About Milagro Mama

A Bay Area 40-something, married 20-something years to the love of my life, with two sons (Teen and Tween); Jesus-follower, artistic-type, passionate about time with my guys and with friends, Bible study, stories of most types, cooking, and other creative endeavors.

Happiness as an Animal? Meet the Quokka

A writing friend sent me some writing prompts. One in particular caught my eye: “Compare happiness to an animal.”

My animal-loving son sat nearby as I read her email. I love animals, you may love animals, many of us love animals. My son takes loving animals to a whole different level. Like to an animal whisperer, animals emerge from the tall grass when he’s nearby so they can share an encounter. It’s a rare moment when I witness him learning about an animal he’s never heard of before. He can correctly name animals that have been misidentified elsewhere, for example, on a TV show. Once he even accurately described why an animal had been mislabeled in a natural history museum.

So I read the prompt to him. I expected he’d talk glowingly about his Bullseye Tabby cat, Phoebe. About the particular smell of her fur and its calming effect on him. The way she naps during the day on his pillow. How her belly wobbles side-to-side as she limp-toes through the house on arthritic legs. How she follows him room-to-room to be near him, like a dog.

He could also have talked about our three rescue dogs, particularly Rudy, who he calls Big Chicken for his large eyes that grow even wider when startled. Especially when he passes gas and jumps, looking accusingly at whoever is closest.

He might have talked about his ball python collection, or his newest snake-pet, a beautiful Reticulated Python he named Rhea because all his animals have mythological names. Rhea means “flowing” in Greek; in mythology she was the mother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and Demeter. His Rhea will eventually grow to 25 feet in length, hopefully long after he has moved out on his own.

He might have described the simple lazy joy of a lizard basking in the radiant heat from a summer warmed rock. Instead, he repeated the prompt. “Happiness as an animal? Quokka.”

When I didn’t understand, he insisted that I look up quokka on my phone. He had to spell it for me.

Wikipedia was the first site to pop up. I summarized: “Oh, a quokka is a wallaby, specifically a short-tailed scrub wallaby!” I have long been familiar with wallabies from our many trips to the San Diego Zoo and from all the animal documentaries we’ve watched together.

He protested. “No, not a wallaby. Look at its face!” I glanced at the image again and shrugged. I supposed the quokka’s face might be different from other wallabies but I was looking at a side view and not a quokka version of a profile picture. I showed him the Wiki site and he got frustrated. He took my phone and searched for images, then flipped my phone around to show me one photo after another. He handed back my phone and I continued looking at images, flipping my phone towards him so we could laugh at picture after picture. We laughed so hard we almost cried.

Quokkas look like an adorably happy cartoon character. They smile for the camera, and their bright and shiny black eyes look delighted to see whomever is taking their picture. The size of a house cat, they stand on their back legs like a kangaroo which leaves their front paws available to reach out to you in what resembles a welcoming hug. They’re also available to receive a eucalyptus leaf on offer, or to hold your water bottle while they take a sip. In some pictures they appear inquisitive, like they’ve just asked what adventures lie ahead for you today and can they tag along? Or maybe they’ve just told you a joke and they’re giggling at their funny little selves. The joke might even have been a teensy bit dirty. They’ll never turn down your request for a selfie.

Photo by Natalie Su on Unsplash

We looked at pictures of quokkas and belly laughed till our sides ached. At one point in the night, I woke myself up laughing about quokkas. We’re still laughing about them today. I even followed an Instagram account dedicated to quokka photos and art that will continue to provide opportunities to smile in response to these darling creatures.

We have a small menagerie of pets that adds joy to our lives, cats and dogs, snakes and a rabbit. At this moment, an animal lounges in just about every room in our house and we couldn’t imagine it any other way. However, since reading aloud that writing prompt last night, quokkas have definitely increased the happiness quotient under our roof. We haven’t even met one in person … something to add to our life adventure list.

Cover image by Tracey Wong from Pixabay

Reading: March 2021

Two novels and two memoirs. That’s all I have to share this month, but that is not all I read. I began reading some delicious books in March that would not be devoured, that insisted on slow savoring. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you in the April edition of this reading series.

What are you reading?

Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Image by Bessi from Pixabay

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“The mirror exposed time’s passage, yes, but eclipsed her heart’s true mileage. The lined face, the extra pounds, the hair chemically treated to hide its gray. Each year the body was hers, but her mind was out of sync with her reflection. Always playing catch-up, trying to rearrange the scrambled pieces of her life.”

