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I’ve got white candles and I’m not afraid to use them

In these parts, throat blessings are hard to come by. No, make that near impossible. It’s just not done. At least not at our parish. So years ago I took it upon myself to do the blessings. And, yes, that’s allowed. The first time I blessed throats for my class of fourth-grade faith formation students, they looked at me in fear and asked if I was going to light those candles before holding them up to their throats. Ah, how sad that these kids don’t know some of the more interesting traditions of our faith. But once I told them about St. Blaise, a bishop and martyr who is said to have healed a boy who was choking on a fish bone, they were all in, and eagerly so. Read more

You make beautiful things…

I’m sitting in my sunporch, sipping coffee and writing a prayer for a client on this gray day, with twinkling lights in my windows and an electric “fire” in my stove. I looked around at my “office” and at the lush green yard beyond the windows and thought, “How lucky am I?” Answer: Very lucky and incredibly blessed. Then I started humming this song… Read more

‘What kind of blessing was that?’ The best kind.

I have to run out and sell some Girl Scout cookies this morning, so I can’t write the pope post I’d like to write just yet. I’ll be back later or tomorrow with that. So for now I’d just like to leave you to ponder this one quote from Pope Francis’ meeting with the media this morning. Read the whole story over at the CNS Blog (photo from CNS): Read more

God walks with us, even when we try to walk away

About two weeks ago, I had to go for a CT-arterial scan due to a family history of heart disease and an echocardiogram that showed the possibility of a dilated artery. Having a mother who died at 47 of colon cancer, I take all health-related family history pretty seriously, which is why I go for colonoscopies the way other people go for teeth cleanings.

When I finally saw the cardiologist yesterday — after a somewhat-nervewracking wait between iodine-injected scan and results — I was a tiny bit nervous that my Advent season was going to be more about waiting in doctors’ offices and hospitals rather than waiting in silent prayer at home in front of the Advent wreath. But I lucked out. The doctor told me my scan bored him. One reading was zero, as in, can’t get any better or lower than that. At that point I think I started breathing again. It had been a long two weeks, going without breathing and all. Read more

These are days to remember…

I was driving to and from Noah’s film club meeting, Olivia’s horseback riding lessons, and Chiara’s competition ballet-tap-jazz class yesterday — and squeezing in some much-needed raking during the “spare” minutes at home in between –when I started to get that overwhelmed, woe-is-me feeling. I was heading down the same road for the third time in less than an hour, wondering how we had reached this tipping point.

As I pulled onto the long gravel road leading to the stables to wait for Olivia’s lesson to end, Natalie Merchant started singing “These Are Days,” and suddenly I could feel tears forming out of nowhere. Not tears of frustration or desperation, but tears of sudden realization. Tears of gratitude for what I know is a blessing, as difficult as it can sometimes feel.

These are the days
These are days you’ll remember
Never before and never since, I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it,
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky

In a flash I went from fragmented to full, fast-forwarding to some day down the road when my children no longer need me to cart them around or read the stories they make up or take them on a camping trip.

I remember when Noah was a toddler, and people who were parenting teens at the time would tell me to savor the terrible twos because adolescence was going to make it look like a cake walk. And they were right. And now, when I complain about a house cluttered with toys and book bags and school papers, those same parents remind me that in a few short years my house will be quiet and clean, and I will long for the days of clutter and confusion. And I have no doubt they will be right again.

These are days to remember, even when I want to forget.

Here’s Natalie to sing us out. Have a great weekend, and remember to savor the moments, even the ones that make you crazy.

Gratitude for the ordinary

Today I am grateful for so many seemingly ordinary things….

For rain pouring down and the sound it makes as it hits the roof and drips from tree branches…

For a battery candle flickering as if it is real, for an electric fire “burning” as I write, for incense rising to the sky like my silent prayers — unspoken but always echoing from my heart to a God who is so distant and so close all at once…

For hours of quiet and solitude stretching before me so I can write, think, pray, be…

For my family, off at school and work but safe and happy and healthy (save for one broken arm)…

For this beautiful month of September, my favorite month of the year (and not just because it includes my birthday). For all the things this month promises…crisp apples (if you can find them this year), crisp air that is just around the corner, and crisp leaves that will soon be underfoot waiting to be raked silently and slowly and mindfully beneath a bright autumn sun…

For the half-century mark of my life that is fast approaching. How did I get here? How much further will I go? Will I be like my grandmother and get to do this entire life all over again until I celebrate a century? I have already surpassed my own mother in terms of years. The mystery of it all can be overwhelming…

For every day I get, for however long…

For every person who loves me, faults and all…

For a Creator who loved me into being and loves without condition for all eternity…

Good vs. evil is often a subtle choice

This Monday morning got off to a hectic and somewhat frustrating start. Nothing major, just the usual mayhem with a couple of extra inconveniences added in. But that’s all they were really — inconveniences. Unfortunately, my glass-half-empty perspective makes mountains out of these kinds of molehills, and that just leads to more frustration, more mayhem, and all around unhappiness.

