Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I still believe


Some years ago, I watched a TV special starring Richard Thomas ("John-Boy" of the Waltons - remember?) In it he portrayed the father of little Virginia, the one who asked the famous question "Is there a Santa Claus?" (Interesting I should be thinking about it today, as a google search reveals the video was released on this day in 1991.)

Charles Bronson portrayed the newspaper editor struggling with issues of faith following the death of his wife. (Most likely a contrived element, but that's OK.) As a writer I've always enjoyed the story of Virginia. I imagine the day when little ones thought newspaper editors, rather than internet search engines, had the answers, and it makes me smile.

I smile also when thinking about Santa. We are a Santa-believing bunch, my family. Last night I sat with my youngest son while he penned a letter to the old gent. At first he hid it from me, then revealed it, which I thought spoke volumes about where he is on the "still believing in Santa" continuum. I fear this might be our last Christmas of full-out belief, and I'm savoring every moment.

Not that my children ever really stop believing. Really. Ask them.

Anyway, the list.

"Dear Santa, Here is my Christmas wish list," it began.

1. a DS
2. polar express movie and game
3. a reindeer and sleigh toy
4. a snowglobe
5. DVDs of all Toy Story Movies

It's an interesting list. First of all, he already owns the first two items, but he can't find them. That tells you something about the little urchin. The other thing about the list - it's very, I don't know, Christmasy. That I love.

If Luke were to write a letter to a modern-day newspaper editor, or do a google search, I hope his beliefs would not be dashed. Santa has something to give that cannot possibly be make-believe. I wrote about it here, in one of my favorite posts, two years ago, and I am still holding fast to my belief.

I hope you are, too. Believe in Santa. Believe in the goodness of others and of yourself. Believe that miraculous things can happen on Christmas Eve - and every day.

Yes, Virginia - Yes, Luke - there is a Santa Claus. Don't stop believing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'tis a gift



In a season of want, relying on Him for my needs, I find peace in simplicity.

Snowflakes.

A simple chant: "O come, O come...."

The smell of fresh balsam; a single red bow; three pine cones.

Dad's hands, cool, with paper thin skin, gripping mine tightly as I help him stand.

The smiles of teenage girls.

One purple candle, then two, lit with wooden matches.

Cans of peas and corn and pumpkin, boxes of macaroni, lined up on my counter. Gifts that mean more than words can say.

Boys in blankets, warm with sleep, pretending to doze in the morning darkness. A little dog, black and white and happy all over, nestled with them.

Blue eyes that are sometimes green. With crinkles at the corners.

Toddlers squealing while I chase them.

A hug, unsolicited, from my grown-man son.

Simple, precious gifts. Look around. They're everywhere. Enjoy them, and rejoice in preparing your heart for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WWJD? What should I do?

I don't know about you, but the phrase "What would Jesus do?" gets under my skin.

We all know what Jesus would do. He would do "the right thing." He would act completely within the will of the Father. He would do only the life-giving, good, holy thing.

I know I should have those goals in mind as well. The thing is, I feel like I'm up against some questions Jesus never had to face.

Jesus didn't have to help his children to decide which college to attend; he didn't have to filter though 300 cable channels; he didn't even have to decide what to wear to work in the morning.

And he certainly didn't have to deal with these people. :)

Of course I'm not intending to trivialize the life of Our Lord. (You know me better than that.) I'm just trying, in a silly way, to point out that life in Jesus' time seemed to be far simpler than ours. And of course he was infinitely holier than we are. Our fallen state makes our every breath a challenge.

So I think a better suggestion might be to consider what Jesus wants me to do.

And that's not exactly simple to figure out either.

Do I speak the truth, always? Even when it will hurt feelings? Do I apologize, to make "peace," even when I have done nothing wrong? Do I spend time with people I'm obligated to be with, even when they continually mistreat me?

Yes, I know about turning the other cheek. Then I will be called a "fake."

Sometimes we are in "no-win" situations, and I can't seem to figure out what Jesus would have me do. Even when consulting good, well-meaning friends, I'm confused. Advice is abundant, but often contradictory.

I know the first rule - and last - is to love. As St. Augustine said, "Love, and then do what you will." But what to do when it is unclear how to be the most loving? What if you will be perceived as unloving no matter what you do? Is it better, in some cases, to love, but from a distance?

