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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5 Things I learned from my middle-schooler about life

I don’t think I ever learned in school a fraction of what I learn from my children. Childbirth alone was an education – even with the epidural.

From their birth on, my boys continue to enlighten me. Recently, my 7th grader switched middle schools and in doing so taught me a few new lessons about life.

  1. Change is okay. You know that song by Davie Bowie, Changes? Ch ch ch ch changes – turn and face the strain… Well, first off it turns out I have been singing it wrong my entire life. Who knew? I thought it was “strange” not “strain!”

 

After all, change is strange. My son had been at his school since pre-school and only had two more years left before he would graduate to go to high school. He loved his friends. He did well academically. I did not see any reason to change.

But he did.

He was open to the experience of an academic magnet school, to be the new kid, to start over.

Starting down a new path is probably one of the bravest things we can do. To risk the unknown is scary. To walk away from the safety, the comfort and the convenience of our situations to try something unfamiliar can be daunting. But by allowing the possibility of failure we also allow for the greater possibility of success.

Ch ch ch ch changes…

  1. Listening is really important. While we did not consider the magnet option until the beginning of the summer, I could hear the need for change throughout the past school year.

 

Only I didn’t listen.

When he talked to me about being bored at school, I thought he was just being a typical adolescent. I was not as open or as patient with him as I should have been. I thought the problem was with him. Rather it was with me.

We all go into situations and conversations thinking about our own point of view, and often are not very open to hearing anything, which doesn’t support that. However, listening to another perspective with the intent to understand is often more enlightening than interpreting conversations into our own viewpoints.

  1. Pigeonholes are for desks, not for people. I assumed my son would never consider leaving his school because I thought I knew him.

 

After all, he is my child and we have spent a considerable amount of time together.

I would have told you that he would NEVER switch schools. And, that he would be traumatized from that kind of change.

But I saw him from my own perspective, which is colored from my own experiences. I would have been devastated to switch schools at his age so I assumed he would have too.

One of the greatest things about life is that we can start over. We don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. We can start anytime we want. We tend to get stuck in our labels and in our self-defined regimens. Worse still is that we pigeonhole others.

We fail to see the multi-dimensions of our neighbors and ourselves. I am a mother, a Christian, a writer, a friend, a wife, however I am not singularly any of these things and together I am more than the sum of these parts.

Free yourself and the people in your life from the constraints of what you think you know. If you want to change, then change.

Fly free, little pigeon.

  1. Fight for what you want. Once I realized that my son needed something different than what I planned for him, I dedicated myself to making sure he had it. It wasn’t easy. There were forms, rules, bureaucracy and waiting lists. So, I made phone calls to guidance counselors, principals, county school administrators. I showed up uninvited and unannounced – I asked questions and asked for prayers (from the people working in the public school office no less — they probably prayed that they would never have to see me again.) I did everything I knew to do that remained in the bounds of sanity.

 

But the truth is, it was out of my hands once I turned in the application. Still, I couldn’t be complacent when my child wanted this so badly; when he felt like it was what he needed.

So I fought.   Often, it really isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about knowing you did all that you could. It’s about showing someone else that you believe in them; that they are worth it to you; that even if you don’t prevail, you persevered.

There is really no losing that kind of fight.

  1. Endings are really just new beginnings. I hate when things are over. I get nostalgic and weepy. I cry until my eyes burn and my head aches. I don’t know if that is normal, but it’s just what I do so I try not to beat my self about it.

 

So of course, this was no different.

But I realize he couldn’t embrace all that awaited him and remain where he was. He was indeed giving up a very special community of friends and teachers, a place where he had been loved and cherished, a place I knew he would miss.

Still, at the moment of his goodbye he was on the cusp of a new beginning.

Sometimes in life we have to let go of something so we can make room for something else– new experiences await, new friendships, new ideas. The possibilities are endless and they begin with an ending.

So those are the most recent lessons I have learned as a parent. I am all the wiser for what my son taught me and only hope to be so brave as “I turn and face the strange… ch ch ch changes”

I really think “strange” sounds better than “strain.” I think I am just going to keep on singing it wrong.

Sorry, David Bowie.

 

Often children are our best teachers.  What have you learned from your miniature-guru?  And, perhaps just as important, do you think strange makes more sense than strain?!  Ch ch ch changes…

 

 

 

 

 


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Flipped out over getting flipped off

I got flagged off the other day – not with an actual flag, but with a finger.

