Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Beggar

Am I the only one that clings more and more tightly to my identity as a child the older I get?  And maybe (certainly) it has nothing to do with my getting older, and everything to do with my parents getting older.  Trips back home to Kansas and big meals together have always felt like they would last forever.  Until now.  It has finally dawned on me that there is far less time ahead than behind. 

We usually only make it home twice a year, so we typically exchange Christmas gifts while we're there for Thanksgiving.  Only this year, there was no exchange because I brought nothing to exchange.  I thought working was my excuse, but my sister and sister-in-law both have three kids and work full-time and had beautifully wrapped presents for all.  Excuse B?  Ugh.  Empty-handed, again.  "Hey!  Can these school pictures of the boys be everyone's Christmas gift?  I can write their age and grade on the back."  Lame.

In discussing my empty-handedness with my parents, the "burden" of time and money that Christmas often carries came up.  If everybody buys for everybody, we're up to twenty-two on one side alone!  We talked about misplaced materialism (if there's ever a good place for it), and how it overshadows the celebration of Christ's birth.  Meanwhile, our desire for simplicity remains frustrated. 

Before I had children, this effort to maintain simplicity played out as gifts for grandchildren, but nada for their parents.  They were grown, after all.  The only problem was it didn't go over very well.  I wanted to passionately condemn the selfish grown-up kid-now-parent, but I couldn't.  Honesty prevailed.

I'm a grown woman with my own children, and I'm embarrassed to say it, but "I don't want to be left out."  Not by my parents.  Siblings?  Fine.  Friends?  No problem.  Boys?  To be expected.  Husband?  Different story, but not the point here...

There are only three people who know me as a daughter (I am very blessed to have a step-mom, who has been a mother to me in every way).  Four people know me as sister and some as friend, but the rest of the world knows me as a wife and mother.  Most of the time, my identity is as a member of my family.  Most of the time, I'm okay with that.  Thrilled about it even.  But, while I have parents living on this earth, I want to be remembered as their daughter...That person who existed before she married and bore children.  That girl who sat on laps, napped in the closet, pooped by the apricot tree, and loved Smurfs. 

As a mother, I pray that I will always have the desire to recognize and remember my sons as individual gifts from God, particularly on their birthday and at Christmastime.  Whether they become priests, husbands and fathers, businessmen or bums, part of their identity will be as a child of mine.  I want to honor that.

I'm not saying I need lavish gifts or great gestures.  I don't.  But, seeing a gift tag with my name on it, in their handwriting, means everything to me.  The gift tag could be on a pack of lifesavers or a diamond necklace.  Whatever it is doesn't matter.  It symbolizes their thought of love for me - plucked from a particular moment in time and placed gently in the hands of many moments.  Exactly the number of moments that exist while I gaze upon, eat, wear, use, or remember it.

I recognize my hypocrisy and feel embarrassed needing this from my parents.  My gifts are often crappy and always late.  I don't have money, very little time, and every created object seems a mockery of the depth of my love for them.  Besides that, they don't seem to need anything from me.  I don't understand their selflessness.  Until I consider my own children, that is.  I don't need anything from them, either.  I don't need their gifts to understand their love.  Their Dad and I gave it to them in the first place.

So, how does the mother-in-me achieve simplicity, while not depriving the little-girl-in-me of her desire to be loved and remembered?

I think she starts by being honest in admitting her need, which she has done.  From here, I 'll probably bring everybody in on the conversation (if only they'd read my blog!), and see how it goes.  As for Christmas within my four walls, I got an awesome bit of advice from a co-worker today.  She said some families keep Christmas simple by ascribing to the following criteria for gifts.  Each person can ask for four things:

   1.  Something you want
   2.  Something you need
3.  Something to wear
4.  Something to read
(Yes, it rhymes!)  
"Boys, Santa is scaling back this year!" 
Until then, it feels good to name my desire for simplicity and love (especially from my parents at Christmastime) .  On one hand, it is humbling because life is more comfortable when you can meet all of your own needs.  But, on the other hand, it seems like God's perfect design that we are not what we wish to be - sufficient unto ourselves.  As our parents model God's love for us, we are right in knowing that we can never outgrow it.    
Dear Heavenly Father of my parents and me,
Thank you for days to celebrate gratitude, families to share them with, and people willing to do the lion's share of the work to make it possible!  Thank you for my parents, whose love is the closest thing to your love that I know.  Please bless them for their fidelity to You and their generosity with me.  Please forgive my selfishness, and the imperfection of my love, and grant me the grace to improve upon it.  Please comfort and guide all children whose parents have gone ahead of them, and feel orphaned or alone.  Finally, Lord, please show me how to achieve the desire for simplicity You have placed upon my heart, as I remember and await the First Coming of Baby Jesus alongside Mary and Joseph.  Thank you for all.  Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Robin Williams and Us

Remember the 1991 movie, Hook, where Robin Williams starred as Peter Banning and became "The Pan"?  It's a movie one of my brothers and I have been quoting for over 20 years... "You're afraid you're going to get sucked out!"  Anyway, the family and I finished watching it again tonight.  It's the first Robin Williams movie I've seen since he died.  And, I'm sad.  I'm sad that he's gone from the world. 

As I was watching it, I noticed all of the people he acted and interacted with in the movie.  He was their husband, father, nephew, rival, and leader.  Of course, he wasn't these things to them in real life.  But, he was real and they were real, and their lives really did slam magnificently into each other, at least as long as the movie was being filmed. 

I think about how sad I am, and how I didn't even know him.  So, what about all of the kids he worked with in that movie who are probably 30 somethings now?  How do they feel, and how did they feel when they heard he took his life?  He must have seemed larger-than-life to them.  What is the personal impact of thinking someone is larger-than-life, and then having them opt out?!  I think about all of the movies he's filmed, and all of the lives he's touched during the filming, and can't imagine how many people that must be.  And those are just the people he's worked with.  It doesn't even include the people he loved, and spent time with, and supported.  

