Tuesday, September 29, 2015

the angels

And now the house is quiet, as I sent them off, one by one, backpacks and lunches, onto big yellow buses and down the street, away from me, away from this home, out of my arms.

And they are safe.

Dangling from my little ones bag is a charm of Saint Michael.
On that unimaginable morning, when evil came to destroy, and hearts were shattered, I blessed my son before he innocently skipped away.  "I pray that God sends all of His angels to protect you today."
That was my send off.
That is why, when I learned of the nightmare, I dropped to my knees believing that he was gone.

It was weeks after the tragedy that he looked up at me-my goodness, he was just six-and he asked me, "Mom, is it because you asked the angels to protect me that I did not die?"
And how do you even answer this?
Could it be that because I called to the angels for help that day, that my son was spared, and 26 other lives were not?

"No, honey.  The angels were everywhere that morning.  The school, in fact, was filled with so many angels.  They did protect your friends and teachers, because before they even knew what was happening, those angels scooped them right up, and in a flash, brought them straight into the arms of Jesus."

He thought for a moment. Then his mouth frowned.
"Mom, I'll bet they were crying."
"Who?" I asked. "The children?"
And as he hung his head low, he whispered, "No, mom.  The angels."

I think about this moment a lot.  Every morning, in fact, when I put him on the bus.  Every single morning. And when I look back on that day, I do not see the evil.  I do not wail in the darkness.  I do not dwell on the violence.  I do not give up an ounce of my joy.  Because what I see are a legion of angels-Gods messengers-fighting and protecting-sheltering and guiding.  A flurry of feathers and light, of wings and of grace, casting away evil, rejoicing in heaven, placing the little ones in the safety of His arms.

"War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.  The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.  The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Anointed.  For the accuser of our brother is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.  They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death.  Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them." 
-Revelation 12:7-12ab

Monday, September 28, 2015

my journey to see the Pope

I am pretty sure I am the only person who was more focused on the soft pretzel in her purse, than in seeing Pope Francis.  But let me explain.

The ticket to Mass with the Pope at Madison Square Garden was an amazing surprise and gift.  Getting sick the day of the Mass was also a surprise, just less amazing, and not so much a gift.  Remember when I was invited to the Academy Awards, and I went with a 104 degree fever?  Well, there was no fever this time, but still.  I am beginning to think that I have some sort of sick ability to make myself ill for those things I am really looking forward to.  At least that is what my husband says.  Not to compare the Pope to the Academy Awards, because there is no comparison.  Pope Francis is the exact opposite of the red carpet, self indulgence, and the desire for prestige and power.  The Pope is humble and meek, and he looks like my father, which makes him all the more adorable to me. And I really, really wanted to catch a glimpse of him.

So did 35,000 other ticketed people.

We assumed we would walk right into the Garden.  That is why, two hours early, we chose to sit in a dark and seedy Gyro shop across from MSG, you know, to kill time, and possibly contract some sort of incurable disease.  We assumed we would walk in, flash a ticket, go through security, than enjoy concessions and confessions, while purchasing all sorts of Pope memorabilia.  We had no idea that the line for ticketed people started at the door at 32nd street, but ended at 27th street and 8th avenue.  And the only way to know that the line wrapped around the block up to 27th street, was by walking down to 24th street, over to 8th, than back up to 27th.

Almost four hours.  We waited.  On line.  In heels. Sick.  For almost four hours.

And it was interesting, really.  Because when you are with total strangers for that amount of time, you see a lot of things.  You hear a lot of things.  And you begin to forget what you are even waiting for.  You are just with these people...this humanity...these New York City folks, who are growing tired, and weary, and dare I say a little bit cranky.  I started to wonder if the Pope was really in town...like maybe, this was just some social experiment.  Maybe he just wanted to see how we treated one another.  Did we love our neighbor?  Were we kind?  Did we reach out to the lost and forgotten? Were we self less? Do we show mercy?  Are we humble?? How small are we?

