Category Archives: Gratitude

A Toy Maker, a Drug Addict and my Guardian Angel

It was rush hour and I was headed to interview a toy maker for a Christmas story I was writing. His shop was located in an area of town stricken by poverty and the things that often come along with it: crime and drug dealers. I knew this wasn’t a safe area, but I had enough street smarts to know what to watch for and how to stay safe.

As I approached a major intersection the light turned red. I was the fourth car back in the line waiting for a green light. When the light turned green, I started forward. As is usual, we spread out a bit as we moved forward. I was driving a fine green Buick LeSabre circa 1971 nicknamed “the Beast” because of its size and looks. As I entered the intersection, I felt what I can only call a “tap on the shoulder” and against all reason, logic, human thought process, I slammed on my brakes as hard as possible in the middle of the intersection. This is when life entered what I call “soup mode.”

As I am slamming on my brakes without even taking or having time to look behind me to see if someone is going to now rear end my car, I see a tricked out Lincoln about to hit my car. I will never forget the eyes of the man driving that car. They were vacant. The eyes of a soul whose addiction was so deep and whose face looked like someone running from the devil. By all physical reality, he should have slammed into my passenger door. His speed was at least 60 miles per hour. Against all reality, our cars did a complicated dance in the middle of a major intersection at rush hour. This moment was so slow-moving, it was like swimming in soup. His car missed my car by centimeters, and almost as if our cars bended around each other. He drove right on through the intersection. I ended up in the middle of it, untouched, still in soup mode. As I gazed at the drivers of the vehicles all around me, I saw the exact same expression: wide open eyes, jaws dropped, total unbelief! All I can say is that at the very moment I needed it, I had the grace of Holy Obedience to the promptings of my Guardian Angel.

On this most holy day of the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, I thank mine for giving me my life. I think my children would also thank my Guardian Angel, as they would never have been born, but for me making it through this unreal moment in life.

Angel of God, my Guardian Dear,

to whom God’s love commits me here.

Ever this day, be at my side

to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.

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Finding The Little Flower

l owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to a little soul. I have never met her, but she has deeply impacted my life. When my husband and I were in need of tenderness and gentleness, she not only welcomed us with warm kindness, but brought us home with her. She made sure that we were not only well cared for, but that our children were embraced, too. She knew how hard life could be, so she sat with me and told me many stories that would prepare me for the years to come. She had a way of telling stories that made you feel as if you were there. I just knew whatever story she shared from her life, it was going to be important in my life. We became very close friends. At one point, when I least expected it, she introduced me to her best friend. It was just like her to sneak up on me and spring this friend upon me. I loved her so dearly already, how in the world could I not love her friend!? And he was amazing. The more time I spent with him, the more I wanted to spend time with him.

As the years went by, I discovered that I was going to be moving away. She had been a very important part of our lives. I really didn’t know how to tell her, but I think she already knew. I introduced her to many of my friends, hoping that they, too, would get to know and love her. I also wanted them to meet her best friend. Some of my friends were very thrilled to meet him, too. About a year ago, I had a chance to go back and visit her. She was just the same, but this time it wasn’t so hard to part ways because we had become so close that she was always with me in my heart. A few months later, a good friend surprised me with a special gift from her. It was a rose petal from her writing desk. Wasn’t that just like her to send her love in the form of a rose petal? It sits on my bedside table and reminds me that I have a dear friend who loves me.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!

Losing a Father, a Daughter and a Marriage

My oldest sister always says that bad news comes in threes. Today, my son’s teammate’s father died, a friend at church’s daughter in high school died suddenly, and prayers were requested for a couple in their 70’s who are on the brink of divorce because of much unforgiveness. By about 9 a.m. this morning, I no longer wanted to even check my email!

Maybe that’s why my day was just off kilter. I was moving a bedroom for my daughter while she was at a soccer tournament. Everywhere I turned, this small project grew. The bed I was planning to use needed a repair. I didn’t have the right tools, but decided to try anyway. Translation: this will take twice as long and most likely won’t turn out as well. Once I made that repair, I found another repair was needed. It kept going like this almost all day long.

When my husband called to see if I wanted to come see the soccer games, I was a bit curt on the phone. Of course, I want to see my daughter play soccer on a beautiful day, but unfortunately, I had a job to finish. The ridiculous part of it all is that the actual moving of the bedroom probably took only 1 hour. It was all the repairs and cleaning and reorganizing that consumed the rest of the day.

In general, I am not one to be in a foul mood. But I found myself caught in that trap today. Did I stop and turn it over to God and let Him take care of it? Oh no. Did I acknowledge that the news of death and divorce makes me sad? Nope. Did I remember to thank God for this day? Nope. Did I remember to thank God for my husband? Nope. Did I remember to thank God for my daughter? Nope.