I didn’t really think people did that anymore. I guess it’s been a long time since anyone showed me their tallest finger.

I was picking up my older son from his first day at a new school and was trying to navigate all the construction and traffic on I-95. I realized I needed to get over one lane and no one would oblige the blinking request of my turn signal.

Now I may fail in a myriad of ways as a nice human being, but one thing that I can say for certain is that I always let motorists in when they need to get over.

I know this is not a profound act and I hope someone can come up with something a little more interesting to say about me at my funeral. Still, when you have your precious 9-year-old in the backseat and are heading straight for a concrete median at 60 mph you tend to appreciate such mundane acts of kindness.

Anyway, I couldn’t get over and did not want to smash into the concrete so my only safe option was to merge into the exit lane.

That’s when the middle finger emerged as an appendage of a very passionate man. It wasn’t any ordinary finger either, because it also made quite a loud honking sound.

Of course, I did not know what the proper response to his gesture should be, and frankly I was so frazzled from my close encounter with concrete that I did not have time to formulate one. In a blink of a finger, he was gone.

I know this is one of those things that I am supposed to shrug off. After all, it wasn’t a gun he pulled out.  Thank you, Mr. Passionate Man with the slender middle finger, for not shooting me when I annoyed you. My family is ever grateful.

Still, I feel like maybe, just maybe you could have left your finger on the steering wheel where it belonged.

I feel certain that if you met me you would see that I am not a murderous wretch. I am just a scattered mama who has two carpool lines to be in, on two different sides of town, at the same time. In a way, that makes me a modern day time-traveler. As such, you might even find that you want my autograph.

I realize the time-travel thing loses some of its coolness factor when you get run off the road, but no one’s perfect.

And while perfection cannot be attained, perhaps patience can.

While, I can’t remember the last time my tall finger put on a solo performance, I have been just as guilty of letting my frustrations dictate my behavior.

The problem with doing this is we lose sight of one another’s humanness. We value being right more than being kind. We value our destination more than someone else’s dignity. We make sure our voices are heard without pausing to think of whom those voices hurt.

It has been exactly a week since I was shown how passionately that man feels about me, and I am happy to say my commute as a time traveling, carpool mom has been less dramatic.

But, I would like to thank that passionate finger-wielding man for reminding me about the importance of practicing patience and kindness even when your fingers point you in a different, darker direction.

In gratitude for sharing your finger with me and hence this lesson, I would like to give you not one of my own — but two.

Peace.photo

So, is it just or me or do people seem way too agitated while they are driving these days?  There were two accidents in front of my son’s school just this week.  Then, this morning while trying to navigate what I call the death merge I got honked at — and not because they thought I was pretty.   I guess I am just grateful that I didn’t get the finger…again!   Please share your experiences, I always love to hear from you and maybe someone just needs to tell me I am a terrible driver and need to stay off the roads!

Drive safe!


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The 10th circle of Hell – school supplies shopping

Dante wrote about the nine circles of hell; but I discovered the 10th – school supplies shopping.

I admit, I used to enjoy it. After all, the limitless possibilities of a blank sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper are boundless. But, there is a downside to the scavenger hunt to find plastic folders with prongs, binders by the inch, and a pencil bag for the 72 mechanical pencils on the list. (Am I shopping for a small village or a 4th grader?)

School supplies shopping means summer is over.

I had many reasons for waiting until the day before school starts to go, and every one of them began with the word denial. Admittedly, denial is a beautiful place to live. Every time I turned away from the school supply ads that bulked my Sunday newspaper, I felt as if I stretched my summer a little further. I wasn’t going to let those same marketers who put out Christmas decorations before the Halloween candy has even been bought steal one day of summertime bliss from me and my boys.

But on the eve of the first day of school, reality beckoned.

So after an hour in the office supply store searching for all the notebooks, pens, highlighters and calculators – making sure we had the right colors and the right quantities of each, I was kind of over the limitless possibilities of a blank piece of notebook paper.

We had crossed out most of the items on the list. We still didn’t have a pencil bag. Apparently, all of the pencil bags which are not glittery pink or SpongeBob Square Pants had been sold to the moms who shopped for school supplies right after the last sparkler burned out on the 4th of July.

