Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year, New Saint, New Me?

Last year around this time, Jennifer Fulwiler posted her Random Saint Name Generator. I am that person who takes the magazine quizzes and the facebook quizzes so this was made for me! I pushed the button and received the name of St. Robert Bellarmine.  I spun a few more times just out of curiosity but stuck with the first name "Jen-erated" for me.

I quickly discovered I had a lot of connections to St. Bellarmine who was born in one of my favorite little Tuscan towns. He was the confessor of St. Gonzaga, the first saint I had a connection to as a protestant. A Jesuit with sympathies like those of our Holy Father, St. Francis, he lived an austere life and even clothed the poor with the draperies of his Rome apartment. He opposed the action against Gallileo at a time when doing so was to risk one's life and reputation.

My strongest connection to St. Robert Bellarmine was impossible for me to see on December 31. His most famous work is "The Art of Dying Well," a title I admit I did not connect to on New Years. After a couple of close calls during March and July, this text moved to the top of my "must read" list.

 I am not superstitious and I don't think for a second that God's hand was on the wheel of chance that landed St. Bellarmine's name in my lap. After all, I know it is a computer program. Yet, God's hand is always on the wheel in  my life and the biggest lesson for me is that saints are Saints for a reason: They were humans -- trying, failing, then doing their best -- and they had an extraordinary impact on the world. Any saint can inspire us and will, if we give them the chance. I like the "chance" aspect of this program -- the fun of it -- and the chance to learn about a saint who might not normally appeal to me.

Jen has published her generator again this year. I got the name of St. Louis de Montfort. What I know so far is that he is known for promoting total consecration to Mary, something I've headed for in the past and not gotten to because the timing was not right. Maybe this is my year?

So as we head in to a new year, I will be learning about a new saint. I will be making my six-word resolutions soon and building my spiritual foundation will be one of them.  I can't wait to see what part St. Louis de Montfort will play in my life.

If you try it for yourself, I'd love to hear who is generated for you. Happy last days of 2013.

[Post script: I apologize for my long absence here. During the fall I was blessed to have my parents visiting for several weeks until early December and I simply chose not to devote as much time to blogging ]

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quick Lines about All Saints Day

Just a couple of quick notes about All-Saints Day so I remember this in years to come! It was our teams turn to feed the youth this weekend and we decided to do an "All Saints Day" theme. We decorated a huge room (the Pavillion at St. Williams) so quickly and easily I could barely believe it.

We covered all the tables in orange and each member of the team made 2 or 3 centerpieces; one trooper made six! We picked our favorite saints and pulled together a few items representing them. So, Saint Zita had cooking utensils, St. Catherine of Bolgna had art supplies, St. Lucy had candy eyeballs, etc.

For desert, we served cupcakes with Saints toppers. I used the "badge" templates found in my two Happy Saints Ebooks, made a ton of copies, cut them out with a circle cutter and taped them to coffee stirrers. We made 280 this way!  If we had needed fewer I would have done them double-sided.

What truly amazed me was how much the teens enjoyed and appreciated it. They seemed to have fun figuring out who their table saint was and trading the cupcake toppers! We did not expect such a big response from them.

I will have pictures soon and will come back here and add them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thank You!

Dear Faithful Readers:

I did feel the power of your prayers over the last several days and I truly, truly enjoyed praying for you. I am astounded by how selfish I am at times and it was so wonderful to have an experience of praying for you without even knowing your names. I once heard that if you want to feel closer to your spouse, you should do thoughtful things for them. It stands to reason that praying for another's needs and peace of mind brings us closer to God. That was my experience.

There were a lot of obstacles to getting to Mass this weekend. I could feel myself being tempted even as I drove into the parking lot. I scooted in and took a seat on the aisle, thinking, even then, that I would slip out after communion. My sweet friend Gina saw me in church sans the family and left her hubby and boys to come sit by me. How faithful and wonderful is our God!

Then of course the readings were perfect for me in such a selfish state of life. "Come to church," said Father Alex, "because someone here needs your support for their prayers. Their arms are tired; they need you to hold them up." Have I thought of that at all these last few months? Of course not. It is the power of community, right? How often I have taken courage from the others gathered when my trials seemed to overwhelming. I have felt nestled in the community, cradled in their arms, when all outside seemed to be crumbling. What if everyone listened to that selfish whisper and stayed home to do their laundry instead?

So, it worked. Thank you so much. I have found my feet beneath me. I am committed to go with or without the company of my family - though I greatly prefer having their company. In truth, it amazes me that anyone reads this blog - since I have no official "followers." I am thankful for you prayer warriors who helped me overcome this temptation. Here is a little gift for you:

The story of the writing of this hymn is a gift in itself. Here's one version of the hubling story. I have not known suffering at all. God bless you.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why I Need Your Prayers

Sometimes I want to be that Catholic, ya' know? Like my cheerful friend Maryanne who is always counting her blessings and full of Jesus-Love and hugging all of us and looking on the bright side and she never misses Mass and she goes to confession and she's sweet and loveable.

I'm not that Catholic. I'm the convert who still isn't used to having a Sunday obligation although before becoming Catholic I was the kind of person who never missed church. But that was before I had so many excuses -- err, children.

While in former times I had the passion of St Igantius of Antioch . . .

