Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Light of Christmas

I have a friend I've made as a result of years of going to the same dry cleaner's.  She always greets me with a smile and a call out, even if I'm being served by someone else.  I've written of her mother, and her own unwavering faith.  Every once in a while, we have a conversation as I'm handing over my pile of laundry and the ordinariness of my day evaporates.  

"Merry Christmas," I said as I piled up the shirts.  My mind was full of the bills to pay, the pounds gained over the break, the work I needed to still get done for the evening.

"Merry Christmas!" she beamed, "You know, Christmas is a time for miracles.  Christmas time is a miracle."    I felt the beginning of an interruption in the dark chaos of my thoughts.

"Yes.  Yes it is."  Her eyes told me, she held a miracle she was bursting to share.
"For the past eight years, I've prayed."  She told me of how she's been begging for warmth in her marriage, but for years, they've not talked.  "Then on Christmas, I heard Jesus tell me, in my heart, "If you want me to work, you have to move."  and I got out of the way."  She smiled.  "I put my hand on my husband's hand."

"And it's better?" I asked.
"It's better. It's a miracle.  It started on Christmas.  It's a miracle.  You know, Jesus can take anyone, fix anything, anything we let Him!"
"The water is now wine." I smiled.  All my errands still loomed, but they didn't haunt, they couldn't in the face of her joy.

"Yes.  Exactly!  The water is now wine."

A line had cued up while we spoke.  "I'm so happy for you. Merry Christmas!"
"Happy New year!"

The Christmas star is shining at my dry cleaner's.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Writing Comedy Tips*

1) Start with the ordinary. I saw a black cat.
2) Set the expectations. It followed me home.
3) Use hyperbole and excess to build tension. I think it was a stray. I also think, it decided I was the unwitting victim of a bad Steven King reject novel, because every window I looked out, there it was. 
4) Build. Not only was the cat following me around the house from room to room, it stood on it's hind legs and pawed at the window.
5) Strategize/plot twist and compare. Now I'm allergic to cats, so I couldn't have it as a pet, even if I wanted to, so I tried calling animal control but it was a Friday night. Apparently they only work Monday through Friday, 9-5. So if a wolverine shows up at your doorstep during non banking hours, you'll just have to wait.
6) Resolve attempt two: I tried using a broom to shoo it away. It took the opportunity of my momentarily open door to bolt inside.
7) Now I had a critter in my house. I could tell where it was by the number of sneezes I took, a sort of nasal radar. Gross, but effective. Armed with the broom, I stalked my prey. She'd run down into the basement like she owned the place.
8) Return to the beginning. (I set this up like a horror). The basement is dark. It's creepy and cluttered and going down there gets me depressed by how much work I have to do, and how little will I have to do it. It's where all my good intentions from every season go to die, Christmas tree decorations, snow boots, life jackets, scrapbook bins of photos, all of it. The cat was somewhere in that mess.
9) Tie it together, all of it....I heard it thrashing in between my sneezes. I pushed away at the clutter with the broom to try and get at the beast.
10) Finish the story...The cat emerged from the pile of junk, dead snake in mouth. It dropped it at my feet. I felt a need to apologize, and even less reason to ever be in the basement again. I picked up the animal, allergy be damned, and brought it upstairs for a well deserved can of tuna and some water. I chugged the children's benadryll and declared we had a new member of the family. All was well.
11) But you need a ba-dump dump at the end.
Until the next day, when a tan dog started staring in the window.

*Note to my mom and any other relatives reading this, WE DO NOT OWN A CAT NOR ARE THERE SNAKES IN THE BASEMENT.  I made it up.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Now for some Drier Wit

Yesterday, we found ourselves at a parish we don't frequent.  We'd overslept our normal mass time, and try as we might, couldn't get the troops organized for getting out the door until 5:30, so we went to Saint Peter's over in Olney for the six o'clock we're not desperate but we're getting close Sunday mass.   The priest announced that since he had nothing scheduled after mass, he and another priest would hear confessions.  Several of my children opted to take advantage of the opportunity.

After dinner (Pizza), my sixteen year old started his laundry.  Before bed, he switched it over to the dryer.  

The next morning, we found his laundry (wet) in a basket.  Someone else had co-opted the machine for their own use.   He started to curse his sister.  I pointed out, he'd been in a state of grace, and I didn't want him to lose it.  We took out her clothes and I restarted his.   Half an hour later, he still felt frustrated.  "I'd tried to do it on time."  It was true, we'd be hard pressed to beat the bell. He'd missed the bus and this was supposed to be an easy morning for me, as two more children were home from school.   But it wasn't.  He started to work up a mad.  I reminded him again.

