The Gift of Life

We were at the gym one recent evening, finishing up a string of basketball games and working towards paying off our tab at the snack bar. (As an aside, if you aren’t in the habit of having a tab at the concession stand, don’t get started. It’s dangerous and fiscally irresponsible.)

I was sitting in the stands looking around the gym to track down my crew, when I noticed a girl in front of me trip while stepping off the bleachers. The girl fell to the ground and started crying. Her mother, who had been standing next to her, quickly bent down and kissed her daughter on the head.

The father walked over from where he had been and the two, the mother and father, spent a minute consoling their child before helping her get back on her feet.

There’s not much unusual about all this except the age of the daughter — she’s my age, a grown woman in her early 40s. Years ago, this sweet baby was born with a seizure disorder and intellectual disabilities that have affected her ability to talk and walk and communicate with others. She has been under her parents’ constant care since her birth and has outlived the doctors’ predictions.

What a beautiful moment to witness the love of these parents for their daughter, a grown woman who is still a small child. Their compassion and concern was overwhelming and there I sat in the bleachers taking in the beauty and holding back tears.

I don’t know why it should surprise me, who wouldn’t show such love to a child? Except the world tells us that these children are burdens, that children who aren’t “normal” take too much time or energy or that because they can’t live an ordinary existence their life has less value.

What I saw in that moment was the beautiful gift of life — of this life in particular. What this girl offered was love, the opportunity to love and the chance to be loved. She drew love out from her parents and from those standing nearby who also walked over to help.

We live in a world that celebrates outward strength and victory and anything less than that is an inconvenience. Babies diagnosed in utero can be dealt with accordingly. We are afraid of imperfections, afraid of suffering and struggle. We want to spare ourselves the hurt and hard work of life different from status quo.

I was thinking about all of this while also reflecting on the morning I was having, me with my own brood of “normal” children. It wasn’t an easy morning at all, dealing with one child’s strong will, working through another child’s struggle with numbers. There was an issue with someone hoping that ignoring a situation would make it go away (that doesn’t work with math, child) and the real struggle and strain of raising children.
It wasn’t easy. It was hard work.

That’s life, this journey we are on. It’s hard. And it’s easy to be afraid of the struggle, of dealing with difficult things. And I’m not trying to say that what I deal with in my life is the same (or on par) with the struggles of this family and their daughter and her needs.

But we all have struggles, and some people have struggles more obvious than others. We all have the path put before us by God and we ask him to show us how this path, this struggle, this moment — how he wants it to draw us closer to him, how what we are doing in this moment can glorify him.

In that moment in the gym, I saw the gift of love. I saw the offering of those parents, their yes to caring for their daughter, as their yes to Jesus.

And I’m inspired somehow, to take up crosses, the challenges of my own life, and try to return it as well. That’s all we can do, do what God asks of us, without fear or comparison. We love who God asks us to love, and we see the challenge as the way God is drawing us closer to him.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

Downton!

downton-abbey-season-6-cast-photo

Well here we are half-way through the week and I still haven’t even said anything about the premiere of Downton Abby Season 6 way back a million years ago (last Sunday). I’m going to be honest: I spent almost the entire hour of that show with my hand pressed against my left eye because while I was in the shower (a quick flash of refreshment to get mah-self all ready for MY STORIES), a fleck of soap hopped into my eyeball arena and agitated the scene greatly.

So there I sat, trying to soak in the opening moments of this long-anticipated drama filled with the sufferings and fate of real people whom I know and LOVE, all the while wrestling with a tiny fire brewing in my corneal region and lo it was exhausting. I thought I might go back and watch the show again, once I could really see with clarity and not through a haze of soapy tears, but the week flew by and the second show was starting on yet another Sunday night before I even had time to reconsider my viewing plans.

Let’s just call Week One…uneventful? You tell me. What did I miss in my burning vapor of suffering?

The good news is no one is dead, yet. We are hearing through letters (clever!) that Tom is well in America, and Rose is planning to summer in the Hamptons (Oh neat! The wealthy have always done that!) and she might be pregnant and return home. Everyone is reading between the lines but again, we can thank Julian for sparing us any more car wrecks and traumatic child-birth death scenes, for now.

anna happy

Week Two was — wow! So many modern day real issues mixed in with the scene.