How about my life?  Your life?  Not that much different, really.  Smaller scale?  Maybe.  Cameras? Probably not.  Impact?  Definitely.  We're filming a movie a day, or writing a page a day if you prefer... 

The Holy Spirit with the pen of His power writes a living Gospel, but a Gospel that cannot be read until it has left the press of this life, and has been published on the day of eternity.  Oh! great history! grand book written by the Holy Spirit in this present time - It is still in the press.  There is never a day when the type is not arranged, when the ink is not applied, or the pages are not primed. 
Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean Pierre de Caussade

Robin Williams was a comedic genius.  There will never be another one like him.  He was exceptional and unrepeatable.  And the thing is, that his unrepeatability is the thing we all have in common!  He may have been more distinctive and more well-known, but he is no less likely to be duplicated than anyone else.  It is impossible for any of us to be duplicated.  There are other funny people who make the world laugh, but they are not Robin Williams, and they never will be.  After we go, there may be some who are like us, in body, soul, or spirit.  But, they will never be us.    

As my mother once carefully printed on a bookmark for me, with my name cut out and glued at the top...

You are the
Presentation of the
Face of GOD
To the people
Of your time  
St. John Paul II
Dear God of peoples little and well-known,
Thank you for great movies and the talent you give to those who make them come alive.  Thank you for the gift of laughter and all who bring it.  Please comfort all who are left behind when someone they love takes their own life, and have mercy on those who do the taking.  Eternal rest grant unto Robin Williams, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon him.  May he rest in peace.  Amen.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Saturday Morning Monster

I've been married twelve years today.  I'm so blessed and thrilled to be celebrating a happy marriage with the man who chased the long-lived question, "How will you know when you find the one?" away forever.  I'm so happy about so many things.  I'm so happy I'm not still living that question.  I'm so happy that I'm not the ball of insecurity I was in our early marriage.  I'm so happy that our boys who are eleven and a half months apart are 8 and 9, not 1 and 2 (as cute as they were). 

I'm especially happy to have something to celebrate today, when otherwise I might still be sulking over my monsterhood yesterday morning...I started working at my Church when school started.  So, now the housecleaning that was done incrementally throughout the week, is saved up for one special day.  Saturday.  First thoughts of Saturday bring warm fuzzies with thoughts of sleeping in, breakfast together, and lazing about.  Sleeping in and breakfast together are still going great.  But, after breakfast, things go south.  After the first couple of times it happened, I realized that I had omitted my morning prayer.  Ohhhhhh, that must be the problem.  Attempting to clean the house before prayer is certain disaster. 

So yesterday, I took all the time I needed to pray well before heading down the bumpy-old-stinky-road of cleaning the house.  When I left my prayer spot, I was filled with great resolve to maintain my peace and patience throughout, and promptly made my first error.  I entered my son's room.  The hot zone.  Ground zero.  Utter chaos of dirty clothes, legos, papers, markers, army guys, tanks, cups, shoes, and the like. 

I cleared a spot, called the troops in, and began to give orders, "pick this up", "put those in there", "throw that away".  And then it happens.  Explanations start rolling in of who didn't put what where, things get shoved under the bed, little people start laying in the middle of the floor, and all manner of things happen that cannot defined as the only acceptable response - prompt obedience. 

This now-working mother suddenly values her Saturday mornings a great deal, and when she realizes that she's the only one, she loses it.  Her humanity finds a quiet corner to hide in while her anger and frustration take over, leaving her shaking on the inside and turning to stone on the outside.  I am either barking or silent, but "pissed off" in every form.  My language morphs into that which would befit a mild-tongued sailor.  Apparently, I used the word "crap" quite profusely, a little bit of "damn", and a "pissed off" when I was discussing my frustration with my husband.  Sadly, I got generous feedback on my language later in the day from my son. 

It took hours to recover, and another Saturday morning needs to be redeemed by yours truly.  Happy marriage aside, my husband said he'd rather live in a dirty house than with me on these Saturday mornings.  I don't blame him.  If I could live in a perpetually dirty house, I would too!  But, I can't.  I have a threshold.  A threshold which turns out to be the amount of dirt/clutter/dog hair that accrues in a week's time.  Since prayer wasn't enough to rid me of myself (although, many times it is), we made a new plan.  Until I can handle it in a more sane and ladylike manner, I will tackle everything else, but that room.  He can go in there.

It is humbling that something so simple as a messy room can still reduce me to tears and a potty mouth.  As I continue to tackle the spiritual life and pursue helping others in theirs, I am reminded that I will never be above living an earthly life.  I am a human, and this is where I live.  On earth.  With others.  And their stuff. 

...We are not angels but have bodies, and it is madness for us to want to become angels while we are still on earth...Come what may, the great thing is to embrace the Cross.  The Lord was deprived of all consolation and forsaken in His trials.  Let us not forsake Him; His hand will help us to rise better than our own efforts...                           St. Teresa of Avila     

Dear Heavenly Father of Parents and Children with Messy Rooms,

Thank you for another day to know, love, and serve You.  Thank you for my husband, and every wedding anniversary including today's.  Please forgive me for my selfishness, impatience, and ingratitude.  Thank you for the phone call while writing this post, thanking me for sharing my children, from someone who misses theirs.  Thank you for opportunities to see what I can still be without your grace.  Humbling, though they are. Thank you that Your Hand will help us to rise better than our own efforts.  Please give me, and all parents, the grace to see the gift of our children, including the messes that often surround them.  Finally, thank you for opportunities to redeem lost time.  Please give me the grace to recognize and make the most of them.  Amen.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sneaking On and Off the Stage

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself than you ought.  It's not thinking of yourself at all."
-C.S. Lewis

I'm back in my hotel room after attending an Audrey Assad concert with a dear friend. Before tonight, I think 1993 was the last time tears streamed down my face without understanding why.

