Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!


"I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love." - Linus

My nephew & godson Henry was quite cooperative for this little photo shoot. He'd been Charlie Brown for Halloween (black pants, yellow shirt with a zig zag stripe drawn on it, and a naturally big, round head made for the easiest costume ever) and come Christmas time we realized we couldn't pass up the chance at this picture. I can't stop smiling from looking at it so I knew I needed to share. I dare you not to break out in a grin and hear Linus' poignant monologue begin in your head.

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!"
"Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about...And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' ...That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas is coming...

I don’t know about you but it can be awfully hard to remember what I’m preparing for during this season. Okay, not that hard. I mean, I’m buying presents, baking cookies, listening to Advent themed sermons on Sundays. Obviously it’s Christmas that we’re preparing for in these present weeks. Better put, it can be difficult to appreciate and understand the result of that which we’ll celebrate on the 25th. Contemplation is a lost art. Stillness of mind and heart can seem impossible or even counterproductive. We always have to be doing enough, saying enough, moving enough. I'm as susceptible to this as anyone. But if I quiet down and hold still, what might I find?

I might find that God is with me. I might find His presence to be full of consuming, transforming peace and joy and hope. All the things we wish for one another in our greeting cards, we’re walking through life surrounded by. They hang about us like the particles in the air of this room, invisible until we stop moving and look at where the light shines brightest.

Mary knew how to do it, always "[keeping] all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Joseph knew how to do it, aware that the actions he took to be the guardian of the Savior were more important than any words he could speak. So our record of him in Scripture holds no words of his own, only listening, hearing the Word of God guide him, and acting upon it. Simeon knew how to do it, waiting and praying year after year for God to reveal the Messiah. His preparation made him know that Messiah the moment he saw the Holy Family enter the temple.

"Don't we love the word 'with'? 'Will you go with me?' we ask. 'To the store, to the hospital, through my life?' God says he will. 'I am with you always,' Jesus said before he ascended into heaven, 'to the very end of the age' (Matthew 28:20). Search for restrictions on the promise; you'll find none.... Prophets weren't enough. Apostles wouldn't do. Angels won't suffice. God sent more than miracles and messages. He sent himself; he sent his Son. 'The Word became flesh and dwelt among us' (John 1:14)." (Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life)

With a little practice now - taking a bit of time each day to pray, reading through the Scripture story of the arrival of my Savior, thinking over this extraordinary truth as I perform ordinary tasks - maybe come December 26 and into the new year, I won't forget that God is with me. Christmas brought Emmanuel, "God With Us," but every morning brings another day that He is with me, another day for me to acknowledge and thank Him for being with me, another day to speak and move and act in a manner that declares I know He is with me and I choose not to forget.

God is with us... may we always remain with God.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snowy Night

Nature launched a blitz attack on my evening plans. The snow began mid-afternoon, millions of flakes rushing to the ground with the aid of a skin-chilling wind. It hasn't stopped. I'm attempting to focus on the sparkly blanket of beauty and not on the shoveling or the messy driving. In lieu of dinner and a movie with Matt and Nethanial, I am opting for "Without a Trace" reruns, long neglected issues of "Better Homes & Gardens," and chicken alfredo pizza.

The snow has me in the mood for slippers and writing. I'm craving progress. I'm craving the feel of my pen in my hand, the pressure of the point on the paper. I was part of a conversation today on the transition of books to a digital format. My personal preference remains old school. I'm doing my best to accept that this realm of things is changing drastically though. That the generation after me will likely be raised on digital literature is a fact I'm not going to ignore. But as I listened to the guys talk up the evolving technology I thought to myself that the delight of writing won't ever change. The satisfaction of scratching those letters onto the lined page will remain. My work can be published in whatever format anyone wants. I won't fight that. Whatever the end result, it'll start with pen and paper though. No better night to return to that work than this snowy one.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Humble As the Incarnation

(Originally written & printed in "The Bells of St. Mary" parish newsletter.)

The Incarnation – the event of God becoming man, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Son, taking on a human nature – is the sort of event that alters the course of human history. It is the definitive move by God to usher in the great work of our salvation, thousands of years in the making. It is also, arguably, the most humble act of God.

There are dozens of ways to describe humility and dozens of examples of lives characterized by that virtue. As well, there are plenty of reasons to strive for humility in ourselves and encourage it in those we influence. However, no better description, example or reason can be found than Jesus Christ, Himself.

Our human mind tends toward the belief that to do great things we must be greatly acknowledged and honored. Success is achieved by audacity and notoriety. What do we make then of this Heavenly King born in the quiet of a hidden stable? What could be accomplished by such an entrance into human history? Why would God decide to come in this manner, without a display of pomp and power?

What we make of it ought to be exactly what Christ stated in the Gospel: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15). This Advent, consider the effectiveness of humility. Like Christ, you can enter the scenes of life with humble actions and attitudes yet working for great and glorious things. Trusting not in the power of ourselves but the power of God in us, we can do more than we could imagine. With willing obedience to God the Father’s laws and guidance, you will become a conduit of His love, mercy, strength and compassion.

No work of our own, good as it may be, can produce what God’s work can produce. No words of our mouths can convey truth as well as His words. No outreach of ours can reap the changes in this world like His outreach can do. When we submit ourselves to the Lord as His son or daughter and servant, He humbles Himself yet again, as He did at the Incarnation, and works through us in this world. Amongst our families and friends, in the daily grind of the workplace, in the quiet times of prayer, God will include you in the work of His hands. He may bless you with the rewards of your humility here and now, but without question, “your reward will be great in Heaven” (Matthew 5:12), where the Lord keeps for you “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4).

Prayer for Humility
Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you may fortify me with the grace of your Holy Spirit, and give your peace to my soul, that I may be free from all needless anxiety and worry. Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you, so that your will may be my will.
Grant that I may be free from unholy desires, and that, for your love, I may remain obscure and unknown in this world, to be known only to you.
Do not permit me to attribute to myself the good that you perform in me and through me, but rather, referring all honor to you, may I admit only to my infirmities, so that renouncing sincerely all vainglory which comes from the world, I may aspire to that true and lasting glory that comes from you. Amen.
~St. Frances Cabrini

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Seeds & Soil

I think it's a combination of the yard work yesterday and the significant but unresolved discussion last night about the growth of faith. I woke up today with the parable of the Sower in my mind. It's one of my very favorite passages, possibly my favorite parable, but I haven't read it in quite some time.

Jesus is speaking, yet again, to a great crowd. He stands in a boat, just off the shore, while the crowd assembles on the beach, eager to hear from this great and mysterious teacher.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." (Matthew 13:3-8)

Later the crowd waits. Jesus is pausing in His preaching and His twelve disciples gather around Him. They question Him on His method. "'Why do you speak to them in parables?' And he answered them, 'To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.'" (13:10-11) They likely feel the weight of this privilege, but they realize that they too need help to understand what Jesus has told them. Later they will receive the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit to understand all truth (John 14:26; 16:13) and preach it themselves, but for now they depend upon Christ to enlighten them with His words.