“It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but to actually be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name...Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the Devil--Only let me get to Jesus Christ!” 

 . . . now I am in a lukewarm phase. I may be the frog being boiled to death slowly and just enjoying the warm bath.

I have been terrible at getting to Mass since my heart thing during Lent. Now I've admitted it out loud. It's not all the kids or my heart or school starting or baseball or that I'm tired or that my parents just arrived from Idaho or that my parish is huge . . . nope. There have been times in my life when I had the best excuses for missing church (and didn't) but not this time; it's spiritual warfare.  I seem to always have an excuse and now I need to stop it. No more excuses.

Even as I write that, I feel my excuse/justification for this weekend bubbling up. Satan does not want me in church. I've been arm wrestling him a few weeks but this morning I read this great quote on this wonderful blog:

There it is. "I'm such a failure. My house is a mess. My hubby is unhappy. I don't make enough money. I don't use my education. My kids misbehave. My family is too busy. I don't go to church every week . . . " etc. etc. etc.

So please pray for me. Clearly, I can use your prayers. I could just power-walk out of this slump but collaboration is a good thing. I am part of a community.

For my part, I will devote myself to praying for you, quiet reader. At least 15 sweet hearted people read all of my posts so this week, I am praying for you, sweetheart, with all my heart. I am praying that all your fears be stilled, that your heart be at peace, that the nagging little worries you haven't admitted to anyone (with skin on) be ironed out of your heart and that "peace like a river attendeth your soul." I will pray in thanksgiving for your faithfulness and the gift of your beautiful life in this world. Thank you and blessings.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Musings on Mercy

As I sat down to savor today's readings in my precious post-school-departure moments of quiet, the Casting Crowns song, "If We are the Body," was playing on my stereo.

Today is the story of Jonah up to the point where his shipmates wise up and throw him into sea. Then we have a beautiful Psalm reminding us that God rescues me from the pit of my distress. Finally, the tale of the scholar who wishes for eternal life and finds out it is not about what we know but about what we do. I love that the "hard answer" -- love your neighbor -- leads straight into the convicting "Good Samaritan" parable. These are some of the most familiar stories in the Bible; their message is clear and we know them by heart.

Why, then, is it so hard to truly do this? For me, at least, it's far easier to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless than to show love and mercy (at least consistently) to my children, my co-workers, my teammates, fellow parishioners --my true neighbors, all.

This reminded me of the Casting Crowns song, "Jesus, Friend of Sinners."

Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away
We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing.
Jesus, friend of sinners, the truth's become so hard to see
The world is on their way to You but they're tripping over me;
Always looking around but never looking up, I'm so double minded,
A plank-eyed saint with dirty hands and a heart divided.

I stand convicted. When it comes to those we know best, my judging nature rises like a serpent and is so ready to strike. My fervent prayer is that God will help me tame that wild beast within me. 

I have been shown so much mercy in my life; please let me be merciful. Please let me be a source of healing and hope. Help me, this day to get my mind for once off myself and let me offer the kind word that lifts a heart. Let me be a listener; quiet my mouth and my mind. I know it is up to me, just help me please to remember, to notice, to take a breath, to access my heart. Amen.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thoughts Politic

I often describe myself as being apolitical. I am not apathetic, I'm just a person who puts my energies elsewhere. Politics confound me and, too easily, I begin to believe full-stop that I cannot make a difference. Today is a new day.

On this day in mid-September, 2013, there is much debate over Syria. I hear people from all sides weighing in and I have been, to put it mildly, a bit cynical about it. I know how much I don't know about war and diplomacy, yet from my -- albeit uninformed -- view, it seems our track record of late hasn't been so good. I worry about the consequences, how long our involvement might extend, the cost, and the loss of life, especially more innocent life. I have been feeling pretty hopeless about it; it seems the classic case of "no right answer.

Today, however, I find hope in the scripture. In the readings for today, there is an unmistakable theme of peace; peace, that is, and action, not passivism.

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity. 
This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth 

There is not only something I can do, but something I (and every Christian) are compelled to do. We are to pray for our leaders, for kings, for all in authority and more . . . to pray for peace, that all "may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity." 

What if we all did that?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Hopeful Word on Grace, Regrets and Free Will

Free will is not a curse -- although it sometimes seems that way - it is the conduit for God's grace. We all do stupid things, make poor choices, intentionally hurt others and do things we regret. The regretful mistakes are the hardest; we have no one but ourselves to blame. So we do blame ourselves and if the mistakes are big enough, the regret gets bigger too because we keep coming face to face with the consequences of those regretful actions.

I think this is the biggest obstacle in living a Christian life. Somehow it is easier to accept (with grace) the suffering that is a result of acts of God, like health issues, circumstances beyond our control and even the actions of others. The hardest suffering to accept is the suffering we bring on ourselves. Somehow regretting those things seems more noble; to forgive ourselves seems as if we are saying what we did is okay.

This is simply not the case. It is mistaken thinking. Regret is the roadblock to grace. It is a brick wall that we build between God and God's infinite and unconditional love for us.

Sometimes we get to make restitution to those we have harmed. Sometimes that is simply not the case. Sometimes the people hurt by our actions forgive us; sometimes they don't and may not ever do so. Either way, we know we must confess our sins and ask God to forgive us.

