Tuesday, June 30, 2015

don't look back

In about my fourth hour of labor with my first child....after pushing and pushing with nothing to show for it, I asked the nurse if I could stop and go home.  All the months of joyful planning, the Kate Spade diaper bag and the Ralph Lauren layette, waiting tiny and folded in an over priced yellow and blue distressed dresser at home, meant nothing.  I changed my mind.  In that difficult dark hour, when I felt farthest from ever seeing the fruit of my labor, I had a fast change of heart.  Forget the baby.  Forget the layette.  Screw the Kate Spade diaper bag.  I was done. Just let me go home and sleep.

We were in that dark hour yesterday.

We are down to the wire with this move, and despite the hours of packing and tossing, and the excitement over our new space and beginning, I had that feeling.  Just forget it....it is too much work...too much stress....this house...it is not worth it.  Let's just stay.

Well, I ended up having that baby after all.
I even kept him.
And today, we move.
Despite the last of the little odds and ends that sit on counter tops and rest in corners and mock me, we are still moving.
And it is good to be reminded that when things feel the hardest, when you are at the end of your rope and can not keep your eyes open....that is the time to push forward.  This is exactly the time to persevere.
Like Dori..just keep on swimming.
Push through the crowd...eye on the prize.
No sense ever in looking back.
Just look at Lot's wife...she looked back and turned into a pillar of salt! (Genesis 19)

We are all moving, really....maybe not literally, but certainly figuratively.  We are constantly moving.  And I pray that we do so not in fear, or full of anxiety, but rather with hope and peace and trust in the God that is leading us the whole way.

...and with coffee.  A whole lot of strong coffee.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


I can imagine what life can feel like if you remove God from it, because I have done so myself.  It is pretty awful.  I don't think people have any idea how deadly sin is.  I don't think people really understand that when you put yourself and your own feelings first, you are setting yourself up for disaster.  And I am wondering this morning, what will it take?

What will it take for those who claim there is no God, or those who think God doesn't matter, to allow themselves the chance to encounter him?  Because that is all it takes.  One encounter.  One touch.  Remember when Jesus enters the house of Peter, to find his mother in law in bed with a fever?  Remember how all he had to do was touch her, and she was healed?  And do you remember what the mother in law does?  She rises and immediately waits on him.  Because this is how it goes-once you are touched by Jesus, your desire to get up and live for Him is bigger than the original sin that had you lying sick in bed.  Suddenly, getting up and doing for God, not yourself,  is more than your priority...it becomes your desire.

People are losing sight of their Creator at rapid speed.  I am astonished at the way so many people think they know better!  Can you imagine?  People actually believe that they know better than God.  We are living in a throw away culture, be it material goods, wasted food, babies, or marriage, and we thrive on doing what feels good.  We have no idea of the true definition of love, the true definition of life, the true definition of marriage, and so is it any wonder we are living dissatisfied lives?

I have lived with out God and I have lived with God.  And I am here as a witness.  The only way anything will ever make sense...your life, your purpose, your marriage, your vocation, is if you acknowledge the One who created you.  And I promise you-if you give God a chance, if you invite Him in...He will show up.  And He will touch you, and He will take all of the crap you are currently drowning in, all of the dirt that has buried your soul, and He will remove just enough so that you can see clearly.  Never before was I so miserable as when I lived my life for myself.  The key to a life of happiness? Live it  for the One who gave it to you in the first place.   Because in the end, no matter how you choose to live your life, for God or for yourself....God wins.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

the power of the cross

I can be a bit dramatic.  Take last night for example, when 15 minutes into having no power due to some freakishly fast and destructive storm, I announced to the family, "I feel like Job!"  Ridiculous, really, considering no child or pet of mine was struck by lightning, and with the exception of a few bug bites, my skin had no lesions.  I was in no way close to being Job.  Or Mother Theresa, who I will periodically announce I am exactly like, when I choose to wear my boots with the sole coming undone.  Am I the only one who sees so clearly what a SAINT I am????

Teenagers are dramatic too.  My teen girl had her father brave the roads with knocked down trees and wires, just to reach her friend, who by the grace of God, did not lose power, all in the name of taking a shower.  Believe me, I too, enjoy a shower.  But a teen girl?? It is the air she breathes.