Jesus knows this need and He proceeds to explain to the Twelve, "Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundred-fold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." (13:18-23)

There are so very many things that impress themselves on my mind from this teaching of Christ. I will keep myself to only two here though. One is the role of the Sower. The Sower of "the word of the Kingdom" is God, Himself. When we present ourselves to Him, admitting our need for Him and His Word, He sows. When we hear His Word proclaimed and taught, He sows. When we pray and entrust ourselves to Him, He sows. Even when we are not prepared, not certain, He sows. Faith is a gift of God. It is not created against our will and so we do hold a role in its inception in our hearts, but we cannot create it ourselves. We are to be soil, receivers of the seed of faith sown by our gracious and saving God. Pride would have us believe we can save ourselves. Woundedness would have us believe God will not come through. Modern mindsets would have us believe we can know all things by our own power. But it is God who created us and it is God who has made it clear that we need Him and His Word.

Secondly, the parable lays out a bluntly difficult scenario for those who receive the seeds of faith. Christ presents "whens," not "ifs." When the evil one attempts to steal away the seeds; when tribulations and persecutions come because of this faith; when the cares of the world and the desire for the things of this world rise up - these are not hypotheticals and the results when the faith has not yet taken root in good soil are not either. I've seen it and experienced it: the uprooting, the withering, the choking out. Good soil... understanding: this is the aim to be taken. To humbly open your heart and mind to truth as revealed by God and proclaimed by His teaching Church. To take up the work of understanding, of growing strong, lasting roots of faith. To let Him take hold by His Word. To "trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways make straight your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6) To avail yourself of the rich resources of faith. To be a member of the "household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:15) To be good soil. And in good soil, oh the gloriousness of the fruit borne by those seeds sown by the Divine Sower.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Keeps Getting Better


On my brief commute this morning, I flipped between radio stations a few times. The latest Katy Perry tune just wasn't my cup of tea nor were the DJ's bantering conversations. I settled on a Rascal Flatts song I hadn't heard before. Only half the song played before I reached my parking spot but that's all it took to leave me disappointed. The theme was the urgency of getting married because there wasn't any reason not to do so. His most persuasive argument: "I can't imagine loving you any more than I do today." Romantic? Sweet? Or the makings of a failed marriage?

I know, I know, I'm being far too analytical about a country song, but the statement really bothered me! Maybe when you first realize you're in love, it's so intense that it's valid to say you can't imagine loving the other person more than you do at that point. However as the relationship continues, as time passes and the bond is deepened and solidified, you learn, with considerable amazement, that it is indeed possible to love your beloved more today than the day before. You begin to hope that the trend will continue: tomorrow will see more love than today; next month will see greater commitment than this month; next year will see a richer experience of each other's love than this year. The journey towards marriage ought to make it perfectly reasonable to have confident faith in the ongoing growth of your love for one another. The urgent lust that seems to underly this man's request that they get married immediately? Sure, that might cool off. The passion might even out. The love, though, just keeps getting better. That's what I'm waiting and hoping for; nothing less will persuade me to attend the wedding.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Slowed

Oh, head cold, you have such a knack for slowing me down. Pressure and congestion and coughing... I am not a pretty sight this morning. As my sister put it after I was dressed for the day, "You look really nice, except for your face." Throw together a handful of nights of too little sleep (and restless sleep, at that), some unexpected traveling and emotionally trying days and we have pitch perfect circumstances for getting under the weather.

One thing I will say about colds though, they are masters at making me settle down. I've wondered if anytime I catch a bad cold, God's been trying to calm me down for a while but I miss His subtlty and so He allows for a more direct tactic. I wouldn't put it past Him... or me. So, I'm giving in. Under a dizzy fog of Dayquil, I will lay low. I will rest. I will enjoy a few simple comforts - a favorite blanket, a mug of tea, a bowl of chicken soup. And I will wait.

I wouldn't be surprised if that's precisely the point the Lord is trying to make with me. Waiting: what I am not doing when I get ahead of myself, whether it be in actions taken or in mindsets and expectations; what I am not doing when I attempt to shape God's will, letting Him know what He ought to be accomplishing in my life; what I may do better under duress of a head cold and a dosage of humility.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Standards & Practices

I'm currently reading the Catholic novel, Fatherless, by Brian Gail. Important, compelling subject matter; potentially rich cast of characters; horribly disappointing quality of writing. I am so frustrated with this novel! With so little authentically Catholic literature being written and published today, it is beyond aggravating to read a novel with such squandered potential. I'm trusting that in the end I will be glad I read it, as some friends have claimed, but getting there is getting under my skin.

Okay, I'll admit it. Amongst the most frustrating aspects of reading this book is the reality that this is published and my book is not. I am not claiming that my novel is perfect or reaches its fullest potential or even touches on subject matter as compelling as what is found in Fatherless. Yet I can't help but ask no one in particular how a book with such poor narration, confusing timelines, weak character development and further flaws was accepted for publication and mine has been only rejected? Jealousy is rearing its ugly head. I'd be lying if I denied that.

Silver lining though - and this is what I choose to dwell on when the jealousy or frustration are making themselves felt: I have so much fresh motivation! Motivation to continue editing, to hold myself to higher and higher standards as I learn more of the craft of writing, to dedicate myself to this work that I love. And motivation to trust that the Lord will not deem this work fruitless. By His grace and timing, and my continued perseverence and effort, it will bear the fruit it is capable of bearing. I will serve Him by this work. I will follow through on the desires and hope He has created in me.

"Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord." (Romans 12:11)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Golden


Tomorrow is my birthday. 29 on the 29th. I'm embarking on the final year of my twenties, some might say the final year of my youth. I can't say the "I'll be 30 next year" thought has bothered me yet. Maybe that'll hit eventually but for now, I'm enjoying life too well to lament its progress. As my sister, Cheryl, wrote in a card for me, this year has been full of surprises - the principal one being that I fell in love.

This past Sunday I had a shared party with my sister, Jessica, who was born exactly 2 years and 6 days (to the minute) before me. When I made my silent wish over 29 candles on my double layer marble cake, I had the hardest time putting the wish into words. As I whispered it to my Lord, all I could think was "my heart's desire... my heart's desire."

Going into this new year of my life, I do know what I want. I do know my heart's desire. I also know that I don't want to attempt to work it out according to my own thoughts and methods. The Lord has so delighted me with His own hidden workings in my life, His timing and wisdom and oh so surprising blessings, that I long to remain securely held in His hands as He continues the good works He has begun. So while I could offer up specific wishes and wants, particular hopes for the coming year, at the heart of it all is that the Lord's will for my greatest good, my fullest happiness, be done.

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.
When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you.
When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart,
you will find me with you, says the Lord, and I will change your lot...
(Jeremiah 29:11-14a)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Best of All

I love spring. I love summer. I even love a few things about winter. But autumn, oh autumn is best of all. Cool nights suited to baking. Putting on that cardigan you've missed like an old friend who went away for the summer. Leaves to walk upon and rake up in tempting piles. Apple picking. Simmering cider in the slow cooker. Warming each other's hands. Sharing blankets during coppery sunsets. Autumn seems to be best suited for old hymns, British miniseries, and books waiting patiently for reading. It invites you to snatch up sunshine and comfortable evenings, whispering in your ear of its own fleeting habits. It dares you to be happy in your home, content and peaceable for a while. I can't help but trust this season.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bookish

I am such a sap! Yesterday, I laughed my head off and cried my eyes out at the movie, "Ramona & Beezus." The movie is based on the Ramona books by Beverly Clearly, favorites of mine as a child. Plain and simple, this was an excellent family film - funny, heartwarming, clean. Not a blockbuster or an Oscar contender, but entertaining fare worth a family's time. But beyond the goodness of the movie was the sweetness of seeing on screen beloved characters from so many years ago. My sister and I repeatedly exclaimed under our breath as yet another character or situation was introduced that we recognized from the books. It gives me half a mind to read those books again. More than that, it drew me into memories of reading. At breakfast, in the car, curled up in bed, in between homework assignments, during commercials... I grew up with a book in front of me. Joy and excitement were found in the immersion of my imagination in the words on each page. There wasn't a lot about my little life to 'expand my horizons', but books... well, books let me know there was a vast world around me, filled with a host of personalities and cultures, opportunities and adventures.

