Beggars make me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because I am skeptical about their motives. Maybe it’s because I know I can’t solve their problems no matter how much money I put in their hat. Maybe it’s because I know I can’t afford to give them all money. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid to even consider the possibility that life can really get that bad…because if it can for them, maybe it can for me too. Maybe it’s because their self-deprecation is just too painful to witness. Whatever the reason (most likely all of the above), I have always either pretended not to notice them or have averted my gaze as I hurriedly tossed them a buck or a few coins, as though doing so is something dirty, taboo, or forbidden…an act I wanted to be done with and pretend didn’t just happen.

Christine changed all of that today.

I saw her by the side of the road begging for money this morning. Her sign said, “Fallen on hard times. Just doing what any mom would do.” But I’m a mom, I thought, and I wouldn’t resort to begging. I’d sell everything I had to keep a roof over my kids’ heads. I’d seek help from the local food pantry or one of the charitable organizations before I’d beg strangers for money. Doesn’t she know about those? Or has she asked so many times that they’ve turned her away? Does she really need the money for her kids, or is she just a drug addict preying on the consciences of good people like me? I pondered all these questions as I drove away toward home. But there was just something about her. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something that compelled me to turn around and go back. I wanted to understand why she was there. For some reason I still can’t explain, I needed to understand.

As I drove back towards her, I started to get nervous. What if I get honked at by the car behind me? What if she doesn’t want to share her story with me? What if she doesn’t speak English? What if she is unappreciative of my efforts or needs more than I can give her? What if it’s AWKWARD?!

Now it needs to be said that I myself have had to tighten the purse strings lately, so I wasn’t really in a financial position to give her much in the way of money, but all of us have something to give away to someone in need. It’s a matter of knowing specifically what is needed. I pulled up beside her and rolled down the window. “Excuse me”, I said, “I’m sorry that I don’t have much to give you in the way of money, but I would like to help you. What is it that you really need? Can I bring you food?” She smiled and told me that what she needed most of all right now were some feminine hygiene products because she had none and was in rather dire straights.

Now look here, folks, it just doesn’t get any more humiliating than being forced to ask a complete stranger to buy you maxi pads. I was overcome with compassion, so despite every safety rule I’d ever been taught, and  against all rational common sense, I invited her to hop into the car so that I could take her to the Wal-Mart around the corner to purchase them. (I’m not recommending you act quite so rashly, should you ever find yourself in similar circumstances!) She thanked me, introduced herself and shared her story with me as we shopped. She had a good sense of humor, and we both had a little chuckle about the situation. I offered to buy her more than one pack, but she said no. I offered to buy her lunch, but she said no. I offered to buy her food to take home, but she said that through the grace of God and the generosity of strangers, her refrigerator was full. She asked if maybe she could just have a cup of coffee instead. Done.

I took her back to her corner and her eyes welled up with tears as she thanked me from the bottom of her heart for trusting her enough to invite her into my car, for taking the time out of my day just to talk to her, to listen to her, and to give her back some of her dignity. Then she told me that her two middle school-aged sons didn’t know that she had resorted to this in order to keep the roof over their heads. She said that the worst part was that people thought it was funny to take photos of her as they drove by, and her biggest fear was that her sons might someday see them on the internet and be utterly humiliated and mortified. My heart broke, and it was then that I realized that all my old fears had come true.  I hadn’t solved all of her problems. I still had no way of knowing whether her story was true or not, or whether she was a drug addict or not. Her self-deprecation had indeed been painful to witness. And maybe life would be cruel enough to kick me in the teeth someday just like it had her. But none of that mattered. She had given me far more than I had given her…the insight and perspective I needed to finally understand and stop averting my gaze so that I could see the appreciative mom, daughter, sister, friend and fellow human being sitting in front of me. What an amazing gift!

She gave me a hug and stepped out of the car. “You really made my Friday,” she said. “You know what?” I replied. “You really made mine too.”

Only when we look up from our own problems and fears and pay attention to the world around us are we are truly alive. We are given eyes to notice, ears to listen, tongues to reassure and hands to reach out and touch another life and make someone’s day. Such opportunities are gifts. Do not waste them.



