Category Archives: Hard Work

No room in this inn

Good Saint Joseph has been on my mind this morning. As I reflected on the Joyful Mysteries, I paused at the Nativity. I thought about what it must have felt like to be St. Joseph. Here he was given the tremendous responsibility of caring and providing for the Holy Family, yet one of his first tasks is a complete and total failure by human standards. His very pregnant wife, the Blessed Virgin Mary, must have felt horribly for him as he knocked at each inn door in Bethlehem. I’m sure he worked hard to find them a safe place to spend the night. But in the end, there was no room in the inn.

Many Christians and non-Christians seem to be following the idea: if you believe, you will succeed. If this was truth, then surely St. Joseph would have easily found a room for him and his expectant wife. However, neither Mary’s prayers or St. Joseph’s prayers were answered. Perhaps, God had a greater plan than either of them could humanly see or conceive.

How often have I fallen into the trap of the wrong belief I mention above. I would add my own twist which is: if you believe and work hard, you will succeed. God has allowed me to experience plenty failures when I pursue things that really don’t matter. He can see inside my heart and knows when I need a good dose of humility. My self-reliance and pride can kick into high gear very easily, and only He knows how to temper that for me. When I am full of myself, there is no room in the inn for God or the Holy Spirit. It’s when I let go of my grand plans and acknowledge that my entire existence rests in His hands that wonderful things begin to happen. Sometimes, I have had to knock on many doors before I realize I am knocking on the wrong doors. He just patiently waits for me or sometimes knocks me over to get my attention!

Let’s pray for the intercession of St. Joseph the Worker when we find ourselves struggling with pride or self-reliance.

St. Joseph, pray for us.
Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.
Jesus, I trust in you!

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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.

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!

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.

The Book Whisperer

I’ve been praying for God to show me those areas of my life where I am blind to my own sin, and boy has He decided I’m ready. Yesterday, a friend handed me a couple of boxes full of books that she no longer will be using. She explained that she had tried to sell them, but for a whole host of reasons, they never were sold. As she explained all the shenanigans (is that a word?) she went through to sell the books but to no avail, she then realized and knew that they were supposed to be given away. She is someone who listens to the Holy Spirit, but also must get banged over the head like me sometimes to listen. So, she saw me and felt compelled to hand all these books over to me.

I have to admit books are my weakness. I know the whole world is in love with e-books and kindle and nook, but me, I like a book in my hands. I like the whole experience–carting it with you places, marking it up, deciding not to mark it up because it is just too good, picking which books to keep on your low shelf or high shelf. If you saw my bedside table, and you like orderliness, you might fall over dead. I have the active book pile, the intermittent book pile, and the near-future book pile. In the active pile, I have many books because I can read three books at one time. The intermittent pile is for when the content is just too much to process or I am not ready for it, so I read a little and then I sit the book aside. The near-future pile are the books I have ordered because they just sounded so great and I want to read them, but I must finish the three I am currently reading.

Okay, so God talks to me through books quite often. Some blog, I will have to share the story of how a book changed my life. But for now, suffice it to say, in that pile of books I found a book I needed to read. I started it right away (preempting all piles on my bedside table) because it was written for young men entering adulthood. I thought to myself, “That’s my son!” I started glancing through it and got hooked. Why? Because the author uses real life examples and his advice is so wise. It is very different from any other book for young men that I have ever seen or heard about. I am about halfway through it, but I realized that some of his advice was for me. As he explains why a person should handle themselves a certain way, I realized that I don’t do that well or at all. I saw so clearly where I am weak, that it became hard to read. I don’t know how to explain this well but it is a bit like watching a train wreck that you are part of?!  I felt thrilled that my son could read such wonderful advice and appalled because I really have some voids in a lot of these specific areas.

So, as you can tell, this was quite a “ride” reading this book. Before panic took over me, I realized that this is why God brought my husband and I together! I started thinking about my glaring weaknesses, and realized that my husband is strong in almost all of them. Seriously! It’s like God saw me as I am really am and said, “She needs some help in these areas.” Meanwhile, God saw my husband and said, “He needs some help in these other areas.” Together, we are a pretty good team, as long as we stay centered on God.

