All posts by gracespark

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!

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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!

Bravo to Ballet

Having never taken dance myself, I honestly have a hard time appreciating ballet. Watching the ballerinas twirl and jump in unison is captivating, but I still thought to myself, “What’s the big deal?” Enter my daughters.

My oldest and youngest daughters both have taken ballet. My eldest determined she was “done” after about 3 years. To help you understand her decision, you should know a little more about her. She has always had such clarity about what she likes and doesn’t like–even as a baby in utero! I love to tell her the story of how she would only let me sleep on one side. Apparently, this side was more comfortable for her. If I tried to sleep on the other side, she would kick, kick, kick until I flipped. When she was 16 months old and before she had words, she would point and make clear to me which outfit she wanted to wear. I couldn’t believe it! Her older brother never cared about what I put on him. I now realize she simply liked the most comfortable clothing, and at 16 months of age, she began to let me know which clothing fit her the best. So when she told me she was done with ballet, I knew there was no way to convince her otherwise. Plus, as our family was growing, we began to limit activities to 1 per child from both a logistics and financial standpoint. She decided soccer was more to her liking.

My youngest daughter has kept with ballet and transitioned this year into the real ballet program. She is a kinesthetic learner, so dance fits with who she is at her core. However, this level of dance is when it gets hard. Watching her performances and exams has made my appreciation of ballet really vault upward. First of all, the precision and knowledge of how to hold every single little part of your body overwhelms me. Secondly, the dance terms are actually in French, and require the girls to learn a whole new vocabulary. Working back stage, I now see how focused dancers must be to perform. As they stretch and stay flexible and get ready to go on stage, they are thinking through their entire dance and mentally preparing for all the difficult moves required. When they come off the stage, they are sweating and out of breath. Yet, from the audience, they appear light and bouncy and beautiful. The truth is that they make it look so easy that people like me who are ignorant think it is easy! This couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes serious discipline, hard work, and a love of dance to perform so well.

One amazing thing about my youngest daughter is that she is terribly shy. She has such stage fright that she gets physically ill before a play. However, because ballet requires so much concentration and movement, she doesn’t seem to get those jittery feelings on stage. She has really listened well to her teacher and has had the humility to take correction to heart. She has worked very hard this year and it shows. I cannot wait to see her year-end performance in just 10 days!

Worry or Pray

I occasionally struggle with worry, especially when it comes to my dear ones facing problems that are out of our control. Today, a friend of mine shared this story:

A long time ago, a wise judge was faced with a room full of upset people. They all had many worries and wanted his advice. He asked them all to write down the one most important worry that they had in their life and place it in a large earthen jar. After everyone had placed their worry in the jar, he asked them to now draw one worry out of the jar. As probability would have it, each drew a different worry than their own. After reading their selected “new” worry, they all decided they would like to have back their own original worry!

As a Christian, I know that I am called to either worry or trust. It is that simple. But as a human, I find myself with my stomach in knots and my mind racing about how I can help. I get so caught up in the emotional side of the event, that I totally neglect the spiritual side.

This week, my family received heart-breaking news. It was so out of our control that we all felt helpless. Being physically far away forces me to simply pray because it’s all I can do. I realize now that it is what we should do first anyway! While my family scrambled to take action, I took to prayer. In my many sighs and tears to God, He revealed to me that the family member needed healing–spiritual healing. That’s when I took action. I made phone calls and helped arrange for a priest in another city to visit this family member. At first, I met with lots of barriers. But I have a not-so-secret weapon called “The Divine Mercy Chaplet.” At the hour of mercy (3:00 p.m.), I begged God to send me a holy priest. I was getting nowhere by myself and needed His help. Within 30 seconds of finishing my prayer, the phone was ringing and a priest was on the line. The ending of this Chaplet prayer is: “Jesus, I trust in you.” Such a simple prayer, yet so easy to forget, and even harder to do!

For the birds

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? (Matthew 6:26)

I think the birds have it right. They wake up around 5:25 a.m. and start singing with a zest for life. I mean, they really and truly let it out with chirrups and tweets, trills and whistles. This morning, I was tired, but I couldn’t stay asleep. The birds just sounded so happy. Right outside my bedroom window is giant pear tree. I have no idea how many birds’ nests are tucked away in that tree, but it sounds like a symphony of song each morning.