As Catholics, we have an unusual privilege. We get to take our sins to the confessional and receive absolution right then and there; we get the privilege of hearing the voice of the priest telling us out loud that God has forgiven our sins. God has forgiven us, unconditionally, no holds barred. Reconciliation is a full circle.

Therefore, we must now forgive ourselves. We must do this because not doing so is to turn our back on God's grace. That, in itself, is a sin. God is saying to us, "You have a beautiful heart. You made a mistake and you are forgiven."

When we do this hard thing, when we say, "Yes, Lord, I am loved by you, not in spite of my flaws but because of them," we allow God's beautiful work to begin in us. Some of my most humiliating lessons have been the most powerful; once I let go the humiliation, then my heart is open and I am able to be taught. And those lessons are the ones we never forget.. Nouwen says it so well:

I kept running around it large or small circles  always looking for someone or something able to convince me of my Belovedness.

Self rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.
Henri Nowen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

 Therefore, we must forgive ourselves. Such  is our work and our duty and that work is what paves the road to grace. We must claim our belovedness and open ourselves to the abundant and overflowing grace available to us.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Conversion - Final Part - "Taking it on Faith"

Within weeks of beginning to attend Catholic mass, that old curiosity rose up in me. I began reading books on the Catholic faith trying to answer my own questions. After some research, it began dawning on me that this was, indeed, the church I'd been looking for. My whole adult life, I'd sought the church that was close to Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church's commitment to the traditions of the church had a plus for a seeker like me; it allowed me a glimpse into the church that existed closer to the time of Jesus. I found myself in regular email and phone exchanges with Father Sam, who eventually convinced me there was no shortcut to Catholicism, and I should join the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) class starting in the fall.

I enjoyed the class and learned a lot, but a lot of my questions had already been answered. Yet one niggling issue persisted.

A few weeks before the Easter Vigil where our class would join the Church, our RCIA leaders  asked, "Are you ready to commit?" I said to the class that my biggest concern was about transubstantiation.  I was just not sure that I could accept that the bread and wine truly became the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Father Sam was present for that class and he looked at me with a very open expression on his faith and said, "Some things you simply have to take on faith."

I was --of course -- unsatisfied with that answer, but I mulled it over each night as I was trying to sleep. "What does that mean? Why do Catholics always cop out with 'It's a mystery'? Isn't this too important to just "take on faith?"

One morning I woke up to read my daily readings and had an epiphany. There were many, many things in my life I'd taken on faith, countless things. My whole journey to Catholicism had been an act of faith. There was a certain irony in needing to know definitive answers in matters of faith. I decided to stop holding so tightly to my "need to know" and allow God to illuminate the path for me.

That decision changed everything. As it turned out, my annulment papers did not come through in time for me to join the church with my class. At Easter Vigil, I was in the pews as my RCIA classmates were baptized and welcomed into the church. As I watched them receive first Holy Communion, I knew I was ready.

For the next six months, I continued to stand in the congregation and watch my classmates receive the Eucharist as God finished preparing my heart. Finally, on the feast day of my confirmation saint, St. Therese of Li Seux, I called Father Sam.  "Still nothing?," I asked, feeling impatience rise in me. "As a matter of fact," he said, "I was just looking up your number. Your annulment papers came through."

I joined the Church that weekend with a confidence I'd have never had -- but decided I did not need! -- at Easter Vigil.

Today's gospel reading sums up my journey to Catholicism well:
 "And I tell you, ask and you will receive;

seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you. 
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. "

I am still a seeker, but now instead of seeking the perfect church, I'm seeking the perfect expression of my faith. I am committed to growing in perfection whilst knowing I'll never achieve it. But I will keep knocking.

Part One of my story
Part Two  - Midnight Mass
Part Three - Crucifix Ephiphany
Part Four - Seeker
Part Five - Signs and Wonders
Part Six - Annulment

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Load of Bricks

Sometimes, the most helpful thing is to know I am normal. I'm normal, you're normal, we're all "normal."

In this case, I'm referring to sin. One morning in Lent, I had an epiphany. I wasn't sleeping well and I woke up around 4:00 AM, so I decided to pray Lauds, the Liturgy of the Hours to be said on rising. As St. Basil the Great said, "It is said in the morning in order that the first stirrings of our mind and will may be consecrated to God and that we may take nothing in hand until we have been gladdened by the thought of God. . . "

On this particular day, I was very gladdened. Somehow in the midst of my readings I came upon an excerpt from the Vatican II documents in which we are reminded that sin is a human problem common to all human beings. The light bulb came on.

So often I beat myself up for my sins. I feel guilty going in to confession saying the same things time and again, "I gossiped. I did not keep my Sunday obligation. I took the Lord's name in vain," etcetera. I think that by now, I should be better than this (read: perfect). It is not so much the nature of my personal sin that bothers me as the repetitiveness of it I feel like a little child who has done something wrong (again) and is waiting for her parent to mete out the punishment she knows is coming. Or the cartoon drawing of the man, sweating, head down, straining forward, with a load of bricks tied to his ankles. Finally my turn comes and instead of the chastising I have set myself up for, I have a trans-formative experience. Again. Never once has the priest said to me, "What? Again? What is the matter with you?"

