Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Three weddings and a whole lot of funerals

I've worked in parishes. For the most part, I enjoyed the work. I will tell you this: most people think that working in a church is quiet and peaceful and meditative and calm.

Not so much.

Weddings and funerals - as I'm sure most of you know - bring out the best and worst in people. For those working at a Catholic church, well...it's a whole bag of Skittles with a dash of crazy thrown in.

Brides want to know why they can't walk down the aisle to their favorite Broadway tune. Brides and grooms are upset to find out they can't write their own vows. And ever since that Irish priest burst out in song at a nuptial Mass...

And then there are funerals.

Actually, I loved planning funerals with families. It truly was an honor to be with them in their grief and sorrow, and to be able to offer prayer with them and support to them. But sometimes, people get a little bonkers.

I started thinking about this because of the news story about a church (not Catholic) in Denver that wouldn't show a video at a woman's funeral because she was a lesbian and the video showed her kissing her partner. Now, this was stupendously poor planning on the church's part: really, this didn't come up until folks were seated in the church and the funeral was literally minutes away??

My mom and dad went to a funeral (yes...sigh...in a Catholic church) where the closing "hymn" was "Goodnight Irene" because the decedent's name was Irene and it was "her" song.

I had to gently explain to a family that they couldn't play "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow" at a family member's funeral. I still don't think they are over it.

No, you can't have a eulogy.

Sorry, you can't read a poem during the Mass.

No, you can't use a CD of favorite music instead of having the organist play hymns.

It's hard to work with people when they are grieving, and you have to tell them "no." And yes, there is an enormous amount of ignorance about Catholic liturgy.

The next time you are tempted to think that your local parish staff has an easy job, sitting in church gazing at the crucifix in meditation all day long, remember that they are really busy fending off brides who want to bounce down the aisle to Beyonce's "Put A Ring On It" and a grieving family who wants to send off Dad in high style with "Oh, Danny Boy."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Prayer, blessings, tears: talk about human trafficking

My monograph on human trafficking is almost done. I know it's a small book, but it's a big deal to me and my family.

I gave a talk last night at my parish church - it meant so much to me to be able to have my first talk on my book take place in the warm, prayerful confines of that holy, simple place.

I spent time in prayer before I spoke. Meditating on the crucifix, it struck me that Christ on the cross is the perfect haven for trafficking victims. His body and spirit are broken, he is abandoned, frightened. The few loved one who remain cannot do a thing to help.

Yet, the Cross is our hope. It is our salvation. It is truth and life.

One of the women that came to the talk last night was clearly shaken by what I shared. She was in tears at the end, and said, "How can we be hopeful? This is all so sad and scary."

It is. It horrible and sinful and ugly and evil.

But there is hope. And that hope is Christ.

I'm not sure I was able to convey to her how important prayer is - sometimes it feels as if prayer is doing "nothing." You don't always see the fruit of prayer.

I'm also not sure I was able to convey to her that there is hope. There is salvation and redemption - for both survivors and traffickers.

I did encourage those who attended to not be among those who move from ignorance to willful apathy (a phrase I borrowed from Andy Soper). Now that you know, you MUST do something.

I've read the Bible and I know who wins this war. The only real question is, "Which side will you be on?" There are no spectators; choosing to do nothing is still a choice.

Which side will you be on?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Andrae Crouch: Eternal Rest, Grant Unto Him, O Lord

Andrae Crouch passed away. His presence here will be missed, but I'm betting the angels are happy to be rockin' out.

Clap along!


Monday Morning Musings

1. Had a guest priest yesterday - he gave a fabulous sermon. Nice to know he's pastor at the parish that serves a large university in our area.
2. My human trafficking monograph is chugging along - got the first proofs. Now, it's all proof-reading, checking for errors, etc. Oh, so close!
3. Winter is here with a vengeance! Last week we had an Alberta Clipper come through. It was a good time to hunker down with a warm blanket, tea and a book.
4. Speaking of reading, I just finished "The Invention of Wings" from Sue Monk Kidd. Terrific - fictionalized account of Angelina and Sarah Grimke', early abolitionists from a slave-owning South Carolina family.
5. Hubby and I are on an organization kick. Have to see if we can keep it up past January.
6. Using essential oils in my protein shakes. My two faves so far: lemon oil in blueberry smoothie, and peppermint in chocolate. Yummy!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Hey! You! Nurse! Come over here.....

The first thing you must know, nurse, is that I am the daughter of a nurse. And not just any nurse. An R.N. And not just any R.N. An R.N. who was schooled by Catholic sisters her entire life, including nursing school, who became a nurse during WWII, and served at Marine Hospital in Detroit.

