Running on Empty is Never a Good Thing

Running on empty is never a good thing. I remember a recent road trip where had a van full of nieces and nephews who I was bringing back home with me. We were enjoying ourselves tremendously as we drove across the state. About two hours into the drive, I suddenly remembered that I never filled up with gas before leaving. I did a quick check of my gas gauge and realized that I was running on fumes in a section of the state that has no gas stations. In fact, that area is simply miles and miles and miles of country land. My prayers began in earnest. I called upon my Guardian Angel, St. Christopher and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I knew how few miles I had left before I ran out of gas. I also knew the next gas station was further than the gas in my tank could take me. This was a moment of desperation, and my prayers rose to a high pitch. May I add that it was a very hot day and we had little or no water in the car. I was envisioning myself and the children sitting on the side of the road sweating and dehydrated.

By this time, my prayer was sweating out of my pores! I tried to hide the tears streaming down my face. Suddenly, an exit with a gas station appeared. I quickly made my way to the gas station and filled up my tank. I know exactly how much gas my minivan’s tank can hold. However, when I filled my tank, the meter read .1 gallons more than my tank could hold. How was that possible? I have no idea but I surely know now that full is so much better than empty!

I share this story to say that I spent the weekend with my oldest children at an amazing conference put on by Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. I have to tell you that spiritually I had been running on empty. I was not taking the time I needed to fill myself up with God’s grace. This weekend was like standing under a fire hose of the Holy Spirit! To say I am “full of grace” does not seem like an understatement. I recognize now that I need to stop running so hard and take time to fill up throughout my day. Enough of the running on empty. Too scary. Too tiring. Too worrisome. Instead I will pray, I will make time to read scripture, and I will spend time with our Lord in the Eucharist. I pray that my grace will overflow on those around me and fill them up! (and so on, and so on, and so on!)

Patience and Humility Can Be Found in the Toilet

If you pray for patience, God will bring you the perfect opportunities to learn how to be patient. If you pray for humility, He will do the same. I know this to be true because every time I think that I need work on a virtue, I think that praying for it will be some kind of short cut to learning how to live that virtue. Ha. Ha. Ha. Life doesn’t work that way, and neither apparently does God. You see, anything that is worthwhile takes time. I have been remodeling my bathrooms. My experience at this is basically nill. I am not too proud to ask for help. I just cannot at this moment afford professional contractors whose bids could pay for a semester of my son’s future college. So, I pick the brains of my siblings and parents and friends. Sometimes, one of them actually helps me do something, like change out the sinks. Because bathrooms are small, it seems like they should be quick and easy to update. That’s a joke.

I remember the first house my husband and I purchased. It had solid bones but was definitely outdated. We spent the first few years of our marriage (before we had children) painting and updating that house. One of the first rooms we tackled was…you guessed it: the bathroom. It was more like a small closet. It also had lots of bump outs and wall surfaces.  I chose a gorgeous vertical stripe wallpaper (popular back then) for the upper portion, and a solid dark blue paint for below the chair rail. It was during this project that I realized that my husband and I would stay married forever.

Why? Because every time we went to hang a piece of vertical stripe paper, it appeared to be diagonal. Not one single wall in that closet/bathroom was plumb. We started just “eyeballing” it, which worked until we hit a turn in the wall which was also not plumb. Our patience was increased by leaps and bounds throughout that project.

Fast forwards to today. I should have remembered all the time it took for that silly little bathroom when I undertook mine. One is completed (almost…there are always those nagging little details that need finishing up) and the other is 15% complete. I try to keep smiling and thanking God for giving me such a dose of patience and humility all in one project, as I scrub the tile with a toothbrush to bring back its original beauty. Tonight, I grout. Tomorrow, I install the toilet! Any well wishes and prayers are appreciated as I honestly have no idea what I am doing!

A little old soul

He was an old soul that I had never seen before. His hair was as dark as coal, and his eyes drew you in. He walked slowly but with purpose. His deep red vestments made him look like a king. When I first saw him, I thought, “Now, that’s how you wear red!” My mother-in-law commented on the gorgeous roses that covered the altar. They were beautiful, but my focus was elsewhere.

Today is the Feast of Pentecost. The day our Church was founded. The day when the Holy Spirit, the Consoler, the Advocate, the Unifier, came into the lives of the Apostles like a roaring wind and flames of fire. This huddled group of fear-filled men and the Blessed Mother received the very Love of God the Father and God the Son in the form of the Holy Spirit. It changed them forever.