As we inched our way at a snails pace, closer to the Pope, the heat burning our shoulders, I could not escape the irony.  People pleading for spare tickets, only to be ignored.  The homeless were slumped over on the side walk, sleeping on boxes, dressed in hats and coats despite the summer like day, while we all looked straight ahead,  chewing our gum, popping our mints into hungry mouths, prized silver tickets in hand.  A gentleman offered a spare ticket to a Priest, and as he walked to the end of the line feeling like he had won the lottery you could overhear the crowd, cynical and doubtful, "I will bet that guy's not even a Priest!" A woman used the name of God in vain, as the Sisters of Charity quietly walked by. And another tried to ditch the woman she ran into that she knew from work, exclaiming, "She is crazy."  I was beginning to feel like I was on my own road to Calvary, and wondered if rather than spending money on getting Jennifer Hudson and Harry Connick Jr. to perform at the Pope pre-show, they should have installed the stations of the cross up and down 7th Avenue.

And is it me, or is there something very Hollywood and not right sounding about "Pope pre-show"?

Once through security, we dashed by the Priests hearing confessions because we were starving, which is ironic, considering it is usually a deep starvation that sends me running into confession.  After waiting on another line for food, we journeyed to another floor in hopes of a shorter wait.  I really wanted a soft pretzel.  I had only eaten a bag of cough drops all day, and well, as good as they were, honey and lemon, I was still hungry. So we raced by the gifts...I had hoped for something small to bring home, maybe a magnet, to have blessed by the Pope and to stick on my fridge, because what says, "I saw the Pope" better than a magnet on the side of your fridge?  But the pretzel was all I could think about.  My feet might have been bleeding.

We got the pretzel.  My friend bought two...one for later...we weren't taking any more chances.  And water.  It cost us $28, and was worth every cent.  After crawling over the people in our row to get to our seats, I might have let out a sigh of relief as I got off of my feet, and popped a piece of warm, salty pretzel into my mouth.  I ate that piece of pretzel as if I had been starved of every meal for the last year.  And it was as we were chewing, that my friend looked up and said, "Is that the procession??? Mass is starting?????"

Yes.  I am the woman that was shoving a hot pretzel in her mouth in the presence of Pope Francis during Mass.

The pretzel, sadly, went into my bag, and I tried hard to be in the moment.
That is the Pope.
There he is.
I want my pretzel.
The Holy Father.
Right there.
I am so blessed.
And hungry.
Look at the Pope Laura.
My pretzel is in my bag.

I am not sure how I expected to feel when I saw the Pope, but I know I was not expecting to be wishing I could eat my pretzel.
I thought I would cry.
I thought it would be the holiest moment of  my entire life.
I thought I would be hungering for Christ, not my over priced snack.

Next to me was a two year old who shouted, "I have to poop!"
All around me were cameras...people taking video and pictures through out the entire mass; looking through small lenses when right there below them was all they came to see.
Phones were going off.
People were shouting out to their Papa.
It was a spectacle, and I am sure great love was behind it all, but for me, the sick girl with bleeding feet, a throat on fire, ADHD, and a pretzel in her bag, I found it very hard to concentrate.  It was difficult for me to find that spiritual connection, especially since to me, MSG means the New York Rangers, and spilling warm beer.  I did pause when the Eucharist was placed in the center of my palm.  I did bow my head in prayer, and threw out every intention from every loved one I had in my heart.  I did try to connect.  And when it was all over, I ate my pretzel faster than you can say, "Praise God!"

Now that I am home, with my box of tissues, cup of tea, and quiet, I am better able to see that day for what it was.  For what it was meant to be.  Interestingly enough, I do not think it was about seeing the Pope, but more so about my journey to him.  My feet did not hurt when I was moving toward his holiness, it was in the standing still, the motionless, the stuck in place, when I felt the pain.  But the journey?  The journey was good.  And it is now in the silence of my heart that I see the homeless I walked by.  I see the faces of those strangers that stood by me.  I see that annoying co-worker, her lipstick red, her eyes big and wide.  I see the nuns clutching their large wooden beads, the dog walkers and cyclists.  I see my beautiful and generous friend, who I got to know so much  better as we shared stories over a diet coke, french fries and coffee on our journey back home.  And I see myself, in a crowd of 35,000, waiting to see...wanting to catch a glimpse...making this pilgrimage, yearning to experience emotions large...and walking away from it all, still wanting to journey, knowing I am not finished, and feeling so incredibly blessed and wonderfully small.