So after everyone left for school and while I was waiting for the repairman to show up and replace our smashed-in windshield, I decided to whip up some serious green juice and park myself in a deck chair for five minutes of sunshine and silent prayer along with my shot of chlorophyll.

As I read through Morning Prayer (in Give Us This Day), I got stuck on one line from Psalm 20:

“May the Lord answer you in time of trial.”

When I first came back to that line, I thought, “Yes, Lord, why don’t you help me in this time of trial?” As I reflected a little more and sat in silence looking up at the trees, I next thought. “Trials? Really? Nothing about your life is a trial.” And then I thought about all those people I know who have real, true, heart-breaking trials in their lives. Even at its absolute worst, there really isn’t anything about my current life that can be classified as a “trial.” I am blessed beyond measure and recognize that true trials could come at any moment. Yet I still tend to look at what’s around me and see the negatives.

So I asked God, “Why am I like this? Why did you make me this way?” Seriously. I said that out loud to the trees and sky and birds. Why can’t I express my gratitude with joy rather than fear. And that’s what it comes down to. Again. Fear. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always trying to prepare for the day when the blessings are pulled out from under me.

And I wondered — as I do on a regular basis — if it’s possible to change such a central part of my personality at such a late date. Not to change my true self but to become my true self, which I think is hidden under my cynicism and doubt and fear. I’ve made minor advances here and there over the years, but never a major breakthrough toward joy. Joy tinged with fear, but never straight-up joy.

As I sat, hesitant to go inside just yet despite lots of work piled up on my desk, I flipped to the day’s readings, which basically focus on good vs. evil, and a subsequent reflection by Sister Gail Fitzpatrick, OCSO. And I stopped cold. Clearly this was the line I was meant to read today, this was the reason I had lingered outside beyond my self-imposed time limit:

“Each of us knows the agony of daily choices that can lead to life and love, or to darkness and debilitating relationships. As individuals and communities we become who we are by the choices we make.”


So I think that was the answer to my question about whether it’s possible to teach an old dog new tricks. Now I just have to focus on making the right choices, not necessarily when it comes down to the big stuff (I think I’ve got that part down for the most part) but when it comes down to the minor details, the stuff that makes or breaks everyday life at home with a family. In a sense, it’s my own personal battle with good vs. evil, light vs. dark. Not the stuff of superheroes, or even supermoms. Just the simple — and yet sometimes oh-so-difficult — decision to choose love.

Today, choose joy, choose life, choose blessings — even those blessings disguised as trials.

‘What if your blessings come through raindrops?’

I love this song by Laura Story. (If you’re my Facebook friend, you’ve probably seen me post it over there at least once in recent months.) I needed to hear it again today, during this Lent that feels particularly desert-like to me for so many reasons, none of them earth-shattering. And still it feels awfully dark. This song reminds me to look for light there anyway.

An unchanging message: Drive-by lessons in faith

Here’s my post from OSV Daily Take today:

I’m not one for pithy quotes posted on big signs outside churches. I typically find them distracting at best or silly and inane at worst. But when I drove by the local Reform church in my town yesterday, the posted comment hit home:

“You don’t change the message; the message changes you.”

I found myself giving a little “Amen!” as I turned onto a side street. Sure this sign referred to the general Christian message, but I think it applies even more appropriately to the Catholic message.

We live in a world where everyone tries to change with the times, and too often society thinks the Church should follow suit. We should be more flexible and fluid, more “modern” and adaptive, we hear from sources of every stripe, Catholic and not. And still we attempt to stay true to the message, even when the message is as counter-cultural as it gets, from abortion and embryonic stem cell research to capital punishment and war.

Why don’t we just change the message and take the heat off ? Because our Church knows — we know — precisely what the signage tried to convey in one line. If we keep moving the goal posts, changing the message to suit the times, we don’t move closer to the Kingdom or according to Jesus’ teaching. We move according to our own needs and desires. But, if we allow the message to sink in and to become part of us, even when it’s not easy to accept or practice, slowly but surely the message will, in fact, change us.

In her beautiful book “One Thousand Gifts,” writer Ann Voskamp writes about discovering the fact that living the Christian message means being grateful — counting our blessings — even when the “blessings” are painful or difficult experiences that we don’t want in our lives and can’t understand. That’s some hard teaching, but it’s at the heart of this idea that we can’t change the message. The message is what it is, and it will change us if we let it.

Ann writes:

“Thanksgiving — giving thanks in everything — prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ.

“The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God — even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion — this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him. At the Eucharist, Christ breaks His heart to heal ours — Christ, the complete accomplishment of our salvation. And the miracle of eucharisteo never ends: thanksgiving is what precedes the miracle of that salvation being fully worked out in our lives.”

So the message doesn’t change. The message can’t change. Not if we hope to be changed by it, to be made new in Christ. His message must be our message.

That’s a pretty powerful faith lesson for a little church sign on a hot May morning. I hope I remember it, not only in good times but in the bad times that are an inevitable part of life. Thanksgiving, Eucharist — an unchanging, life-changing message.