So, basically, I failed drastically today. I let the emotional turmoil of harsh life realities bleed over into my own mood. I did not practice gratitude at a very fundamental level. The only thing I did accomplish was a bedroom put back together. Compared to these other things, that just doesn’t feel like much of an accomplishment.

I think I will spend this evening focused on gratitude. And I pray that tomorrow is a very different type of day.

 

 

Husbands Should Discover Secret to Best Mother’s Day Present

I wondered what searching the internet for these keywords, “Best Mother’s Day Gifts for 2014” would uncover. Fox News listed a Top 10 which was mostly comprised of ways to get mom in shape (5 out of the 10 items).  Glamour had 22 suggestions of comfort or vanity items from food to kitchen utensils. Real Simple offered 40 ideas focused on gardening, kitchen and clothing style. And here’s the real kicker, AskMen.com was the highest ranking website. They just listed a bunch of items you can buy in all categories that might interest women. Personally, I think they must pay some big bucks to a really great SEO optimization company.

All this to say that I feel sorry for husbands who are desperately seeking something to give their wife for Mother’s Day on behalf of their children and family. Although some women thrive on receiving “gifts” that are costly, deep down I hope and pray all women understand that there is no gift in this world that can even come close to truly affirming what being a mother means.

Here’s the thing: being a Mom is the most incredible gift our good God gave to us women. He allowed us, with our spouse, to be a partner in creation. When God created, He created out of love, not out of need. In fact, His creation is love. We, as wives, are called to be mutually self-giving with our spouse and to create with God. The result of this is a wonderfully amazing, compact gift from God called a baby. And that baby starts at conception. I have no idea how the sperm and the egg connect and create a baby. But I do know one thing for sure: I have never known an ape or frog or turtle that was naturally conceived in the womb of a woman. When I became pregnant with my first child, I did not have to wonder if I would have a baby monkey or a baby human!

God tells us in the Bible that we are made in His image and likeness. Can we understand this mystery? I’m not so sure. Can we appreciate that we carry this inside us? Can we fully understand the responsibility we have for caring for His children who are also made in His image and likeness? If you are a mother, this is the most important thing you can do while on planet earth. Period. God wants you to love and cherish and raise your children.

Think about it. God celebrated the first Mother’s Day when he put old Adam to sleep and made Eve from his rib. He understands what a gift a mom is for her entire family. If a husband wants to really honor his wife, he may want to start by acknowledging that he is incredibly thankful that his wife had their children. He should simply recognize what the world will not recognize–that motherhood is a gift from God and by his wife saying, “Yes” to children, she gave the greatest gift to him and the family. Finally, he should even be open to having as many more as God will provide. But that takes faith, of course.

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.

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!

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!

 

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!)

Moving in with Grandma

About 8 years ago, my family uprooted and moved to a new city to care for my husband’s elderly mother. When my children found out that we were going to live with Grandma, they thought they had died and gone to heaven because Grandma pretty much kept a never-ending supply of ice cream and treats around the house. In kid world, this was definitely an upgrade situation.

But in reality, combining two households was challenging to say the least. Grandma had been living a solitary life by herself since my husband’s father’s death almost 4 years earlier. Meanwhile, we had rambunctious children ranging in age from 2 to 8 years old.  Also, Grandma had a very strong personality, plus liked to “favor” one of the children.  She didn’t seem to understand that when we were parenting our children, she couldn’t insert herself and have it work out very well.

Living with a octogenarian who has increasing dementia keeps life interesting. If you think toddlers are challenging, you are just beginning to understand what this is really like. Layer in a few of her adult children who are in denial about their parent’s condition, and who also conveniently live out-of-town, and you begin to get a picture of some of the fun we have experienced. Our family has definitely grown in many virtues because of choosing to serve Grandma.

Fast forward 8 years. We had to transition Grandma to a long-term care facility last year for a whole host of reasons. My family has been mourning the loss, even though she is only 1 mile away. We visit her often, but not many people seem to understand how it feels to embrace someone into your daily life like we did, then have to “let go.” I think that has been the hardest part of this transition. We love her dearly and she was part of our immediate lives for 8 years. She turned 90 years old last week, and we celebrated with her at the center. My children played piano and she sang along. We all ate way too much pie. Half the residents stayed and listened to the recital. One even claimed my children as her grandchildren, too. She also had a birthday next week. She thinks she is turning 92.

Grandma taught us many lessons which I want to share with you today. I hope you can learn as much as we did!