It's why I still read. It's why I write fiction. It's why I question how long I should sustain my current circumstances rather than take a leap.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Pray For Us!




Today marks the 100th birthday of Mother Teresa, known now as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as she has been beatified on her way to sainthood in the Church. I probably don't need to say much on why she matters, why it is good to reflect on her life, or how she has influenced the Church, the missionary world, and countless individuals lives, whether directly or indirectly. I will say that there has grown in me a deep appreciation of and desire to emulate Mother Teresa's one on one approach to the suffering, injustice and needs of this world. I'm not good with politics, with worldwide issues or global plans. They overwhelm me and I am left feeling helpless and ignorant. This often makes me think I am doing far too little for the good of my fellow human beings (and this is true enough) and that I am not capable of doing much at all (and this is not true at all). It is Mother Teresa's approach that teaches me there will always be ways I can build up the good of this world. Each individual person I encounter presents me with an opportunity to love and serve, to edify and encourage. None should be skipped over; none should be dismissed. The range of actions that can be taken is truly expansive, from the simplest and momentary to the sacrificial and lasting.

May I always remember to love the person, every person, God allows me to encounter. May I not be too preoccupied to recognize a need in another. May I hold a joy in my heart so permament and abundant that it will consistently reach whomever I meet. May I acknowledge that all I have has been given by God and if He asks me to give of it to others, may I willingly and cheerfully do so.

A few words from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta...

Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.

Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don't only give your care, but give your heart as well.

Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing.

A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.

Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world.

Like Jesus we belong to the world living not for ourselves but for others. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

You and I, we are the Church, no? We have to share with our people. Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing. Jesus made it very clear. Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lunching

For the past five years I've maintained the habit of eating my lunch at home alone. The office being a three to five minute drive from my house, depending on green lights, this has been a completely reasonable option for me. I've savored the time by myself, interrupting the workday with an hour to myself, maybe with some productivity or simply some relaxation. I've always been someone who needs a bit of time to myself here and there, so these at home lunches have served me well.

No more. Matt and I work in the same office. Our relationship began with lunch dates. We've now reached the point of only an occasional lunch apart from each other. The way I used to crave that hour alone and miss it if I had to skip it more than once a week, the same can now be said of lunches with Matt. Today I opted to have a long overdue lunch with a friend I hadn't seen in several months. Delightful as it was to catch up and spend an hour enjoying conversation with that friend, in the back of my mind was the constant awareness of missing Matt at my side.

It's a simple little thing, this shift in my lunching preference. Maybe you're rolling your eyes over it or perhaps you think it's sweet. What's the point of sharing this tidbit with you? I guess it has me thinking about the changes wrought in my life over the last three months. Three months... it doesn't seem long enough in the scheme of things to achieve such marked changes in a person's day to day life. As are so many aspects of life lately, this is just another reminder of how capable God is of taking us by surprise as He works out His plans in our lives - especially if we are carrying around expectations, as I know I have done so very much of the time.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

For the Beauty of the Earth

Our excursion to Marinette County, or a bit of the county. These are only 4 of the 15 parks on the 'waterfall tour.' A delightful day in every sense of the word...
We began at Veteran's Falls with a picnic and some traipsing around the water.

Next we drove to McClintock Park. I fell head over heels for this park. Not a waterfall site but a series of wooden bridges over the beautiful river and trails through the forest.
A rocky, steep trail leads from the parking area to Eighteen Foot Falls.
Along the way is one of the coolest tree stumps around.
The day was wrapped up with some traversing of rocks and trails at Dave's Falls.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prospect

The mugginess that's clung to our midwestern air for the last few weeks snapped last night. In its place came clear skies and a soothing wind. The sun is hot but the air is dry and I am happier for that fact. The mere seconds for which I stepped outside at 7:15 this morning were enough to inform me that a day off was necessary. This weather is wasted on us while we keep to our cubicles and keyboards. It was too late to finagle for today but tomorrow... yes, tomorrow would be the day. By mid-morning I'd arranged coverage for my normal afternoon hours at the reception desk. By the close of lunch break, Matt had readily agreed to be my cohort in this day away. Between bites we sorted out plans and I have spent the afternoon with the happy, happy prospect of tomorrow. Sleeping in and taking it slow, sunshine and breezes, hiking and waterfalls, and hours upon hours with the man I can't seem to get enough of with each passing day. I do hope I'll have a few pictures of the delightful day to be posted thereafter.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Drama Queen, I Am Not

A significant aspect of the revisions needed on Full of Days before I submit it to more publishers is the story of one of the main characters, Aillinn. She is a main character but her story lacks the richness of a main character - it fits too snugly into the shadow of the other main character's story. So it must be changed... added to... enhanced. And how will this be possible? Greater character development, sure; digging deeper into the personality and experiences of the character as she interacts with others, yes; more tangible and captivating descriptions than are currently written of her, certainly. But besides these, key to this task is the addition of more drama. Struggle, disappointment, difficulty, dilemma, crisis, mistakes, recovery - more drama... That shouldn't be too difficult for a fiction writer. Right? Um, right.

Dare I admit that I have a strong distaste for creating more drama in these people's lives? They're fictional! They are not real! The drama is not real! Yes, but I know these people inside and out, fictional or not. I hate creating drama in real life and I am living real life while I'm writing so this translates into a bit of a struggle. I am brainstorming over what to add to Aillinn's life, what circumstances to create for her to have a richer, more significant story. Each idea that presents itself is accompanied by a hesitation. "I don't want to do that to her!" Or, "that might be too dramatic." It's hard to sort out the thoughts to know which to heed and which to ignore.

"Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are." (Arthur Golden) It is this which I believe I did accomplish in Annie, the other main character of Full of Days. It is this which I am attempting to do for Aillinn.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Maybe I'm Old Fashioned

After a recent viewing of the Fred Astaire/Rita Hayworth film, "You Were Never Lovelier," I had a new love: the song, "I'm Old Fashioned." The film was an enjoyable but forgettable bit of fun but the song has stuck with me. What a joy it was to find then that one of my favorite songstresses, Ella Fitzgerald, performed the tune!

"Sighing sighs, holding hands; these my heart understands..."

