When Life Doesn’t Go As Planned

The photo is of my little Adelaide “wondering” what it would be like to jump into the Gulf of Mexico. I told her not to get wet, but she’s three and raging with curiosity. So I just stood in awe and took photos.

The etymology of the word wonder means of ultimate unknown origin. It also means to magnify or to be astonished. Have you ever wondered why your life has not gone as planned? I mean no one gets married planning to get divorced. No one drives to work planning to be broadsided by a semi. No one pencils “get cancer” into their weekly schedule.

Last week I heard a story about the Children of Israel’s plight when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took Jews captive. What business did “God’s people” have living in a land surrounded by idols? What business did they have living so far away from their beloved temple? The Babylonian king’s strategy was brilliant…let the foreign captives live among his own, and in time they were bound to adapt the Babylonian way of living and thinking, especially the younger malleable generation. The stunned and indignant Jews just knew that God would not leave them in Babylon for any length of time. So, they prayed and planned for their imminent deliverance.

I’ve read the Old Testament a couple of times yet I never realized that these good and faithful people wanted exactly what I want out of life—to live it according to plan. MY plan. The Jews prayed that God would vindicate them and return them to their rightful land. That was their plan, but God had a different plan. He told them to be patient, that their captivity would last up to seventy years, so they should settle in, build houses, plant gardens and eat what they grew. The people, especially the older ones, knew this meant they would never return home. Imagine how they felt. (Jeremiah 29)

For a lot of us, we don’t have to imagine too strenuously. We know how it feels to have our plans come undone. We live with ongoing disappointment. Well, after Sunday’s sermon I realized that faith in our Highest Power means having faith in divine unflawed love, a force that wants us to be happy and successful. Try telling that to the woman who desperately wanted a husband and children, but remains single. Tell that to the spouse who was faithful to an unfaithful partner. Tell that to my friend whose baby, the one they waited thirteen years to have, the son they hinged all their dreams on, was born with trisomy 21, an extra copy of chromosome 21.

My own life has known a lot more dead ends than long stretches of open road. I’ve learned that it’s better to be alone than in a toxic relationship. My friend who was initially devastated to learn that her son had Down Syndrome, now celebrates the fact that the kid manufactures pure joy. He’s taken his family on a wondrous detour they never would have chosen to journey. In the process, they’ve all evolved in a way their original plan could not have facilitated.

It’s fitting that a rabbi said: Man plans and God laughs. It’s time for me to stop complaining and start trusting that when I hit a brick wall there’s an unseen reason. Maybe it’s to make God laugh, the way a parent does when a toddler tumbles, only to spring back up to cheers. He knows that every time I get back up, I’m transformed. Maybe the wall is to stop me from making a mistake, or turn me in a different direction or protect me. No matter. I’m going to rewire my brain’s rutted circuitry and see it as a plot twist in the story that’s my life. What would a story be without an unforeseen plot twist? It’d be boring and predictable. I can hardly wait to turn the next page because the Author and Finisher I’ve come to know does not do boring and predictable. He does wonder.

An Old Enemy and a New Friend

I’m back and rearing to go. Only I can’t move. I severely injured my back, or maybe reinjured it, and it’s got me immobile and miserable. Seems I don’t fully appreciate something until it’s gone—like a spine without bulging ruptures. Or medical insurance. But it’s not a wasted experience. So far I’ve shifted my thinking about an old enemy, and I’ve met a new inspiration that I want you to know too.

I’ve always classified pain as something to run from and avoid at all costs. I’ve viewed it as a mortal enemy. I was wrong. Pain is part of life. Avoiding it is avoiding life. That said, being in this much physical pain is horrific. It makes me edgy and despondent. Maybe if I had listened to its whisperings earlier I wouldn’t be suffering from all its screaming now. C.S. Lewis explained that: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I’m hearing you, Pain. I’m listening now. I know now that you’re more of a frenemy than an enemy. You’re my body’s warning system that something is wrong and needs attending to. Little parts of nerve endings in my injured area are called nociceptors. When they are damaged they trigger a communication highway that moves through nerves, up the spinal cord, into the brain’s thalamus. It’s the sorting center that assesses and sends signals to other parts of your brain that control touch, emotion, physical reaction and memory. In short, my brain regulates the rest of me. Every part works to identify and report my pain so that I can best deal with it.

