Occasionally on my morning walks I run into my friend M.  We tend meet at the same place every time, at the top of a very long hill, finishing up our “work out” routines. I’ve walked; she’s run. I’m about to go down; she’s made her way up.

Usually, I’ve just come out of the canyon wearing my Ugg boots and beanie with an empty coffee cup in my hand. My heart rate probably hasn’t surpassed 90 bpm. In contrast, she’s just run several miles up and down the hills of our neighborhood and stands there – a 6 foot tall, glistening, blonde goddess.

It’s lovely to see her, to give good mornings smiles and high fives, but sometimes, I sigh as I continue to walk down the hill. She’s just so beautiful, and fast, and disciplined, with her boys and her husband, her job, her schooling, and her fitness. Whew! I know she would never want me to feel that way, but sometimes, I just can’t help it.

But most of the time, I know this is true: if I didn’t go slow. I wouldn’t see this.

Rock 1 Or this.

Rock 2

Or this.

Rock 3

And if I didn’t see those things, I wouldn’t be be able to share them with M on Facebook, or a text message, or on my blog.

And if I didn’t tell M about them, she might not see those things.

And if she didn’t see those things, she wouldn’t be able to say nice things like this.

“Wow Ali you are awesome!!! Thanks for the reminder. I don’t think I tell you enough what a blessing it has been to read your blogs.”

And this.

“I love your writing. I hope your book will get written soon. I’ll be first in line to buy it:)”

And if she didn’t say things like that, then I might not see things like this:

It’s okay to go slow.

To find Presence takes a certain kind of discipline as well.

That in our weakness, others find strength.

Everyone has their own path and their own gift, their own way of finding meaning in their lives. And the best we can do is share those gifts with one another and say thank you when they are shared.

Thank you, M, for making my day.

For some reason, this was my theme song as I walked in the canyon today.

Enjoy!

Dedication: To all the living saints I know, and to the rest of us who try. 

Growing up in a fairly traditional Roman Catholic home, I had access to the stories of the saints. I could even tell you a few of those stories to this day, but I was never obsessed with them like some kids were. Saints were interesting, but never all that inspiring. Even as a young child, I knew that I was far too human, and far too flawed to ever be like one of those women, or men. I couldn’t see myself kissing the wounds of a leper, or praying to receive the stigmata. Yuck! I certainly couldn’t see myself opting for a violent death if given a choice. Even as I got older and Pope John Paul II began the beatification of “everyday” people who lived holy lives, I still wasn’t that interested in who made the cut and who didn’t.

It wasn’t until much later in life that I came across a definition of a saint that I could relate to. According to Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, author and theologian, a saint is a person “who can will the one thing.” This actually felt like something I could aspire to, a version of sainthood that had nothing to do with personal morality, righteousness, or miracles. In my mind, it had everything to do with finding the purpose for which you were made, embracing that purpose and living it out as best you could. By the time I discovered Kierkegaard, I had already found my “one thing.” For ten solid years, I “willed the one thing.” I willed the heck out of it.

My purpose was to love my family, not in a la-di-da, “Isn’t it sweet, she loves her family so much” sort of way, but in a real, concrete, “007, this is your mission” sort of way. Yes, it encompassed the physical care of my family: the cooking, the cleaning, the driving, and the disinfecting, but it also included the soft sciences as well. To this day, it still includes the touching, the loving, the praising, the presence, the balance and my focused attention. Every day, as I spend time with my kids and my husband, I try to look them in the eye and ask myself, “Who is this person? Who do they want to be, and how can I help them get there?”

If being a saint is “to will the one thing,” then five years ago, I thought canonization was mine for the taking, if I could just die tomorrow.  Well, obviously, that didn’t happen and thank goodness. I’d rather be a saint, who lost her title in heaven, than leave my purpose here on earth unfinished. I am still alive and well, but something unforeseen happened. I lost my opportunity “to will the one thing.” No, nothing tragic happened. I haven’t lost my kids, or my husband, or even my purpose. But what I have lost is the oneness of it all. As I have approached middle age, as the economy has stalled, as my children have gotten older, I have been asked to will not ‘one thing,’ but many things. Now, some of you may scoff at that and I will allow you to do so without defensiveness or judgment.  I know that it was a privilege to be home with my kids and to have such a single focus for so long.