As the incense rose from the altar, my thoughts rose to Heaven. The swirls of incense were very visible today, and seemed to move wherever they wished. This reminded me that God’s tremendous gift of the Holy Spirit with His many gifts and graces was washing over the entire Earth today. My heart was open and ready to receive. I prayed deeply for my entire family, for my friends, for my community and for our world.

That’s when this old soul, the priest I had never seen before, began to sing in Latin the Veni Sancti Spiritu or Come Holy Spirit. He humbly sat, pulled the microphone down to his level, and began to sing. His voice is a pure gift from God. It was so awe-inspiring that you could hear a pin drop once he started. When I heard this beauty, I closed my eyes and thought, “Now, that’s how you sing!”

His homily was an amazing story about Blessed John Henry Newman. About 150 years ago, he had traveled to Rome and was heading back to England by ship. His heart was heavy because he had come to believe that the Catholic Church was the one true church, but accepting this truth meant many losses for him. He felt stuck, and then the ship got stuck. The wind just stopped altogether. For an entire week, his ship was stuck on the sea outside the port of Rome, yet not on its way to England either. He realized that God was perhaps allowing this to show him the state of his soul. Newman could do nothing to change his heart or his physical situation. It was up to the “wind” or the Holy Spirit to come into his life and help him move towards the truth. And the wind did arrive, pushing Newman towards a major change for his entire life.

We all must pray for the Holy Spirit to give us the same courage and love that He gave Blessed John Henry Newman and the Apostles. May our hearts burn with this love and give it freely just as we have received it freely.  We will see that God does make all things new.  Won’t you pray with me?

Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Finding Our Green Thumbs

Our little garden is growing! I am so excited and so are the kids. You may think this sounds silly, but honestly, we put a lot of hard work into tilling the soil, clearing the tree roots and prepping the area so that our plantings would grow.  And now they are growing!

Our past attempts at a vegetable garden ended terribly. First, I chose a section of ground that was too large for one gardener. Second, I planted whatever my children selected from the seed store. Third, I didn’t really spend any time reading what each plant needed. Fourth, I ignored the fact that bunnies and squirrels and birds lived throughout our back yard. Fifth, I didn’t see a need for fencing or protecting these plants, figuring there would be enough for the animals and us. Finally, my children were about 10 years younger and their patience level was much less, too. So I had no time to ponder and plan as they wanted to plant their seeds and right now! The concept of patience and waiting was not so well-developed in them at that time, as well as the concept of growth taking time.

The results of our first garden almost ten years ago was a small breakfast cereal bowl of lettuce with a few carrots–as in two. The rest of the lettuce was devoured by our bunny friends before it even grew much above the ground. The carrots were also uprooted. The pumpkin and squash vines grew all over the garden, making us guess that we would have a bumper crop. Somehow, pollination just didn’t happen. Our flowers never became pumpkins. Lazy bees? Sick bees? Who knows! But no pumpkins or squash. We also planted some sunflowers which the kids were certain would grow huge. Hmmmm, I don’t think they even started out of the ground. With all the work we did for that garden, the kids were not very enthused about a bowl of lettuce and a few carrots. In fact, I think I ate the lettuce!

Fast forward to today. We only planted herbs, but my tea has already been quite tasty with some fresh mint leaves. The kids are planning to make Signora Maria’s famous homemade Marinara Sauce with fresh basil from the garden. Only a few more weeks and we’ll hopefully have tomatoes. We have lots of other herbs that my “sous chefs” will find recipes for. It should be a tasty summer.

My youngest has been taken on official watering status. Although God has been providing a lot of rain, she stands at the ready to fill in when needed. Tiny weeds have started peaking through the soil. She and I will tackle those tomorrow, while we smile at the giant tomato plants that have already grown taller than their stakes!

 

Summer Freeze Bath

Transitioning into summer has been like jumping into an ice-cold river! The universe seemed to get a signal that school was wrapping up and began to send wave upon wave of intensity at my doorstep. I thought I was ready for summer. Now I am not so sure.

I suppose my youngest said it best. We headed out to weed the front beds and she informed me, “Why did we wait so long to get to this? Look at all the weeds!” She was right. It had been too many weeks. But family and friends and family and vacations and visits came tripping into our lives day after day since before the end of May. If we had a free moment, we were either all doing laundry and putting our house back in order or not feeling well. This is the first weekend in a long time that our calendar is actually readable.

