2022—A Year to Begin Closing a Gaping Agape Hole?

My faith needs bolstering these days. In general, it feels like Rocky after a few rounds with Clubber Lang…taking quite a few hits and finding itself on the ropes, hoping for the bell to ring to end the round and catch its breath before it keels over.

It is primarily my faith in people that is so wounded, after these last years of division and vitriol. We have siloed ourselves and shouted in echo chambers and across social media platforms to tear each other apart with little thought of impact or consequences.

“Us” and “them” is deeply rooted in our psyches, and I am weary from it all.

In those initial, scary weeks when the pandemic struck, I hoped that maybe a tiny positive byproduct of it would be its common enemy status—that we would come together to fight this invisible villain in order to save lives.

We did not.

While we may rise to the occasion…we fall to the everyday.

Yes, people come together in times of crisis. When Harvey ravaged Houston and people drove around in boats rescuing anyone they could find, they noted how it didn’t matter what your politics were—just get in the boat. Moments of coming together? Sure. Continued, concerted everyday efforts? Well, that’s unfortunately a different story.

Consequently, my faith is wobbly from the heart punches it has sustained and the loss it has witnessed…and I long for a way to renew it. I think that is why, as I wondered if a word for 2022 would find me, as it has for the last several years, the word “faith” was knocking on my heart.

But then bell hooks passed. And Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined her. And as I looked for my next thing to listen to while I do my morning exercises, Bishop Michael Curry’s Love Is the Way presented itself to me on my audiobook playlist. In listening to his Morgan Freeman-esque voice, my word for the year fell right into my heart: Love…It must be. Because it is only through love that my faith can regrow in the fertile soil of agape, and not just for me alone.

Agape, one of the seven words to describe love in the Greek language, is defined by Bishop Curry as a “sacrificial love that seeks the good and well-being of others, of society, of the world.” And in our current times, it feels like there is a gaping hole where agape love should be firmly established.

what the world needs now…

People like Curry and hooks and Tutu have lived lives dedicated to teaching that love is THE gamechanger. It is a verb—an action—that, heals, redeems, and brings about true change. It is a choice we make daily. It is what Jesus made plain: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)

So…with love determining itself to be my word of the year—what exactly does this mean for me? After all, it’s not exactly a newsflash. I know love is the way.

It feels more like it is to be a recommitment.

And since agape is manifested in action, I will need to recommit to…act more. Learn. Listen. Serve. Share. Pray. Give. And more that I have yet to know.

But please do not see this as a New Year’s resolution. I am in no way thinking that with this guidance for the year—and my life—that I just need to keep at it like any other “goal.” Oh, no, no, no, no…no. This is a reminder for me to continue to wrestle with the call to love one another and live a life of love. It’s a biggie. There are those who are easy to love, and then there are those who…are not easy to love. And the call is to love the whole smash. And live it out in action. A tall order. Something that I must practice day in and day out.

And in my wearied state of wobbly faith, I don’t approach it glibly. But I do know that love wins, so even in my weariness, I must recommit to doing my best to live that love. Because otherwise? Otherwise, not only love and faith are at risk but hope, too. And where do I go from there?

I do not want to know.

So here is to 2022 being a year that plants seeds of love that develop into generous, thriving gardens of faith, hope…and more and more love.  


To love, my brothers and sisters, does not mean we have to agree. But maybe agreeing to love is the greatest agreement. And the only one that ultimately matters, because it makes a future possible.
―Michael B. Curry, Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times

The choice to love is a choice to connect―to find ourselves in the other.
bell hooks, all about love

Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.
―Desmond Tutu

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
―John 13:34

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
―1 Corinthians 13:13

The FraGEElay Nature of Life: How $2.50 Saved an Entire Town

For my tenth annual iteration of my Christmas Eve(ish) FraGEElay* post, I find my heart dwelling on another Christmas classic: It’s a Wonderful Life. It is my favorite movie, and I have seen it over 100 times. But my viewing of it the other night brought me a new understanding and insight.

The film (for those living in a sad “I haven’t watched IAWL” world) is about George Bailey being shown the impact he has had on his hometown, Bedford Falls, to prove to him in his darkest hour that his town—and the world—need him. But what I realized this last viewing is that the same could be said about the character of Mrs. Davis. Who is Mrs. Davis, you ask? Well, besides growing up to become Grandma Walton, she is the young woman who asks for $17.50 to tide her over until the bank re-opens (during the scene of the bank run of the Great Depression).