But, this time it wasn't the holiness of Saint John Paul II or even the exquisite beauty of Audrey's voice that moved me beyond this capacity to understand my own feelings.  Her vulnerability and humility swept through the door of my soul.  At the beginning of her concert, she made no introduction, but unassumingly took her place after the music started.  Like she wasn't THE reason we were there.

She led us seamlessly from song to song except for the one time she stopped to speak about herself, and then only shared those things which united us in our humanity - personal struggles with anxiety, and hope for restoration and redemption.

It felt like we'd been there minutes at best, when her musicians quietly laid their instruments down and left the stage.  It was down to Audrey and her piano, and us.  We followed most eagerly wherever she cared to lead, and would still be there if she had been willing.

Instead, to close for the evening, she led us in a familiar hymn...

Lord, I need you, oh how I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need you

And there we were, singing from the depths of our hearts with Audrey's voice arching over all.  Until it wasn't.

During the final refrain, she walked silently down the stairs, off the stage, and out the door.  My friend had her eyes closed, and was stunned to find an empty stage at the song's end.  A prayer scrolled silently down the screen and we finished it with a collective Amen.  The lights came on and we did our best to hang on to her, to call her back.  

But, she did not return.  She did something better.  She left us with our profound need for God, and nothing of herself to distract us from it.  


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Two Irreconcilable Worlds

I have an embarrassing history of being totally ignorant about what is going on in the world.  Not being a TV person and spending very little time in the car, it has been very easy to be ignorant.  I never felt compelled to check the news, because I never understood how simply knowing about bad things, without the ability to impact the situation for good, was helpful to anyone. 

Well, time has passed, and I have slowly decided to stay more informed; probably a combination of the guilt of being a bad citizen, the inability to participate in conversation, and the embarrassment that comes with it.  I  downloaded an app for a local news station, and started checking it once a day.  However, I just found out about the recent Ebola outbreak from my niece (because I hadn't seen anything on the local news), so I downloaded the CNN app.

Today (and probably the whole of my life), people are fleeing everywhere. Staying in their homeland would involve conversion to Islam, extreme taxation, or death by the sword.  Children are dying from thirst in the mountains after fleeing religious persecution with their families.  People are dying by the hundreds from ebola virus.  And I'm sitting on my futon, thinking about part-time jobs and getting in one more beach trip before school starts.

I don't know how to reconcile my life with their lives.  I don't want to be un-impacted by such horrific suffering.  As a Christian, I know I can and should pray.  Is that it?  Pause for a moment, feel bad for a moment, intercede to the Father for them, and then business as usual?  It's a little gut-wrenching to think the answer is "Probably".  Other ways to help in a practical manner seem non-existent. 

It brings me back to the point where I seem to find myself more and more frequently...to appreciate what I have, and to give where I can.  Just yesterday, I registered my boys for the upcoming school year.  In the health section, I checked the "No" box 54 times (18 for each boy) where it asks about specific problems or medications.  Nope.  Nothing.  Healthy as horses.  Do you mean that for every "No" I checked, some parent checked "Yes"?  Yes. 

Have we moved in the last three years to find work in farming or fishing?  Hell, no!  I can't even imagine that.  But, someone has.  Lots of people.  Every person who has a child in this school district has to answer this question, and it's not because it's irrelevant. 

I'm grateful when I check the box that I am, in fact, my child's parent and we reside in the same place.  Again, I could not imagine it any other way.  But, a lot of people can't imagine it my way, either. 

So, this morning, after taking a peek at the news and getting ready for the next thing in my day, it looks like the world is "going to hell in a hand basket" and my world is as rosy as ever.  What to do with that?  I will live more gratefully and intentionally this day.  I will not complain about anything that is short of the pain of death -at least for today.  I will try to encounter Christ, as I attend my women's group this morning.  I will donate to an old classmate's campaign for safe driving, call a friend who's having a hard time, and bring "Happy hour" to a friend recovering from surgery. 

This doesn't mean anything in the face of religious persecution or ebola virus, but it means everything in my world, and that is the best I can do.

Dear God of Worlds - Large and Small,

Thank you for my life and all of the healthy people in it.  Thank you for freedom of religion.  Thank you for the tremendous wealth, comfort, and safety we have in this country.  I pray we use it for good, and that it may not be an obstacle to anyone's salvation, as you have said.  Lord, please free, comfort, and protect those who need it.  You have said that we need not fear that which can kill the body, but only that which can kill the soul.  Please convict us of this, Lord.  Help us to live in such a way, that is small, but important.  You see and know all.  Jesus, we trust in You.  Amen.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Vacation on a Bumper Sticker

I'm happily out of the mountains and breathing easier again.  We made it home last night from our vacation to Kansas and Colorado.  For me, leaving and coming home again after a day, or nine in this case, always seems to clarify and spark a greater resolve to live life better.  

First, I love the mountains, but I love to be able to see "down the road" more. 

Secondly, I need more (and some is more) discipline in my life.  

I need to:
1.  Exercise (again)
2.  Stop drinking soda (again)
3.  Get up earlier (again)
4.  Plan better for meals (again)
People are running and biking up mountains.  I should be able to walk a few laps around a flat park.  People are getting up at 2:00 in.the.morning so they can summit by noon and be off the mountain again before the afternoon thunderstorms roll in.  I should be able to walk a few laps around a flat park.
My brother and sister-in-law work out hard 4 (sometimes 5!  Gasp!) days a week at this little-known place called Cross Fit, at 6 in.the.morning.  I should be able to walk a few laps around a flat park.  During our time in KS, they showed us their gym and some of the things they do there.  Goodness.  No wonder they look like that!  And just because they look good doesn't mean they spend a lot of time looking at themselves - it's just an awesome side effect of something called  DISCIPLINE...That big "D" word I need to shake hands with, once again.