I had a lot of amazing plans for this summer. I wanted to get back into the bible study that the kids and I started last summer. I mentioned that our chef (a/k/a me) who prepares lunch and dinner would need a sous chef this summer and that each child would get a turn. I haven’t even started planning my overnight week camp for cousins and friends.

But reality is much different from plans. My focus has shifted from the “would like to’s” to the “have to’s”. I have a house to finish remodeling along with many repairs to be made. I have to take the youngest to their swim lessons and the oldest to his college classes. I have to find a way to let the children play, yet have time to get these “have to’s” done. The list keeps growing and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Although I think I am flexible and can roll with changes, I have not been handling all this very well. I got a little grumpy with God. I had to go to Confession again! Yes, I am definitely a sinner. My little plans had to shift. I should know by now that God has a bigger, better plan. But I don’t always have the faith I need. As my wise friend said, “You know what the motto in Hell is, don’t you? I did it MY way!”

I am so thankful for the Sacred Heart Sisters who shared with me and my family on a weekend retreat. They refilled my heart with good thoughts and solutions. They live their faith, and their joy is contagious. I sure needed that lift as I head into this summer. Thank you, God, for Sister Rose, Sister Teresa, Sister Adriane, and Sister Laura! Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

Whoosh, Heat, and Whisper

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit arrives like a whoosh that moves through you from head to toe. Other times, He’s like a radiating heat the moves outward from the inside. And yet, there are times when He is just a small whisper that you must be very still and listening to hear.

At my daughter’s Confirmation in the Basilica, the whoosh arrived as the entrance hymn began. I almost had to sit down. The whoosh often makes tears begin to fall from my eyes which is very humbling for me. I have spoken about my gift of tears in prior blogs. It is not something I would ever choose. But it is a gift and I do accept it now.

When I visited my niece at the hospital, she told me that as I was praying over her and blessing her with St. Jude oil, she could feel a heat radiating from me. It was real and tangible for her and I knew it was simply the Holy Spirit.

This week, I had the honor of sponsoring my friend’s daughter for Confirmation. I expected the whoosh, but it didn’t come. I waited for the radiating heat, but it wasn’t there. It was when my friend’s daughter kneeled in front of me to receive the Holy Eucharist on her tongue from the Archbishop who said, “Body of Christ” and she whispered “Amen” that the Holy Spirit made Himself known to me. What an amazing gift to receive the Eucharist and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity. I felt so unworthy to receive, but I, too, whispered, “Amen.”

 

 

 

Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue Teach Us How to Pray

May is Mary’s month. Today, my children and I held a May Procession to honor the Blessed Virgin. My eldest daughter was voted “May Queen” and carried the crown of roses. We sang our favorite hymns, processing to our statue of Mary in the front yard. My daughter crowned her as we sang, “Immaculate Mary.” We honored Our Blessed Mother as best we could out of love.

My devotion to Mary is a deep part of my faith life. I completely understand why St. Pope John Paul II chose the motto, “Totus Tuus” for his pontificate. He, too, had a very deep devotion to Our Lady. You see, Mary is the reason I found my way back to Jesus and God. Just like a good mom, she waded down into my mess and helped me rise up through it. She didn’t yank my arm or scold me. She just gently nudged me then offered her hand. Actually, it started one Christmas.

My husband and I had gone to university and become “brilliant.” We both walked away from our faith, although we both now acknowledge we really didn’t even know our faith. We went to a state university and got liberal arts degrees. We listened to the “enlightened” and questioned everything we had been taught, including our faith. Thankfully, neither one of us chose to go agnostic or atheist. We were Christians, but had no clue how to put that into practice outside of the Catholic Church.

We started visiting all different denominations to “church shop.” Sometimes, we would stay for a month or a year. We would always get involved, help serve, join Bible studies and try to get to know the Truth. But, when we asked the hard questions, the minister would either dodge or give a non-answer. The congregation was no help either. Half of them didn’t even understand why we wanted to know these answers. Honestly, we didn’t realize that the questions we were asking were theology questions. That’s how ignorant we were. Most of these denominiations’ theology was illogical or fundamentally flawed. Somehow, we both saw through this pretty quickly. That’s why we never stayed at a church long. To be sure, we were lost, but at least we were seeking the Truth.