Others in the scene ask for $20 (not to mention $242, Tom), and if Mrs. Davis had done the same, there would have been no “mama dollar and papa dollar” left for George to hold in his hands until the final second of the business day. Instead, they would have been 50¢ short and had to close early, which—according to Mr. Potter—meant that they would never reopen. (Yes, I know this calculation doesn’t account for the possibility of others adjusting what they asked for—perhaps the last person would have seen they were going to run out of money and asked accordingly—but the movie is rife with these kinds of “ifs,” so let’s just go with it.)

The defaulting of the Building and Loan would have meant that Potter would own all of Bedford Falls—and people would no longer have the option to borrow money from a company that has a heart and knows and cares for people. They would only be dealing with a wealthy kingpin who has no regard for the “rabble” of his town (sound familiar?)

Yes, yes, yes—of course George matters to the survival of Bedford Falls, but so does Mrs. Davis. That single, small choice—to ask for $2.50 less than the others—resulted in Potter’s being thwarted in amassing more from those who have less (again…sound familiar??) Pottersville be damned.

Life is fragile in so many ways. We continue to deal with a tenacious virus that has now claimed over 800,000 American lives. (When I wrote last year’s post, the number was “only” 334,000.) And beyond its physical death toll, it has revealed and underscored the depths of the disease of polarization, where minorly inconvenient ways to mitigate the spread of the virus turn into majorly appalling actions like threatening the lives of school board members…over a mask mandate. What the holy fahrvergnugen?  

In my estimation, the world is more fragile than ever. From climate change to the weakening of democracy to systemic “isms” that damage and destroy innumerous lives daily, we need to find a way to examine our problems, learn how to fix them, and then take care of business. Cancers don’t go away by refusing to address them or merely casting blame, and neither will any one of the challenges plaguing our fragile world today.

Sure. Okay. I’ll get right on that.

Rather than taking action, though, I find myself untethered and in an overwhelming (and I mean Brené Brown’s “I’m blown” definition of the word) wave of anxiety that comes from thinking about how to even begin to address these problems. What can I possibly do? Is it too late? Is there time? Will anything truly change?

I don’t really know. What I do know, though, is that sometimes, even something as small as Mrs. Davis’ choice can make a big difference. We may not understand it at the time, but it matters.

It matters a great deal.

Life is fraGEElay.

$2.50 saved Bedford Falls.

All hope is not lost.

I wish you a peaceful, safe, and love-filled Christmas and New Year. May we seek and find a way of being better to one another…in our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world.

*If you are unfamiliar with this reference, it comes from the beloved movie “A Christmas Story.” I can no longer see the word “fragile” and pronounce it in any way other than fraGEElay. That must be Italian.

Time Marches On…(and The Juggle Struggle Is 9)

I am both happy and sad when people ask me why The Juggle Struggle rarely sees a new post these days. Happy that anyone cares…sad that I am not writing like I used to. The truth is that I have a lot that I want to write, but my focus and discipline have hitched a ride out of town. I haven’t completely given up, though, and I am compelled to write a little now to mark the ninth anniversary of this blog.

On October 18, 2012, I wrote my first post. The ol’ girl’s been around for a while and seen many changes over the years…the blog, me…the world. So much is so very different. But one thing is always constant: There are 24 hours in a day, and the days just keep getting logged into the book of life.

My church is currently studying No Cure for Being Human, by Kate Bowler, and today we discussed the idea of “spending” time–as the currency that it truly is–and what it means about the choices we make. This perspective of time as a finite entity makes me think of something I came across a few years ago via Tim Urban’s Wait But Why site. He does some wonderful things with numbers, and one spin of his really drives home the point about our time on this planet. Below is what a 90-year lifespan looks like in weeks…and the blue line is where I am…

Image courtesy of Tim Urban’s Wait But Why)

…well past the half-way mark…IF I make it to 90. That’s a lot to take in.

And in taking a peek back on this anniversary at some of my previous posts, I remembered the one that I am sharing below. I wrote it when my son was 10–and it speaks to how much time we had left before he turned 18. Well, guess what? That milestone was reached earlier this year. Reading what I wrote then is obviously poignant to me now.

It happened in a mere blink.

What will the next blink bring? How many blinks do I have left?

Time marches on…

So…happy anniversary, The Juggle Struggle! I am grateful to have the words to string together that can sometimes matter to people. And I am grateful for every reader who gives me a few minutes of their precious time to read those words–I appreciate you more than you know!

And now, if you care to read on, I offer you the post that I wrote eight years ago…thinking about the time that I am actually facing now. A blink indeed.


