Friday, August 26, 2016

Fading Into Friday


It's been a long week. Monday was just ... bad. I ticked off our IT guy at work by opening up one of those d*%$ emails that as soon as you click on it, you think, "Oops." So I trotted over to his office, and he promptly yelled at me. Like I was a child. Or stupid. Or a stupid child.

This was after I found out that every imaginable driving route from my home to office and back home again is under construction. Can't get there from her. Orange barrels. Must as well sleep in the office.
This, combined with the fact that I am now the ONLY person on the planet who stills checks their blind spot before changing lanes, makes me want to quit my job and go live in a yurt.

Our health insurance company sent us these gloom and doom letters that Dear Hubby and I HAD to go online and fill out a health assessment NOW or OUR INSURANCE WOULD BE CANCELLED!!! They were SERIOUS! So, I went online Wednesday. Their system was down for maintenance.

Tried again yesterday. I swear I could not make heads or tails of the instructions in the letter compared to what I was seeing on the screen. Mind you, I spend about 8 hours a day on the computer. I know my way around. Finally gave up.

Another attempt today. In an act of desperation, I called their customer service - no waiting! Miracle! Angels singing! "Rachel" kindly explained that the "letter has a lot of people confused. It's outdated." And then she gave me a completely different set of instructions to get to the health assessment. I asked, "No one could figure this out on their own. And yet, if a customer doesn't figure this out, you're going to cancel their insurance?" She demurred to answer.

I failed the health assessment by  the way. I'm obese and I don't exercise enough. Of course, no where in the health assessment did it give me the opportunity to tell the insurer, "I have a freakin' tumor on my spine!" At the end of the assessment, I got some "helpful" suggestions to "Begin doing short walks, and increase the length of the walks slowly." Well, it'll be slow all right...

I got 5 freakin' lbs. of paper regarding a lawsuit we are involved in. I don't speak legalese, but I'm pretty sure the whole thing boiled down to the other party saying, "We are right and you are wrong. On top of that, you are really stupid."

I cracked my iPad.

My back is killing me. It just hurts. I'm trying to be a good Catholic girl and offer it all up, but I just want to cry every morning as I try to get out of bed.

I have two appointments in the next two weeks at UofM for more consultations regarding this tumor on my spine. I like Ann Arbor, but the hospital....not so much. Surgery has not yet been ruled out.

Last night, I tried to fall asleep but my back was just hurting. I decided to stretch. I got on the floor and did a child's pose (for those who don't know yoga, you basically curl up in a ball facing the floor and then stretch out your arms.) I fell asleep. I'm not sure how long I was asleep, but when I woke up, I was still in the child's pose, and my legs and feet were numb. But my back felt better.

Such is my life.

St. Gemma Galgani, patron saint of back pain sufferers, pray for us.
St. John Paul II the Great, pray for us.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Learning to love and protect a little girl, a Child of the King


This little girl is five. She does not like the curls in hair, because it means sleeping in curlers, which are pokey and they hurt. She loves her new dress though, even though it's itchy. She's a little sad too, because her sisters both get to wear long yellow dresses that their grandma made for a wedding. They get to be in the wedding, but this little girl does not.

She's also happy that she has learned to read. All of a sudden, one Saturday morning, the letters on the page of "Little Red Riding Hood" suddenly made sense: they were words! And she could read them, not just recite what she knew from memory! It was the beginning of a love affair with words and language and books and writing and reading.

Her best friend is her sister. They are wild: they escape the house early in the morning and run and explore and create and imagine. When they finally must return home, their mother meets them outside, and pulls burrs and bugs from their hair before making them take a bath.

The only thing this little girl thinks about when it comes to her body is that it needs clothing, food and sleep.

But as the years pass, the girl's relationship with her body changes. She's too fat, and not very pretty. High school is hard. She doesn't really have any idea what to do with makeup, despite pouring over Seventeen every month.

When she marries, this girl has a husband who encourages her to try new things. So she walks, and rides a bike and learns that her body CAN do athletic things, just not the athletic things they wanted her to do in high school. Eventually, this little girl earns a bad ass third degree black belt in karate.

But middle age is tough. Genetics and hormones and a host of other circumstances take away much of her ability to be physically strong and to do whatever she wants her body to do. The little girl starts to hear very mean things that the woman she now sees in the mirror says to her: You are fat. You are ugly. How could anyone ever find you attractive? Fat. Fat. Ugly. Do you hear me?? YOU ARE UGLY!!! And the woman in the mirror - and the little girl - believe every single word.

One day, the woman -  you know, that fat and ugly woman - is going through photos. And she sees this little girl. This beautiful little girl. She remembers her.

