Friday, September 15, 2017

Suffering and Joy

The combination of suffering and joy in this world intrigues me. Is it about experiencing one and not the other? Is it about avoiding one and striving toward the other? Or is it about figuring out how to survive—or perhaps, thrive—when suffering and joy coexist? Riding the tangent line between the two is exhausting.

I wonder about all these feelings and what to do with them. I can choose to feel nothing in a bubble of emptiness, or feel overwhelmed by everything. But if I place this suffering on a spectrum instead, where it is simply one of the emotions from the abundant well of my heart, it can be contained into a manageable space, which affects me only as long as I allow it.

Suffering and joy are birthed from the same source—my heart. Wouldn’t I rather feel something, even if it IS suffering, than nothing at all? Only then can I have the capacity to feel joy, too.

In this painting, I imagine a full moon hidden behind the dark clouds, its pure white circle framed by the rich blackness of the sky. Its beauty is in the contrast. Black—the suffering, and white—the joy, seem opposite, the two sides of a fence. But they are only the endpoints of an infinite spectrum of colors. Those colors represent the infinite perspectives of love.

When the ends—the black and the white—turn and reach toward each other instead of away from each other, they intertwine, united, blending all their energy, ideas, and broken pieces into a braid which strengthens the colors and protects them.

Instead of opposition, perhaps the contrast of black and white is the only way to reveal themselves in all their fullness. The brilliance is in the contrast, not the separation.

When black and white; suffering and joy, merge, united, the promises encased in the pink and purple and blue and green blossoms emerge into new life.

From the black and white, united, the colors are born again.


Thursday, August 17, 2017


In my prayer journal I wrote: "I want to experience your presence, God, in OBVIOUS ways today." I had been feeling a little disconnected; unanchored in my core. Prayer felt ritualistic and shallow these last few months.

Time to dig deeper.

I still remember our family trips to the Wildwood, New Jersey beach when I was a kid. The only way my eight-year-old legs would survive the endless trek to the shoreline was the anticipation of finding those little sand clams. The moment I got to the water, I’d drop to my knees and start to dig. With the very first scoop, those tiny shells appeared. I’d giggle as they hesitated for a second or two, then twitched their way back down. A thin film of salt water would soon flow over them, fully hiding them, and I’d repeat the scooping. They never stopped digging deeper. Doing this in my prayer life helps me find safety, too.

Back to my journaling. I asked God to be with my daughter as she attended her senior prom that evening. Before long, her high school graduation would mark the final chapter in my soon-to-be empty nest. I wonder: Did I do this parenting thing well? What is my role now?

That same day, as I was driving home, I couldn’t help but notice a scarlet red hot air balloon, as big as the clouds where it floated, nearby. There were yellow words written on the back side of the balloon but I couldn’t see all of them. The balloon chase was on. Heading to the next corner, I could clearly see the basket of passengers, waving enthusiastically. My eyes widened as it hovered too close to the power lines above the trees. I exhaled as it finally floated upward with the breeze. It was then I could see the full message on the balloon.
Brilliant gold letters, bold in their capitalization, on the scarlet background of the balloon, speaking to my soul:
            “DO ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD.”

Navy and yellow flags accessorized the full perimeter of the balloon, waving a royal salute to the neighborhoods below. More people streamed out of their homes, pointing to the sky. Phone cameras were out, capturing the view, a beautiful orb of promise and hope and life. 

Digging deeper helps me to be grounded in my reality but not tethered to it, like the hot air balloon. The glowing flame of the balloon gives it the fuel to fly. This spirit sparks in me, giving my soul its flight. My own tethering strings to God in prayer and the Bible guide my direction to safety.

I never saw where the balloon landed, but my soul, for a moment, found its grounding.