While the thought of driving across town to another store to find just the right pencil bag that my son could live with for the next 9 months of the year seemed outside the bounds of sanity, I agreed.  After all, when you invest in 72 mechanical pencils and the lead refills that are required, you’ve obviously seen crazier.

I was almost out of the school supplies circle of hell, and I was comforting myself with thoughts of soft-serve ice cream at the McDonalds across the street. I estimated that I just had to get through 10 more minutes of indecision until my son finished picking through all the fun-shapped flash drives in the bin, deciding which surfboard design he liked best.

Meanwhile, the store salesman came over and asked how we were doing, and unlike most people, he actually waited for an answer. I had so many thoughts at this moment that had nothing to do with the appropriate responses of fine, good, or woo-hoo we are about to buy 72 mechanical pencils and a flash-drive that looks like a surfboard!

Instead, my mouth felt like it had been sealed shut with non-toxic Elmer’s glue and I couldn’t seem to make a suitable response.

I stood there frozen thinking of all the things I wanted to tell him about the lengthy school supply list and the skimpy selection of pencil bags. I wanted to tell him about our amazing summer — how we stayed out on the beach until the sun went down and the moon came up;IMG_2241how we played Monopoly as a family and I lost every single game, but had a really fun time anyway and even got the get-out-of-jail-free card twice; IMG_2291how we watched all the Harry Potter movies and ate popcorn and stayed up too late; how my son went to sleep away camp for the first time and I survived; how we found kittens in my neighbors yard and became so smitten that we now have three cats; IMG_1438how my boys have grown so much taller since the last time they had to use a mechanical pencil;IMG_1740how my husband and I went on long walks and I told him how badly I wanted time to stop and the togetherness of our family to remain; IMG_1773and how we went to so many cool places, but what really made it all so wonderful was the precious time we had with one another at the slower pace summer allows.IMG_2224

But since I didn’t want to have a breakdown in Staples, I just smiled really big.

It was kind of awkward.

I never could get any words out, so he just spoke to my boys whose mouths seemed to work better than mine and then he went on his way. Alas, my son had picked out the surfboard-shaped flash drive that two months from now will be lost either somewhere in his room or in his locker.

I liked the design he had so carefully chose and hoped it would remind him of our lazy days at the beach.

Summer has become such a sacred time. There’s no juggling overloaded schedules and we are not in such a mad rush to get out the door, or finish assignments or participate in the myriad of weekdays extracurricular activities that fill the calendar.

Everything seems to stop in the stillness of summer, and what we learn are simple but important lessons about who we are as a family. I know summers with my children are finite, and I guess shopping for schools supplies every August is too.

So as the cashier is handing over the ribbons of receipts, it is a bittersweet moment.  I am thrilled to walk out of the warehouse of mechanical pencils and highlighters in neon colors, but I am sad to see summer end. I picture myself riding out of the 10th circle of hell on my son’s surfboard flash drive and onto one of the 1,000 sheets of blank notebook paper I just purchased.

The possibilities are limitless.IMG_1697

 


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Show some heart for Blaine

I got an email from an old friend last week.  Now that I am 40, I have a lot of old friends.  I don’t mean that in the aged sense, but more that I have known this girl for a long time — since I was 11-years-old in fact.   We were best friends and signed all of our novel-length notes– BFF. We even shared one of those jagged half-heart necklaces where one bestie’s end was engraved with Be Fri and the other bestie’s with the letters st ends.  In retrospect I am not sure why anyone would want a necklace that says st ends.  Yet at the time I thought my st ends half-heart necklace was beyond cool.

If you recall, 11 can be kind of tough.  There is some funky stuff going on with your body, you’re a tad emotional and you vacillate between knowing exactly who you are and not having a clue.  (It actually reminds me a lot of 40, now that I think about it.)

I know the necklace was a bit “You complete me” a la Tom Cruise to Renee Zelleweger in the movie Jerry Maguire.   But, it also meant I was part of something bigger than myself, and who doesn’t want that?

Anyway, the point is my childhood BFF sent an email wanting a bible verse…from me.

Never did I think I would be the girl to dole out bible verses.  However, start a blog about works of mercy and somehow people know you as a God girl!

Really, I was so glad she did contact me because I learned of an incredible work of mercy that she is involved in.  I love it for at least 500 different reasons, but it might seem tedious if I tell you them all.

