Monthly Archives: March 2014

I Found the Hidden Treasure

Remodeling is hard work! My son and I just finished ripping out most of our kitchen. We also pulled up carpeting in our front room. In my earlier post, “What Lies Hidden Beneath?” I was sharing that I was a bit afraid of what I might find underneath the carpeting. I found myself comparing the carpet removal process to our spiritual lives.

To recap:
Pristine carpeting yet full of dust = our souls  partially clean, partially murky
Carpet pad (with crumbling sections) = our hardness of heart/unforgiveness
Hardwood floor = beauty of ourselves (body and soul) made in God’s image
Staples (brittle, stuck deep) = sin that needs to be removed

So, we started working on the staple removal process. And let me tell you, it is S-L-O-W going! You cannot stand to do very much at a time because it overwhelms you. For every few staples we can easily remove, the next few break in half, right at the wood floor. Our knees and elbows hurt and are bruised (and we are even using knee pads!)

This was the most mentally demanding work of all because it was no fun and felt like progress was at a snail’s pace. This is much like getting rid of those long festering sins in our lives. When we finally decide to work on them, we think it will be easy. It is not. It can definitely be discouraging at first. Perseverance becomes a real word that means something more than you ever realized before in your life!

As you can imagine, my son and I were high-fiving each other when we pulled the last staple and swept up the final, horrible remains of the crumbling, chalk-like carpet pad. We were so proud of persevering and finishing the job. That’s when our friend arrived and pointed out to us that when they sand and refinish these hardwood floors, all those little holes from the staples will show right back up. We will have to use a special tool to tap the tiny staples that we could not extract back down into the wood. I suppose these small, unextractable “sins” are like what St. Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 12 when he says, “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

But that’s not all! After tapping these down, we have to carefully find each single hole created by the staples or nails along the edges and fill them with a special filler. Aha! Now this is exciting and makes tremendous sense. I feel like I found the hidden treasure! It just came to me that once we are cleansed of sin, we must always remember to ask the Holy Spirit to fill those places we have emptied. I think St. Paul says it best: “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” I think we’ll keep that as our prayer in mind as we are on our knees slowing filling each little hole…

My brother and his kite

My younger brother has always been my chum. I’m not from England, so I really don’t know why that word came to mind, but it fits our relationship perfectly. I don’t recall us ever fighting as children. Sincerely, I mean ever! We are less than 16 months apart in age, but never felt in competition. He did, however, make my life quite interesting.

My brother has a brilliant mind. He has a photographic memory. When he took the aptitude tests trying to discern what work suited him best, the tester basically said, “Pick anything you like, you can do it all.” If you think I am bragging on him, you are wrong. This is a huge burden for anyone, especially a Christian: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Yikes! All of this to set you up for the story of his kite.

One day, another brother of mine told me to come up to the third floor of our home. We lived in a large, old house with three stories, two staircases, and many bedrooms. A family of 13 requires some space! Anyway, when I came upstairs, I see my brilliant brother hanging out the third floor window. “What are you doing?” I ask. He smiles and shows me the largest spool of kite string I have seen in my life, “Flying my kite.” “What?” I say as I see that the spool is unwinding. My eye follows the  string out the window. I cannot see the kite. It is so far away that it just looks like a string going up into the air. I ask my brother, “How long is your kite string?” He smiles and says, “At least one mile.”

I decide to get on my bike along with two of my other younger brothers and follow the string. It’s hard going because the kite flies as the crow flies, not as the streets go. We figure out a system, and between the three of us, we finally spy the kite flying like a dot way up in the sky about 9 blocks from our house. Right as we all see it, the string breaks and the kite starts flying away. We get on our bikes and chase it as it falls from the sky into a giant pine tree many more blocks away. There’s no getting the kite out of that tree whose lowest branch is a couple of stories high. We ride home to tell my brother about where we found his kite and laugh a long time at the thought of flying a kite out of the third-story window with string a mile long. Like I said, life was never dull growing up with my brother.

Husband, Father, Superman?