A nurse who wore whites every day.

A nurse who starched her caps every Saturday.

A nurse who pinned her pins on her uniform, and checked to make sure they were straight.

Good heavens, I even saw her in her nursing cape once.

A NURSE.

So, this is why I want to speak with you. This past weekend, you had the duty and privilege of caring for my beautiful niece. Said niece has a seizure disorder, and the doctors were not able to control it and decided to admit her. On top of the seizures, she was having night terrors as her anxiety shot up regarding the seizures.

(I'm also just gonna throw this out there. You've heard of the HIPAA laws, right? Where we are all entitled to complete privacy? I have enough HIPAA booklets to paper my living room, so I'm assuming that you - a medical professional - are familiar with this. But perhaps I should not assume.)

Anyway, you and one of your fellow nurses decided to stand outside my beautiful niece's room and discuss her case. Where everyone (including my niece) could hear. And you decided to laugh over the fact that she wasn't "really sick," it was "all in her head," and wouldn't it be nice to fake being sick to get out of work.

Just a couple of thoughts for you. A nurse is a professional. Maybe you didn't get that part in nursing school. You do not, under any circumstances, discuss a case where others can hear you. And you certainly don't make fun of a patient when the patient is within earshot.

Even if my niece's health issue was "all in her head" (and since it's a seizure disorder, isn't it likely that it is in her head??) and she was suffering from mental illness, you still are obligated to be a professional. Even mental illness is illness - again, perhaps you didn't pick that up in nursing school.

My sister talked to your supervisor. She's going to report you.

You're lucky I wasn't there.

You are REALLY lucky my mom wasn't there. She is a NURSE.

Monday Morning Musings

1. Good to be back to routine!
2. Got a lot of stuff organized in the house, which felt good. It did not feel good to Curly-Haired Daughter. She just moved into a new apartment and I off-loaded all her stuff that's been lurking in our house for nearly 4 years.
3. Mass last night - Feast of the Epiphany. Our pastor once again knocked it out of the ballpark on the homily. Even better, I didn't have to cantor or lector or nothin'. I was just another civilian in the pews. Wonderful to be able to pray!
4. Spent three days with a friend near Chicago. It was supposed to be a relaxing, fun visit, but things unraveled. Her garbage disposal died (Dear Hubby took care of that). She is delicately dating nearly 2-1/2 years after losing her husband. Her adult kids are having a tough time, naturally, and things kind of...exploded.

We were happy to see her, but it sure was stressful!
5. Brought back a load of furniture from said friend's house to drop of with Curly-Haired daughter. The weather got really icky, and I was having back spasms, so it was a long trip home.
6. On top of that, my oldest sister was housesitting and hanging out with Dark-Haired Daughter, when she got a call that her youngest daughter was being taken to the hospital with seizures.

Overall, it was a lovely Christmas break, but boy: we blew this past weekend UP.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

God-incidence, Wow, and Thanks

I had the most amazing experience yesterday - a God-incidence.

My co-worker, Todd, has been here for about a year. He's a very genial man, almost courtly and I've enjoyed every encounter I've had with him. He has spent most of his life working in the State Department and traveling, but he and his family decided to come "home" to Grand Rapids.

Yesterday, Todd came to me with a tiny, battered, red leather address book that he said he purchased in 1970. He was going through it in order to check addresses for holiday greetings.

He said, "Your name is in here, in my wife's handwriting, and then again in mine."

I looked, and sure enough, it was our old address - 25+ years ago.

I was baffled. "Todd, I don't think we've ever met before, have we?"

He said he didn't think so, but there was my name. What was the connection?

We started going through our mental warehouse - where were we 25 years ago? He was at Calvin College, I was teaching and in grad school...

I stopped. "What's your wife's name?"

"Vickie."

Suddenly the name, the handwriting, the places - everything clicked.

"Todd, your wife was my German tutor when I was in grad school."

Mystery solved.

Vickie had been my German tutor. She and Todd were both students at Calvin and Vickie is originally from Germany.

We both ended up adopting - they have three, we have five. Last night was our staff Christmas party, and there was the beautiful Vickie, with her gorgeous accent, just like I remember. We had so much fun studying together: both newly married, in grad school, serious Christians. So many good discussions...and last night, we got to pick up our talk, 25+ years later.