But my new reality is that my life is asking me to will many things, in addition to the “one thing” I really love. I am not just talking about having more obligations on my plate, though that is a part of it. I am talking about tasks that require real passion and effort, focus and sacrifice on my part and the part of my family. And I have to admit that at first, it felt like a betrayal of my “saintly” calling to extend my will beyond the one thing. I have spent many nights asking the same questions about myself that I’ve asked countless times about my children. “Who is this person? Who does she want to be, and how I can I help her get there?” While I don’t have any precise answers to those questions yet, reading The Gift of the Red Bird by Paula D’Arcy introduced me to a new definition of a saint, one I liked even better than Kierkegaard.

D’Arcy quotes Keith Miller who said that saints “were not people with the greatest education or even the largest results. But what they said correlated almost 100 percent with who they were and what they did… An amazing and invisible power may be released when a person’s words and her inner life match.” I read that line and it stopped me in my tracks. That’s a saint I would like to know, someone unconcerned with personal perfection and holiness, not limited by an adherence to “the one thing,” but fully, genuinely, authentically themselves.

Do you know those kinds of people, the ones who say they believe in something and then actually try to carry it out in all aspects of their daily life? The kinds of people who make you believe that if they’re nice to your face, they’re also going to be nice to you behind your back? The kinds of people whose very presence makes it easier for you to be a better person? When I think of the people I have most admired in my lifetime, they were saints in Miller’s sense of the word, and only a handful of them were religious. They are people of integrity and authenticity. They are people who nurture, who love and who open their hearts to seemingly everyone. These are people who give 100% of themselves to whatever they are doing at any time.

This is the kind of saint I would like to be, but it’s a very tall order, even greater than the other two, I think. By historical precedent, the first “requires” you to follow a set of rules, strictly, almost fanatically. The second seems to be manageable if you really focus on the ‘one thing’ to the exclusion of everything else, and as much as I enjoyed that time of life, I know the purpose I chose was too limiting. God wasn’t going to let me off that easy; taking care of 4 people (even if you do it well) is not all that He asks of anyone. This third definition though cannot take place without a complete transformation of self over the course of a lifetime. In this definition of saintliness, there is no perfection expected, or even possible. We all make mistakes, slip up, and growl like a junkyard dog on occasion. We all roll our eyes in annoyance, or get stuck in the morass of self-pity when things seem to stack up against us.

We are human, but we can be saintly humans.

I want to be a person of integrity. I want people to be able to believe in me and the promises I make. When I smile at you, I want you to know that I am smiling for real, on the inside. When I work for you, write for you, speak with you, I want you to have the real me and hear the real me, because that is best I have to offer.

I want to be a saintly blogger, a saintly mother, a saintly wife, friend and volunteer.

I want desperately to be this kind of saint, but when I see all the ways I fall short, it’s easy to get discouraged. However, there is hope. Just last week, I heard another definition of a saint. It doesn’t detract from the other three, but rather increases the odds of getting there. My good friend Nancy Corran said, “A saint is just a sinner who got back up.”  Well, amen to that.

That is one kind of saint I know I can be.

And I hope you know one and know that you can be one too.

Last week I went to Ventura to speak to a group of women. My cousin Megan had invited me. This was not a difficult audience; I felt like we were all part of the same tribe – women, wives and mothers. Easy-peasy, I thought. However any time I am going to get up in front of an audience, I like to collect my thoughts before I go on. I usually excuse myself for a last minute trip to the bathroom, so no one sees me closing my eyes and centering myself. If they see a random woman in the audience doing some deep breathing, that’s one thing. If that random woman, suddenly becomes the “expert” they are supposed to be listening to, I think it affects my credibility.

So before she introduced me, Megan led me to the little bathroom in the back of the meeting room and left me to my own devices. And as I took my first deep breath, it hit me.

This isn’t hard.

I am not saying that public speaking isn’t challenging, or that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to say and how I’m going to say it, because I do.

But on the day before this day, this day when I was crouched in a bathroom, trying to do deep breathing exercises (while not gagging on the smell of cleaning fluids), I had received an email that a mother I know, a mother I call a friend, a mother of 4 children, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

So when I went to center myself, I was immediately thrown off-center by the realization that my friend may be off-center for a very long time to come, that she was probably in the furthest orbit she had ever been in from her center in her entire life. That when you receive a cancer diagnosis as a mother of 4 children, still at home, who still consider you the center of their entire existence, your own center pretty much looks like a nuclear bomb just went off.