Then, one Christmas, we were shopping at Barnes & Noble for Christmas gifts. I have mentioned before that books are my weakness. But after a few hours, even I was “booked” out. My husband suggested we stop at the in store Cafe for a refreshment. The store was absolutely packed. We decided to cut through a row of book shelves to beat the crowd. As we are speedily walking through, I abruptly halt, turn my head and pull a book off of the middle of a shelf. I say to my husband, “I am supposed to get this book.” He says, “What are you talking about? What book is it?” I didn’t know. I read the title, “Medjugorje: The Message” by Wayne Weible. My husband asked, “What is it about?” I said I didn’t know but Mary was on the front cover. He thought I was crazy but said, “Get it if you want.”

As I read this book , it changed my heart. After reading it, I wept in the shower for days. I turned to Mary for guidance and direction. I converted and handed my life over to her in a big way. I didn’t say a word of this to my husband. It was the beginning of a long journey back to our Catholic faith.

A few years later, I met the author Wayne Weible at a Catholic seminar. I introduced myself and shared my conversion story. He smiled and said that Mary has used him as an instrument for conversion. His book is not his own. It belongs to Mary. He shared enough stories with me that I realized that many, many people are finding their way home because the Blessed Mother is gathering them under her mantle. She is so gentle and loving. She shows us the surest path to her Son and like a good mother, makes sure her little ones are cared for along the way.

In all my brokenness, I had turned away from God. The sins of my past life weighed me down like an anchor. Seeking the Truth felt like running in circles because we could not find answers to our deepest questions. Enter Mary. Mary taught me how to pray. She opened the doors of my heart and allowed me a graceful return to my faith. When I was ready, she began to walk me through the life of her Son and explain what He has done for me. I haven’t always been the most disciplined or humble daughter, but she has never given up hope in me. Now, I see just how precious our Blessed Mother is for all of us. Jesus’ gift from the cross of His Mother is indeed one of the greatest gifts we could receive from Him. It is with deep gratitude and humility I pray, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!”

 

Is your marriage white, chocolate or lemon?

I traveled this weekend to say goodbye to the family farm. It has been in the family for over 150 years. My great-grandfather came from Germany and “pinned” the land. He gave each of his sons a farm. This gift meant a whole lot during the Depression. Our family didn’t suffer much because by then, we owned the land free and clear, along with the fact that growing food and livestock was part of the farm plans anyway.

Fast forward to the current generation of owners. My father and his three siblings jointly own the land. We have rented it to other farmers for decades. With the financial needs for medical care mounting for my elders, they have finally decided to sell.

So, we gathered for a “Farewell to the Farm” celebration. We also celebrated a 50th Wedding Anniversary, a 17th Wedding Anniversary, and a Wedding Engagement. Three generations of family celebrating the various states of marriage. My talented cousin whipped up one of her famous wedding cakes. It was a three-tier cake: white, chocolate, and lemon.

Isn’t that just like marriage? In the beginning, it’s white–pure and simple. Your love for each other helps you see just how wonderful that person is. Truly, your spouse is a gift from God. The white tier was the largest tier. That makes sense. Lots of people get married and love their spouse.

Then, as you progress through years of parenting, job changes, life changes, things can get a little murky. You begin to see your spouse’s faults so clearly, even while you ignore your own! But through this process, if God is the center of your marriage, love becomes much richer and deeper because it is a choice, not an emotion. This chocolate cake was the second tier and it wasn’t quite as big as the white cake. That also makes sense because many people don’t put God at the center of their marriage. When they finally see their spouse, warts and all, they want to divorce. Never mind that they have their warts, too! Yep, not as many marriages make it to the chocolate stage.

Finally, if you make it through the gauntlet, you arrive at the realization that you picked a lemon, but you managed to make lemonade! You’ve learned to take the sweet and sour of life together in stride. This was by far the smallest tier on the cake. Many people make it through those child-rearing years, only to find that they no longer know or care about their spouse. God was never the center of their marriage, and they were just getting through life, holding it together for the kids. Once the kids are gone, another portion of marriages end in divorce. Definitely, the smallest amount of marriages arrive at lemon.

All this to say that although “farewell to the farm” is sad, our family celebrates as it continues to grow and welcome new members with love. And yes, some marriages will not make it, but we pray that each couple keeps God at the center of their lives together and find that sweet spot called lemon.

Sad, Happy, Sad, Happy, Sad, Happy for the Rain

The rain doesn’t care one drip about our emotions. In fact, it really has nothing to do with them from a logical point of view. However, put the rain into a context, and suddenly it has everything to do with our emotions.

