Anointing of Ashes

The hangry fire has devoured the proud palms,

their waving glory burned to a crisp,

memories of triumph silenced

by the crackling, crimson flames.

All that remains is ashes.

They are cool, smooth and dusky on my forehead,

these humble signs of humanity

two short lines anointing me

a daughter of God,

having taken the riotous death by fire

and transformed it into a quiet cream,

a healing lotion which proclaims,

“I am dust and unto dust I shall return,”

yet I rejoice in the hope of life

beyond the blaze!

My Aunt’s Nativity: An Advent Reflection

This afternoon while the toddler was sleeping, my eldest daughter set up our nativity set. It is a beautiful porcelain one given to us by my sweet Auntie Shirley, who is a retired interior decorator with an eye for beauty. We are very honoured to have her nativity.

Going to her home as a child and having Christmas dinner with all the cousins was for me the essence of cozy family closeness. Being there laughing and singing with everyone gave me a warmth that stays with me today, and makes me want my home to be such an open, welcoming place as my Auntie Shirley and Uncle Bill’s was.

I hope everyone has a joyful place to be this Christmas, and that they know how loved they are, just as they are, by the God who became small enough to put his tiny hand in ours, even though his heart contains the entire universe. Sometimes it is hard to comprehend that we are loved unconditionally. We feel it’s impossible–that nothing in life is free–but in this case we are wrong. We don’t have to earn the love that preceded our existence.

“I’ve been alive forever,” my little son told me the other day with conviction. “Always and always.” “Well, you’ve always existed in God’s heart; he always had the plan to make you.”

It is hard for us to comprehend this kind of generosity…only as parents can we imagine it a little, knowing how much we love our kids, even before they are born. I think it’s partly why God came to us as a poor, tiny baby, smelling of hay and breathed on by donkeys–so we wouldn’t be afraid of loving him, and even harder, wouldn’t be afraid of letting him love us, just as we are.

Rather than a call to apathy, this love is a call to greatness, for can anything inspire us more to want to grow better, than the firm conviction that we are already loved, exactly as we are? It is mercy and not harshness that helps us live and love well. It takes great strength to love others while also helping them to grow. May we finish this year living with mercy, strength and love, and may we be helped to do so by the sweet God who loves us even when we fail.

To Life!

Christmas is coming and there’s a lot of emphasis on being happy in this season of joy. But life with all it’s challenges continues in December like in any month, with extra business on top of it, so here’s a poem for anyone out there who’s had a bad day recently. You’re not alone!

Sometimes the best way to feel better is to allow yourself to feel crummy for a little while instead of fighting it. For me, writing poetry helps me indulge in my melancholy mood and then let it go, rather than having sadness trapped inside.

To Life!

Oh, life!

Oh, imperfect messiness!

Oh, easily screwed up days,

repeated mistakes

and ever unchanging weaknesses…

Wounds that hide and reappear

like dolphins under water

surfacing for breath,

seeking light and healing

and disappearing again.

Am I am I am I

ever going to grow?

Going to stop failing,

stop falling,

stop saying bitter things–

crouching under a shield of sarcasm

feeling so small

I have to pretend

I’m invulnerable.

Not likely.

But, oh! God bless me

and help me never give up trying.

Each day let me not be crushed

by insecurity.

I am scuffed up and tiny

but thus you have made me

and love me through it all.

Amen.

Amen to life!

Because I may be a fool

but even a fool can live life

and love.

Water of Life

Flowers have no muscles

yet they move

open / close

smile at the sun

kiss the sky goodnight

How is it possible?

Have you ever thought about this?

Only through their emptiness

are they able to be filled

The water of life coursing through their veins

gives them strength

Help me remember this

when I am parched and drooping

but refuse to drink

Fill me with this aqua vitae

give my spirit life

make my body rise again

to gaze at the sun

Insecurity

There is the illusion

that ‘the woman next door’ has everything figured out–

that the insides of her underwear drawer

are as neat as her perfect front lawn–

illusion of insecurity.

There is the nagging feeling

that you should be more like her,

so confident and productive…

It eats you up inside

until your walls crumble and collapse

into emptiness.

Voices of self-doubt echo

in the hollow chamber of your head:

“Are you sure you’re good enough?

Can you really do this?

What gave you that silly idea?”

You’re tempted to crawl under the covers again

but that’s just where the demons are hiding–

alone in your head.

Instead, throw back those blankets and step into the sun,

don’t give up without a fight,

empty rooms are good for being filled with light.

Empty hands are good for holding little hands.

Empty hearts are good for being filled with love.

Empty heads are good for listening.

So, instead of dwelling alone

in the harsh prison of your self-judgement,

reach out,

be open to other people’s stories,

listen to their hopes and cries of pain.

Everyone has their struggle,

and everyone has their blue flame.

Realize you are not alone

in all your broken beauty…

like them you’re just a tiny little human

entrusted by God

with the great task of love.

Humble Audacity

A single flame in the darkness,

a single note in the silence,

a single child in a stable–

only God would have

the humble audacity to appear this way

when He wanted to reach everyone in the world.

He could have come with crashes of lighting

flashing across the entire sky.

He could have come with legions of angels,

fast and furious,

but He came instead in the quiet–

His little cries

barely heard above the donkey’s breath.

He came with a love as warm as hot chocolate

that spreads slowly through your whole body

and makes everything right.

He came small enough to fit himself

–the creator of the universe–

into each human heart,

affirming that each person

is a universe unto themselves–

infinitely precious and loved.

Tiny note, little light, set the world aflame with joy!

Resolve to embrace your now!