Now that I’ve made frenemies with my pain, I can appreciate what it’s telling me. I can be more empathetic with others who suffer. I can appreciate that pain is forcing me to be still when I want to get up and hike my snowy home town hills. Its severity warns me that this time, I might need more than bedrest if I’m going to get better and not worse. What I’ve got now is acute pain. What I do NOT want is chronic pain. All this lead me to discover that my Catholic friends have a patron saint for back pain. Her name is St. Gemma Galgani. When Gemma was a girl in 1898 she suffered what is believed to have been spinal tuberculosis. Unlike me, she endured with a jovial attitude and unwavering faith. She lay immobile for over a year, went through agonizing cauterizations, and was forced to wear a hideous iron back brace. She was at the doorstep of death when a miracle healed her—partly. For two months she was able to move and wear her brace before the atrophied muscles around her spine grew strong enough to serve her. Now she is a compassionate comfort and inspiration to all those suffering back pain.

I’m not Catholic, but St. Gemma inspires me. And pain isn’t something I detest anymore. I won’t be so quick to ignore its warnings. I won’t be so quick to mask its messages. I can recognize it as a gift from my Divine Designer to warn me and guide me.

I’ll be fine. I have a comfy bed. I have a son who went to Walgreen’s at midnight to get me a heating pad. I have a heart full of gratitude and faith that healing is possible. And my happy news in all of this is that if I can change my thoughts about an old enemy like pain, I can change my thoughts period. That friends, is my mission for a new and empowered life, and it’s nothing short of a miracle as real as St. Gemma Galgani casting off her brace and walking on her own.

Use Your Brain To Make Your Dreams Come True

There’s a lot of fear and anger and divisiveness in the world right now. I understand why, but I’m not putting my faith in an office or an elected individual. I’m not listening to mortally bankrupt celebrities call the kettle black. Like you, I’m choosing to carry on in hope and faith. In my country. In my Highest Power. In myself. Just writing those words makes me grimace. Easier said than done. I’ve always had faith in God, but not so much in myself. Now I’m realizing that to have faith in a higher power, we’ve got to have faith in ourselves. God works not only through others, but through us to answer our own prayers.

Let’s see if I can make sense out of this. I’m not a crafty person. I once got sent home from a homemaking meeting because I suggested: “If we make the stitches bigger, we’ll finish this quilt a lot faster.” Then there was the time I bought a hot glue gun and glued the tablecloth to the table. Or the time I gave Eli and the dog the same haircut with the same clippers. You get the idea. Anyway, because I’m not crafty, I never dared to attempt a vision board, something I always wanted to create.

A vision board is a collection of images depicting your ideal life. It’s a way to put your goals right in front of your face. It’s a means to manifest your dreams— meant to create energy and stimulate motivation.

To be honest, I’ve screwed up my life a lot worse than most people ever will. Any dreams I wanted to come true, I felt undeserving of having come true. Seriously. Couple that with the fact that I’m not crafty, and you can see why I never dared to create a vision board.

Then I began to study the human brain. I learned that the subconscious uses pictures, symbols and images to understand and communicate. It does not use words. Whoa. Words are what I use to understand and communicate. Here’s the problem with words—if I say the word “house” your mind pictures a house that is very different from the house that my mind conjures. Even if I say, “white house” you are going to come up with a different image than I do. But if we both see the same picture of a white house then we’ll both see the same details.

That’s why a vision board about “vision.” It stimulates your occipital lobes, providing a clear memo to your subconscious of your desires and intentions to manifest your goals. Every time you see a certain image your brain goes to work, releasing specific neruopeptides to decide your emotional attachment to that goal. The repetition of this visual experience creates neurological pathways to help you determine the steps you need to take to reach your goal. This happens 24/7 in your subconscious. Your brain is always working for your survival, success and happiness.

I read the book The Secret. I watched the movie. Still, I was skeptical about the law of attraction, so I only put one picture up: the image attached to his post. It’s of a bioluminescent beach somewhere in the Caribbean. It’s one of the coolest things imaginable…phytoplankton producing light through a series of chemical reactions. It’s nothing short of glowing blue wonder.