Let’s start with the wedding, oh God bless you Carson. You have gotten yourself in a classic Mommy-vs-the-Bride situation, except your bride knows better than to put up or shut up. She isn’t being a jerk about it, but she doesn’t have to please anyone. Mrs. Hughes doesn’t have to worry about thirty years of keeping the peace between mother-and-son so in the battle between Mary’s generosity/plan for the day and Mrs. Hughes, well you’re actually going to have to make a decision.

This isn’t going away on its own, is it?

I-wish-men-would-worry-about-our-feelings-a-quarter-as-much-as-we-worry-about-theirs-Mrs.-Hughes-S5-E5

Just give your beloved what she wants, stop putting everyone else’s needs above your own. It’s okay to say you don’t put yourself first but now you’re in a new place where the two have become one (or are about to) and it’s not fair to lump Mrs. Hughes in with your “I have no opinion in the matter” ways. She does have an opinion, stand up for her.

As for Mary, God bless her, as well. She means well, but she’s one of those people (God love ‘em) who are so sure of the goodness of their own heart and the generosity of their sweeping altruism that they don’t stop to consider (as Cora is so wise to point out) that there might be another plan that would work better. I don’t begrudge Mary of course, but it’s a little comical (just a tad) to see how blind she is to the possibility of something other than her idea being the ideal.

Speaking of Mary, I enjoyed her little heart to heart with poor, suffering Anna. They reminisced about the good times, the dead bodies and sneaky trysts in the big city and how Mary really does owe Anna a trip to the fertility doctor because heck, look at all the skeletons she’s patrolling in Mary’s closet.

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“It’s the least I can do,” Mary says through a cracked smile, “after you helped me drag dear, dead Pamuk down the grand Abby staircase.”

bernies

Or something like that.

Edith! Fire that editor and hire a woman. I’m afraid in this day and age maybe that’s the only way you’re going to get the respect you aren’t quite ready to demand.

Oh golly I was really about to lose it with the Marigold scene. “We didn’t account for emotion,” says the sweet farmer who is just precious except for the fact that he put his poor, tormented wife in this situation in the first place. I’m glad the Marigold abduction scene ended with a zero body count, and I’m not trying to be uncouth. Julian got me on edge with his Season 6 powers.

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Sin begets sin and all the secrets, it’s so exhausting. I guess the point is times forced people to be secretive and horrible and because people couldn’t just live their lives in the open life was tough (did I learn the lesson correctly, Mr. Fellowes?). But the bigger issue of course is that trying to keep things hidden hurts more people than just yourself.

It all feels very helpless but I guess at the end of the day Daisy’s former kinda-father-in-law will end up getting some land to work, don’t you think?

daisy dad

The nice thing about this being the end of the series is I’m hoping we will be treated to some happy closure in these situations…

Will Anna and Bates finally overcome ALL OF THE THINGS?

Will Mrs. Hughes get the pub wedding of her dreams (I hope so, I love her reasoning on the matter)?

Will Edith tell Mary her dark secret and the two sisters finally build a bridge and walk hand-in-hand over it to leave their issues behind?

Will Anna quit wearing that horrible wig?

Sunday is just a few days away!

Football and Life in Christ

Davis KicksTrust, mercy and love — we hear these words often, especially in our pursuit of the Christian life. We trust in God’s plan for our life. We know he shows mercy. We pray that we can experience God’s great love for us, so that we can believe all these things we know are true.

But it’s hard, it’s a challenge. The Christian life is not always easy, life is not always easy. There are times when we do what we’re supposed to do entirely for that reason — because it’s what we must do. Not because it’s the easy thing, not because it always makes sense.

We do what God asks of us and we trust in his mercy and love. And we learn, the more we trust and obey, that God has a plan and His love is vast.

Paul and I have a nephew who is a kicker for a college football team. It’s fun to watch Davis on Saturday, coming into our living room on CBS or ESPN, as he ably displays his perfectly-honed (and hard-earned) craft. There is an art to football kicking that I never appreciated until it was my own sweet godson out there on the field.

What’s fascinating about kicking is how much power and strength and abject trust goes into making that extra point or three. Davis explained it to me like this:

“In a game it is too loud for me to hear my holder call out ‘set’ for the ball. So I go when his bottom hand leaves the ground. When his hand is up I’m moving and I’m looking at the exact spot where his hand was. I am putting all of my faith in my holder, trusting him to catch the snap, place it down on that exact spot I lined up on and spin and lean the ball the exact way I like it.”