I’ve heard it said – and it’s been true in my experience – that we are always every age we’ve ever been. That, as we age, we contain within ourselves the version of who we were at every age. This book is a clever working out of that idea, a complicated story with a simple message: “Notice more. Appreciate more.”

I tried too hard to figure it out for a while, and then I let it take me for a ride. But I didn’t love it, for three reasons. First, the only hint of explanation as to WHY things happen as they do is this sentence fragment in the first chapter, which never comes up again: “…every granted wish comes with a hidden cost, every blessing shadowed with a curse.” And then there’s the HOW: how does Oona leave letters for herself in years she hasn’t yet lived? Willing suspension of disbelief, sure, but this seemed like a missed opportunity to bring readers along. And finally, Oona herself… I had compassion for her, but I didn’t like her. She’s got spunk, she had to have spunk or the story would have ended with her in bed after the first jump, but she doesn’t have much depth beyond leaving big tips and donating mightily to charities from an impersonal distance.

This bit in the acknowledgements, though, is an encouragement to writers:
“I got a lot (hundreds!) of rejections in the years I’ve been trying to make it as a writer. Sometimes they buoyed me because of a bit of nice feedback, sometimes they left me indifferent, and more than once, they plummeted me into deep despair. But the rejection gave me grit and tested how much I wanted this dream. And it made this moment so much sweeter because it didn’t come quickly or easily. So to every agent and editor who said no, thank you. And to writers still trying to get their stories out there, keep fighting the good fight.”

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“…the Plains have been essential not only for my growth as a writer, they have formed me spiritually. I would even say they have made me a human being.” p11

Norris undoubtedly possesses a gorgeous way with words, but at times reading this book felt sluggish… I didn’t much care for small town mentality thirty years past. Still, parts of her reflection on living on the Great Plains + monastic life were oddly comforting in a pandemic, a strange and lonely frontier of its own.

Note: Dakota might be out of print. Check your local library.

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“…the books I am writing and the words I am speaking are for the purpose of bringing peace.” p117

Curtice was raised in the Southern Baptist Church, though she was aware of her Native American heritage. As an adult, she has leaned into her identity as a member of the Potawatomi people and writes at the intersection of these two parts of herself, two traditions. She writes an important, prophetic book filled with wisdom.

And more often than not,
the hummingbirds should get
our full attention,
because they teach us what it means
to gulp the nectar of life.
They teach us to remember
that we, too, are small, thirsty things,
looking for the river to drink from,
or, at least,
a
refreshing
fountain. (p41)

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead? The one thing that defines you, that makes everything else about you fall into place? Not on the internet, but with those real people around you?”

This is a fun book about how a simple question written and answered in a green composition book winds its way through a neighborhood and pulls together the people who encounter it into a meaningful community.


View all my reviews

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Easter is Over

Jesus died for love of us.
Jesus beat death for love of us.

He is risen, He is risen indeed.

Easter is over … yet your season of grief may continue.
I’m sorry. Life is hard, and there are so many occasions for grief.

Jesus longs to turn our wailing into dancing, to swap our mourning clothes for radiant joy. But he doesn’t wave his hands over us and zap the grief like a bug in an electric trap. Sometimes we have to move slowly through the sorrow.

The good news? He is in the sorrow with you.

We are Easter people, but sometimes we walk through the valley of shadows. Still, he doesn’t leave us alone in the dark.

Jesus is sad with you.

That simple sentence was an earth-shaking revelation for me when I found myself in a season of sorrow. Jesus wasn’t just sad about what I had gone through, what I was feeling and experiencing as a result of the mess. He wasn’t just sad for me.

He was sad *with* me. He held me and wept with me. He walked with me and listened to me. We sat silently together. We walked and talked some more. It was healing. He walked me back into joy, though we put a lot of miles on a few pairs of shoes before we arrived.

Something I learned along the way: it’s okay to find, or create, a small bright spot of joy in the midst of pain. It doesn’t betray your experience, and it might be just the thing you need.

Sit outside. Look at pictures that remind you of joy. Listen to music. Pet your dog. Wash your face. Write or draw or paint. Read a book. Eat chocolate. Do one small joyful act every day. It will help. It will remind you that you’re not alone and that this season will pass. Because it will.

