the rest of my order and then fearing I had repeated something else, I fully disclosed that I couldn’t remember anything and wanted an unsweet tea.

I am terribly distracted much of the time.  And I worry that as I age my husband will not be able to tell what is merely my normal distracted-ness and what is really dementia.

We are all told to live in the moment, but which one?  I know I am not the only one doing a minimum of three different things at any given moment.  And often those three things don’t have much to do with God as they should.

One of the things that really motivated me to focus (ha! that’s a funny word!) on doing Works of Mercy is that they can and should be integrated into daily life. You don’t have to have time.  You can be dizzying busy and still manage to do Works of Mercy.  It’s the intention that you assign an act that makes it so powerful to others and to God.

By simply making dinner for your family at night without complaining you are doing a corporal Work of Mercy – feed the hungry.

Dessert?

Dessert?

That example really spoke to me when I first started this endeavor because I often dreaded cooking dinner.  This simple act is transformed into a Work of Mercy when it is done with joy and generosity and not lament and loathing.  That is a recipe which is far more appealing than anything likely to come out of my oven.  It changed my attitude about cooking dinner — even on days when it involves me pilfering through the trash for the fresh produce I inadvertently threw away.

But how do we live with intention, when we are so distracted by life?

When my first son was born it seemed like daily, complete strangers encouraged me to enjoy my baby. Inevitably they would follow this statement by an all-knowing prophetic warning “they grow up quickly.” I vowed to them and myself that I would indeed enjoy every moment.

But of course I haven’t.  Not because I lost sight of this promise and not because I lost for one second my love or devotion to them, but because there are simply a lot of moments in parenting that are close to heinous.

I didn’t like getting pooped on while wearing my bridesmaid dress at my friend’s wedding – before pictures no less.  Nor did I like getting a bloody nose when my child whacked me in the face while he was sleeping.  I didn’t like riding in an ambulance with my sick baby or going to the hospital and watching them stick needles in him.  I didn’t like when I had to coerce my child into swallowing bubble-gum pink antibiotics that he clearly thought was a sort of putrid poison.

No, random prophetic people, I have not enjoyed every moment no matter how quickly they have passed.

Nor have I kept my daily tasks filled with God’s presence.  I want to –just like I want to love every moment of motherhood.  But I think ultimately my humanness dooms me.  I fail because I let things of this world, however ordinary, take precedence.  I fail because I am by my very nature fallible.

Still, I look back at those harder days of parenting and I see that I was doing Works of Mercy.  I was comforting the sick when I found innovative ways to get my children to take their medicine. I was forgiving injuries when I experienced the prolific nose bleed that came from getting hit in the face for the first time in my life.  And, when I got pooped on in my pretty purple dress I learned to bear wrongs patiently – and yes, I learned a little humility too.

I realize that as much as I want to be devoted to God, I often fail to make the connection between my day-to-day activities and my Deity.  This doesn’t negate the importance of my deeds; it just doesn’t make them as meaningful as they could be.

There is comfort in knowing that despite my inequities and distractions, He doesn’t fail me.  I don’t get tossed out with the Brussels sprouts.  He is always with me.  When I am doing three things at any given moment and not aware of any of it, He is aware of all of it.

All the sweeter then, when I get it right.  When I make the connection between my act of kindness and my God, when for a moment intention aligns with action and I not only did the right thing but for the right reason. These moments are blissful.

So when I look back at being shamed by the cashier at Wendy’s, I remember why I was really there – to buy a Frosty for my son.  He had an injury that required yet another trip to the emergency room and was on a liquid diet.  I was there for him, not for me.  He was okay because of God’s good grace.  It wasn’t about remembering the order, but the proper order of things.

Thankfully, God kept it simple for us though, “Love the Lord your God above all things and your neighbor as yourself.”

Now, that’s an order even I can remember.  I think the cashier at Wendy’s would be pleased.


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Mercy Me! I’ve got work to do.