Winning the Gold in the Olympics of Life


victory medalWhen I was little, I loved to watch the Olympic figure-skating and gymnastics competitions. I secretly imagined myself oneday winning the gold…standing on the podium taller than all the others with hand over my heart, watching them raise the American flag as our anthem played, with pride in my heart knowing that I was the best. Never mind that I could barely stand up straight in tennis shoes or walk down a flight of stairs without falling, much less glide effortlessly across the ice or contort my body like a balloon animal. I had that dream we all share to stand at the top of the heap…to be better than everyone else at something…to be the winner.

Fast forward to modern day: Here I sit blogging in my suburban townhouse wearing jeans, a t-shirt and reading glasses and realizing that I’m not–nor ever will be–especially great at anything. I’m not particularly beautiful, or wealthy, or athletic, or artistic, or famous, or brilliant, or saintly. In fact, a more accurate description of me would be an aging, poor, overweight, mediocre, unknown, ditsy sinner. But I am the best me there is, and after all these years, I finally get why that’s such a big deal.

This past year has been rough for me and my family because of numerous unexpected challenges. Like all challenges, these have been eye-opening lessons I’ve needed to learn as I hurtle through life toward yet another milestone birthday (I won’t say which one). They’ve jolted me out of my fantasy world–where I’m a long-legged supermodel with flowing locks and flawless skin, adored by my obedient children and attentive husband and admired by friends and strangers alike for my immaculate home, culinary prowess and pure altruism–and thrown me back into the reality of my middle-aged, frustrated, struggling existence. Somewhere along the journey, I finally understood and accepted these ten truths:

  1. Ten minutes is better spent catching up with my tired hubby before he drags himself off to bed after a night shift than putting on make up and styling my hair in order to feel more glamorous. There is no one else whose eye I need to catch, and his vision is too blurry after a 12-hour night shift to realize the difference.
  2. If I had a bigger house for entertaining, I probably wouldn’t invite people over because I wouldn’t have the time and energy to clean it and am too much of a control freak to let them see it when it’s dirty.
  3. I’m too selfish to make the sacrifices required for us to be rich. I’d rather be available to help my children with their homework while it’s still easy enough for me to understand. And let’s face it, with my mediocre intellect, we’re already at a point in grades 4 and 6 where it takes all of my concentration to help them with their math…gone are the days of being able to make dinner while simultaneously tutoring them in addition and subtraction.
  4. The definition of a “gourmet” family dinner is one that’s healthy, fast, simple, cheap and easy to clean up…in that order. The kids just want full bellies and to get back outside before it gets dark. The hubby just wants a full belly that won’t give him embarrassing gas, and I just want everyone to grow (or not) as expected, to still have some money leftover after grocery shopping, and to wash as few dishes as possible.
  5. I hate working out/playing sports. I’ll either do it or I won’t, but I will never enjoy it and there’s no point in trying to convince myself that I will. If it wasn’t fun when I had more flexibility, energy and stamina, it is unlikely that it will become so now that I have none. (I guess this has something to do with why I never realized those Olympic dreams, huh?)
  6. I don’t care that I’m not artistic. I enjoy other people’s art more than I enjoy creating my own, especially if it means I don’t have to clean up afterwards.
  7. Thank goodness I am not famous! If I were, I’d have to spend more time putting on makeup, styling my hair, working out and ironing. And people would be more likely to notice when my son wipes his snot on my shoulder instead of using a tissue.
  8. If I were truly brilliant, I’d look like an even bigger slacker to the outside world than I already do. The expectations of the world would crush me. So long as I can still put together furniture, understand board game instructions, salvage would-be baking disasters and create organization out of a client’s chaos, I figure that’s good enough for me.
  9. I’m impatient and I shout more than I should, especially at my children. But I am honest to a fault and have a pretty good heart filled with lots of compassion. I cry at Hallmark commercials and “Danny Boy” and I try to help people in need whenever I can. When I can’t, I pray for them earnestly. Thank goodness perfection isn’t required for entrance into heaven… I still expect them to let me in someday.
  10. “Winning” at life has nothing to do with my performance in comparison to others. Everyone who reaches a personal best gets the gold. And it’s never too late to stand on that podium feeling proud of what you’ve accomplished and who you’ve become.

Despite this new-found acceptance of who I am and what I am not, I continue to seek and embrace every opportunity to use my unique gifts and talents to become the best me I can be…to make the world a better place than it would have been without me. There is no other person on the planet with the exact same set of tools as mine or who can wield them in quite the same manner that I do. That’s what makes me special, even if I’ll never be great! Using those talents to the best of my ability is what makes me a winner.

