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 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.

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 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....

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 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.

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.

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 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!

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 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.

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?

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.

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.

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 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!)

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 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.

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.

"Like A Virgin" Redux

For those of us of a certain age, we remember the tiny earthquake of Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Let's just say that it was anything but virginal.

However, there's a new girl in town, and her version of this song is remarkable. Sister Cristina Scuccia, the Italian sister who won "The Voice" in Italy, has released her first single - yup, "Like a Virgin." She didn't alter the lyrics at all. And it works.


"God gives special kids to special people" and why that's a load of BS

Katie and her son
Katie Corkern knows what it means to be in the trenches of parenthood. She and her husband have a medically-fragile son.

Like every parent of a special needs kid (including yours truly), Katie has been told, "God gives special children to special people." Now, people are well-meaning, of course, but Katie is calling them out:

In all these years I’ve heard from family, friends and strangers about what a great job I’m doing raising my Connor man. I look down, shift my feet around and quietly say thank you. Then the dreaded words are said. “God only gives special kids to special people.” I kindly smile on the outside, but on the inside I scream. I hate that saying. I know these sweet people only have the most genuine thoughts behind this, but they need to know the truth — God can give anyone, yes, anyone, a child with special needs....

We’ve all heard that saying: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I call that BS. My God is a loving God but a challenging one. He wants to see me thrive and grow into the person I was meant to be. Challenges along the way are all a part of the journey He has created for me; how I deal with them is up to me. God will give me more than I can handle, but He guides me and gives me the grace to encounter them.

She's right. There is nothing special about us. We don't naturally have more patience or kindness. We aren't born with the medical knowledge it takes to raise our kids. We are befuddled and angry and at a loss of what to do many, many times.

When you’re given a child with needs that are far greater than you can imagine, you must rise to the challenge and become the parent the child needs and whose life depends on it. It will be a tough, long road full of potholes and dangerous curves trying to throw you off course.

You can read Katie's entire piece at The Mighty.

(Might I add that The Mighty is a great website - uplifting and honest.)

The Lord's Prayer: A Capella



Enjoy!

Monday Morning Musings

1. I'm grumpy. My weekend felt like it was 5 hours long...
2. I'm thankful. A small joke among friends that began years ago got resurrected when I received a package this morning. Thank God for old friends, inside jokes and laughter.
3. I'm singing. Audrey Assad. Pick a song, any song.
4. I'm seeing. The colors here in West MI are at their peak. It is glorious here.
5. I'm working. The monograph on human trafficking is progressing, but it is hard, hard work.

Being Joyful: Lessons from a skunk and my aunt

I've written on this before, but let's just go over this again: happiness and joy are NOT the same thing.

Happiness is always temporary, and always about external circumstances. It is fleeting. It is of this world. It's not bad, but it's not the be-all-and-end-all of life.

Joy, on the other hand, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a state that relies on faith, on the eternalness of God. It is a glimpse of Heaven on earth. It is what every person of faith should strive for.

Let's look at an example that gets this all wrong, shall we?


“I’m really trying not to let this experience steal my joy but it’s hard” — An owner of an Hermes bag that apparently smells like a skunk. She’s not alone; a large batch of bags reportedly smell. Devastating.

(If you're not aware, a Hermes purse can cost upwards of $20,000 easily. I'm not kidding.)

I feel bad for this lady. Not because her purse smells like a skunk (although that IS really disgusting) but because she thinks she is going to find the gift of the Holy Spirit in a hunk of leather you throw your car keys and cell phone in.  She thought that by getting this purse, true joy would enter her life. See, she's confusing happiness ("I got a pretty new purse!") with joy ("I am a child of God! No circumstance can rob me of my inheritance!")

I was sifting through a bunch of old greeting cards the other day. I was both cleaning out a drawer and trying to find some materials for scrapbooking (meaning I was going to chop up the cards.) I kept a few from the kids, with their barely-able-to-write scrawls, but most of them got cut up. 