Tulips image by shannynkm from Pixabay

He Picked Up a Lizard & Taught Me a Lesson

Morning Dog Walk Day Bazillionteen

Dave stopped abruptly and bent over. What initially appeared to be a thick twig in the road at second glance became an alligator lizard, badly injured with two violent red gashes in its tail. Maybe it had escaped the claws of a neighborhood cat. More likely a hawk had snatched it and Lizard wriggled out of its talons, dropping to the road.

Nudging its side with his finger, Dave asked if it was still alive. Lizard arched defensively, understandably angry. I offered to take the dog leashes but Dave said he could manage. The dogs, surprisingly unfazed by our pause, didn’t even notice Lizard.

As Dave gently scooped it up in one hand, Lizard whipped its long neck around and bit Dave’s finger. Quietly he responded, “Yah, that’s okay. You can bite me. You’re hurt, I get it.” Like he would comfort a squalling infant. He took a few steps off the road and placed Lizard in some ivy, sufficient plant cover to hide it while it (hopefully) recovers in what must look to a small being like a jungle with a thick canopy of foliage.

Most people would have stepped around Lizard and continued on their way. On my own, I would have. That’s not how my guys roll, though. While this was an unusual encounter, it was not out of our ordinary.

What stands out to me, however, is that Dave didn’t even flinch when Lizard bit him. He allowed his own momentary pain for the sake of moving Lizard to safety. If only it were so easy with people.

Lizard’s injuries were obvious. The wounds most people carry are not.

If more of us could learn to respond with gentleness to the bites of others, understanding that they are acting out their pain, what a different world we’d live in. I’m not advocating that we allow abuse or become martyrs, but that we try to learn (for most of us it’s not a natural response) to take a deep breath. To handle others carefully. To move everyone a few steps toward safety.

Just a thought.

“I am Pleased…”

When was the last time you experienced God’s pleasure?

Yesterday I slipped outside to enjoy a few minutes of late afternoon solitude before dinner. I parked myself under the trees that shade our deck and opened the Ritual phone app I downloaded months ago but hadn’t yet explored. I was delighted to find a short lectio divina meditation specifically for Monday of Holy Week.

Lectio divina is a form of listening to and meditating on the Bible. If you’ve used a Headspace or Calm story meditation, it’s similar, but with God’s Word at its focus. You listen for a word or phrase that jumps out at you, something to chew on over time.

The leader read from Isaiah 42:1-7 while I gazed at the tall, strong trees. The phrase that offered itself to me: “I am pleased…” [note: other translations substitute delight for pleased]

I’ve been pondering Holy Week and Jesus’ decision to walk toward Jerusalem, as he must have known full well the painful events ahead. The betrayal and torturous execution awaiting him. He walked toward Jerusalem anyway … for love of us.

This week is hard, sad, painful. We know Easter is coming, but it’s not here yet. We can’t skip the grief for want of glory.

So God’s message of pleasure in me, his pleasure to be with me, surprised me. It wasn’t a message of suffering, for which I had been primed by the choice of a passage commonly referred to as “The Suffering Servant.” It wasn’t a message of conviction for the wrongs I’ve committed or the rights I haven’t. To the contrary, I received a message of delight in who I am and in our time together.

As the leader read the passage again, and again, I alternately watched the sunlight weave its way between the branches and closed my eyes to experience it dancing on my eyelids. I felt its warmth mingled with just a touch of breeze. I heard birdsong. I inhaled and exhaled deep, contented breaths. I replied, “Yes, Lord, I am pleased, too. Thank you.”

I experienced God’s pleasure in my mind, heart, and body. Later, the family gathered around the table for a satisfying meal. We migrated to the couches to watch a movie that had the young people laughing uproariously as I again slipped away, this time to read a book. I slept fully, not a given these days, and had pleasant dreams of waking dreams fulfilled. I awoke with a smile on my face, aware that all of this mundane and wonderful life is wrapped up in God’s pleasure.

I pray that experience of God’s pleasure for you, too.

