Last night, my youngest son anxiously and loudly called me to the back window urgently. He said, “Mom! Look at all the rats!!” I believe my reply was something super articulate and helpful like “Oh hell no!”
But then, I looked. It wasn’t rats. It was bunnies. Lots of them. It appeared to me that a wild bunny had given birth to like a dozen more and they evidently burrowing in an endlessly deep tunnel in a raised plant bed just a couple feet from my back door. This is NOT what we want, but it does explain why all the sudden my boxwoods are dying. The roots are being eaten. Also, the internet paints a scary scenario of where this bunny situation could be if I don’t intervene quickly. I mean, I’m not looking to be a bunny murderer, but did you know they can give birth every thirty days to litters of a dozen or more that pretty much eat every living plant in the vicinity? I mean what do I know? Maybe it’s fake news, but that’s what Google says, so who am I to argue? HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “going down the rabbit hole” and we know that it is a metaphor meant to explain how we can cause ourselves no end of trouble by descending into a bad state by our own poor choices.
I’m grasping the concept a little more now, both literally and figuratively.
During lent, I gave up some social media. Twitter is especially bad for me, I’d learned. So I decided to take a break. However, in my quest to stay abreast of current news, I picked up a couple of news sources that are emailed to me each day. You’ve seen the quote that applies here, right? “Don’t let anyone else ruin your day. It’s your day. Ruin it yourself.” HA? This morning, the very first thing I did (before saying “good morning” to my husband or saying “good morning” to Jesus) was read a news item. (Cue the dark scary voice of Vincent Price from MJ’s Thriller album). The title of the story was, “Birthing People”.
You see, apparently, a congresswoman from Missouri referred to women as “birthing people” during her testimony before some House subcommittee, because they banned the use of gender-specific terms like “mother” and “father.” I was highly amused, but also a little more than riled. I sent the story to a few of my friends. And you see, that’s where the rabbit hole comes in.
My snarky commentary about being super pumped for my “Birthing Person’s Day Blessing” at mass on Sunday did NOT help anyone’s day begin in a joyful or godly manner. EPIC FAIL.
“To live in love is to sail forever, spreading seeds of joy and peace in hearts.” –St. Therese
So, now you see why I love Trixie so much. This saint is a woman who reminds me by the example of her life what is important and what we are truly meant to do. We are meant to LOVE.
I vowed to work to shine a litter brighter with the rest of my weekend, and to be the type of person that draws people to goodness and makes them feel loved and fully alive. I hope you and I spend our days doing more listening, noticing, and caring…instead of heading down the rabbit hole of negativity. This week, I saw that Franklin Graham said, “We are living in an increasingly secular and anti-God culture. We need to let our light shine in the darkness.” A to the MEN, Rev. Graham.
So, this morning, I wasn’t so impressive. We’re all full of weaknesses and imperfections. We can beat ourselves up and continue down the rabbit hole if we choose. I chose to begin again. Every single time I get it wrong, that’s what I must do. You must do the same. The Lord needs all of us who love Him to do our part, folks. If not us, who?
“Speak words of hope. Be human in this most inhuman of ages. Guard the image of man for it is the image of God.” –Thomas Merton
Birthdays need to be celebrated. I think it is more important to celebrate a birthday than a successful exam, a promotion, or a victory. Because to celebrate a birthday means to say to someone: “Thank you for being you.” Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday we do not say: “Thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.” No, we say: “Thank you for being born and being among us.” On birthdays we celebrate the present. We do not complain about what happened or speculate about what will happen, but we lift someone up and let everyone say: “We love you.” –Henri Nouwen
My husband is a hard-working CPA, and my birthday is on March 24th. Today is the 50th anniversary of my arrival, actually. The fact of the matter is, my love of birthdays is not a terrific fit with the timing of tax season. In fact, my special day falls at exactly the worst possible moment for Tom. He’s so lucky, though. You see, I’m not likely to let him overlook the event on the calendar. I’m the sort of birthday “princess” who’s more likely to take out a billboard on I-465 than sit idly by in hopes someone will recall the date and share in my enthusiasm. There’s no “passive” in my “aggressive” when it comes to birthdays. Folks will roll their eyes at me sometimes. I’m sure I’ve been called “a little over the top” or even a tad narcissistic where birthdays are concerned. The truth? I have surrendered entirely to humility here. God has called me to be an active participant in what He’s doing. It might feel a little uncomfortable to some folks, but that’s ok. God delights in us, and I think He doesn’t want us to miss the beautiful gift of life. So, pile on the love. What could honor the Lord of Life more than that?!
That sounds a little overdone and lacking decorum to some of you, I know. The thing is, I feel the same way, if not more so, about the birthdays of those around me! I try very hard to find a way to wish others well on their special day. I am constantly seeking out the birthday dates of others in a very intentional way. Ad nauseum. If you aren’t hearing from me on your special day, it more than likely means I simply haven’t discovered the date YET—so send it on over! It’s my way of honoring the Lord and thanking Him for the beautiful gift of life– yours and mine!! The greatest gift we can give another is our time. We can’t make more of it, you see. This is why I try to squeeze in the walk, the breakfast celebration or the birthday dinner. And if the intended victim of my love is someone who isn’t nearby or available? I send some affirming words, or a gift…or super silly text…all the same. This is a just a small thing to which God has called me. He’s definitely called you to be His face somehow too. If you don’t know how, then simply ask Him to be the ruler of your heart, and you’ll soon have an answer.
Actually, I kind of think God knew what He was doing when He gave me this predilection for birthdays. You see, I don’t always see myself as He sees me. I can be my own worst enemy, noticing every flaw and failure. However, the truth is that I am a daughter of the King. You, my friends, are royalty as well! Jesus wants us to know our value isn’t based on how often we get things right, and it’s not lessened when we screw up. He pours out grace, and He loves us anyway.
It doesn’t feel coincidental to me that my birthday falls when it does each year–in the heart of tax season, in the depth of lent. It’s the literal moment in the calendar year where love is about to be unleashed. The Lord is absolutely crazy about us, will stop at nothing to save us, and HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR US. As one of my favorite authors, Bob Goff, says so well, “No tomb could contain what love was about to release…when Jesus rose from the dead, He showed that our lives are the best sermon we’ve got. Pile on love.” A to the MEN, Bob. Read some of his stuff if you haven’t discovered him. Bob Goff is the bomb-diggity.
