Monthly Archives: March 2014

Being a helpmate of my husband

Being the head of the household must be a challenging job, especially when you have a wife like me. In Ephesians 5, St. Paul makes it clear that just as Christ is the head of the Church, and we are the body, so the husband is the head of the wife. Of course, many people overlook the next verse of this important message. To sum up, Christ loved his Church so much, that he gave his life for them.

I think my husband is much like Christ. He works hard every day at a job that doesn’t necessarily give him warm fuzzies and is surrounded by a materialistic, worldly, self-interested group of people. But he continues and perseveres, always doing the right and honest thing, even if it hurts his paycheck or chances of promotion because he is a man of integrity. That’s why I married him and I hope and pray that never changes.

Now, don’t get me wrong. He grumbles and stresses and worries. He is not perfect, nor am I. At times, he thinks that I am trying to run the show. Honestly, both of us have issues with trying to run our own game plan instead of listening to God’s plan for our life together. So instead of turning to God, we sometimes are like two people in a tug-of-war, feeling as if one or the other is winning or getting their way. God must be looking down at us and just shaking His head. I know how I feel as a parent when my children behave this way, and God loves us more than a parent loves a son or daughter, but I am certain at times He must be amazed at how we choose to use our free will.

A dear friend of mine shared some insight into the life of the Holy Family. I have developed a devotion to St. Joseph because he lived with two people who were like no other on earth, and had the responsibility of being the head of their household. My friend shared that although the Blessed Virgin Mary was without sin, she still deferred to St. Joseph as the head of the household. This made me stop in my tracks. It is making me take a long, hard look at myself and my willingness to serve and be subject to other. I fully understand that marriage is a mutual self-giving, a communion of persons. I just had not realized how much my own pride and will get in the way of fulfilling that ideal of marriage. I need to let go of my plans, listen to God more, and be the helpmate to my husband I am meant to be. Sometimes, this will be a giving up of self and of control. I really don’t like the thought of having to do this, but I will do it out of love.

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The Worst News Ever?!

Here’s a roundup of the news I have received from this past week: Stroke. Car accident. Death. Terminal illness. Back strain. Divorce. Alcoholism.

Now, before you think all of these things happened to me, well, they did and they did not. What I mean to say is that I would argue all of this does in some way happen to you when you have a large family full of love and brokenness. Yes, some of the suffering is self-inflicted, but some of the suffering comes on in its own.

Our response to suffering shows a really clear picture of where we stand emotionally, morally and spiritually. It’s why one of my friends who is a Protestant minister likes to perform funerals. She says that it is when the suffering is at its peak, so the people are most open to hearing God’s Word. Their hard hearts have been cracked, just a little, by the loss. They become real again, facing things that they have ignored for a long time.

My prayer has always been to let God help me see through the light of Christ, so that when the suffering comes, whether of my own making or on its own, I am strengthened and can give God glory even in those moments.

I was deeply impacted when I watched a news report about 10 years ago when a man lost his entire family in a freak flash flood which washed his minivan off the highway into flash river in a location where this had never occurred before. During his interview, he explained that he and his wife had adopted many children with disabilities. They were all in the car. When the water came over their car, he could not get to his family because he was sucked out through the front windshield. He watched his wife and all of his adopted children get pushed down into the river in their minivan.

His response was, of course, sorrow. But, he said he could not be mad at God. This happened in his life and he trusted God had a plan for him. He quoted the Bible verse that speaks to trusting in God with all your heart. I had never witnessed what that meant until I saw this man on television. He was that Bible verse.

I pray that God will show me how to trust him in those dark moments. I pray that my prayers for my family bring healing and love. I pray that suffering can be offered up for the whole world and make our world a place of deep, abiding peace. I know suffering will come. I hope that I am ready.

Eaten by the Media Monster

Listening is a lost art.  Because I have chosen to listen this Lent, I am becoming supremely aware of all the “shouting” that goes on around me. Media messages are constantly bombarding us, and they do affect us. If you don’t believe this, I think you are either very naive or foolish.