Thank you, God. You are good.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

1. I feel like Buddy the Elf this morning: "SANTA!!"
2. Enjoyed a lovely production of "The Nutcracker" yesterday with my sister, my daughter, a niece and grand-niece. What a lovely holiday outing. (Even though I think nutcrackers are creepy. Clown-creepy. Icky.)
3. One of my nephews just bought a home in Florida: oh, Andy...guess who's coming to visit?
4. Excited for the New Year. I'm seeing a lot of building projects around West Michigan, which you couldn't have found with a GPS a few years ago. I think the economy is getting its feet under it.
5. Plus: wedding! Two weddings! My daughter is getting married, and one of my dearest friend's daughter's just got engaged. I think I'll be on Pinterest overload.
6. Getting ready for the big sing marathon that is Christmas Eve Mass. Our priest has a deep and abiding love for incense, so it's always fun to see how the allergies will react. And by fun, I mean: load your pockets with Kleenex and pray for the best.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I don't want to say I'm a Scrooge, but....

All of us have certain things about the Christmas season we don't...well, "enjoy" as much as we think we're supposed to. Like wrapping gifts. That's why God made gift bags, right?

So, in the joy of the season, here is what I Hate About Christmas:

  • Fruitcake. I think this makes the top of everyone's list, doesn't it? Except for my mother. She likes it. It may be her only flaw.
  • The 12 Days of Christmas. No. Just. Stop. Singing. That.
  • The Martha Stewart Effect. This is the phenomenon wherein you must have decorated every square inch of your home in coordinating colors, have a plate of cookies fresh from the oven at every given moment, and have made a gingerbread mansion that lights up from the inside that you made your very own little self. Two words: Dollar Store.
  • Joy To The World. I'm probably gonna get chewed up and spit out on this one, but hear me out. I have cantored every Midnight Mass for the past decade. By the time we get to the final hymn, Joy To The World, I have no voice. I just want to be done. It's like a marathon for singers. It's a beautiful hymn, but I can usually manage to just croak it out.
  • People who get twisted up about "Happy Holidays." It's ok. Breathe. Smile. Say "thank you." Christmas spirit, people!
  • Feeling like you have to do EVERYthing in order to give your kids that "perfect" Christmas. When you have little ones, you've got to do a Jesse Tree, and Elf on a Shelf, and an Advent wreath, and an  Advent Calendar, and homemade ornaments, and....
  • Stuff. So much stuff. Just for the sake of having a ton of stuff under the tree. Stuff no one really needs. Stuff.
Here is what I do like about Christmas. A baby, sleeping in his mother's arms, with angels peering down in awe. Emmanuel. I like that about Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Morning Musings...although it's Monday afternoon...

Yeah. I'm a little behind today.
1. Monday: the day you bring a container of sour cream to work for breakfast instead of yogurt.
2. Monday: the day your beloved daughter tells you how pretty you look in your black and white outfit: "Just like that lady from 101 Dalmatians!"
3. My dear sister (who is coming  home to the Church after being away for years) stopped by after Mass on Saturday evening. "Father was wearing pink!" I said, "No, he was wearing rose." She responded, "That's what he said!" Ah, the joys of the liturgical year!
4. Creeping closer to book publication. Oh, the details! Next time, I'm getting a staff to do the scut work.
5. No White Christmas. I'm pretty bummed. I love the snow.
6. The city of Grand Rapids has apparently gone to great time and expense to build large candles throughout the city. Nice idea in theory. In practice, they look like 8th grade projects gone awry.
7. Hey! I get to do a TEDx talk! Whoot!
8. Wow. I could really use some down time, where I don't have to think about anything. By a pool. With lots of drinks with umbrellas in them. A girl can dream....

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Going to the State Capitol and meeting my dad

I had kind of a big day yesterday - for me at least. I went to our state Capitol and interviewed the State Attorney General. He and a commission released a report on human trafficking last year, and I was able to snag a few minutes of his time to interview him regarding that.

The AG and I happen to be from the same area. I mentioned that, and he asked where I grew up. I told him Coleman (which is a tiny town). He asked me what street I lived on. I said, "Oh, I grew up about 5 miles outside of town, on MaGruder Road."

"Oh, I know MaGruder Road. Did you have a farm?"

No, I told him. We had a lot of land, but not a farm.

He paused for a minute, then asked for my maiden name. I told him Graveline.

"Oh, I knew a Graveline. John...."

"John was my dad."

The AG went on to say he had worked with my dad on a committee or two (Dad was a big volunteer) and that he knew my dad from his work in managing a small plastics plant the next town over.

"John was a good man."

Yes. He was.

My dad passed away 7-1/2 years ago. I miss him everyday. But what a great testament to him, that all these years later, the State Attorney General was able to say to me, "He was a good man."

