Open Mouth, Insert Foot

I'm sassy. I have a big mouth. I say mean things that I thought would sound witty. Very often, the filter between my brain and my mouth gets shut off.

When I was growing up, my mom would come home from parent teacher conferences, and I'd be waiting for the report. I was a good student, so I was never really worried about grades. My mom would sigh and say, "They all said the same thing. You're a good student, and you have a big mouth." Yeah...

I like to think that I'm honest. I also know that "honest" sometimes comes across as "brutal." I don't intend to be mean, or put people on the defensive, but it happens. You'd think that by this point in my life, I'd have this figured out, but ... no.

Proverbs 15:4: "A soothing tongue is the tree of life." One must assume that a sharp tongue kills.

When I decided last year that it was time to look for a new job, I had to take a good, long and  honest look at myself. I knew I had to bear some of the responsibility for why my then-job had become unbearable. I said stuff I shouldn't. I was pushy.

Now, I find myself in much the same situation with a family member.

I'm a big believer in "having the last word." I have to win the argument, cut to the quick, be witty and win. Of course, this means no one wins - everyone walks away feeling hurt.

I'm 51 years old. Why do I still do this? Why can't I keep my lips sealed, my mouth shut? Why, as St. Paul says, do I keep doing things I know I shouldn't and failing to do the things I should??

Because I'm a sinner. I can't do it on my own.

Thankfully, there is Confession. And I need to go.

And I need to apologize.

And I need to keep my mouth shut.

I'll try. That's all I can do.

Catholic Tourism

Juneau, Alaska: Shrine of St. Therese'
We traveled quite a bit by car when I was a kid. I loved going to new places, but I got horribly car sick, so it wasn't always a fun way to go. (The smell of a new car still makes me nauseous.) Then my mom discovered Dramamine and I slept. They'd wake me up for meals and rest stops, and then I'd get drugged again.

The first thing we did when we checked into a hotel was find the phone book. My dad would locate the closest Catholic church and figure out Mass times. Then the vacation could proceed.

If there was a Catholic shrine or anything Catholic related that was worth a visit, we would go. And because I'm a complete geek, I loved it. I can't say the same for both my sisters....

Servant of God blog has this amazing list of Catholic shrines here in the U.S. Wouldn't it be great to plan a road trip around these? (And I don't get car sick anymore - so long as I'm in the front seat...)

My husband and I stumbled across the one in Kennebunkport, Maine. It was actually "closed" but we walked around the grounds and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Have you been to any?

More miracles from the land of the dying

It's been about six weeks now since Mom passed away. I still find myself making a mental note to call her, then remembering...

There were plenty of miracles surrounding my mom's last days. One of those miracles was hospice, which is frankly a miracle in and of itself. The folks who do this work/vocation are truly called to a ministry, even though most hospice care is not typically religious in nature.

My mom, a retired RN, was a hospice volunteer for many years. Her role was mainly to help the spouse or caretaker of the patient for respite - a wife could go out and get her hair done or a son could get some groceries. One of her favorite "patients" was a gentleman who loved to play cards; they would spend an afternoon playing.

Mom had hospice care in the nursing home. One afternoon, when I was there with both my sisters, the hospice social worker stopped by. She was a thin woman, with dark hair, cut simply. She had large, soft eyes behind trendy glasses.

Now, I must confess I don't have a great deal of love for social workers. Having raised five special needs kids, our family has dealt with a LOT of social workers, and most of them weren't ... good. There was one who made such a terrible impression with one visit my kids mutinied and refused to work with her. (They were completely justified.) Another met with me to decide what Dark-haired daughter's needs were and how best to meet them - and started the meeting by telling me she hadn't had time to read the file. The meeting went downhill from there.

The hospice worker was a gentle soul, and asked me and my sisters to tell her about Mom. She listened enthusiastically, and then spoke to Mom. Mom's lack of response did not deter her. The worker knelt down close to Mom, and started to sing to her - hymns. She prayed the 23rd Psalm. She stroked her arm.

This just doesn't happen in the world of social work. Every social worker I've ever known - good, bad or indifferent - is studiously respectful of faith, but avoid it like the proverbial plague. It's nice for you folks, but we can't discuss it.

Yet this lovely woman prayed and sang and shared God's love with Mom, me and my sisters for almost two hours.

There are no small miracles.

Eric Clapton, Mary, Motherhood and Me


I've often felt like a failure as a mom. Still do sometimes. It was rough raising our kids; they came with a lot of "stuff" they had no control over.

When they were little, I was pretty sure that with enough love, sunshine, therapy and nutritious food, they'd all turn out perfect. I'd have handsome sons and beautiful daughters who loved visiting Mom and Dad, who were all active Catholics and who stunned everyone who met them by all they'd overcome.