Obviously I’m just guessing here. I’ve not faced it myself, but I do have a little bit of history with mothers, with mothers of four children, with mothers of four children and a cancer diagnosis.

When I was 15 years old, my own mother was diagnosed with cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, to be exact.  I was the second eldest of her four children, ranging in age from 16 to 6 years old. She was 39 years old and it was not looking good. One day our mom was home and the next day, she was gone, not to return for almost 4 months. Chemo, radiation, isolation and a bone marrow transplant, fifty miles away from home, were on the docket.

She survived; we all survived. In fact, we thrived.

Our center was still there; it was just in a “geographically undesirable” location – on the 11th floor of the UCLA hospital. Instead of gravitating home after school, we gravitated up the 405 Freeway. Instead of relying on her to center us all the time, we centered each other. We also became the center of our school, church and community. My older brother Charlie became the family chauffer. I became the homework helper and babysitter. Tim and Amy, 9 and 6 respectively, became amazingly adaptable and compliant, endearingly so. There was nothing we wouldn’t have done for them. And there was nothing that people wouldn’t do for us, if we simply asked and frequently when we didn’t. At that time in our lives, nothing seemed impossible, if we stuck together.

And when our Mom got home, our center moved to the family room couch and slept and drank Ensure and got stronger every day for a year, until finally she was up and around and dancing and skiing and cooking burned chicken again – just like she used to.

So on that morning last week, before I stepped up in front of 40 women, I was extremely grateful for that new perspective. This isn’t hard. It’s my new motto. What my friend has to do is hard. What my mom had to do was hard. What sick women and men and children all over the world do every day is hard.

Fighting cancer is hard.

Since that morning, any time something uncomfortable, or painful, or challenging comes up, I think of my friend. I remember, This isn’t hard, and I go on and I do it – better, braver, and more happily. Glennon Melton always reminds her readers that We Can Do Hard Things, but I think it’s even easier when we remember what the hard things really are.

So to my friend, and to all the women and men and children out there who are fighting against a diagnosis you do not want, a disease you cannot control, a tragedy that has thrown you off-center, know how much you are loved, how much we respect your fight and your process. Know that we are here to help. I believe with all my heart and soul that you are held lovingly by The Center of the universe and if you can trust in that, you will find your own center once again. Until that time, we will keep you at the center of our prayers, our love and support and hope it helps.

I’ve been working out at the local YMCA for several years now. I take virtually all the classes, except Zumba (takes too much coordination), TRX (hurts my shoulder), ­Yoga (actually kinda boring), Pilates (grossed out by the heavy breathing), Kickboxing (see Zumba), Spinning (no way! I actually like being able to sit down). Okay, maybe I don’t take all the classes, but I have my favorites and I show up faithfully.

In the beginning, it was hard to get myself to go there – mentally and physically. It seemed to take so long to see any progress at all and I was left with a constant stream of aches and pains, discouragement and self-doubt. But ultimately, I wanted to move through the world with more confidence and grace, so I put my head down and kept going back for more.

Lately, I’ve been experiencing déjà vu when it comes to the aches and pains of working out a new muscle and it’s funny, because I haven’t changed my workout routine at all, except for one small thing.  As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve begun walking slowly around my block and it shouldn’t hurt a bit.

But it does.

It hurts terribly and sometimes it takes everything I’ve got to get back out there and walk the next day. I’m strengthening a muscle that I’ve neglected to use properly, despite all my exercise and hard work. The muscle I’m talking about is, of course, my heart. It turns out I’ve been relying on another body part to do the heavy lifting of day-to-day operations.

Modern psychology tells us that we operate out of one of our three centers: our Head, our Heart or our Gut. In my own, very simplified language, this is how they work.

Head people think first, before they decide how to act.

Heart people feel things deeply and allow their emotions to guide them.

Gut people seem to live by the adage that it is far easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission. They trust their instincts to jump right in to any and every situation.

Can you identify with one of those centers? In a new situation, what do you listen to first? Your head, your heart or your gut?