I’d glance at the image every once in awhile, but didn’t dare allow myself to dream I’d ever actually get there. I figured it would stay on my bucket list so my kids could read all the things I never did at my wake. Guess what? Last year I was presented with an (almost free) opportunity to do some service in a certain part of the world where there just happens to be a bioluminescent beach. (It’s important to note that there were LOTS of steps I had to take to create this opportunity—every dream requires work.) I took Eli with me and the adventure we had far surpassed anything I had dared to hope for. The night was dark but the sky twinkled with a trillion little Christmas lights—so did the water. Our guide didn’t speak English, which made the adventure that much more exciting! Oh, and there were sharks in the water all around our canoes. You could see their fins when our guide cast his spotlight out onto the lulling waves. But off we paddled through a mile of tangled mangrove swamp, out into the open ocean where we drug our hands like ores, holding blue magic in our palms, letting it drip through our fingers. Indeed, it was a dream come true.

My point is, friends, I want you to dare to dream. Dream big and bold and brazen no matter what mistakes you’ve made or limits life seems to have imposed on you. You matter. Your desires count. Dead ends are just turn around points. We’ve come to earth to experience ALL we can. To learn ALL we can. To become ALL we can. And we’re here to walk each other home.

I’m not asking you to turn a blind eye to the reasons we have to be afraid. I’m asking you to do just the opposite. Take a stand. Use your voice. Make the changes that need to be made. I guess what I’m asking you to do is to participate in your own life.

The more I study the brain, the more I am convinced that Divine Design wires us for success and happiness. We’re capable of so much more than we realize. And we don’t have to travel far away to seek adventure. We don’t have to look for someone else to make our dreams come true. The power and wisdom lies within us.

Who cares if I’m not crafty? This year I’m daring to create a real vision board. I’m going after long tucked away dreams. This isn’t just about travel or acquiring material things; it’s about seeing my life so that I can live it more fully. I want to be happier, healthier, kinder and more giving. I’m going to reunite with old friends. I’m going to make new friends. I’m going to find ways to forgive myself and to move forward in spite of the pain and the fear. Please, oh please do the same. If you have a vision board, share how it worked for you. If you don’t have one, get together with friends and tear out magazine pictures. Or do it in the solitude of your room. Pull pictures from the internet and make a special file that you review every single day. Draw your own pictures. I don’t care how you do it. Just do it. Awaken forgotten dreams by closing your eyes and “seeing” with true vision—your God-given imagination. Look at it often. Change it up as you change. Let your conscious and subconscious work to make your dreams come true.

Life is a miracle. A gift. An hourglass that’s dropping sand faster and faster.

Now back to that magical night and all those hovering sharks…they were nursing sharks, the kind that “hardly ever attack humans.” So no one lost anything, but we all sure gained an experience to remember, and to testify that the God who created this planet is indeed in the details.

Dear President Trump

Dear President Trump,

I’m writing to you because I don’t know what else to do. I feel like I’m strapped into a roller coaster that’s about to take off, and you’re at the control panel. So here’s my pledge. I’m going to hold on and I’m going to trust that you’ll be smart and keep us safe. I’m also going to promise that I’ll support you in that effort. I’ll do everything I can to keep those around me safe, sane and supportive too, as long as you remember that our lives are in your hands and that our lives matter.

I’ve met you in person. I know that you can be kind and thoughtful. I’ve visited your empires. I know that your brain is capable of brilliance. I know that millions of Americans believed you when you promised to restore America and to change politics. I have faith in my country, in her people and in your office. And get this…I have faith in you.

You might see me as a puny America. You might discount me because I’m a single mother, zeros short of a millionaire. But my struggles make me strong. My experience gives me voice. And my circle knows no bounds. There are no puny Americans. Every citizen in every country matters. So please, President Trump, don’t forget that your office isn’t really about you…it’s about your ability to serve others. It’s about all of the world’s children and the future we’re forging for them.

I have no idea what it’s like to be POTUS, so I’m not preaching. I’m just begging. I’m begging you to be humble, kind, and inclusive. And here’s the thing I admire most about you…you’ve been bullied and are still being bullied, and yet here you are, at the top of the mountain, looking down. To that I say, join us in the trenches every once in awhile. You might learn some invaluable lessons and gain insight you can’t get from the top. For sure you’ll see how long and hard we have to work to earn the dollars politicians spend so fast and freely. You surround yourself with powerful people. Please keep them humble too. Remind them from time to time what service really means.

I’ve studied the promises you made during your campaign. I hope you can keep some and amend others. I hope you will tell the truth to us because Americans can handle the truth. I hope you will listen to the criticism and sort through it for any tidbits that might make you a better POTUS. I hope you’ll show respect others, even when you don’t receive the respect you deserve. Which brings up an issue that I don’t understand. People who oppose you say, “Not MY President.” That’s just silly. You are THE President. That makes you my President, whether I voted for you or not. All this divisiveness only weakens us, so I pray that you’ll find a way to unite Americans. That’s the only way you can make us even greater than we are. Unity is power. Unity is peace.