Monday, June 19, 2017


The sky is the soft blue of a robin’s egg, the clouds a cottony white, shadowed in muted gray. There’s a breeze, but the clouds are strangely still, as if snapped on a background photograph above the sandy beach scene. The grass in the sand dunes sways ever so slightly, with the darker green bushes dancing a smooth waltz in tune to the ocean breeze. The salt air cleanses my lungs, allowing my breath to slow to its own natural rhythm.

Clarity. I seek clarity on these girls’ weekends at the beach, and this time we are given a gift of the perfectly bright summer day, blending in perfect unison with our energizing meal of friendship. Our shared stories are the yeast, working all through the dough to make it rise. Faith is often lost in the complexities of our life’s experiences, and our foursome’s experiences span more than 240 years in total. That’s plenty of time for muddied emotions spanning from fear to loss to pain to joy, blended into this concoction of clarity which can only be seen through the common lens of faith. The brown mud of our minds shift into life-giving earth, the hidden seeds of promise and hope and purpose finding a new crevice through which to grow.

There’s an unusual sense of completion in our team of four, pulling all aspects of laughter and love into the present moment, reminding us of the view at the other side of this life through this shared lens of faith, glorious and beautiful.

Ahhh, clarity.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Our writers’ group prompt this week was: Describe an object that describes you.

I am a pen.

Sometimes thinner, sometimes clunky, I am a pen. I occasionally leak or even run out of ink. I am always in need of spilling out words, whether to create a well-tuned perspective on paper, or simply a bunch of jumbled letters onto the page like Scrabble tiles, waiting to be sorted and then placed into words. Sometimes I remember to try for the triple word score, requiring extra patience while exchanging words with someone else. Concentrating, planning and listening help provide those extra bonus points.

Sometimes I just don’t work. I click my brain cells, waiting for the point to appear, but it stays inside my shell. These are times I need to unscrew myself in the middle and pull out the ink refill. I’ll shake the refill a bit with a new perspective, or a new place to write, or a new start to my story, and I’ll get going again. At other times, I invest in a whole new pack of refills by spending time in meditation.

I smile to remember the four-color pens of my youth.

 My life seems fragmented like this. The blue pen is for inspirational writing and articles about peace or prayer or unity. The black pen is a true writing color, when I’m moving ahead in the groove of a piece. The red pen of self-criticism tends to show up from time to time, but when I write in green, I enter a whole new world where I really don’t try to fit in.

Green is my favorite.

This is the color I’d choose at my writers’ group when I am allowed to be off-color with my tribe of like-minded creatives.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Three Days


            The envelope looked official, but it could’ve just as easily been junk mail. The orange words across the top, authoritative in their capitalization, intrigued me enough to read further. “JURY SUMMONS,” it said.
Holy smokes, this is real, I thought.
I was called for Federal Jury Duty the other week. It’s a three-days-or-one-trial gig, paying $40 per day. Well, at least it’s something, but seriously, only $5 an hour to be a good citizen? It was my obligation to serve, though.
I checked the family wall calendar hanging on the inside of my pantry closet. First, I rescheduled my dentist appointment, which of course I didn’t mind. But the next day I was scheduled to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in a while—changing those plans hurt a little bit. To top it off, I’d have to mentally prepare for rush hour driving to Philadelphia, a task I managed to avoid for more than a decade. Sure, I love going to the city, but I’d lose another couple hours a day in the commute. Not fun. Maybe I can get an audiobook from the library. My mind continued to spin like the teacup ride at the summer carnivals.
The summons paperwork included detailed instructions; first, I was to look for an email the day before jury service to get an update on my status. If I didn’t receive an email, I was to call the 800 number after 5 p.m. the night before to get my final instructions for reporting.
It was 4:20 on Tuesday afternoon when my email inbox pinged.
You do not have to report for jury service tomorrow, Wednesday, February 15,” it read, “but you are required to call the 800 number on Wednesday evening after 5 p.m. to receive your instructions for reporting on Thursday, February 16.”
Wow, they’re serious about this three-day thing.