Ten minutes later, dressed for school and ready to go, he announced to me it was okay that she switched out the laundry, he wasn't mad, and he thanked me for calming him down.  "I don't want to be mad at my sister.  Not at Christmas time."

"I'm guessing that's fraternal love speaking?"

He gave a shy smile.  "Something like that.   And I don't want her mad.  She gives really really good presents."  

Glad to know we're celebrating the season.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Not Writing....

I will jump start on the blogging/writing thing come 2016.  But to adequately address the needs of family, Christmas, the house, Christmas, incoming out of town guests, Christmas, paperwork, Christmas, kids being sick, Christmas, and did I mention Christmas, I'm taking a sablogital.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Great Communicator

Paul has an i-Pad programmed to help him talk.  He can ask for all sorts of things using it, and is very fluid.  Mostly, he asks for chocolate milk, chips and to watch television.  

This morning, his sisters were trying to use his machine to sing Christmas carols.  He came over, shooed them away and pushed the following buttons:

People, I want to eat cereal.

We all scrambled to give the man his fruit loops.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Where Else Would You Go? Nowhere else if you would go Deeper and Deeper

I love being Catholic.  I suppose it must be somewhat obvious.  I also love this Pope. In the interest of full disclosure, I loved the last pope, and the pope before him.  I've read a good deal of Pope Francis's Encyclical.  He's not as masterful as Pope Benedict with writing, but he isn't as dense and difficult as Saint Pope John Paul the Great was either.  

I do not expect of the present pastor, the gifts the prior pastor brought. I expect each pastor who takes charge of the flock, to challenge each of us to go deeper and deeper in.  As of December 8, Pope Francis is throwing open the doors of mercy and inviting everyone in, and trying to send us out into the world, to help gather.   He is calling all of us to radically live out the Gospel, and he's not shy about it.
This is our Pope, this is his gift, this is how he lives out his faith. 

I've read over the years Pope Francis has held the seat of Peter, about how he is a bad pope, one who damages the faith, who discourages the faithful with his remarks.  I remember the rabbits and who am I to judge...I remember being frustrated, but I go back to this picture.

If you want to understand Pope Francis, look at the proclamation of the "Year of Mercy."  It is this type of intimacy that a year of mercy involves.   It is this type of "risk" and this type of literal and physical, emotional and social connecting that Pope Francis is seeking.  He wants everyone in, and you can't get people to consider coming into the church, if you're presenting yourself as the moral bouncer.  People confuse professing what we know to be true, with making accepting of all of it, a prerequisite for entering.  We start at different places and most of us, spend our whole life times wrestling with the totality that is the teaching of the Church, because of our own hang ups and sins which we don't want to give up.

 Most people's faith does not develop into something more authentic, more mature, more intimate, via a scold.  Most people's faith begins to deepen when they meet someone they love, when they discover someone outside of themselves, loves them, when they want to show the one who loves them, that they love deeply too.   The relationship with God is the most romantic one possible in all of existence, for God cannot be outdone in love, and He never disappoints.  But to meet God, one must trust the person providing the introduction (the Church, Pope/Priest/person).  To be part of the New Evangelization,  we don't start with "This is where you need to improve, or change."  We start with, "You've got to come in.  Come meet Jesus.  Come be a part of our family."  Being awash in love, will gradually wash away all that needs washing away.  

So any who feel somehow troubled by this Pope with his words, or with his decision to allow projections of God's creations on the side of the Basilica, I'd say, trust God.  Trust God.  Trust God.  
Trust His Holy Spirit.  Trust the servant picked.  Look at this picture, and really look at it.   It is the beauty of mercy lived.  It is a manifestation of God's love here, through his hands.   Stop worrying about the Pope, and go and be those hands for someone else's troubled head.   Stop arm chair quarterbacking the papacy because no one is going to show up at your house and ask you to become a papal consultant,>  Instead, go about the business of revealing the ocean of mercy God wants to give all of us.   Instead, as Larry D of Acts of the Apostles suggests, go sit down - or better yet, kneel before a tabernacle or in an Adoration chapel – and humbly beg Christ to inflame your charity, to have mercy on your soul, and to increase your wisdom and understanding.  I suspect, if we keep ourselves busy with the business of revealing God's mercy to the world, and showing it to others, we will find all that currently irks, far less irksome.