Then I stopped. I found a card from my Aunt Ruth. It was a birthday card, dated more than a decade ago. Her familiar handwriting jumped off the card - a few simple sentences. That card I kept.

My Aunt Ruth was my pen pal of sorts. We wrote each other regularly, starting when I was in about 8th grade. Her letters and cards were always filled with her faith, her laughter (she had the best laugh - I cannot WAIT to hear that laugh again in Heaven!), her connection with her church, her friends, her family. She cherished people. She had a "club" of girlfriends from high school that had weekly lunch from pre-World War II until the last one died in her 90s. 

Aunt Ruth is who I think of when I think of joy. Regardless of what was going on around her, she laughed, she took time for people, she listened, she prayed. She was not a prophet, but rather an illustration - a painting of the Master's hand of what joy is meant to be.

She would have laughed at the poor lady with the skunky person. Not to make fun of the poor woman (really: poor. This lady has no idea what wealth means), but because Aunt Ruth knew that joy was not to be purchased, or draped over your arm. It is an rich out-pouring of a God who cannot be out-spent, out-done, out-lavished. And that is joy.

Book Suggestion: Catholic Guide to Depression

Why, you ask, might a Catholic need a specific guide to depression? Do Catholics get depressed differently than other folks? Should depression be treated differently for a Catholic than say a Muslim or an atheist or a Baptist?

Author Aaron Kheriaty, who is head of psychiatry at the University of California/Irvine, makes a terrific case for Catholics needing specific care for depression. All believers, he says, must take into account their spiritual lives when battling this deadly disease.

Kheriaty, a Catholic, explains that the spiritual component of treatment is far too often left out by both patients and doctors. While depression is not spiritual in nature, spirituality plays a role in both the disease and the sound treatment.

Kheriaty draws heavily on both sound scientific study and brilliant theology (St. John Paul II spoke directly about depression, and Kheriaty also uses the lives of the saints to illustrate points.)

While this book is written for Catholics, I think any practicing Christian could draw much from it. It is also not just for those who are battling depression, but for their loved ones who are trying to understand the illness.

I highly recommend this book.

Monday Morning Musings

Lincoln sky
Whew! I've been a busy girl; I apologize for the light blogging.

1. Just returned from a human trafficking conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was a great experience, for many reasons.
2. Heard a fabulous presentation from two men who work in Nepal, and who are making progress in stopping human trafficking there with some unique methods.
3. It was primarily an academic conference, and that often means "hostile to religious believers." This one was no different, although there were quite a few folks who were truly faithful to the Gospel.
4. Lincoln is a great town! I had plenty of time to explore, and enjoyed the beautiful weather, the friendly folks, and the vibe of a university town.
5. Good heavens, I missed home! Just the simple pleasure of sitting next to Dear Husband and watching a tv show together, with a cat on my lap...oh, there really is no place like home!
6. Wear your wedding garment! That was the message of our pastor yesterday. He reminded us of our baptismal garment that we were each given, clean and unstained. That is the garment we are to wear when we enter into the heavenly banquet feast.

Dr. Ben Carson: a few thoughts

I was privileged to hear Dr. Ben Carson speak last night at the Grand Rapids Right to Life dinner (over 2,000 people!!).

Here are a few of my take-aways from his talk:

  • Life is precious. All of it. Right now. Regardless of what a person can or cannot do.
  • We need to thoughtfully, humbly and generously engage people we don't agree with. If we disagree with them, ask what their position is. Ask if you can explain yours. Converse; don't argue.
  • Education is primary for getting and staying out of poverty. No excuses. If you can get to a library, you can get an education. 
  • Read. Commit yourself to spend 30 minutes every day learning about something you're not familiar with. If it physics, geography, history, quilting, landscape architecture - whatever. Pick something and learn.
  • The men and women who fought to found our nation should be our heroes and role models for today. They did not stand for the erosion of their rights, nor did they relinquish their God-given freedoms to an oppressive government. Nor should we.
  • Any political affiliations one has should be secondary to our love for America. This is a Judeo-Christian nation, and we must honor God and country above any political assignations.
All in all, a stirring evening. He is not a bombastic speaker, but a gentle story-teller with a serious message that we need to heed.