She needed a bible verse that pertained to hope or healing for an 11-year-old girl.  It was for her friend’s daughter, Blaine, who had just been diagnosed with leukemia — for the second time.  She was four years old when she was first diagnosed.  It had been in remission for seven years, and unfortunately is back.

My friend's daughter and Blaine (right) in 2010

My friend’s daughter and Blaine (right) in 2010

My boys are 11 and 8-years-old and I still carry children’s Benadryl and Tylenol in my purse just in case they sneeze or get an ache.  So of course, when I read leukemia, my stomach felt like it was in the middle of a crunch, even though I wasn’t doing situps.

My heart hurt for her mama.  I can’t imagine going through a real illness like that with my children one time, let alone two. Yet somehow, even though I’ve never met her, I believe she will find the strength to get through it a second time because love, especially love for our children, somehow gives the smallest of us herculean strength.

My friend needed a bible verse because she was going to be part of a prayer book that listed, for every hour of the day, a scripture chosen by participants.

Truthfully, I don’t know the Bible as well as I should.  Still, there is one verse that I know by heart and think it is perfect for any age.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future,” Jeremiah 29:11

So I sent her that verse along with a few others that I found that I thought were appropriate.  I also asked her to tell me more about this book they were making.

It is called a Ring of Encouragement.  In it will be pictures of friends who are praying for Blaine, next to the bible verse they chose.  She can flip through it and see the faces and verses of love that have been chosen for her throughout the day.

That really seems like the best kind of medicine.

It made me smile to think of that young girl looking at the pictures of people in different parts of the country, who love her, are praying for her, and believe that she has a hope and a future.

I believe that.  And I want her to know.  I don’t think it matters that she doesn’t know me, that I am just some 40-year-old “God” girl who came to know her brave fight from someone I first met at the same age she is now.    I think maybe it matters more that she doesn’t.  That someone out there who she’s never met is praying for her.

But how cool would it be if we all did this?!  If we all offered a prayer for Blaine?

Please join me by sharing  a bible verse, inspiring quote or encouraging message so she knows we are all praying for her healing.

Just leave it in the comment section, and I will make sure she sees them.

Here’s a chance for us to be part of something bigger than ourselves; to take the best pieces of all of us and send a healing message to Blaine that she can carry in her heart.  No necklace needed.


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Pretty in Pink

I took Home Economics my freshman year in high school and a large part of our quarter grade was to make boxer shorts.  I was excited about the assignment and picked a pretty pattern of pink flowers on a pink background.  The only thing that wasn’t pink was the pale lime-colored leaves that formed under each tiny rose bud.

It looked very vintage and still very chic.  I thought for sure Molly Ringwald would want to borrow them if she did a sequel to Pretty in Pink.  But to my dismay, there was no sequel, which considering how my boxer shorts came out, I figured it was just as well.

It’s a shame what I did to that pretty fabric in the name of sewing.  I cut, poked, and stitched in all the wrong places.  As the end of the quarter approached and I saw the impressive results of my classmates cute little boxers, I resigned myself to sleeping in old t-shirts for the rest of my life.  I begged my mom to take me to her alterations lady and have her fix the mess I had made.  She refused – probably because she was so horrified at the mutilated fate of the pretty fabric.

I barely got a D that quarter, which was a little bit crushing since it was Home Ec, not rocket science.  Apparently, I had about as much proclivity towards domesticity as I did algebra.  Why couldn’t I have Molly Ringwald’s life?  (Of course, I mean her life the last five minutes of the movie.)

Anyway, that is my experience with sewing. I don’t even do buttons.

Last year, when I heard about a new nonprofit that involved sewing, I was skeptical.  I pictured a bunch of old grannies sitting around in their embroidered dresses threading needles.  And while my own Granny was dearer to my heart than just about everybody, this concept seemed as unappealing to me as a 1986 Home Economics class.

How ironic then that Rethreaded’s mission is anything but antiquated and everything that is beautiful – no matter what your taste in fashion. According to their website, “Rethreaded seeks to unravel the effects of the sex trade, whether it takes the form of human trafficking, prostitution, pornography or strip clubs.”

That hardly makes me think of sewing.  Yet women affected by the sex industry are taught self-worth, dignity, and a new way of life by becoming seamstresses. These castoff women who have experienced addiction, violence and prostitution transform old donated t-shirts into something new that they can sell – clothes, bags, purses and scarves.  They call it up-cycling. I call it uplifting.