Hopefully, this weekend I will finish reading the book and pass it on to my son. Then, he will have his Dad’s example to help him through those weaknesses of mine. How blessed we are to have each other!

 

Hard Work Brings Its Own Rewards

What happened to good ol’ hard work? I mean really? What happened? When physical work went away, we lost the lessons that came with that hard work and I don’t think we realized it. As an example, my children have no idea what “hanging laundry” means, but I can close my eyes and hear Grandma singing and smell the flowers she diligently planted and tended in her yard by the laundry lines. I can smell those crisp white sheets that she ironed and put on the guest bed for me. Yes, it was hard work, but both the results and process were amazing!

How about homegrown vegetables–remember those? Both sets of my grandparents had giant gardens that produced more than they could ever use. They canned what they might need in the winter, but then they shared with neighbors and whoever was in need. The closest my children can come to understand this is having a commercial canned food drive for the food pantry at church. I would like to say I learned to garden from my grandparents, but I grew up in the city where my parents had moved which was far from the family farm and small town where my grandparents lived.

My paternal grandparents were farmers, although both had college educations which was rare for those times. My maternal grandparents were a barber and housewife who took in washing and ironing. Both sets of grandparents knew what hard work meant. My parents were wise enough to send me and my siblings for long visits during the summer. It was during these trips that I learned to hand wash dishes, hang laundry, make beds, weed gardens, fish for dinner, herd cattle out of the corn, drive a vehicle, walk to daily Mass, and build wood bridges over creeks.

Telling you all about my grandparents makes me miss them terribly since they have all passed on. They loved me in a very special way. My own husband never really knew any of his grandparents because they had all died by the time he was five years old. He did get to know three of my four grandparents which was a blessing for him.

I’ve thought a lot about my grandparents and their hard work ethic. I think the real secret to their ability to work hard was their ability to rest. They had a mid-afternoon rest time where we would all gather in their living room and pick our nap spot. They had the most comfortable pillows in the world. I can still see them and feel them in my mind’s eye. And somehow that room was cool, even though they didn’t have air conditioning. We would rest for an hour and it was wonderful. We were ready to go with another round of work once we had rested.

Even better yet, as hard as they all worked, they loved God even more. So on Sundays, after Mass, we enjoyed time together over a large meal. We did nothing on Sundays except be with Christ and be together. It was slice of heaven on earth. All my grandparents had faith and lived it the best way they knew how. I may not have learned how to garden from them or how to run a farm, nor do I have the rewards of the type of hard physical work they knew, but I have something even better — their faith.

Taking Nest-Building to a Whole New Level

A robin has decided to build a nest in a terrible location–on our house. Somehow, we all overlooked this giant nest in our comings and goings. This bird’s choice of location is by our downspout under an overhang. My husband noticed the nest and swept it down. He took the twigs and grass and sprinkled them in the woods.

The next morning, the nest was back. Apparently, this robin is a quick worker or her mate is a really good helpmate. So my husband once more swept the nest down and took away the raw materials.

That afternoon, the nest was back. As we loaded up in the minivan to visit friends, we watched my husband once more knock down the nest. I said, “Poor bird. She just wants to make her babies a home.” My husband said, “She has 7 acres of woods to choose from, and she picks a metal downspout?” I’m thinking she may not be a very smart bird after all.

My brother and his family arrived the next day for a brief visit. He saw my husband knocking down another nest. His comment was that he had the same problem at his house. He said, “The way I figure it is that we have this whole outdoors to share. There’s plenty of room for their nest elsewhere.”

Yesterday, my children and I were enjoying an Easter Monday celebration with our dear family friends. When we arrived home, my husband informed me that he had knocked down 4 nests. These robins have kicked into high gear! The time for laying eggs must be imminent.

I remember those days when I was pregnant with each child. I would kick into high nest-building gear. My husband would come home from work and find our household rearranged. Large and heavy pieces of furniture would have moved from one room to another without a mark on the floor or walls. I remember him looking at our giant sofa and saying, “You and I together could barely budge this thing. How in the world did you move it into an entirely different room by yourself?” The facts didn’t count when it came to preparing for the new life in my belly. And once those babies arrived, my husband and I spent hours enjoying God’s little gift in our lives, and still do!