I Write…

To know what I think
To work through what I don’t yet know
To know and be known, to love and be loved
To acknowledge my feelings

To organize the chaos and cultivate inner order
To connect the dots and create meaning
To notice
To bear witness

To remember the past and record the present for the sake of the future
To reframe
To practice soul care

To prepare for words that must be spoken
To shed words that must never be spoken

To nurture my inner child
To tune in to my inner wisdom
To laugh alongside my inner jester
To listen to my spirit listening to the Spirit

To fulfill my purpose
To play
To pray
To imagine and to dream

To process pain
To understand
To forgive
To celebrate

To dig deeper
To plant seeds of beauty
To grow

To share encouragement and hope, faith and love
To speak truth
To take necessary risks
To become my best self

To leave a trail of breadcrumbs
To wander in the wilderness
To find my way home

I write for all of these reasons, and more. I write because I cannot not write.

I write because I am a writer.

This is Day 2 of 5 on Risk & Reward. Join me on Instagram for more.

Cover Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

No Need for Surrender

As a child in church I sang, “I surrender all … all to Jesus, I surrender.” A current Hillsong chorus intones, “I surrender…”, giving God all of who we are and ever hope to be. It’s such familiar Christian-ese that it must be biblical. Right?

I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection lately, always informed by my faith. As such, I had been leaning into an awareness that surrendering my life to God doesn’t mean giving up who I am. God made me. God loves me, has plans for me, is delighted to be with me right here, right now. I am not broken in need of fixing, but a beloved human being. Learning, growing, following the lead of the Spirit in this moment, this season. Becoming.

If I’m convinced that God is God and I am absolutely not God, it makes spiritual sense that I should give up my pride. I should throw over my belief that I am in control, a lesson this pandemic year has made abundantly clear. I should confess and repent of my sins. But I had a gut reaction to any suggestion that I surrender myself. It stopped me short.

Curious, I looked up surrendering to God in the Bible and … it’s not there (I checked several respectable translations though clearly not every translation). Where the Bible includes the word surrender, it consistently appears in a military context and never in reference to God. Nowhere in scripture does it demand that we surrender ourselves to God. I was stunned.

From the Bible I turned to the dictionary. Surrender came into English in the mid-15th century from Old French, meaning “to give up, deliver over,” though by 1580, it was primarily used as a reflexive verb: “to give oneself up,” specifically as a prisoner. As a noun, surrender means “a giving up,” as in property or land grant. And the Oxford Languages definition of the verb “to surrender” is to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.

Read that last sentence again. I’ll wait.

The idea that we surrender our lives to God, all of who we are and hope to be, pictures God as an enemy or opponent. It makes God the bad guy. It imagines God in a military uniform, wielding a bloody sword, righteously intent on wiping out his foes. Maybe this time Goliath beats David?

We must be careful about the words we use.

God is love (1Jn 4:8). That three-word sentence is God’s self-definition. Love. That’s it, astounding good news.

I am not property, land to be annexed to God’s Kingdom; I am God’s beloved daughter. Further, casting God in the role of either prison warden or military enemy couldn’t be further from what we see in Jesus. The Son of God, God Incarnate, humbled himself to serve us in ways we could never serve ourselves. He sacrificed himself to make peace.

Paul talks in several places (Rom 6, Gal 2 and 5) about “dying to self,” a whole different matter. Dying to self in order to take up the life of Jesus is self-sacrifice, a choice made for love rather than a battlefield demand. Also, dying to self is not about cutting off pieces of my personality and the identifying traits that make me me; it has nothing to do with how we understand self through the lens of modern psychology. Instead it’s about giving up my strong-headed insistence to choose sinful patterns rather than living freely in God’s grace.

In her book of Lenten meditations, Where the Eye Alights, Marilyn McEntyre reminds me that “…God’s way is to invite, not compel.” Think of a time when someone tried to compel you to action. How did that go? I had a recent encounter with someone who entered the room with an agenda so loud he couldn’t listen, nor could I hear myself think. A posture of humility, a hand extended with grace, a gentle invitation, that I might have chosen to receive. A crowbar of weighted words moves me, sadly, in the opposite direction. I guess he hasn’t learned that one catches more flies with honey than vinegar, although I’d like to imagine myself more butterfly than fly.

God does not compel. He graciously invites.
God does not wait to arrest us and slam shut the iron bars. He longs to free us from the prisons we’ve built for ourselves.
God does not force our surrender. Instead, Jesus modeled humility.
God does not want me to give up myself. It bears repeating: God made me, loves me, and delights in me.