Last summer, I did Couch to 5K, which gets you from zero to 30 minutes of non-stop jogging in 8 weeks.  I much-too-quicky dismissed my personal trainer friend when she cautioned me about persevering beyond my goal.  Me?  No way.  I worked way too hard to get there.  Ha. I never jogged for 30 minutes again.  Not even once.  My internal dialogue went something like this:
Day 1 (after 15 minutes of jogging):  Hey! I can walk if I want to.  I met my goal.
Day 2 (after 10 minutes jog-walking):  Hey!  I can jog some, walk some if I want.  It's better for you anyway - letting your heart rate come down and pushing it back up again.  It's called interval training.
Day 3 (walking only):  I hate running!  The important thing is to be moving.  30 minutes of walking daily really is the very best thing, and it's not so hard on your joints.

And just like that, I talked myself out of the whole exercise bit in three measly days.  I'm hoping it works just as effectively talking myself into it (again).

Then there's the idea that people who walk every day walk three miles.  You ever notice that?  Maybe three miles is to walking what eight hours is to sleeping.  But, whenever I think about walking three miles, I think about my 96-year-old friend who says, "If I would have known walking three miles every day would have made me live this long, I wouldn't have done it!"  I'm just saying, there are risks, and it's better if we acknowledge them.

In trying to do anything, we must ask for God's help.  Even when you have done so it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given.  Never mind.  After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again...It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God.  We learn on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.  The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.  -C.S. Lewis

Finally, I'm taking a page out of the simplicity book of the people who are going before me.  They have years and they have money, and they desire less instead of more.  They're going from bigger to smaller, or to not at all.  You name it.  Campers, boats, dream homes...I think my aunt and uncle are the best example of this lately.  They have a dream place with three floors, a gorgeous yard, garden, flowers, pool, and creek running behind - all for sale - to live somewhere that isn't so much work.  He said he'd leave everything in the house, too, except for his guitars and underwear.  I'm glad for the underwear part...

This is a good thing for me to reflect on.  Twenty-five years down the road, I could be off-loading everything I'm tempted to acquire now.  And for what?  More and bigger isn't better.  It isn't.  It's just bigger and more.  More stuff, less room.  Bigger houses, bigger campers, bigger headaches.  And this is one of the reasons I left the cute Colorado hoodie in the overpriced gift shop; the other reason is I'm cheap.  Instead, I brought home lots of pictures and memories, and none of them will end up in an estate sale.     

So, here are my vacation epiphanies on a bumper sticker... I'm a hills and plains girl.  I need to get moving - in the morning, outside, and in the kitchen.  And less is more.

What does yours say?

Dear God of Mountains, Hills, and Plains,

Thank you for the majesty of Your mountains and the comfort of Your plains.  Thank you for my family and their "Yes" to You, which allows my boys to live in a world where gathering is joy, aided by unseen forgiveness, offered and received.  Thank you for living reminders that laziness needs to be thwarted by discipline.

Please bless all who can't fathom leaving the city or state they live in for lack of time, transportation, desire, money, or health.  Please bless all who leave with a safe return, contented hearts, and a greater desire to reflect Your Glory.  Amen. 


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Living Someone Else's Dream

It's the first full day of summer, and I need to capture the feeling that it holds for me, before it changes.  It reminds me of when I was pregnant with my first child and everyone kept telling me I wouldn't remember what life before children was like, after I had children.  They were right.  It would never be the same again.

For the first time, a summer stretched out before me seems like a tremendous gift.  I've always looked forward to summers and all that they hold, but saw them less as a gift and something that simply was.  But, things are different now.  I'm standing at the brink of starting a new career and becoming a student again after fifteen years.  I may not have many or even one more non-working summer ahead.  I've also spent two days a week for the last nine weeks in the hospital doing my chaplain internship, mostly in the ER and day surgery, and I'm looking through a new set of glasses.

These glasses reveal the gifts of my life more than ever before.  My family has our health and we have time to spend together.  We get to choose what we want to do next.  Our only limitations are money and a lack of imagination.  Our biggest cross is boredom.  We did not just lose a baby who died in the middle of the night.  We are not bound by a chemotherapy or dialysis schedule.  We do not have to scour labels for gluten, or fear diabetic coma because we had cake and ice cream at a birthday party.  We do not struggle with chronic pain or anxiety.  We are not suffering from homelessness, hunger, loneliness, or addiction.  We don't have gall stones, kidney stones, or infections of any kind.  We aren't burdened by the sadness that comes from watching someone you love fight to live.  We have everything we want, and nothing that we don't want.  Who can say that?

We were at my niece's high school graduation a couple of nights ago, and one of the students said he wanted to join the Marines and have a family when he got out.  I leaned over to my husband and whispered, "You are living someone else's dream."  He half-jokingly said, "That's a big responsibility."  But, I've been thinking about that.  Our whole life is someone else's dream.  Other people dream about when all of their children were young.  When everyone was healthy.  When everyone was alive.  When everyone was happy.  When everyone had time to spend together.  These days of mine are the "good 'ol days" of their's.

Living someone else's dream is a big responsibility.  It is quite possible that other people would die (or give anything) to have what we have.  Our responsibility is to appreciate what we have, and try to stay present.    In the midst of chaos, fighting, ingratitude, and boredom, I am tempted to wish these moments away.  To look forward to another, more peaceful time.  To escape.  Is it just me, or is it funny to think that we may be escaping back to these very moments that we feel so desperate to leave?