My husband has taught me a lot about  being a good father. I remember the years when I was home with toddlers and babies all day long. My husband would walk through the door after work and I would basically hand off our children to him. I had no more energy or ability to cope. I didn’t always remember to stop and ask how his day went. Never mind that he had experienced a harrowing day at the office with co-workers who were more worried about their pocketbook than their souls.

But my husband always stepped right in and never complained. He changed diapers. He fed bottles. He gave baths. He played with our children. He made meals for them. Really, he did just about everything, even if it was uncomfortable at first.

Lest you think that he is Superman, I must share that when our first child was born, my husband didn’t sleep for three months. It was not because my husband was up in the night with feedings either. In fact, I had no idea this was going on. I thought I was the only one with odd hours because of the nighttime awakenings of our baby. It wasn’t until about a year later that my husband told me about his three months of no sleep. Basically, he said, “When you get something as simple as a driver’s license, they make you take a test. But we get a real, live baby, and there’s no instruction manual or anything.”

I had no idea how overwhelmed he was with this new responsibility. I was clueless because I came from a very large family where I had 7 younger brothers. Babies were like breathing for me. I started babysitting for families with 6 kids under the age of 5 when I was 12 years old! So, I know that my motherhood came easy for me. It was a gift from my parents. My husband was the youngest of 4 spread out across 12 years. He was also close to the youngest cousin on both sides of his family. He really had no experience with child care. That’s why he is so amazing to me! He just took on the challenge and made it look easy.

On this Feast Day of St. Joseph, I just want to give a shout out to God in thanksgiving for my husband. There are many more wonderful things he has done and continues to do as a father. What a blessing he is in our life!

What Lies Hidden Beneath?

I’m in the midst of a remodeling project. Because I am thrifty, my family is doing as much of the work as we can. This means tearing things apart which my sons find quite wonderful. We have pretty much redone this entire house except for the kitchen and two bathrooms. This week, we are dismantling the kitchen and pulling up carpeting. It was our hope and prayer that the hardwood floors would still be in good shape. The question we all were wondering as we began the ripping out process is “What lies hidden beneath?”

Okay, you may find this odd, but I am constantly finding that God speaks to me even through carpet that is 40+ years old! Think of a green from the 1960s…not avacado but a more of a classic light green. This carpet looks pristine because it is wool and apparently no one was allowed to “play” in this area. However, as we rip into the carpet, layers of dust come at us as we choke . This is like our souls. We may look fresh and clean and well-kept on the outside, but beneath this “surface” is some pretty awful stuff.

Next, we get to the carpet pad. It is thick and red. “Wow, this was nice stuff when they bought it,” I say to my son. However, some portions of this thick, red padding have become hard as rock! Crumbling, chunks of substance like chalk. “Huh,” I think to myself, “this is like parts of our hearts where we sealed off ourselves because of unforgiveness. There’s nothing left to work with here. It’s just crumbling away into dust.”

Finally, we get to the floor. It’s hardwood and it is beautiful. Oops. I forgot. There are rows and rows and rows of large carpeting staples that need removing. I try my usual method (pliers), only to find that these staples have been in here so long, they are brittle and just break, leaving me to wrestle the tiny nubs out of the hard, hard wood. These are like our sins that have gone deep into the depths of us. They have become us, and we must work hard to ply them out of the beauty that God made us.

I cannot wait to see what the rest of this remodeling job has in store for me. I must admit though I’m a bit afraid of what lies hidden beneath.

The Gift of Tears on St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Although I don’t believe I have any Irish ancestry, I sure feel Irish. My childhood parish was “The Fighting Irish” and we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in a big way every year. My husband definitely has Irish in him on his mother’s side. What does any of this have to do with the gift of tears?

Let me explain. I seem to have the gift of tears. What this means is that any time a deep truth is being spoken, I cry. Well, I wouldn’t call it crying, I would just say that tears begin to pour out of my eyes. I know this is a “gift” but at times it sure doesn’t feel like it. People generally think I am sad, which I am definitely not. It’s like having a truth-o-meter inside of you. As you can imagine, most people are not used to this and really do not know how to respond when this starts happening. I have no idea how long I will have this gift. I do believe it is from God. I try not to make a big deal about it, but today at Mass, the water works were in full gear. I sometimes wish my tears were invisible so that no one would be upset or worried or focused on me.