For a long time, due to my incorrigible optimism, I assumed I was a heart person, because I felt happy so much of the time. But alas, I’ve discovered I am not a heart person. I’m sure that’s no surprise to anyone who truly is a heart person. No one in touch with their actual feelings is happy all the time. Heart-centered people experience real emotions, like joy and sadness, agony and ecstasy, not just bland hopefulness.

I am also not a gut person. Given the advice to “trust my instincts,” I break out in a cold sweat. The “Act first. Think later” philosophy of gut-centered people makes me cringe. How do you know if what you are doing is right or wrong? It seems to me you don’t and that you must be wrong almost as often as you’re right. However, it sure does save a lot of time on front-end decision making.

Through the process of elimination, you’ve probably figured out that I am a head person, but perhaps you knew that all along. I suspect that my previous blogs have revealed that I spend a lot of time thinking about things. My cranium is my comfort zone. To me, only the brain can be trusted. A heart will betray you; emotions change far too often to be relied upon and following your gut will get you into trouble; your tag line might as well be “frequently wrong, but never in doubt.”

But a brain? Well, a brain is a beautiful thing – it’s rational, logical, dependable, except when it’s not. It can also be paranoid, delusional and let’s face it, the epicenter of mental illness. I haven’t gone down that path, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the limitations of my control center. Basically, I’m a brain walking around on two feet and that is not what we were meant to look like.

So I recently sought the advice of a wise woman I know about how to find more balance in my life. I wanted to know how to get what I know in my head to move into my heart, how to make my gut instincts feel like something more than morning sickness. She laughed, and thought I was joking, but when she saw my face (and the notepad and pen in my hand), she got serious. She gently removed the pen from my grip and said in essence that my heart and gut probably don’t speak anymore, because my brain just shouts them down. I could just imagine my overzealous mind berating the centers “beneath” her, “Quiet down, you two! I’m in charge here, so don’t try to confuse the issue with your mucked up feelings and half-cocked instincts. Who do you think you are? Me?”

This wise woman challenged me to step away from everything my mind loves for at least an hour a day: the computer, books, work, writing, plans. For one hour a day, I’m just supposed to feel things. My instinct that this would be difficult was right on, but after I threw up, I was able to accept the challenge.

And so I began to walk – with mixed results. When I demoted my mind, my heart began to speak up. I hear whispers of things long forgotten, pangs of real emotion, vague sensations in my gut. I try to go home and act on them, before my mind has a chance to talk me out of it. Some days, it just doesn’t work out and my head remains firmly in control.

I have no doubt that this process of “re-centering” myself will make me healthier in the long run, but in the meantime, I ache. These new sensations are frequently uncomfortable, and I long to ‘quit the gym’ so to speak. But then I remember my early workouts at the YMCA and why I kept going – to move through this world with more confidence and grace.

So on these walks, I keep my head up and my heart open, because I know we will always be our most graceful when we are balanced – head, heart and gut.

Ruler CollectionThe most precious eight feet in the world (to me anyway) can be found in my home on any given day.

No, it’s not the width of the king-sized bed I share with my darling husband, (no matter how much joy and satisfaction I find there).

No, it’s not the length of my lovely Pottery Barn sectional where I get cozy with my kids and watch reruns of Happy Days and The Cosby Show, (even though I love having them next to me like a pile of puppies, each of them vying for a snuggle, or a gentle hand on the back of their neck).

It’s not even the depth of my backyard pool where I go to sink and stay as long as I can on hot, summer afternoons when I don’t want anyone to find me. (That’s where my training as a lifeguard really comes in handy. I can hold my breath for a looong time.)

Rather, the most precious eight feet I know are usually smelly, and frequently in need of washing. I rarely find all eight lined up together and when I do, six of them are usually kicking at each other.The most precious eight feet I know belong to Tim and our three kids, the four humans I love most in this world.

I know this is an odd topic, but I hope you’ll bear with me. I don’t have a foot fetish, but there is one day a year, when I celebrate these eight feet. I plan for this day with great care. I look forward to holding the ticklish flesh and bone in my hands and bestowing a little time, love and attention on each one and by extension, to their owners.