The woman realizes she would never call this little girl ugly. Or fat. Or incapable. She would never look this little girl in the eye and say those horrible words to her.

But she does. Every single day.

The woman decides that from now on, no one - not even the woman - will call this girl names. The woman will protect this little girl. No one will be allowed to bully her, or make her feel as if she anything less than a Daughter of the King, blessed and beautiful, heir to a Kingdom beyond anything that this cruel world can offer. The woman will not allow any ugliness to harm this girl - she is far too precious, far too loved, far too priceless.

As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Gal. 4:7)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Broken Mary: Putting the pieces of faith back together


I just finished reading "Broken Mary." You should read it, too.

When I was in high school, music was a HUGE part of my life. However, I depended on my friends being able to scout out the really good stuff: the Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, U2. I lived in a rural area, and the only radio station my mom and dad listened to was WJR out of Detroit. Yeah...

Then I got to college, and my new friends introduced me to WLAV out of Grand Rapids. It was the mid 1980s, and great music seemed to be everywhere - and LAV had it all. 

Kevin Matthews was the morning guy. He was raunchy and risky and funny and clearly loved the music. His fans were "Kevheads" and they were wildly devoted to him.

It's more than 30 years later, and LAV still gets played in my house. It's different now: "classic rock" which sort of translates into "stuff you listened to 30 years ago." My tastes and sense of music has changed and broadened, but LAV is still there.

But Matthews isn't. He was diagnosed with MS a few years back. I remember my husband telling me. It was like hearing one of your favorite cousins was sick. I had a family member with MS, and knew how devastating it could be. And Matthews was off the air.

Then one morning, not too long ago, I had the morning news on while I was getting ready for work. And there was Matthews. And he was talking about God. And Mary. And being Catholic. and my beloved Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. WHAT??

He was talking about his journey of faith, one that zigged and zagged and plummeted and rose again from a dumpster (literally.) You should read his book.

I will tell you one funny thing. One of the Franciscan Sisters, whom I know well, teaches at a local university. She is a scholar - loves Shakespeare and the works of the English poets like Donne. And she wrote the foreword as editor to Matthews book.

As I mentioned before, Matthews show was raunchy. And in the telling of his story, he (politely as possible) had to acknowledge some of that. I had a picture in my head of him struggling to find a way to say certain things in a manner that would not cause his nun-editor a heart attack. Now, again, I know her well, and I know she is not one to shock easily, but I felt a bit sorry for Matthews. I'm sure he thought he was going to make this poor little nun collapse in horror.

Go get the book. Then share it with someone. It's a great little book.

Monday, August 8, 2016

If you're ill, don't shy away from God.

There was a time when lepers had to carry bells and loudly announce their presence, so that the "clean" people would have time to seek shelter from them.

Illnesses were blamed in parental sins, or even farther back the family chain. When the AIDS epidemic first struck in the 1980s, they were those who were convinced that this was God's way of dealing out "justice" to homosexuals.

Illness can sometimes seem like an additional cross from God: "Great, I just started a new job, and the kids have different schools this year, and I haven' even thought about a summer vacation and sorry, what's that? Lupus. No. No, you don't understand, I don't have time for that.,,,,

That may be true. YOU don't. But GOD does. For whatever He also int our lives is good and life-giving. Facing any serious illness, chronic or life-threatening, is not something anyone puts on their calendar. It can also make things very difficult to explain to people.

Oh, people understand cancer, but lupus? Fibromyalgia? Nerve pain? And it's not really their fault that they don't always "get it." Those of us who suffer from chronic illness don't always "get it" either. We have a lot of "Why me??" moments.

St. Francis de Sales is quoted as saying, "The Prayer of the sick person is his patience and his acceptance of his sickness for the love of Jesus Christ. Make sickness itself a prayer, for there is none more powerful, save martyrdom!"

God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, asks us to suffer with Him. For some, it is emotional. For others, it is physical or mental. For some, the suffering is short-term, and for others it lasts for years. Do not reject it! Use the suffering for good. Pray to Jesus to be united with Him in suffering, and allow any pain you have to do good in the world.

Trust in the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of the Sick. The grace there will truly strengthen you. And always ask Mary to be with you in your suffering. No one, save Christ, suffered more on their earthly journey that this Mother who had to watch Her Son, who was Innocence, suffer the death of a criminal. Mary will be with you.

Don't let illness or suffering keep you from God. He is asking much, but no more than we can give, with His grace.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Soccer, world peace and a few observations

I am not really a soccer fan. However, I am a huge fan of my husband, and he is a huge fan of soccer. I play along.

A couple of years ago, we went to see two Premiere League teams (that's Britain's top soccer league) play in Ann Arbor, at what we Michiganders refer to as the Big House (either affectionately or with venom, depending on whether you are a UofM fan or a State fan.) I've never been to an American football game there, and we went with friends, a dad and daughter. We had a great time.