Now, what does this have to do with St. Patrick’s Day? Well, today in the Magnificat I read a “medieval Irish poem” that I would like to share as my gift to you. I just wonder if the author of this poem (it appears to be anonymous) knew what he or she was really asking for?

A PRAYER TO REMOVE THE WOODEN BEAM

Grant me tears, O Lord, to blot out my sins; may I not cease from them, O God, until I have been purified.

May my heart be burned by the fire of redemption; grant me pure tears for Mary…

When I contemplate my sins, grant me tears always, for great are the claims of tears on cheeks.

Grant me tears when rising, grant me tears when resting, beyond your every gift altogether for love of you, Mary’s Son.

Grant me tears in bed to moisten my pillow, so that his dear ones may help to cure the soul.

Grant me contrition of heart so that I may not be in disgrace; O Lord, protect me and grant me tears…

For my anger, my jealousy, and my pride, a foolish deed, in pools from my inmost parts bring forth tears.

My falsehoods, my lying, and my greed, grievious the three, to banish them all from me, O Mary, grant me tears.

 

How to Accept Gifts With Grace

Graciously accepting gifts is harder than it sounds. In my family, accepting a compliment was like bragging. If you were gifted in any way, that was obvious and so it didn’t need to be mentioned. Since I was raised in this type of environment, I didn’t even realize that I had a problem graciously accepting gifts, even as small as a compliment. So this post is for those of you out there like me, who need some ideas on how to be a gracious “receiver” of the gift.

First, let me help you identify if you have this problem. Here are some of the ways it might manifest in your life:

Situation #1:
A co-worker gives you a simple compliment such as, “I like your new haircut.” You immediately respond, “Oh, well, I think it’s too short for what I really wanted and I’m not sure I can even manage to style it right.” That is not the way to accept a compliment.

Instead, you should say, “Well, thanks!” It’s as simple as that. How I came to realize this is a co-worker told me that I would never accept her compliments and it bothered her. She gave me specific examples, and I realized she was right. I have learned to say, “Thank you,” although if feels like my mouth is full of rocks.

Situation #2:
While visiting a neighbor’s house, she offers you a bottled water or something to eat. You immediately say, “Oh, I’m fine.” And you may have just had lunch and are truly full. That is not the way to accept your hostess’ gift.

Try this instead: out of courtesy, accept the water or food. You do not have to finish it and that is not wasteful. Breaking bread together (or drinking water) is a simple way to show you are friends with someone.

Situation #3:
A  friend points out that you have a natural talent at (fill-in-the-blank). You laugh it off and say, “Oh, I am not really that good at (fill-in-the-blank). That is not the way to accept your God-given gifts. 

God does not make junk! You were given some amazing gifts that only you have. They are irreplaceable and there is no one on this planet who can come close to being you! I suggest you respond with, “Why, I never realized that before now. I am so glad you pointed that out because you are right, I am good at (fill-in-the-blank).” Then thank God the next time you pause in prayer!

 

The Wild, Wild West of the Internet

My husband and I decided to simplify our lives and reduce the quantity of furniture, collectibles and paintings that we have acquired over the years. Honestly, most of it was collected by his parents and no one else in the family is interested in sorting through and dealing with the good, the bad and the ugly. So, I  have been assigned the task of venturing into E-bay and Craigslist–scary territory! Selling things over the internet is like the Wild, Wild West. The rules seem to be sketchy at best.

The first thing I did was spend some time seeing if any of the items we are trying to offload are actually worth anything. So far, I have found a few of the exact same items for sale on E-bay but they were priced very high and never sold. I decided to list the furniture on Craigslist for a quicker sale. I really have no clue what I am doing but the school of hard knocks has taught me some of the rules of the Wild, Wild West:

1. Haggling is the norm. If you list something for, say $150, expect the buyer to only want to pay $120 max. So, list price should be above what you want to get. My first buyer looked over a pristine piece of furniture and said, “Wow, this is a lot older than I thought,” and “It may be smaller than I want,” followed by, “Would you only take $X for it?”