Monday Morning Musings

Lotsa love in this pic!
1. BUSY! Holy cow, I'm feeling the pressure! Prayers are appreciated as I head off to a human trafficking conference this week. Pray that it will be a fruitful event for all involved.
2. Going to the Grand Rapids' Right to Life dinner tonight to hear Dr. Ben Carsons speak. Quite excited.
3. I can't even begin to tell you what a glorious weekend I had with two of my dearest friends. We did ArtPrize, we ate and drank and talked and laughed. I'm full to the brim with the goodness of it all.
4. Saturday was the feast day of St. Francis - a good reminder to live in joyful service to God!

Did you hear that? It's probably your guardian angel

When I was little, if I came running to my mom and said, "Did you call me?" and she hadn't, she would respond, "It was probably your guardian angel."

When you think about having your own personal angel to watch over you, guide you, guard you, protect you from spiritual and physical harm, and pray for you: that's an awesome thought. Awe. (You still remember "awe" don't you? "An overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful")

I think angels get a bad rap. No, it's not that we ignore them; we don't take them seriously enough. They're not floating naked babies. We humans don't turn into angels when we get to Heaven. They aren't red-headed Irish (not that's there is one darn thing wrong with that!) girls running around saving people from bull-headed decisions. They are gauzy creatures who appear in the mist, flapping their wings. 

No, angels are pretty incredible.


328 The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls "angels" is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.
329 St. Augustine says: "'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is 'spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is 'angel': from what they are, 'spirit', from what they do, 'angel.'" With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they "always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" they are the "mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word"
330 As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.

332 Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham's hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examplesFinally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself.
333 From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God "brings the firstborn into the world, he says: 'Let all God's angels worship him.'"Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church's praise: "Glory to God in the highest!" They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been.Again, it is the angels who "evangelize" by proclaiming the Good News of Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection. They will be present at Christ's return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgement.
334 In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.
335 In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the funeral liturgy's In Paradisum deducant te angeli. . .["May the angels lead you into Paradise. . ."]). Moreover, in the "Cherubic Hymn" of the Byzantine Liturgy, she celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and the guardian angels).
336 From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession "Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life." Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.[emphasis mine]

Okay, that's a lot, but it's really important. REALLY. Because angels are really important. You have a protector and shepherd. Do you speak to your guardian angel? Ask your guardian angel to pray for and with you? Do you thank your guardian angel for watching over you, caring for you?

My sister-in-law once told me that one of the jobs of your guardian angel was to keep track of all those you pray for and all that have prayed for you. Should you reach Heaven, your angel will be able to say, "See him? He prayed for you when you were sick." "See her? That's the child you prayed for when your friend asked you for prayers. You never knew her in your earthly life, but you shall know her now."

You don't want to get to Heaven and have your guardian angel, your best spiritual friend, be a stranger to you.

Angel of God, 
my guardian dear, 
To whom God's love commits me here, 
Ever this day, be at my side, 
To light and guard, 
Rule and guide. Amen.