Davis said that he is already headed where the ball should be (but isn’t yet) with full confidence that his partner will have the ball in the perfect spot in the perfect moment. His first few steps are in faith that the ball will be there.

“The ball is down as I take my third and final step where my leg is drawn back and I then swing my leg smooth, fast and with confidence.”

He added that all of this takes less than 1.3 seconds or the ball will be blocked, which means he and his holder have to be moving, with speed and confidence, at the same exact time. Neither player sits back to wait for the other — each trusts the other is getting his job done.

And for us, it’s as simple as all that. We move in trust, which is strengthened by all the times God has been there before. Each new situation is an opportunity to grow in trust, but we have a lifetime of experiences to remind us that God will be there. We move forward in confidence that God will be there because he always has been.

This Year of Mercy is a particularly appropriate time to put our trust back in the Lord. We are being called to show mercy to those around us, and that doesn’t always make sense. In a world that seeks justice and payment of dues, the Year of Mercy reminds us of the importance of operating out of trust and not necessarily what is logical or expected.

“God is always waiting for us,” said Pope Francis in his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, “He never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope — always!”

We need to trust in God’s great love and his mercy towards us.

“This is important,” added the Holy Father, “the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in His patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of His love.”

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

Life Lessons in a Van

van driving

Still driving (vans) after all these years

I learned to drive on a fifteen-passenger van. My dad was the headmaster of a private school and he got a company car. That was our family vehicle, this large, tan deus ex machina that transported the math club and the basketball team and our family as well. By the time I was sixteen, I could parallel park with ease and had no idea that a compact car was considered one million times easier to drive.

I have a lot of great memories of driving with my dad. He was always so patient and took on an other-worldly calm as I would round corners or come to a complete stop at a neighborhood corner. “Watch that car there,” he’d casually mention, which helped to ease my overly-amped up ways. There was no need to fret, learning to drive was a safe, natural part of life.

We developed a good rapport, my dad and I. We would go out for a drive, run an errand, and here is where I learned the confidence and safety and complicated dance of wielding large machinery down an open road. I learned the nuances of my dad’s instructions, learned to trust his double-check when it was time to change lanes. Over the weeks and months of maneuvering the wheel, I learned that my dad’s yes meant yes and his no meant no. Dad is my co-pilot, that was enough for me.

One fall evening my dad and I ran up to the neighborhood grocers to grab something at dinnertime. My younger brother came with us and by the time we were heading back the sun had set.

It was dark as I pulled onto the street heading into our neighborhood, and I started the climb up that first hill towards home. I picked up speed in the dark, approaching an oncoming intersection with confidence — the other street had the stop, and I didn’t see any traffic.

We were at a nice cruising altitude, on a steady course for home when my dad yelled at the top of his lungs for me to STOP.

I threw my foot on the brake with all my strength, my level of commitment to that stop dictated entirely by my dad’s tone of voice. There was nothing else to give me pause, no other reason that I should stop other than my dad said so. I saw no car, no people, nothing in the glow of that hazy autumn evening other than a clear road ahead and smooth sailing to home.

But as our car skidded, I saw flash before us an oversized sedan in flight, floating through the intersection and sailing by the stop sign. The car, speeding down the road with no headlights and at full-force on our small neighborhood streets, would have crushed us instantly.

But my dad saw it and he told me to stop. And even though I didn’t understand his orders, I stopped in my tracks going only on the urgency in my father’s command.

It saved our life, my quick obedience. And that lesson has never left me. My ability to obey and do what I needed to do saved the lives of me and my dad and my younger brother. I was in the habit of obeying my dad quickly and in that moment it was a life-saving event.

I was retelling this story to my boys the other day, in the midst of a situation that they didn’t understand. Paul and I had reacted very strongly to something and my boys didn’t quite get it. “What’s the big deal,” they asked (respectfully), “we don’t see it.”

“You don’t have to,” we explained. There will be times, we told our boys, that the only way they might recognize the gravity of a situation is the way we react. “You might not understand, but you will have to trust us.”

It’s a hard lesson, but one I’m glad I learned early. After that near-miss in the van all those years ago, I was a teenager quick to trust her parents’ wisdom. My dad’s authority saved my life one night, that was enough for me.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.