“Seek not greatness, but seek truth and you will find both.” -Horace Mann

Happiness is Finding a Hidden Blessing

It’s never a gooddishwashing1 sign when it starts raining in your garage…especially when your kitchen is above the garage and you’ve just stepped in a wet patch near the dishwasher!

So yes, we need a new dishwasher and no, there is no room for one in our budget right now. At first I was so busy being grateful that it wasn’t an issue with the kitchen plumbing that I forgot to groan about having to hand wash all my dishes for the foreseeable future. It didn’t take long for me to remember just how much I hate it. I mostly hate not having any room on my tiny counter to put all the clean dishes and how quickly I run out of dry dish towels since I don’t have a drainer and have to drain them on a towel. (I’m actually anti-dish drainer because I think they invite you to leave the job unfinished and take up valuable space even when not in use.) But once I figured out that I could use the empty dishwasher as my drying rack, my perspective began to change. I began to see the silver lining to this cloud and realized that what at first seemed like a curse may indeed become a blessing.

For one thing, washing and drying dishes is something everyone in my family can do…even the more “spatially challenged” among them. My kids have finally completed the Dishwashing Badge in our Life Skills Badge Program. My husband is more sensitive about helping with dinner clean up, and I don’t have to worry about whether the bowl I really want to use is going to take up too much space in the dishwasher later. Maybe now we won’t have to take out a second mortgage just to pay the water bills that also fund my daughter’s showers. (She’s the only 11-year-old I know with permanently wrinkled hands.) And once the kitchen cleanup is done, it’s done…no more dishes to put away later since I ascribe to the dry-them-and-put-them-away-now philosophy.

Best of all, I’m no longer worrying about what will happen if my dishwasher breaks…I already know. My children will enjoy an excuse to play in some sudsy water before school. My husband and I will giggle and flirt as we snap dish towels at each other. I’ll imagine my mother, now gone to her rest, washing that very same serving spoon back in our kitchen on Timber Trail Rd. The clean scent of the dish washing liquid will remind me of my grandmother’s kitchen.

Sometimes we need something to break to realize how truly unimportant it is. And often in our never-ending quest to simplify our lives, we end up complicating them instead. The modern conveniences designed to free up our time wind up stealing our opportunities to forge that time into something memorable. Think about your funniest family anecdotes. Chances are they felt like catastrophes at the time. (Someday I’ll share my “Mom in a Manhole” story…a real family classic.) Next time “disaster” strikes, look for the hidden blessing instead of feeling cursed.

I suppose we will replace the dishwasher eventually, but I’m not in any hurry. It might be kind of fun to share KP duty with my sister after a family holiday meal just like the old days. But only if she dries.




“Where’s the Beef?” in Your Thanksgiving?

It’s almost Halloween, and that can only mean one thing: Time to start thinking about Christmas! (Or so the retailers would have you believe.)

But what about that other holiday…you know, the one where we watch football and stuff our faces so that we have plenty of energy to shop til we drop on Black Friday?…the one that heralds the coming of the Christmas season and the official start of the decorating wars?…when we get the green light to start spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need? What’s that called again? Oh yeah…Thanksgiving! Thanks giving…giving thanks.

Thanksgiving is unique among the end-of-year holidays because it really lasts for only one day (okay, maybe two or even three if you are the one doing the cooking for the feast). Even Halloween gets bigger billing these days, with all the Halloween decorations, parties, costume preparations, and spooky movie marathons on TV. By the time the big Thanksgiving holiday rolls around, we are usually so focused on football and eating and planning out our 4AM shopping strategy that we forget what it is really supposed to be about. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

Well, it is not about extravagant spreads of food. It is not about beautiful, impressive tablescapes a la Martha Stewart. It is not about kickoff time or fires in the fireplace or putting up the Christmas tree. It is not about traveling or pumpkin pie or gourds or falling leaves. It is not even about pilgrims or native Americans or survival. It is about gratitude…gratitude for life and whatever it has handed you…gratitude for blessings and gratitude for the hardships that make you appreciate the blessings…gratitude for what you have now and gratitude for what you once had…gratitude for the love of others and for the ability to love them back…gratitude for hope and for the ability to keep on hoping even in the most hopeless of situations.

Gratitude is an attitude. It is the only thing that makes it possible to get through even the worst of days and still want to wake up and try again tomorrow. Want the secret to “easy peasy living”? It’s gratitude, and it deserves your full attention on at least one day of the year. So this year, before you dive head first into that turkey with all the trimmings, take a little time to ponder all you have instead of all you wish you had, and have a truly Happy Thanksgiving!