I hope that our robins choose one of the many thousands of trees for their next nest which would be a much better choice. I understand they want a safe nest for their soon-to-be baby birds. I think the robins are showing us how much life matters. I wish that every couple would take to heart the perseverance of our robins in creating a loving, safe home for their soon-to-be baby. And then every couple would be able to enjoy this amazing gift from our good God for the rest of their lives.

Holy Wood or Hollywood?

“Putting on Christ” changes everything. It changes the way we see other people, it changes the way we spend our day, it even changes the way we act! My son just finished his role as Jesus in the Passion of Christ. We had two requests for the children to bring the play to other groups. I found this a bit odd because our group is just a group of 14 children with very limited resources and no real acting experience.

However, an email arrived this morning that explained why there was so much interest. Our director, a professional actress who is on the national scene, explained that she learned a tremendous amount from our children. “Really?” I thought to myself. As she explained the details in her email, it all started making sense.

Apparently, there are two significant problems for professional actors: 1) Memorizing their lines and 2) Delivering those lines with sincerity that fits the character.  Our children did the “impossible” by conquering both of these quickly.

Our director spent some time explaining how modern acting has really moved away from Stanislavski who encouraged his students not to manipulate the scene but to find the truth of the scene and to be open to the truth each time that a scene is performed. If you and I go to most theatrical shows, we will see the actors manipulate the scene in a way to manipulate the audience.  As an audience member, we might not even realize that we are being manipulated, because some directors and actors are very good at this craft.  Also, if that is all we see as an audience member , we just accept that is how it is supposed to be.

Stanislavski did not know that when you put this discipline in practice that what you are in fact doing is opening yourself to The Truth and allowing the Holy Spirit to cooperate with it using the actor as an instrument.  I think this is what happened when our innocent acting troupe took their memorization and listening skills seriously. I also saw how many people wanted their photo taken with my son, “Jesus” after the play. They just wanted to share in the moment of Truth which we all had just experienced. What a blessing we had a Director who showed us the truth and beauty of the art of acting!

 

Responsibility and Authority Belong Together

My son turned 16 years old a few months ago and has been asking about possible jobs he could pursue. His buddies have jobs and now also have money. I think he likes the idea of having cash flow in his life. My husband and I have been discussing with him all the possibilities, and the pros and cons of each.

We have explained that his current vocation is “Student.” And this means that his top priority is learning how to think and growing in wisdom. If he fails at this, it will be a big problem in his life. It would be very easy to let jobs and activities crowd out study time and thought time. He’s a pretty thoughtful teenager already and he recognizes this could be true, but he still wants a job.

Having been in the workplace since I was 16 years old, I have experienced all kinds of jobs under all types of management. I have worked in corporations, not-for-profits, health care, small business and consulting. Mostly, I have worked for Baby Boomers. I have listened and learned from some of them, but I also have been surprised by some of their “blindness.” As an example, many of them would share how they were hired for their “potential” and given tremendous amounts of training paid for by the company. How they were mentored by so-and-so and taught the ropes with a lot of hand-holding along the way. Yet, they saw their trajectory “up the ladder” as a result of their own hard work and talent.

When these same folks interviewed me, it was all about “What can you bring to the table? What skills do you already have that we can use?” And when I showed them I was willing to work hard, many of them dumped a lot of responsibility right onto my plate while giving me no additional authority or wage increase or promotion. Responsiblity without authority simply does not work. It is a nightmare to be in this type of disordered situation.  However, it was a beautiful thing for my supervisors. It freed them up to spend lots of face time with the important people, offering to work on special projects that helped their own supervisors look good. I never understood why those people at the top didn’t stop and consider that this person sure has a lot of spare time on their hands and wonder who was doing all of their work? It was this responsibility without authority that pushed me out of the employee mindset and into business for myself. I figured if I was going to carry that heavy of a load, I might as well be on my own. That way, if something went wrong, I only had myself to blame. I am okay with accountability.

The thought of my son working for people without integrity who use those around them for their own personal gain is a bit gut-wrenching. I would like to interview his future boss and see just what kind of person he is. Actually, I have been doing that without them knowing it. So far, I am liking what I see. Now, if only he will offer my son his first job!