The other day, I was driving in my car and praying. Sometimes, my car is a sanctuary because it is a place where I am by myself. I love my family, but we are all home together more than the average family in America. There are occasions when I need to have “alone time.” So, I found myself running errands and praying.

The first stop I had to make was at the Mall. I noticed right away the piped in music. I though to myself, “No silence allowed here.” Many of the stores had such large, graphic ads plastered across their storefronts that 20 years ago you would have only found in a PlayBoy magazine! I see families strolling together right past these ads, totally oblivious. Every store seems to have its own music blaring. “Who can think straight in this mess,” I wonder to myself.

I had to stop for gas next. As I turn on the pump, up pops a television screen and loud advertnewsment? As far as I can tell, there is no way to turn it off. “Wow,” I think to myself, “I cannot even fill up my car with gas without being bombarded by this junk.”

Finally, I get to the mechanic for an oil change. I have to wait in a lobby. You guessed correctly–giant screen television blaring away. I spy the remote. No one else is around. I pick it up and turn off the television. Out of nowhere, an employee appears. “Oh no, the television is broken,” he says. I explain that I chose to turn it off. The look on his face said everything. Apparently, turning off the television is forbidden or just plain odd. Since no one else was there, he allowed it. As soon as my car was ready, and I was backing out of the parking spot, I noticed him heading over to turn the television back on.

What happened to good old-fashioned conversation? What happened to clear thinking? What happened to ‘silence is golden’? Apparently, it got eaten by the media monster! And no one seems to have noticed or cared.

Which Poverty Would You Pick?

Poverty is on my mind today. As an American, I do not think that I fully understand true material poverty. I have always had food to eat and a roof over my head. But this isn’t the only type of poverty. There is spiritual poverty. I have been debating which is worse: material poverty or spiritual poverty?

I have some experience with material poverty. Being in a large family, I saw all the sacrifices my parents made to ensure that our needs were met, yet we definitely had no excess. My mom stayed home with us while dad worked long hours. When other children came to our home, they couldn’t understand why each person was limited to 2 slices of pizza (homemade, of course!) My older sister and I shared clothing. I remember a time when all I had was a uniform which I wore to school, a pair of jeans, a top, a Sunday church outfit and hand-me-down pajamas.

I also have experience with spiritual poverty. As a liberal arts major at a public college, I was given a heavy dose of Marxism and Existentialism which rocked my world view. I was not wise enough to question these philosophies, nor was I formed enough in my own faith to combat the questions they raised. I actually believed my professors who said things like, “Forget everything that your parents have taught you. Their ideas are outdated. We are open-minded here and consider all thoughts.” These statements were lies on a very fundamental level which I won’t go into now. However, I did believe these professors and I let their agenda influence me. Over time, I found myself in a deep spiritual poverty. The choices I made during this dark time of my life were harrowing to say the least.

I guess in the end I would look to two world figures who probably know poverty better than most people, or at least show by their actions that they care for the poor. First, there is Blessed Mother Teresa. In A Simple Path: Mother Teresa, she says: “There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

Blessed Mother Teresa would visit America only out of obedience. It was very hard for her to be amidst such spiritual poverty. The material of poverty in India was easier for her to deal with than the spiritual poverty here. I feel her pain. I believe that spiritual poverty is much more challenging than material poverty. As I typed that last sentence, I am realizing that now that I have written this, God will probably let me experience true material poverty, which is scary indeed!

But the real difference in the types of poverty and how to respond to them is wonderfuly stated by the second world figure who I think deserves to be listened to because of his actions. That is Pope Francis. I think this excerpt from Pope Francis’ Lenten message for 2014 sums it up quite nicely:

“In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual. Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.

No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person – is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us though Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.

The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution: wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness. It means following and imitating Jesus, who sought out the poor and sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep. In union with Jesus, we can courageously open up new paths of evangelisation and human promotion.