I know well the passage in Romans 3:23: "All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God." Yet somehow it had not sunk in. I somehow was not getting the "all." The important part of that passage comes next:

Whew. It's a breath of fresh air, isn't it? One more time, I am human. Even better, one more time I am forgiven and ready to go back into service. There is a spring in my step as I prepare to follow the advice of Galatians  6:9:

"Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest if we do not grow weary."

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Opening the Heart

On Ash Wednesday, I said I was praying to open my heart. Be careful what you ask for!

I did have a great many opportunities during Lent to practice vulnerability and open hearted-ness. I became more self-aware of this issue in my life and began to catch myself more quickly when I was putting up my defenses. However, it was landing in the hospital during the last couple weeks of Lent that really drove the lesson home.

It is a surreal experience to be a patient in the ICU when you are conscious, breathing independently and ambulatory. The ICU experience is not really set up for the "walkie talkie" patient, as the staff called me.  With IV meds, a heart monitor, a pulse ox and a blood pressure cuff constantly on, I was really tethered to the bed, so even toileting required calling for help. In addition, every time I moved, my heart rate soared, so they really did not want me to move and they certainly did not want me to try to do anything on my own.

Over the years, I have learned to be more collaborative. I have trained myself to ask for help and include others in decision making. In all honesty though, it is rarely my first instinct. Becoming a team player has been a matter of intensive training for me.* So life as a fairly independent "walkie talkie" had challenges in the ICU. Here's how it looked:

I drop a book on the floor. Ask for someone to please come pick it up.  My meal has arrived. Let the delivery person raise my bed and adjust the table and open the dishes and put the straws in the drinks. My phone is low on battery. Ask someone to plug it in (across the room because ICU patients usually aren't able to use electricity) and then ask for help again to get it back, et cetera, et cetera, all day (and night)  for 9 long days. Attempt to do all of this cheerfully and without apology or arrogance.

Only the Master Designer could implement so perfect an exercise to allow me to open my heart. Yet what I noticed was that once I stopped resisting, I was actually very good at it. I had a few visits which I cherished, and some precious people phoned, but the rest of the time, I lay quietly. It was indeed good "for my heart." I had a lot of time for meditation. I read a bunch. I laid still. I visited with the staff, learned about their lives, got a sense of who they are. I prayed for my children and my husband. I let people help me. I was calm, serene even. It was amazing.

It's a little harder now, back at home, several weeks later. I do need to occasionally remind myself of what I learned. Having a new job has aided that remembrance, though, as several times a day I still need to ask for help. I have had a host of new people come into my life in the past 2 months and I notice how much love I feel for them. It's hard to quantify but I am loving people more and letting it shine more than I was before Lent, I am certain of it.

I can't help but appreciate the irony that when what I was working toward was opening my heart and then I finished the Lenten season in the hospital with heart issues -- you could call it spiritual heart surgery.

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God,
For he is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love,
and relenting in punishment.
(Joel 2:13)

*Learning to be a "team player" has been facilitated over the years by a number of big-hearted people who gently taught me lessons on teamwork while showing respect for my dogged independence.  There is a huge list of such teachers but on my mind at this moment are Paul Tischler, Sharon Parish, Peggy Jarrett, Richard Perry, Brad Brown, Sue Oldham, Briggy Kiddle, Father Sam Hose, Adam Stern, Stephen Rushton, Sheena Pyke, Richard Cox, Tom Morely, Father Edwin Kagoo and Will Kidd. I know the learning wasn't always graceful but rest assured, I still remember and am still learning from your love.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Saint Unawares

Once in a while, a saint enters our lives, completely unbidden. Such was the case yesterday.

Gabriel and I go to Mass together on Tuesdays after his therapy. He's usually quite restless and distracted but still . . . it's our special time together. Each week he asks to light a prayer candle and each week, I say "no" because it requires going to the office in another building and I want to get him directly back to school.

I don't think I mentioned that after our fateful Ash Wednesday experience, I sent both Gabriel and Tinker back to Mass with Paul because it seemed really clear that they needed some practice in how to behave properly in church. He said they were well behaved; I'm pretty sure they knew they would get another chance to practice if they weren't. Sometimes going to a huge church with 5 services on Ash Wednesday really comes in handy!  Gabe was sick on Sunday, so he got to stay home from church.

So you can imagine it was with a bit of trepidation that I approached yesterday's Mass. I did not mention Ash Wednesday or anything about proper behavior, just held his hand and walked with false bravado to our usual spot in the front row.

Well, apparently that practice paid off because he behaved perfectly. He knelt, he prayed, he kept his hands in his lap, he attempted the responses; he shone! At the conclusion of daily Mass, our congregation adds a couple extra prayers including a short litany of the saints. When it concluded, before rising, I said, "St. Gabriel, pray for us." To which he sweetly added, "St. Benjamin, pray for us; St. Marguerite, pray for us; St. Peter Chanelle, pray for us; St. Allison, pray for us." (I didn't tell him that her patron is St. Clare and there is no "St. Allison" . . . yet!). Then I lead him to the painting of St. Gabriel and he was able to finally read his own name on the painting. We were both on cloud nine as we turned to leave.

