In this season of Advent, I have been thinking a lot about waiting.

I am not a huge fan.

In fact, I hate to wait.  I am impulsive and impatient.  I make hasty decisions, especially when I am tired and my brain is too full.

I can be ungenerous with those who do not seem to be keeping a proper pace, a quality for which Phil is certain I will burn in Hell. I told him to go grocery shopping at the same exact time as every senior citizen in town, and then we can talk about Hell.

I hate to be late yet I always am – maybe because I fight time rather than move with it.

My impatience – along with my big ears and fear of clowns – has been passed down to Emma.  She came into the world exactly on her due date, waiting to be born.  Ready to get on with it.  Ready to crawl, to walk, to talk, to run.

Ready to go to school: “No kisses at the door, Mom.”

Ready to walk to the bus stop alone:  “Stop lurking in the driveway, Mom.”

She wants to know when:  When can I get my ears pierced?  When can I ride my bike alone?  When are we leaving?  When will we get there?  She is fully dressed – hat, boots, and backpack – by 7:43.  The bus comes at 8:35.


Phil and Phoebe don’t mind waiting.  In fact, if they wait long enough, they might forget what they are waiting for and move on to something else. Emma and I call it PST: Phil & Phoebe Standard Time. I spend a lot of time waiting at the door with Phil’s keys, his phone, his wallet.  Emma spends a lot of time waiting in the car. She hides books between the seats.

But out of all of us, our dog Ellie waits the most. She waits to be fed, to be walked, to have her belly rubbed.  She waits by the door when she hears Phil’s car in the driveway; she waits under the dinner table for Phoebe’s first fish stick to drop. She lets everyone else go first while she patiently waits.


And now, she is waiting to die.

In a theology class, I remember learning about the two types of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is clock time, the time we live in.  It is chronological, measurable, predictable.  It makes sense.  Bus comes at 8:35.  Karate is on Tuesdays.  Sun rises at 7:07.


The Greek word kairos means “God’s time” or “the right moment.” It is elusive and mysterious.  You can’t predict or control it – you have to feel it.  Nine years ago, Phil planned to propose to me on the beach at sunset.  Instead he dropped to one knee in my parents’ garage as I reached into the fridge for a Coors Light.  Why?  “It just felt right.”  Oh, Phil.  You just wanted that Coors Light.

Henri Nouwen writes, “Fearful people have a hard time waiting.”

That sounds about right. I am terrified.  I am afraid that Ellie is suffering.  I am afraid she is going to fall down the steps or slip on the ice. But really…I am afraid of what’s to come.  Of how bad it’s going to get.  “Anywhere from a few weeks to a few months,” is what the vet said.  It is one month today.  30 days. Chronos.

But right now there are still moments when I can forget.  I scratch her ears, she thumps her tail, and I forget that her bones are being eaten away.  I forget that her shoulders are disintegrating as we sit by the fire, with Phoebe deejaying on Pandora like any other day.  Kairos.


But when will it become impossible to forget?  We had to put baby gates by the stairs. Last week she cried when she tried to scratch her ears.  Yesterday she had a hard time breathing. What’s next?  Will she stop walking?  Pee in the house?  Stop eating?  When?  Tomorrow, next week, next month?  How will I know when it’s time to let her go?

“You will just know,” they say. “She will tell you when it’s time.”

Huh?  What does that mean? How will she tell me? And I never “just know” anything, ever. My sister-in-law had to tell me to go to the hospital when I was in labor because I thought I just needed to poop.

My friend Priya, who has known me and my specific brand of crazy for 30+ years, broke it down for me: “If you are questioning it, you’re not there yet.”

Ok.  That, I get.

I want a chronos answer to a kairos question.  But we are not waiting for the bus, here.  I am being called to a deeper waiting.  Nouwen calls it “active waiting.”

Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.  Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the world.

Waiting actively changes what I see, what I notice.  When I wait fearfully, I hear Ellie’s labored breathing and think, Should I call the vet tomorrow?  When I wait actively, I notice how she lays her paw on my wrist, and I think, We are holding hands.

Chronos vs. Kairos.  There is nothing the vet can tell me that I don’t already know.  All there is to do is wait.  Do I wait in fear or do I wait in love?

John Grogan writes: “Such short lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.”

Ellie has spent most of her life waiting patiently.  But this time she is the one who will go first.  And while she waits, we will wait with her.  Lovingly, reverently, gratefully, until she tells us it is time.  Kairos.


Olaf and the Quest for True Love

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I will do almost anything for my kids.  But I won’t do The Elf on the Shelf.

Disclaimer:  To all the Elf-hiding moms out there, don’t freak out.  I am not making a political statement or embarking on an anti-Elf crusade.