2. Keep your identity and contact information confidential. If you don’t want a ton of phone calls, you need to use the systems provided that allow you to communicate without the other person being able to track you down. Having the doorbell ring at any and all hours of the day and night can be quite irritating. They don’t get my information until they are ready to buy!

3. Cash is king. Don’t take personal checks or cashier’s checks. The dishonest people have figured out how to work the banking system. You want cash to be safe.

4. Retro is cool. I had no idea that people actually are believing that cheesy 60s and 70s furniture is worth something. I gave away many, many retro items to Goodwill over the past couple years. I still have some very “special” pieces (joking, I think they are hideous) that I plan to sell. My friend’s brother just got back from Las Vegas where they “retrofied” an entire hotel. So, pictures of those orange mosaic tile end tables are getting posted soon, followed by the retro green sofa.

I will let you know if I make big bucks or discover something worth millions. So far, I’m ranging from $20 to $300.  Hey, I’ll take it, and enjoy a simpler life any day!

 

Laugh Until You Cry

When was the last time you laughed so hard, you started crying? I mean the kind of laughter that is so contagious that everyone around you just starts laughing, too? I have to share a story about my youngest son. He has the ability to make me laugh harder than I ever thought I could.  I hope this story gets you giggling at least.

We were driving home from school on a Friday. It was about a 40 minute drive one-way, door step to door step. I always packed snacks for the kids because I knew they would be starving no matter what. I especially knew that my youngest son would be hungry because he is a picky eater. Actually, I cannot really say those are the right words to describe him. Let’s just say his stomach cannot handle very many things well.

As we are driving, I start asking the usual questions, “How was school today? Did anything interesting happen during class or at recess? What was your high today? What was your low?” Each child is contributing, when I finally get around to my youngest son.

“What did you have for lunch today?” I ask. That mild question was actually quite loaded because it was a Friday during Lent, and we are Catholic. Lent means no meat on Fridays. Alternatives like peanut butter sandwiches were out because of all the peanut allergies these days. That’s a real burden for my son who seems to survive off of peanut butter. Grilled cheese is out for him, too, because of a lactose intolerance. In a very casual voice he says to me, “Well, I had slop on bread.” Without missing a beat, my older child says, “Hey, that wasn’t slop, it was tuna salad, and I liked it.”

I almost veer the minivan off the road. The delivery is hysterical. I am crying now so hard that my children are worried that I’m going to wreck. All I can see in my mind’s eye is a Cafeteria Lady with a hair net scooping up a big ladle of “slop” from one of those giant commercial-sized stainless steel pots and slamming it onto a measly piece of white bread. Tears are running down my face as I try to navigate around the roundabout. All of us are laughing and I seriously cannot see where I am going. I finally pull it together as we start down the on ramp to the highway. Oh my. Slop on bread–such a delightful meal. Next time, I’ll tell you the story of my son’s noodles-in-a-bag incident!

A two-year-old lost in the woods

I have a bad habit of filling my day way too full. My view of time is totally unrealistic. A task that takes an hour, I seem to think takes about 15 minutes. I tell you this as a background for my next story.

I had exactly 1 hour. It was to be both my lunch break and my chosen time to mow the lawn. At this stage, we didn’t own a riding lawn mower, but thankfully we had a self-propelled push mower. (In college, I actually used a hand mower with no engine at all, the real oldie kind.) The only problem was that it was very hard for this delicate gal to start our mower. I don’t exactly have great arm strength!

So, I gobbled down a quick sandwich and headed to the yard. It took me at least 10 minutes to get the mower started and I was already sweaty. Our yard loomed quite large at that moment. I started mowing in rows, back and forth, back and forth, praying as I went, “Please God, let me get this finished. You know that it is supposed to rain this afternoon. I promised to have this done. I have a meeting that I have to be ready for and I really just need this all to work.”