And my teen son?  Well, after one hour of no power, he declared (and by declared I mean screamed in his loudest, biggest man voice he has), "This is the worst summer ever!!!!"  He hasn't been off from school for a full week yet.  But to a teen boy trapped inside with his family and no X Box? An hour feels like an entire summer.

And I am not mocking, nor being sarcastic.  I remember what it was like; when everything mattered a lot.  I remember struggling hard in my college years, battling an eating disorder, questioning my purpose and wrestling with meaning in my life, and my father asking me, "What is your problem? Are you dying??"  Those words...they stung.  I knew he didn't believe I was dying, he was just sick of what was probably an obnoxious remark or eye roll from yours truly.  But to me???  Yes.  I was dying.  And I needed my parents to be mind readers.  I needed them to feel my pain.  I needed them to point me in the right direction, because the path I was on was wide and crooked and headed in the absolute wrong direction.

In a very concrete and absolute way, parenting feels like it has just begun.  Power or no power, it is clear that these seemingly unimportant things to me, or my husband, are everything to a teenager.  And I mean Everything, with a capital E.  Their troubles are bigger, their mountains are higher, their fears are stronger.  It is all that every John Hughes movie was about; teen angst and raging hormones, only in todays world, it comes with the added bonus of ear buds, social media, and all kinds of evil at the press of a button.  These beautiful mysteries of unspeakable joy that I carried so carefully in my womb, are out, and no longer swaddled up safe.  Joy turns quickly to fear as they pull away, noses in screens, their arms  flailing in all directions.  Their moods are shifting at rapid speed, and although they choose to run miles from me, they manage to drag my mommy heart along for their wild  ride.  Like the storm that blew in last night, cutting the power, and stealing our comfort, you never know what is coming your way, and how it will leave you feeling.  These teens of mine that I love.  They leave me feeling powerless.

Because we are in the middle of a move, and God has an awesome sense of humor, every single book, board game, or activity that requires no power, was already moved to our new home.  We even moved our outdoor deck furniture, which would have been nice to sit on in the moon light last night.  We were stripped of every immediate comfort.  And this world we live in...it thrives on instant gratification.  Take it away, and we become that newborn baby, un-swaddled for the very first time.  Boredom hit an all time high.  Restlessness settled in fast.

And so I did what I know I am supposed to do in times like these, but very rarely feel like doing.  I grabbed my rosary beads.  And I will be honest.  I had already had the last beer because there was no more wine.  So really, what was there left to do, but pray?  And my nine year old joined me...followed by my husband.  And we did it.  Every single bead.  And this is big for me, because while Mary is my homegirl, and I love my beads, I have great difficulty when it comes to praying the rosary.  My mind wanders, and I can not sit still.  And so the only way to explain last night?  Well, I am pretty sure the Blessed Mother had everything to do with it.  I have been talking to her a lot lately. Mom to mom.  I totally get the images of her with her heart pieced on the outside.  I have her to thank for leading me to her.  And it was the sorrowful mysteries which we meditated on, which truly, felt just about right.

Bed time came early last night, because all there was left was hope for tomorrow.  A day with fewer storms.  A day full of light.  And I slept on a mattress on the floor of my little boys room, because we moved the bed frames, and although the lights go out at night anyway, for some reason, just knowing we can not turn them on, makes the night that much scarier. And as I looked out the window, to the sound of neighbors generators running, I swear, the tree across the street was shaped like God.  And I know, I shouldn't swear, but whatever, I am sorry, just go with it.  This tree...this God like tree...it was looking at me.  Down on me.  And I could make out a stern face, and honestly, I would have liked it to look friendlier.  And I could  make out a crown, even.  And beside it, much smaller, appeared to be someone...a saint or an angel, or quite possibly me, kneeling, head bowed down in prayer.  And yes, go ahead, and tell me I am crazy.  But I saw it.  And this is interesting, because when I run for cover and comfort, I usually leap onto the shoulders of Jesus, and imagine I am the lost lamb.  But last night? Last night, I felt the strong presence of my Father.  And he was large, and he was serious, and he was powerful, and he was there with  me...over me, around me, everywhere.