What I have found is that joy and enthusiasm is contagious. Even the hard-hearted, deeply entrenched haters of aging may roll their eyes at me, but when I come for them all ready to love them up, they usually laugh at me and say something like, “Well, I know it’s pointless to try and fight you on this, so sure! Let’s get together!” I delight in these shared moments and it sets my mind on things above. It’s a cry of the heart, a prayer of gratitude.
Even though he’s a bit of a birthday curmudgeon, Tom knew there was no use fighting my family fun night plans on his 50th back in September. He also gave me a proper acknowledgment this morning of my “BIG” number by giving me a kiss and telling me he’s now officially sleeping with an old woman. Ha! There’s no use fighting the birthday lover he’s married to, so he’s embraced the mandatory celebration pretty darn well for an old school German stoic.
“Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man. God does nothing without this goal in mind.” –St. Catherine of Siena (total badass, and my confirmation name sake)
Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4:8-10)
During 2019, some of you may remember that I wrote about someone different each day. Those “Mad for” entries became fairly popular, and thousands of you surprised me by reading them and encouraging me to complete my goal of affirming someone new daily in this space over the course of a calendar year. It was a powerful experience for me, and then, I needed a break from the never ending deadlines!
Recently, my friend Claudine encouraged me to pick up my pen, so to speak, and begin writing more frequently. She says the world needs the positivity. I’m going to let the Lord be in charge while I continue to ponder the request. I turn 50 next month, so maybe in my 50th year, I’ll try to share 50 lessons I learn through the people around me? Or perhaps I’ll come up with another idea before my birthday. Stay tuned. Here’s what I do know for sure. Today, Jesus wants me to tell you about my brand new friend, from whom I was the witness of beautiful humility, which led me to a reminder about how important it is to be simply kind.
I have new pen pal named Bob. I’ve written to him a couple of times, and to be honest, I was neither needing nor expecting to hear back from him. His name was sent to me from a nice young man at church who simply told me that this is a guy who might enjoy getting a cheerful note in the mail from time to time. I’m a big fan of cards and letters, so I figured I was perfect for this simple good deed.
Today, Bob called. I don’t usually answer the phone for numbers I don’t recognize, but this one had a local number and I suppose I was curious enough to welcome the interruption. I suppose it might not be prudent since he was a stranger, but I had written my email address and phone number on my last card and I urged him to reach out if there was anything with which I could help. I’m pleased to say he took that offer seriously.
Bob sheepishly said hello when I answered, but I’m nothing if not gifted in the gab department, so he gained courage as the call went on. Old guys usually love me. I credit this to my natural volume level, which is not usually considered an asset by my family, but is a huge aid with folks whose hearing isn’t what it once was. It turns out Bob is just shy of 80 years old, and he’s fighting Parkinson’s Disease. When I asked him if he had any family, he proudly shared about his son who is a graduate of West Point. Hooah!
See that scripture quote at the top of this entry? I find it reassuring. You see, I’ve got a multitude of sins to cover up. However, I have noticed in all humility that there’s this one tiny thing I have in common with Jesus. I’m a big fan of the interloper in my day who gives me a chance to be love to the next guy. Actually, few things feel more satisfying or beautiful. The Lord was THE GOAT at loving people up who interfered with the plans of his day. I remember lots of miracles in scripture that started with moments where someone reached out in faith asking Jesus for a favor.
Bob called because he wanted me to pray for him. You see, he sounded a little frightened of his Monday doctor’s appointment with the neurologist. I asked him what time the appointment is scheduled for (it’s at 3pm), and then I smiled. I knew then what the Lord wanted me to offer for my pen pal. Bob’s appointment is at the hour of mercy. I will say the Divine Mercy Chaplet for Bob on Monday at 3pm.
With his voice cracking, Bob thanked me profusely. It was a great reminder that our tiny kindnesses can go a long way, and that each of us (no matter how small our lives may seem to us) has been given gifts that can be used to spread the love of Christ.
So, whoever came up with this little pen pal idea over there at OLMC? GREAT WORK.
An inordinate amount of time has been spent by myself and my youngest in our driveway this week. There’s a “good” shovel and there’s a “backup”. If you want to feel the satisfaction of moving large swaths of snow in short order, you want to lay hands on shovel #1. However, once you’ve done that several times, it occurs to a person that the “backup” shovel is aptly named, because if you want to keep your back in the upright position, that’s the one you gotta choose. 16 year-old boys should do the heavy lifting. What was I thinking on day 1 of this driveway adventure??
Errand running on this sunny day seemed like a productive idea, and out I went. When I stepped into the first store parking lot, the shiny stuff was hitting my face, and I thought, “What a nice day! It’s definitely SO MUCH WARMER!” So delightful did the weather improvement feel, that when I got back into my car after completing my first task of the day, I opened up my weather app. For the love of God and all things holy, folks, I swear to you what I saw was this. It’s 18 degrees with a windchill of 10. I promptly got out of the car, looked up at the blue sky, as if to the Lord Himself, put my hands in the air, and declared aloud, “FEELS LIKE 10 DEGREES!!” Then, I doubled over laughing at myself.
There was a man in scrubs on the sidewalk. He looked at me and said, “You ok?” I just started laughing and said, “Isn’t it such a beautiful day? Don’t you think it feels warmer?” He replied, “Actually, yes.” That’s when I told him, “My phone says the windchill is 10 degrees. It just struck me as so damn funny!” He smiled wide at me and replied, “Your laugh made my day.”
As I sit drinking my coffee and warming up again, this incident reminded me of a story I heard Bishop Robert Barron tell about one of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. I’m paraphrasing, but he said that the sun shines on the great and the small alike, and that Therese knew she was the small. She wasn’t a great spiritual academic like St. John of the Cross. So, she needed to lift her arms in the air like a baby and let God lift her up, as she didn’t have the intellect or giftedness to climb up to Him like some of the great saints.
In my opinion, she lived so well the concept …”For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8).