I am scared of the Elf.  I trace it back to the only Twilight Zone episode I ever watched involving a ventriloquist and a sadistic dummy that comes to life.


I’ve never fully recovered.

Among other commonalities, Emma shares my fear of the Elf.  We also take issue with:





…porcelin dolls…


…and claymation.  Don’t even get me started on claymation.


Basically anything fitting one or more of these descriptions is off limits:

  • Anything that looks fake but at the same time freakishly real
  • Anything that is smiling at you but in a way that says “I want to kill you.”
  • Anything that wears sad/angry makeup but is intended to make you happy
  • Anything that pretends to be voiceless and trapped in an imaginary box.

All of these things just seem to be invented with the sole purpose of fucking with your emotions and making you feel slightly schizophrenic.  And I don’t need any help in that area.  I am all set.


We recently took the girls to see the new Disney flick Frozen.


In the movie is an adorable snowman character named Olaf.  As I sat in the darkened theater, listening to the girls belly laugh at his sweet antics, I thought I love this little snowman.  I want to put him in a snowglobe and put him on my shelf.


On the drive home, I turned to the girls and said, “I have an awesome idea.  Instead of the Elf, we should have…”

“…an Olaf on the Shelf,” finished Emma.  Our telepathic connection is both fascinating and frightening.

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Olaf’s role in the movie is the funny, lovable sidekick.  He “likes warm hugs,” and defines true love as “putting someone’s needs before your own.”  So, our Olaf on the Shelf is on the lookout for Acts of True Love.

When I think of the words “true love,” I think of my two girls.


I will do pretty much anything for them: Get intimate with their poop, puke, and boogers, paint daisies on their microscopic fingernails, and subject myself to a quiz entitled “What Color Are Your Feelings Today?” on the American Girl Doll website.  I will make sure the peas don’t touch the chicken nuggets on their compartmentalized plates, I will play in the snow even though I hate the cold, and I will listen to the Annie soundtrack for the 3,000,000th time without singing a word because it pisses Phoebe off.



But that’s a mother’s love, a love that is in large part a sacrificial love – to give freely without reservation or expectation.

But what about “true love” in the marital sense – does the same definition apply?  Maybe I am still working through my Catholic issues of sin and sacrifice, but…that definition makes me cringe a bit.

For the past eight years, I have been a stay at home mom. I don’t view this as a sacrifice, but as a decision Phil and I made for a variety of reasons.  I don’t regret it, but with Phoebe getting ready to go off to kindergarten next year, I feel…uneasy with the role I have created for myself. I wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of my own teeth grinding together. Then I wonder if our dental insurance covers a mouth guard.

I worked before I had kids, but I never had a career.  My career has become supporting Phil’s career.  And I don’t just mean in the you-make-money-I-clean-bathrooms kind of way.  Phil confides in me about his work, and asks me to weigh in.  We discuss books likeThe Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, and how Phil can achieve his “Zone of Genius:” that which you are truly called to do.

I thought this dynamic worked for us, until I realized that helping Phil discover his Zone of Genius had become my Zone of Genius…which kind of seems like a waste of a graduate degree.

A close friend asked me, “Let’s say, hypothetically, that Phil never finds his Zone of Genius. Can you still be happy?”

The answer flew out of my mouth before my brain could catch up:   “No. I can’t.”

What?  Who said that?  Is June Cleaver in the house?  What the hell?

The Sufi poet Hafiz writes, Both our hearts are meant to sing.  Taking care of the people I love does make my heart sing, but I am realizing it can’t be the only thing that makes it sing.  Sacrifice is a huge part of any marriage, and of course there will be periods of inequality, the scales tipping one way or another. There will be moments when the other person has a deep need, and in the spirit of true love, you run to meet that need. But a lifetime of sacrificing – without pausing to ask, what do I want?  What do I need? – doesn’t make the heart sing.  It strangles it.

There’s a reason Meatloaf sang, “I will do anything for love, but I won’t do that.”  Because everyone has a “that.” Having a “that” doesn’t make you less of a person, it makes you a person. A whole person. A person with needs and dreams and a Zone of Genius all your own.  And as I see it, to entrust these vulnerable parts of yourself to another person is an act of true love.  Because while it is wonderful to give, it is just as important to receive.  We all deserve the opportunity to do both.

Give someone a chance meet your needs.

Because while I agree with Olaf that it feels great to give a warm hug….


…it feels even better when the other person hugs you back.


Sacred Downtime


Thanksgiving Morning –  Sunrise over the ocean

In her recent piece Musings on Comfort and Joy, Laura Munson writes:

Whoever you are, wherever you are,the holidays are bound to leave your heart in shreds at least a little.