We have the privilege of knowing a 93-year-old woman.  We took her to church for a couple of years, but her health is failing, so I've been looking in on her a little more often.  She appreciates my visits tremendously, but gently chastises me about needing to be home with my family.  The last time, she told me that "Families don't last forever" and I need to be spending my time with them.  When she said that, she caught me off-guard; I felt a little shock wave go out from my heart through the rest of my body.  Is it possible my family won't last forever, or at least until I die?  Is it possible that something could happen that would change the way we relate to each other forever?   Yes.  It is possible.  And I am a better woman, wife, sister, daughter, and mother when I force myself to sit in the uncomfortable place where this question lives.  Just for a little while. 

My 93-year-old friend knows this.  She is the last living among her siblings, and many of them were younger than her.  For a long time, she has wondered why the Lord allowed her to survive them all.  She raised six children whom she did not bear.  Her husband's first wife died in a plane accident.  The youngest child was 3-years-old when their Mom died.    Her memories of living in a family like mine are but a distant memory, so she urges me to be present and live family life well, while I still can.

*If we bump into each other this summer, and I seem to have lost the wonder and appreciation of the gifts of time and family, please gently remind me and I'll do the same for you.

Dear God of the Summertime,

Thank you.  Thank you for days upon days on the calendar that are wide open to encounter your love through creatures and creation.  Thank you for the gift of health.  Thank you for the gift of time.  Thank you for the gift of family.  Lord, please be very near to those whose only experience of these gifts is their desire for them.  For us, whom you've blessed beyond measure, give us the grace to give from the abundance you've bestowed.  Help us to live in a way that honors the responsibility we have, while we're living someone else's dream.  Please bless and accompany all who are suffering in body, mind, or spirit.  Amen.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day Ramblings

Waking up to the dream of motherhood yesterday morning:

"Mom, the cat threw up on Bman's jacket."
(I'm still in bed)  "Where is it?"
"On the couch."
"Ok, Don't touch it."

While I was lying in bed feeling grateful that the cat threw up on something that could just be picked up, and nothing needed to be wiped down, a parade of boys started coming in my room with "Happy Mother's Day" wishes, and throwing stuff on me.  Stuff I couldn't see because my glasses were still on my bedside table.  But, when I put my glasses on, I saw the stuff.  The stuff included big and little "Happy Mother's Day!" messages with hearts on poster board, a handmade pan flute made from bamboo (which they cut down at the park and normally use for making spears), and 12 cents that my youngest happened to be holding in his hand when he came in.  Awesome.

It reminded me of something I read on Facebook yesterday that was something like, "When a child gives you something, receive it with a tremendous amount of gratitude.  It might be the only thing they have to give and they're giving it to you."   Amen. 

Normally, I'm not much into "things" and have the grace to accept "what is".  But yesterday, I hosted a table at the most beautiful brunch you can imagine.  I've hosted tables before, but I always used someone else's stuff because I'm not good at decorating, I don't have nice stuff, blah, blah, blah.  But, this year, I dug out all of my Mom's china to see if I could pull it off.  With the exception of the glasses and the silverware and the flowers and the statue, I did.

And I was caught off-guard by the sudden memories of myself as a little girl, eating cherry cheesecake on those pretty little plates.  Added to my surprise, I found myself misty-eyed, missing my Mom.  Not because I never miss her, but because she was miss-ing.  She belonged around that table with her china that she hasn't seen in over 20 years, that her Mom bought at the grocery store, a little at a time.  But, wishing she was there is a lot easier than actually getting her there.  She has to have a caregiver to travel anywhere, and that caregiver has a family of her own, so a 10-hour drive for a weekend getaway is a little tricky to pull off.  However, next year we need to make it happen.  She belongs there with her china.  And with me. 

Just like I belong with my boys.  But, not like I used to.  Not all close and snuggly like days gone by.  I used to play with them and chase them around the house, but now I mostly chase them off of video games and TV screens.  They would rather do a lot of things than do something with me.  Maybe because my something is going to the grocery store or folding laundry.  They don't want to play board games, and I don't want to play guns.  I will jump on the trampoline, but it seems like they usually ask me when I'm making dinner, so I end up feeling like the "No" queen.

It's at these times, I find myself wanting to love them better by spending more time with them, but it seems I'm too busy taking care of them.  Sometimes, it's hard that love has to give what is needed, which is not necessarily what it wants to give.  Jesus says in Matthew 25:34-35 "...Come, you who are blessed by my Father.  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."  These things matter because these are ways we love well.  As mothers, fortunately for us (by God's design), we love this way every. single. day. 

However, of all the things I do for my boys, I think the most important thing is something that no one sees.  And that something is prayer.  Prayer for them.  I cut this prayer from our church bulletin awhile back and pray it every morning.  It seems to touch on all of the things that matter.  I want to share it with you, in case you'd like to pray it, too:

Pope Francis:
A Parent's Prayer for
Their Children 
O Heavenly Father,
I commend my children
unto Thee.
Be Thou their God and
Father; and mercifully
supply whatever is wanting
in me through frailty
or negligence.
Strengthen them to
overcome the corruptions of
the world, to resist all
solicitations to evil, whether
from within or without; and
deliver them from the secret
snares of the enemy.
Pour Thy grace into their
hearts, and confirm and
multiply in them the gifts of
Thy Holy Spirit, that they
may daily grow in grace and
in the knowledge of our
Lord Jesus Christ; and so,
faithfully serving Thee here,
may come to rejoice in Thy
presence hereafter.