In a simple way, without really thinking, I feel like I had a little Therese moment right there in the parking lot. In all humility, my silly, childish act smiling with God about the ridiculousness of my weather reality made me realize I’d gotten something right. You see, freezing cold weather is undoubtedly the cross. Shoveling snow until your eyelashes are icy is the cross. However, doing those things and finding joy in them, feeling a certain serenity in the midst of the tiny sufferings? That’s what embracing Christianity looks like in my life. It’s minor and it’s uncomplicated, but that’s the kind of stuff I have to give Him.
Last week, I had to go to see the breast surgeon. Ah, the joys of abnormal mammography. Of course, I was edgy. Honestly, though, I just told Jesus that I loved Him and I trusted His plan for my life, even if it took me someplace I’d rather not go. I suppose it’s easy for me to say today that I meant it, because things ended well. I pray that when the day comes where I don’t get the ending I’d hoped for, I’ll still submit in peace to the will of God, who loves you and I beyond all telling.
You all, there’s nothing fancy about me. I buy my makeup at Walgreens and I wash my face with a bar of Dove soap. I’m impatient, imperfect, and permanently flawed. I know I fail and need God’s mercy. Maybe I will die on my way to a basketball game this weekend, or perhaps I will live to a ripe old age like my Grandma Langdon. Either way, the fact is that just a handful of people will ever have even known that I was here on this planet. But the Lord knows, and His love is radical. So, I consider myself rather hidden and small, like Therese. In her, I see a bit of myself. She had a burning preoccupation with love. Wouldn’t it be a great way to live to emulate that?
In this past year, so many of us have experienced suffering and sadness. Grace invades when we remember that our lives are not about us at all. When we live for the Lord, shining His light on others the best we can, and carry our little crosses with joy? That is the way of love.
For those of you who tell me you feel sad, who share you can’t find God right now, please know I pray in a special way for you. And if you are someone who is reading this wishing someone would pray for you too? Email me at email@example.com. It would be my deep honor to pray for you and your intentions. Here’s some great, practical advice from St. Francis de Sales on how to help oneself when feeling blue. I hope it helps you as it does me.
“When you find your heart growing sad, divert yourself without a moment’s delay; make a visit, enter into a conversation with those around you, read some amusing book, take a walk, sing, do something, it matters not what, provided you close the door of your heart against this terrible enemy. As the sound of a trumpet give the signal for combat, so sad thoughts apprise the devil that a favorable moment has come for him to attack us.”
I have become friendly with Chad at Grove’s Appliance Repair. He and some of his co-workers have made several visits to the house in the 7 years since we built the place. Probably, the KitchenAid people won’t want me for their ad campaign anytime soon. The good news is that few people have made such extensive use of a crockpot as yours truly. I own two, actually. I recommend use of the older models that use a knob to control the temperature over the new fangled digital versions where “warm” means “blazing hot” and “high” means the smoke alarms will be going off at any moment. When the Food Network comes up with a 6-hr slow cooker version of “Beat Bobby Flay”, I feel like I’m pretty much a shoe-in to take home the victory. No one can slake the massive, testosterone fueled appetites of young men with giant vats of mystery food quite like I can.
There hasn’t been a fully working kitchen here since Thanksgiving. That day, Tom made us just a glorious bird. That thing was magazine worthy, and it tasted even better. Let’s be honest though. I mean, anyone can cook delicious food with properly working equipment. What challenge is that? Ha?!
In the time that has passed thus far in our oven repair escapades, my oldest son has purchased his first vehicle, mom has torn her meniscus in two places, my parents both have gotten and recovered from covid-19, Christmas and New Year’s Day have come and gone, a new president has been sworn into office, a third vaccine has come onto the market, my middle son graduated from college, and my youngest son can now drive passengers– including a girl– with whom it seems he recently had his first official “date”. Honestly, these are just some highlights. The damn kitchen is hopeless.
When I got a series of frantic text messages this morning from a friend who was completely losing her mind this morning over her own household crisis, all I could do was look at my kitchen– Chad and his 1000 piece puzzle that used to be my oven– and laugh. Because do you know what entertains me? SO MUCH. The world is a silly, hysterical, amusing joy ride. It’s best not to take any of it too seriously.
Here’s what we can do. We can lift up the next guy, or we can knock them down. I get to decide what I want to give the world today. What have I got that’s worth sharing? It’s my choice. CNN, Twitter, and the NY Times can do their thing, and I can do me.
Today is the feast of St. Blaise. When I was a kid, the priest at St. Lawrence would line us all up in church and then choke us with these long candles. They called it blessing of the throats. It creeped me out, if I’m honest. His feast, though, falls at a tough moment in the calendar year. There’s a lot of cold and gray. So, some time ago, I decided to turn the day from weird, gray and macabre to something better. I interiorly declared it “Random Act of Kindness Day”. It’s the third day of the month, so I’d do three small kindnesses for others. I rarely have to think too hard, the opportunities simply appear. It’s the Lord’s way, I believe, of reinforcing for me that our greatest calling is love and the chances to practice it are everywhere. Yes, it’s absolute truth that we are called to love, even in the middle of winter.
Chad has been here a long time. The oven still doesn’t work. But what I know now that I didn’t know before is that Chad’s in the middle of chemotherapy. He didn’t look amazing, and I asked if he was okay. He assured me that he was, but admitted he was fighting cancer. Yet there he is on my floor and on the phone trying to fix the great and mysteriously doomed Thieme oven. As he sheepishly got up again to use the restroom, all I could think was…how can I imitate Christ’s love and consideration to this sick man?
I don’t know that much about St. Blaise, except the throat thing and that he was a physician. However, since today is his feast and he was a healer of men by vocation, I have prayed for his intercession on behalf of Chad. Also, I invoked my friend St. Therese who taught me about the value of our little acts of love and sacrifice.
Some day, I’m going to be awesome. Maybe I won’t ever be like St. Blaise or St. Therese, but God’s got a great plan for me, and He’s got one for you too. I think I’ll just trust Him and roll with it, wherever the road leads. I’m trying hard to not get upset about eating potato soup out of a crockpot again because my friend Therese was not about convincing herself that life’s predicaments didn’t bother her or pretending to have feelings she didn’t have. Her temperament and nature was exactly what made her patience a sacrifice. She offered all these things to God. She did so for love of Jesus. Thanks for showing me the way, Trixie.