I get this.

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, the edges of my heart were a little frayed.  I needed a sign around my neck that read: Fragile. Handle with Care.  The sudden death of an old friend and neighbor shook me to my core; I felt raw and vulnerable.  Our Thanksgiving plans were unclear – we vacillated between traveling and staying home.

Then we received our dog’s bone cancer diagnosis.  This news put our hearts in a choke hold.  Our chocolate lab, Ellie, has anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to live.  Phil and I sat on the floor of his home office and hugged and cried.  There was no question where we needed to be. We had to tell our kids that their dog was dying.  We needed to huddle up, hunker down, and hold each other close.

We needed what my good friend Gerry calls: Sacred Downtime.

The word sacred comes from the Latin “sacrare:”  to consecrate, set apart, immortalize, dedicate.  After a frenetic year filled with the buying and selling and moving of houses, it was time to lay down some roots.  To stop, breathe, and be.  To be able to say, “this is our first Thanksgiving in this house, and it will be Ellie’s last.” This year, we needed to do things differently.

That being said, memories of Thanksgiving run deep: a dining room filled to capacity: an abundance of food, wine, and familiar faces.  Trying to re-create the day we typically share with extended family just didn’t feel right.  Cooking an enormous turkey for the four of us felt kind of….depressing.

Munson writes:

Let’s change the way our holiday minds think.  Let’s look truthfully at what is comfort and what is joy.  And let’s create a save haven around us.

What would bring us comfort? What could cultivate joy when our hearts felt so heavy?

We sat down with Emma and Phoebe and said: “You are Pilgrims planning the first Thanksgiving.  What do you eat?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” said Phoebe.  “Pancakes.”


“And popcorn,” added Emma.


“What are you going to wear?” we asked.

“Pajamas!”  (Followed by multiple costume changes).


And what did Pilgrims do on this fantasy first Thanksgiving?  “They got massages.”


“They danced to Lady Gaga on the Wii.”


The ordinariness of the day soothed my shredded heart and frazzled nerves. Frederick Buechner says:

The sacred moments, the moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments.

Mid-afternoon, we all lounged around in the living room doing our own thing.  Emma reading her book, Phoebe playing with her Barbies, Phil and I flipping through the paper.  Ellie limped into the middle of the room, and with a heavy sigh, laid down at our feet.  I knew this was the moment to tell them. I ditched the pre-canned speech and five books I had ordered off Amazon.  What needed to be said just…came to me.  Just like that. Which, by the way, never happens to me.

“Hey Girls, we need to take extra special care of Ellie, because she’s really not feeling well.”

Emma looked up. “You mean for Christmas?  Like get her extra bones and toys and stuff?”

“Well…sure.  But really she just needs a lot of love.”

“Will that make her leg better?”

I looked over at Phil who was now crying into a pillow.  Apparently this was going to be a Steel Magnolias parenting moment.

“No.  She’s not going to get any better.  This will be our last Christmas with Ellie, so we need to make her feel really special and loved, ok?”

Emma’s eyes got huge.  “You mean she’s going to heaven, with Nannie?”


She got quiet and started biting her nails.  She looked up as Phoebe returned from the bathroom, naked.  Because that’s just how Phoebe rolls.

“Phoebe,” Emma began in her best Caring Big Sister voice, “I need to tell you something very sad.  This will be Ellie’s last Christmas with us.  Then she will go to heaven to be with Nannie and Aunt Terry.”

Phoebe, perplexed, put her hand on her cocked, naked hip and said, “It’s Christmas?”

Emma gave me a look that said,  Ahh, to be Phoebe, for just one day.  I gave her a smile that said, I know, right?  She went back to gnawing her fingers.

Then, as organically as the conversation began, it ended.  We made more popcorn.  We watched Bee Movie. The girls had a bath and then went to bed.  Just like any other day….but the best day.

Knowing that 24 hours of sacred downtime was probably our limit, on Friday we hosted a “Keep On Giving” get-together for some friends.  Typically party prepping in our house can get tense, simply because Phil is slow and I am frantic we move at different speeds.  But this time, as we chopped and diced and pureed side by side, there was an ease and rhythm in how we worked together.  It was, dare I say, peaceful.



“Peaceful” is not my usual set-point, especially in social settings.  I attribute this newfound zen to a sense of balance I gained from Sacred Downtime.

When I taught yoga, I often gave the cue root to rise: Find stability by rooting -not gripping- your feet into the ground.  Notice how feeling stable and grounded allows for expansion across your heart, and freedom in your upper body. Virginia Woolf said:

I am rooted, but I flow.

Carve out some Sacred Downtime for your family -and yourself – this season.  Root to rise.