Monday Morning Musings

1. Incredible sermon from our pastor yesterday regarding "obedience." He really dug into the second reading yesterday, that beautiful hymn in St. Paul's letter to the Philippians. Obedience really means "to listen" and if we do that, it will transform us into the image of Christ.
2. I'm happy that the Detroit Tigers clinched their division, but we really need a World Series this year, guys. It's the game in October that separates the boys from the men, if you know what I mean....
3. Friday night turned into an unexpected party. My Tallest Son came home, then Curly-Haired Daughter and Fiance' showed up, then my sister and her son! Whoot! Had a great time chatting with my kids, who are now human beings (past the teenage years where conversation genuinely resembles either mumbling or a shouted, "I KNOW!")
4. Much work to do: book review to write, interview to be done, and working on my human trafficking monograph for work. Prayer is appreciated!
5. An online friend who makes GORGEOUS handmade scapulars had a little contest, and I won! I'm getting an Our Lady of Fatima scapular. Can't decide if I'm gonna keep it or give it away....
6. It's the feast day of the Archangels:

 Through the power of Michael, leader of the heavenly armies in the war against evil,
Protect your people, Lord.
Through the word of Gabriel, message-bearer of the Gospel,
Save your people, Lord.
Through the intervention of Raphael, companion and healer,
Comfort your people, Lord.

Walking on Water

During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.- Mt. 14:25-29

Walking on Water - Azurite

Yesterday was a day of faith. It was a day of life and death, of beauty and harshness. It seemed liked all of life, in just a few short hours.

Dear Husband coaches high school soccer; we're in the midst of the boys' season right now. Just before his team took the pitch on Monday night, they were informed that a classmate had committed suicide. It's a very small school, and all the boys knew the young man. It was tremendously hard.

Yesterday morning, Husband texted me and asked if I had any ideas for black armbands for the boys to wear for their games tonight and tomorrow. I first thought about making some, but I knew I wouldn't have time. I prayed a "Hail Mary" and Googled local sporting goods stores. There is one literally half a block from where I work, so I started there.

I got the owner on the phone. He knew the young man, and his family. We talked about some options and I walked over there. He handed me a box with the items, and said, "No charge."

As all this was going on, my Oldest Sister was texting me: her mother-in-law had died. It was not unexpected; "Ma" has been quite sick for sometime, and hospice has been in their home regularly, helping to care for her. Understandably, my sister was upset and needed to vent. I was trying to comfort her, find these armbands, and work. We had a rather large event at work last night.

Today marks the beginning of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, and one of the artists my office is hosting was here last night to speak. Mako Fujimura is a New York-based painter who speaks - in dulcet tones - about faith, art and culture. His talk last night was transformational. He spoke not only on the work he has entered in ArtPrize, but about his work in general, and how his Christian faith informs his work.

While his work could easily be called "modern," he uses traditional Japanese methods. His ArtPrize work - Walking On Water - Azurite - was created with water on gesso, using crushed minerals, including azurite. He said last night, just as he pulverizes minerals to create, "God has to pulverize us to make us beautiful."

The painting is quite large (8'x11'), and Mako said he literally was "walking on water" as he was creating it. He referenced the Scripture passage above, and the need to walk out in faith, on something that does not hold us firm.

When I came into work today, I stood for a time before the painting. Water is one of the first things God created, an element of both life and death. It cleanses and baptizes, refreshes and drowns. It is only our faith that makes it "safe."

Yesterday was a day of faith and blessing, life and death. "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."

Monday Morning Musings


1. I got to watch Curly-haired Daughter try on wedding gowns on Friday. Yes, I cried.
2. Weren't the readings for Mass yesterday powerful? And our pastor gave such a wonderful sermon.
3. We welcomed a number of people at Mass yesterday into the Rite of Acceptance. This is the first step in a long, intense journey that leads to full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter. I'm so thrilled that one of my great-nieces was among these people.

The Rite of Acceptance is short, but powerful. The person's eyes, ears, shoulders, hand and feet are all blessed in order for strength for this journey, and they are given a Bible. After the homily, these people will be dismissed every week to further study the Word of God. It is a powerful witness to the rest of us - this journey requires much faith and prayer.

4. Dark-haired Daughter joined the youth group for bowling last night. Her highlight: she beat our pastor's score.
5. Dear Husband and I enjoyed a little time together yesterday, to see a movie. Have to sneak in this time, as it is still soccer season. Love the game, but I'll be glad when the season is done!