One of the best parts of the experience for me was sitting with people of every race and creed who were just having a blast watching their favorites teams. Everyone was kind and friendly, joking with each other about the players. Small children were given a bit of leeway in close quarters and a few elderly fans were given gentle patience.

We just went to the same exhibition game yesterday, although one of the teams was different. The whole experience was a vast contrast for me though. People were rather cruel.

One man behind me joked to his buddy that "those idiots" (one of the team sponsors) didn't know how to spell "tyres," apparently unaware that English has variations in other parts of the world.

We were sitting quite close to the tunnel where the players from one team entered and exited the field. People in the stands literally trampled each other to get to the railings so they could snap photos and maybe get an autograph. An older lady was getting hurt. When her family members asked the man who was getting very close to her to please be careful, he turned on them: "F*^% you! I paid for my f*&^$(* tickets and I'm gonna get a picture..." You get the idea.

People moved from seat to seat, trying to get closer and closer to the field, only to be asked to moved by stadium workers, who politely told them they needed to sit in the seat they had purchased. They had nothing but contempt for this "request." The same went for the young men who moved to sit on the steps rather than their seats. They would move, just until the worker was out of sight, and back they'd go.

One man, for whom English was not his first language, was befuddled by the seating: section, row, seat. He and his two young sons couldn't find what section they were to be in. A man behind me not-so-quietly scorned the family, because he just "knew," they weren't American.

And we had the game interrupted three times by "well-lubricated" men with the maturity of 9 year olds who decided (at different times) that they would make their mark in the world by delaying the play of some of the elite athletes of the world, so they could run around for 30 seconds until they got some pretty metal bracelets and a trip in a police car. The teen by behind  us was incredulous (at least he still had some sense of outrage within him) that these guys got arrested. "They're getting arrested?? What for??" I told him that their would probably be a host of charges, all with hefty fines and at least the night in jail. He asked me, "What did that one guy have written on his chest?" Really?

I don't know why the experience was so different two years ago than today. People were uglier and angrier. To me, it seems as if the whole experience was a reflection of our culture and society right now. We are an angry people. Sometimes we are angry about an injustice, other times we are angry that there MIGHT be an injustice and damn it, we are going to cut it off before it starts. We don't need to show respect to anyone, because, hey: who the hell is respecting ME? You don't like me stepping on your toes (either literally or figuratively)? Get the hell out of my way!

I saw virtually no kindness yesterday, except on the pitch. The players were respectful of each other, even in the heat of play.

Soccer is probably the most universal sport. It is played on dusty patches of earth in Africa by barefoot kids, on luxuriously groomed fields at wealthy schools, at club pitches where 5 year olds play on Monday, 10 year olds on Thursday and Mexican workers on Sunday afternoons. It is a sport that requires very little equipment: a goal, a ball. In many parts of the world one learns to play without boots and shin guards; they are a luxury. The Scots are passionate, the Mexicans mad for it, and men like David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo are spoken of in voices reserved for the gods who walk among us.

Our world is in a shambles. I don't generally see it as up close and ugly as I did yesterday. It was frightening - one could see how mob-mentality could sweep across so many people at once. I realize some people take their sports very seriously, but yesterday's experience went far beyond that. The whole atmosphere around me felt like "I'm here to get mine. I don't give a rat's ass what your experience here is like."

Sports, like music, have long been a venue where the world comes together. Yes, we root for our team, our school, our nation, but we also strike up a conversation with the folks next to us and commiserate about how badly a player is hurt or the officials aren't making good calls. Sports, and especially soccer because of its global appeal, are supposed to bring us closer together. What I experienced yesterday was an ugly reflection in our cultural mirror. And the longer I looked at it, the more sad and upset I became. I don't expect the months between now and the election to be any better, either in the political arena or anywhere else in the public square.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Peace, Lord, Peace!

I think we are all exhausted. The endless stream of shootings, fallen police officers, guns, political pukings .... I know I want to turn it all off. I can't - my job literally requires me to be on social media all the time.

I cannot recall a time (in my lifetime) of seeing my nation so divided. I have a small banner under my computer screens at work: peace, paix, salam, paz, shalom. It is my constant prayer, yet it feels like a distant echo.

My spiritual adviser said, "We need to be a nation on our knees," yet even among people of faith it feels as if we are praying for vastly different things. One prays for the protection of children from things like gay "marriage" while another prays that all gay unions be recognized for being equal to the marriage of man and woman. One implores God for an end to abortion; another shouts for its expansion. I will let God sort it out...

Peace, Lord, peace.