You might imagine reality is a bit different.

This is not to say I'm not proud of my kids. I am enormously proud of them. But the family I have is not the family I pictured 20+ years ago. And I thought that meant I'd done something wrong.

It must be my fault that 4 of my 5 kids don't go to church. It must be my fault that I've got two kids that struggle with drug and alcohol issues. It has to be my fault that I've done more psych hospitalizations than most ER attendings. I had social workers on speed dial for years. I knew several of our county sheriffs by their first names. This was not your typical parenting, people!

I look around at peers, and I see their kids doing the seemingly "normal" young adult thing: college, jobs, sports. There are the Facebook posts about Dean's Lists and sorority sisters and internships. That's not our story.

Our story is really...lumpy. And not pretty. And hard. Our story has a lot of anger and crying and total misunderstandings and how the hell did I miss THATs??

Eric Clapton, the British blues musician, wrote a song about Mary. Yeah, that Mary - the Mother of God. He wrote it in rehab. He says he was never much of a believer, but he was so desperate,  he cried out to his mother: Somehow I know you're still there
Send me please some peace of mind
Take away this pain
I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait any longer
I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait for you
Holy mother, hear my cry
I've cursed your name a thousand times
I've felt the anger running through my soul
All I need is a hand to hold.
I imagine my kids have felt this way many times. I simply could not do for them everything they needed - I'm far too flawed. 
In late summer, Curly-Haired Daughter got married. I was dancing with Youngest Son (who is now close to 6'7"). At the end of the song, he grabbed me and wrapped me in a monstrous hug. He said to me, "None of this was your fault, Mom. It's all on me. You've been great." 
This boy is still struggling to figure his life out, but he's come so far. He has chosen not to live with us right now, and honestly, it's for the best. He's doing very well where he's at. But I still hurt for him, with him.He's had a lot of anger running through his soul, as Mr. Clapton put it. Despite all that, he reached out to his mother - and let me know that I was okay.

I"m an okay mom. I'm not the world's greatest mom - just ask my kids. But even though they only had an okay mom, they've turned out to be really awesome people, who are still becoming really awesome people. Yes, our family story is "lumpy" but it's lovely and sweet and passionate and forgiving as well. We know we all have a hand to hold.

Back To Work

Jesus With Carpenter - artist Bandu Dudhat
After two months of being unemployed, I'm finally back to work! It's a good feeling. Not being at work made me rather lazy, I'm afraid.

We are made to be creative and productive. It's imperative for us to feel valued and part of something. That "something" might be volunteer work, it might be caring for young children at home, it might be rocket science.

In 1981, St. John Paul II wrote the encyclical Laborem Exercens. There is a section on work and human dignity.

God's fundamental and original intention with regard to man, whom he created in his image and after his likeness15, was not withdrawn or cancelled out even when man, having broken the original covenant with God, heard the words: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread"16. These words refer to the sometimes heavy toil that from then onwards has accompanied human work; but they do not alter the fact that work is the means whereby man achieves that "dominion" which is proper to him over the visible world, by "subjecting" the earth. Toil is something that is universally known, for it is universally experienced. It is familiar to those doing physical work under sometimes exceptionally laborious conditions. It is familiar not only to agricultural workers, who spend long days working the land, which sometimes "bears thorns and thistles"17, but also to those who work in mines and quarries, to steel-workers at their blast-furnaces, to those who work in builders' yards and in construction work, often in danger of injury or death. It is likewise familiar to those at an intellectual workbench; to scientists; to those who bear the burden of grave responsibility for decisions that will have a vast impact on society. It is familiar to doctors and nurses, who spend days and nights at their patients' bedside. It is familiar to women, who, sometimes without proper recognition on the part of society and even of their own families, bear the daily burden and responsibility for their homes and the upbringing of their children. It is familiar to all workers and, since work is a universal calling, it is familiar to everyone.

And yet, in spite of all this toil-perhaps, in a sense, because of it-work is a good thing for man. Even though it bears the mark of a bonum arduum, in the terminology of Saint Thomas18, this does not take away the fact that, as such, it is a good thing for man. It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man's dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes "more a human being".

He reminds us that - from the Fall - man was doomed to toil. (And St. John Paul was no stranger to toil. He worked in the mines in Poland during WWII, walking miles and miles to and from this dangerous and dirty job.) However, he says, work is good. If work is dignified, if work is ethical, it is not only good, it elevates us. We move from simply being a cog in a machine to a fuller expression of our human nature.

I'm happy to be sitting at a desk, absorbing new information, feeling like a part of a team. Work is good.

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,...