Amazing Grace

My brother hates the hymn "Amazing Grace." Or at least, he thinks it should never be sung in any Catholic Church for any reason. Protestant theology - "being found" and "wretches."

My friend Amy, on the other hand, calls it "America's hymn," one all Christians can sing together with joyful praise.

I am somewhere in the middle, I suppose. Yes, it definitely is chock-full of Protestant thought, but I don't think that should keep Catholics from singing it. I think it's full of truth as well.

"That saved a wretch like me." That is certainly true. I am a sinful wretch. No, I don't believe I'm a pile of dung covered up with a blanket of snow, but I know I am nothing without God. I am a sinner, through and through.

"I once was lost, but now am found" How many times has this happened in my life? Over and over, I wander from God, from faith, hope and love. I find myself lost, sad, angry, scared. Then I turn around, and my Father is there, arms out-stretched, waiting upon me.

My favorite verse is this one:

When we've been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.


I dare not be assured of my salvation, but I do hope in God's grace and I certainly hope I will spend eternity in His glorious presence. I cannot imagine eternity, but these words touch the fringes of this hope. And I know there will be music in Heaven, and I greatly hope I'll one day join in that amazing chorus of grace.

Dilemmas, heartache and Monday mornin' quarterbackin'

Curly-haired daughter is getting married: Yay!

She's not getting married in the Church: ooph....

We have raised 5 kids. Only one goes to church (well, THE church. Curly-haired daughter does go to church, but not the one Christ founded.) It's a disaster of epic proportions and I'm not overstating the case. I know I'm going to have to answer to Almighty God for this one day, and I'm afraid I'm going to get a humongous red "F" for this.

What did I do wrong? Was it our decision to homeschool during those early years? Did I use the wrong curriculum? Did the kids hate family prayer in the mornings, half-asleep and cold? Was it all the time committed to the Church outside of Mass? Did I just talk about Jesus and Mary too much?

It sounds vapid put this way, but my heart really is broken. I've failed at the most important task a Catholic mother is given: to bring up her children in the Faith so that they will continue it with their generation and the next.

I know some of my family won't attend my daughter's wedding and I completely understand. I hope that they understand that I will. I won't put the opportunity for reconciliation with the Church at stake - to refuse to attend my daughter's wedding is to put up a rather severe roadblock to continued dialogue.

Well, if I screwed something up, I take full responsibility. At this point, the only thing I can do is pray and talk. The rest is up to God, and my children and their free will, their consciences and their willingness to seek Truth. For He is a Person, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, ever-loving, ever-patient, ever-just. I hope they all find Him again.

Monday Morning Musings

Our Lady of Sorrows
1. Sick. Sick. Sick. Not really sick, but annoyingly sick. A cold virus has been kicking me around for almost a week. Sick of being sick.
2. Had a heart-to-heart with Curly-haired daughter last week. She is now engaged. She's been hemming and hawing about wedding plans, and I suspected the reason. She does not want to get married in the Church. My heart is broken, but I am trying to be calm. I know there is virulent and strong opinions about this type of situation ("No, you should not attend the wedding under ANY circumstances!") but we are trying to keep lines of communication open. But I'm sick about that, too. It's the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows; a good day to pray.
3. Just to top things off, had a horrible nightmare about Youngest Son last night. I could see and hear him suffering, but I couldn't get to him. Freud, anyone?
4. Dear Hubby is sick now too. I don't expect this will be another spectacular week in our home....

September 8: Nativity of Mary

Mater mea, fiducia mea!
My Mother, my confidence my trust my assurance!
 
Thanks to Holy Card Heaven, for its treasure trove of beautiful prayer cards!

Always Faithful

We went to Mass last night, and had an older priest. In his homily, he exhorted us to "semper paratus:" Be prepared. The Gospel,...