Life is a Highway

“Isn’t it mysterious how so many wonderful things in life come to us seemingly without our planning? We start traveling down one street, and we find ourselves interested in something we never expected on a side street; and as we explore it, the side street becomes the main road for us.” – Fred Rogers

Don’t you love the wisdom of Mr. Rogers? 

How often has this exact thing happened to you? I think it’s the story of my entire adult life! 

It seems that my path has taken so many twists and turns and detours, I’m no longer surprised to see where I’m heading or when or where I will end up.

For example…

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Fixing What Matters

It has started once again. The talk about guns and gun control, and the question about whether it’s guns that kill or people that kill, are the topics that plague us over and over in this country. They’re good questions, necessary questions. But the real question we should all be asking is, WHY? What are we missing? What are we not doing? How are we not meeting the needs of others on such a basic level that they feel their only recourse is to mow down innocent people? What can we do to actually, truly, permanently fix this?

There’s a general feeling of dissatisfaction among Americans that goes so deep, it’s becoming imprinted on our souls.

Listening to Bishop Robert Barron this morning, I was struck by something he said. He talked about how we steer our children to be athletes or musicians or any given state of excellence, and we do anything and everything to get the child moving in that direction. He wasn’t saying this as a criticism but as an example of how we get a person to achieve something or be a certain way.

Why don’t we steer our children toward kindness? Toward loving their neighbors? Toward looking out for one another? If we can create in a child the ability to become a star athlete, then why can’t we create in that same child the ability to care for others?

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Giving Your Best

Shortly before the pandemic, I started doing my daily exercise routines at home instead of going to the Y. It works better with my schedule and saves me time on the road. I’ve bounced around between several different workout videos online, and they’ve all been good, but none of them made me excited about exercising. Not long ago, though, I stumbled upon Daniel from Australia, and my exercise life and outlook have changed dramatically. He and his wife, Alex, have an online program called Team Body Project, and it has allowed me to actually enjoy exercising for the first time in years!

I’m not telling you this so that you run out and exercise or join TBP. What I really want to do here is share something Daniel says in almost every video. During the workout, he constantly reminds the participants that all that matters is giving your best all day long and then waking up the next day and giving your best again.

Yes, we’ve all heard some version of this before, but for some reason, this time, it really struck me.

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A Life With a View

How many minutes of my day do I spend looking out these windows?

I can’t even begin to guess.

Sometimes, I see exactly what is out there beyond the window panes–trees, the grassy (or this of year, not so grassy) yard, the driveway. I often look out to see the UPS or FedEx truck pulling up to the house. Now and then, I’ll see a herd of deer or a family of squirrels.

Other times, I don’t see any of that. I see the island of Chincoteague, where several of my books take place, or the Italian vineyard in Whispering Vines, or my Buffalo Springs setting in the Ozark Mountains. Whatever book I’m working on, I can envision the scenes outside those windows like the setting of a play. The actors move about before my eyes and tell the tale that my fingers tap out on the keys.

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The Perfect Rug

Many (many) years ago, I graduated from college, Magna Cum Laude. It was something I really should have been very proud of. I should have been happy that I attended college, graduated with honors, graduated at all. As one of only a few people in my family who had gone to college at that time, I should have given myself some credit. Instead, I celebrated with a smile on my face and bitterness in my heart.

You see, I am ashamed to say that I felt robbed. My GPA was 3.49. A 3.5 would have earned me Summa Cum Laude, and I was really angry with the school for not bumping me up to, what I felt, was a much deserved ranking. I worked really hard to get those grades. I went to school full-time for four years holding a double major in very demanding studies (history and political science) with an even more demanding concentration (American military experience). I worked full-time for the last two years I was in school, taking every shift I could, waitressing at busy restaurants all day or late into the night, weekdays and weekends. I wrote four major thesis papers, for crying out loud!

I was really angry with the school, but I was more angry with myself. Why hadn’t I pushed just a little harder? Why had I taken the research paper-only option (no exams – just a 50 page paper) for the toughest professor? Why hadn’t I skipped a few social gatherings and stayed home to study instead?

These questions plagued me for days, until…

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What’s Your Hurry?

“Well, here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”

When George Bailey’s mother tries to scoot him from his brother’s welcome home party to the house down the road where Mary has just returned from college, George teases her that she’s trying to get rid of him. While George does tell his mother that he’s going, he takes his time. He strolls through the town, taking a look at the marquee and talking to old pal, Violet. He meanders around Bedford Falls and makes his way down the sidewalk, in no hurry at all, finally pacing back and forth in front of Mary’s house until she calls out and asks what took him so long.

George was in no hurry to get there, mostly because he’s unsure of what he wants to do. He takes his time. He thinks about his decision and where he’s going, and after a lot of thought and consideration, he ends up at Mary’s house where he gets the girl. Though his plans never seem to go the way he wants them to, he eventually learns that It’s a Wonderful Life.