This afternoon, I decided it was time to tackle the front garden with weeding, trimming and de-bugging. Luckily, my children and I had already weeded a few times, so that part didn’t take so long. And the trimming went quickly, too. However, the de-bugging was another story. I had to wash each leaf of my holly bushes because they were loaded with eggs. I agree with my daughter. If I had to guess, I would say Japanese beetle eggs. I am spraying each leaf and thinking to myself, “Why don’t all those birds eat these eggs? I bet they are full on protein and easier to catch than a worm.” Of course, the eggs smell horrible and look like dirt. Okay, maybe the birds aren’t so dumb after all.

Tonight, as the sun begins to set, and I am typing this blog, the birds are back in their nests. I have no idea what they are chirping about. Maybe it’s the feral black cat that just had kittens in the woods. Or I imagine the conversation goes like this:

Mom-Bird chirps, “Hey, honey, where are you? I am sitting with the babies and I am hungry. I need a break or some food.” but it sounds like, “Chirp, chirp-chirp? Twit-twitty twit. Chirpy, chirp, twit, chirp chirp.” (You get the idea….)

Dad-Bird replies, “Coming, Dear!” and thinks to himself, “That gal is always hungry. Doesn’t she realize what hard work I have done building her nest? I’m hungry, too. I know she doesn’t want me to drop over dead from hunger with our babies in the nest. I think I will eat one more worm before I head back.”

Mom-Bird chirrups, “Honey, I’m not kidding. I need a break. When you gotta go, you gotta go, you know? Get here now!”

All the Baby-Birds join in, “We’re hungry! We’re bored! We’re thirsty! We’re tired! We want food now!”

Dad-Bird swoops in to relieve Mom-Bird.

Suddenly all is eerily quiet….

“Hooo, hoo.  Twit-twoo.” The old owl lets them know he is around and the birds all lay low.

As the sun descends, the last sound I hear is the gentle coo of turtle doves.

Good night, birds. Sleep tight, birds. Don’t let the bed bugs bite, birds.

Sweaty and upset says “I do”

After 22 years of marriage, my husband is still a mystery to me. We are celebrating our wedding anniversary today and laughing about that day so long ago when we decided to marry forever. We both admit that neither one of us had any clue about how challenging being married and staying married could be. We look back and see all the marriages that ended in divorce, and are so thankful that we have made it through the gauntlet so far.

When we compared notes on our wedding day this morning, my husband recalls that he wasn’t nervous at all, until the entire church turned to look at him when he and his groomsmen proceeded out from the side altar. He was definitely unprepared for that!

I wasn’t nervous either. I definitely remember being hot. We were married in a church that had no air conditioning. It was an enormous structure and beautiful. It just happened to be unseasonably hot for mid May. I felt like a flower that was drooping. My lovely, professionally curled hair began to flatten like a mop. But that is minor compared to what happened before my husband and groomsmen arrived on the scene.

Like I mentioned, this church was enormous. The bride’s room was towards the church entrance, while the groom’s room was downstairs and towards the altar. When the organ began to play that was the cue for the groom and his groom’s men to come. The music started and duh, duh, da duh–no groom or groom’s men. The music continued. My father began to panic. He sent my younger brother to find the groom. My father started turning red all over. He actually accused my soon-to-be husband of leaving me at the altar! Now, I wasn’t only hot, I was angry! I couldn’t believe my own father had such little faith in my future husband. I began to argue with my father, telling him just how ridiculous his idea was. That’s when my brother arrives saying he cannot find the groom or any groom’s men. I seriously thought I saw steam begin blowing from my father’s ears! Oh boy.

As the organist was winding down the first song and my father is in full panic mode, in walks my husband and his groom’s men. Later, my husband explained that they could not hear the music from downstairs and were too busy laughing and enjoying themselves to realize they should be listening.

I whipped my veil over my face, grabbed my father’s arm, and put on the biggest smile I could conjure under the both sweaty and upsetting conditions of a moment ago. I think I dragged my father down the aisle. Everything was lovely throughout the ceremony and we were happily married. And then, there was the limo ride to the reception. That’s another story for another blog.