Let’s get real for a second. I am seriously annoyed by this oven thing as well as many things much larger going on around me at the moment. We can let life make us cranky and bitter if we choose. Or, we can ask Jesus to help us love deeply. Love is a choice and today I want you to think about something. What in the heck would this crazy place do without weirdos who choose kind– even when their souls feel full of brokenness, struggle, rejection, loneliness– and on top of that the damn oven doesn’t work!? I say we stand in it. Let our weary feet be the rich soil the Lord uses to bear fruit. What do you want to give the world today?
As for me? I’m going with a 4th act of kindness for the unsuccessful, very hard-working oven repair guy named Chad who is fighting a battle much bigger than the one with my KitchenAid oven.
Here’s a great prayer for you weary travelers, who like me, struggle sometimes wondering what the heck we are doing, but are trying to trust in the Lord, who is love itself, all the same. It’s a personal favorite.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton)
“I have made a pact with my tongue, not to speak when my heart is disturbed.” (St. Francis de Sales)
Sometimes, I get melancholy or overwhelmed. It causes me to ramble. That’s not usually because I need someone to cheer me up, just that speaking the mess into the world helps it to exit the maze in my head. Exhaling. It’s incredibly healthy. Perhaps that’s not quite the experience had by the “victim” of these outbursts, mind you. Usually I vomit them out in frenzied spasms via text. These fits are often laced with “charming” eruptions of sarcasm which can ring up quite a tally on the little red messages flag on a person’s Iphone. I have a giftedness for texting that few can match. To those elect few upon whom I have preyed with my drivel, I offer my sincerest apologies. It’s 2021, and I’m vowing to work on it.
That said, I’ve reviewed my outgoing messages, and I am going to need to make a positive interior adjustment regardless of the times in which you and I live, with all it’s tremendous challenges. I implore you to consider it too, because MANY of you have shared with me that you are being sucked into the rabbit hole (aka vortex of evil)– often with considerable aid from what’s on the TV or online. I’m going to dig in the dark for a moment to explain why I think we need to make a profound shift, for the sake of our mental and spiritual health. For those who want to remain on the ride, I promise to end with hope.
Right now, there’s a plethora of politicians, experts and celebrities posing as journalists who are anxious to spread fear and loathing in all forms of media. They use words like “unity” and then publicly eviscerate those who disagree with them in the very next sentence. It’s discouraging. My husband suggested that he wishes that under their names on the chyron at the bottom of the screen it would say either “commentator” or “journalist”. I don’t think we have many of the latter still around, if I’m honest. Those are the increasingly extinct folks I’d rather hear from on my news sources. A counselor friend told me this week that at her care facility, suicides among the young are up 600% in the past year. Anxiety, depression, division and animosity abound, as do masks, social distancing, and nearly every avenue of connection to our common humanity. We hesitate to even help a struggling, fragile senior citizen to load their groceries as this new year begins. “Stay back” our interior “Covid Compliance Officer” chants, while our heart aches, knowing what charity requires. Our patience is limited and hopelessness is all around us. The rancor between even friends and family over many things is untenable. This, folks, is actually NOT a new problem. History is filled with such moments. Here’s some very timely food for thought from St. Augustine–and he died in the year 430 AD for goodness sakes!
Bad times, hard times- this is what people keep saying: but let us live well and times shall be good. We are the times. Such as we are, such are the times.
I have to choose better. We have to choose better. I propose we practice the great sacramental pause.
That is, we must remember to whom you and I belong– and we belong to the Lord of the universe. I must maintain mercy towards myself, and you towards yourself. You are infinitely more valuable than the most expensive things offered on the earth. Sense your deep goodness, and realize you and I are both made in the image and likeness of God. Remember that the Lord loves you more than you love your children, parents, spouse, or dearest friends. He loves even the guy who made the ignorant and hateful comment on Twitter that much too.
He’s the one who gives humans life, who makes us capable and responsible to love and care for ourselves and for each other. We were made for love. I believe in hope and it’s rooted in faith.
I’m Catholic. Many folks of my particular Christian persuasion have made some grave and disgusting errors in the name of Christ. To those who brush aside my assertion that faith is the answer based on these dreadful facts, I have a quote to share. It’s a quote I shared with my oldest son when he was questioning his faith, and I believe in it’s truth. Also, it makes me laugh a little.
“The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine– but for unbelievers a proof of it’s divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” (Hilare Belloc)
Here’s the thing. I love my country despite its very obvious imperfections and those of it’s leaders. I truly believe it’s the greatest place on the planet to live south of heaven itself. So too, I love Jesus with all that I am, despite the tremendous flaws of His church here on earth. Also, I love all you weirdos carrying your freak flags around. Yes, all of you. Each of your lives is precious and I invite you to reach out to me if ever you find yourself in doubt of the same– the coffee and smile are on me. I’d ask you to consider doing the same when you notice the next guy seems a tad glum.
Do you see that quote by St. Francis de Sales up there at the top of this entry? I find it inspiring. Also, I have never had much luck holding my tongue, as illustrated by the fact that I am writing a blog post this very moment. But I’ve been quiet a little longer than usual in this space, because I want to add sunshine and the light of Christ to any place I inhabit and I want to do it authentically. I’d like to think that you want the same in your life, and it can be hard to do that when we ourselves seem to be out of sorts. But God has not relinquished control, so CHINS UP, people!
My phone rang while I was at mass early last week. It was my oldest son. I let it go, making a note to call Nick back after mass. Then, just about 2 minutes later, he called again and my heart stopped a little. The dreaded double call. He’d been in a serious accident. He sounded dazed while telling me he had hit a patch of black ice and lost control. He got a face full of airbags and his trusty old high school Xterra was no match for the concrete barrier. But he was okay. Thanks be to God!