I woke up to find that truly, what was outside my window, was just a large tree.  I also woke up to the silencing of generators, clocks flashing, and a coffee pot that praise God, had already been filled by an awesome man that I love.  The skies have cleared, and the lights are back on.  And I am here, with these teenagers...who need me, no matter how they push, and who are loved, no matter how much they claim to hate.  And I am reminded that I never have power, unless I remain attached to Christ, and when I feel most alone in this parenting, all I need is to bow my head in prayer, and He is there.  Like a tree out my window, sheltering me from the storm, He is there.  And my prayer today is not for God to take my cross, or even to take my teenagers crosses...but rather, I beg for His mercy and grace. I pray not for us to lose the cross, but rather, to learn how to carry it.  That is the power I want.  That is the power that keeps me going.  That is the power my teenagers need to seek out; The power of the cross, and the grace to hold onto it.

Our crosses are not what weigh us down.  Our crosses are what hold us up.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

packing light

Little by little, I have been moving into our new home.  Slowly clearing out this space, and filling up another.  It has been a smooth transition so far, and considering the amount of experience Nick and I have at moving, it should be.   For instance, the time we hired strangers outside of the Home Depot on Sunset Boulevard to pack our things, we learned a very valuable lesson: Don't hire strangers outside of the Home Depot on Sunset Boulevard to pack your things.  Don't get me wrong, they were hard workers.  And I was pregnant with two toddlers.  And I had a broken toe.  And we were rushing to get out, and totally overwhelmed, and I threw all organization out the window and focused on simply getting every item in the house in a box and into the truck.  The workers were polite, and did what they were asked.  I was just not a fan of the fact that they packed chicken cutlets in the box with a Christmas tree stand, nursing bra, and kitten hand puppet wash cloth.  Had I known they had packed actual chicken cutlets, in the box marked "Christmas tree stand" I might have opened that box first, rather than waiting for Christmas.

This move feels different on so many levels.  First of all, I am not making any chicken cutlets.  Just to be safe.  But I am also not feeling the need to bring everything I own.  This house of ours?  We have lived here just about five years, and the amount of stuff we have managed to fill closets, drawers, and cabinets with is astonishing.  There is just too much.

Which is funny, or ironic, or whatever you may call it...because I do not consider my family as a family that has too much, but rather, as a family that struggles to meet our basic needs.  And yet, as I fill trash bags and boxes and make countless trips to the dump and Good will, it is undeniable that for even this family who lives pay check to pay check, we are living a life of horrible excess.  And I want to lose it.  I want to rid us of it all.

As I sit on my closet floor and sift through papers and art work, old letters and photos, it has become apparent that there are things I hold onto that I can certainly live without.  Things and clothes and souvenirs that are dust covered and out of date,  but still hang and take up space because of some emotional attachment,  as if my throwing them away means I lose that memory, a piece of myself.  As I held in my hands the Spiderman backpack that my son innocently wore to first grade, the day of the terrible tragedy that happened at his elementary school, a rush of grief and horror, sadness and pain washed over me.  The thought of throwing this back pack away took just that...thought.  And why?? What would holding onto this item do for  me, other than focus on the terror of that day?  Certainly, my throwing it away will never cause me to lose the memory.  Things attached to circumstances are nothing other than things.  If I lost my wedding rings, would I not still love my husband? Would I cease from being his wife?  Of course not.  It is not about what I store in my closet, but what I store in the depths of my very soul.  And how beautiful and efficient the God made heart is!  It is large enough to store everything we need, and yet light enough to bring it with us everywhere we go.

I have approached this cleaning out method in this way:  Can I live without this item?  More specifically, can I live freely by holding onto this item?  Because I believe we hold onto a lot of things we think we need to live, that in truth, are holding us back and keeping us from moving on and living as we should.  In many ways, I have hoarded material memories, believing they were an anchor, a way for me to hold onto the past.

Of course, there are those memories that are bitter sweet.  The things you discover at the bottom of the crate that cause your heart to skip a beat, and your eyes to well up.  The hand writing of a loved one who has gone home to Jesus.  The photo of the grandfather, with his arms wrapped around a much younger you.  These are keepers.  These are the things that absolutely  must be packed up and moved along with you.  These are the mementos that take you back to that time for a brief moment, fill your heart up, and then send you along, back on the path you are meant for.  These are also the things that when I am gone, are worthy of my children stumbling upon.  If you are ever unsure about whether or not you should hold onto something from your past, ask yourself, "Is this something I want people to find, discover, read or see, when I am no longer here?"  What you hold onto now is the trail you will leave for your loved ones.  When I think this way, it is amazing to see how my vision changes.

