St. Blaise is Still Weird, Though…

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.

Chad and the hopeless oven.

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)

PEACE OUT!

I’m Limited. Love Me Anyway

“Be kind to unkind people. They need it the most.” -Robin Williams

Lately (and maybe always) the internet is a scary place, full of social media apps and platforms along with users in full throat toxicity. It seems to me that even people of good will often lose their way in this jungle.

For instance, I have a bright and very funny friend, (a father of 2 amazing kids) who in real life would never choose to condescend, but whose online presence is filled to overflowing with vitriol, even hatred towards others who do not share his particular political views. He’s clever, so his comments are particularly pointed and hurtful. I’m sure he thinks he’s educating the rest of us with his caustic, cynical and snide commentary. I’d argue no one of the opposing view is ever going to wake up one day to his sarcasm-filled, angry tweets and think “Oh yeah, give me a piece of what that guy’s got!”

Another acquaintance, whose charitable work and Christian writing has long inspired me, has lately decided that the best use of her giftedness is to beguile us with partisan accusations and cacophony on Facebook. It feels a little tragic in all honesty.

Good and kind friends, there’s not a thing wrong with sharing your perspective. In fact, I’m doing the very same thing right here. I applaud the use of one’s voice to speak to important issues, in charity. Interiorly, though, I find myself often judging the methodology and even the character of these folks and wishing they would choose differently.

Right there is where I went off the rails, am I right? My job is not to judge. My job is to love.

As I look in the mirror, I want to be someone who lifts up the next person (in practice and in prayer), who helps others look forward to the gift of today. It’s hard to do that if I’m playing judge and jury.

Spending a week in Florida with girlfriends is good for the soul. I just returned from such an adventure, with a group of four sparkly friends. Our parting “motto” for the trip was definitely “I’m limited. Love me anyway.” We laughed at length at ourselves and decided the next t-shirt Colleen Stine needs to make us simply MUST bear those words.

As ladies will do, we broke down a lot of topics, as well as each other. Exhaling is healthy, for sure, and God often gifts us with opportunities to be His face in these intimate settings. Such was the case one night on this trip when one of these gals confessed a failure for which she felt great shame. Heck, we’ve all failed. It’s my hope that what she left feeling was empathy and love. Her story reminded me how important it is to remember that there is brokenness in all of us, and that we must be gentle with ourselves and opt for God’s mercy.

People are limited. We are limited by our personal history, unmet needs, physical pain, emotional trauma, or even just our lack of giftedness or self-awareness. Some of us are flat out ill-equipped. We’ve been hurt, taken for granted, or deceived. We’re poorly catechized, or our education was insufficient. We were parented badly, or we’ve suffered abuse. Perhaps we’ve recently lost a child or a job. All these scenarios and many more leave us lacking.

For the sake of Christian charity, here are the questions I’m challenging myself with right now. Is what I am doing making me holier? How is my heart, and is my example leading my soul and yours closer to Jesus?

You guys, I love Jesus. I love Him more than I think I ever have. It’s a gift largely born from what my pastor called “divine absence”. The loss of the sacraments in recent months made me ache for the Lord in a way I never have before. I mean, I knew my faith was important to me, but God used this shut down of churches in a beguiling way in my life. The pain, especially the loss the of the mass, the Holy Eucharist, was unbearably hard at certain points. It felt like a major overreaction. I was thinking “This is nuts! Get over yourself!” But I could not. I would even go so far as to describe myself as interiorly grief-stricken during some of these weeks of quarantine. I believe it was supernaturally ordained suffering. But, suffering refines faith, and God is trustworthy.

I guess this torture is what I get for telling Jesus I love Him and asking Him to help me love Him more, ha? God likes to give us good gifts when we ask, though, and as I look back on this time, I see how He took inordinately excellent care of me.

Am I becoming love? I don’t know, but I desire it. I do know this. People are limited. We are called to love them anyway. It’s a great lesson in dignity and humility for me to ask God for the grace to think from this perspective in all that I say and do.

I looked over to an aggressive driver on 146th St. on the way home from the airport who had pulled out in front of me. I was tired, and my heart was full to the brim with disdain for a moment, until I saw the man’s face. You see, I know this man a little, well enough to be aware he recently lost his son. My minor case of road rage dissolved. Sheesh. I’m such a dork sometimes. He’s limited, love him anyway. That’s what the voice in my head cried out. Good grief, I am a comically slow learner.

This particular spiritual challenge issued by the Lord has me re-evaluating my interior and exterior responses to a myriad of others with whom I come into contact, and even some I may never meet.

For instance, as I probe my heart, I am not proud to admit that there is a powerful man for whom I have had precious little respect for some time now. He has done and said hurtful and unacceptable things to some folks I love deeply.

Harboring ill will? Yes, I have been.

Truly, it’s not ok. You see, he’s limited, and I am called to love him anyway. I have long considered myself not a judgemental person. That self-evaluation is deeply flawed. Luckily, my beautiful Catholic Church has a remedy for that. It’s called confession. It’s a place where we begin again.

That’s the beauty of God. You can’t lose with the Lord if you fall into sin, even mortal sin. Go to confession, repent of your sin, try again…and God, again, not only restores you to the point at which you fell, but advances you again because of your humble repentance and new effort to improve in your spiritual life. You can’t lose with Jesus. It doesn’t matter how sinful you are, how many weaknesses you have or the circumstances in which you find yourself. The grace and the love of Jesus Christ and the power of his sacraments are such that He wins every time as long as you turn back to him, as long as you put your trust in him.” – Fr. David Miller

As I talk to the Lord tonight, the Savior I deeply love, I plan to thank Him for many things, including helping me to see where I am blind.

I’m limited, Jesus. Love me anyway.

And He does.