It was a stark reminder that this life goes by fast. We can’t languish in unpleasant thoughts. That’s the devil’s playground. Also, we shouldn’t take for granted our many blessings or waste the gifts of the Lord. That kid of mine was wearing Buzz Lightyear pajamas, it seems, a moment ago, and now he’s a first year financial analyst at a bank in Cincinnati! I’m not saying I’m at all happy Nick hit that patch of ice, but it shook me loose. I got in my car as soon as the weekend hit, and I went to help my kiddo bounce back. He’d need to purchase his first car, and I wanted it to be a happy day, even though it wasn’t in his plans for himself this winter. I don’t want to waste a minute of this precious gift of life given to me by our good and gracious God. What can I add to this world? I can love more profoundly and forgive more quickly, among other good things…and then I must trust God and leave the remainder in His hands.
We found him a pretty badass 4-year old Ford F-150. His first installment loan and only 6 months of employment history meant he needed a co-signer. It reminded me of needing the exact same thing in 1994, when my Dad co-signed the loan for my first car, a Toyota Camry. I felt so excited and proud that day, and I wanted Nick to try and forget his sore neck and bruised up chest and just know he was loved, and feel the joy and pride of his first new car. Those four hours traveling to and from Cincy feel like they were worth every second.
My point is that our little acts of love are NOT so little.
We are the conduits of grace needed by the faithful saints in heaven whose powerful intercession we must call upon often. As St. Augustine also rightly said, “God provides the wind, but man must raise the sails.” The Blessed Mother is the queen of that impressive group we call upon, and momma to each of us. So we pray. Then pray some more. The heavenly arm of saints and angels stands ready to help us in our weakness. Pray not out of fear and trembling, but confidently. We are the beloved daughters and sons of the Most High and He’s crazy about us! He loves when we ask for help– just like I was when I got Nick’s call to assist with the car process.
Next time I see that little old lady at Fresh Thyme, I’ll be offering to load her groceries for her, even if the “Covid Compliance Officer” living in my brain thinks it’s not the move in 2021. If she doesn’t want my help, so be it. I’ll simply offer a “God Bless You” in that case and know that somehow in the offer, Jesus used me for His purpose. So, why not pray now? Or call your aunt today? Today seems like a good day to meet your lonely friend and go for a walk, or share your leftover chili with Grandpa Tom. Who cares if it’s cold– the sun is out– and you own a coat!
SUCH AS WE ARE, SUCH ARE THE TIMES. Right on, Augustine!
My prayers today are offered for our young people. +JMJ+
A three handed card game called “casino” was a big part of my evenings last week in Phoenix. We’d head outside to the balcony and argue about the musical selection being played in the background, and then Z and I would dominate Tom, who just isn’t good at this game. At all. As my life is chock full of the need to take solace in the fact that I am winner of only the “women’s division” in all family contests, I was a skosh obnoxious in victory. Tom snorted defiantly, “People think you are kind- but actually you are pure evil!” I waived off the insult and told him he should think about being better at cards, ha? Zach quite agreed with me, and laughter ensued. This week also contained a nice dose of sunshine and God’s glorious architecture.
Outrageous architecture was the milieu of Antoni Gaudi. I’ve been interested in him since I discovered the Sagrada Familia, an unfinished masterpiece of truly outlandish proportions which is located in Barcelona. I’ve never been to Spain, but learning more about this eccentric genius over vacation with my poolside nose in his biography makes me long to see it when it’s completed. That is supposed to happen in the next several years– around 2026.
Long a lover of books, their pages have taken me all over the globe and taught me about the imperfection and humanity that exists in even the most inspired and holy people. It’s a great reminder to me that, frankly, there was only one Jesus…and we ain’t Him. There’s nothing like seeing something magnificent created by one of the Lord’s flawed creatures, in person, to inspire the soul, though.
This past week, I found myself in majestic and awe-inspiring Sedona, Arizona. Steep canyon walls, hiking trails, and breathtaking views dominated Red Rock country. The Chapel of the Holy Cross, constructed in 1956, is regarded officially as one of the seven made made wonders in the state. It was my third or fourth visit to the spot, and still my jaw was agape at the splendor.
Being in the mountains with two of my favorite guys on a stunning, sunny day lifted my spirits so profoundly. As we were descending from the top of the rim on our scenic jeep tour, I couldn’t keep from noticing it was the feast of St. (Pope) John Paul II. He was a man who understood the glory of nature and who saw God’s architecture as tremendously inspiring in his own life. All our help comes from the Lord who has made the heavens and the earth. This is the little piece of psalm 89 he shared when he gazed upon the majesty of the Rocky Mountains on his famous trip to Denver. He also took most of his well-documented vacations with friends he treasured camping in the mountains of Poland. He took some flack for staying in close contact with the old friends who often accompanied him through his life and on his holidays, even after becoming Pope.
Here’s the deal. Saintly though he was, JPII knew his humanity, and that the calamities of life and the existence of evil were a fact. He realized the importance of love, too. His infectious optimism was rooted in its actuality. So, our connectedness with one another is vital. Our relationships must be fostered– and doing so is a form of self-care, he argued. We must guard our mental and physical health, and we must experience our belovedness through the smiling eyes of those we treasure. They are gifts placed in our lives by the Lord. If the Pope can make time to go camping, you can find the time to enjoy your people too!
“Let us love, since that is what our hearts were made for.” -St. Therese of Lisieux
After a few days in the sunshine with two goofballs, my concerns and fears about what lies ahead are still with me, but I carried back to Indiana stronger and more confidently in my heart that Jesus cares about my life and hopes– and He hasn’t relinquished control. His plans are better than my own. I mean, DUH? He’s God, and I am not. How is it that I forget this so easily?
I have noticed I’m far from alone on this feeling of being a bit overwhelmed. 2020 just refuses to end, am I right? If you are running on empty too, I strongly encourage you to try to find someone who makes you smile and take a few minutes with them to catch your breath. If your life is too busy or your heart is too disquieted for that, let alone a trip to the mountains…? Friends, don’t worry. My wise friend Tina taught me that when I don’t even know what to do, just pray, “Jesus, I don’t know what I need, but You do. Please help me.” God will come for you. FACTS. He sees you. Like JPII said, “He hears you. He loves you.” That truth goes for obnoxious card players like me with a streak of evil in my heart, and it applies to you too. It’s that simple.