Before you tsk me for failing to recognize the end of times or tell me I'm naive or ignorant for defending this Pope when he preaches about being a steward of the earth, or wants to through symbolic gestures, get people to stop compartmentalizing what they will and won't do based on politics rather than faith, ask these questions.  What would you deny that he teaches?  What would you affirm that he doesn't?  We're Catholic, which means, we submit ourselves to the authority, we're Papists and proud of it.

All the other stuff is a matter of style, of taste. It's not mine, but then, it doesn't have to be.  Those who write ominous articles about what a tragedy this Pope is, and wait for the next papacy, or who claim He's not a true Catholic, remind me of the dwarves in Narnia.  They make it into the kingdom, but cannot see it, cannot feast properly, because they're too certain of their own understanding, to fathom anything bigger than their own understanding.  "Dwarves are for Dwarves!" they proclaim, and fight over a feast they cannot fully enjoy.  There is a dark joy to thinking you have a greater understanding/exclusive comprehension on some galactic level, than everyone else.  But the solace drawn from a bitter brew of snark, and the conviction you're the modern day sooth seer with all the vision, cannot sustain. For those who cite Saint Catherine of Sienna; she wrote to the pope, and she went to speak with the pope.  She addressed him as a human being, and as such, he responded and returned the Papacy to Rome.  She didn't snipe at him from the safety of an internet echo chamber.  

We cannot enjoy the meal that has been set if we cannot enjoy the company of all invited.  We will not enjoy Heaven, if we've put ourselves in the position of deciding who should and shouldn't be there.  It is like the older brother, standing outside the party for his prodigal brother, still not understanding how or why, his father would forgive his brother, why didn't God punish him first?  Answer?  Our ways, are not God's ways.  Either we trust in God's mercy, and want it for all, or we do not want it for ourselves.  When we try to delineate how God will react, and to further keep some of God's children out (for whatever reason), we are putting ourselves in the position of God.

We have to remember, we cannot fully fathom God's mercy, anymore than we can fathom God's love or His patience, or any of what God is.  We cannot.   We're Catholic.  Catholic means universal, meaning, we want everybody.   God wants all of us back in, all of us at the feast.  Will we go in?
  The Church inviting us in, is inviting us to a conversion, to a deeper relationship with God.  We're to live it, and that means loving those around us as fully as possible.

For those who worry, what about sin? God can manage who will be at the feast.  It is our job to invite everyone deeper and deeper in. 

Lastly, so as to be better able to host others at the feast, here's Bishop Barron's advise for how to best utilize this Year of Mercy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Slow Down

It is the most common error I make as a mom; I can partially attribute it to being the first child, and to being a mom over and over again, but it ultimately comes from my own fault.   I forget to ask for help.   I forget in my quest to GET IT ALL DONE, that GETTING IT ALL DONE is not the goal of life.   It's also not the point of being a mother.

That "GETTING IT ALL DONE" is just an alternative version of "HAVING IT ALL" and both are the world's song.  The former is how a stay at home mom creates worth for being home, the later is how the at work mom, justifies not being home.  Both songs involve having the woman value herself according to what she can do, not who she is, and both require that the woman be something other than mother, something other than present.  Both songs require the woman be BUSY.

I fall into the siren trap of both tunes all the time.  I know because today, I heard my Catholic blogger friend, Sarah Reinhard talking on WMET 1160 about her new book, Word by Word, Slowing Down with the Hail Mary.  I was running late.  Mass started at ten.  One daughter was home sick.  Another was cantering at the mass.  I dragged my toddler and the sick one to the car.  The trip normally takes seventeen minutes (twenty-one if there's a train).   I had 18 minutes to make it.   The light at the mid county high way was abnormally clogged.  Two service trucks with flashing arrows eliminated the two lanes I would normally be in, so I moved over.  The light took forever.  The line didn't move.  I looked.

Two men from the work crew were shaking hands and hugging the passenger and driver of a truck and talking through the green light.  Sarah was talking about the need to slow down and how we have this tendency to speed through things, even prayer.   I sat bemused at the men stopping traffic and all of time, to hug.   But then I had to switch lanes again and now, I was stuck for another round of lights and in the wrong lane.   My good humor evaporated in an instant.