936 and Counting

Originally posted September 30, 2013

Time flies. We all know this. The only case where time does NOT fly is instances like when you’re stuck in a boring workshop where they have the thermostat set so cold it just may crack off a body part and all you can think about is lunch. Then it’s slow. But typically, another week comes and goes and it feels like a blip on the radar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Recently, I had a 1-2 punch that was the kind of coincidence that makes me stop and think. I saw a framed graphic at a family member’s house that said something along the lines of “940. The number of Saturdays until your child reaches 18.” Me being me, I checked the math (52×18=936) and wondered why they added the extra month. Googling it, 940 is the number used again and again, but I like the number 936 better than 940 anyway, so I’m sticking with that. (Why the extra four? Can you guess?)

The very next day I was speaking to a friend, and she said her pastor’s message that Sunday was on pretty much the exact same thing. He had a jar of marbles that visually represented how many weeks were left before his daughter turned 18. The emphasis being, of course, that we use our time together wisely. It is fleeting.

So there I was, with two totally different avenues leading me to the same wakeup call: we only have so much time with our children before they are off and running in the world.

Of course, I know this. But when you put a finite number around it, it drives it home even further. Tick…tock…and another week is gone. Another marble leaves the jar.

I have issues with time management. I just do. I aspire to knock the hell out of each day, and before I know it, I’m brushing my teeth before bed.

But the clock of life is wound but once…

My son had his feet resting on my lap the other day, and…they were huge. What happened to the teeny ones that I nibbled on and made him giggle?

He was just sharing with me his fascination with the circulatory system that he’s learning about in science class. Only yesterday he was learning the alphabet.

I tell him—like my dad always told me—there will always be room on my lap for him. But the last time he tried it, we laughed together at how comical we must have looked.

936.

If my math is right, we’ve had 541 Saturdays together…and only 395 left before he turns 18.

395. 3-9-5. Holy crimony.

Thankfully, I am wise enough to know that these days do not need to be chock full and supercharged to be meaningful. I think back to my own childhood, and I realize that while there are some “big” memories of trips and special events—the real things that stick are the small things. The moments. It didn’t have to be anything special—just a time where I felt that I mattered. I don’t even think those thoughts typically cross our minds when they are happening—it’s like they just go into a special reservoir of love, where for some reason, we feel it and cherish it.

So, before I “lose my marbles” with my son, I need to remind myself that the moments count. That just because we may not be able to carve out the better part of a day to do something significant, I can still get out and play touch football with him and his dad.

I can genuinely listen to him catch me up on the first part of the “Full House” episode that I am sitting down to watch the rest of with him.

I can make time for a bike ride on a beautiful fall day, even if deadlines are looming.

I can share in his joy at the occasional 49¢ McDonald’s ice cream cone.

While we still do need to hit the “big” things and make those memories, it’s important to remind myself in the swirl of the day that not all is lost as long as we remember the moments, too.

Because that is what he will remember. The moments.

936 down to 395.

It’s not about us putting more stress on ourselves because who needs more of that? What it is about is keeping the perspective that we do have a finite time with our children, and it does matter—to them and to us—and it is all a blessing of unknown impact and meaning.

So amidst the flurry and chaos of everyday life, I’m going to strive to remember to jump in the leaves. Even if it means we have to rake them all over again.

2020 Hindsight—What if 2020 is the year we finally see 20/20?

With pretty much everything being a cause for division these days, I’m pretty sure there is something we can all agree on: 2020 was a year. An exceptional year that brought us a great deal of pain, struggle, and loss. A year that gave us plenty to learn from and a lot of tough challenges to work through.

And now that we are soon to have 20/20 hindsight of 2020…what do we see more clearly?

I saw this poem on Instagram, and it gave me hope…

What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw –
that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us
from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of
pushing each other further apart.

2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather
the most important year of them all.

~leslie dwight

What if 2020 is the year we finally see 20/20? What if it is the year that we see things for what they truly are and then strive to make them better?

If this is indeed the case, 2020 brought some critical issues into sharper focus. Yes, there have been good things that have come about this year, but for me, 2020 has made some things undeniably, painfully clear. So…this post is going to get dark (and the list is incomplete!), but perhaps there will be some light at the end.

Systemic change…needs the system to change. And the system isn’t going to change when it works for those who created it and hold the power and money…and it’s been working for the powerful for a very long time. Racial injustice is part of the system. Gender inequality is part of the system. Income inequality is part of the system. So those folks in power are either going to have to have a colossal change of heart…or we’re going to have to have a change of power. I think we know which of these is more possible than the other.   