Finally, I leave you with this thought as the elections approach and COVID (with all the resulting closings, job loss, illness, masking, social distancing, and cancellations) refuses to relent. When we see our lives in the light of eternity, it’s a game changer. It makes me want to try and BE THE GOOD. So, despite my evil tendencies… like yelling too loudly on the sidelines and mocking my husband when I beat him in cards…? I still think someone who aches to be love for the next guy is mostly on the right path. This is truth even when my potty mouth and humanity get in the way. That said, I think THIS WEEK, the world needs the light of Christ in a big way. I’m going to ask Jesus in prayer to help me be perhaps a little less wicked, and a lot more like Him. That seems like a good recipe to become love.
Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, but especially to those who belong the family of the faith. (Gal. 6: 9-10)
I made dinner for Grandpa Tom and delivered it before I left. Dinner for Mom and Dad was also packed for the journey. I remembered Drew’s package he needed me to deliver to his fraternity, his apartment deposit check, and I brought along some cookies I baked for he and his friends. What I didn’t remember on this second trip north in a week was MY glasses, or clean underwear, or a spare bra, or my toothbrush. So, I just brushed my teeth with a washcloth and I went commando under my yoga pants wearing yesterday’s bra, and THANK YOU GOD a tunic length top. Sheesh. Is that a skosh too much information for you? Sorry about your luck. Today, I’m just flat out keeping it real.
Mom got a new hip a week ago, and so I’ve been staying close to help out a little extra. I broke away from Red Oaks Lane to have lunch with my college kiddo and a buddy of his who are nearby studying at Purdue one of these afternoons. It was a nice break, after which I decided to make a little detour to campus, and I popped into the bookstore to pick up a few items for my Boilermaker enthusiasts this Christmas. That was when things got dicey. There were two employees present, and they were arguing about politics, the Supreme Court nominee, and even just the TV channel being shown in the store. They apparently felt volume changes minds. The experience felt very emblematic of the soupy situation we all find ourselves in right now. Plus, it was not mood enhancing.
Maybe because 3 out of 3 grandparents in our lives are in the middle of some health drama, the husband of a dear friend is in the ICU on a vent, COVID has disrupted the education of our children, and the powers that be have stolen from me the sacred music at mass which calms my soul (among myriad other trials), I find myself somewhat rubbed by things which injure my mental health further and illuminate nada. I am much more interested in what we can do to love each other. Helping the next guy to “see the light” or change their stubborn mind when we honestly have no idea what they are facing is just flat out the wrong approach, according to me, myself and I. Clearly, all of the social media outlets disagree, but I digress.
I have a theory. It is based on not a darn thing except my gut instinct. Therefore, I offer it to you without a trace of scientific evidence to back up the assertion. Here it is. I think we can’t change other peoples minds. I think it needs to be their idea. In other words, discordant, raucous screeching actually doesn’t even work a little. Perhaps we can nudge others along with rapport, kindness, and understanding. I feel like I have a lot more success instilling open mindedness in others when I listen respectfully and find common ground.
I’ve never actually tried to convince anyone to change political parties. BUT, I have tried to persuade plenty of hurting, lonely folks that they are loved beyond all telling and that God is for real. That seems like an argument worth winning to me. I’ve got all those people on my mind today, which is apparently “World Mental Health Day.” I can’t keep up with all the made up holidays but based on my own mental chaos alone, this seems a cause worthy of attention.
You can’t live a positive life with a negative mind. Trust me, I’ve tried. EPIC FAIL. To call this year challenging is just the most ridiculous and underwhelming description. I’ll add some other adjectives just to make myself feel better about the adequacy of my work here. Hmm. 2020….troublesome, painful, demanding, wearisome…and downright onerous? Yes, that sounds better. Hopefully, there’s one in there that makes you feel like we are kindred spirits, because it is absolutely true that misery loves company, ha?
Here’s the thing. Servant of God, Walter Ciszek said, “Each day, every day of our lives, God presents to us the people and opportunities upon which He expects us to act.” This is a stunningly beautiful thought coming from a man who spent 15 years of hard labor in Russia, most notably in Moscow’s infamous Lubyanka prison where he was tortured and spent significant time in solitary confinement. If you haven’t read his biography, With God in Russia, I’d recommend it. It’s a difficult read, but incredibly inspiring.
So, what are you and I called to do today? What’s God asking of you? For me, I think it’s possible the Lord wants me to lighten up. The world needs sunshine. Laughter paired with being a little more gentle with Shelly would be a great aid in this matter, and perhaps put my own needs on the to-do list as well? It’s hard not to notice that deficiency when you’ve got Crest on a washrag in your mouth (and no undies) for gosh sakes! I’d guess there are a few of you who may be similarly called by our Lord. I’m making light here, but seriously, folks. Life is hard enough, consider being kinder to yourself. Others are watching your example and during this Respect Life Month, I’d say sometimes we forget our own dignity and worth. We can’t be who we are called to be, or be the face of Jesus to others like we should if we don’t mind the store a little.
A good friend texted me this morning, “Can you help me calm down?” I had no magic, but I promised prayers and told her I loved her. Then later, I sent her an inappropriate but very funny meme. Smiles can be the fairy dust in our day, am I right?
We need to trust the Lord and be at peace. It sounds hard, but it’s really very simple. For me, it helps to quiet down, pray, and go to mass as often as I can. Receiving Jesus is a great joy and comfort for which I’m grateful. This morning, the mass was said by one of my favorite human beings. He’s got the voice of an angel, and he hasn’t used it much lately. There are pandemic rules, I know, I know. Sometimes, I find the obedience of my pastor super annoying, ha? But TODAY, he did sing the Alleluia before the Gospel, and for just a moment, he broke into the harmony while the smattering of daily mass folks like myself sang the melody. It was just a little smile from the Lord, a reminder that He loves me, and that He knows everything— including how much I miss beautiful, sacred music. He’s right here beside us if we look.
On this feast of St. Teresa of Avila, I leave you with one of my most favorite saint quotes of all time. There’s a reason this gal is a Doctor of the Church. Read it slowly, and let it soak in.