I had ten minutes to make it to mass, and I'd been stuck at this stupid light for over seven minutes.   To calm myself down, I refocused on Sarah's voice.  She spoke of the process, of asking forty writers to each take a word from the Hail Mary, and use it as the source for a meditation on the whole of the prayer, and I thought, the idea of asking others for help, was something I needed to learn.  In writing, asking others to contribute was a means to flesh out the deeper meaning of the prayer.  So also, if I could learn to ask for help, I could help flesh out the deeper meaning of motherhood, of living this life, and not "HAVING or GETTING IT ALL" but having all be part of the process of living.

Sarah talked about "Slowing down" in the prayer, and in life.   I had eight minutes and another red light.

Slow down...slow down.  How would it be possible to slow down?  I sat at the red light, trapped behind a bus, convicted.  I was fighting the best advice I'd ever get.   Why?  Because I'd have to surrender something.  I'd have to abandon getting it all done and having it all, if I wanted something better.  But  I'd been pushing this damn boulder of life, whether as a parent, or as a writer, and thinking, what would happen if I slowed down?  Less progress that's what!   I didn't want to slow down.  Five minutes left.   I made the turn onto the side street to try to navigate back to the church.  The bus stopped and pedestrians got out.   "I JUST WANT TO GET TO MASS ON TIME!" I growled in frustration.   The bus pulled away.

"Slow down."  I'd heard Sarah say.  I felt convicted.  The men shaking hands had slowed down. If they'd been efficient, there would have been no hi, no hugs, no smiles, no laughs.  That would have been a darker moment of life, just work, no solace, no joy, no friends.    I slowed down.  Because I slowed down, I saw on the side of the road, a woman dressed in black.  She wasn't paying attention to the drivers.  She was stalking two deer in the underbrush, trying to snatch a picture.  I slowed down more so as to not spook the deer.   She too, was stopping time, stalking beauty instead of caution or efficiency.  There are countless pictures of deer on the internet, but this one, would be hers.   I look at the clock.  It is ten o'clock. At best, we will be five minutes late but I've finally been pulled into the proper spirit to even show up at mass.

We pulled into the parking lot, and there were the children, lining up to go to the Church.  We hadn't missed it.  It hasn't started.  Mercy for me and a message, over and over again.  Slow down.   That is the purpose of Advent, the purpose of prayer, the purpose of living.  Not to have done everything or get everything or have everything, but to be present.  I held my daughters and sang, "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria..." but my heart was shouting, "Thank you, thank you, thank you Blessed Mother."

Monday, December 7, 2015

Year of Mercy Warm up

Before you get stretched this year by the Year of Mercy, you need to warm up right?  What should I do?  Well, the folks over at Aleteia  posted a great piece on 54 ways to celebrate this coming year. All of them are excellent.  

The suggestions reveal concrete ways to exercise mercy, both for others and yourself.   Other suggestions?  I'm so glad you asked.

10) Find a Holy Door..  Make a pilgrimage.  Walk through it.   Why?  Because actions matter.  Asking for mercy, via the physical act of walking through a door of mercy, is a special means of receiving beyond the ordinary.   In this year of mercy, they aren't just the sealed doors of the major Basilicas, so ask in your local diocese, about the nearest Holy Door.  

9) Learn the Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy.  A good place to read about them is here.
But if you're pressed for time, These are the corporal (body) acts of mercy.  You see someone in pain, and you take steps to provide partial or complete healing by your actions.

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.
Whereas these are the spiritual acts of mercy.  If you note, all require something of us, recognition of a need, capacity to act, and effort to see it through.  
  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead.
Looking at the list, there is not a one our world is not starving for.   

8)  Pick a new devotion --rosary, chaplet, liturgy of the hours, the Angelus, and hold to it for the year.  

6) Read the Diary of Saint Faustina.  It's long, it will take most of if not all of the year.  

5) Go to adoration weekly.  Nothing brings one more in touch with God's mercy than the Eucharist.   Go bathe in God's presence.  You can find out where there's 24-7 adoration at the same site where you can find out about confession;

3) Be a friend.  There is nothing that reveals more of God's mercy, than kindness to someone else. 

2) Look at all things in the news/life through the eyes of mercy.  What would be the most healing thing one could do, say, think, pray in light of whatever it is...then do it.  