I know that the opinion of Jesus is the only one that matters, and as for the others - as Mother Teresa said - "it was never about them anyway." But that doesn't stop me from trying to figure out how to do the "right thing."

So I'll do what we sinful-yet-saved, striving Christians do. I'll pray about it. I'll keep my eyes and heart open. I'll even think about what Jesus would do, and his friends, the saints, as well. Then I'll probably continue on making mistakes and loving very imperfectly.

But I'll keep trying. I know with certainty that Jesus would want me to do that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

good housekeeping

Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that I carry a seemingly tiny yet excruciatingly heavy cross.

My house is messy.

It is a burden I have borne for many years, and I see no end in sight. I am not naturally tidy, and while I wouldn't describe myself as a true "Oscar," I definitely lean in that direction. And my progeny definitely don't put cleanliness at the top of any list.

My house is not only messy; it is also somewhat, well, decrepit. Now, I can see my husband's face growing red right now. This makes him crazy, when I talk like this. I know he feels defensive and responsible for the fact that our home is not as I'd like it. He knows, however, that I don't blame him. It's just the way it is. We are not particularly handy people; we are creative and fun and busy, and we don't always clean up after ourselves. We have six people living in a small home (we once had eight here) and we have declared other priorities for ourselves. I know that the condition of our home is a side effect of the choices we have made, and truth be told, I rejoice in those choices. But it still makes me suffer - sometimes, a great deal.

My husband's recent unemployment has brought our family many challenges, but also many unexpected graces. He is home during most days now, and he has proven himself a worthy homemaker. I've had to take my full time job quite seriously, and have learned it isn't always easy to go to work and miss the children's activities, something my husband had done for more than 24 years without complaint.

I've also been blessed with a new understanding of what matters - and what doesn't. I would've hoped to have received an epiphany about my home, but not so much. It would have been great to have total peace about the dirt on the kitchen floor, the dust bunnies under the bed, the broken down dining room chairs and non-functioning appliances. Not having the money for repairs or carpet cleanings should relieve some stress, right? Naw, I'm not that mature.

I did have an experience in the forest of Brazil that did, however, make me give my home a second look.

We drove with Fr. Robert to one of the remote chapels he visited once a month. There he was to say Mass for the small group of faithful who had gathered there. The chapel was tiny, but attractively painted and adorned with small statues. The worshipers had traveled some distance to attend this monthly celebration of the Eucharist, some of them walking several miles through the pitch black forest to get there.

One was an older man, the chapel "coordinator." It was his job to care for the chapel in Father's absence. It was clearly a job he was proud of.

Upon meeting Father's American guests, he spoke excitedly in Portugese. Would we come for a visit to his home before Mass?

We did not hesitate to accept his invitation, and to my surprise, none of those who had come for Mass seemed to mind that there would be delay. They had been waiting over a month already, so apparently another half hour or so didn't make a difference to them...

We hopped in Father's 4X4 and took another bumpy ride several miles deeper into the forest. There we found a home, where the man and his sister lived in simplicity.

Flashlights led our way. Our host beamed as he led us to the entrance. A dog and her new puppies warily greeted us; chickens and ducks scattered into the darkness. We walked through the threshold, and I had to remind myself that we were indoors. More ducks and chickens scurried about the dirt floor. Several cats wandered lazily around their mistress as she prepared a meal. She smiled warmly, clearly pleased that Padre had graced her home with a visit, and with guests from America! She showed us how she cooked, announcing that she much preferred the old fashioned oven to the more modern stove. I asked her if I could take her picture, and she looked down demurely. She and her brother were so happy to have us....

I felt ashamed. I thought of the times friends had stopped by unannounced, times when I was embarrassed because of the clutter or piles of unfolded laundry. I thought of the times I complained about my inadequate dishwasher (it wasn't even built-in!) or the tiles that were coming up in the kitchen. Now I stood in the middle of the Amazon forest, an undeserving guest to humble hosts who radiated hospitality.

My home is still a cross for me sometimes. But I pray the memory of this visit will stay with me and help me to focus on the fact that it is also an unmitigated gift, and that I am much more blessed than I deserve to be.




Sunday, November 7, 2010

bom gia!

Yesterday, I returned from Brazil. What better time to surprise the world with a blot post?

I'm still struggling with "re-entry" to normal, so my mind is fuzzy and I'm not sure yet of how to tell the story. I spent 12 days visiting the missions of Rio Preta da Eva and, after a 20 hour boat ride down the Amazon, Parintins. The PIME Missionary priests and brothers were our hosts. The lovely people of Brazil were our teachers.