Up-cycled merchandise for sale.

Up-cycled merchandise for sale.

When you see the beautiful items they make and sell, it’s a marvel to think its physical transformation pales compared to how it changes worn, tired and broken lives into the vibrant colors of hope.

Rethreaded trains these women to become artisan seamstresses, pays them a living wage and most importantly, redresses them with dignity, compassion and love.

My boys and I spent part of an afternoon working with them and some other volunteers in a warehouse downtown.  I explained to my children that we were going to a place that helps women who have had a hard life, maybe been on drugs, homeless or somehow hurt by other people.  I told them that Rethreaded teaches them a new skill and gives them a job so they can start over.

089

One of the thousands of t-shirts waiting to be up-cycled. I love it’s message!

The warehouse was clad in both old and new.  There were worn t-shirts of every size, color and logo ever imagined.  They lined the walls, filled bins and hung from hangers like a rainbow.  There was also the up-cycled merchandise patched together from discarded garbs into beautiful boutique quality merchandise for sale.  Weaving in between old and new were me, my children, other volunteers, staff and the women sewing a new story for themselves.

We sorted t-shirts by color, following a Pantone chart with names like vivacious, koi and turbulence.   Their fall and winter merchandise would be derived from these colors.  If the t-shirt wasn’t on the new chart, it was put away in bins.  T-shirts that conformed to the chart’s palette were hung on wire hangers.

The air was stifling hot in the warehouse and almost immediately little beads of sweat formed on my son’s nose.  While it was uncomfortable being that hot, it seemed somehow cathartic to sweat alongside and in honor of women who have been degraded, and yet are brave enough to choose a different pattern for their lives.

As a parent raising children in an over-sexualized culture, it is important to me that my boys understand the proper context of sex.  Within love and marriage, it is a gift.  It should never be violent or forceful.  Nor is it something to sell or give away without regard to its sacred nature.  Sex is also abused when we assign judgment to others for their choices or circumstances.

It is a challenging message to convey in a world where sex is a commodity, consent is ignored or given too freely, and pleasure takes priority over people.

It scares me as both a woman and a mother how sex is debased, rights are violated and lives ruined.  So it was empowering to volunteer on behalf of an organization whose mission is to counter the effects of the sex industry.

Of course, my boys don’t understand all that now.  But someday, they will recall how they sweat alongside their mama amid the myriad of colorful t-shirts.  They will understand why what they did was so important. They will know what it means to respect women’s bodies and their own.

Among the countless other people who realize the true beauty of sexuality is based on love, I pray my children will be part of the color of hope in the bleak world of sexual exploitation.

Rethreaded enables women to rediscover the vivid colors unique to their lives, so they can begin to create a new tapestry sewn with love into a timeless story of hope.

Maybe these women will title it Pretty in Pink.  No, that wouldn’t quite do. A story like that would have to begin with beautiful.

If you would like to support Rethreaded’s work to offer hope to women affected by the sex industry, please visit their website at http://www.rethreaded.com/ You can either get involved by volunteering, donating or my personal favorite, shopping!

I bought a colorful bangle for myself that was made out of parts of broken bracelets. It is a reminder to me that something broken can be turned into something beautiful – if it’s just given a chance. 


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Out of the ash

I remember exactly where I was when I heard that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I bet you do too.

It was a profoundly sad day – a day that changed lives and an entire nation.  I will never forget the unthinkable, unimaginable horror as I huddled around the television watching the ash of innocence unite a country in the most anguished grief it had ever known.

As the morning went on, the plane crashes went from one to three, each one an almost unrecoverable blow of terror – multiplying devastation into exponential heartache.

A new commitment to patriotism rose up like a phoenix out of the ashes of that pivotal day.  We were certainly less naïve than we were before, but we were more united too.  There was a surge of people who stepped out of their air-conditioned offices into the heat of the desert.  They were willing to trade the comforts of their civilian life for the trials of war to ensure the freedom we had long taken for granted.

I don’t doubt the urgency of the call to serve which those soldiers must have felt.  I was almost eight months pregnant with my first child on 9/11.  Things that mattered to me before that day – the décor of the nursery, the name I would choose, decisions about going to work afterwards and finding a pediatrician, were suddenly inconsequential.