I am worried about my own health. I try to follow the example of saints, offering up my pain to Christ: let my suffering be one with yours, O Lord. I'm not very good at it.

I am burdened with the death of a friendship. A woman with whom I have shared faith, friendship, struggles, a love of music, the Eucharist - all I can say is that it is like watching a major conversion in reverse. She admits she lied to me and many others. In what seems like the blink of an eye, her marriage is a broken mess, her faith swept aside and she says she is now her "true" self.

God is faithful, even when we are not. The whole earth is groaning out for Him. Can you hear it? Can you feel it? There is no peace without Him. We cannot manufacture it. We cannot elect it into office, or bargain it into being. Peace is not achieved through negotiations by ambassadors, high-level meetings or bombs.

I will hear what God proclaims;
the Lord - for he proclaims peace.
To his people, and to his faithful ones,
and to those who put in him their hope.
Near indeed is his salvation to those 
who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from
heaven.
The Lord himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his 
steps.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Dammit. Did it again....

"Pushing Back the Darkness" - artist Gwen Meharg
I did something stupid yesterday. (I did a lot of stupid things yesterday, but I'd like to focus on just one.)

I saw this funny meme on FB. I have a friend who would also think it funny. It gently poked fun of his particular Christian denomination.

After I posted it to his wall, he replied. A friend of his then jumped in with a rather snarky comment about one of the popes.

And then I did something stupid.

I rose to the bait. I wanted to win. To be right. To show her! I had Truth on my side.

In the last few weeks (longer, really, but most especially the last few weeks) it has seemed like the world is imploding. Political battles across the globe, hashtags reminding us to pray for yet another city mired in violence or terrorism, just plain meanness. This is not the world I want to live in, nor is the world God intended.

Yet what did I do? I jumped right into that nasty world with both feet, eyes ablaze, sword lifted high. Duh.

Writer Ann Voskamp prays, "Make me speak praise, not poison ... Make me do doxology, not destruction." Yes, Lord. Let me speak praise. Let me avoid poison. Keep me from destruction.

And I would add, Lord, save me from my stupid, sinful self.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Culture Care And the Work of Makoto Fujimura

"Twin Rivers of Tamagawa" - Makoto Fujimura
One of the perks of my former job was the opportunity to meet amazing, talented, faithful people from all walks of life and all over the globe.

One of those is a gentleman, Makoto Fujimura, an American of Japanese descent. I met him through Acton University, where he was one of our keynote speakers, and then through ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.

Mako (I get to call  him by his first name...) is not just an amazing artist. He is also a profound thinker, and a Christian of deep and abiding faith. He is very concerned with the place of art in our culture - a line of thinking he refers to as "culture care" - and the important role all artists play in society. Art can heal. In his acceptance speech for the 2014 Religion and the Arts Award, he said:

I pray that artists will no longer have to be on the defensive as was Mary in that aroma-filled room while disciples grumbled that her perfume could have been sold to feed the poor. "What a waste," they said.  What a waste.  Is our art wasteful, too?

Art is gratuitous. Art is extravagant.  But so is our God.  God does not need us; yet he created us out of his gratuitous love. Jesus astonished the disciples by giving Mary the highest commendation anyone receives in the pages of the Gospels:  

"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." (Mark 14:6 -9)

I pray that in the days to come, this aroma will fill the air whenever the words of Gospel are spoken, that outsiders to faith will sense this extravagant air and feel it, particularly for them. I pray that when our children speak of faith, this gratuitous, intuitive aroma of the love of Christ will be made manifest in their lives.
I cannot begin to describe his art. It is deep: it requires patience on the part of the viewer. He works with delicate materials while attempting to plumb the depths of faith, emotion, culture and ultimately, God.

Do yourself a favor, and view his Artsy page. And remember to pray for our artists, who bring beauty to a world sorely in need.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Work Notes


I neglect my little blog here. Mostly, it's because I have a blog that I'm solely responsible for at work. And sometimes, it's just because I'm lazy.

Today, I'm being lazy. Please go to my work blog and read a couple of things. The first one might get you prizes: Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Giveaway! (And if you could urge your friends to do the same, I'd really appreciate it.)

The second one is just a cool story. What's the craziest thing you've ever done for the Kingdom of God? I'm betting Justo Gallego has you beat.

Read on, friends!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Do the Good

The Good Samaritan, artist Ferdinand Hodler
It is so easy to get caught up in our own worries and woes. I belong to a Catholic moms group on Facebook, and every day there are prayer requests: a baby in the hospital, a car that died, no money in the bank, issues with in-laws. The worries range from the almost hum-drum (It's raining and the kids are driving me crazy!) to the very serious (A teenage son whose asthma is so severe that every virus turns into a near-death experience.)