President Trump, you’ll have to muster unspeakable strength and control to handle this job and keep us from flying off the ride. You’ll have to nurture prudence. You’ll have to seek counsel and take it, sometimes even when you don’t agree…as long as it’s best for America. You’ll have to be inspired. You’ll have to be forgiving because unforgiveness gets in the way of good things. You’ll have to make friends of enemies, and be keen because sometimes enemies appear to be friends.

Let’s move forward in the faith that founded this country, in God and in each other, President Trump—with dignity and honor and gratitude for all that this GREAT country offers. Above all, let’s do it together.

An American Citizen and Mother

The Best Christmas Ever

It’s Christmas Eve and I want to share one of my most cherished Christmas photos with you. It’s a portrait I took of my son, Dallas, when he was two. I am infamous for dressing little ones up to create a meaningful memory. For a long time this was just my precious “Little Drummer Boy.”

Not anymore. Dallas is all grown up. I think of him as my son, a wondrous young man, and a superhero all in one. He loves Jesus and teaches me what that means.

Because of Dallas, now when I look at this portrait I ask myself, “What can I lay before the King?” My finest gifts aren’t all that fine. Especially this year. 2016 been brutal and seems to be ending as wickedly as it began. I’ve never worked so hard to have so little to show for it, so little to lay on the altar…or to put beneath the tree.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to do what I’ve seen Dallas do…and his brothers and sisters do. I’m going to share what I’ve been given. I’m going to be grateful that I’m still alive to celebrate the birth of Christ. I’m going to stop thinking how hard life is, and focus on how glorious it is.

Christ came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.

That does not mean a heap of presents beneath the tree.

It means a heart full of love. It means gratitude for the wonderful people who step in to fill in where I fall short. It means marveling in the light of the season. It means helping those less fortunate than I am. And believe me, I know how very blessed I am.

So today and tomorrow, I pray that it’s all about Christ and nothing else.

“I played by best for Him,” says the song.

That’s what I’m going to do—my best. If all I can do is beat a drum, then I’m going to beat it the best I can. That’s all that’s required of us. God knows our hearts. He knows our circumstances. When we have “no gift to bring that’s fit to give a King,” He knows better. He knows it’s not the price tag on the outside of the package that matters—it’s the cost our hearts pay.

That means we not only show Him how much we love Him, but we allow His love to fill our hearts and our lives.

So today and tomorrow, friends, may you accept and feel the love of the God of Love. May all the beautiful things about Christmas bring you closer to Christ.

The other night the manager of a bookstore told me that she was only allowed to wish me “Merry Christmas” if I wished her a “Merry Christmas” first. Otherwise, all she could say was, “Happy holidays.” Or risk losing her job.

I get it. Let the tinsel, the trimming and trappings belong to the holidays. Let the “Ho, ho, ho,” and “ca-Ching” echo through the holidays.

But let Christmas belong to Christ, and only to Him. After all, it’s His birth that we celebrate.

So I wished the bookstore manager, “Merry Christmas!”

And with all my heart, I wish you “Merry Christmas!”

May it be your best ever.

Pa rum pum pum pum

Why Our Christian Family Celebrates Hanukkah

My son has a tiny rescue dog named Zeus. Whenever there is a lightning storm, Zeus races through the house barking to keep us safe. It’s both funny and fitting. Zeus, after all, is the Greek god of lightning.

Because we celebrate Hanukkah at our house, we know something else about Zeus. We know that when Syrian-Greek soldiers seized the holy temple in Jerusalem, they dedicated the sacred edifice to the worship of Zeus. If that wasn’t enough, emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods.

Many of them wanted to fight back, but they were too afraid.

Except for a High Priest named Mattathias. He refused to bow before an idol. He refused to eat the flesh of a pig, something his faith forbade him to do. In short, he resorted to the sword to defend his beliefs, and he began a rebellion by followers known as the Macabees. Eventually, they were able to retake their land and reclaim their holy temple.

But it had been desecrated, used to the worship of Zeus and other idols, and it had been turned into a slaughterhouse for swine.

Jews were determined to purify their temple by burning ritual oil in the menorah for eight days. But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple. In faith, they lit the menorah anyway.

The miracle of Hanukkah is that the flame continued to burn because that small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.