Now if this sounds intimate, and a little creepy, you’re might be right. Even as I write, it sounds a little weird to me too. But I am sure, when Jesus stripped to the waist in front of all his friends, it might have been a little awkward and creepy for them as well. On that Thursday night, their teacher, spiritual leader, and best friend all rolled into one got semi-naked and insisted on washing their feet. They didn’t want to let him do it. It was uncomfortable and unheard of and yet, since he set his mind to it, inevitable. They argued. They pleaded, but eventually, they gave in. Thankfully, my family did too.

On the Thursday before Easter, I settle them into an easy chair one at a time and use my favorite soap (Bliss Lemon & Sage – It’s the only day of the year I share!) to wash each foot from toe to heel. I cascade jugs of warm water down their shins and let it splash over the sides of the bowl. (My friend Patty frowns with displeasure.) While my hands are busy, I remind them why I love them. I recall stories of the good things they’ve done this past year, and the challenges they’ve overcome. I play a song that I’ve picked out just for them, one that speaks to what I see in them, want for them, or wish they knew. I ask them to forgive me for the ways I’ve let them down: for the lost patience, broken promises, and unreasonable expectations.  I dry their feet gently, massage them with lotion (more Bliss!), and kiss them before I send them on their way and invite my next two feet to come over and sit down.

Even though I was raised in a traditional Catholic home, Holy Thursday has never meant as much to me as it has in the last few years since I started washing the feet of my family. I cannot transform bread and wine into anything more than a simple meal. I have not performed miracles and I do not expect to rise from the dead. The closest I may ever get to following in the footsteps of the son of God is washing the feet of the ones I love. It may not be much, but I will take the similarities where I can find them.

I know this ritual is not for everyone and I don’t think it will be for us for all time. I expect my kids will eventually get too old and put their feet down, literally and figuratively. But for as long as they will let me, I will celebrate the only day of the year when those precious eight feet belong to me, at least for a few minutes.

After my early morning experience with the nature of Love, or Love in nature, I’ve started taking morning walks, trading in one form of meditation for another. I no longer wake up and write. Instead, I lace up my shoes, pour a cup of coffee and head out the door.

The purpose of the walk is twofold.

I go to find solitude and to go slowly.

Going slow may not seem like much of a purpose; in fact, to most of fitness-conscious Southern California, it sounds like the anti-purpose of walking. But I’ve come to see that I go fast enough already, all day long. Going slow is an anathema to me, which is all the more reason to learn how to do it. It’s not easy. In fact, that’s why I bring the coffee: to remind me to sip and savor my surroundings, to literally stop and smell my neighbor’s roses.

But what I thought would be the hardest part, going slow, is not as hard as the harder part: finding solitude.

Somehow, an old friend, let’s call her Patty, has found out I’m walking and has decided to join me on these early morning strolls.

Actually I wouldn’t call her a friend. She’s more like a nemesis. Though I try to evade her, by the time I get a few houses away, there she is, keeping step with me, ready to chatter away about her plans for the day and gossip, filling my head with negative energy. I’ve tried sending her away, saying politely, but firmly that this is my time, for peace and quiet, to not think about all the things she’s obsessing over, but she’s very persistent. If I really press her, she might fall silent, or walk on the other side of the street for a while. But she’s usually back, the very next day, ready to keep me company again. Apparently, she thinks I would get lost without her.

Now if you’re wondering why I don’t just get rid of her, the fact of the matter is that I can’t.

Patty is me.

Patty is my conscious self, my ego, my mind,. And no matter how hard I try to leave her at home, she always tags along.

She is just full of ideas.

She tries to get me to multi-task: “If you’re walking, you might as well walk faster and get your exercise in.”

She tries to get me to plan: “If you get home by 6:30, that will give you 15 minutes to write and then 10 minutes to make lunches and then 5 minutes to …”

She tries to get me to worry: “Keara has a Spanish test today and a math test too. Did she study hard enough? Did the Lad finish his math homework? Will Molly ever grow?”

Patty tries to get me to stick with her, but the whole point of the walk is to find some measure of stillness, away from my busy mind. The point of the walk is to discover the truth of what I know, apart from words and plans and the power they hold.

I want to be clear about something. Patty is not a bad person. I need Patty. She keeps me on track during my day, directs me about my tasks and makes sure that my family and work life run smoothly. Sometimes, Patty can be quiet. Sometimes, she sleeps; sometimes, she’s distracted, and on occasion, she is actually satisfied with what we’ve accomplished during our day.