"No one can grow without accepting smallness." - Pope Francis

Monday, September 21, 2015

and so it begins...

My 9 year old son was in a really bad mood-nothing could pull him out of it.  On the way to church I told him, "If you are going to be grumpy, stay home!  You can go to mass with dad tomorrow." Well, he pulled it together, and while leaving church, in the middle of the parking lot, he announced, "I am feeling  a lot better!! I think it was the Eucharist!!!!"

This kid of mine? Awesome.

Hard to believe this is the same kid who after his teacher asked him to please stop singing and dancing in the front of the room, did stop...

then went to the back of the room, and continued singing and dancing.

"She said stop in the front", he pointed out to me.  I tried not to laugh because a good mom would not find this funny at all.

And so I asked him, "what were you singing?"
I was praying for something like, "Jesus loves me" or "Be Not Afraid".  And as a smile spread across his face,  he broke out into song and dance in the  kitchen...

"now watch me whip...now watch me nae nae...."

Really looking forward to meeting the teacher tonight.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

when your wedding cake tastes better than your marriage

I received a text from sister.  Her co worker is getting married, and was let down by her parish's one day, offered just once a year,  pre-cana prep class.  "I have spent more time looking for my dress, than I have preparing for my marriage."

I immediately began sending her links...Jackie and Bobby, Dynamic Catholics Passion and Purpose for Marriage...the Diocese of Bridgeport Marriage Preparation....certainly there is more out there for her to take advantage of.

But is there?

Some parishes offer a two day pre-cana...that's nice.  I also came across weekend retreats for engaged couples.  That's sweet.  But marriage is until death, right?  Marriage comes with the hope of children, bearing good fruit, laying ones life down for the other, crazy kind of sacrifice, sickness and health, richer or poorer.  Me thinks we need more than a weekend to truly cover all of this.

I have been, over the last 24 hours, thinking about all of my friends who have failed in their marriages.  I have been thinking of how close my husband and I came to failing our own marriage.
And I can't help but wonder...if we were all better prepared for marriage, could we have avoided the mess?

My sister called me last night; too much to say to text.  "You know what my co worker said that I can't stop thinking about?  She said, "marriage is a sacrament, right?  How come we spend so much time preparing for other sacraments...a year...sometimes two...but marriage is just one day?""

I spent a year planning my wedding reception.
I spent days looking for my dress.
I spent weeks deciding on the flavor of my cake.
I spent months on the guest list.
None of those plans were ever helpful when we had no money, or when my husband had cancer, or when we felt resentful, or when he felt disrespected, or when I felt ignored, or when our children were in crisis, or when we didn't see eye to eye.  Not in any of these real life, real marital circumstances, did the fact that our cake was tiramisu ever make a difference.

If I could do it over again, I would have prayed for my husband- to- be every day.
I would have prayed for our marriage.
I would have prayed to be a good wife.
I would have prayed before the Blessed Sacrament on the eve of our wedding day.
I would have prayed that God be in every detail, every plan of our wedding day and our marriage.

Sadly, all I prayed for was good weather so that our cocktail hour could be outdoors.  And clear skin.

I am not implying that we shouldn't have fun planning a fabulous wedding reception.  I sure did.  Dresses, flowers, music...it should be a beautiful celebration.  I am just wondering that with the focus on family, and the true definition of marriage, are we really doing enough to prepare young men and women for this vocation?  Because really, when your wedding cake tastes better than your marriage, you have got a problem.

