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.

Monday Morning Musings

1. One, holy, catholic and apostolic. The four marks of the Church: that is who were are now; it is also our legacy to preserve.
2. Sometimes I think I have an invisible "C" on my forehead that only "crazy" people - people with issues, if you prefer - can see. I attract them. Doesn't matter where I am: church, bus, parking lot, store: that "C" is blinking bright for some folks...
3. Heard Christmas songs on the radio this morning. NOOOOOOO!
4. I've been learning a lot about essential oils for health. I have to say, I'm quite impressed. Impressed enough to start my own business. You can visit my new blog at Flask of Oil and follow my journey, ask questions, learn with me.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nowhere to rest His head

On my way into work this morning, I saw three homeless people sleeping in the doorway of an office building.

Our city has plenty of homeless shelters and missions, but sometimes they are full. Sometimes folks who could use the help don't like the rules, and would rather find shelter somewhere else.

It doesn't really matter. Huddling in the doorway of a building, trying to sleep on cement when it's freezing....Most of us don't even let our dogs sleep outside.

When a group of would-be disciples enthusiastically told Jesus they would follow him anywhere, he replied: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” 

I see a lot of homeless folks every day. I work only a few blocks from the street where most of the shelters and soup kitchens are. I see people carrying all their belongings in garbage bags, people who stop you and ask for just $1 for a cup of coffee, people lined up outside the public library starting at 8:30, waiting for it to open at 9. At least they will have a warm place to sit for a few hours.

Like most of you, I will go home this evening and put on warm clothes, enjoy time with my loved ones, maybe watching tv or just chatting. I'll pour myself a cup of tea and knit or read. When I am tired, I'll put on pajamas and lie down in a soft, warm, safe bed, with pillows and soft blankets. I will sleep with no worries about being assaulted or poked by a cop and told to move (where??) or simply harassed. I won't worry about being cold and uncomfortable on my bed of cement.

Whenever I see a  homeless person, I think of Mother Teresa and what she said about the people she worked with: Jesus in his most distressing disguise.

Pray for the Jesus huddled in a doorway, the Jesus who needs just $1 for a cup of coffee, the Jesus who sleeps his day away on a bench.


Hear our prayer today for all women and men, boys and girls who are homeless this day.

For those sleeping under bridges, on park benches, in doorways or bus stations.

For those who can only find shelter for the night but must wander in the daytime.

For families broken because they could not afford to pay the rent.

For those who have no relatives or friends who can take them in.

For those who have no place to keep possessions that remind them who they are.

For those who are afraid and hopeless.

For those who have been betrayed by our social safety net.

For all these people, we pray that you will provide shelter, security and hope.

We pray for those of us with warm houses and comfortable beds that we not be lulled into complacency and forgetfulness.  Jesus, help us to see your face in the eyes of every homeless person we meet so that we may be empowered through word and deed, and through the political means we have, to bring justice and peace to those who are homeless.  Amen.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Living the Beatitudes

artist Jeff Gregory
27+ years ago, as Dear Husband and I were planning our wedding (with a VERY recalcitrant priest), we chose the Beatitudes as our Gospel for the wedding.

The priest harumphed, "Well, that's not a very good reading for a wedding. It's just not very...celebratory."

We explained that the message contained in the Beatitudes were how we wanted to live our lives together as a married couple.

The priest allowed it, but he wasn't happy about it. (Just for the record, this poor guy wasn't happy about a LOT of stuff.)

When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.  

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you." 

Let me say first: be careful what you pray for. We told that priest this is how we wanted to live out our vocation of marriage and God has provided ample opportunity for us to live out each of these.
Second, we just started a couples' Bible study at our church. It's based on the Beatitudes. The couples we met on the first night all have very different backgrounds and marriages - but we all know the struggles of living out the beatitudes. It will be very interesting to see where God leads this group.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Monday Morning Musings