I have no idea how long my prayer went when I heard a sound from the woods behind me. It was a lady’s voice calling, “Jeffrey, Jeeeffff-reeeey, where are you?” I see her coming out of our woods. She looks like a regular Mom, so I am not too afraid, but I immediately start praying, “Dear God, please don’t make me stop and help her. I mean, how I am going to get this mowing done? I don’t know if I will ever get this silly old mower started again. I really don’t have time for this.”

But as I say those words, I realize how futile it is to ignore God. I turn off the mower and ask her if I can help her. She tells me that her friend’s two-year-old son has wandered off from a playdate down the block. There were a group of moms and toddlers meeting for fun, and Jeffrey managed to take advantage of this and go on an adventure. Her face screams the panic that she feels.

I tell her I will help. I immediately say, “Did you check the cars?” I don’t know why I say this, but I do. She says, “Yes, we did and didn’t find him.” I ask, “Did you look under furniture?” She gives me a bewildered look. I explain, “Sometimes, my toddlers liked to find a small space and curl up and fall asleep. Those places were not always easy to find or were not places I would have thought they would see as comfortable.” She tells me she is going to head back to the playdate house, which she points to as she leaves. I start calling all my neighbors who are home during the day and get them looking with me. I see two police cars arriving on the scene. Oh boy, this is not looking good.

I head towards the house where the toddler had been playing. I start looking at our neighborhood from the eyes of a toddler. Yes, definitely headed this way because of the cool play set in that backyard. No, didn’t venture there, too deep of a gully. Maybe headed up this way. I feel like Sherlock Holmes, but look like a sweaty, grass-covered mess. Just as I am seeing all the acres and acres of common ground woods that would be a lost child’s nightmare, I notice a grandfatherly-type neighbor walking from behind his house holding the hand of a two-year-old. “Jeffrey, ” I think to myself. Just then, I hear his Mom, “Oh Jeffrey, dear boy!” as she comes running up the hill from the direction of the house where they had been playing. Tears fill my eyes as I watch this reunion.

Later, I heard the rest of the story. Jeffrey apparently had been going in and out of the house along with all the other kids. However, when the kids ran inside to get lemonade, he took off in the other direction, unbeknownst to the adults. He found his way into the garage of the neighbor three doors up the hill. That neighbor, who was in his early 70s, had come home for lunch with his wife. Imagine his surprise when he got into his car to go back to work, and found a little two-year-old boy in the back seat! (Remember when I said, “Did you check in the cars?!”) I happened upon the scene as the elderly neighbor was walking down his driveway to find Jeffrey’s Mom.

Little Jeffrey was returned safe and sound! And yes, I was able to finish my lawn. I called and had to cancel my meeting. The rain held off just long enough for me to finish, thank God!

 

 

Accepting the Weather: Sunshine and Storms

I think I have started seeing myself in the weather.  I have been really griping about all the winter weather and how much I am looking forward to spring. Then, lo and behold, yesterday, it was sunny and a balmy 83 degrees. I just couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t even happy about it. I told my children that I was having a really hard time getting into this nice weather because I just felt like it wasn’t going to be around long. It felt too good to be true. I even checked the weather forecast which said beautiful weather all week long. I started opening every window in our house to avoid turning on the air conditioning, and it was still too warm to be comfortable.

Let me translate how I see myself in the weather for you:

When God gave me something wonderful like a sunny day, I chose not to even believe it. (Lord, help my unbelief.) Instead of gratitude, I found myself worrying about how long this weather would last, which is a very miserly way to look at a gift. (Lord, teach me to be thankful for all you have given me.) I even presumed to think that your gift is too good to be true which is very humbling for me to admit. (Lord, teach me to trust in you.) I doubted your goodness so much, that I turned to human ways of looking at things to verify your goodness. (Lord, change my doubt into deep, abiding faith.) I even found a way to see the difficulties in your gift. (Lord, give me a clean heart.)

As I began to review my day last evening, I realized just how far off base I was with the way I was responding to this gift of beautiful weather. I decided that I would embrace any amount of sunshine God would provide no matter how long. Then, this morning, I woke up to 39 degrees and overcast.  Boy, does God have a good sense of humor. (Lord, please be patient with me, I am still growing!)