Make Today Matter by Chris Lowney, as seen by an introvert

Spring’s a busy season.  These days, when it comes to spiritual books, I’m looking for something of substance that I can read in short bursts of free time: between work and picking up the kids, say, or during breaks from grading my towering stacks of papers.

Make Today Matter: 10 Habits for a Better Life (and World) by Chris Lowney is just the ticket.  I’m loving this book: it’s short and sweet, well-written and wise.

As the title indicates, the book looks at ten habits that can improve your life. These habits do not involve drinking more water or planking (both of which, I should add, I’m still trying to do more of).  This book is about your spiritual and emotional life, not your physical life … and yet if  we work on living the best life we can, Lowney demonstrates, everything else – our work, our relationships, our world – will benefit.

Lowney’s a thoughtful guy with quite a resume:  a former Jesuit seminiarian who now chairs the board of one of the country’s major hospital systems. You can tell he walks the walk.  This book is written with heart and conviction and even people who don’t like overtly “religious” books will like the practical, conversational tone of this one.  There’s lots to chew on here, and all sorts of great stories.

For example, Chapter Four is titled “Give Away Your Sneakers: Help Someone Today.”  Lowney opens the chapter with the story of an emergency room doctor who one day treated a homeless patient, a man who had no shoes.  Just as the patient was about to be discharged, the doctor took off his own sneakers and gave them to the patient, so he would not have to go out into the night barefoot.

Lowney cites this as an example of the fact that throughout our day, we have so many little moments where we intersect with people who are in need.  Maybe they need shoes, spare change, a hug, a listening ear, someone to hold the door open for them, or just someone to look into their eyes and see them.  And yet a lot of us – myself included, ahem – don’t take these opportunities.  “Some inner demon – a fear, an insecurity, a bad habit – holds us back,” Lowney writes.  This even happens when what we are called to give is far less than the shoes off our feet.  Sometimes, we don’t take the opportunity even to give a simple “hello” to another person.

This chapter resonated with me and made me think.  I realized that my missed opportunities often have to do with something fundamental to my nature:  my introversion.

I often say that I’m an introvert who does a good job of pretending to be an extrovert (this is not uncommon among teachers, I’ve learned).  But since I give so much energy to my students  – and as a mom, to my own children – I sometimes don’t want to give it to anyone else.  There are days where all I want to do is go hunker down alone and not talk to anyone … even someone who looks like he or she needs a little recognition or affirmation.

I like how Lowney’s book challenges me to look squarely at this tendency, and to consider its role in the little choices I make and opportunities I don’t take.  How much does it cost me to pause and greet, say,  the substitute teacher who is in the lunch room sitting alone?  Not much, and yet it can mean a lot.  A few minutes of chat – “Who are you subbing for?  How is it going?” – is a way of providing welcome to someone who may be feeling like the odd woman out in a group of clubby teachers who all know each other.  It doesn’t cost me much, really, but it can change the mood of someone’s day.  Mine too, honestly.  It’s a little habit I’m trying to adopt lately.  I’m grateful that this book helped get it on my radar.

Anyhow, if you’re looking for a quick but rich read, check out Make Today Matter It’s a gift to all of us — introverts and extroverts alike.

Sock it to me

After a long day of work, I love kicking off the heels and putting on a comfy pair of socks.  It’s one of those little things that always makes me ridiculously happy.

And when they are socks like this?  Even better.


Gather ye lilacs while ye may

This is my second year growing lilacs, and they are starting to bloom!  I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

All I want to do is sit under them and breathe deeply.   I go out and visit them multiple times a day.  Sometimes I wonder if this is normal.

And then I think: Normal is overrated.  The bloom season is short, very short.  I’m going to savor it.


Not such a blah month after all

January always feels like a month I’m going to hate.  You know; the holiday fun is over, the decorations are put away, the neighborhood is no longer alive with white and colored lights that make even a trip back from the store feel festive.

But somehow, I don’t hate January.  More and more, I like it.

I like the blank-page-ness of the new year.  Even if I don’t stick to my resolutions, they refocus me and remind me of my priorities.

I like the fact that even in California, it’s still cool enough to enjoy a fire in the fireplace (when it’s not a Spare the Air day, of course) and to wear my fuzzy socks on weekend mornings.  Cozy = good.

I love how January seems to have more space than December has, space to let new plans be born and take root.  In December, every weekend is always full of holiday things; January isn’t.  That’s a good thing.

And I love how I go out in my garden, the garden I’ve neglected since at least Thanksgiving, and find things.  I find green shoots poking through the soil, places where I planted tulips and daffodils months before.  I even find flowers — like these pink hyacinths that are, astonishingly, already blooming.

What else will grow in our lives this year?

I don’t know. But it’s always exciting to find out.

Why I love December 26

When I was a kid, Christmas morning was the high point of the season.  Nothing could top the sheer excitement of a morning spent opening gifts under the tree.  And I distinctly recall that the morning after — the morning of the 26th — always felt like a bit of a letdown.  You still had the gifts to play with, of course, but somehow the Best Part of the Season had already come and gone.

I see things differently now.

Now, I wake up on the 26th full of anticipation.   Because as an adult, I’ve come to believe that the period between Christmas Day and New Year’s is, in fact, the best part of the season.

It’s the best part of the season because the heavy lifting is done.  The gifts are purchased, wrapped, opened.  The cookies are made.  The house is decorated.  The Christmas meals have been planned, made, eaten; the dishes are clean and put away.  I don’t want to make it sound like that is all work; I enjoy the holiday preparations. Realistically speaking, though, they can be stressful, especially when balancing other things (like a job) at the same time.

So when the 26th rolls around, life is more leisurely.  The house is festive and pretty and nothing big needs to be done.  I have time to sit with a cup of tea and look at the fireplace and enjoy the tree, just letting myself be.   That time between Christmas and New Year’s is a chance to dive into one of the new books I got as a gift (because I always get at least one book each year, usually more), and to read it without guilt.   It’s a chance to listen to Christmas carols (like this beautiful one) and to absorb the full meaning and magic of the Incarnation, with a mind that is no longer acting like a lord-a-leaping, bouncing from one task to the next.

It’s a blessed time, a magical time.  And it’s now.

Enjoy it.