One week ago today, the children awoke and pulled up the hourly forecast. Every website they could find predicted 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms. They were so sad! That’s when the cancellation email arrived–Field Day has been rescheduled.

This morning, my children cheered when the hourly forecast said 0% chance of rain for the afternoon. They were so happy! Why? It is Field Day and all the fun games in the world happen on Field Day.

Because we are in the midst of soccer season, I asked three of my children to pack their soccer uniforms and bags. We had to leave early from Field Day to make it to the other side of town for their early evening games. I also asked one to pack her tap class attire because her teacher begged me in the rain last week to try to make it to class.

At the very end of Field Day, it started to rain and lightning. Luckily, the organizers had hurried things along, so prizes had already been awarded. My kids were sad that it was raining again and Field Day fun was ended early.

As we rushed to the minivan before the downpour, and loaded in the car, my kids were happy to be headed to their soccer and dance commitments.

After tap class, we headed to the soccer fields where miraculously two of my children had games at the same time at adjoining fields! We arrived a bit early to the sunny fields and were planning our upcoming trip when the call came from my coach/husband. The games had both been cancelled because of the rain. My kids were sad that they were not able to play their rain out make-up games because of a rain out!

As I said, the rain doesn’t care one drip about our emotions, but boy does it keep us on a roller coaster sometimes. Meanwhile, all I could think was happy thoughts about not having to water my garden!!

 

Digging in the Dirt All Day

What could be more fun than digging in the dirt? My oldest son and I started tearing into a piece of ground that has been hounding me to make it into a garden. Almost 8 years later, I succumbed! Because of its location, there could be no roto-tiller action. This had to be hand dug with shovels. As an added bonus, the stump of on old magnolia tree was hidden beneath the rocks and dirt. Fortunately, it had already started to decompose so that much of it was easily removed.

After we tackled the first layer, my son mentioned he had to shower before piano lessons and disappeared. I asked him to send one of his siblings back in his place. My eldest daughter arrives. She is eating a peanut butter and jelly because she knows she is leaving for soccer practice soon. I beg a half hour of her time, and she gladly assists me. She and I dig a trench that is 1 foot wide and 1 foot deep and 6 feet long. She helps me with clearing roots and rocks. I am thrilled with her help. My husband/soccer coach calls to her that it’s time to leave. I beg her to send another sibling in her place.

My youngest daughter soon arrives on the scene. I have her change out of flip-flops and pull back her hair. She is the ultimate rock/root remover. We are making steady progress and starting to combine the hard clay pieces with fresh, moist fertilized garden soil, when my youngest son chances his way outside. I ask him to join us. He tells me he would rather not. I explain that someday he may want to know how to plant a garden and I may not be around to show him. Now is the time if he wants this life skill. He actually goes and gets his work clothes on and comes back outside. Unbelievable!

I give him the shovel and show him what to do. He starts digging away. He actually is enjoying this and says so. I guess he forgot all those hours he spent digging in our turtle-shaped sand box that now sits empty by the driveway. I knew he would enjoy this part. Then his shovel hits something hard. It is a root. He begins to excavate around it. It just keeps getting bigger. He decides he will try to cut it out. Whack. Whack. Whack. This goes on for quite some time. Now, my oldest son joins us again. He takes over the whacking. After 15 minutes, we were only halfway through the root. I suggest we leave that root and move on. There is plenty more dirt to dig.

This is the point where things were no longer fun. My youngest started singing songs which was annoying her brothers. The boys wondered how much longer this would take. I suggested my daughter should stop singing because when working with a crew, you have to be considerate of others. She asked what we should do then. I suggested, “Ora et Labora” which in Latin means pray and work. I told them this is the motto of the Benedictines, so we were being Benedictines today. I think they will choose a different order if they discern a vocation to the priesthood or religious life!

One by one, the children would disappear, but at least one would stay and help. This went on for most of the day. After about 6 hours, with two 15-minute breaks for meals, we had prepped the soil, planted our garden, and placed the fencing and netting to keep out all the creatures. It looks awesome and I must say it was truly a family affair. We are all pleased by accomplishing such a rewarding task. As we drove to the Snow Cone hut for a well deserved treat, we began to take guesses which critter or bug would eat our plants this time. I just hope the deer don’t want greens for a late night snack tonight!