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.