 

Humility of Being Pulled Over on a Ten Speed

This is a true story that happened to me when I was at the tender age of 14. I say this because even as I write this, it seems unbelievable. As I mentioned in a prior post “Banana-Seat Bikes and Penny Candy“, my childhood included many bicycling adventures.

One Saturday, I decided to ride my bike down to the bank and deposit some birthday cash I had received. Unfortunately, my banana-seat bike had a flat tire. I asked my younger brother if I could borrow his ten-speed and he agreed. He was quite a bit taller than I was, and since it was a boy’s bike, it had that annoying bar across the middle. This meant that for me to ride his bike, I had to tip it way over and sorta swing myself and the bike up to balance and go. The bank was only a mile or so away, so I figured I could manage.

All was well until I came to the last stop sign across from the bank. I came to a complete stop but never got off the bike. I just balanced at a stop for a moment, looked both ways and continued riding across the street. Now, the bank was located in a busy neighborhood retail area where everyone liked to go on the weekend. Imagine sidewalks with couples strolling with their dog, families with baby strollers, and lots of car traffic.

Suddenly, I see and hear police lights and sirens behind me. I pull over in front of the bank to see what is going on. The police officer pulls in behind me. I cannot believe it. He is pulling me over on a ten speed bike! He gets out of his car and asks to see my identification. Of course, being 14 years old, I have none and tell him so. He doesn’t believe me. Now, I am a young-looking 14-year-old. I was very petite and definitely not mature at this point in my life.

Meanwhile, his police lights are still on and the entire community around us has stopped to watch this unfold. I remember the looks on people’s faces–jaws dropped, wide eyes, no movement. I continue to explain that I am not old enough to have a license. He tells me that I should have gotten off my bike and walked it across the intersection. I am not even sure this is required by law. I apologize and say I will next time. He says that I will be the kind of driver that kills people. I say I will be more careful. He gets back in his car. I go inside the bank.

I watch him from the bank lobby. After he drives away, I immediately get back on my bike and head home. I never deposited the cash. I think my bicycling was much more dangerous on the way home because I was crying the whole time. I think of this humiliating situation and realize that being humbled can come to us in the most unexpected ways. And believe me, I never borrowed my brother’s bike again.

Fitting my son for a Cross

I am measuring my son’s arm span this morning to fit him for a cross. Last night, I wove a crown of thorns. As I worked, I was thinking things like, “Hmmm…those thorns don’t look sharp enough. How do I make them sharp? Do I have enough big thorns?” I feel like I am in a really terrifying Twilight Zone episode!

We are putting on a Passion Play and my son auditioned and received the part of Jesus. The director spent quite some time preparing him for this role. Not only mentally and emotionally but spiritually. She is a nationally recognized professional who has been in all sorts of performances, but she shared with him that anyone who takes on the role of Jesus Christ is always in for a tremendous journey of faith. I can see that I am in for a journey, too.

When I found out my son had the part of Jesus, tears welled up in my eyes. I have such a deep devotion to our Blessed Mother that I have very intense feelings of her sorrow during her Son’s Passion. I am not sure how I will be able to be the Stage Manager while watching my son walk the Way of the Cross.

As I shared all of this with my dear friend, she turned to me and said, “How do you think I feel? My daughter is the tormentor!” We both laughed until tears ran down our faces. Thank you, God, for dear friends who can make us laugh when facing something difficult.

 

Wonderful, Scary, Sad Announcements

I’ve been thinking about announcements–when they occur, what they mean and why we make them. In my life, there have been wonderful announcements, scary announcements and sad announcements.

Wonderful announcements: “We’re engaged.” or “I’m expecting.” or “It’s a boy!”

Scary announcements: “A tornado is touching down.” or “An airplane has flown into the twin towers.” or “Your youngest brother has cancer.”