We worry about our woes. But we still need to do the good.

Every day, we get a chance to do the good. Do we take that chance?

It's no secret that I live in a lot of pain. Now, I've got this rather worrisome cyst on my spine. I'm waiting to see a specialist. Waiting.... Waiting... Today, two of my co-workers stopped what they were doing and came to "check on me."

"How are you feeling? Do you need anything?"

They did the good. They probably don't feel like it was much, but it gladdened my heart so much. Now, I know that when I'm having a bad day, I have a couple of shoulders here at work to lean on. That is so good. It cost them nothing but a moment of time, but it means the world to me.

Where can you do the good today?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Can We Be Honest?

"No. You are not wearing that. It's hideous and that's the truth."
Honesty is tough, isn't it? We lie to ourselves ("I'll get to that chore later.") We lie to each other ("Sure, that looks great on you!") We'd lie to God if we thought we could get away with it.

One of the hardest things about NOT being honest is keeping track of your lies. Did I tell this to Mary or Jake? Did I mention this to Caroline at work or my neighbor?

And then there are lies of omission. We just keep our mouths shut when we should speak up. We just "conveniently" leave out information.

I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

Jesus didn't use "truthiness" when He spoke (check out yesterday's Gospel as evidence.) He wasn't uncharitable, but He was honest.

Have you ever seen a celebrity on the red carpet in an outfit that just does her no justice? I'm not talking about being half-naked, or testing the laws of physics. I mean, just something unflattering. Ugly.

I have a theory. This type of thing happens when the celebrity does not have a sister. You see, a sister will sit outside the dressing room, and when the celeb comes out in the ugly dress, the sister says, "Uh-uh. Not that. No way. It is not flattering. Go back in and try again." Now if the one trying on the dress hedges and says, "But I like the color..." the sister is ready. "No. That dress is wrong. I don't care what color it is; you don't look good. And we are not sending you off on the red carpet in an ugly get-up."

Alas, the celeb (with no honest sister) is surrounded by people who are paid to tell her she looks FABulous! Astounding! That unique piece is HOT! Go for it!

I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

Normally, telling the truth is easy. "No, I can't come to your party. I have another commitment. But I'd love to see  you; let's plan on lunch."

Normally, families don't worry much about dishonesty and lying, unless it's become a pattern. "No, kiddo. You lied about where you were last weekend. You are grounded."

We want a work atmosphere that is honest. I've had the great misfortune of being in a job where machinations, plans and sleights of hand were being performed behind my back, all the while being told, "Everything is fine." It wasn't. it was toxic.

So why this post on honesty? Because I have a friend who isn't being honest. She hasn't been honest for awhile - I'm not really sure how long, because: lies.

She isn't being honest with herself. She's certainly not being honest to those closest to her, and people who are incredibly qualified to help her think through some major life changes she's decided to make. She's not being honest with God.

I've tried a couple of times to speak with her. I've been honest but as charitable as possible. Doesn't seem to have done much good. She has created a narrative that she is now bound and determined is the "truth," whether it actually is nor not.

Lying is toxic. It poisons the liar. It poisons the relationship with the person being lied to. For children, lies from parents are devastating. The child never knows what the truth is ("Uncle Bob is an alcoholic. He drinks too much and it's making him sick" is a whole lot easier for a kid to deal than "Oh, Uncle Bob was just being funny. He didn't really mean to say that stuff to you. Just never mind him.") Lying makes every conversation with the liar like a game Truth or Dare, only you won't know what the truth is and the person is daring you to believe them at your peril.

Being lied to hurts. We've all had that experience. We need to guard our thoughts and words so that we focus on loving truth, being charitable and expecting honesty. When we are lied to, we cannot just brush it off. Truth is too important. Jesus said so.

I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Be Careful What You Pray For


I am weak and sinful. (Aren't we all? The key is recognizing this in ourselves and not just others.) I pray. I don't pray well, nor do I pray often enough. But I pray.

I have been praying for persecuted Christians everywhere. I see pictures in my head of the Syrian children clinging to life in tiny boats, and one small body washed up on the shore. I hear the screams of terror from the slain Sisters of Charity. I weep for those who've lost loved ones in the violence that pervades our own society. I pray for peace and understanding.

God always takes our prayers seriously. I know this, not only because of my own experience, but the experience of the many, many souls who have come before me. One of them is St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

She was born Edith Stein, a German Jew. She was exceptionally bright, going on to study the philosophical field of phenomenolgy. (Look it up. It's tough stuff.) As a woman and a Jew in the early 20th century, she could not find a teaching position at the university level.