It’s been several weeks now and I’ve realized that Patty is coming on these walks with me whether I like it or not. It was a naïve fantasy that she would remain home in bed while I was up and about in the world. So I’ve learned these walks are really about teaching Patty to be silent, to remember she isn’t the only one in this relationship. And so far, I think it’s been good for us – me, myself and I.

If you recall from my post “The Big 4-0,” I decided to give up worrying for 40 days and believe it or not, it has gone well, really well. Almost, I was tempted to think, too well. But never fear, that nirvana came to an end, thank goodness. There’s no humor in “too well,” and no growth either.

A couple of times over the last few weeks, I found myself thinking, “Why aren’t you worrying about that?” The “that” in question could be anything from a big presentation, to a deadline at work, the Lad’s lost basketball game, or an encounter with a cranky teen. Normally, these are things I would worry about: “How am I doing? How did I do? How did they do? Why are they doing that? What should I do about it?”  Honestly, these are the thoughts that can dominate my mind on a stressful day. But I had been enjoying my worry-free state.

However, the other morning I woke at 4:30 am, with a familiar ringing in my ear. No, it wasn’t a phone call. It wasn’t my alarm clock, or the smoke detector. It was simply a voice I had been avoiding. It was the siren call of worry and no matter how deeply I buried my head in my pillow, no matter how many times I tossed and turned, no matter how many deep breaths I took, worry had a hold of me. The details are inconsequential, but thankfully, I had a new perspective to manage it.

The first thing I did differently was not worry about how I was failing in my quest to not worry. I forgave myself for having these emotions and for not being able to talk myself out of them. That may not sound like much, but it’s a huge first step for a struggling perfectionist like myself. The second thing I did was resign myself to being awake at 4:30 am. I knew that staying in bed was a recipe for more worry. Instead, I decided that distraction was an appropriate alternative, so I caught up on the latest Project Runway episode. (So long, Jerrell!) And when the dawn finally brightened the night sky around 5:30 am, I went on a walk.

Over the last few weeks, any time worry looms on the horizon my technique has been to visualize myself in the river of Love. Worrying, I stand on the shore, fighting with the Universe to make things go my way.  When I am in the river of Love, I am surrounded by a rush of water, of current, of the inevitability of things. I become aware of my stance, my posture. I lean into Love and watch it sweep away the barnacles of worry that cling to me.

So on this early morning walk, I thought about Love and what a powerful antidote it can be to worry and how I wished that I could remember to love and to be in love more. I started singing a line from one of my favorite U2 songs that “Perfect love drives out all fear.”  (I know that Bono is quoting scripture, but it sounds so much cooler when he says it.) While I walked, I saw a yellow leaf on the ground and I had to take a second look. It was a heart, sort of, from a certain angle and I found myself thinking, “Wow, you almost had me there, Universe. Almost, but not quite. Nice try.” I kept walking, wishing I had seen a sign of Love as concrete as the sidewalks I was treading.

And then it happened. Looking down at my feet, I saw it. A real sign. A real heart. The Universe was going to get me after all.

If I disdained the first message of Love I was given, as not being perfect enough (Ugh! That is so not my favorite part of myself), Love would try again. I still had to be paying attention, but there it was, Love at my feet, written in stone.

I stopped. I sat. I laughed and then I cried. I must have looked like a lunatic, but I got the message loud and clear.

Love is here. Love wants me. Love is as present to me as my worry is, if I will but open my eyes and see.

And now that I’ve seen it once, I’ve begun to see it everywhere. I see it in leaves and trees and rocks and sand. I see it in shells and dirt and even in places I hate, like the dimples on my thighs. Apparently, it was here all along.

What is worry, but fear with lots of scary details?

And if I trust Bono, and I usually do, then I will keep seeking my entry point into that river of perfect Love that casts out all fear.

My Pop and I, circa October 1971

A popular blogger, Glennon Melton, coined a word to describe the world as she sees it. Life brings joy and pain, good and evil, comedy and tragedy, frequently in the same day, sometimes in the very same moment. All in all, she says, it is a brutiful world, beautiful and brutal, all wrapped in one extraordinary package.

I read her description of her brutiful life and was captivated, not only by her story, but also by her word choice. I love new words, so when my father inadvertently gave me one a few days ago, I was delighted.