Taking the Ordinary Time


The walk I took yesterday morning deserves its own blog post. It was that lovely. However, it's loveliness put me in the right frame of mind for other thoughts and I won't restrict myself to the walk itself. Over the weekend I visited my brother and his family in western Michigan. Their home is situated on a country road in a hollow surrounded by hundreds of acres of cornfields and century old pines, maples and oaks. The setting is impossibly and inherently nostalgic. Having attended Mass the evening before, I took advantage of the quietness of Sunday morning by sneaking out for a walk before anyone else in the house stirred. It was early enough for the dew to still soak the leaves of every plant in existence but late enough for the sun to be halfway to its full height and heat. The picture above is not one I took on this walk but might well have been. The sunlight poured through trees tall and old enough to pass as Ents and it draped the surface of vast cornfields in yellow splendor. I set my iPod to shuffle through five Matt Maher albums and trekked over the broken concrete of the old roads for an hour.


Upon my return I tried to capture for myself why this walk was so gloriously refreshing. I hadn't taken a solitary, early morning walk in a few months... maybe I was rediscovering something I'd forgotten I love. The exercise was edifying... but it isn't as if I'd been motionless in the previous days - hours had been passed in the backyard pool with my nephews and niece. As I wondered over it, my mind drifted to thoughts of the coming week. I searched my brain for what I had scheduled in the days and nights. What would fill my evenings? Anything significant happening at work? Events to attend or people to see? I came up with nothing. Nothing. A possible dinner with friends passing through on Monday evening, but that was only tentative. Relief settled over my skin like a cool sheet on a humid night and I smiled over my discovery.


What was particularly extraordinary about my walk that morning was that it was ordinary. It was an ordinary thing to do - taking a walk - but because I had the time and the energy and the uncluttered mind for it, it had the potential to be extraordinary. Suddenly I could look forward to this week with great delight. Having time to do ordinary things could be counted as extraordinary because of how seldom it is the case. All the things I've been thinking I ought to take time to do, in the next weeks I might actually have the time to take for some of them. Time for the taking - now that's worth a smile and a sigh.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Fundamental Decision

(originally written for/printed in "The Bells of St. Mary" parish newsletter)

If questioned on what it means to call yourself a Christian, how might you respond? Do any of the responses that come to mind reach to the heart of what it means to live under the title of Christian?

Pope Benedict XVI looks to the disciple, John, for an answer: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). This, our pope states, is “a kind of summary of the Christian life.” Indeed, coming to this belief in God’s love is the “fundamental decision” of the Christian’s entire life. Caught up in the ways of the world and settling for rote prayers and surface-only principles, many men and women carry the title of Christian their whole lives without facing this decision. But for those who do face it, this decision brings transformation.

Faith and hope are made possible; perspective on this life in the context of eternity is gained; obedience to God’s commandments becomes an honor; worship provides nourishment of the soul; prayer holds the rich depths of personal conversation with the Holy Trinity. By this fundamental decision to believe in God’s unwavering, self-offering love, the grace gained in the soul at baptism is activated and all aspects of living as a Christian are infused with meaning.

This single fundamental decision can then be reaffirmed in each particular decision to love, serve, obey and worship. In the daily circumstances of family and work and play, all can be placed under the sovereignty of God. A person can then, with practice and maturity, love as a response to Love. Virtue will be preferred to vice not merely to avoid ill consequences but because the heart recognizes and honors the great, unmerited gift of God’s saving love.

For some, the fundamental decision to believe with the whole heart and mind in God’s love is met with hesitation. There are what might be dubbed “fundamental doubts.” (1) How is it possible, with me being me and God being God, that He could love me so completely? (2) Can I ever be sure in my belief? (3) Do I have the capacity to respond well enough if I dare admit the extent of God’s love for me?

To those struggling with the first doubt, Jesus Christ, who is the embodiment of God’s love, points out that He did not come “to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Awareness of our unworthiness need not produce despair but rather humility and a determination to abandon that which would hold us back from the full acceptance of God’s transforming love. It is not in God’s nature to be inconstant or to love partially. Though we know we are undeserving, we need never entertain the question of whether God wholly loves us.

And to the second doubt is offered the response that faith can indeed be certain. Our world equates faith with superstition or unrealistic idealism but truly the faith of the Christian, when understood and experienced, does not fall into either category. Certainty can be gained in the heart as a gift of the Holy Spirit through prayer and self-surrender. Certainty can be gained in the mind by committed, ongoing growth in knowledge and understanding. When there is a question or an instance of confusion, face it and seek answers. A sincere search for truth will always find truth. The authors of Scripture, the writings and lives of the martyrs and the saints, the summary of the faith found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church – all offer their insights for the sake of our edification in faith.

Thirdly, to the question of our capacity to love in response to God’s infinite love, God Himself answered at the dawn of creation: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Made in the image of God, we are created with the capacity to love as He loves. We can grow ever more faithful, generous, joyful, merciful and forgiving as He is all these things to the fullest degree. There is no limit to our capacity to image Him and therefore honor Him.

The fundamental decision to believe in God’s love is a matter of saying yes to who God is and who we are as our truest selves. It is carried out in simple, humble ways as we move through our days, relate to one another, and worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a decision, if reaffirmed unto the last hour, which will carry us into eternal life.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Am All These Things

I am distracted and focused. I am scattered and gathered. I am prayerful and skeptical. I am angry and comforted. Last night my sister received confirmation from her doctor that the tumor she had removed last week is the same kind of lymphoma she had three years ago in an entirely different location in her body. Last night I felt only sadness - baffled, helpless sadness - over this news. Listlessness slipped me into sleep. This morning I awoke angry. On her behalf, on her husband's behalf, on her children's behalf, on our parents' behalf, on our family's behalf, I'm angry. Aware that it is far from hopeless, that it could all be okay, I can only consider how it shouldn't be at all.

You know those times when you are aware of exactly what you ought to do, what is in your best interest to do, but you cannot do it? All logic, all experience directs you but you willfully veer left instead of right. In the back of your mind you retain awareness that eventually you will listen to that guiding voice... eventually you'll reenter the road that leads to hopeful trust and peace of mind... but not yet. No, not yet. For now, you choose weakness, aggravation and distraction.

I should pray. I should visit my sister. Instead I am itching to go for a jog, to start those revisions I've been procrastinating on for weeks, to shop, to bake, to finish the book I'm reading. I am a woman of faith and hope and love, but I am also a woman of selfishness and fear. I am all these things. If not for the grace-granting knowledge of God's love for me, I would only be the lesser of these things.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Getting There

I'm nearly ready to write again. The ache is building to sneak off by myself, pen and notebook in hand, ideas in mind. The desire is coming back and that's a big step in the right direction. It has been sadly absent for many a week.

After reading this post on one of my favorite blogs I am thinking about all that has brought me here, to this spot, this day, this chapter of my life's manuscript. A portion of that well loved verse in Jeremiah 29 pops into my mind: "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord..." For He knows the plans He has for me; for I do not know the plans He has for me. That is what is carrying me, building me up with determined hopefulness and happy trust. He knows...I do not, and that is as it should be. For it is He who is in possession of perfect wisdom and the fullness of love and it is with such attributes that He gazes upon me, prompts me to follow and leads me into each new day of life.

The path of my career (or lack thereof) that doesn't seem to fit with the ambitions I had in college or in the years since... the job that is at once boring and terribly unchallenging as well as a perfect fit for my other pursuits, places me amongst great individuals and has led to a particularly blessed relationship... the times I have tried to go elsewhere, to move on to something different only to be thwarted but reassured by the Lord that I must continue to trust in His plans... the writing that has led nowhere professionally speaking but has made me into who I truly am now and taught me what it means to faithfully and diligently pursue a goal... and now the wonderful boyfriend who has captured my heart quite unpredictably...