Sad announcements: “We’re getting divorced.” or “Grandma died.” or “You are losing this baby.”

It really doesn’t matter who delivers these messages, when they deliver them or how they deliver them to you, there is this feeling right before the message that sinks into your heart. Sometimes, in that moment, it is even hard to understand what exactly is being said because the reality of the statement is just too much to bear.

On the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord, I wonder if Mary felt all these things at once–wonder, fear and sadness–when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her. What an announcement that was for her to receive!

Although the announcements in my life are minor compared to Mary’s, I think about how impactful those moments were in my life and how I had to really spend some time processing the news, either good or bad. I do not think I always respond in the best way. Instead, I let fear or despair or sadness or pride reign over me.

But the Blessed Mother’s “yes” to an announcement that is beyond all announcements has changed the world. I am trying to learn to say “yes” like her and change this little corner of the world around me. O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

 

 

Busted with Juicy Fruit Gum

This morning I was reminded of a time when I was 5-years-old and my brother was 4-years-old, and we went grocery shopping with our mom. Since our family was rather large, grocery shopping was always a two-cart trip, and check out took quite awhile or at least it felt that way to us as kids. As we were standing there, my brother pointed out a giant bin full of Juicy Fruit gum. As kids, we had no idea there was a fake bottom to the display, so it appeared to be full of double packs of gum from the floor up to our noses. He was brilliant, as I mentioned in an earlier post, so I usually believed what he said to be true. He said to me something like, “Gee, that’s a lot of gum. It will probably go bad before they even have a chance to sell it. We should help them and take a pack.”

I would like to say that I replied something like, “Well, that would be stealing, and it is wrong.” But I’m as weak as the next person, so I said, “Okay.” I promptly stole a pack of gum, unbeknownst to my mom. His argument had sounded reasonable to me in my Kindergarten thought process.

When we arrived home, the usual routine was that every child helped unload the station wagon full of groceries. As my mom headed inside to gather the rest of my siblings, my brilliant brother and I headed around back of the house to the backyard. We quickly unwrapped a piece of gum for each of us and started chewing. “If Mom catches us, we’ll be dead,” I think I said. So, we decided to open all the gum and chew it all at once. Now, remember, this is a double pack of Juicy Fruit. Our little mouths could barely hold one half of the gum. And here comes Mom around the corner, “What are you two doing?” With full mouths and silver wrappers blowing in the wind around our ankles, we try to answer. “Did you steal gum from the store?” she asked. Oh boy. This is going to be painful.

Once the groceries were inside, Mom plopped us back in the station wagon and headed to the grocery store. I know I was crying, but I cannot remember what my partner in crime was doing. She marched us in the store and asked for the Store Manager. We had to admit we stole the gum and apologize for what we had done. The Store Manager felt bad for us, and said he accepted our apology and appreciated our honesty. My mom paid for the gum, and we had to earn that money to pay her back by working  around the house. Lesson learned!

Fast forward 30 years. My family is visiting a Shrine with a souvenir shop. My son asks if I will buy him a small trinket. I decline. He pockets the item, only to be discovered when we arrive home 2 hours later. Do you know what I did? That’s right. We headed back to the Shrine the first thing the next morning because it would be closed by the time we could have arrived on that same day. I marched him into the Shrine and asked for the Store Manager. He had to admit he had stolen the trinket and apologize for what he had done. I paid for the trinket and he had to earn that money by working around the house.

But wait, there’s a problem we encountered. The Store Manager actually said that it was okay that my son stole the trinket, and that my son could keep the trinket for free. What? Hello? I couldn’t believe it. Here was an adult telling my child that stealing was okay? At a religious shrine, no less? If he had said that he forgave my son, but that my son needed to pay for the trinket, that would have made sense. Or if he had accepted my son’s apology and appreciated his being honest, that would have made sense. But to say that my son was innocent was insane.