I always thought I would want to do something practical when I turned 40 –like shoot my forehead full of botulism, puff my lips up with collagen, or take some fat from my fanny and shoot it in the tiny crevices around my eyes.  But as the big day approached, I wasn’t anywhere near considering that kind of work.  With that said, entering into a new decade did allow me pause for reflection in something other than the mirror.

I never expected however, that this reflection would lead me to another kind of work – spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

Two months ago, I was not even familiar with the term “works of mercy.” Yet, my mother’s latest admonishments to me when I wouldn’t do things to her liking would be “Lara, you need to concentrate on your works of mercy, because you are not good at it.”  I didn’t really know what the hell she was talking about.  (Hell is one of those words that may be profane or may not; obviously I meant it to be profane.)  Nor did I want to know what she was talking about.  After all I would hear this at times such as when she wanted me to volunteer to take my brother’s cat because she had a feeling he and his wife would be getting rid of it.  Um no, I wasn’t feeling that one.

In her defense it wasn’t all ridiculous.  She called me out on some things that I was genuinely being selfish about — like not being more compassionate to my 42 year old sister who was weeks away from giving birth.  “It’s not like she has cancer,” I said in justification of my lack of interest in offering her any assistance.  It’s also not like she is the only person in the world to ever give birth, which is true.  But that’s me being mean again.   I told my mom half-joking that my work of mercy was listening to her constantly tell me the correct way to do everything.  I know that’s not very nice, but it was kind of funny and it felt very true.

So it became a little joke between us when I wouldn’t respond with eagerness to her suggestions.  She would remind me about needing to work on my acts of mercy. She even told me since I wasn’t good at such work, it would mean more to God.   Therefore, I would get more points for works of mercy than someone that was more inclined to perform such sacrificial goodness.  I never thought about God being on a grading scale.  It would be just my luck to miss out on an eternity of bliss by one point.

Truthfully, I was not interested in doing any more for others.  And before you gasp in judgment-filled horror, let’s be real.  I’m a mother of 2 boys, a wife, a friend, — obviously a devout daughter.  I have an impressive volunteer resume within my school and church.  I am busy just like everyone else.  Like everyone else, I’m also basically a good person, and didn’t feel like I had time to serve in any other capacity.  Sorry mom, I just am all out of mercy.

So what happened?  Why the change of heart?

Heaven only knows.  After all, I NEVER did give my mother’s suggestions any consideration.  They were annoyances that I blew off  just like when I was a kid and she pestered me to pass algebra.

But there I was at Mass, 27 days before my transition into decade number four, when I had a really great idea.  I would actually do works of mercy.   For a year beginning on my birthday I would do these acts in both simple and more obvious ways, and share my experiences of them with others through the written word (my written word, not the Bible’s, which is obviously THE official word.)

I kept waiting for the idea to pass and to settle back into complacency with a People magazine, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I became.  The challenge of someone like me, meaning someone very human, making a very real, conscientious effort to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church seems like the most meaningful way I could begin a new decade.

What a trial to perform these works of mercy despite the fact that I am inevitably pulled toward sin. Every day, over and over, I sin.  But so does everyone else so there’s really nothing special about me there. However, what could make it special would be to defy sin by performing these acts of mercy despite their difficulty, despite how uncomfortable it may make me, and to offer it up to God.   P90X has nothing on this challenge!

So after that day at mass, (okay it was a day later and after another which I spent at the beach) I came home and Googled works of mercy.  Guess what?  There are two different kinds; seven of each kind.

Who knew?  Not this cradle Catholic who went to Catholic grade school and high school, who married a Catholic and is raising her children in the same faith.  I mean it sounded familiar when I read about it, but I think it must have been buried in the segment of brain cells I killed in college (Sorry, mom.)

There are corporal works of mercy and spiritual works of mercy.  This made me even more excited because I love structure (I didn’t have enough of it as a child – again, sorry mom.) With it all outlined by the Catholic Church itself I was more convinced than ever that I was going to set out and spend the year of my 40th doing works of mercy.  By sharing these experiences which will certainly take me outside of my comfort zone, my hope is that I will learn more about humanity, the Catholic faith, and ultimately my place in this world.

I figure as painful as this experience may be, it’s got to beat going under the knife!

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