Tuesday, November 22, 2016

She Would Have Loved That

Two years ago my last grandparent, my maternal grandmother, passed away. Her death came in the week before Thanksgiving and so inevitably she enters my thoughts a lot in this holiday season. Similarly, it is summertime when my paternal grandmother comes to mind most often as my final memory of her was a family picnic at my parents' house on a warm summer day. Sunshine warmed grass between my toes, family sitting in chairs in the yard, Grandma Theresa makes herself present with us. Now, in the bustle of family focused holidays and age old traditions, Grandma Evelyn is here with me.

Grandma Evelyn with my firstborn, a few months before she passed.

During Sunday Mass last weekend, I leaned over to my husband and whispered, "Grandma would have loved this men's choir." The rich, reverent harmonies could have been from any number of old albums of hymns she used to play on her cassette deck next to her favorite chair. I savored every song during that Mass, enjoying it on her behalf.

Then at the end of Mass, I approached the giving tree set up near the sanctuary. Typically I choose a request for a child's gift from these trees. It gives me a special kind of joy to know a young child will be happier on Christmas day thanks to a small sacrifice on my family's part. It was with this same intention that I went to find this year's star on the giving tree. But what did I find on the first star I read? A little Christmas wish list for an elderly woman that could have been my grandmother's list pretty much every single year. My eyes filled with tears and I swallowed a lump of emotion in my throat as I plucked the star from the tree. I get to shop for my Grandma.

When I read that Christmas list and kept thinking, "she would have loved that," with each item, I realized something I hope I won't forget. Remembering our loved ones gone from this world is a special thing but loving on others with the very love your heart has marked for the ones you lost is immeasurably greater.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: These Days (St. Gianna)

This is me pretending to be ok with the fact that I need a winter coat and hat again. And I need to leave the house even earlier to defrost my car. And my hands and feet will essentially be cold for the next four months (just ask my husband).

These days are hard for me in the motivation department. The uncomfortable temperatures, icy winds, and especially the sparse daylight hours take their toll and I tend toward hibernation instead of productivity. I'd wager I'm not the only one dealing with this seasonal slump. So what to do, what to do?

I used to think the trick was to focus on the future. Wishing my way through winter, counting on spring to come with all its fresh renewal of spirits and inner drive. What did that leave me with, really? A few months of dissatisfaction. There has to be a better way.

St. Gianna Molla said:
"The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day."

Moment by moment with thanksgiving. If I aspire to happiness in every season (winter, yes, but also any difficult or trying "season" you may experience), I must give thanks not merely for what is promised to come but what is here now. Am I thankful for the whipping cold wind? No. But I'm thankful for the sunshine on my skin. Am I thankful for having to wear layers and layers to be tolerably warm? No. But I'm thankful I have those layers to do so. Am I thankful for the darkness descending by the time I leave my office each day to drive home? No. But I am thankful for the brightness of the hugs I receive from my little ones when I walk in the door. Plus I guarantee those evenings make me more thankful for the light of dawn each morning.

What about this moment right now? Right now. Stop and be thankful. Pause to choose something worthy of your gratitude in this exact moment and consciously offer thanks to God. I'll do it with you.


And now I'm a little bit happier with my day than before.

The side effect of all this gratitude isn't only happiness. It's that internal motivation to persevere in whatever tasks, projects, or endeavors you are tempted to neglect in this season. For me it is writing projects and being diligent about cooking worthwhile meals for the family. When we see the good in each day, in each moment even, how much greater the impetus to treat the day as deserving of your best.

The lovely hope of spring is still a fine reality to contemplate, but if I count on it to make me my best self in this season of my life I am likely to be disappointed. The gifts of today are reason enough to invest myself in living.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Chasing It Down

This is the first bit of writing I've done in three days. By last night I began to feel the desperate, urgent need in my gut. I cannot go without it. It took 25 years to fully realize my passion. That's when I began the first draft of my first novel. When other (beautiful) things interrupted the pursuit, it took a handful of years before I rediscovered that same passion and dove back in. Now here I am, 35 years old, a few steps away from publishing that debut novel, and craving a taste of my passion whenever I set it aside for more than a day.

If you understand what I mean, you know there are two choices available: label the required effort a burden and gradually let it slip from your grasp, or chase it down with the fervor of a lover desperate not to lose his beloved.

I came across this image from success.com. Oh, how I laughed at the memory into which it plunged my mind. How applicable that memory happened to be for this train of thought. (Train! You'll see why that's funny in a moment.)

Maybe ten years ago, I traveled to Philadelphia with my sister and a good friend. We took the train to New York City for a day of living it up, tourist style. Sights were seen, miles were walked, photos were taken. It was grand fun apart from mildly injuring my foot in the early afternoon and continuing to walk on it for hours afterward. At the end of the day, really it was well into the evening, we tried to squeeze in one more must-see spot before navigating our way back to the train. To summarize, we at some point realized we had misread the train schedule and needed to haul our tired asses dozens of blocks across the dark, noisy, unfamiliar city to catch our connecting train or we would miss the last possible train into Philadelphia. So, haul ass we did. None of us were in great shape. None of us were runners. All three of us were already exhausted, all of us were doubtful we knew the way to the correct train station, and one of us had a terribly sore foot. Still, we ran. We ran through busy intersections and crowded sidewalks. We ran around street corners, glancing backward and forward to see if we were still a trio. We ran through the train station, our unrelenting pace echoing off the walls. We chased down that train like our lives depended on it.

There was no question of giving up. No contemplation of whether or not we should bother. We knew what we had to do and we did it. When we reached the summit of the steps exiting the station in Philadelphia and pointed ourselves toward our hotel, we laughed again and again over the adventure of it all.

I hope I can legitimately compare my pursuit of my passion (writing) with our pursuit of that train. I hope I pursue it like a cash poor, Midwestern girl who really, really wants to sleep in her hotel bed rather than wandering the dark and scary streets of NYC until dawn. I hope I never let up, never decide it is too much. I hope I come out the other side and laugh over the incomparable adventure of it all.

Lastly, I hope you find your passion worth chasing down. If you already found it, run hard, my friend. Run hard.