Henry Ossawa Tanner
1. I am thanking God that Halloween is over (I'm a Halloween Scrooge) and that we have only one more day of those *&%&*(@ political commercials.
2. So grateful that I finished the first draft of the introduction and first chapter of my human trafficking monograph. They're off to the editor!
3. Enjoyed lunch with 3 1/2 of my kids yesterday! We celebrated the girls' birthdays', Tallest son was there, and Curly-Haired Daughter fiance' came, but had to leave early for work...so 3 1/2 kids...It was still great to have time to eat and laugh and talk.
4. Let's remember to pray for the souls in Purgatory this month. So many of us die a good Christian death, but need to be further cleansed from sin before we can enjoy the Presence of our Almighty God. Pray that they will soon be in our Heavenly Father's presence.
5. It's also a good month to be thankful! Every day, consciously think of at least three things for which you are thankful. Today: hot tea, music, and my beautiful Dark-Haired Daughter (it's her birthday!)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pray for Trafficked Children



From World Vision:

Jesus, we come to You humbled by the struggles many girls face every day. Restore them to trusting relationships and self-confidence. Inspire leaders to create policies that address the causes of sexual exploitation and forced labor.

Lord, we pray for the children, especially the girls who have been subjected to violence and exploitation but have been able to escape from their situation.  We pray that you help heal them and strengthen them.  Help their families to understand and embrace them, recognizing that they are still precious and valued.

Dear God, help those children who have been hurt.  We pray that they will be able to find assistance in healing their minds and bodies.  Through every nightmare or ache, we pray that you will be with them, to look over them and protect them.

Dear God, there are times when it is right—and righteous—to be angry. It is right to be angry about people who sexually exploit children. Let that righteous anger fuel action, Lord. Don’t let it fade into complacency.

Wowza: Recently Completed Giant Mural of the Crowning of the Virgin from Malaga, Spain

Get yourself over to David Clayton's blog and feast on some eye candy. I'll whet your appetite with just one pic. So beautiful! Haily, Mary!


Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday Morning Musings 10.27.14

1. Put me in the "bad mommy" category: I  am SO relieved that I no longer have to worry about costumes, finding the treat buckets, getting everyone ready to go out....ugh, Halloween.
2. Queen Latifah is known for a lot of things: her rap career, acting, talk show host...but my favorite is this spiritual.
3. It's true that  the colors are past peak, but they are still glorious, and we had sunshine all weekend. People who don't live in this part of the world don't understand that trees can glow, but they do.
4. Spent time on Friday with a very generous and gifted artist. She allowed me to photograph some of her work for the cover of my monograph on  human trafficking. It was so much fun talking to her about how she approached her work, how she manages to paint such large pieces, etc.
5. Writing, writing, writing. That's my life now. Pray that I can not only finish my monograph on time, but give it the excellent treatment the topic demands.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Let's hear it for the nurses!

With the recent cases of Ebola in the U.S., please take a moment to reflect on the job of nursing. My mom is an R.N. (despite having been retired for 25+ years, she has never ceased being a nurse) and she has always maintained that nursing is a vocation - a calling from God.

Yes, doctors are awesome. But nurses are the ones who have the most patient contact. That means they are the ones monitoring medications, cleaning up messes, putting in and taking out tubes and needles, soothing jangled nerves and answering the questions of family members. They are the ones who stand watch all night. They answer the call buttons. They call the priest or minister. They prep the ORs, double-check the med orders, are the first-alert system when something is amiss.

They answer the phone calls, ask the patient all the right questions, pat the baby's back, cheer on the new mom. They suit up for the infectious patient, take the suit off, and then put another back on again...over and over. They play with the child who has cancer, sit with the teenage girl who tried to commit suicide, and applaud the obese young man who is finally losing weight.

Let's hear it for the nurses!

Gentle God, we come in thanksgiving for the nurses in our midst.  You have given them a lofty vocation – to mirror your love and compassion for the sick.  When we watch them at work, we sense your presence in their words and deeds.


Gentle God, we ask you to draw near to these women and men who have given their lives in service to others.  Fill their minds and their hearts with your wisdom and mercy that they might truly be your hands and feet in our institution.

Grant them the perseverance and strength needed to do their job well.

Give them courage to speak on behalf of those they serve and advocate for those in greatest need.

Comfort them in their sorrows and disappointments, in their losses and worries.

Shelter them in times of trial, creating spaces for them to rest and to listen for your voice.

Hear us, O Divine Nurse, and answer our prayer, for you are all good and all kind and never tire of ministering to our needs.  Amen.