As I'm starting my seventh week of my hospital chaplain internship, I am more-aware-than-ever of the gifts of life, love, health, and family.  If we have even one of these things, we are blessed.  If we  could live in the reality of how blessed we are, our gratitude would demand that we spend every bit of ourselves trying to pay it forward or pay it back.

Dear Creator, Redeemer, Savior, and Friend,

Thank you for the gift of motherhood, the gift of life, the gift of love, the gift of health, and the gift of family.  Please continue to guide us and lead us in this sublime role of parenting.  It is the best way  out of ourselves and into You.  Please bless all who are missing their children this day, whether they've gone ahead to meet you or are just far away.  Please grant us the continuous grace to remain in the knowledge that the children you entrust to us are never really "ours".  They have been Yours and will always be Yours.  Help us do well by them, and lead them back to You.  Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Twenty Years Later

Twenty years ago, on March 20, 1994, I awoke to a knock on the door early in the morning.  My Mom's brother and best friend were standing there.  They told me my Mom had been in a car accident, and flown to a bigger city for the "right kind of doctor", and something about a hurt back.  I remember thinking that she probably wouldn't be able to lift anything heavy for awhile, but not much beyond that.  When we drove to see her later that day, I found her all puffy lying in a bed with a metal halo attached to her skull, abrasions on her arms, in a room that smelled like blood and medicine, I guess.  Oddly enough, I don't remember anything about her left wrist which was completely shattered.  Worst fracture the orthopedist has seen in 10 years, as I recall.  I remember asking about how she got this mark, or that mark, and when she answered that she didn't know, she sounded like a robot and said something like "I'll be fine." 

Unlike my older sister, I don't remember being told that she'd never walk again.  Maybe that happened during the following week when I was gone on my high school spring break choir trip to Disneyworld.  I didn't want to go, but everyone felt it was best.  Mom was going to live, and beyond that, there wasn't anything I could offer by staying.  So, I went. 

For the following three months, Mom lived in the rehabilitation hospital, re-learning how to eat, brush teeth, bathe, and basically, survive.  This is the same hospital I visited, so she could see me in my junior Prom dress.  The same hospital where we slowly learned what our new life would look like.  Throughout this time, my younger brother and I lived with our aunt and uncle.  We were 16 and 14.

My mother became a quadriplegic on that fateful night, 20 years ago.  She broke her neck and left wrist.  She was 43-years-old.  It has been a long, long road.  Lots of things come with a lack of mobility.  Bed sores, incontinence, pneumonia, blood clots, digestive issues, chronic pain, total lack of privacy and self-sufficiency, and all manner of emotional and psychological adjustments besides. 

But, none of these are why I'm writing today.  Today, I am thankful for what I have gained from walking with my Mom through part of her journey.  Through it all, I was only her right-hand lady for  about four years, and a back-up beyond that.  But, I learned a lot in 4 years.  I wish that I could say that I served her well.  But, I was often bitter and unkind.  However, twenty years later, my experiences with her are still positively impacting the decisions I make. 

On Monday, I am going to embark on a new chapter in my life - pursuing hospital chaplaincy.  This begins with a 10-week internship at a local hospital, and will follow with a Master's degree in Pastoral Theology.  I could not feel more suited or more excited.  Because of my mother's accident, I took the course to become an Emergency Medical Technician during my Senior year of high school.  From there, I worked in our county's EMS service and emergency room through college and beyond.  I loved the people, I loved the work, and I loved the environment. 

As my youngest starts kindergarten next year, it is time for me to expand my stay-at-home-mom gig.  As Providence would have it, all of my personal experience, work experience, and passion about the spiritual life are coming together as a new vocation.  I am going to be a hospital chaplain. 

I'm with my Mom and all fellow Christians when I repeat Romans 8:28 from the bottom of my heart,

We know that all things work for good for those who love God - who are called according to his purpose.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for my Mom.  Thank you for preserving her life.  Thank you for her perseverance, her forgiveness, and her continual effort to grow closer to You.  Thank you for my aunt and uncle who absorbed us into their lives, as if it was the easiest thing in the world.  Please give me the grace to imitate them, when others look to me for something they should be receiving from someone else.  Thank you for my co-workers through my EMS years, and for their model of Christianity in the workforce.  Thank you for all of the opportunities You have afforded me because of another's misfortune.  Thank you for all of the things that seem easy, because of going through something really hard.  Please purify all of the good that I do poorly today, and all of the days of my life.  Please bless my pursuit to become a hospital chaplain, if that is in fact Your Will for me.  If not, please take away my desire and replace it with Yours.  Amen       

Friday, February 28, 2014

Asking For It

I attended my annual silent retreat this past weekend, and have a new list of graces to ask God for (as encouraged by Fr. Anthony Sortino, L.C.).  I want to share them so that you may use them to build your relationship with Christ.  It's good to be reminded that they exist, and are there for the asking...

Don't leave your presents unopened - they are graces every one.
And you need them as long as you have a room down here. 

Upstairs is a Holy Place, lit up by His Holy Face.
And there are unopened presents lying all around.
But all of the people who need those gifts are not Upstairs, they are down.

Seek, and you will not be disappointed.
Knock, and the door will be opened.
Ask, and you shall receive.

Your graces are lying in wait, beautifully wrapped where you can't see them.
So, look up and ask for what is yours, because they're still there, and you still need them.

September 2010
Ask for the grace of...
~The gift of deeper union with Christ.
~To know how He loves.
~To know how He loves YOU.
~To feel thirst for love, to be drawn to God.
~To believe in the promise of love that He has made us.  To reject any insecurity, mistrust, fear, inadequacy.  "We make our stand with our Lord!"
~To shed expectation.  To acknowledge your God-given desires, and give what you have.  Let God delight in perfecting you.  Vacillate between desire and surrender.
~The grace to accept sufferings with joy.
~To love God SO much that we embrace the purification He allows.
~Greater trust and surrender. 
~Surrender, detachment, forgiveness.
~The grace to suffer with Jesus.
~To trust in God's promises.  To trust in the ONE who makes the promises.
~To learn, accept, and love yourself as one who is given a new name - a name which tells who you are, in God's eyes.