We are indeed in a post-truth era. Because someone merely says something should not make that something true, but it seems that is enough these days for “facts.” Having been groomed for months to expect that if the election didn’t re-elect the current holder of the office he would cry “rigged” should have caused everyone to suspect that a game was in the process of being played. But for WAY too many people, it did not. The fact that this crying of fraud without any substantiation has radicalized people to the point of threats and violence is a reminder that fear, hate, and greed are the root causes of most of the misery in this world. We need objective truths to matter again.

If our well-being depends on the collective good, we are in trouble. We may come together to help people in short-term instances of natural destruction, but apparently asking to help each other with longer term behavior like wearing masks is too much for some. I’m not sure where we go from here if covering your face is too much of a sacrifice to make to help others stay healthy. I’m not sure at all.

Our gargantuan corporate healthcare and insurance systems aren’t working for anyone except the suits. And the more they grow, the worse off we all will be. Covid has made this irrefutably clear. Too many people don’t get the care they need because they don’t have insurance. Too many of our healthcare workers are overworked and underpaid. People fight government intervention in healthcare because they say keeping it private is better…but as these private systems grow, what is the difference? Big is big. Both access to and quality of care suffer. Another system that needs changing.

Also…

Science matters. Enough said.

We need to change how we take care of our older citizens. The pandemic made it heartbreakingly clear that long-term care facilities are leaving our older Americans vulnerable and in danger. What a horrible and sad way to see that “corporate care” is only interested in the care of their bottom line. Our systemic change list grows.

Income inequality is so much more than different-sized paychecks. Our reliance on technology this year has meant that those without access to internet or devices have struggled to learn and earn, and the disparity continues to grow. If kids can’t access education, people can’t go to the doctor, and families are going hungry, this should matter to everyone—not just those who are directly impacted. Systemic change, anyone?

Our democracy is not beyond destruction. I can’t believe I just wrote those words. I remember learning as a kid in history class about the toppling of governments and thinking that could never happen to the United States, but I am learning that not only can it happen, but it is in the process of happening. And unless we can protect and have faith in our free and fair elections and have our politicians work for “we the people” instead of themselves, we are at risk of becoming a full-blown plutocracy.  

Yes, indeed…2020 has taught us that we have several systems that need changing, which I find totally overwhelming.

Where do we go from here?

I wish I could enumerate the steps that we need to take to begin the fixing, rebuilding and/or healing, but I am not wise.

What I can offer is a simple simile for hope and change:

Be like lichen.

Ahem, what?

Be like lichen.

I remember learning that after a volcano erupts and spews a deadly and destructive lava flow, the first thing that grows back and begins to rebuild life is…lichen.

Lichen begins growing on lava’s ruins and is the foundation of the new ecosystem.

To me, this simile is helpful and hope-filled because the devastation that the lava brings seems insurmountable—but there is still life, still hope. It always grows. There is the chance to start over and create anew—even in the shadow of the very volcano that could erupt again—life is reborn.

The lichen is the basis for all the rest to begin.

We may not be able to be the lichen everywhere that needs change and renewal, but we can be to some things.

At least that’s what I tell myself on a good day. The reality is that the work to be done everywhere to fight injustice, help those in need, and take care of our planet is difficult and daunting.

But 2020 has given us a chance to see it clearly. And now that we see it better for what it is…let us get to work. Let us be like lichen.

Blank Canvases

I must admit that, though my mom died well over a year ago, I haven’t fully dealt with all of her belongings yet. I mean…my sister and I have gone through all that we are aware of, but there were times where certain things got the “to be dealt with more fully later” stamp. One group that got that stamp was all of her art supplies.

Many years ago, my mom shared how she wanted to paint…she felt that she might be decent at it. Given that one of my roles with her was lifelong cheerleader, I took that confession as an opportunity to facilitate that desire. Paints…brushes…an apropos French easel…she had her own personal kickstarter campaign.

Relatively early on in the whole process, she painted a lovely winter scene…and got a lot of positive reinforcement for her work. Everyone who saw it was impressed and complimented her. It should have been a great catalyst to continue exploring her creativity.

But while she did paint some…it was more accurate to describe her as someone who wanted to paint rather than a painter. “Are oils too much work? How about acrylics? Watercolor? Maybe pastels or charcoal?” I would bring home all different mediums for her to try, but many remained untouched. I tried hard to understand what was standing in her way.

She was.

Excuse after excuse would always pop up. “If I had that wall shelf installed, then I would be able to set things up like I want…” Shelf installed…no painting. “I just need better lighting…” Special easel light bought…no painting. Even an art class didn’t do more than help her complete the class project. No matter what obstacle was overcome, for the most part, the canvases remained blank.