Instance after instance stacks up to teach me that when it comes to reaching what will bring joy, love, hope and all that my life is to contain, none of it is accomplished by knowing what God has in store or where I ought to be or what I ought to be doing from month to month or year to year but by trusting that He does know, listening to my Shepherd's voice, and surrendering myself to His capable hand which He keeps firmly placed on the course of my life.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Slacking Off

This weekend a friend asked what was the deal with my lack of blogging. It's been a few weeks since my last post and the previous posts have been spread out much more than usual. My sister, who heard my friend's comment, immediately suggested that I've been too well occupied with other things to be blogging. It's true I've been happily occupied elsewhere but I don't think it'd be right to place the blame on my new and wonderful boyfriend. At least, not all the blame. Even before things got started with him my blogging pace had flagged. That's just a symptom of something more, I think, because all my writing has flagged.

Each time I try to sit down to work on The Mercy Hour I am unable to do so. Distraction, discouragment, uncertainty... I'm not in best writing form right now. I'm hoping and praying I'll be able to shake it - whatever 'it' is. The thorough and harsh critique I received recently from an editor on my submission of Full of Days might have something to do with it... or a lot to do with it. Rejection after rejection has come and it's been easy to keep up my determined and positive spirit. This was the first one though that included a critique instead of the prewritten rejection response that is sent by most publishers. Criticism can be a really good thing and it's a necessary thing for a writer, at least, for any writer who wants to continually improve. This criticism amounted to (and no, I'm not imagining this implication, it's there in the email) the editor being of the opinion that Full of Days is unpublishable. I'm not going to pretend that I'm having an easy time dealing with that. So far my dealing has been in the form of avoidance. Eventually I will switch to perservance and put in the work necessary to improve the novel to point of being publishable in the eyes of the right publishing company. Just give me some time to get there, friends.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Put On

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)

It's tough to settle on just one or two pieces of this favorite passage to focus on in this post. Even the very first phrase brings me into deep contemplation. "Put on then..." Living a holy life, a beautiful life, a pure life, a good life - it's a choice of your free will. It is not put on you by someone else; it is not lived by default. Consciously, willfully, purposefully... that is how we are to daily put on the new life in God that we receive by Baptism. Whether I put it on yesterday or the day before or ever before, today I can put it on. Everything that follows (or has the potential to follow with God's grace and our efforts) hinges on us first choosing to live that life. Each day... each situation... each relationship; in all circumstances we can choose to live according to the truth of who we are as children of God, made in His image, redeemed by Him, possessing dignity beyond measure and a purpose beyond this world. We make that choice to cloak ourselves in the love, grace and discipline of Christ and we open the gates to all that God wishes to make of our lives.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Not Go Empty

The brook near where Elijah was hiding ran dry, because no rain had fallen in the land. So the LORD said to Elijah: “Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have designated a widow there to provide for you.” He left and went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her, “Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.” She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.”
She answered, “As the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’” She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and Elijah and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry,as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.
1 Kings 17:7-16

This is the first reading for Mass today. I was reading it this morning while I ate waffles and put off thoughts of the workday for a few more minutes. It is one of my favorite Old Testament passages because of its portrayal of the providence of God. A prophet traveling through the land, dependent upon others to support him but meeting persecution in many places; a widowed mother enduring the famine and fully aware of the direness of her conditions; a command from God to count on Him... Like weights on a scale, the risk of trusting God will come through sits heavily in the heart of the woman. She cannot see what, if anything, will be set on the opposite end of the scale. Will her need be met? Will the risk be balanced?

It wouldn't be risk and it wouldn't be trust if she could forsee exactly how God might provide for her.

She risks and she trusts and God does not merely balance things out but truly overwhelms the need and anxiety by His generosity and faithfulness.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chasing

Last night I chased down a sunset. From my front step I am only allowed a teasing glimpse of the end of day, closed in as we are by trees and houses and low elevation. Yet last night's glimpse was everything necessary to know this sunset needed to be chased. It was not one of the many that can warrant a glance and nothing more. It deserved to be seen. So I drove. I turned up the music in my little sedan, lowered the window to let my elbow meet the wind, and I drove. Farm field after farm field was passed as I moved further from town and nearer to the middle of nowhere. Barn peaks and silos inserted themselves on the glowing orange canvas of the quickly fading sunset. It was magnificent. I got absolutely no photos that do it justice and I didn't care a bit. Turning around, heading home, restricting the colors to only my rearview mirror... I really didn't want to go. The music was turned up a little more, my whole arm hung outside the open window and I drove back into the valley, chasing nothing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Missing

What is it about today that has me missing a particular friend so terribly? I can't put my finger on it. All I know is that it's hitting me hard today. He has been the definition of "a good friend" for the last few years - good for a laugh, good for a hug, good for counsel, good for conversation. Due to some particularly trying circumstances, we've had to go our separate ways other than an occasional email. I miss him... and today I miss him more than usual.

My priest often comments on how we all have to learn the difficult lesson of letting go of certain relationships at the proper time. When clinging to it or remaining in it would undermine what was good in the relationship in the first place, or when the other person is keeping you from continuing on the road the Lord is taking you down, the question arises of whether that person is supposed to be in your life any longer (or you in theirs). His remarks had yet to hit home for me, not because I've never seen someone leave my life or experienced an end to a relationship but because all those endings have happened quite naturally. For one to end when nothing in me wants it to end... to have to make that choice because I know it must be made but nothing thereafter makes me glad it has ended... that's a new experience for me and not one that I am enjoying.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Early Rising

We've now come upon the time of year when the morning sunlight is already filling my bedroom by a little after 5 a.m. My friends think I'm crazy for only keeping a white curtain over my window, nothing to keep the room dark while I sleep in the morning hours. But that's just me. This time of year, I start getting up 30 or 45 minutes earlier than necessary a few times a week just because the sunlight is all it takes to get me out of bed. I wake with a small smile on my face as I realize I don't have to hear my alarm clock sound because I've woken before the time for which it's set. When I do sleep until that time, I have fewer grumbling words for the chipper radio DJ rousing me to consciousness. Not every day, of course, but plenty of days.

This particular morning was one of those days. Daylight (not sunlight for the clouds had come in during the night) illuminated that white curtain and I was awake and eager to be upright. My legs held a bit of stiffness from the tennis games played the night before but I stretched them out and dressed for a walk. I scrolled through my iPod and let Switchfoot's "Beautiful Letdown" take me out the door. The rain, only a sprinkle at first, began almost as soon as my feet hit the sidewalk but the temperature held some lovely warmth and the rain did too. 30 minutes of me and God and the music. 30 minutes of footfalls on empty roads. I stopped for five of those minutes at a neighborhood park as the swingset proved to be irresistible. That first hour or so of daylight holds an aspect of peace belonging exclusively to it. There is a sort of authority in the sun's light compelling me to awaken and acknowledge it. And I don't mind at all.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gift

Although the Church at large celebrated the great feast of the Ascension of the Lord this past Sunday, I found myself that morning reading the Mass readings for the 7th Sunday of Easter. Those details don't mean much to you unless you're familiar with the Catholic liturgical calendar. My point is that before anyone else in the house woke up on Sunday, I tucked myself into the corner of the couch and read through a selection from the Gospel of John, chapter 17. How many times have I read or listened to that chapter? How many times have I contemplated or studied that marvelous prayer of Christ in the hours before His arrest? Dozens, at least. Yet never has my attention been caught by what snatched it up this past Sunday morning.

"Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am, they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world." (John 17:24)

I didn't skip over this verse in all the other instances. Even so, I felt like I was reading the initial statement of the verse for the very first time. "Father, they are your gift to me." At this point in the prayer, Jesus is praying for all the believers in Him who would come down the road of time. The ones who would come to faith through the evangelization of the Church, who would be brought into the fold for however many generations will come and go until the end of the age. He was praying for you and me.

It's possible that I was especially in need of this message in that particular hour of that particular day and that's why it stood out to me. The words continue to ring in my ears since then though. "They are your gift to me." The Lord, Most High considers me a gift to Him. He desires that I be with Him, in His presence, enjoying His everlasting glory. Me. You. A gift to Him. The notion soaks into me like the warmest sunshine.

Pride shooed away for a moment, we can all admit in our hearts that we long to be treasured... to be loved so exquisitely and unconditionally that the lover desires that we always be with them, near them, sharing in their lives. The lover's own joy is multiplied because we are theirs. Their glory, so to speak, is magnified by our presence.

Turns out, we are loved exactly so.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Keep It Simple


Did you know that your big toe has only two bones in it while the rest of your toes each have three? Well, you do now. That was the fun fact on my Snapple cap today and it got my friend and I thinking. We both thought that seemed a bit backwards. Could be a sad lack of remembrance of our high school biology lessons, or it could be something more. After all, the big toe is, well, big. It's important; it seems to do more than the little toes when it comes to balance. Surely it's more complex on the inside!

I realize this is a stretching of the simile but please let me say it: the big toe isn't so different from life's big things. I tend to assume that every occupant of the "things that matter most" category is complicated. They must require a great deal of deliberation, maneuvering and so on and so forth. Could it be that the inner workings of the big things are actually simple? It seems too good to be true for a girl who tends to over-think most everything. In the way that my background tends to influence me, my thoughts on the big toe analogy brought me around to Scripture and the beautiful yet challenging simplicity of life in Christ. Here more than anywhere else, "simple" does not equal small or inconsequential. The calls placed on our lives, the commandments we receive, they're a big deal. They're an eternally huge deal. Yet Christ keeps it simple.
  • "Follow me..." (Matthew 5:19)
  • "Let your light so shine before men..." (Matthew 5:16)
  • "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven..." (Matthew 6:20)
  • "Do not be anxious about your life..." (Matthew 6:25)
  • "Come to me..." (Matthew 11:28)
  • "Listen to him [Christ]..." (Matthew 17:5)
  • "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind..." (Matthew 22:37)
  • "Love your neighbor as yourself..." (Matthew 22:39)
  • "Make disciples of all nations..." (Matthew 28:19)
  • "You must be born anew... of water and the Spirit..." (John 3:7, 5)
  • "Go, and do not sin again..." (John 8:11)
  • "You also should do as I have done to you..." (John 13:15)
  • "Abide in my love..." (John 15:9)
  • "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world..." (John 16:33)
  • "Make love your aim..." (1 Corinthians 14:1)
  • "Be imitators of god as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us..." (Ephesians 5:1-2)
  • "Do nothing from selfishness or conceit but in humility count others better than yourselves..." (Philippians 2:3)
  • "Rejoice..." (Philippians 4:4)
  • "Seek the things that are above, where Christ is..." (Colossians 3:1)
  • "With confidence draw near to the throne of grace..." (Hebrews 4:16)
  • "Do right and let nothing terrify you..." (1 Peter 3:6)
  • "LET YOUR MANNER OF LIFE BE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST..." (Philippians 1:27)
Am I now oversimplifying? Over compensating for my overthinking? Well, perhaps it's not that the situations, the decisions, the relationships, the risks and so on are all that simple and straightforward. They can all be plenty complicated and difficult. The lens through which we view them though, the avenue by which we approach them, that's where the simplicity rescues us from ourselves.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This & That

I haven't even seen the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" film but this rumor is a thrill to hear: Pirates 4 to film in Traverse City?? The photo on that blog does away with any doubts that it's a usable setting for the film. It's crazy how much I love that area.

Each and every flowering tree around here is obscenely fat with blossoms right now. It's fabulous. The season for such sights is also the season for dandelions though. Seriously, I mowed the grass only last night and already there is almost as much yellow as green in our lawn. If I gave any credence to such things I'd have to deem the dandelion the single best representation of survival of the fittest in the plant world.

This morning I found a new favorite poem. Not many poems give me the inclination to memorize and loudly recite their verses but this one accomplishes exactly that.
Becalmed upon the sea of Thought,
Still unattained the land it sought,
My mind, with loosely-hanging sails,
Lies waiting the auspicious gales.
-
On either side, behind, before,
The ocean stretches like a floor, --
A level floor of amethyst,
Crowned by a golden dome of mist.
-
Blow, breath of inspiration, blow!
Shake and uplift this golden glow!
And fill the canvas of the mind
With wafts of thy celestial wind.
-
Blow, breath of song! until I feel
The straining sail, the lifting keel,
The life of the awakening sea,
Its motion and its mystery!
(H W Longfellow)

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Sights & Sounds of May

"Yesterday was the first of May. I love the special days of the year.... A May Day that feels as it sounds is rare and, when I leaned out of the bedroom window watching the moat ruffled into sparkles by a warm breeze, I was as happy as I have ever been in life. I knew it was going to be a lucky day."
(Chapter 9, I Capture the Castle)

The arrival of May puts me in the mood for yet another delightful reading of my tied-for-favorite book, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Since I just read it for the fourth time about a month ago, maybe I'll only revisit some favorite scenes. Also appropriate to both the book and this May temperament, I am listening to Bach's Adagios with a smile on my face. Do you suppose he composed them in springtime? Some of them, certainly. It's hard to imagine the creation of "Sheep May Safely Graze" occuring in late autumn's dryness or the depths of winter.


May causes me to wish to live in the countryside. The colors and brightness of the month are reason enough to long for a lengthy drive to reach any destination. I often wonder how long I will stay where I am - in this town, in this house. The notion of a move seems much more believable in May.


Yesterday I finished writing chapter 14 of The Mercy Hour. It's Thanksgiving in that fictional realm and late November in Michigan is difficult to capture when you're in a May mood. The contradiction of those realities is soothed at least a little bit though as it's awfully easy to dwell in the imagination in the spring.

Friday, April 30, 2010

An Unchecked List

A storm's coming.

No, that wasn't a metaphysical statement spoken in a hushed tone. A real storm is coming. According to the online radar, it should hit right around the time I will walk out of this building to my car and drive home. Convenient. I do love a good storm though, especially one with plenty of volume.

I didn't sign in here to talk about the weather so let's move on. I signed in to talk about a list. The list. The "do before I get old and/or die" list. Some might call it a bucket list although my aversion to anything Jack Nicholson related keeps me from adopting the term. I've kept such a list for ten or more years. It's been revised a handful of times and each version is kept for posterity. Occasionally there's an item that doesn't make the new list as the desire to fulfill it has passed and it no longer holds significance for me. A few nights ago I retrieved all the versions from my desk drawer and read through them.