Somehow, life as we knew it was in jeopardy.  My body was full with the promise of new life, and the sky was falling.  All I wanted to do was have my baby.  I didn’t care about the epidural anymore or even a hospital bed.  The need to bring my baby into the world — even as crazy as it had become, was stronger than any urge I had ever known.

It’s hard to believe that almost 12 years have passed since that day.  Harder still, to think of all those service men and women who have died while my little baby celebrated birthdays, played in countless baseball games, and brought his family an immeasurable amount of joy.

So it seemed fitting for us to give back to our armed forces.  We volunteered to participate in Operation USO Care Package last week and spent hours helping to put together small comforts to be sent overseas to the men and women in our armed forces.

Each of us wrote several notes to be included with the packages.  It’s hard to know what to say beyond thank you.  Thinking of the uncomfortable conditions they endure, the families they leave behind, the fellow soldiers they have watched die; thank you seems kind of feeble.  Still it’s a start, and the only one I knew to begin to convey my depth of gratitude.029

My sons included words such as brave, kind and helpful on their notes, and like mine each one began with thank you.  We stuffed bags with military precision.  In formation, one beside the other, we filled our care packages with razors, toilet paper, a toiletry kit, a small bag of peanuts, some beef jerky, a little coffee, a bandana, keychain and a Reader’s Digest magazine.

We were outside in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer and the sweat had started running down my oldest son’s face, his hair matted and saturated underneath his ball cap.  I thought about how much hotter it must be in the desert.  Because my children looked a little faded, I thought it would be a good time to take a break for lunch.

On the way to the restaurant, I asked them if they could surmise what military life is like overseas by the contents of the packages we put together.  My youngest son piped up with “hairy” referring to the need for a razor.  My older son and I talked about what a treat the peanuts were and how they didn’t have access to books and magazines the way we do.  In the middle of the conversation he interrupted me and asked, “Are you going to cry?”

I laughed.  First, as hot as I was and as much as we had sweat, I don’t think I could have mustered up a single tear.  Second, I didn’t feel sad.  I just felt grateful and seeing how my son was beginning to know me not just as his mother, but as an individual (yes, perhaps a quirky, emotional one) made me feel even more so.

042Rejuvenated and rehydrated from lunch, we returned to the cadence of stuffing care packages.  I don’t know why my children didn’t complain, or ask how much longer, or act like the silly boys that they so often are, but we continued to work in silence.  Maybe it was in reverence to the soldiers who would be at the receiving end of our deed as we have enjoyed the receiving end of their service for years

When I think of the comfort those small items will bring and the words of encouragement, gratitude and praise that will be opened with them, I am even more humbled.  I have so much that I take for granted.  I hardly consider a small bag of peanuts a treat, and an almost smaller wad of toilet paper seems like a bad joke.

Yet for those in service overseas, these are luxuries, small but important tokens to let them know we are thinking of them and we appreciate their sacrifice.

My son will turn 12–years-old this Thanksgiving and I still remember the urgency I felt to bring him into a world that suddenly seemed so fragile.  I think how he asked me if I was about to cry and the laughter that his question evoked.  There has been so much laughter in the years since his birth.

No, I am not about to cry.  Instead I look skyward and remember the ash that fell that day and the country that rose up from it, spreading its wings to fly high once again.

No tears, just gratitude.


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Maytember

Well, Maytember is almost over.  That’s what some of the other moms at my children’s school are calling it.  I like it in a Bennifer/Brangelina kind of way – of course, without the drama of a breakup or affair splashed across the cover of People magazine.

But, May has become as busy as December just without all the Ho, Ho, Ho’s.  There’s Mother’s Day, First Holy Communion, Confirmations, Graduations, Appreciations and parties for all of it.

As I write this, my children’s last day of school is tomorrow.  One more party to go and then summer can sprawl out like an oversized beach towel on the sand.   My kids have already lugged home their worn out markers, folders and notebooks that, months ago, pristinely held all the promise of a new school year.  Gosh, is there anything more exciting than new school supplies?! Well no matter, now they are looking as worn as the rest of us trying to survive the most ceremonial month of the year.

It is nice to celebrate the last day of school though.  It has certainly been a long time since I was a student, but I remember how special those days were — filled with giddy laughter, enthusiastic yearbook signings, and warm goodbyes.

Last days are significant because they embody the school year in its entirety.   Through prayer, I had a rare glimpse of what this encompassed.