It’s New Year’s and the internet is awash with posts about New Year’s Resolutions. People are eager to change and improve their lives. They’re keen to eat better, sleep better, work better, and improve their relationships. This year, it’ll be different!

But…what if it won’t? What if this year is basically the same as the last, and we struggle with all the same defects and weaknesses as we did last year? What if we don’t change jobs, gain or lose weight or get more productive? Will it be a big waste?

What if by the end of the year, our kids still fight, the dishes still pile up, we lose our patience and get snappy? What if, Heaven forbid, we’re still human?! Should we abandon hope?

Instead…what if, instead of focusing exclusively on our failures, we choose to see things in their true light, both the good and the bad? What if we give thanks and celebrate every little success? What if we choose to find God in the mess and smile more? If the kingdom of Heaven is within us, then we better find God where we are.

Perhaps the best resolution would be to find joy right here where we are today–in our life as it is now–while still being open to dreams of making it even better.

Those dreams, however, should be our dreams; no one else can really know the key to our happiness. We must prayerfully reflect and find it ourselves. Happiness and holiness will be found in being the best version of ourselves, so don’t steal someone else’s list of New Year’s resolutions! Comparing ourselves to others is such a happiness thief, so resolving to stop doing that would be a good idea, at least for me, and possibly a few other million women.

Don’t be unfaithful to the dream God has of you in His heart…trust He knows how to make a masterpiece!

Don’t reject it by harshly rejecting yourself. Trusting and being gentle with ourselves as we try to grow and improve will help us extend that kindness to others as well.

And if anyone is looking for a fun way to make it a happier year, with the support and encouragement of others, I highly recommend Gretchen Rubin’s new online happiness project course!

The Happiness Project Experience

Build a happy life in 2019! Having spent so much time thinking about happiness, I really do believe that for most of us, there are many simple things we can do to boost our happiness. We just need to take the time to reflect on what those efforts would be, and figure out how to make them part of our lives. That’s what “The Happiness Project Experience” is designed to do! You can have the life you want; you can change your life without changing your life.

Little changes to our actions and attitude can make a big difference. May our hearts be happier in 2019!

Crushed

Father, will you forgive me

for being crushed under this weight?

No, My daughter,

there is nothing to forgive.

It is no sin to stagger

under such a heavy burden.

Did I rebuke my Son when He fell three times?

No, there was nothing to rebuke.

But I could hear the entire creation rejoicing with Me–

mountains echoing with thunder

and seas roaring with triumph–

every time He got up again

to give Himself completely

in the full freedom of love.

Therefore be still, my daughter.

Calm your wildly beating heart–

I never asked you to do this alone.

You’re being held up by angels,

but you must close your eyes to see them.

When things are heavy,

rest in their embrace.

On fighting discouragement

The other day I was reading a little book of Lenten meditations by Pope emeritus Benedict about the true meaning of fasting. He describes how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fighting the temptations he was offered…to the world’s power, to enslavement to the physical world (bread), and to spiritual pride. It made me think…what temptations do I need to fight to be more free? And I don’t just mean the temptations to scarf boxes of chocolates…but deeper things.

Are we tempted by discouragement? By anger? By sulking and blame? These are the kinds of demons we can fight off during Lent, so as to become more happy and free. So how about instead of giving up something we like, or maybe as well as that, taking up arms to fight harder against what we don’t like…what drags us down and brings misery and isolation.

It is amazing how these demons of discouragement prey on our weakness. We recently watched the excellent movie “A Man For All Seasons” as a family. What struck me most this time, because I have seen it before, was what great destruction came through a weak man. Richie Rich, poor and soft man, is corrupted by bribery and the lure of wealth and power. He becomes a powerful man externally, but inside is still incredibly weak and can no longer follow his conscience when tempted, and ends up perjuring himself. St. Thomas Moore is killed because of Rich’s lies in court. It is very sad to see how Rich destroys himself and others…perhaps after certain point he no longer believed it would be possible to reform. It is so important to be both humble enough to receive mercy and forgiveness and strong enough to persevere in the truth when times are tough.

So why do we fail, make mistakes, commit sins? Many times out of weakness. Why do we yell when tired? Weakness. Why do we slam drawers when too hungry? Weakness. Why do we fall into discouragement when the house is exploding with mess and the floor seems a distant memory? Weakness. But if there is one thing we must always hang onto despite our weakness, it is hope, and the knowledge that we are loved. Discouragement comes when we look only at ourselves and all our failures, all at once. Then the amount we need to change and then improve becomes utterly overwhelming.

Can you imagine a baby looking ahead and envisioning all the things they would have to do and learn as one giant, looming to do list? Learn to walk, run, jump, speak thousands of words, dress themselves, read, write, learn sports, to cook, get a job, change careers, etc. It’s exhausting to think about all at once. But why aren’t babies stressed like the rest of us? Because they live in the moment and in trust: “Mommy and Daddy are here and they will teach me.”

What we adults have to do is spend less time looking at ourselves and more time looking at God, who is perfect love, who is infinite mercy, who is glorious king and wise and loving Father. It is he who will give us the strength and grace to improve. It is he who will teach us. Of course it won’t be all at once, but a little bit at a time, each day hanging on to hope despite our failures. Babies are so delighted with life…it would serve us well as adults to spend more time marvelling at the beauty of life as well, practising gratitude and making a point of savouring the good little memories each day provides.

Ultimately, Lent is about learning to love better, and we have opportunities to do so every moment of each day. St Josemaria said to be a true friend is to honour the image of God in others…”as you do to the least one of my brothers so you do unto me.” No matter how long our to-do list, we can always afford time for a smile. May God give us all the strength to love well, and the hope to grow each day, seeing self-knowledge as an opportunity to improve, rather than a cause for discouragement.