I love our new home.  It is an antique with a great story, on beautiful acres of land that I fully intend on filling with many of Gods creatures.  There is a pond for fishing and a greenhouse for me to do all of that gardening that I admit I have never done. I have big ideas and beautiful plans for what a life in this new space looks like.  I have imagined garden parties under twinkling lanterns, and kids around the fire pit, my parents sitting in the quiet surrounded by roses, my sister at the table with a cup of hot coffee. Nick went as far as to say, "this is my dream house", and despite the teenagers arguing over a certain prized bedroom, I have to say, this all does feel very much like a dream.

 But I am careful. I am trying to remember that this house is just that...a house.  It is walls and floors, and a place to protect and shelter the actual gift I have been given: my family.  Yes, my husband and I have waited nearly 20 years to dwell in a place like this, and I would be lying if I did not admit that I love it and am over joyed.   But there is so much more to love in all of this than just the house.  What I am most loving is the process of letting go; throwing away the waste, and giving away what I do not need.  The physical act of tossing aside and traveling light feels like prayer.  I do not want to simply live, I want to live simply.  I want to unleash what holds me down, and rid myself of baggage.  I do not want to fill our new home with things and stuff; the very things that keep me from where God wants me, because I am too busy idolizing and focusing on what is material and earthly.  I want less of the earth and more of heaven.  I know from previous fasting, prayer and almsgiving that it is only by losing and letting go that we are able to  make room for God.  I want to pack light.

It is true.  We have moved a lot.  But this time is different.  I am more than ever, incredibly aware, that my true wish in life is not to live in the dream home here on earth, but rather, to dwell in the house of Lord; the ultimate move I will make where I need not pack a single thing because He will give me all that I need.

Friday, June 12, 2015

bursting heart

It is not uncommon to hear from a new mom that she never quite new how much she was capable of loving until she held and locked eyes with her newborn baby.  I get this.  The love I have for my children is truly unlike any other.  I have been infatuated...I have lusted...I have been obsessed with...I have really liked...I have even thought I have loved.  But those feelings were just that...feelings.  They were never love.

I had a meeting at my 9 year old sons school last week.  The end of the year is hard for him.  Hard for me.  Hard for all of is.  Lots of emotions take over.  As I was leaving the building, who should be walking by, but my sweet son.  Without hesitation, he ran over and in for a hug, and I kissed him on the top of his head, and he smiled big at me as he continued on his way down the hall, and I tell you...my heart....

it was ready to burst.

I read this morning in John Bartunek's The Better Part, that a dead body doesn't bleed.  More specifically, when they pierced the side of Jesus, who was already hanging dead on the cross, immediately there came out blood and water.  Scientists tell us that this may be explained by Jesus having died, literally, of a broken heart.  Because if he had suffocated, he would not have been able to speak, as he did.  And if he had died of blood loss, there most likely would not have been enough blood in the chambers of his heart to flow out as it did.  Bartunek goes on to say, it is "as if he willingly ended things at that moment, letting his divine love for sinful man burst his human heart."

Loving Father, who gushed water and  blood to cleanse my own sins, I pray to always have a heart like yours; a heart that is so full, it literally bursts out of love for others.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

why kindness isn't enough

I have a friend, a fallen away Catholic, who has chosen to dismiss God and religion and raise her children in "kindness" instead.  And I have a problem with that.

You see, I have four kids.
They have the same two parents.
We all live under the same roof.
And not all of them are kind.
In fact, with mood swings and stress and hormones and life, we can all admit that at one point or another in life, we are unkind.

Am I raising my children to be kind?
Yes. Of course.
Do I teach them how to treat others?
Is my marriage a witness to how we should love one another and put another persons needs first?
I believe so. On the good days, at least.