Of course, I am blessed.  It didn't rain and my skin was flawless. I may have not known the *true definition of love when I said "I do", but by the grace of God I learned it in time to save what is now the greatest gift I ever been given: a husband who is a man of God, who would lay his life down for me, who has blessed me with four children, who runs our household with love and humor, who prays the rosary every morning, who loves me no matter how short I cut my hair....then grow it....then cut it again.  We have had our share of rain, and my skin it's fair share of blemishes.  But none of that changes the fact that I love my man.  I love my marriage. I love the cleaned up, perfect days and I love the mud and the filth and the heavy cross days too.  I love it and I love him because I now know that feelings are fleeting...feelings have nothing to do with love.  We choose each other.  We choose to keep God in between us. And we want heaven.

But not every couple makes it.
Not every family gets through the mess that life in this world can get mixed up in.
And I am left here wondering if that maybe, just maybe, pre-cana was a year long process...a full  year...that couples would be walking into their marriage on a much more solid foundation; that maybe they would have a better chance at surviving the reality of life as one flesh when the honeymoon is over and real life slaps them hard in the face.  Marriage is a sacrament, and I think we need to better prepare for that sacrament.

The wedding cake is fun to pick out, but even that top layer in your freezer goes stale over time.  I say less time choosing the cake, and more time on choosing the sacrament.

*desiring the greater good for your beloved  (that greater good is heaven!)

Monday, September 14, 2015

His grace

Some friends and I went to see The War Room, and after many tears and over an hour of my resisting standing up and shouting, "Amen!" I left...

thinking about grace.

Just like you are unaware of a sin that grows and blinds you to the light...grace, too, sneaks up on you.  I would imagine I have had many brushes with Gods grace, only to think it was just luck or good timing on my part. Or perhaps a fluke.  Or probably thinking it had to do with something I did...like I made it happen, by my own strength.

This house?   This is grace.  From the garden to the history to the tiny mouse that ran through my bathroom.  The fact that my mismatched furniture fits perfectly, to the watering knob outside that is an actual statue of Saint Francis.  From the pond and the frogs, to the string of twinkling lights. This house, every day, feels more and more like it was hand built for me, my husband, my children, my family.  His presence is so strong in every room, and despite the short time we have been here, we all agree, it feels as if we have lived here forever.

Our friend, a Deacon, came over to bless our home. Like baptizing a baby, we sprinkled each corner with holy water.  Luke asked if this meant that we were all safe.  The remains of the holy water were poured into the earth, at the feet of our statue of the Blessed Mother. We drank champagne, shared a feast, and celebrated until past dark.

This house is safe.  Because inside of this house is a family that serves our Lord.
This is more than house. This is a home.
A fresh beginning, a new start, all of us, a new creation.
And most days I have to stop in my tracks to say a prayer of gratitude.
Actually, all days...

A few years ago I would never had believed I made it to here, loving the people under the roof the way that I do. Loving my life, loving Jesus. Knowing how much I need a savior. Believing in His mercy and love.

And every bit of it is His grace.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

no time for God? me either

We met up, this friend of mine, in the aisle with the beans and the mac n cheese, which is ironic, because for weeks we have been trying to set a lunch date, and have been unsuccessful.  Our lives; they are just so busy.  And so we stopped for a quick chat, because all we both had was just a few seconds of time.  "Look at this crap I am buying...processed food."  She waved the box in the air, neon orange noodles, ready in minutes.  "It's a time saver", I agreed.

This was a two second chat that turned into 30 minutes.
 And it was there that this encounter became very clear.
It was God's will.

We talked about the hard stuff, the stuff that weighs a mother's heart down.  We shared our fears and our stresses, and compared schedules and therapists.  And by chance she mentioned the fleeting thought of becoming a catechist, because our parish is short about 9, and it is truly a problem.  But her life-it is so full and so busy. "How can I add one more thing?" she asked.

Oh Lord, you really are funny, sending her my way.
Evangelizing in the grocery store?
You really are good, Lord. You really are.