I spent the drive home discussing why the Ten Commandments are crystal clear about stealing, and how even if other people, including adults, would like to say it is otherwise, stealing is wrong. Through this experience, I saw even more clearly why our world today has problems. I sure hope my son learned the lesson I learned as a child, not the “tolerant” one that the Store Manager at the Shrine hoped to teach.

Are you a human being or a human doing?

I’ve been getting a lot of calls lately from close friends, family members and even acquaintances that have an overwhelming need to vent. These calls or conversations last at least an hour or two. If I had to group these conversations into a category, I would name them “mid-life discontent” or something of that nature. I have listened to both men and women who range in age from late 30s to early 50s.

I am a pretty good listener. I really try to understand their perspective. I also try to imagine the other person’s perspective, too. Often times, after listening for a long, long time, what I suggest is not what they want to hear. Why? Because usually it is true and it is hard to do. Believe me, I know this to be true because I have good friends who will listen to me and suggest the wise course, which I sometimes do not want to take!

I called these conversations “mid-life discontent” because my callers are usually not happy about a situation in their lives. Sometimes, it is a result of their choices. Other times, it is a result of their spouse’s choices. Often times, it is because they chose to act before seeking wise counsel or discerning God’s will. In our hurry-up-and-go world full of messages of instant gratification, slowing down and listening and pondering the right choice is not even considered. It seems that we have taken in the lie that we should always be “doing” something versus “being” someone.

I work really hard to be a human “being”. I try not to rush ahead to solve a problem or to accomplish my own game plan before listening and discerning. Sometimes, I am accused of being “lazy” or not being open to a change. That is not so! If only the accusers understood how much self-control it takes for me to slow down, listen and wait!!! It is not in my nature to do these things. It has taken considerable prayer and change for me to get to this point. I like to “do” just as much as anyone, but I have learned the hard way that “being” is much better than “doing.” So, even when I am being confronted for my lack of “doing”, I fall back on prayer and listen to God’s will. It has served me much, much better than my old human “doing”…Now, if I could just get more people to try it!

 

Take Turns Doing the Hard Jobs

Today, we decided to tackle the kitchen flooring. We are removing two layers of vinyl(?) flooring that apparently were stuck on with super, gorilla glue. This is back-breaking work and progress is very slow. Our friend is planning to drop by a tool that will help make this less miserable, but in the meantime, we have discovered what works and what doesn’t.

I discovered a “shovel” of sorts in the garage corner which I thought would be dandy to use. It is thin at the end and I visualized shoveling whole tiles at one shove. Ha, ha, ha. Meanwhile, my son took the crowbar and hammer approach. When I saw the progress he was making, I dug through the tools for a sledge-hammer. I handed it to him with a big smile. One whack and we knew we found a winning combination!

We started out with great spirits. My son, using the crowbar/sledge-hammer combo, and myself using the crowbar/hammer combo. After about 15 minutes, I was really done. My back hurt and my arms felt like noodles. I decided to do the final vacuum and tamping of the staple ends in our front room. My son stuck with the floor removal for another 30 minutes. Then he needed a break. So I took over the floor removal and sent him to the garage to work on preparing the cabinetry we will be selling.

All day long, we took turns doing the hardest job (floor removal) and finding other smaller, easier jobs that needed doing (removing baseboard, fixing cabinetry). If one of us found a better way to do something, we shared it. For example, I discovered a super easy way to remove staples from the front of our old cabinetry. I turned that job over to my son and headed back to the floor removal.

I share all of this to say that I think in every part of life, we should take turns doing the hard jobs. I am not sure that I have done this for most of my life, but it just makes sense. Working on a project is so much nicer when everyone involved is willing to do the hard stuff and not just push it onto the “new” guy or the lowest paid worker. I also think we should always share with others any information that is helpful or makes things easier. I know that not everyone does this in life, but we should.

Well, we still have about half the kitchen to go, but the great news is that my husband just got home. Oh, the fun he will have learning the crowbar/sledge-hammer combo!