Just as we started out, a nun who shared the front row with us stopped us. She asked Gabriel if he knew what giving alms were. He said something about the homeless. (I had no idea he knew this!) She offered him a dollar she was supposed to offer as alms (explaining that she was about to return to her mother house) and asked if he would be responsible to either give it to someone in need or to get a prayer candle for someone's benefit. He said he would and proudly accepted it. Then she offered him a dollar of her own money for his own use. He was so proud and put it in his pocket. We thanked her and the moment we turned our backs, he said, "I want a prayer candle, Mom."

How could I refuse? As we walked to the office he said, "I want to say the prayers for Maggie and Bennie." What a doll. I have no idea what he prayed but I helped him light the candle and he knelt down a few minutes, crossed himself, and got up.  What a sweetie.

It was the perfect ending for a little guy who clearly was making a true effort to do the right thing. I do not know if we will ever see that nun again but she made a huge impact on our son. You never know when your word of encouragement will lift the heart of one who needs it!

Editor's note:  This actually happened on February 20 and somehow I forgot to release it for publication.  Go figure. It's not like I'm distracted or anything.  But since I'm here anyway, you must check out this amazing blog post.  The pics are fab and I felt so touched.  It was as if all our babies were kissed.  Be blessed.

Monday, February 18, 2013

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

If it is possible for me to break my Lenten sacrifices before I leave the church grounds, I will do it every time.    It's that aforementioned rebellious nature. Therefore, I try to construct sacrifices I can't goof up on while the ashes are still snowing off my forehead!  Most of my plans for this year fall into the latter category but as a family, we took on "bear wrongs patiently." (In case you can't decide on a sacrifice check out this Lenten Resolution Flow Chart!)

Since I made threats to all three little children at one point or another during Ash Wednesday Mass, thus goofing up before we even got to the Eucharist, it's safe to say this is a sacrifice tailor made for me. My personal spin on it is "refrain from criticism."  Of course I have to correct and train my children, but the criticism is not needed.  Criticism is a bad habit. I plan to break the back of that habit during Lent.

It's my training ground, for certain. The only place that tests me more than church is the ballpark. Safety is a huge issue at the ballpark when older girls are playing. The only place you are really safe from foul balls is sitting on the bleachers. Therefore, I cruelly insist that my little ones "sit" when the batter is up. Since 90% of all the other little ones at the ball park are allowed to run around nilly willy, this is excruciating for my Littles. I say over and over, "Go to your seat," "Please sit on your bottom," or "Where are you supposed to be?"  I make it okay through the game but the minute we head to the parking lot for a sandwich, all my patience drains through my shoes.

Saturday was no exception. I was alone with the kids as Paul was away being inspired by Matthew Kelly and Alli was at a discernment retreat at the Cathedral. As I corrected Tinker, my tone turned sharp and I said rhetorically, "What is wrong with you?" She smiled and ran off but The Blitz stopped dead in his tracks and turned around, an encouraging look on his face.

"Bear wrongs patiently, Mom."

Chastised, I said, "Oh, you're right buddy.  I need to bear wrongs patiently."

"That means, 'don't be mean,'right, Mama?"

"You're right again, buddy."

"K Mom. Well just try again, okay?"

I thank God for my children. They are my best teachers as well as my greatest joy. I greatly needed that reminder about our family sacrifice, but even more, I needed the reminder to "just try again." Lent is about making perfect my soul, but I am not going to be perfect getting there. The prophet Isaiah had it right, we need that little child to lead us!

(Photo credit: Lily Parish)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rend my Heart: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

 I have been waiting for Ash Wednesday for about a month. I am impatient with the dreariness of winter; I long for the warmth in the breeze and that beautiful golden-green that signals the very first moments of spring (al a Robert Frost). "Lent" literally means "spring" and I relish living in a part of the country in which the two events actually coincide.  

In December I became aware of a blind-spot of mine: I have a rebellious nature. (I can hear you laughing! Of course you knew this! I am the last to know and that's why it's called a "blind-spot," smarty!) I took this revelation to confession and Fr. Jonathan sweetly asked, "What are you rebelling against?" This I could not answer. Fast forward a few weeks, many hours of prayer and a couple of conversations with my astute support partner and the answer was abundantly clear: I rebel against vulnerability. Or to put it another way, I close my heart. As much as I am being lighthearted, it is a terrible and painful admission for me. Since then, for weeks, truly, I have been praying for open-heartedness, abundant love, abiding love, for perfect love.

I love the words from the first reading today, "rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God."  I can visualize that tough old covering being "rent" off. I see progress. As always, just identifying a blind-spot tends to make us work on it. I was sorely tested in Mass today though, I promise; all three little ones were putting me through the ringer and I was grateful for the Lord's prayer in which we forgive others because never did I need it more! I managed to genuinely pass the peace with them but I'd be praying for forgiveness again before we got out. Yet, in other days, I see that I am more willing to be open-hearted, to love unconditionally, to let others in. Not as much as I'd like, but progress.

I know I have it in me to be vulnerable. I can remember instances-- days and weeks -- in which I opened my heart, both to beauty and to pain. In More to Life, they call it "letting in the lifeshocks."   I remember inspiring jubilation and terrible, heart-wrenching hours, both met with that simple vulnerability. What amazes me now that is that I can see in both extremes (and all that occurred in between) that regardless of the raw emotion, when I was able to let go the reins, such incredible, sweet tenderness was present. I was able - in those times - to feel a peace and assurance that is not present in my daily life. Remembering these times encourages me and quells my fear.