She also was a convert to Catholicism. Her intellect guided her: she was seeking Truth and nothing but. She also longed to join the Carmelite order, but her conversion was very difficult on her mother, a devout Jew. Edith's spiritual director told her to delay her entrance into the monastery for the sake of her mother.

As Edith's spiritual life was deepening, her nation was collapsing. Hitler became the leader of a Germany that was coming undone. She taught for awhile at a girls' school, and then eventually entered her beloved Carmel.
In 1930, Stein wrote of her foreboding sense of divine mission. “After every encounter in which I am made aware how powerless we are to exercise direct influence, I have a deeper sense of the urgency of my own Holocaustum.”
 Stein’s use of the word Holocaustum in 1930 was radical. What did she imagine was the urgency of her “own Holocaustum”? She literally saw herself as offering her life as a sacrifice, but a sacrifice to what, and why? Was she a mystic who saw the end of German Jews? Stein first wrote about the meaning of her future death in her last will and testament, composed on June 9, 1939: I pray to the Lord that he may accept my living and dying ... as an atonement for the Jewish people’s unbelief and so that the Lord may be accepted by his own and that his reign may come in glory, that Germany may be saved and that there be peace in the world.
 As I said, be careful what you pray for. Stein was wholly aware that she would die at the hands of the Nazis, but wanted to offer herself up as atonement.

I won't get into all the theology of this idea of atonement, especially in Jewish thought. However, die she did, along with her sister, in Auschwitz.

Back to my prayers for persecuted Christians. I am no saint, although I aspire to sainthood. God has gifted me with some suffering to bring a bit more "bang to my buck" when it comes to these prayers. I have cysts on my spine that are causing me a great deal of pain. I have been referred to a state university neurosurgery center for treatment of these rare cysts, known as Tarlov cysts.

I consider Edith Stein to be a close friend, a sister in Christ. I beg her intercession for my health, but I also follow her lead in offering up suffering for those around me. Be careful what you pray for.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Best Response To Criticism Is Joy

The past few weeks were rocky. An attorney decided that it was a good idea to call my Dark-Haired Daughter horrible names. As much as I tried to shield my daughter from what was swirling around her, she found out and was understandably devastated.

I assured my daughter, as she cried tears of both anger and pain, that none of this had anything at all to do with her, and everything to do with the attorney who chose to act in this manner. But my balm was weak against these mighty wounds. The familiar sounds of PTSD were howling at the door of my daughter's heart.

Yet, we had a party to put on. Dark-Haired Daughter has completed her formal education, and a celebration was in order. In the scheme of things, it wasn't that big of a deal. In fact, you couldn't miss the dozens of handmade signs and balloons marking dozens of houses in our small town this weekend. It's that time of year.

But, as we all know, it IS a big deal. And for Dark-Haired Daughter, it was an even bigger deal. She had seen her brothers and sister have such parties and she thought this would never happen for her. But it did. And we threw a party.

Cake, lemonade. Cards, gifts. Coleslaw, kids. People spread out over our yard, our house. Kids colored with sidewalk chalk and a soccer ball got kicked around. Our friends rejoiced with our daughter, who glowed all day.

Yesterday, for awhile, she felt no sting of the pain from two weeks ago. Yesterday was all about joy: the joy of an accomplishment, the joy of thanksgiving for loved ones, the joy of seeing a daughter grow. While no major world problems have been solved with cake and lemonade, I can tell you that one girl's pain was eased and that meant the world to us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Where is Christ? Take Me to the Alley

My worldly life is one of ownership: a house, a car, furniture. I have way too many shoes (but I'll keep on buying them!) and a lot of jewelry, which tell a story about me. I love clothing and fashion.

My spiritual life is Franciscan. Yes, I acknowledge: I am either the world's worst Franciscan or God has a delightful sense of humor (it's both.) The world has it all upside-down: "stuff" is not to be our focus. Our focus begins and ends at the foot of the Cross.

I'm not sure if Gregory Porter realizes it, but his latest album has what I consider (like Gregory Porter cares about my opinion....) the perfect Franciscan song. And I have not been able to get it out of my head.

Where is Christ? Where must we go if we are to find Him, accompany Him, learn from Him? We must go to the alleys. The dirty places. The lonely places. The places where the lost and forgotten gather. Where hope goes to die.

Take me to the alley.



Friday, June 3, 2016

"A Good and Spacious Land"



Ring of Kerry, Ireland: author's photo
Isn't that a beautiful phrase: "a good and spacious land"? It's from Exodus 3:8, as God is giving Moses his commission to help free the Israelites.

I think it sounds like the title of a great book or story, maybe something by Flannery O'Connor. Of course, if it was something she wrote it would be a rather dark look at the good and spacious land.