My father and I don’t live very close to each other and we aren’t terribly good about using the phone, so we usually rely on email to stay connected. It’s a good venue for us. I like to write and he likes to read. I share my latest ideas and he usually has some valuable commentary. On this particular day, I had emailed him an essay by one of our favorite authors (Ron Rolheiser in case you were wondering) and I shared the connections I had made between the article, his life and my own. He got back to me and ended his response in this way:

            Wishing i could hug you right now to send my love and joy in you my wounderful daughter.

Pop

I have to admit that as a former English professor, I frequently need to remind myself to appreciate what he says, instead of judging how he says it, but that day, my impulse to correct his grammar quickly fled in the face of the sentiment his sentence held.

He called me his wounderful daughter. What a gift! I know he meant wonderful, but whether it was a Freudian slip, or serendipity, being wounderful felt even more significant. It felt profound.

Somehow, I have been made wonderful in his eyes, by my wounds.

He thinks I am wounderful.

Like any father, he wanted to protect me from injury and he thought he could do it through sheer size, force of will and determination. He was an intimidating, 6’6”, successful breadwinner, with a 7-foot wingspan and a size 13 shoe. He thought that if he could keep the world at bay, including teenage boys and the smut on TV, his little girl would be just fine. Ultimately, and obviously, he discovered he couldn’t. He watched me tumble and fall too many times to count, from little ego bruises, like the 7th grade softball team I didn’t make, to major heartbreaks in friendship and love. He helped me recover, and hoped that I would learn about myself and the world around me from the pain I experienced. He watched me learn about courage, compassion, and humility. He watched me cry, thinking I would never stop and then he saw me laugh again. Through it all, he was there to bind up my wounds with his fatherly supply of unconditional love.

Our animal friends have been given adaptations. They have hard outer shells, leathery skin, horns, beaks, claws, speed, agility, and size. All these evolutionary gifts help them avoid being wounded. Their very ability to survive depends on their invulnerability.

But humans haven’t been given many physical gifts. We are slow – slow to mature and slow to move. We need to be kept warm and cool; we need artificial protection of all kinds, from clothes and sunscreen to armored tanks and bike helmets. We have few anatomically-given ways to avoid being wounded, but we have psychological weapons in spades. We have sarcasm and introversion, indifference and aggression. We have pride and arrogance. But none of them keep us from being injured in the first place. The wounding always comes first. We grow our armor later.

But hopefully, no matter how defensive we become, there remain chinks in our armor, ways we can still be wounded, and places where we are vulnerable. Wounding frequently draws blood, but sometimes it is the only way we know we are still alive: by feeling something coursing through our veins, filling our hearts and spilling over.

I would rather be wounderful than wonderful any day. In the first place, I am approachable; I am human and in some way, beautiful in my pop’s eyes. In the second, I am plastic, perhaps pleasant, but never vulnerable, which is the essence of humanity.

If you have the choice, if you are brave enough, be wounderful. It’s the only way to truly experience this brutiful world.

Tomorrow, Lent begins. For those of you not familiar with the season, Lent takes place for the 40 days before Easter. It is traditionally a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. If you had Catholic friends growing up, you may have overheard, or participated in earnest discussions about what to “give up” for Lent. Until I was 16, it always boiled down to candy.  For a kid with a serious sweet tooth, and the dental work to prove it, giving up candy for 40 days was a real sacrifice. And it seemed that Heaven itself blessed my offering, for on Easter morning, all my hard work was rewarded by a basketful of sweet, candy goodness. I still get excited when I see row upon row of pastel-colored Peeps, sweet and sour jelly beans, and rich, gooey Cadbury Creme eggs in the aisles of my local Target.

But alas, we all must grow up and although I still love candy, I’ve definitely outgrown “giving it up” for Lent. There are many things, spiritual and otherwise, that I’ve grown out of, but I’ve tried to hold on to the season of Lent. As an adult, I’m always on the look out for new ways to commit to this season and what it’s supposed to bring about in me and my spiritual journey. This morning, I came across a great reflection, which you can check out here if you like. That Time of Year Again – Busted Halo.

Sr. Bernadette makes some very good, very funny points in her essay, and offers a series of questions to help you figure out what action, or “inaction” you might take this Lenten season to become more like Jesus, the man that Christians purport to follow with their lives. There was one question in particular that struck me at my very core.