So enter Lent, which I like to call "the spiritual work season." I am ready to roll up my sleeves, put myself in the paths of lifeshocks, and knock the devil on his keister! I know that it is evil, not love, that makes me close my heart out of fear. And when I do, I don't always notice. It's not a loud, clanging door, like when the wind catches the screen. It's more like the heavy sliding door of the confessional; it just eases closed without a peep. It is not until later that I realize I have fortressed my heart again.

I have chosen my Lenten sacrifices of course, the measurable, accountable kind. But my true sacrifice will be one that is much harder to measure; I am giving up my protectiveness. I am going to stop worrying about what will happen if I truly let God hold the reins in my life. I am letting go of the illusion of control. In fact, I am suddenly reminded of something my friend and mentor Richard Perry said once, "God has given me every moment of choice . . . and not a single moment of control."

My work for the season is to see how God can use me if I let him. I will let him. Stay tuned. . .

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Annulment is Not a Dirty Word (Conversion - Part 6)

This morning my "quiet time" was interrupted by Dear Hubby, then Pepper, then the Blitz and then, frankly, I gave up. I know I have to get up earlier than I did today in order to have that solitude but it was hard to let go because I was contemplating the first reading from not today, but yesterday and this passage in particular:

For what "son" is there whom his father does not discipline?

So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
That what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.
Hebrews 12:7, 12-13

For some reason, this passage reminded me of my beginnings of RCIA and having my previous marriages annulled. At first, it just seemed like a painful ordeal, a harsh discipline . . . but I am getting ahead of myself.

Shortly after starting to attend Mass at St. John Vianney, I found in myself a profound curiosity about the Catholic faith. I started wondering about the order of the Mass and why things were done as they were. At the time I had no intention of converting but I responded as in all things: I began a process of research.

I started with a book, Why do Catholics do That? which explained some things quite well. I began to see the flow of the liturgy and the rhythm of the Mass.  A friend suggested Scott Hahn's book, Rome Sweet Home.  It was very hard for me to buy this book, I will admit, because I hated the cheesy title (of which I am still not enamored). Nonetheless, I was drawn to learn about why a Protestant minister became a Catholic theologian. So I read the book and related to much of what he said, particularly about his searching for the "true church of Jesus Christ." These books were the starting point of my quest.

Within months of joining the Parish, I had done enough research to know I wanted to join the Catholic church; Father Sam, however, said (basically), "There is a way to do this, and it is through the RCIA process." Even well-researched and convicted people have to go through RCIA, apparently. So I did.

I was sure about most things, but I had one source of concern* and one roadblock.  My roadblock was that my previous marriages had to be annulled. This was a big one for me. I had married to escape the issues of my adolescence. I had been in and out of relationships for years until, in my mid-thirties, I finally realized that I could not change my past, nor my past relationships, but I could change the course of my future. At that point, I began to take true responsibility for my own happiness which included accepting the mistakes of my past and forgiving the other actors in those events.

It is an understatement to say that I entered the annulment process with fear and trembling. Annulment meant revisiting not only my past, but truthfully and fully owning up to my part in all that went wrong. In annulment paperwork, you not only tell the story of what happened in the marriage, you have to tell why you think it happened, what you could have done to repair or prevent it and why it ended as it did. (And not only this, but put it all on paper for total strangers to assess.) Oh and let us not forget, you also have to provide witnesses who may know something about the situations. As gut wrenching and difficult as that was, it was the easy part. The hard part was knowing my former spouses (in their current lives) would also be revisiting our mutual past. I felt terrible about intruding on their lives in this way. Over the time of counseling with Father Sam and working on the annulments, I got in contact with them and had a chance to say,"I'm sorry for my part. I'm sorry for the pain I caused you. I wish you nothing but joy and peace in your future." It was amazingly liberating to be able to say, "I'm sorry" while truly expecting no apology, no admission of responsibility or anything else in return.

[I notice as I write that I want to launch into a defense of the process of annulment. I know it is widely misunderstood and disliked. That's not my role right now.]

I can tell you that for me, the process of going through my annulments was one of the most healing, hopeful, and cleansing experiences of my life. I was able to look back at what had previously been chapters of shame in my life and to realize that I was a regular human who had made mistakes and subsequently confessed those mistakes and that they were over and done with. I was able to close those chapters and accept God's true and complete forgiveness. It was beautiful.

At the time,all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

*I will talk about my "one concern" in my final installment of my conversion story.

Part One of my story
Part Two  - Midnight Mass
Part Three - Crucifix Ephiphany
Part Four - Seeker
Part Five - Signs and Wonders
Part Seven - Taking it on Faith

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Grace Before Meals

I'm a big advocate of family mealtimes.  In fact, if you read my family blog, you will think all we do is eat.  It seems that way to the "head cook and bottle washer" too!

When we started building our home, Pepper was 15 months old and Sunshine was expected; we had just met her birthmother for the first time.  Our vision for our home included a kitchen in the middle so it could be the center of our family activity.  (Little did I know that it would also be the center of a racetrack.  Every toddler to enter our door immediately runs the full circle several times.)