Use the gifts you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. –St. Therese of Lisieux
Uncle Marv is 99 years old. He likes to walk to breakfast from his modest home on Tulip Ln, on the north side of my hometown. He’s WWII veteran and remarkably sharp, despite his age. The problem with Uncle Marv is that he’s mostly lost his eyesight and his hearing isn’t good. He’s remarkably spry, and has always been fit. Unfortunately, the daily walk to breakfast entails crossing the fairly busy Elmood Avenue on the northside of Lafayette. My great uncle is a true Dykhuizen, meaning he’s a talker. He still calls my 75 year old Dad, “Jimmy” and it makes me laugh.
Dad quizzed Uncle Marv about his daily walk, mostly with safety concerns for our family patriarch. The answer he got makes me giggle and shake my head.
“Well, Jimmy, I say a little prayer to the Lord for my safety before I leave the house,” he shared. “Then, when I get to Elmwood, I look both ways, and if I don’t see headlights, then I raise both my canes in the air and start waving them like crazy and I step out into the street and just hope for the best. When I get to the other side, I say a prayer of Thanksgiving that I made it safely.”
My first instinct upon hearing this story is to giggle. I mean, I can just picture the cars slamming on their brakes hoping to not be the person that runs over the crazy, old, blind guy with the canes. Perhaps family members should intercede? Then again, the man has survived the Great Depression, served his country in WWII, raised a family, had an enduring marriage, and is mentally astute and prayerful at the age of 99!! Who the heck are we to tell him what to do, ha?!!
Trusting in providence is Uncle Marv’s street crossing strategy. My guess is it’s the same simple, but strong faith in the Lord that helped him survive a century of mayhem that you and I can only begin to fathom– and with his good humor in tact.
I’m a BIG fan of the early Christmas card. You see, if I send one first, most folks will tend to include us in their own mailing when they get around to it. It’s a joyful thing when my mailbox starts to fill up with all those adorable family photos and clever letters. I mail one to Uncle Marv right after Thanksgiving every year. He always calls me shortly after it arrives to give me his “oral” Christmas greeting and asks about the boys and Tom. It’s a 30 minute piece of sunshine in my year for which I can rely. It’s a call that seeks nothing and it brings something reliably bright.
These tiny little sparks in our lives are really not small at all, I’ve decided. So today, inspired by Uncle Marv, I suppose I just want to acknowledge my gratefulness to the Lord for all the people who bring something bright. Your small acts make me believe in goodness. In 2020, I’m all about every single act which confounds the toxicity, brings love, and spreads a little holiness.
Just for fun, I’d like to name a few of the things that have made me smile lately.
My normally tidy husband had a series of food mishaps this week, soiling four t-shirts in 2 days. The spills got to be so ridiculous that he presented himself shirtless on the back porch after the last episode and declared open season on the stain stick. Instead of choosing anger, Tom went with laughter, and the self-deprecating humor gave us all a big belly laugh. #TakeThat2020
My parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, inspired by the citizens of our pastor’s hometown of Pendleton, has posted hopeful signs along 146th St and Oak Ridge Road. “You are not alone”, “You are Enough”, “Don’t Give Up”, “Your Mistakes Do Not Define You”, and “You are Worthy of Love”….among others. #TakeThat2020
A particularly holy young man, John Tiplick, was playing a recent tennis match as my son’s doubles partner. After a couple of errant shots, a coach I adore raised his voice in John’s direction asking him “What in the world are you doing, John!!?” John turned to his coach with a very earnest smile and replied, “Playing tennis, Coach!” Anger instantly diffused. #TakeThat2020
Covid snatched from us many events of the year, including Zach’s confirmation mass. The parish responded by holding a very small alternate mass for Z and another young person in similar circumstances. Two children were confirmed, two families were present. Do you know who else was there? Our pastor, a brand new deacon, the music director, two additional musicians…and a parish staff member who had actually retired the previous week. All those folks were there loving up these two teenagers. This particular momma was nearly moved to tears by the extraordinary kindness. #TakeThat2020
A kind local tennis guru took a few minutes he didn’t have to teach me how to wrap a tennis racquet with overgrip today. Nice matters. #TakeThat2020
Laine Schwegman climbed on my couch to re-take and “fix” a “chubby” photo of me with her mother, Renee. She’s a talented, very good human and being around her makes me have great hope for the future. #TakeThat2020
Nick Fred texted me “I love you Mom.” #TakeThat2020
Coach Chris Sciaudone of Guerin Catholic Boys Tennis has somehow kept the ball bouncing in nearly impossible circumstances this tennis season. The young men whose season (and mental health) he has saved will always remember his hard work, compassion, and incredible example of strength in adversity. So will their parents. #TakeThat2020
Kristy Murphy shared her volleyball ticket with me at Covenant Christian High School last weekend. This made it possible for me to use an actual bathroom (and not the port-a-potty designated for tennis families) during the boys tennis tourney being held at the same location. I am a princess who likes indoor plumbing and sinks to wash my hands. It wasn’t a small matter to me. #TakeThat2020
Todd Metzger went out of his way (and fronted the cash) to get Z’s only tennis racquet re-strung in record time so that he would have it for the GC tennis match this weekend. He didn’t have to, it was pure and altruistic act. #TakeThat2020
To those who make my life and those around me even an itsy-bitsy little amount better, THANK YOU. That thing which felt insignificant to you? It wasn’t miniscule at all. When it’s dark out like it has been during 2020, those who journey alongside? YOU MATTER.
A lot of people are struggling right now. I’ve had my days for sure. You guys…? Let’s take Uncle Marv’s lead. I say we raise our canes too, trust in Providence and let the Lord handle the hard stuff. After that, we’ll ask for the grace to do our little part. Even if all we can do is be present for someone, it’s a beautiful gift. Make the call. Donate your time. Write the note. Buy the cup of coffee. Send the text. GET BUSY DOING GOOD. It’s much more contagious than COVID-19!
P.S. I really WANTED to run this with the shirtless photo of my husband. But, I want to remain married a little more, ha?