To my Jewish friends, I hope the story is accurate.

We tell it every year, as family and friends gather to help me celebrate a holiday that does not belong to me. I am Christian, but I celebrate the faith and traditions of other religions, especially those beloved traditions and holy days of Judaism.

Not long ago when I was in Miami I sought out a rabbi and asked him if it was okay to do what I’d been doing for so many years. “Not only is it okay, but it is delightful and wise of you,” the rabbi said. “After all, your Jesus celebrated Hanukah. In fact, if it were not for Hanukah, there may not have been a Christmas.”

I thought about that. Antiochus was obsessed with the demise of Jewish faith and its people. He halted the services, the sacrifices, the Sabbath observances, and the teachings that were part of Jewish temple worship. He murdered the High Priest Onias III and slaughtered 40,000 Jews.

If it hadn’t been for Mattathias and his family and followers…how would history be changed? The Maccabean revolt was a turning point that saved the Jewish people and their religion from the very threat of extinction. If not, would there have been a Jewish woman named Mary? A temple setting where Luke begins the nativity with an angel announcing to a priest named Zechariah, that he will soon be the father of a son named John?

I whole-heartedly believe that God is in charge and will always find a way. But I also believe that our actions make a difference. My simple little act has been to prepare a traditional Jewish feast and to celebrate the story of Hanukah with friends and family. Many of you reading this have probably lit a candle on our menorah. If not, you’re welcome to join us.

Last year, in a strange mix of faiths, Santa made a Hanukah appearance that surprised even me. This year the eight days of light begin on Christmas Eve and end on January 1st. So there’s time to make room for a truly meaningful tradition if you choose.

2016 has seen a lot of darkness and divisiveness in the world. There’s too much fear and anger in the air. To counter that, I’m going to gather my loved ones from all walks of life, to unify our spirits and figure out what we have in common, to remind us that we’re all children of God, and to light a candle in honor of His miracles in our lives.

Mirror, Mirror In The Brain

Two and a half hours. Half of it in the dark. Beneath a freezing drizzle. That’s how long it took to get into the little cottage where Santa (whoops, I just accidentally typed Satan) waited to have his photo taken with my g-babies.

Little Atticus was happy that entire time—until we got to the very front of the line where three adults were wrestling a toddler, trying to make her sit on the jolly man’s lap.

She fought with all her might. Back arched. Arms and legs stiff. Her wail was so shrill I had to let Atticus’s little hand go so I could cover his ears.

You can guess how things went from there. The moment he laid eyes on her, his happy demeanor changed. She resisted, so he resisted. She cried, so he cried.

A part of me actually enjoyed the experience because I’ve been studying mirror neurons. They go back to the “monkey see, monkey do” idea. Here’s why: Just over twenty years ago at the University of Parma, scientists realized that specific cells in a money’s brain were activated not only when a monkey performed a certain task, but also when that monkey saw another monkey perform the same task.

This led to a mountain of hype. Many neuroscientists concluded that these “mirror” neurons are what allow us to empathize with others. I like that idea—that our Great Designer put special cells in us that allow us to feel what others feel. It could be the secret our humanity.

But it’s not that simple.

What is true is that if you’re a pianist, your mirror cells light up when another pianist plays. The non-piano-playing guy sitting next to you doesn’t have that response.

What is true is that you don’t have to be able to dunk a basketball to understand and appreciate what LeBron James is doing.

What is true is that when someone else yawns, you tend to yawn. Or cry…crying is psychologically contagious too.

What is true is that Atticus was happy until the little girl in front of him pitched a fit. She influenced Atticus, but not me. I didn’t scream and try to poke Santa’s eyes out. Neither did my five-year-old granddaughter who was also there. We’ve had more experience to control our response.

So…while science battles about mirror neurons, I’m going to enjoy the fact that they exist. There’s a part of my brain put there just so I can better understand the world around me. I think that’s incredibly awesome. Add to that, the fact that I get to choose my response. While I feel empathy for that little girl, don’t have to kick and scream and work myself into a frenzy. That means I don’t have to be afraid because someone else is afraid. Or mean. Or judgmental. Or just plain sad.

That’s big news, maybe not on the scientific front, but on my home front.

Right down to our very cells, a hand that neglected no detail, put you and me together. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then maybe those mirror cells do something more than equip us with empathy for others, maybe they serve as mirrors to show us who we truly are and who we can become.

It might not be scientific, but I like that theory.