It is a beautiful country. It is hot. And humid. Did I mention it is hot? Every day we realized that we couldn't talk about the weather as we did at home. There was no wondering, "What will it be like today?" We just knew it would be hot. And it was. There was no relief from the heat, and that made it profoundly different from the steamy days I might've experienced on an July day in Michigan. I couldn't step into the air conditioned comfort of my home, or a restaurant or mall. Every where it was like a moist oven, and we wondered how the people there seemed to tolerate it so well.

The children were breathtaking. Photographing them was one of the most joyful experiences of my life. On our first evening in Rio Preta, one of my traveling companions (Seth) and I walked down the street to a small "corner store" and stopped to photograph some neighborhood kids. Knowing no Portugese (except for "obrigada" - "thank you" - which had taken me two days to learn)I would hold up the camera and smile, sometimes saying "foto, por favor?" The children smiled, and looked at me with genuine warmth. I would sometimes show them the pictures I took of them, and their smiles would grow wider, or they would blush through their bronze skin and look away.

I will never forget the first little girl whose smile I caught. She spoke patiently to Seth, trying to understand his Portugese, speaking kindly to him. She was about five. As soon as I can, I'll share her photo. It's going in a frame on my desk to remind me of the beauty and simplicity of the Brazilian children.

Enough for now. Despite the fact that I was up for 34 hours with only a few cat naps on the plane, I did not sleep well last night. I developed the a side effect from traveling early Thursday morning, and I'm still recovering from it. My nurse daughter, in true American fashion, overreacted and wanted to take me to the hospital. I'm seriously fine! It made me think once again of how cautious and afraid we can be in this country. The trip made me much more fearless and intrepid! But that doesn't mean I still don't need prayers! Hopefully today will bring rest and recovery, so that tomorrow I can return to work, and begin telling the story.

I am so thankful for what I have experienced. Mostly I was reminded of this: leave everything to God. Trust Him for your every need, and abandon all your plans to Him. He is all you need.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

cuttings


I remember the days when the field was fresh. On those days I could run here and bury my face in the blossoms, like Myra, angsty and tortured and passionate and alive.

Now I find I avoid the solace that brings. When I write, really write the way I'd like, I regress to a state of in which I am perpetually seventeen. Sometimes, that's charming. But usually it's draining or even cloying, and if I don't leave the field in tears, I'm sure my readers do. And they're not tears brought on by deep emotion, unless you consider annoyance deep.

Today I'm feeling seventeen and forty-something, which means I'm hormonal and weepy and passionate, but not quite sure about what. I'm also angry, but I'm not sure about why, either. I'm somewhat concerned that I might actually click the orange box and publish this post when I'm finished throwing words up here. And then all this nonsense will be cast out into the world where others can scoff at it and discover what I already know - it's really all vanity, and nothing more than that.

I'd like to start blogging here again, but I'm not sure there's a place for this. Now that I'm a Professional Communicator, with a Title and an Office and a paycheck that comes every other Thursday, I spend my days doing Real Work and writing about Important Topics. I think I'm pretty good at that, and I have a very sweet thing going. But there's a part of me that misses this...this flowery heart-revealing stuff that would make Certain Persons in my life (and probably most who happen upon this post)gag.

Enough. Until I can purchase one of those little diaries with a key, I have this place and no other. It's still my field, and if I want to throw daisies and write about rainbows and butterflies, that's my choice. If I want to be a pretend poet, or obsess about death, or marvel at God's grace, or just complain about my lot in life, or my husband, or my dog, this is the place I intend to do it.

I'm not going to tiptoe through the tulips; that's just not my style. Sometimes the pretty flowers are going to get all smashed up and messy. Sometimes I'm going to fashion odd bouquets, like the kind little boys bring to their overwhelmed mothers. Sometimes I'm just going to shove a bunch of dandelions in your face. I might weed the plot occasionally, but mostly I'm just going to hang out and see if I can still catch the fragrance wafting through the air.

And if you can bear it, you're welcome to join me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

good morning!


It's been a long dark night here in the field, but I'm coming back.

If I try to write something clever and smart, something that will remind the both of us why I started this blog, I'll hesitate too much and won't write a word.

So, inspired by the CNMC I just attended, I'll just write something, anything, to get the ball rolling.