“If you’re experiencing stress or tension give it to Jesus. Tell Him, ‘I feel like crawling the wall, but I love You and I want to give this to You.’ Do you think our Lord wasn’t tense living with those twelve screwball apostles?” –Mother Angelica
“Let us love, since that is all our hearts were made for.” –St. Therese of Lisieux
Disparaging people I adore is an action I try to avoid in general, but especially in writing. Therefore, it’s with some amount of trepidation that I submit to you a summary of some of the highlights of my last few days. However, I deeply value authenticity, and perhaps a little messiness keeps it real. Actually, I pretty much think that being invited into the weird, vulnerable and rusty parts by someone else is the greatest gift that friendship and family has to offer. I humbly submit to you, therefore, some of the unpolished moments of the last few days.
My mom is a tough bird. The word choice is intentional here. She literally spent part of her childhood living in a chicken coop. That is not a joke. She complains…NEVER. Right now, she’s a little hunched over. Her long overdue hip replacement isn’t happening until October, and there’s been some discussion about rods being placed in her spine after that. I plan to continue to appeal to Our Blessed Mother on behalf of Grandma Kate and see what we can get done about that lousy plan. My point is, when Mom complains of pain and vastly alters her normal active lifestyle, one knows she’s in significant agony. She was here this week, quietly but obviously enduring that torture and cheering on Z in his recent tennis matches. Dad came too but didn’t stay because he had to get back to Lafayette for a little minor surgery. Of course he did. It’s 2020. UGH! The massive dose of naproxen that Mom’s doc prescribed to get her through until her surgery was making her sick to her stomach, so she stopped taking it. Now, Mom has been known to enjoy a glass of chardonnay from time to time, but on her visit this week, it was her choice analgesic. Because he’s a giver and didn’t want her to drink alone, my thoughtful husband sat beside her in the kitchen sipping bourbon. Frick and frack were quite the entertaining combo that evening after the Guerin Catholic boys tennis team had a bad loss up at Westfield High School.
After their (several beverages into the) evening, Drew came bounding through the back door, home unexpectedly from Purdue. The Covid-19 mayhem and stress involved in attempting to understand the clear as mud rules were taking a toll. Drew wondered how they will be applied in his fraternity setting by the university and it simply was too much for my 4.0 college senior to navigate as he takes on his last semester as an undegrad. That’s fairly revealing. So, he came home for guidance and a break from the mask. Not much laughter and smiling is happening for these young folks on campus right now, I can tell you that. We don’t know what’s happening or how long he’ll be here. Drew’s been on a college campus with the throngs, so, to be safe, I sent Drew upstairs and put overserved Mom downstairs. I sent Zach to Nick’s old room. Now, we were up 2 bodies since morning at this point, and down several ounces of alcohol, but no one here was sharing a bathroom with anyone… except for me! That was as much Covid-19 saavy as I had in me. So, I decided to call it a day and went to brush my teeth.
Tom began hollering at me from the family room. He suggested that I might want to check on Mom because she had been yelling my name from the basement. I think I mumbled a two syllable phrase and it closely resembled “Well, crap” but it wasn’t quite that appropriate. Ha? You see, unexpected calls from parents of late have been things like chemotherapy side effects, heart attacks, and hospital visits. Given the way the night was going, it didn’t seem like this was headed anywhere positive.
But do you know what she wanted? She wanted to give me a pair of her underwear. Yep. Her underwear was gifted to me late Monday night because they are the most comfortable panties she’s ever owned. Also, they are one size fits all. How innovative. That seems normal? I can keep them she says. Lucky me, right? Because, you guys, EVERYONE wants to wear their moms underwear. If only sarcasm burned calories….
I showed them to Tom when I came upstairs. And then I started to cry and fan my face because I was laughing so hard. Tom said if I start wearing Mom’s underwear we will have to get a divorce. Sorry for outing you, Mom, but thank you, God, for the best laugh I’ve had in a month!
We’ve all got a story to tell about our journey through 2020. Mine’s quite a bit bigger than the messiness I’ve described above, but a glimpse at my more vulnerable (and grateful) than before heart reveals something. I’ve grown spiritually, and I’ve learned some things this year. I hope you have too. One of the great lessons for me is about vulnerability. It’s a holy and good thing when we gift it to one another and to the Lord. I mean, Jesus knows a thing or two about being vulnerable, am I right? If you’re not tracking with me, Google “Sorrowful Mysteries.” God has a pattern of redeeming us when we are broken open. We simply have to go to Him. Prayer can change that which seems impossible. I invite you to try it.
I can’t fix Dad’s heart, or Mom’s hip, or Grandpa Tom’s colon cancer. I can’t rescue the friends who are struggling with broken marriages, addiction, or mental health crises. However, I can walk beside them, making sure they know they are not alone on the journey. I can love (and find the humor) and so can you. We can’t listen or hear or enter into the heartaches and hurt of others to love them along unless we are willing to be available and vulnerable. We can’t be the face of Christ during the not-too-pretty parts of life when we are bitter or angry or selfish.
Sometimes, I don’t get invited to “the” party. Do you know what I do get though? The honor of holding onto the secret hurts, and the SOS text in the middle of the night. If you’ve experienced it too, you’ll understand why I’ll take it over almost anything. Nothing feels quite like trying to spend a moment loving like Jesus. Those are moments I guard, reverence, and hold dear. I don’t want anyone to feel alone, overcome by suffering. The way we bring light into darkness is through the fire of our faith and the light of our smile. When God is at the heart of our lives, we shine and our tiny corner of the world is transformed.
We need to hold one another in high esteem, and we need to laugh and love in each moment as it comes along. That’s how I think we survive 2020 as Christians.
I’ll leave you with this little grin. My 16-year-old, Zach, asked me in the midst of the eLearning this week to help him come up with a five syllable phrase for his now online GCHS ukelele class. I was annoyed by virtual school and too much screen time and was not in a particularly inspiring mood and my reply was “I hate Zoom meetings.”
Later, when I asked him what he went with, he began to giggle, looked up and me and said, “Five Syllable Phrase”. HAHAHA! Yep. He’s definitely my kid, and his snarky little sense of humor remains in tact. Well played, Z! We’ve got to keep smiling.
Here’s the little prayer I’m saying lately. It feels like our country and our world can use all the love and cheerfulness available right now. I hope you’ll join and pray along with me!
“O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully ito my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there thy cheerful beams.” –St. Augustine
Here’s hoping you get a chance to spread a little love and laughter in your day. PEACE, OUT!