1) Sing at mass, light the candles, trim the tree, and celebrate with all you know.  Beauty is a fight against the darkness of life, mercy is beauty lived.   Not just this Advent, but all year.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Games Kids Play

So we're driving to Breakfast with Santa and the kids have created a new game.   They sing a song. Any song.   But they substitute "MEOW" for all the lyrics.  Whoever guesses the song, gets to be the next singer.

You've not lived until you sing UPTOWN FUNK and Adele's Hello with Meow instead of the words.
But games only work until the game master one ups the ante and began barking.   By the time I found a parking place, everyone sang Jingle Bells Lassie style.  When we opened the car door, I couldn't resist, "I let the dogs out..."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

God Is Fixing This

When the world seems darkest, the only proper response is deliberate light, deliberate hope, deliberate prayer and deliberate charity.  The world would tell you, God isn't fixing this.  The Daily News says as much with it's cover today, scourging politicians for offering prayers as solace to the victims and their families.   The thought is somehow, more laws, more regulations would have prevented this couple from dropping off their six month old daughter at grandmothers before suiting up to kill as many as they could.   Maybe.  But I do not think so.  Hearts so ground to dust they could willingly abandon their six month old daughter, need God more than anyone else.   

But when we see examples of great darkness, it is important to remember Christmas is precisely about the reality, our fallen world is dark, but God is with us. God has fixed this, and He goes on fixing this; even as we keep breaking it.  God holds all of us, and His heart breaks for each of us, He holds each of us, as His own beloved, and wills us to see each other as treasured brothers and sisters.

Advent is about waiting in joyful hope, about seeking and anticipating the Christ. The angels call us
to throw open the doors of our hearts, not because we're saps, or fools, or don't know there is risk;
not because we're foolhardy or naive, but because the only way "This" will be fixed, is when we act
as God would will us to act.  What God wills is always at odds with what the world thinks wise.    

So this Advent, begin an offense of hope, an offense of mercy, an offense of charity.  Begin by looking around you to find the hidden suffering in your midst, the suffering God wants you to remedy.  Look for  the unknown family lacking friends, the poor who need shelter, the hungry, the lonely, the sick and the lost,  We have a world wounded and on fire with pain, we are to be the balm, the peace the world cannot give, to a world desperate to receive.  

Pray with faith.  Pray for justice and work for peace.  

And know in the marrow of your bones, God is with us, God is working, God wills to fix this, God is fixing "this."   

Blessed Advent.  

Small Success Thursday

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Quiet One

Every week, Tuesday threatens to destroy me until it doesn't.  It starts with wake up, as if the kids are going to miss the bus, this is usually the day.  It's also trash day and that means waking up the middle two early to take down the garbage.  I make the lunches.  The kids also have band so they need their instruments.  Launching the top four, it is now the next 3's turn.  They have papers to sign and things they forgot, but we make it to the bus and all have left the home, hair brushed, socks and shoes, coats and in some cases hats, and today, mercifully, no one forgot their lunch.

One returned home, she feels sick.  My morning is now shot.   I phone the doctor's and do my upstairs patrol --which means gather all the clothing and the trash and make the beds, make sure the toilets aren't clogged and the sinks speckled with toothpaste.  I turn off the lights and shut the doors.  On a good day, I make it through the main and top floor, on a great day, I mop and hit the basement.  Today is not a good day.

Our bed needs stripping.  I'm not scared because we have a new washer and dryer.  We'll test those suckers out.  Alas, the dryer for the first time, failed me.  My comforter did not get comfortably warm until three cycles through.   We go to the doctors, and the CVS, and back home.  I rest for half an hour, which means I rodeo the laundry along and clean out the sink and clear out emails.   It is time to take the teen to her job interview.  Then I swing back home to pick up the kids from the bus, and then back to the two schools to get the tweens, the track star and then the job interviewer.  I snag her to do a quick shop while she waits.  We drive home, unload and start dinner.

It is Tuesday.  Two have CCD, and another has basketball.  They are sequential, not congruent, to ensure maximum inefficiency of my time.   At 8:30, we begin the long trek home so they can eat a second dinner (not wolfed down), and finish any homework.  I begin dishes and check the laundry and pick up the shoes, coats, lunch boxes, papers and socks.   The house feels wrecked and disorganized. I feel wrecked and disorganized.  Putting them to bed, my daughter handed me a note she'd drawn during a break in the action. "I LOVE MOM." It has me with a crown.  I have been paid in full by the quietest of my children, when I felt most spent.

It's the quiet ones the Holy Spirit uses.   Going to have to watch this one.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!