Hold a master's degree in English or writing
Live near the ocean
Kayak in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior
Publish a novel
Learn to play piano
Visit England, Ireland, Italy, France, Hawaii
Hike at Porcupine Mountains and Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Parks
Get married
Ride in a hot air balloon
Write a non-fiction faith-themed book
Write a biography

These are some, not all, of the ones still to be fulfilled.

So few lines have a checkmark beside them...
Sail on the ocean
See U2 in concert
Live by myself
Hike at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Teach RCIA at a parish
Travel to Niagra Falls
Crochet a blanket
Write a novel

I decided not to revise the list this time around. The desires that have been left unpursued, not just unfulfilled, sadden me the most. I know that not every wish and endeavor will come to fruition. Certainly I'm learning to live with a bit of failure from day to day and that helps me keep my hope firmly anchored where it belongs. Not to have tried though, not to have pursued... I can't live with that from day to day. I won't.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Words to Live By

"Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset." (St. Francis de Sales)
*
"And let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts." (Colossians 3:15a)
*
"We pay a price for everything we get or take in this world; and although ambitions are well worth having, they are not to be cheaply won, but exact their dues of work and self denial, anxiety and discouragement." (L. M. Montgomery)

Quite unexpectedly, God came through with that clarity and assurance I've been praying for in recent days. A simple observation by someone outside the situation and voila! Clarity. I almost started laughing as the peace I'd lost hold of started coating my heart once again. All that I've allowed to erode under the anxiety and discouragement and sorrow, I want back. I want to be myself again. What joy has arrived as I take steps to leave behind things that are in no way easy to leave behind. A friendship, a ministry, a role in which I have found much reward... it is not a matter of rooting out some terrible thing but of discerning the wisdom of a sacrifice.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aiming


"The line is thin between a selfish act and things you do to keep yourself intact." I consider that one of the most insightful lyrics of the countless songs I have heard. It's from "Same Mistakes" by Sara Watkins and the song is a beauty. That particular line resonated with me the first time I listened to it and does so again, perhaps more, this week.

I have a decision to make. It involves work and friendship and priorities. The direction to which I lean changes from day to day. Sometimes in life, thank God, clarity and peace of mind determine a choice and I am able to move forward in that choice with confidence. Sometimes not so much. After feeling convicted to turn in two completely different directions from Sunday to Monday, I began Tuesday with my Bible open on the kitchen table. As there is logic and good reason behind either choice, I felt convicted to seek the choice of love. Which way allows for loving as I should, while which way, valid as it may be, is the more self-serving? "Make love your aim," was St. Paul's reminder to me. Make love your aim...

This doesn't uncomplicate things. This does not even decide things with desirable certainty. But I am given a lens through which to survey the problem, and a purpose to prevail over the handful of other tension-building purposes presently motivating me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

After Midnight

What am I doing here at 12:04 a.m., listening to She & Him and sliding open the patio door before I sit down at the kitchen counter? Blogging for the first time since Easter, for one thing. I've begun and deleted a few posts in the last week and a half. Each time I begin to gather my thoughts they scatter before I can finish a paragraph, so I'm not promising any coherence in this attempt either.

My sister, with whom I live, is in China for two weeks. This leaves me with a home to myself and plenty of quiet in which to think. I haven't decided if that has proven to be a positive or a negative. It's a bit of both, quite likely. On several occasions lately my mind has been consumed by the idea of living honestly. Easter night and last night were the greatest contributors to this theme, each due to very particular and separate struggles. Let me see if I can explain. It is not the simple opposite of telling lies. Rather, it is the appeal to be honest - stripped, to lack a cover or veil - in answers, in reactions, in interplay. I have this heavy sense of wasting time with pretending. As I catch myself at the start of a pretense, whether with another or with myself, I cannot follow through on it.

It's a terribly unsafe way to live. Vulnerability, risk, misunderstanding - these are its results. But maybe more will come besides... maybe courage, maybe integrity, maybe fewer regrets and more glad-I-took-them chances. Truth faced, even in its bitter or thorny forms, is to be preferred to pretense, isn't it? If nothing else I think I might stand surer in who I am and who I am not, in what I need to give and what I need to receive. Heroines parade through my mind and I see what I'm aiming for in this. Cassandra Mortmain, Emily Byrd Starr, Lily Bart as an antithesis... Lucy Honeychurch most of all.

"...let yourself go. You are inclined to get muddled, if I may judge from last night. Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them."
(E M Forster, A Room With a View)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Alleluia!

I am spending the first hours of Easter morn baking a few dozen cupcakes, dancing to David Crowder Band in my kitchen and basking in the lingering jubilation of the Easter Vigil Mass. Tonight I witnessed 8 children be baptized and 5 adults enter the full communion of the Catholic Church and receive Confirmation and Eucharist. Tonight I remembered exactly why I love serving in the RCIA ministry. It was a glorious night. It is a glorious morning. I hope you find it so as well.

"Yesterday, I was crucified with Him;
Today, I am glorified with Him;
Yesterday, I died with Him;
Today, I am quickened with Him;
Yesterday, I was buried with Him;
Today, I rise with Him."
(from an Easter sermon by St. Gregory Nazianzen)



Saturday, April 3, 2010

Keeping Vigil

"Are you sure He said three days? Maybe you're remembering wrong."

"I'm pretty sure. Wish I was wrong though."

I wonder if any such conversation occurred between the disciples on that first Holy Saturday. It is the full day of Christ being dead in the tomb. The day of waiting, trying to avoid doubt, remembering all the things He said and promised. It must have been a terribly long day. If I were in that locked room with Mary and the eleven remaining disciples, I'd probably have been grumbling with impatience. "Why not this morning? Yesterday and last night were awful enough, why must Jesus make us wait any longer? If He's coming back as He said He would, why not this morning? It's the sabbath, after all, so wouldn't today be appropriate? What is tomorrow? Sunday? Sundays mean nothing to us. He should have risen today." It's sad how easily I can imagine myself making these comments.

But with the death and Resurrection of Christ, God was doing something entirely new. Truly Sunday meant nothing to the world in the days when Christ walked the earth. The pagan religions certainly held it in no special regard, it was simply another day of the week. The Jewish people had their holy sabbath from Friday sundown through Saturday. What was Sunday to them? This reality in itself reveals the radical newness of the divine work of the Paschal Mystery. With the Resurrection, God gave us a new holy day. He sanctified Sunday as the weekly anniversary of His defeat of sin and death, making it a great high feast for all who belong to Christ. The influence of Christ is unstoppable and so we find Sunday to be 'different' from all other days of the week even among those who do not worship God or practice the Chrsitian faith.