God wants us to give up sin. God wants to redeem the bad and bring forth beauty.
God wants me to live this one precious life he’s given me with purpose. With joy and creative imaginings. With love, in love, for love.

For God so loves the world.

Image by Kusal Darshana from Pixabay

Under the Weather

It’s raining.
I’m not feeling like myself.
And I wondered: are these facts related?

I heard myself say: I’m feeling under the weather.
Not ill, just unwell. Grey, like the sky.

A quick google search revealed that “under the weather” is a nautical term. A sailor who felt ill was sent below deck to get out of – quite literally “under” – the weather.

When my sons were babies, they tended to extra fussiness on days when the barometric pressure dropped before a storm. A doctor recently told my son that he develops migraine headaches before a storm hits. It doesn’t always happen, but the knee on which I had meniscus surgery pulses with a dull ache before a storm; the discomfort woke me this morning.

It’s not just an old wives’ tale.

Intrigued, I kept digging and discovered that our bodies may be more attuned to weather than we recognize. Beyond migraines and joint pain, cold weather can cause changes to blood pressure and even blood sugar. Apparently, many diabetics report having trouble regulating their blood sugar when it’s cold. The reason: blood thickens in cold weather.

I don’t live on a ship, and our house is comfortably heated. Again, quite literally, most of us have insulated ourselves against the elements. I don’t have to go outside in the rain unless I choose to. Even still, our bodies react to the weather. Nature calls to nature, and nature responds.

Connections like these fascinate me.

I love the rain. Living in drought-prone California I recognize how much we need the rain. The dreadful fires over the last few years have made tragically obvious the messy realities of climate change. “Fire season” shouldn’t be a thing, but it is. The ways we have used and abused the earth have terrifying consequences. Nature abused nature, and nature shouts her pain.

Maybe I should go out in the rain. Maybe I should find ways to honor and celebrate my body’s connectedness to the elements. Maybe some time spent puddle jumping will improve my mood. Maybe being in the weather will help me feel less under the weather. I think I’ll give it a try.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Cover Image by 준원 서 from Pixabay

A Prayer for St. Patrick’s Day

Clover Heart Image by MLARANDA from Pixabay

Christ be with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me

Christ with me when I sleep and when I rise
Christ with me when I work and when I play
Christ surround me with love, grace, and goodness
Christ hold me close

Christ with those who can’t sleep and with those who suffer
Christ with the unemployed and with those who work two jobs
Christ with those who feel unloved, judged harshly, and unworthy
Christ, hold them closer still

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me

Christ in everyone I know
Christ, lead them to loving thoughts
Christ, lead them to peaceful words
Christ, may I remind them of you

Christ in everyone
Christ in those I’ve thoughtlessly injured
Christ in those who speak from their pain
Christ, make peace

Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Christ in everyone I encounter
Christ, may I look like you
Christ, may I sound like you
Christ, may I introduce you?

Christ in every human face
Christ, may I see you
Christ, may I hear you
Christ, may I love like you.

Cover image by Kathleen Bergmann from Pixabay

Dreams Do Come True

I’m setting a timer and participating with the Five Minute Friday crowd. This week’s theme is POSSIBLE. In the story below, you’ll see that achieving your wildest dreams just might be possible…

You want to shout: “Title and Picture do not match!” Bear with me…

My son snapped this shot of an albino baby Rosy Boa taking a giant nibble of his finger on his first day of full-time employment at one of his all-time favorite places: The East Bay Vivarium.

We discovered the Vivarium, the nation’s oldest and largest reptile store, just months after we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. At only seven years old, our son was already a reptile enthusiast. For the 1st grade talent show, he delivered an oral report with a handout to teach his peers about the lizards they were likely to meet in their backyards.

Other kids told jokes like:
“What’s a banana?”
“Yellow.”

For his eighth and ninth birthdays, he invited a friend for pizza and a visit to the Vivarium to check out their incredible inventory of cool critters. When he was twelve years old, I caved and let him choose his own snake, a Red Tail Boa, now measuring a whopping eight feet. Over several years, he has added seven Ball Pythons to his collection. He’s begun breeding them as well.

This year has been a long and winding road. Like so many of us, my son struggled in various ways and had to put a lot of his life on hold. But ultimately the road led him to this job. While this might be the stuff of my nightmares, he is living his dream. STOP

Cover image of Rosy Boa by gayleenfroese2 from Pixabay