But there are these people in my house.  These ... teenagers....
and the vision and mind of a typical teen seems to narrow in on one thing and one thing only....
And when one comes down with this thing called teenager...selfishness is likely, and it has been my experience, both as a former teen, and now a 45 year old woman wrangling two teens of her own, rarely, if in fact never, is kindness ever a result of being selfish.

So great.  Now what?
16 years of teaching kindness, and now what?
How did my plan to raise kind people fail?
And more importantly, what is plan B?
What is there to fall back on when kindness fails?

We are moving in two weeks, and winding down four schools with full schedules of end of the year activities.  This also happens to be my husbands heavy travel time of the year.  And this is typical of everyone, not just me, right?  Down to the wire, end of the rope, limping to the finish line, whatever it is, it is stretched and pulled to the limit.  And when the sink is full, and the house needs to be emptied,  and your 16 year old tries to print a class paper at 6am and there is no more paper, and the 14 year old can not find her jeans that you know are in the dryer because you put them there, but for some reason only mom's eyes can spot them, and final exam stress is building, and you have found your hand deep inside the bag of those darn multi grain pita chips again...
where then does your strength come from??
What well are you capable of digging?
How do you manage?
When seemingly ungrateful children and physically not present husbands are your present reality, all before 6:30am, who do you have to turn to?
Better yet, when you are the last thing your children feel comfortable sharing with, and they are running in all the wrong directions in search of purpose and meaning, two whom do they turn?
Do they call on kindness to step in and help?
Does kindness swoop on in, pick them up, dust them off, and send them on their merry way?
Will kindness comfort the teen who feels left out, an outcast? Stressed and stumbling? Will kindness put to rest the anxiety that adults may not see, but is slowly chipping away at their insides?

With my own early morning despair moving in at a rapid speed, I scrubbed furiously at the dishes, adding more soap then needed, while staring out the window feeling like there was no end in sight...like these dishes would never get clean and the teenagers, who let me add, I love fiercely and madly, would stay stuck in themselves, never to break free.  And truly, if you dumped the box of my life out on the table and labeled my problems, it would not be the lack of  money, or stress, or surly kids or even dishes piled high that hurt me the most, but rather...it would be the unkindness.  It would be the echoing of the "you are so annoying" or "I hate him" "or the indifferent "whatever"  or "I just don't care" thrown my way, or towards a sibling, that hurts me the most. Because this family of mine...I have raised them to be kind.  Just like my friend, I too want to raise kind people.  And yet, the way they live out their lives under this roof lately, feels like anything but kind.  And I am not excluded from this mess.  I have had daggers roll off of my own tongue that I am not proud of.  And this is not even scratching the surface of how unkind we can all be to ourselves; how quick we are to compare our bodies and lives to those around us, how easily we hate our own reflection.  We struggle with being kind to our ourselves, and so how on earth do we learn to be good to others? The better question really is WHY on earth should we would be kind to others?

The last decorative mug to be washed rested in my hands, and I turned it over to read the inscription.  It was Scripture. His Word.  A love letter emerging from the swampy mess in the sink, an anchor of hope in just the right spot. It reeled me in.

"So let us not grow tired of doing what is good.  For at the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessings.  If we do not give up."  Galatians 6:9

I read it and read it again until I nearly washed it off of the cup, and wrote it in my mind.

Raising children to be kind?  Yes, that is good.  That is doing what is good.  My friend is doing a good thing.  But parenting is not for the weak.  It is tiring.  And when we grow tired, we are tempted by many evils, one of which is to give up.  At least that is how I feel.  Or have felt.  But if I root my parenting, not in my own teaching, but in Christ's teaching...well then that is a game changer.  We are taught to be kind, and we teach to be kind,  because we belong to God, not ourselves.  We are made in His image.  And if we are to mirror Him, then what we do and what we say matters a whole lot.  You see, when I put Christ in the middle of my parenting, the accountability of all of our actions is suddenly raised pretty darn high.  Like up to heaven high.  For the reality of our short time on earth is exactly that; a short time.  I don't want my children to be kind so that they can live a peaceful life on earth.  I want them to be kind so that they can live a peaceful eternity with God.  And at the end of the day, these growing kids of ours?? They are going to stumble and fall, waver and bend, no matter what we teach them.  The only way to ground them is to give them solid roots; plant them in faith.  They may wrestle with kindness or the lack there of as they journey, but I trust that if I continue to do what is good, the harvest will be abundant, and the blessings are sure to bloom.  Will these blessings blossom here on earth?  Well, that, I do not know.  But I am grateful for his Word that encourages me to persevere in doing what is good.  You can raise your children in kindness, but that is not enough.  Raise them in faith, for kindness flows freely from a life lived for God.