No, the Lord didn’t give me visions of kids in their blue plaid uniforms and backpacks loaded with the weight of the world.  Instead, for a Spiritual Work of Mercy, I began attending a new prayer group at my children’s school.

The premise behind it was to pray for all of the school’s children, prekindergarten through eighth grade – by name.  The whole school, teachers included – BY NAME.  Admittedly this sounded tedious to me.  After all that’s a lot of kids.

The group met at 8 am, Wednesday mornings with the thought that it would be easy to meet right after morning drop off.  But that didn’t sound easy to me.  I don’t do drop off – my husband does.  I make the lunches, remind the boys to wipe the table clean, feed the dog and to not touch each other. I find missing keys, shoes, and clean uniforms.  I tame bed head with a special elixir of water and gel.  I tell them to put their clothes in the hamper and brush their teeth.  Then, I stand at the door, with the dog and cat (because for some reason they are always there) and I say, “Bye, I love you, have a good day.”

Anyway, that’s what happens here on school mornings. When they leave, I eat oatmeal, drink coffee and go about my business.  I am a routine girl, and that’s my routine. As such, the thought of setting the alarm clock early to pray over a litany of names seemed like a real snooze.

But there’s this whole Works of Mercy thing I committed to, so I thought I would give it a try.  I don’t want to ruin the suspense here, but usually when you reluctantly try something new, you end up loving it.  It’s kind of just the poetry of life. It’s almost inevitable.

First off, to my relief, we only read the names of one grade per week – not the entire school.  Woo hoo! The group always started with praise and I certainly praised that (although not out loud)!  I thought it was nice though to take a moment mid-week and reflect on gratitude. Following our praise reports, we began with a theme like faithful, teacher or fortress.  Our leader always carefully picked scripture to go with it.  I loved the verses she picked and pinned them on my bulletin board in a pile the way a cook at a diner stacks his orders.

Anyway, we would discuss the scripture and how it related to the weekly theme.  The discussions started slow like waiting for coffee to percolate, but suddenly it was like we each had 2 shots of espresso and thoughts spilled into profound theological and moral discussions. Sometimes, I left those meetings and felt so privileged that I got to partake in such relevant and significant discussions of faith in a secular world. Part of what struck me, was how thoughtful these conversations were — there was consideration given to other viewpoints, other lifestyles. It wasn’t just, we believe this. Period. Everyone else is a moron.

I don’t really know how to make you excited about that, but I was just so truly impressed by these discussions.  They were fair, factual and faith based.  That was my favorite part of the meeting.

Sometimes we shared personal things and with that, sometimes there were tears.  Always there was empathy and compassion.  The prayer group adopted the rules of Vegas policy and remained confidential.

After discussions, we read aloud prayers collected from the students.  They were on little slips of paper like the name of a Secret Santa.  We distributed them randomly, smoothing the creases as we opened their sacred prayers. We read aloud intentions for everything from the pope, teachers, friends, pets, parents, and siblings.  Sometimes there were prayers of gratitude for the blessings in their life.

It was amazing. Both in terms of the insight it gave me into the depth of faith these children have and also the hardships and hurts they carry.  They worried about their parents getting divorced, or their grandparents who were in the middle of a divorce, they prayed for family members who had cancer, they prayed for their dad to finally get a job, their mom to be happy, they prayed for guidance in picking a school for the following year and to do well on tests, recitals and games.

It was such a gift to read these prayers and to join the other women in praying for these children.  It was enlightening to know how deeply they were impacted by many things that were simply out of their control.  It made praying for them all the more meaningful.

Lastly, we prayed for our children by name, the name of whatever class we were on for the week and the special intentions of people in our parish or community that asked us to pray for them.

There are a lot of things I can accomplish in a day or a week, but truly, praying for those children ultimately mattered more than whatever I got checked off my list.

Thinking of those battered slips of paper again and their messages that often brought tears to my eyes makes the end of the school year a little more bittersweet.

So, in keeping with the format of the prayer group, my praise is that I got to partake in discussions that helped me to understand my faith better, and insight into the hearts of children.  My prayer is that these children know how much they are loved by God and how He listens to their prayers whether they are on slips of paper, said aloud or remain silent in their heart.  May this always fill them with peace and warmth like the sun shining down on a slow, easy summer day.