Smiling and Loving…and coffee cups

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, my handsome husband texted me from his conference in Las Vegas this week.
Tom: Our keynote is trying to tell me that it’s not all about me. She’s full of it.
Me: Someone should have informed her.
Tom: She also wants me to be positive and find the good in people. She doesn’t get me.
Me: Lmao! She is unqualified to give a keynote to accountants. Someone should have vetted her. Heads will roll.
Tom: Now she wants me to lighten up. Come on woman.
Now, part of what makes our marriage work is that I have a self-imposed rule that I don’t write about Tom. However, I am making an exception today to illustrate two things. First, I’m not really all that good at following rules. Second, he is a truly funny guy who makes me laugh aloud now and then. Laughing leads to smiling and I happen to believe whole-hardheartedly in smiling.

The most authentic voice that has ever spoken about the importance of smiling, in my mind, is Mother Teresa. She said this, (and so much more) about the matter.

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”
Well, what if we’re not actually happy? What if we have an “Eeyore” temperament or our personal circumstances are a mess? Isn’t it a little deceptive to fake it?
I have one friend who is from a large, wealthy family who was taught at a young age that she must appear cheerful. She and her siblings felt they were shaming their parents if they didn’t appear to be happy. This kind of “pressure” to smile does feel inauthentic, don’t you think?
On the other hand, several years ago I received a letter from an awkward, even geeky, former classmate. The note came decades after we had been in school together. “You were the reason I made it through school. I knew every afternoon when I got to English class you would be there smiling at me and saying hello. Except for you, the experience was pure misery.” I didn’t see this coming at all.  The thing is, though, I remember making a choice to be kind to this kid. It was my mom. She endlessly told us that we would never be sorry we were too nice. Spot on, Mom. Thanks.
I share these two stories to make a point. These are two very different types of smiles. In the first example, my friend spent her growing up years “faking” joy. It was feigned and deceptive. The purpose? It was done to make people think favorably about oneself, and it’s difficult to pull this off successfully. Why? Because human beings can feel it when you are “all about me.”

Perhaps unbeknownst to Mom, she was channeling Mother Teresa’s approach to joy with her ever present instruction. YOU WILL NEVER BE SORRY YOU WERE TOO NICE. Mom taught us the outward looking smile. The smile which is aimed at another for his or her benefit is silent and powerful acknowledgment that you see the presence of Christ in that person.
“Spread love everywhere you go….”
Love is a decision. When we love, we are making a decision to look outward. It’s not about impressing someone or looking the part. Have you ever considered how you might answer if God someday asks, “How did you love me?”
Here’s three minutes worth seeing that speaks about this truth of our job to love and be a witness to love in a very accessible and relatable way. The priest who is featured is known only to me as “Fr. Rob.” He publishes at Petersboat.net. This particular video speaks about the red cups at Starbucks that have been on every media outlet ad nauseum the last few days. I think you’ll enjoy it, so I’ve put a link at the end of this post.

What’s my point in all of this?
Even if I’m not feeling it, even if I’m not in the mood, even if you’re like the sarcastic comedian I’m married to and you claim it’s not part of your natural temperament– I do think we should go out of our way (even if we have to force it) to see the good in others, to perform little kindnesses, and to smile at others in our daily path.
Did you know Mother Teresa felt a profound darkness of soul for the last many years of her life? She was experiencing tremendous interior misery for many years. It was a shocking revelation only revealed after her death. It was mind blowing to many, because the world saw intense joy in her eyes, and deep peace in all that she revealed to others.
She smiled for love of God, so that’s the message we received from her. LOVE.
It’s not about you.

https://vimeo.com/145450214

P.S. Do you think Mother Teresa would care about the color of a coffee cup? Me neither.

Lent: A Little Morbid?

LentYesterday, I was chatting it up with the CVS store clerk as I waited for the pharmacist.  I remarked about her truly cute haircut and bemoaned my own overly gray “situation”.  The sweet young gal said “Nobody will even notice your bad hair day because we are all thinking about your dirty forehead.”

I began to giggle at her honesty and I said, “Ashes?”  She truly looked at me like I needed to put down the crack pipe.  It was then I explained, “It’s Ash Wednesday.  Today’s the start of Lent.  It’s a Catholic thing.”

“Oh!”

It wasn’t the most impressive evangelization effort, that’s for sure.

We find ourselves in the midst of those 40 days which began with us each being literally marked as sinners.  To dust we shall return.   If that seems a wee bit morbid, well, I think that’s the point.

Shouldn’t we be interiorly restless as it relates to the fundamental question of sin—especially as it speaks to eternity?  How likely are we to use our freedom to choose God if our minds are focused on the question of our own salvation?

“Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”  (Mt. 7:13)

Yikes.

Lent is an excellent time to reflect on the reality of our own mortality and ask to be filled plentifully with grace, loving Him enough to repent for sins large and small.

Bishop Fulton Sheen said “Conscience tells us when we do wrong so we feel on the inside as if we have broken a bone.  The bone hurts because it is not where it ought to be.”

In this increasingly secular world, it’s easy to forget about salvation and focus on what is of this earth, what is finite.  During Lent, the Church wisely suggests we take a pause from those things which cause us to drown out that voice of God within.

I know what some of them are for me and what I am going to work on.  What about you?

“Seek eagerly after love.  Set your hearts on spiritual gifts.”  (1 Cor 14:1)

I move that we all embrace the austerities of Lent, find our way to a confessional, and pray for properly formed consciences, through which (with our cooperation) the Holy Spirit will encourage us after each mistake to turn towards our God and walk in His light once more.

P.S.

Oh, and don’t forget to use some of that prayer time to ask the Holy Spirit to be powerfully present for our Cardinals too as they choose our new Pope!