There. I did it. :)

I'll be back soon to write something real. The sun's coming up. It always does, come to think of it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

visit me at work!


I'm doing most of my writing for the PIME Missionaries these days. Today I share about a recent incident with my pup Sophie. (Click here to visit me at the office!)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

In His Shadow



A repost of a poem I wrote on Easter morning, 2008

I had walked within your shadow
On the road in Galilee
I watched in awe your hands work miracles
Lame men walk now; blind men see.

I felt your shadow fall upon me
When the widow touched the hem
Of your cloak as you passed by her
With your crowd of holy men.

I was jealous of her boldness
As she put out an eager hand
Afraid to walk too near you
I just followed in the sand.

I was in the crowd that greeted you
As you entered like a King
Your shadow cast a regal sphere
As our bold hosannas rang.

You walked that path again so soon
Your blood fell upon the stone
I hid in a darkened doorway.
I let you walk alone.

Was there a shadow cast on Calvary?
Or was the darkness vast and deep?
I do not know.
I did not go.
Alone, I cried myself to sleep.

Yesterday there was no shadow
No place left for me to hide
No one there to heal this cripple
Maimed by selfishness and pride.

This morning Mary ran to greet me
Though I can scarcely take it in
She says the tomb is empty
She says you live again.

Is it true? Am I still dreaming?
Have I been given one more chance?
Might I be able to follow you again?
In your shadow, now to dance?

Mary smiles and says, "Just trust Him.
'Do not be afraid,' He said."
I go with her to see the shadow
Of the stone that guards no dead.

You are alive and I am weeping
Standing in a bold new place
Soon I'll glory in the shadow
Of your brilliant, Holy Face.

I used to fear the darkness
Like a child in bed at night
But I no longer fear the shadow
For in it I am close to Light.

Monday, March 15, 2010

a beautiful ministry


The Apostolate of Hannah's Tears is a ministry of mercy to suffering families.

From their site:

We offer prayer support and comfort to the brokenhearted who suffer the pains of infertility at any stage of life, difficult pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, the loss of a child and the adoption process. This apostolate intercedes for Catholic doctors, nurses, and their supportive personnel. We also serve as a vehicle of education in the proper channels of Catholic fertility practices as well as offering information resources to those seeking adoption and fertility care.

I am honored to have been invited to contribute to their blog. Please visit here to read my thoughts on Celeste's fifth birthday.

Monday, January 25, 2010

word search


Fortitude. Patience. Belief. Faith.

Grace. "Fiat." Wisdom.

It appears that choosing a "Word of the Year" is in vogue, and for a change, I'm wordless.

As I wrote here, I've been coming up blank these days. Regular readers of this blog (are there any left? I know I haven't given you much to read these days!!) know that I specialize in long-winded posts. Wordiness is my thing. I love words. I'm all about words.

But a word of the YEAR seems like an awfully big commitment, one I'm not sure I'm ready to make.

One of my favorite bloggers wrote about it recently, revealing that her WOTY is "fortitude," which happens to be one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Other bloggers shared their selections, including some of the ones mentioned above.

Are you noticing a theme? These words are all fabulous, and worthy, and, well, pious. I don't think any of them quite capture how I'm feeling these days.

Where are exhaustion, boredom, and irritation? How 'bout frustration, annoyance and impatience? Oh wait, the word is supposed to be positive, I forgot! It's supposed to be a reminder of what we're seeking - where we're going, not where are now.

OK, so how about chocolate? Or diamonds. Maybe vacation, or even weekend. Remodeled bathroom is two words, but that'd be cool too.

I suppose it's supposed to be something a bit more simple and precious. I could go with sunshine. Or maybe rain. Or leaves. Or rainbows. Unicorns? Care Bears? (Drats, two words again.)

I know I'm poking fun at the idea, and I don't mean to mock anyone who's chosen a Term for '10. I suppose I'm just annoyed at how boggled I am by this.

I love words, but the angst I feel at choosing just one reveals a certain aspect of my personality. I stink at making choices. I always feel like this is the last handbag/couch/dessert/WOTY I will ever get to choose, and I'm afraid, that like that guy in Indiana Jones, I won't choose wisely.

Soooo, I'll take a deep breath and pick one.

Erudite? Crudite? Carnivore?

Carnival? Validate? Liquidate?

Quiver? Sluice? Spore? Orifice?

Now I'm out of control.

Any suggestions? What's YOUR word of the year?