Indeed.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

The Immaculate Conception; unknown artist. 18th century Guatemala
1. Wowza! I get to interview our State Attorney General today. I'm so excited. Hoping this will be the finishing touch on my monograph.
2. Speaking of the monograph, I spent THREE DAYS formatting the stupid thing. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: I should be thankful I had a computer and not a typewriter. But still.
3. Today's joy is brought to you by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Now, here's something I did not know: this feast is never abrograted (that, is we never get to skip it if it falls on a Saturday or Monday) because the bishops of the US have placed us under the protection of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
4. Our priest always gives excellent sermons. Yesterday, he preached not on the Gospel, but on the Psalm (which was 85, in case you don't remember). Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss. He talked about how this describes Jesus, the God-Man. He comes to us as God/Truth, but also fully human/Love. What a wonderful meditation!
5. My cat has decided to lay across my lower legs. I'll see how long it takes for the circulation to get cut off.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A poem to ponder

artist Gillian Lawson
I love the Nativity. I love Nativity sets. It's always been my favorite part of the Advent and Christmas seasons.

It was my "job" as a child to set up the manger scene. For me, it was a bit like playing with a doll house, only with Baby Jesus. Where exactly should the cattle be? What about the sheep? I think the sheep should be close to the Baby.

My parents' Nativity set was  purchased just after they were married in 1947, at a five and dime. (If you're too young to know what a five and dime is, it's the equivalent to today's dollar stores.) Some of the figurines still have faint pencil markings on the bottom: 10 cents, a nickel.

We actually don't know many details about the Nativity. If the inns were full due to the census, that means there must have been a lot of women in Bethlehem. Some of them must have caught wind that some poor dear had given birth in the barn. They must have rushed to help: a few soft cloths to wrap the baby in, some hot food, checking in to see if the New Mother needed anything.

The Nativity scene for me is a rich one for meditation. Apparently, G.K. Chesterton felt the same way. He wrote a poem, The House of Christmas; here is one stanza:

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Spinning yarns and random thoughts

Just a few random thoughts today...

As my mom would say, "That damn game should be outlawed!" With the death of the Ohio State football player this past weekend, it highlights again the tragedy of head trauma in the game.

Once again, we're seeing this hysteria about yelling "Merry Christmas!" at some poor store clerk who's just wished us "Happy Holidays." Chill, people. There are indeed multiple holidays, even if you're a Christian, this time of year. No one likes a nasty Christian. (And in fact, if you're nasty, are you really a Christian.....?)

Those stupid FB quizzes...I'm a sucker for 'em. I really do want to know which Sandra Bullock character I really am, what gem I am, what movie quote best describes my life, and how old I'm going to be when I die. Time suckers, yes, but oh-so-entertaining.

Advent. Let's stick with it. It's a good plan. The Church knows what she's doing when she says, "Wait." It's not just about teaching patience (although that's nice), it's about preparing. Getting ready. Taking time to pray and contemplate. Most of us take more time getting ready to go to a movie than we do preparing for Christ the King.

And speaking of which - great Advent prayer from Henri Nouwen:

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people,
walking in darkness,
yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

Well, things have been crazy! I'm gonna try to write more here, especially during Advent.

1. It's Advent. How can I stop the onslaught of Christmas music?? It's everywhere. I'm not trying to be a Scrooge, but NOT YET, people, NOT YET.
2. A friend lost his 8-year-old son to cancer last night. My heart is heavy for him and his family. Please pray for them.
3. Praying for another friend who is struggling with addiction. She has yet to admit it. Praying very hard that she reaches out for help.
4. Had a lovely Thanksgiving with lots of nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and -nephews. I think my favorite part was watching my 6'5" bearded Tallest Son talk at great length with my petite and lovely 13-year-old grand niece about books and music.
5. Our parish priest is Vietnamese. His female relatives made TONS of egg rolls and crab ragoons for a parish fundraiser. It was rather fun to see people eating egg rolls after Mass yesterday, rather than cookies!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving: Wherein I'm just a little peeved

My two favorite holidays are Thanksgiving and Easter.

I love Thanksgiving because, no matter what faith or beliefs you have as an American, we all stop one day and collectively give thanks to God for all the goodness He has bestowed on us.

We think about and voice our blessings. Little kids write what they're thankful for on construction paper turkeys they made by tracing their hands.

We tell our family and friends how much we love them.

We realize that, however much or little we have in the way of material possessions, we have much to give thanks for.

Americans make sure everyone gets a Thanksgiving meal: through our homeless shelters, our soup kitchens, our churches. We invite stragglers to our home to make sure they are not alone on Thanksgiving.

We bake and buy food that has meaning to us, our families, our traditions.

We reflect and laugh, get into arguments and love.