Since moving in, family meals have been a priority and they are still the norm for our family.   Even in a household with two busy teens, we manage dinner all together several nights a week. When the girls were young, we started a family tradition that remains to this day and is much beloved by "the Littles."  Each person in turn "gets the floor" and they tell us three things about their day:  "What am I proudest of?", "What was hard for me today?" and "What would I have for a "do-over?"  We don't do this every night because with little kids, it's a little repetitive, but we do it so often that our conversations naturally steer themselves that way.  I think the important part about the table conversation was that from the time our oldest were small, we talked, personally, at the table.

You can imagine, then, how happy I was to learn about Father Patalinghug and his movement, Grace Before Meals. I first learned about Father Leo on a re-run of Bobby Flay's Throwdown.  Father Leo is all about the family table and in his book by the same name, he encourages families to gather at the table before a beautiful meal and share. He gives ideas for special days to celebrate and conversation starters for those special meals. He's so inspiring.

He's hilarious too. Corny, kitschy, kooky, however you say it, he's an enjoyable speaker.  We were fortunate today to have him celebrate a Mass at Saint Williams and even the little ones were laughing. Then later, he hosted a "family picnic" and demonstrated his famous Asian Fusion Fajitas.    This is the recipe with which he defeated superstar television chef Bobby Flay in his "Throwdown."  He spoke (and cooked) for nearly an hour about how this time together as a family is the absolute best way to keep the evil one at bay. He pointed out that many (secular) studies showed that kids in families who regularly eat dinner together are far less likely to use drugs, smoke, drink alchohol or join gangs. However, it wasn't only his cooking that inspired me although he has mad skills; it was his honoring of the family, of the Church and of the sacraments that had me at times laughing and at others, moved to tears.

I came away with a copy of his newest book, Spicing up Married Life, but more importantly with a renewed appreciation for the family table and the true value of what we are doing. I'm happy to know that we have a "televangelist" priest finding a new and innovative way to speak up for the family.  If you are not already familiar with Father Leo, I hope you will take time to check out his wonderful ministry and television series!

We pics of Pepper and I with Father Leo but can't seem to get them off the phone.  Oh well!  Maybe next time!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Facebook as a First Step to Advocacy

Yesterday, I attended daily mass which happened to also be a Mass for the National Day of Prayer and Penance.  I regret not having been better informed about this day in advance in order to have properly invited my family into observing this day with me.  On Tuesdays, I attend Mass with my 5 year old and it is our special time together.

Now for the confession: While I have for many years been opposed to legalized abortion, I have not been outspoken in my opposition to it. I've done little to affect change or even to open dialogue about it. If you know me, I'm more of a "doer" than a "debater." And I happen to know that at least half my friends around the world are pro-choice, and many are pro-euthanasia as well.

I hesitate because I know that it is a very complex issue; I know every case is different; I know that I have not "walked a mile in her shoes;" I know the issue is complicated by rape, incest, drugs, genetic disease and other things.  I also hesitate because, frankly, I have known I was infertile since I was 19 years old. A poorly timed pregnancy has never been a concern for me.

Nonetheless, Father Dean in his quiet way convicted me at that Mass. I felt moved to post something on my Facebook feed about it.  Here is what I said, verbatim:

As of today, I have 709 friends on Facebook. If you chose to unfriend me for what I say next, I understand, but I hope you will hear me out first. 

Today I am thinking about life. Today, at mass, I stood by Gabriel (age 5) who has been my greatest teacher (EVER). He was born at 27 weeks and though his odds weren't good, he not only survived, he thrived. He's a fighter. I looked at his sweet face and wondered, what if he had not survived to be born? What if his birthmother had chosen to end his life? Was she the perfect mother to him? No, but neither am I. Yet he is worthy of love and I cannot imagine my life without him or any of my precious children whose birthmothers were brave enough to carry them and bring them to birth.

I am constantly astounded that in the age of ultra sounds where parents can see their in utero baby just days after conception, we are still legally condoning killing hundreds on thousands of babies each year in the US alone. It breaks my heart.

I believe in the sanctity of ALL human life; I believe that the elderly, the frail, the immigrant, the disabled, people of all races and ethnicities, the poor, people who commit crimes and the unborn all deserve our respect and protection. They all deserve life and dignity.

If you don't agree with me, let's converse in person about it (my number is on my info) -- please do not send "poison darts" here on Facebook as that only results in further polarization. I do not have all the answers but I am interested in reconciliation. Let's talk.

I was astounded by the response, frankly.  Only two people responded in a way that could be considered "fighting words."  What resulted was an open-minded, open-hearted discussion about why people believe as they do.

In a later comment, I had the chance to state emphatically that I am not in any way pointing a finger at the women who have made this choice for themselves.  I am not here to judge or to condemn another person's past. I cannot imagine facing that tough decision and I have nothing but empathy for women who have found themselves in that position.

 It's my goal to open the dialogue -- to brainstorm, to open minds, to question -- in order that our country can put an end to this horrible legacy.  Yet, the discussion leaves me with more questions than answers.

 I do believe that outlawing abortion would lead to people seeking it in back rooms and unsafe conditions, and that has its own consequences. I think there are complicated instances in which a woman could see abortion as the only viable option.  If only there were a middle ground that right now seems impossible given the state of health care and the economic variables in our country. What if pro-life forces started with small steps and began with the most controversial abortions -- late term terminations -- and we worked at it piece by piece?