  1. A positive attitude is everything. Grandma lived through the Depression, WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, etc…She knew what it meant to face difficulties. Her approach was to always keep a positive outlook. When she went into the long-term care facility, she never looked back. She takes “the bus” on outings once a week. She doesn’t have any idea where she went, but she sure enjoys it. She cannot get over how lucky she is to have such a loving, caring staff who she works with! I see that her loving attitude attracts the loving, caring staff.
  2. A simple faith to know that God loves you. Grandma was blessed to have many holy people guide her throughout her life. Some of the people who she had for direction are now famous names. She could recall all kinds of examples of how God opened doors for her. I noticed that she was always willing to step through them.
  3. Never, never, never give up. Grandma is like the Energizer bunny–she keeps going and going and going. She has more energy in one day than I will probably have in a lifetime. She keeps active and is persistent in what she pursues. Although, sometimes that would mean finding her dangerously perched on top of the patio table trying to open the umbrella over her head. I see that she was simply overcoming any obstacle in her path, even to her own detriment.

Grandma taught us many, many more lessons. She continues to show us how to live with dignity. She shines brightly around all of her neighbors and the staff at the center. We sure love and miss her in our lives, although we still get to visit. Thank you, Grandma, for showing us how to live. Happy 90th Birthday!

You Will Win the Gratitude Game

Someone challenged me to write a “gratitude” journal for 30 days. I love challenges! So, I got out a super fancy, spiral-bound children’s grade school notebook and started my journal.  I decided that I had to fill an entire page for each day. I also decided that I couldn’t just repeat the same things over and over. I had to try and discover new things for which I was grateful each day. I made the rule that if I had already mentioned someone or something, I could mention them again if there was a new “outstanding” reason for thankfulness.  I challenge whoever is reading this to try this for 30 solid days. But before you do, take note of your level of “happiness” before you start, and then take note of your level of “happiness” when you finish. I think you will be surprised to discover just what gratitude brings to your life.

Here are my 100 things for which I am thankful today:

  1. A warm house
  2. Healthy children
  3. A devoted husband
  4. A break from  ice and snow on the ground
  5. Fresh baked cinnamon rolls
  6. Being able to wish my dad Happy Birthday this week
  7. Having a strong faith in God
  8. A sister who texts me just the right words of encouragement
  9. Another sister who listens to my heart
  10. Another sister who reminded me of how I helped her change and grow during childhood
  11. A friend who shows me how to love
  12. Three teens who understand their call to purity
  13. A dog who wants me to play fetch
  14. My eyesight
  15. A brain overflowing with ideas
  16. Forgiveness
  17. Adoration
  18. My spiritual director
  19. Sunshine
  20. Comfortable shoes
  21. A sister-in-law who offers support and understanding
  22. Discovering a frozen pizza hidden in the freezer
  23. Good neighbors
  24. A wacky back massage from my daughter
  25. Watching my daughter practice her ballet
  26. Reading my other daughter’s essay
  27. Laughing at my son’s funny antics
  28. The Winter Olympics
  29. Two working vehicles
  30. Room for guests
  31. Functional internet access
  32. Marketing ideas that just keep pouring into my brain
  33. A creative and fun and energetic peer who likes to work with me
  34. Fancy wedding gift ideas that I don’t have to think of
  35. Birthdays
  36. Baptism days
  37. All my nieces and nephews
  38. Finding my hairdresser
  39. Learning how to make laundry soap
  40. Having access to recipes online
  41. My apron
  42. Clever ideas for mud rooms I found on Pinterest
  43. Two working washing machines
  44. Two working dryers
  45. Polite children
  46. Hardworking children
  47. Peace in my family
  48. Friday rosary
  49. Friends who help remodel
  50. Friends who have cheap remodeling ideas
  51. Real estate investors and realtors who really want to help and have virtue
  52. A great accountant
  53. Wisdom
  54. Understanding
  55. Counsel
  56. Knowledge
  57. Piety
  58. Fear of the Lord
  59. Fortitude
  60. A great roofing company
  61. Fun paint colors
  62. My grandparents – may they rest in peace
  63. Fun crafts that keep kids busy
  64. Wild hairdos
  65. Funny jokes
  66. Bad jokes told by cute kids
  67. Honesty
  68. Understanding how God loves us
  69. Realizing how much I need to work on me
  70. Letting go of what’s not important
  71. Knowing who you can rely on
  72. A clean house
  73. A simple life
  74. An ordered life
  75. Trust
  76. Moving forward
  77. Meeting problems head on
  78. Giving a hand to others
  79. Apologizing when I am wrong
  80. Letting go of regret
  81. My fuzzy socks
  82. A pantry full of food
  83. A quiet night
  84. Greek yogurt
  85. Our piano teacher
  86. Our dance studio
  87. Good soccer coaches
  88. Resolution
  89. Learning Latin
  90. Understanding my call to holiness
  91. Diet Coke with Fresh Lime
  92. Chunky Monkey Ice Cream
  93. A surprise gift
  94. Relief
  95. Cell phones
  96. Staying centered on God
  97. Joy
  98. Baking soda
  99. Being able to drive
  100. Waking up this morning