And so I took a moment, and then shared this with her.
My son?  He has five football coaches for his one team. Five.
But no one has signed up yet to be his religious ed teacher.
Class is in two weeks.
He has no one willing to teach him his faith.
Football, yes.
Faith, not so much.

We do have the time.  We really do.  I am willing to bet that even the busiest person on the planet still has more time than they think.  The truth is, God...we put you last. You, our Creator.  You, giver of life and all that is good.  You, Jesus, who hangs on the cross, carrying the weight of our sins.

Let's just be honest, people.  We do have time, God.  We simply don't have time for you. God, you come last.

And so I shared this secret with my friend, that I will share with you too, in her response to "How do you find the time to do it all?"
When you make more time for God in your day, he multiplies your hours.
Really.  He does.
Or maybe it is not that you get extra hours, but rather, you are able to see more clearly how you are meant to spend your time.
I do not do it all.
I just try to do what  matters.

We parted ways, I left to grab my beans and salsa, and although I was gone for longer than planned, I came home to find that I still had enough time to get done what I needed to do.  You know, we waste a lot of time being busy with things that do not lead us to a better place in the end.  But when we put God first, we always finish better. How? Because the closer you are to God, the better you hear Him whispering, telling you exactly where to go, keeping you from going the wrong direction, leading you to green pastures.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

away from the crowd

I have been contemplating going into ear bud sales.  Seriously.  Because I have four kids, who are all obsessed with at least one electronic device, and I am not kidding when I tell you that every day I am told, "I need new ear buds", or "I lost my ear buds" or "who took my ear buds", or  "these ear buds stink", or "my ear buds broke".  I have four kids, and that means I have 8 ears that are demanding to be plugged in at every moment of the day.

And I wonder.
What are they even listening to?
What is the message that is running straight into their ears, filling their minds, running down into their heart?
They think they are plugged in to something...do they realize that in truth, they are completely tuned out?

Today's Gospel.  Have you read it?
Mark 7:31-37
People bring a deaf man with a speech impediment to Jesus.
"He took him off by himself away from the crowd.  He put his fingers into the man's ears....then looked up to heaven and groaned, "Ephphatha!-that is, "Be opened!""

And now, touched by Jesus, this man can hear.
Now, with a single word, this man can speak.

I look off into the next room. My children, with ear buds clogging both ears, off in their own worlds, tuned in to something not really here, and cut off from the people that are sitting right next to them.

And honestly? I can not say I always know what they are listening to...Who they are listening to.
And I have a strong urge to take them away from the crowd, to bring them to Jesus, to open their ears.

How can we possibly hear God when our ears are crowded?
How can we ever speak to others of a truth we are unable to hear ourselves?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

afternoon prayer vs. every other thing I want to do that in the end, will not matter at all

It is nearing 2:30pm which means that if I continue to sit at this computer, or do the laundry, or find some other meaningless task, I will not get in my afternoon prayer time before kids roll in, and then it will be off in the mini van we go, to our various things that we say the kids love, but really just exhaust us all and make us grumpy.

The afternoon.
It is my tough and challenging time.

I mean, I am the greatest wife ever. When my husband is at work.
And  nobody rocks motherhood like me.  When the kids are not home.
I start out so darn good too, ya know?
Wake early...find a quiet place...rosary and Gospel reflection.
I am a down right Saint...until about 3:45pm.

And it stinks.
Because when I go to sleep I do not happily recall my beautiful morning prayer time, or the gratitude I felt while watering my garden alone. No.  I dwell on the crappy way the day ended.

I have read that the devil comes at night.  He strikes when we are most tired. When our fuses are short and the battery low. And I believe this. I do.  Because all day yesterday all I wanted was to sit with my husband with the day behind us, and watch The Jim Gaffigan Show, which I might add, is just like watching my own life, minus a kid and with the addition of commercials.  But by the time 10pm came around, I was not wanting to see, or hear or look at anyone.  Not my husband. Not my kids.  Not even Jim Gaffigan.

Somehow, slowly but surely, my grip on God loosens.  As the day goes on, my focus widens, and eternal perspective gives in to discouragement.