Here's where I get peeved:

Thanksgiving is being overrun by consumerism. We now plan our shopping around our Thanksgiving meal. When do the stores open? Who has the best deals? What can we buy for whom and when?

Buy. Buy. Buy. Buy.

My boss, Fr. Robert Sirico says, "The material abundance that capitalism produces does carry with it the possibility that people may begin to identify with what they possess instead of who they are."

Our national holiday of Thanksgiving is now a national holiday of consumerism. We slow down long enough to shovel in turkey and then it's off to the mall. We don't share stories of our wonderful time with family and friends on Monday; we tell our co-workers what deals we snagged.

Maybe we can't reclaim Thanksgiving. Maybe we're too fare gone. But my Thanksgiving is going to be days of being thankful to God, as intently and intensely as I can manage. Maybe you could do the same.

Monday Morning Musings

1. Spent yesterday with my sweetheart. Ate crepes at my favorite downtown Grand Rapids spot: Downtown Market.
2. Saw "Mockingjay." Loved it. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing.
3. Read "Winter's Bone." Now I have to see it, because...Jennifer Lawrence. (By the way, the book is terrific.)
4. Thanks be to God, my monograph on human trafficking is almost done with the writing phase.
5. Trisha Yearwood! Yes, new(ish) album, new single. Oh, I've missed that voice.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

1. Happy Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Roses and bread for all! We are all royalty in God's Kingdom, sons and daughters of the King.
2. 50 years ago, I was born. That was quick.
3. Accomplished so little this weekend: racked with pain and no sleep. Hopefully, the week will be better.
4. Our deacon gave his first homily at our parish this weekend, and he knocked it out of the ballpark. What a blessing that both our pastor and the deacon are terrific homilists.
5. Snow. A lot of it. And more coming. I can't remember the last time I had snow on my birthday, let alone this much of it. Not really the birthday gift I was hoping for.
6. Making Thanksgiving plans. Cannot wait. I love Thanksgiving - every American celebrates it, regardless of faith, it's all about food and family, no worries about gifts and those expectations.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Not my will...every day...

Every day, every moment, we have to renew our vow: Not my will, Lord, but yours be done.

I don't like that.

It rubs me the wrong way. I'd rather do things my way. I think I'm smarter and I've got a handle on things.

Until of course - everything falls apart. Then, God, if you could kindly step in and fix this mess. Oh, and be quick about it.

How often do I do this? Some days, every minute, it seems. Other days, I get a little closer (not a lot, but a little) to where I'm supposed to be in giving all to God. I inch forward and fall back a foot.

You remember Sisyphus, right? He's the guy he had to perpetually push a rock up a hill. He thought he was the best, the smartest...thought he had it all figured out. And look where it got him.

God wants to pick up the rock for us. He wants to say, "Here, my burden is much easier, and my yoke is a lot lighter than that stupid rock you're trying to shove up hill. Let me have it, and take what I'm offering."

We don't, most of the time. We keep putting our shoulder into that damn boulder and grit our teeth and put everything we have into it....and it falls right back.

God is patient. He'll wait. He won't jump in and do it without our invitation though. We have to assent - the pesky free will thing.

Today, am I going to keep trying to move that damn boulder up the hill, or will I choose God's burden and yoke? Will it be my will or His?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Do the Bishops Know Families?

A few years ago, when I was still teaching religion in a Catholic high school, the U.S. bishops came out with a new religion curriculum for all Catholic high schools. In theory, this was a good idea. It created a uniform program, so that if a kid transferred or moved, he'd be learning the same things. It also meant that the really important stuff got covered, not simply what a teacher liked to teach.

However, it was clear, at least from the first draft of the curriculum, that the bishops seemed to have never met a teenager. "Economy of salvation?" Teaching morality to 11th graders (when the horse had left the barn and was frolicking in a distance field)?

My thoughts are much the same with the recent Synod. Are the bishops familiar with families? Do they know what it means to Catholic parents who are struggling to keep their teens active in church? When their kid decides to "live with" their fiance' and maybe get married in the Church; they haven't decided yet? What about the struggle many of us have trying to be good parish members while earning a living to support our family? Or wanting to put your children in a Catholic school, but knowing that, financially, it just isn't possible on one income?

I think back to a young John Paul II, before he was John Paul II and was a parish priest and a young bishop. He went hiking and back-packing with his friends - young married couples with children. He talked to young people and their struggles with their faith. He was a pastor who didn't sit in an office all day, but made it a point to truly be with his parishioners.

I know bishops have many duties, and that most are good, holy men. I just wish they made it more of a priority to know families. It would be great to know that they really knew our concerns.