As well, we are far from having social support that can uphold women in crisis pregnancy; these supports are mostly only available through financially strapped non-profits.  We would need a stronger, faster, (possibly non-religious) and more efficient delivery system of support for mothers who chose to parent (against tough odds) and for those who made adoption plans.  Roe v Wade was upheld at the time when most adoptions were closed and the results were not so good for some of those kids. Adoption education would be an absolute necessity and in order to affect that education,  many more large scale studies on adoption must be done. I can tell you first hand that adoption is hard on kids. Is it better than being raised by an ill-equipped parent?  In many cases, but probably not in all cases. We have a lot of learning yet to do.

We are a fractured and itinerant society; it truly does "take a village" and we would need many kinds of healing to make such a support system viable. We're not even close.

Nonetheless, for many, the question seems to come down to one of life.  When does life begin?  At conception?  At 16 days after conception, when a heartbeat is visible on an ultra-sound?  Certainly by the second or third trimester, life is hard to deny.  This is an important question and one that will not be answered by shouting, picketing, name calling or bumper stickers. My experience through Gabriel Project was that once mothers saw an ultra sound of their child in utero, they saw a human life. Perhaps there is a way in here; perhaps federally funded clinics could be required to offer ultrasounds before a termination plan is made.  Pie in the sky, I know.  But it would be a step in the right direction.

For me, it's clear.  If we were in a war in which over 1000 (some say 1600) American lives were being lost every single day, the country would be up in arms. Even the quiet, non-political people (like me) would be involved. We would not stand for it. If I have learned one thing as a parent, it's this: I make mistakes, big ones. And when I do, it's "on me" to apologize, take back, rethink, reconsider and course-correct. I seriously doubt that those arguing in Roe v Wade ever dreamed their battle would lead us to where we are today. It is time -- high time -- that we said, "enough."

I am still discerning my part. What's yours?

(Post script -- after a lively discussion by dozens of my friends on Facebook and after about 20 hours, I still have 708 friends.  I am inspired by our ability to engage in civil and respectful discourse in a such a diverse group.  It gives me great hope!)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hope for my Resolutions

Yesterday's readings reminded me that Jesus not only forgives my human weakness, he understands and has experienced it for himself:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (bold print mine)
Hebrews 4:15-16
. . . Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the religious, but sinners.
Mark 2:17b

These are perfect (of course!) readings for this season, nearly three weeks into a brand new year.  Almost three weeks after promises and resolutions were made and most, I suspect, like I, are struggling to say true. 

This year, at least, I know what I have not known before (at least not known it "in my bones"), it is not about will power. It is all about acknowledging my human weakness --my sin -- and availing myself of the abundant grace that is within reach and freely flowing. It is truly about washing myself in the stream of living water, the font of grace, that is always right here where I am. It is, in fact, "the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb." 

It is available, flowing freely, the living water of God's grace and forgiveness.  At any moment in time, I can avail myself of it, splash in it, drink it in, immerse myself, bathe in it. The question then remains, "What am I waiting for?"

Friday, January 11, 2013

Epiphany Season Epiphany

I feel sad that the Christmas season is almost over.  It's a sense of letting go. The perennial question is, "How do I keep the sense of joy, connection and wonderment going through the year?" (Although it's very good the feasting has come to an end!)

When I dig a little deeper into that sadness, that reluctance, I think of a few things I love about our celebration of Christmas this year:

  • I love the way the house looks decorated for Christmas
  • I like the sense of celebration
  • I enjoy my own renewed dedication to the sacraments and my faith practices
  • I enjoy the break from so much running around to appointments and "kid stuff"
  • I treasure hearing from people with whom I am rarely in touch
  • I relish (tee-hee) preparing special meals (and feasts!)
  • I love the candles and theme of "light in the darkness" 
  • I focus more on altruism
The question then becomes, how can I create this at other times?  Thinking aloud, here is my short list of ideas:
  • Do something decorative in the house each month.  For example, this month I'm going to put some plants on the shelf behind where the Christmas tree now stands.
  • Have dinner in the dining room with the china every weekend
  • Continue attending daily mass and my morning practices which include meditation, scripture reading and journaling.  (I have actually already spent time with the calendar and three different parish bulletins to make this a reality.  I'm so blessed to live where I have 5 parishes within 15 miles of me!)
  • Consider what "running around" I can let go of; re-institute weekly "no driving" days.
  • Weekly, write a note (or last resort, an email) to someone who matters to me.
  • Keep the candles around and light them. Light the fireplace. Gather the family.  Enjoy! Savor!
  • Do a better job of keeping the holy water full. The kids love it!
  • Like at Christmas, making a family effort, at least monthly to give a gift of time, talent or treasure to someone in need.  Right now, in fact, I know a family who could use some meals.
My task now -- right now, in fact -- is to calendar these items so that they actually occur.  Even if I need to reschedule them, they will remain in mind.  

It can't be Christmas every day but I can keep the spirit alive in our home and in me. I want the feast days to stand out -- to be a contrast to every day life -- but they don't have to be as much of a contrast as they have been.  I remember as a child, things of faith -- primarily sitting in church -- seemed like work to me. I want to bring more of the joy of our faith into our home; I want the kids to have the "fun" of it, so to speak.  

If you have any ideas on keeping the spirit of Christmas alive in your home, please share!