Dear Eternal Father,  Thank you for Your graces!  Thank you for drawing near to us, when we draw near to You (James 4:8).  You gave us free will.  I offer it back to You, and ask You not to allow me to forget You, nor forget to ask for Your grace in all circumstances.  I want to be who You intended before I drew my first breath.  I want to live up to my new name, accept it, and see myself as You see me.  Thank you for all that was, is, and is to come.  Amen. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lust In the Light

Disclaimer:  Neither my husband's character or actions have anything to do with this post.  He is an incredible husband, father, and man striving to do God's will, and he has never broken my trust.  In fact, what started my thinking on this subject, are the incredible strides he's making in his spiritual life.  His courage gave me the courage to think about temptations he might be facing.  However, I am imperfect, which means I love imperfectly, too.  In this case, I am too attached to him, and take him (and all that happens in his life) too personally.  His only connection is that he married me

[Those whose joy is unpossessive of things] have nothing in their heart, but possess everything with greater liberty (2Cor. 6:10); the others, insofar as they possess things with attachment, neither have nor possess anything.  Rather their heart is held by things and they suffer as a captive...and spend all their time going to and from about the snare to which their heart is tied."  Ascent of Mt. Carmel, St. John of the Cross (AMC)

So, because I'd rather not share these thoughts, and it might also be helpful for you, I must.  The prayer at the end of my Gospel reflection this morning convicted me of that.  "Lord Jesus, open my eyes to the revelation of your healing presence and saving word.  Help me to walk according to your truth and to not stumble in the darkness of sin.  May I help others find your healing light and saving presence."

That's pretty much it.  I'm stumbling, and I want my stumbling to be fruitful - for myself, for my husband, and for all who can relate to anything written here.  I'm stumbling around this not-so-little thing called lust.  But, it's not my own lust that's the problem, it's the idea of it.  The idea of a spouse (mine, in particular) lusting after another.  I don't fully understand it, and I never see it, but the following passage treats my curiosity about it...

"Bernard [of Clairvaux] reminds us that is was curiosity that led to the Fall originally, and speaks of Eve. 'Why are you always glancing at it [the forbidden fruit]?  What is the good looking at what you are forbidden to eat?...For when you are looking intently at something, the serpent slips into your heart and coaxes you.  He leads on your reason with flattery; he awakes your fear with lies...He increases your interest while he stirs up your greed.  He sharpens your curiosity while he prompts your desire.  He offers what is forbidden and takes away what is given.  He holds out an apple and snatches away paradise.'"  On the Steps of Humility and Pride by B. Clairvaux, as quoted in The Fulfillment of All Desire, by Ralph Martin

I think it is easy for me to dwell on lust for three reasons:  It is extremely private so it rarely makes its way into conversation.  I'm insecure.  My love needs to be purified.

Thinking about lust (when I am neither the lust-er or the lust-ed) leaves me feeling deceived and betrayed, but this is just the beginning.  I allow it to exert power over me, and the relationships in my life because:
1.  I can't change the emotions or actions of another.
2.  It allows me to feel superior and sit in judgment.
3.  It creates emotional distance.
4.  It encourages me to characterize a person only by their fault, and rob them of their dignity.
5.  I'm equally enslaved by my reaction to their fault, as much as the other may be by the sin itself.
6.  It binds my love.  "They cannot rejoice in them [those they love]if they hold them with possessiveness, for this is a care that, like a trap, holds the spirit to earth, and does not allow wideness of heart."  - AMC
7.  It has me breaking 8 of the 15 rules on Mother Teresa's humility list, which you can find here, if you're interested: http://panhandlefranciscans.blogspot.com/2012/05/mother-teresas-humility-list.html

Last night, I finished reading Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurdard, in preparation for my upcoming silent retreat.  The main character is Much-Afraid, and at the end, she makes some pretty awesome revelations about her journey.  This Much-Afraid did, too.

"Therefore, I begin to think, my Lord, You purposely allow us to be brought into contact with the bad and evil things that you want changed...that is the only satisfactory way of dealing with evil, not simply binding it so that it cannot work harm, but whenever possible overcoming it with good."

"They [her ugly Fearing cousins] were indwelt and tormented by their different besetting [something that is tempting, harassing, or assailing you] sins and ugly natures, just as she had been by her fears...She could scarcely bear the thought, yet for so many years she had not only feared, but condemned them, had actually 'disdained their misery', telling herself it was their own fault...Yes, she, detestable, fear-enslaved Much Afraid had actually dared to disdain them for the things which made them so wretched and ugly when she herself was equally wretched and enslaved."

So, where's the good that comes from lust?  Maybe it's in this post.  Maybe it's the dim light shed on a subject which loves to dwell in the darkness.  Maybe it's just the good that it has done me to spell-it-out, and the humility I've gained by doing so.  Maybe the good is something that I can't perceive or know nothing about.  Maybe the good is that "perfection consists in fighting against [imperfections]." ~St. Francis de Sales.  Or maybe it is all of these things. 

Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank you for this gorgeous day, and endless reasons to praise you.  Please forgive me for my sins, most especially for sitting in judgment of another, reducing another to their faults, and being enslaved by something other than love.  Lord, please draw near to those who struggle with lust and intercede for those who are affected by it.  You know our intimate struggles.    You have promised that there is always a way out, if we desire it.  Please give us the grace to desire a way out, and to forgive ourselves and others when we fail.  Make us love you more and more, and our neighbor, for love of You.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Day Of Reflection, Revisited

This is officially the longest amount of time I've gone between posts in almost two years.  I thought maybe my time as a "blogger" had expired.  The inspirations stopped coming.  However, a friend asked me for my notes from a Day of Reflection that our Regnum Christi group hosted on January 18th.  She spent the whole time in the kitchen, so she and (those working with her) fed others, but didn't get spiritually fed themselves.  So, this is for them, for you, and a beautiful red-headed lady whose smile spans the miles between here and the Netherlands.

I apologize in advance, if my notes seem disjointed.  I take them for myself, so I only write down things I haven't heard before, or things that resonate.  However, there are enough single thoughts contained here to make it worth your while.

Day Of Reflection Notes, January 18, 2014

Fr. Michael Sullivan, L.C.:  Heart to Heart With Jesus and His Emotions, Attractions (desires), and Difficulties:

*According to St. Thomas Aquinas, everything Jesus said, did, and suffered was for our instruction.
Christ's words instruct, change, and purify us.

*LOVE or get freed up to love - this is business of life.

*We carry two things in our hands when we go to Heaven:                                                          
1.  What we've done for God. 
2.  What we've done for others.

*There are three stages in the spiritual life:
1.  Self-denial
2.  Growth in virtue
3.  Union with God

*Addiction - any repeated behavior based on craving with more cost than benefit.

*A bird on a branch can't fly whether tethered by floss or a heavy chain.

*Ask yourself, "What if God likes me?"  It changes everything.  When you are all-powerful, you make stuff you like!

*The Our Father prayer tells us everything we're supposed to want, and in the order we're supposed to want it.  It can be summed up in the Scripture, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you besides."  Ultimately, we are to love God for His own sake, and our neighbor for God's sake. 

*Faith and Hope are God's gifts to me.  Love is my return to God.  Love is the only thing that remains in Heaven. 

*How we react to difficulties in life is WAY MORE important than what we're reacting to!

*Christ's Difficulties - His Agony in the Garden:  After He sweat blood, Jesus neither sat, slept, was understood, nor consoled for 14 hours.

*Fear - We experience fear when we perceive future evil that we cannot overcome.  The opposite of fear is courage.  Read John 15 when you are afraid.

*Neurosis - Being afraid, but not knowing what of.

*We can understand ourselves and others better, if we take time to learn what we/they are avoiding.

*St. Thomas Aquinas says Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us what Jesus did.  John tells us why.

*Sadness - resting in the presence of evil.  Read John 14 when you are sad.

*Joy - resting in the presence of good.

*Love is always the beginning of hate.

Fr. Timothy Mulcahey, L.C.:

*To evangelize - follow the Holy Spirit's lead.  God will put opportunities to serve in your path; just say "Yes".

*God is calling us to do something.  Something fueled by charity.  For love of God and neighbor.  Other motives are vanity, pride, duty, guilt.  These are not good motives.

*Matthew 25

*If I work on loving my brother and sister, my love for Christ increases.

*Goal of Apostolate (Works for God):
1.  Salvation of souls
2.  Affect the whole temporal order toward the Gospel.  Help renew society.
3. Walk on two legs:  prayer and work

*Read Forming Intentional Disciples by Weddell:
1.  Personal encounter with the saving love of Jesus Christ - "What kind of love wouldn't need to speak of the beloved?"
2.  We need to recognize the spiritual favor of being "a people".  We're all in this together.
3.  Cultivate a passion for Jesus and a passion for people.

*I am a "mission" in this world, and that is why I'm here.  ~Pope Francis

*Christ triumphed.  Let Him lead the way.  When evangelizers rise from prayer, they are more open to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

Mary Mann, actress - Putting Our Heart Near Jesus' Sacred Heart

*Psalm 106:14-15, empty heart

*Proverbs 3:5-6

*Do what you do best and leave the consequences to God.

Questions for personal reflection:
1.  What would be different about your life if you choose to meet the expectations of God, and how would you know what God expects?
2.  Have you identified your gifts and talents?  How would they make a difference?  How are you using them for Christ?  (If you would like to see a list of possible gifts, visit my post at http://asoulaidbare.blogspot.com/2012/05/unwrapping-your-spiritual-gifts.html).
3.  If your intention is for the salvation of souls - How are you accomplishing that?
4.  In what way would you like to reflect the heart of God (His love)?

Fr. Nathaniel Haslam, L.C.:

*Do you share Jesus with those you meet?

*Three Reasons Why We Were Baptised:
1.  To be restored, because we were broken.
2.  To be elevated.  We have a dignity that pales all other beauty.
3.  To receive a missionary heart.

*Evangelium=Gospel=Earth-shattering news.  Read Evangelium Gaudium, Pope Francis.

*We come and go.  We can be on a box of Wheaties today, and forgotten completely tomorrow.

*Being a missionary is not an obligation or imposition - it is love; sharing the beloved and fruits of the relationship with Him.  A missionary heart does not retreat into its own comfort.  Other's hearts are being prepared to meet ME because I have Jesus to share with them.

*Tomb psychology transforms Christians into mummies in a museum - Get out of your comfort zone!
We'll only know who we've helped in eternity.

Dear Heavenly Father,  Thank you for warm houses on cold days.  Thank you for days of reflection, and the ability to enter into Your Presence at any moment.  Thank you for all of the people who feed us spiritually - who make the invisible, visible.  Forgive us for our shortcomings, and all of the obstacles we place in Your Way, Truth, and Life.  Please give us the grace to hear, understand, and respond to You.  Let us experience Your Love, and carry it to others.  Thank you for preparing hearts to meet ME, because they want to meet YOU.  Make us love you more and more.  Amen.