We need to remember that Scripture is not dead - it's not simply stories of long ago, or lessons to people in another place and time. Scripture is the living Word of God. It has meaning for us, here, now, today.

There was something about that phrase that resonated with me as I was praying the other morning. "A good and spacious land." God promised that to the Israelites, and He promises it to us. (Keep in mind it took the Israelites a hard 40 years to get there.)

Last year was a very difficult year for our family. My husband and I hoped this year would be better, and it is. Yet, our lives are not simply made up of segments of time: a good year, a bad year. They are made of moments (the joy of our daughter's wedding, the love we share with our goddaughter) and made up of events, rites of passage, our friends and family. We live our lives - if we are faithful - in this good and spacious land.

Even in a land that is good, spacious, and flowing with milk and honey, there are bitter herbs to be tasted, chewed, gulped down. Like the Israelites, we have to struggle to figure out where God is leading us, why He has chosen the route He has for us. We often don't see the good and spacious land because we are so caught up in "bitter herbs" that dot the landscape.

We also have an interior life that God desires to be a good and spacious land. Our sense of God who resides in us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, should we be in a state of grace. Our connection with God through prayer and meditation. The grace of the sacraments. The realization of blessings in every moment of every day.

"A good and spacious land." God desires this home for us eternally as well.

A good and spacious land. How good is our God!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mother's Day ... And why I don't always celebrate

Unless you're living in Outer Mongolia, you've been inundated with Mother's Day ads. Apparently, we moms are dying to have buckets of perfume, a shopping spree, expensive handbags and a multitude of other "things" that will prove a child's love.

Of course, we moms know that none of that really matters. Yes, gifts are nice, but it's more the acknowledgement, the love, the thoughtfulness of the day that matter to us.

And yet, I don't always celebrate.

I remember all those years when my heart was broken with infertility, and all the moms were asked to stand in church for a special blessing. I pray for all those women who suffer this pain.

It's hard to celebrate when your child is in the hospital, or in jail. I've been there a LOT. It's just a broken and hopeless feeling - one of those things a mom cannot fix. I pray for all those moms who will face this feeling on Sunday.

This will be the first Mother's Day without my mom. I can hardly bear to look at bouquets of flowers (Mom always said fresh flowers were better than a psychologist). I can't believe I won't talk to her on Sunday. I pray for all of us who are missing our moms this Sunday.

Since my kids have a birth mother, I can only imagine how Mother's Day feels for her. Despite the choices she made that led to her children being placed for adoption, she is a woman who gave them life. She loved them enough for that. I pray for all the moms who've made a choice for adoption, those who've had the choice made for them.

Sometimes, it's hard to look at the choices our kids have made. We want better for them. We want more for them. We can see where they are going astray. We talk, we pray, we weep. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart; it's tough to watch your kids do stupid stuff, dumb stuff, sinful stuff ... and end up broken because of it. I pray for those moms - and I'm in this boat - that stand on the sidelines of their kids' lives and hold them close to a mother's broken heart.

Like every celebration, Mother's Day is bittersweet. We moms will hold our kids close this weekend, and we will be joyful. But many of us will think of the children lost, those who wander, those for whom we suffer. Yes: Happy Mother's Day, and let's be good to those who can't quite celebrate.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Taking pains to set things right

It's ok; I'm fine, really. A little ice will take care of that.
Well, that title is a bit of an idiom for my life.

I found out this week that I have lupus. I was kinda-sorta surprised. I thought it was rheumatoid arthritis (and it still may be, as I found out that some doctors treat "rhupus"). My dad had lupus, so it wasn't too big a surprise.

Dad had the kind that affects only the skin, however. I have the "bad" kind (because I'm bad to the bone!): the kind that affects joints/organs. Lupus is an autoimmune disease and basically what happens is that the antibodies that fight off infections and diseases get confused (maybe it's old age on my part) and start attacking things you need, like your knees and your stomach.

While it's always good to have a diagnosis, no one wants to hear that they have a chronic and painful illness. Yet, God is good, and we know that our suffering here on Earth can be joined with Christ's suffering on the Cross and that all things work together for the good. (That's my inner poster child speaking. On the whole, I'd rather be able to walk without groaning.)

Then, there was this: a gentleman-journalist called me this week. He was doing a story re' my former employer, and ran across an email written by the former city attorney for Grand Rapids, MI to a private citizen while the attorney was still in office. The email, which was supposed to be about a tax issue, was instead about my daughter. Faithful readers will remember that my daughter was the victim of human trafficking a few years ago. We filed a lawsuit against the city for not pursuing the case.

The city attorney had this to say, in part:

“The young woman did not run away from home to become a crack and heroin whore because of anything by the City of Grand Rapids or the GRPD (police). We did not raise her and did not influence her life choices in this regard. The hypocrisy of the Acton Institute and its employees is simply amazing. Beware that you are dealing with hypocrites, sir.”