“Mom…why aren’t you painting?” She never really answered the question. One day I asked her if the blank canvas made it too hard for her to begin? Was it too intimidating and asking for more than she thought she could do? Did she feel like each attempt had to be something “good”? Yes, she admitted. She was putting pressure on herself to do something good…and that pressure was resulting in doing nothing rather than just doing something.

I encouraged her to just…paint. Just put something on the canvas as practice with no pressure to have the outcome be anything at all. Just…paint.

I could empathize with her because I know the blank page of a writer can feel just as daunting. Just…write.

Ultimately and sadly, she let the blank canvases win. There was no amount of cheerleading or facilitating that could make her face whatever it was that kept her from moving from wanting to doing.

Later in her life I brought her coloring books so that she wouldn’t even have to think of the blank page and only choose the colors, but by that time she could no longer concentrate or keep her hand steady enough to stick with it for more than a few minutes. Her window of creativity was closed.

My mom’s choices in her efforts at painting are a metaphor for too many of her life choices, as well. She often chose the road of inertia rather than risk…and that meant she left a whole lot of life unlived that could have been so much more. Empty, missed opportunities instead of beautiful experiences of color and texture and joy. You may think I’m being hard in my assessment here, but trust me…I knew the woman. The metaphor fits.

This past weekend, I went through her art stuff. There were a small number of pieces that she had worked on over the years, but they were far outnumbered by blank canvases.

Stories that were never told.

And so I decided I’m not going to leave them blank.

Though writing is where I feel most at home, I am going to fill those damn canvases.

I don’t know with what or how, and I guarantee the results won’t be pretty…but at least they will indeed be.

The above photo includes all of my mom’s paintings—except for the winter scene that I mention as her initial try.

2019 – A Time to Create


I didn’t intend on being one of those “word of the year” people. They can be annoying, can’t they? But dammit if another another new year has come and another new word to help guide the year’s goals has found me. It started a few years ago with ripples, and every year since a word comes to me that makes complete sense…as it does on the dawn of this new year.

For many reasons, I want 2019 to be a year to create like never before.

As a writer, I always strive to create, but I’m not just talking about words here (though they are a huge part of my goals for creating). No…I mean create in a much broader sense…

I’ve been “responsible” since as far back as I can remember. And while being a responsible person is a good thing overall in my book, when it is the primary thing it can be stifling to other parts of life. And as my responsibilities in life shift (with my mom’s passing and my son angling toward maturity), I want to rediscover—or maybe discover for the first time—aspects of life and embrace opportunities to create.

I want 2019 to be the beginning of a way of being. In too many ways I’ve been living a “dress rehearsal” existence, but 2018 has really reinforced for me that there is no such thing.

Now is the time.

A bottle of wine makes a good analogy for this. I love wine, but I don’t have a wine fridge or cellar—just a little ol’ wine rack. On that rack, I’ve kept some bottles of wine for years, thinking they would be used for special occasions.

Over a decade ago, I brought home a bottle of wine from a trip to Hawaii that my mom took us on for her 80th birthday. I held onto it for one of those special occasions. With my mom’s passing this year, Thanksgiving was our first holiday without her, so I thought it made sense to open that bottle of wine and make a remembrance toast to her. There was just one problem. After so many years of fluctuating temperatures on that wine rack, the wine had gone bad.

I waited so long for that “special occasion” that we lost our opportunity to enjoy it.

Waiting too long for life’s special occasions means letting the wine of life turn into vinegar.

Now is the time.

So yes, the CREATE of 2019 means DO the book that I’ve wanted to for so long.

But it also means…

ENGAGE in more experiences—including having more fun.

EXPERIENCE and SAVOR more of life’s sweet specifics (ala the Weissmans in Paris, if you watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”).

MAKE our home a soul space for my family and me. That means getting much needed projects going as well as simplifying/purging/minimizing to lighten both our physical and mental loads.

TRAVEL – Waiting for the “someday” doesn’t work. Doing does. There are too many places to see and already too little time to see them. Better to work on the list than just pine for that “someday.”

LEARN by making more time to read and discover. Creativity stagnates without a broadening horizon.

And, as all of this is mostly a reaffirmation of the obvious, there is the continuous goal to CREATE more opportunities for positive change…for hope to spark…for hearts to grow…for love to win.

I want 2019 to be a year for all of us that begins (or perhaps for you continues) the creation of a Glorious Unfolding…

It’s true, as Andy says in The Shawshank Redemption, that it’s up to us to “get busy living or get busy dying.”

In many ways, at least for me, creativity = life. And so, in 2019, I aim to create by rolling up my sleeves and getting busy living and doing.

It’s about time.

All photos are used with permission.