Indeed God did something new and when God does something new it is on His terms - His wise and perfect terms. His terms often involve plenty of waiting time for our part. With the waiting comes a choice: grumble against God's ways, perhaps mysterious, inconvenient or difficult, and try impatiently to move things along by our own will or keep vigil. The two approaches to waiting could not be more different. Keeping vigil as we wait upon the Lord to fulfill His promises and carry out His will implies so much. Hope- for why keep vigil if you have not the hope that what you are waiting for will come through in the end? Trust and surrender- placing that which we wait for into the hands of God, into the secure and steady grip of His love. Patience- refusing to demand God perform on our terms, we peacefully allow Him to take the lead, make the move and direct the work. A Prayerful Spirit- our vigil might not be free of questions or doubts or pain, but by prayer we bring all of that to the feet of our Lord; "with confidence [we] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

This is a day of vigil. Indeed, each day is opportunity to keep vigil for we are all waiting on the Lord. For answers to prayers, for guidance, for mercy and ultimately for Him to welcome us into eternal life, we keep vigil. On the wood of the Cross we kneel at the feet of the enthroned Resurrected Christ.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Good Night

The patio door is open and there is a soft shower falling on the wood of the deck. It is the accompaniment to my thoughts. The weather has had 4 different faces in the course of this Good Friday and I have to say that this is my favorite so far.

Good Friday seems so purposely paced compared to the busyness that will come tomorrow and the rejoicing celebration waiting for us on Sunday. I can almost feel the Father's hand on my shoulder, slowing me down as He points toward the Cross. "Do not pass it by unobserved. Look upon it. Look upon my Son. Let it sink in. There is so much wonder, so much greatness in Easter that cannot be perceived if this is not first observed. Don't skip ahead in the story. The glory that eclipses suffering will come soon enough; enter into the suffering first. The suffering that was for you, the suffering that emptied my Son of life, the suffering that looked like defeat to all without faith; this is what digs the depths found in the Resurrection."

See from His Head, His Hands, His Feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
(from "Crucifixion to the World by the Cross of Christ" by Isaac Watts)


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Upon Holy Thursday Night


I really, really wanted to write a Holy Thursday blog. The Triduum - these most holy days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday - is the peak of my year each year. It is the culmination of so much work and prayer and efforts and more work for the RCIA process. It is approached via 40 days of sacrifice and contemplation. It is the summit of this strenuous walk through the mysteries of faith that takes place in each liturgical year.

I'll be honest though, in my heart I feel like I'm still roaming the valley below rather than nearing the summit. I don't like writing from the valley. At Mass tonight, the tension between the difficult and unresolved and the blessed and wondrous was nearly too much for me. I find now that I am unable to succinctly say all that I'd like to say. And maybe that's alright. Maybe I'll try again tomorrow. Maybe I ought to just focus on one thing tonight. For the sake of a little peace of heart and because I won't be able to think straight for too much longer as the nighttime pain reliever is beginning to do battle with this monstrous headache of mine.

What I kept coming around to as I contemplated Holy Thursday and as I prayed at Mass was the incredible gift that the priesthood has been to me. I'm not even talking broad spectrum, 'the Church could not survive without the priesthood' appreciation. I could expound upon the necessity of the priesthood, the beauty and gift of Christ's ministers, the indispensible link between them and the Sacraments. But such catechetical themes aren't actually on my mind. Today I gave a lot of thought to my friends, the priests.

Among people of my aquaintance, and I'm sure this is true for so many, there are plenty of individuals who either have no personal experience with priests, off-putting experiences with priests, or downright negative experiences with priests. Each time I discover this to be true of someone I am struck with fresh force by how radically this is not true for me. In my 28 years, I have accumulated innumerable holy encounters, blessed friendships, and upbuilding influences all through priests.

Fr. Ray Zuegner
Fr. Mike Steber
Fr. Dave Pivonka
Fr. Dan Pattee
Fr. Robb Jurkovich
Fr. Mike Chenier
Fr. Robbie Favazza
Fr. Jay Mello
Fr. Mark Vandersteeg

That's my little litany, which I am certain is missing some important names. The presence of these men in my life at various stages and circumstances is a simple matter of Christ making Himself present to me. As teachers, as preachers, as friends, these men deserve my thanks and respect, my prayers and service.

Christ is my priest - my High Priest. He ministers to me; He extends grace and forgiveness to me; He admonishes and encourages me; He challenges me with truth; He intercedes for me; He works for my eternal salvation. Christ is my priest, and He shares His priesthood with men of this world that He might continue to walk among us and lay down His life for us.

"If we had faith, we would see God hidden in the priest like a light behind glass, like wine mixed with water." (St. John Vianney, Patron of Priests)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Voice Shall Sound

Each morning I start my day with three things: a shower, St. Patrick's Lorica prayer, and reading the day's Mass readings and a meditation on them. I don't function well without the shower first. When I skip the prayer and Scriptures, the morning might go alright but the rest of the day seems to fall apart. Starting my day with God and His Word, that's the anchor of my day. On the days when I set it aside and go about my business without paying heed to the Lord, in the back of my mind I know I've done myself a disservice. Pride can rationalize so many things, including excusing myself from prayer, but it can't truly silence the Holy Spirit who dwells in me.

Yesterday morning the meditation was on the first reading, from Isaiah, and it closed with a little prayer. The words of the prayer were simple enough yet they stopped me in my tracks. "Increase my perception of your power, of your plan..." That phrase has been sounding in my ears since I read it. "Increase my perception..." Not speak louder, Lord, or move in bigger ways, or give me more knowledge of your plans, or be clearer in your guidance. Increase my perception; I feel like someone has physically turned me to look upon the same horizon from a new direction.

For one, this perspective on the "I need to know You're near and You're active in my life" prayer has me breathing a long sigh of relief. Like standing in a cool, steady shower after weeks of heat, I am fortified. The question of whether He's near, whether He's moving and acting and working and blessing - that question isn't even necessary. It's a matter of perceiving God - standing in the stronghold of confidence in Him, awakening my senses to Him.

For another, it casts a light on something I must face. To perceive another's nearness or handiwork, without them announcing it, requires a great deal of familiarity. I can't recognize one of Bach's "Unacccompanied Cello Suites" used in a television commercial if I haven't listened carefully to those compositions again and again. I can't see a small painting and know it's a detail of a Monet if I haven't already looked upon the larger work of art. I can't hear the influence of St. Thomas Aquinas in my friend's discussions if I haven't had at least a bit of experience with his work myself. The correlation between perception of the Lord and familiarity with Him is indisputable. And my familiarity with the Lord - not so much knowledge of Him or a personal history of experiences but 'in the present' intimacy - is not what it once was. As I consider my perception of His presence and movements, I know this is true. Faced with this admission, I found myself at the Eucharistic chapel at 10 o'clock last night. I just needed to be near Him. As I sat before my Savior, I thought about how amazingly easy it used to be to perceive His closeness, notice His movements, hear His voice, detect His guiding hand, rest in His protection... I could blame plenty of things in the last several years for robbing me of that intimacy, and while they all might rightfully carry a share of that blame I know that ultimately I didn't fight for it.

I feel like I'm fighting now. My senses are heightened. The prayer, "Lord, increase my perception of You," is repeated. This morning I found myself praying differently than I have for months, maybe even years. Lord, grant me the grace I need for today; the grace for the spiritual battle of today; the protection I need today; the mercy I require today; the clarity I need today; the wisdom for living today; the faith, hope and love in order to believe, trust and serve the way You call me to today. Lord, increase my perception of You today. Not Your plan for my future, not the blessings I'm looking for 'someday' but only what You are doing, how you are guiding, what you are asking of me here and now.

"For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies... The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: 'This is the way; walk in it,' when you would turn to the right or to the left."
(Isaiah 30:15, 20-21)