In fact, George’s entire life is a lesson in taking things slowly. He puts off college so that his brother Harry can attend. He puts off his adventures to take over the savings and loan. He slowly grows older in a house that needs work, a family that keeps expanding, and a job that weighs him down. The pressures get to him (thanks to interference from old man Potter), and he wonders if life is really worth living.

So what happens?

His life comes to a stop, and he’s taken backwards on a journey that shows him the things that really matter. He’s literally made to stop, not take that sudden leap off the bridge, and reassess everything he’s known to be true.

Yes, I know Christmas is over, but there are so many lessons to be learned from the Frank Capra masterpiece, and I think this is one of the most important ones…

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Lessons Learned From the Game

We are deep into NFL Football Playoff Season, when every highlight, every victory speech, and every cooler of Gatorade poured is shown on the news, ESPN, YouTube, Instagram, and every other outlet. I always wanted to be a football player. When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was play football in our backyard. I still remember the names of most of the other kids–Lex, Kelly, Danny, Jason, Paul, Jerry, Steve, and David (and I’m talking @1975-1978 when I was 5-8 years old)–kids who were my age and as much as five years older. Notice that these were all boys! I was the only girl on my street and learned an early life lesson in keeping up with the boys!

My father had the nicest grass in the neighborhood, and we had a pretty sizable backyard, so everyone gathered to play football there on a regular basis. That was my first introduction to the game that my parents watched every Sunday while I played Barbies in my bedroom. Because it was my yard, I got to play whatever position I wanted, but looking back, I’m pretty sure the guys made up whatever position I played since I had no clue and was a lot younger than most of them! I actually do remember them giving me the ball sometimes, and I thought I was the biggest playmaker on the field. With a start like that, how could I not fall in love with the game?

By the time I was in middle school, I was a football watcher. Oh, how I idolized Tami Maida, whose story was told in the movie Quarterback Princess (starring Helen Hunt, 1983). I still remember the 1982-1983 season and the amazing Riggins run in Super Bowl XVII in which the Redskins beat the Dolphins 27-17. We even attended the parade in DC after the win. Our school principal, Sister Victoire, actually closed school that day so that everyone who wanted to could attend, a great lesson in knowing that sometimes learning from experiences is more important than learning in a classroom.

As a lifelong fan of professional football, I’ve made many observations of what happens both on and off the field. I think there are many aspects of the game that can be translated into life lessons for everyone.

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Marriage Requires Love

Last week, my daughter sent me a link to an article in the New York Times. The article upset her, and she knew I would have the same reaction. She was correct.

In Marriage Requires Amnesia, Heather Havrilesky presents a section from her new book (coming in February), Foreverland, On the Divine Tedium of Marriage. Unable to read the book as it hasn’t yet been published, I can only glean info about Heather and her marriage from this article. And the article makes me profoundly sad and even angry.

With passages like this: “Do I hate my husband? Oh for sure, yes, definitely. I don’t know anyone who’s been married more than seven years who flinches at this concept. A spouse is a blessing and a curse wrapped into one. How could it be otherwise? How is hatred not the natural outcome of sleeping so close to another human for years?”

How can one not take umbrage to the sentiment?

The writer goes on to list everything she hates about her husband from his daily habits–“He is exactly the same as a heap of laundry: smelly, inert, almost sentient but not quite”–to the way he sneezes and how he clears his throat. And though she says he is exactly the same person she met seventeen years ago, she can’t stand the man that he was and is. “This is just how it feels to be doomed to live and eat and sleep next to the same person until you’re dead. Because the resolution on your spouse becomes clearer and clearer by the year, you must find compensatory ways to blur and pixelate them back into a soft, muted, faintly fantastical fog.”

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New Year, New Chapter

Merry 5th Day of Christmas! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas weekend and is looking forward to the new year.

2021 wasn’t all that much better than 2020. With the exception of things opening and the promising vaccines and treatments, the fear rippling through our world remains, especially with non-stop news coverage of the dire situation we’re in. Despite the vaccines and treatments and lower risks strains, everyone is still being told that this is practically the end stages of Armageddon. Of course, if that is the case, I know that I had better step up my game before that final day of judgment!

The point is, there’s a lot of hope that 2022 will be a game changer. We want life to go back to normal, to be able to spend time with friends and family without fear, and to travel, go to the theater, and do all the things we used to do (and without masks). No matter how you feel about the virus or the treatments or the masks, I’m sure you hope that the day will be here soon when we can live like it’s 2019!

And that has me thinking…

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A Time for Rejoicing

For the past few months, I’ve been leading a study of the Wisdom Literature–the books of Wisdom, Sirach, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and the letter of James along with passages from other books sprinkled in. It’s funny how often the themes of these studies, while I’m in the midst of them, appear throughout all parts of my life. It’s a constant barrage of messages reminding me what I’m supposed to be taking from these lessons and discussions.

A couple weeks ago, I read to the women this beautiful passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. 

Philippians 4:4-9

The following week, I stepped in to lector at Mass when the lector was unable to be there. Guess what the reading was…

Philippians 4:4-9.

A few days later, Father Mike‘s reading in his Bible in a Year Podcast was…

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