The Perfect Mother’s Day Gift

Ever since my kids’ last embarrassing dental appointment I’ve been making a point of following behind their evening brushing job to make sure they are being thorough. They resisted at first, but I keep telling them it’s just one more little way for me to show my love for them. So when I overheard this conversation between my husband and son at tuck-in time the other night, I had to chuckle.

Hubby: “Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend, so we have to think of something nice we can do for Mummy.”

Son: ” I know! Maybe we can brush her teeth for her!”

My heart still does a little dance every time I think of that!

I’ve never been a jewelry-and-roses kind of mom and would much prefer to receive a lumpy clay paperweight clumsily wrapped in newspaper or a macaroni necklace that’s been colored with magic marker. And while brushing my teeth for me may be more than he bargained for, I’ll bet no fancy salon pedicure could ever feel so good.

But my favorite Mother’s Day gift of all comes when I observe my offspring exhibiting their loving care for each other. These precious moments pop up from time to time throughout the year, not just on the second Sunday in May, and they always bring a smile to my face. Their cooperative teamwork in carrying a laundry basket upstairs, the sweet notes of comfort they write to one another to help sooth away disappointed tears, celebrating each others’ successes and mourning each others’ losses, sharing a favorite toy, and compromising on an activity as they play together. I even love to hear them echoing my advice. “When you are feeling frustrated, take a deep breath, relax and count to ten.”

Sure, it isn’t all sunshine and roses, and there is an equal amount of arguing, but I cling to these gifts as proof that they really are listening and all my efforts are not in vain. I believe that a mother is not someone who has borne or raised a child but someone who plants seeds of love and kindness and patiently tends the shoots until they blossom and make the world more beautiful. Happy Mother’s Day to all you “gardeners” out there.

What’s the best/funniest/sweetest/most memorable Mother’s Day gift you’ve ever given or received?

Still need a gift for Mom? It’s not too late to enter the drawing to win a FREE 3-hour organizing session! This is a great way to get yourself or your mom started on that project you’ve been putting off with the help of a professional and no strings attached. Deadline to enter is midnight on Saturday, May 12 but you must complete the entry form in order to be included in the drawing. We will announce the winner in a post on Mother’s Day, so stay tuned! (Enter to Win a FREE Organizing Session)

Riding the Easy Peasy Current

Okay, I will admit that there are days when living does not  feel so easy peasy. You know the ones I mean…where the simplest tasks just seem to take so much extra effort, and worries about work, family, money, health or the future weigh on your soul, threatening to pull you under the current of daily life. I’m having one of those days today, in fact.

Sometimes we are so busy swimming as fast as we can to keep up that we forget to enjoy the water. We allow our fears of encountering a big shark to prevent us from noticing all the tiny colorful fish and the playful dolphins. Okay, I think you get the picture. Corny ocean metaphors aside, the point is that life’s beauty is mostly found in the details. Sure, it’s important to have big picture goals and dreams, but that picture will be pretty bland and boring if you omit the fine points.

It is on those dark days, when I feel like I’m drowning and despair starts to take hold, that I find myself desperately searching for the tiniest clues that life really is worth the effort of living. It is then that I become more keenly aware of the awesomeness of the nature that surrounds me and begin to appreciate the small kindnesses of the strangers I encounter which would normally go unnoticed. I become more grateful for even the littlest gestures by friends and family that allow me to really feel their unconditional love.

That friendly store clerk who goes the extra mile to help you, the neighbor who cuts your grass for you unasked, the child who draws you a picture, the sister who calls you to share a cute story about her grandchild just to brighten your day without even realizing how dark it was, the beautiful flowering bush in your front yard that reminds you of a lost loved one…I prefer to think of each of these as little love notes from God. But whatever your beliefs, these little details are not just clues that life is worth living…they are the point of living at all. A stable job, good health, a firm financial foundation, a solid future, and yes–even organization and efficiency– are not the point of life…they are but tools to help you enjoy the real thing and the vehicle by which you can help others enjoy theirs. Remember that each of us has the opportunity to play the role of lifeguard for someone else when we become the store clerk, the neighbor, the child, the sister, and even the flowering bush that elicits beautiful memories, if we just take the time out of our busy day to do it.

So next time you’re having a not-so-easy peasy day, slow down a bit and just enjoy the water…you just may find that it feels pretty good in here!