I do not have many tools at my disposal, but I've got this blog. If you are dismayed that a city official could a) release this type of information to a private citizen and b) be so blatantly offensive, please do me a favor. Write to the local Grand Rapids' media and ask them to investigate. This attorney is now in private practice, but clearly the city of Grand Rapids should know that the woman they were paying to be the voice of the victim has a dim view of victims.

Fox 17
WoodTV
WZZM
MLive-Grand Rapids

Please include the link to the story referencing the email: http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/22382

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Driving Me Crazy

When I took a new job at the beginning of the year, my commute got a bit longer. (It's still not bad at all, especially when you compare it to places like Chicago or Boston.)

I actually enjoy the commute time. I listen to music, sing, pray and I annoy no one.

This morning, I had Dark-haired daughter with me. She has an appointment later, so I dropped her off at her cousin's house for the day and I'll pick her up later.

She is not quiet. Not contemplative. Not serene.

I told her a couple of times, "I really just need quiet." I woke up in a great deal of pain. I just wanted to focus on the drive and the music. "Please, just be quiet."

She agreed. Until...

"Just one question. How many babies can fit in a uterus?"

"Can you be 50 or 40 and have a baby?"

"When you have the baby, what happens to the water that's around the baby?"

My morning commute went from "me time" to a review of the female anatomy, the birth process, and the aftermath of birth. Having never been pregnant, I tried to be as accurate as possible.

Dark-haired daughter is often like a very young child. She asks question after question after question. She's curious. She likes to know how things and people work. Once she's met you, you are fair game for her curiosity. She is never intentionally rude, but sometimes she needs a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder that there is a personal line you shouldn't cross.

Yes, she drives me crazy. But I find her curiosity refreshing and sweet. She is a great companion for an adventure, because she loves new things and new people.

Yes, she drives me crazy. She is the best co-pilot, anytime, anywhere. I'll take the crazy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

artist Stephen B. Whatley
Dear Husband and I had the opportunity to make a one-day retreat yesterday. The priest, Fr. O., was delightful and succinct.

Fr. O. spent the afternoon talking to us about mercy. Did you know "mercy" (in one form or another) is used 400 times in Scripture? Seems as if God is trying to tell us something.

I have to say that I've been struggling with mercy and forgiveness. There are wounds from my former job that still cause me pain. When I think of them, I try to remember to pray words of mercy over the situation and people involved. But it still hurts.

Soon, I am going to have to sit across a table from some of the people who are responsible for the abduction and assault on Dark-haired Daughter. I'd like to say that I am preparing myself for mercy, but that would be a lie. I feel like I'm preparing myself for battle.

Mercy, for us mere mortals, is a work in progress - always. Thankfully, for God, it is not. God is always ready to forgive, embrace, caress, love. We have to fight for that readiness, that ability to see the person and not the sin and hurt. God IS mercy, and we are mere sinners.

Fr. O. gave me a lot to ponder yesterday, and for that I am thankful. Today, I'm going to pray mercy over those situations in my life that remain painful, tender, sore, stinging.

Mercy. 400 times in the Bible. We can't use it enough.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Terrible Beauty


Dear Husband and I are home from 10 days in Ireland. It was amazing. We saw the most beautiful land, managed not to hit any sheep, and ate a lot of great food (and drink!)

We had the opportunity to attend Mass twice. The first time was rather sad. It was a small village church, and the Sunday morning Mass. While it was well-attended by people of all ages, it was perfunctory at best. Thirty minutes start to finish, no music. The responses were said so fast we couldn't keep up. It was as if everyone was there to put in there time, not to worship. How very sad for a place where we Catholics fought so hard for our Faith.

Our next experience was the Sunday Vigil Mass at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. The setting could not have been more beautiful. The cantor was spectacular, and a treasure of a pipe organ provided beautiful accompaniment. The priest gave a solid homily, and while the congregation tended to the elderly, it was worshipful and much more inspiring.

The Pro-Cathedral also played a role in the Easter Uprising of 1916. As Dublin burned and the streets were filled with battle, the priests held open the doors of the church as a place of refuge and for care of the wounded and dying. It was feared that the church would burn, but it did not, and the priests were able to feed the hungry, shelter those who'd lost their homes and tend to those fighting - regardless of which side they were on.

Cherish your church - both your parish and the Universal Church. When you travel, don't hesitate to attend Mass. Wherever you find yourself, you are at home in the Catholic Church. Give your children the gift of history and culture and prayer wherever you find yourselves. It is always good to be in the familiar, but it is a treasure to pray with strangers and sojourners, wherever we may be.