Friday, June 5, 2015


They sit in front of me at the 9am Mass. They are elderly, and have not been attending as often; I know he has cancer.  Recently out of the hospital, they came back to Mass last week.  He looked sick.  He never did before.  But this time, he did.  Less hair.  White skin. Fragile.  Coughing.  And she held onto his hand.

But she always holds onto his hand.  And they are always both smiling.  They are always together. And I know this might sound morbid, but I have pictured her alone.  I have imagined what the day will be like when she walks into the church on the left side, and takes her seat in the third pew, stopping to give hugs and kisses and chat with her neighbors...and he is not by her side.   This is a place I can not linger in for too long, because it inevitably leads me to myself and the reality that I, too, may one day be alone.

It was right before getting up to receive the Eucharist, that he leaned in towards his wife, and whispered, "Will you bring your purse up to Communion with you?"  I did not hear why, because he never said why...but I knew it meant he needed to leave immediately.  These are not the "receive and run" type of people.  Something was wrong.  And she paused, and then looking at him said, "Okay, of course."  While slipping the strap of her purse over her shoulder he whispered, "Thank you very much."  She turned to him and said, "We will call the Doctor", unto which he replied, "There is nothing we can do."

And it was in that brief witness of the absolute beauty in the vocation of marriage that caused the tears to swell up and spill out of my eyes.  Everything needed to build a lasting, strong, faithful marriage, was right there in front of me.  Her sacrifice for him without needing an explanation, his gratefulness for her and his verbally expressing that, and perhaps what got me the most: the fact that whatever it was he was facing, he was not facing it alone, because they are not a he and a she, a you and a me, but they are a WE.  "There is nothing WE can do", he said.

He could have said, "There is nothing the Doctor can do."
He could have said, "There is nothing you can do,"
He could have said, "There is nothing I can do."
But he didn't.
He said, "There is nothing we can do."

In this world today, where the "what's in it for me" mentality seems to be the road most taken in relationships, what a gift it was for me to be reminded of the true beauty in marriage.  In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, til death do we part.  There's that we again.  And I think it is in that split second moment when husbands and wives are so frustrated, so hurt, so depressed and so stressed, that they turn their focus completely on themselves, only able to see their own joy, their own pain, their own desires, their own life.  They start to look at their lives as separate islands, losing all compassion and respect for the one they once promised their life to. THIS is the fracture that opens the door to the Devil; this is his way in to destroy and demolish all that is life giving, fruit bearing, and good; his opportunity to kill your WE.

I spent the entire day praying and weeping for all married couples.  Marriage is not easy.  Marriage can be painful. Marriage can feel like a death.  But I have also seen how wonderful it can be, and not in the middle of the good times, but right in the midst of the deepest suffering.  And why it has taken me so long to open my eyes to this vocation of mine is beyond me, but they are opening none the less, and for that, I sing praises of joy and sing great songs of gratitude.

Marriage is not about me.  It is about we.
And I wouldn't want it any other way.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Mark 12:13-17, today's Gospel

If there is one thing you can be sure of, it’s that you can’t trick Jesus. And oh, how the Pharisees tried. Resentful of the presence of Roman power on their land, they thought they could test Jesus by saying, “You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
Jesus sees through their deceit, and by showing them the imprint of Caesar on a denarius (a coin worth about a day’s wage), tells them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
I know that many argue that the church should not be involved with matters of the state, but as a Catholic, I cannot conceive of making any decision, moral or social, without deeply considering God. From the moment I wake each day, until I go to bed at night, my single prayer is that, whatever this day holds, I give it all to God. And so this is how we should approach everything. As Catholics, we can’t afford to remove God from our daily decisions. In fact, whatever the issue, large or small, should we not first consult with our Creator, the one who has the right answers? The answer is absolutely. We must present to Him what belongs to Him. And what exactly belongs to God?