“If I choose to fast from something in my life, what would make me feel its absence so keenly that without it I would need to cling to God?”

Wow! When you put it that way, I obviously can’t fill in that blank with candy. I may love my Sweet Tarts and Sugar Babies, but do I really need God to help me do without them? I don’t think so. I can just as easily pop in a piece of gum, or brush my teeth and temptation is avoided. There is no reliance on any Higher Power, except my own will power.

Her question made me ask this question of myself, “What compulsion, or habit of mine do I have so little control over that I would have to turn to God to actually be able to do without it?”

Without a conscious thought, I had my answer. It came unbidden, as impulses from the Holy Spirit often do, but I quickly buried it. (Which, by the way, is what we often do with those impulses.) It seemed too strange, and more significantly, too impossible. But after messing around with a list of the typical vices we try to get rid of, from caffeine and alcohol to technology, I gave up and went back to my first thought.

For Lent 2012, I have to give up worrying. I have developed a compulsive need to ‘fix’ things these days. I am not talking about appliances, and messy closets. I am talking about people and situations over which I have little control. But that lack of control doesn’t stop me from spending many of my waking hours and more than a few of my sleeping ones worrying about how things could be different. I go over in my head what I could have done, should have done, might have done and might still do to correct these “problems” as I see them. I long for things to be resolved, ultimately to my own satisfaction.

I realize that this habit of worry is neither productive, nor life-giving to myself or anyone I love. It is not contemplation, or even problem-solving. It will not produce better results, or fix anything at all. It merely prevents me from being in the Now and embracing the present moment. How can I enjoy a morning hug from my Molly, or a Starbucks run with my teens if I am mulling over all the ways they need to be ‘fixed?’  How can I sleep peacefully next to Tim at night if I am thinking of all the things that I’ve left undone?

How can there be any peace if it all depends on me?

And there is the crux of the matter.

There can’t be.

For me, worrying is the act of separating myself from God and His love. If I consider Sr. Bernadette’s question, worrying is the one thing that “would make me feel its absence so keenly that without it I would need to cling to God.” I have no other way to combat my worry besides seeking the presence of God. God is not worried about the same things I am. He simply says, “Hand it over. It will sort itself out, in its own way, in its own time. In the meanwhile, do your best. Use your mind, your heart and the gifts I’ve given you, but don’t forget to swim in the river of Love. When you worry, you’re standing on the shore.”

I’d love to know what you’re thinking of giving up. What would make you turn to God every time you were about to turn to “it”, whatever it is? I promise not to worry about you, but I will send good thoughts your way over the next 40 days and hopefully, we won’t pick up right where we left off today.

 

Yesterday was a bit of a brutal day around our house. It was Valentine’s Day and there is a single lady around our house who is none to happy about it. Although she is turning 15 this weekend, she is convinced that her chance at romance has passed her by. She is a member of the as-yet-unrecognized “Forever Alone” club at her all-girls high school. When I said, “Happy Valentine’s Day” to her over breakfast, she growled, “You mean ‘Happy Biggest Joke of a Holiday Ever.’” Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be, I thought. Got it.

Honestly, what can a mother, or father say to convince their single, teenage daughters that someday, they will fall in love and more significantly, be fallen in love with? Not much. I know, because my parents tried. No matter how many times you say that someone would be lucky to have her, she doesn’t believe you. We can say that she is beautiful until we are blue in the face, but until the mirror, or a boy makes her see it differently, it’s not going to count. To praise her intelligence, sense of humor, and kind heart is just adding salt to the wound.

So although I wanted to resist the platitudes, I couldn’t help myself. I made her a valentine and told her that someone will be lucky to have her. I told her that she was beautiful, intelligent, funny and kind. She might have flicked it aside yesterday, but I have no doubt it will end up in a drawer, or a box, where she will find it one day, before she goes off to college and a life of her own. I pray she will read it over and know that I was right, at least about something.

There’s a great line in the new movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Dev Patel says to a disappointed hotel guest, “In India we have a saying. ‘In the end, it will be all right.’ So, if it is not all right, it means it is not the end yet.”

It’s not the end yet, Keara. It’s just the beginning. You’ve got a lifetime of love ahead of you and it really will be all right.