I have just 40 minutes.
40 minutes before the first bus arrives, and then we begin the marathon otherwise known as an afternoon with kids who need to go to therapy, football, the gym, and need pick ups and drop offs and of course dinner is expected, which if you ask me, is a useless meal and can we please just enjoy some bread, cheese and wine and call it a night?

But I am not talking about dinner.

Afternoon prayer.
It is hard.
Hard to stop the millions of things we all say we must get done.
And yet, when I take the time to really look at the crucifix I can never get myself to take off...
I am disgusted with myself.
What could there possibly be that needs to be done that is more important than spending time with the one who allowed nails to pierce his wrists and feet, all so that I could have a chance at eternal happiness?

I know that.
You know that.
Or maybe you don't know that, but you know it now.
Nothing is more important than spending time with God.

I am going to throw a load of wash in the dryer because it is full of football things needed later today.
But then I promise...
I will find a quiet spot and reach out to God, and pray for the grace to get me through this afternoon.
I want to be a Saint all day...not just from 5am-3:45pm. Unless there is an opening for that role...then I am totally qualified.
But really.
I want to be a good wife and a good mom until my head hits the pillow.
And I know that none of that is possible without Jesus.

Screw the laundry.
God comes first.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

when life makes you sick

Gospel Reflection Luke 4:38-44
I woke up one morning completely unable to move. A severe pain in my neck and shoulders that ran down the right side of my body had me crying out in pain. I spent ten full days in a neck brace, completely still in my bed, not knowing what was wrong with me, while I silently prayed. And while I prayed upstairs in my bedroom, I listened to the sounds of my home; the children’s after-school chatter, dishes being piled high into the sink, the TV loud, the familiar sound of the garage door opening and dog barking, all alerting us that daddy was home. For ten days I did this. I was still. I could not participate in the life that seemed to be carrying on a floor below without me. And that was a big moment for me. It was big because up until I woke that morning unable to move, I was sick of my life. I was sick of always moving. I was unhappy, I was unsure of who I was, and I was tired of the after-school chatter, the plates piled in the sink, the way that the dog barked when my husband came home. It all felt so meaningless; my life felt it had no purpose. And now that I could not be a part of it? I wanted it back. I missed it. And I prayed hard for it.
I do not share this thought with many, but there is a part of me that believes my illness was more spiritual than physical; that what I was afflicted with was a severe fever of my soul. Because it was too painful to get up and go about my life (a life that was quickly slipping into a miserable string of ungratefulness and total lack of God), I had nothing left to do other than to pray. And so it was there, still and alone, with nowhere to go, that I found myself face to face with my healer. And he stood over me. And as soon as I was able to get up out of my bed, all I could do, and all I ever continue to want to do, is to go out and share this good news with the entire world. How clear it all became; my purpose was not something to be found within myself, but to be found in Jesus.  And from the moment I could stand again on my own, the need for everyone to know this truth was immediate.
You see, when the fever was rebuked, Simon’s mother-in-law did not get up and wait on Jesus and Simon because she was a woman, and that was her role. She got up and immediately served them because that is what the healing power of Christ does in you. It cures you of the very thing that has you struck down, unable to move. Physical, spiritual, emotional affliction; these come upon all of us. And so when we are graced with the healing touch of Jesus Christ, is it not our right and our duty to get up, run to the other towns, and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God? I say that it is. I say that we should. And I say that we do it immediately.
Jesus tells the crowd, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” Who is my crowd, what is my purpose, and am I fulfilling what God has sent me to do?
Jesus, my healer, I have felt the power of your hands upon me, and I am so grateful. Please, send me out into the world to proclaim your good news. I pray I do not hesitate, but rather, that I immediately get up each day and make this my sole purpose: that through the way I live my life, through what I say and write, what I do and how I choose to behave, that every action and word shouts out into the town that “You are the Son of God!” Heal me of all my afflictions and rebuke every illness of my heart that keeps me from constantly running towards you. Amen.