Which made me wonder about placing three days of my life on hold, like an unbalanced warrior pose. In hindsight, three days doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough, as with the Easter story.
Day one. Jesus hung on the cross, said “It is finished” and then died. Jury service had only begun for the disciples, their grief overshadowing any perspectives beyond the first day, the first moment. I imagine they were buried under the depths of their emotions, afraid for their own lives, with no real assignments except to wait. And pray. And wait some more. In this type of waiting, coated with the pain of the unknown, time slows. The disciples must have felt unsure and unstable, a table with one of its legs needing a few napkins shoved underneath to keep it steady. They must have questioned everything: their faith, their futures, their hopes.
On Wednesday, I received another email just after 4 p.m. No service required for Thursday but I was again required to call on Thursday night for Friday’s instructions. I was finally reaching the summit of my duty to serve, the top of the mountain with the descent in sight.
But I’ve always wondered about the disciples during that day in between, what I call Day Two, the day after Jesus died and before the Easter resurrection. For me, this in-between season of waiting includes a multitude of questions. I’m wondering about health issues for my family and friends; the future for my college-age children and my own purpose in life. My soul cries out “Are you there, God?” I ask, “What about all this suffering? What’s my purpose?”
It’s as if nothing but fog appears, and I drive more slowly. I read the bible, listen to sermons, sit quietly to pray. Many days it feels as if my fog lights aren’t working. Sometimes I try using high beams instead, but they only make the fog appear whiter.
In the waiting, however, the molasses movement of time is starting to reveal a gift. These seemingly extended moments give me bonus time to connect with God more deeply in my soul.
Finally, on the third day, I received the email: Your jury service has ended. I breathed a sigh of relief. Fog or not, God’s presence becomes clearer in the waiting.

Monday, March 20, 2017


Need a story of hope? I share my challenges with weight loss and being loved in this essay. 

How do you persevere through the tough seasons?

Friday, February 10, 2017


Every Christmas morning for the past 18 years, my children waited at the top of the stairs until Joe and I gave the thumbs-up to come down and see what Santa brought.

Of course, we made the kids wait a few minutes longer than necessary. Their excitement bumped up a few levels and I took an extra few moments to reflect.

Thank you, God, for these children. Thank you, God, for the provision to give them Christmas presents. Thank you, God, for the gift of your son, Jesus. Help me, God, to remember and teach my children the value of your gift, which is greater than anything under the green Christmas tree this morning.

Next came the thumbs-up, and with a squeal, they’d butt-slide as fast as they could, their eyes growing wider with each step. Then they’d stand and stare for a few seconds, all smiley and sparkly-eyed, their minds buzzing as they took it all in.

One year, we came up with a plan to open the gifts in our stockings first. One at a time, we’d each get a package, open it, and share. Then we’d open our other gifts, one at a time. I liked the slower pace of gift-opening, extending the moments far into the morning.

This past Christmas, my munchkins were 18 and 20 years old, and still they waited at the top of the stairs. Perhaps they wanted some things to remain the same, even in the middle of change. Alex is away at college and Jenna will be starting college within the year, their descent down the stairs extending out the front door into their new lives. Unknown adventures in their futures hold more excitement than wondering if Santa showed up.

Maybe it was my imagination, but Alex and Jenna lingered a teeny bit longer at the top of the stairs this year.

Perhaps they were confident Santa wouldn’t disappoint, and they were enjoying their time together, just the two of them. My momma-heart swells with joy to see the friendship these two adults of mine have formed. I wondered, though, if maybe they didn’t want to stop being at the top of the stairs.

I’m not sure when we won’t have our top-of-the-stairs tradition any more. Maybe it’ll stop when there are boyfriends or girlfriends in the mix, or maybe when they can’t come home for Christmas because they live so far away, or perhaps, just perhaps, it’ll be because they’ll be standing at the bottom of the stairs so their own children can wait at the top, anticipating the thumbs-up sign.