Monday, December 02, 2013

A spark in her bonfire heart*

She waltzes, alone, no glorious dress whirling 'round her,
In too-long jeans, a T-shirt and bare feet, cool on the foyer tile.
The muscles in her feet flex and arch, pushing her through the quarter turns
And the balance steps, the music's exuberance having launched her from
Her couch's supine embrace. Her own arms, mimicking a proper hold
Clasp no one, only her imagination sees a partner, feels his hand on her waist.
Smiling to herself, she pauses in turn, laughing at the fiction
And thinks suddenly of how goofy she would seem,
Should someone stumble upon her,
Spinning, a solitary Miss Havisham, minus the ghoulishness.
And yet she finds joy in the dance, even if it is danced alone.

*Thanks for the inspiration, James Blunt.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Love's as Warm as Tears"


"Love's as Warm as Tears" by C. S. Lewis

Love's as warm as tears,
Love is tears:
Pressure within the brain,
Tension at the throat,
Deluge, weeks of rain,
Haystacks afloat,
Featureless seas between
Hedges, where once was green.

Love's as fierce as fire,
Love is fire:
All sorts - infernal heat
Clinkered with greed and pride,
Lyric desire, sharp-sweet,
Laughing, even when denied,
And that empyreal flame
Whence all loves came.

Love's as fresh as spring,
Love is spring:
Bird-song hung in the air,
Cool smells in a wood,
Whispering, "Dare! Dare!"
To sap, to blood,
Telling "Ease, safety, rest,
Are good; not best."

Love's as hard as nails,
Love is nails:
Blunt, thick, hammered through
The medial nerves of One
Who, having made us, knew
The thing He had done,
Seeing (with all that is)
Our cross, and His.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Decisions, decisions...

So having finally finished St. Augustine's "Confessions" last week, I need to decide which of the many awaiting spiritual works I'll tackle next.

Here are a few of my choices:

The biography of Blessed Pope John XXIII can wait a little, I think, but I definitely want to read it before he is canonized in April. Other than the fact that he called the Second Vatican Counsel, I know so little about him.

St. Rita is one of my favorite saints, ever since I heard her referred to in college as "the saint of impossible dreams," or a female St. Jude. She's on my go-to short(ish) list of saints I pray to regularly and, while I'm familiar with the rudiments of her story, would like to read it in more detail.

"Love and Responsibility" I've wanted to read for ages. I also have a feeling I could read "Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory" in tandem with another one of these books, say as a devotional before bed, even.

Tackling a re-read (or re-start, rather) of "No Man is an Island" probably deserves to be at the top of my list (see the above link), since I already started it once.

The book on the bottom I think I discovered in a Leaflet Missal catalog. It's an 1897 reprint about Catholic nuns aiding the wounded during the Civil War. It's a part of history, despite knowing a fair bit of the about the Civil War, that I'm completely unfamiliar with, which ergo makes it fascinating to me.

Right, so Merton first, I think, then the Civil war nuns. :)

Romantic proposals

We've all seen them: viral YouTube videos (or, I'm dating myself here, when TLC had a show -- a spin-off of "A Wedding Story" -- called "A Proposal Story") of men proposing to their girlfriends in grand manner with marching bands, dancing flash mobs, family members flown or Skyped in, celebrity help or personal films played in rented movie theaters. They're fun and utterly joyful to watch, and you have to commend these guys for putting so much planning and effort into that special moment.

There's nothing wrong and so many things right about them, but I've never wanted that.

I think just about any woman has imagined at some point (barring those who discerned religious life from an early age) how they would like -- or not like -- a man to propose to them, even if the face of the man is still hazy. I, for example, don't want to be proposed to at a sporting event, in a jewelry store (ugh, that one Zales commercial actually makes me cringe a bit), at any store or restaurant for that matter or at a giant family gathering ( for either side). Call me selfish, but -- should I be fortunate in that regard -- I've always wanted that moment to belong just to me and the man who will be my husband. Some of the most beautiful proposal stories I've heard from my now married or engaged girlfriends are the ones where the men planned something personal, yet private, whether it was on a beach, up a mountainside or in a church.

And the other day, going through my Feedly feed, was this post by Ann Voskamp, "The Real Truth about ‘Boring’ Men — and the Women who Live with Them: Redefining Boring," which I find incredibly beautiful. 

In it, her sons ask how their dad proposed, and when she says it was without fanfare in a car, pulled over on the side of the road on a cold winter's night, and that he even (shockingly!) didn't drop to one knee, their immediate response is "how boring!"

Voskamp explains to her sons, however, that it isn't the proposal that makes a life, but  "how a man purposes to lay down his life that makes him romantic."

She doesn't argue that romance is bad, because it isn't at all. But she goes on:

"Romance isn’t measured by how viral your proposal goes. The internet age may try to sell you something different, but don’t ever forget that viral is closely associated with sickness – so don’t ever make being viral your goal.
Your goal is always to make your Christ-focus contagious – to just one person.
It’s more than just imagining some romantic proposal.
It’s a man who imagines washing puked-on sheets at 2:30 am, plunging out a full and plugged toilet for the third time this week, and then scraping out the crud in the bottom screen of the dishwasher — every single night for the next 37 years without any cameras rolling or soundtrack playing — that’s imagining true romance. ... The real romantics are the boring ones — they let another heart bore a hole deep into theirs."

I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Let it begin with me

So at mass on Sunday, I was in a great mood. I'd been to the Audrey Assad concert the night before (it was essentially an hour and a half of praise and worship, which was wonderful and much needed), and woken up at 6:15, thanks to the time change, then made some progress in reading St. Augustine's confessions (which I've been reading off and on for over a year now -- but I'm almost done!).

Like I said, great mood, the priest gave a wonderful homily, and I wasn't even minding the cantor's overly operatic musical stylings that typically distract me completely from the mass. I was sitting on the end of a pew, and next to me was an older man, easily in his 80s. I got up and went to communion and got hung up in the line for the precious blood, so because the pew had filled from the opposite end, walked all the way around the section of pews to come back to my seat. When I got there, I found the old man had moved both my purse and my sunglasses over and taken my spot!

He moved off the kneeler and let me back into the pew as soon as I tapped his shoulder, but it was amazing how fast my great mood started to fizzle, and I could feel myself getting annoyed. My internal dialog as I knelt went something like this:

"That man took my seat! And he moved my stuff! How dare he?! That's so rude! I would never do that! Does he think just because he's ancient he can do whatever he wants? I bet he just wants to duck out so he can win the race of other seniors out of the parking lot....But wait, I just received Jesus in the Eucharist, I shouldn't be letting myself be angry. Be charitable, be charitable, Lord please help me to be charitable."

Guess what the closing hymn was?

"Let there be Peace on Earth."

And I started to laugh silently to myself. "Let begin with me," indeed! It turned out that my supposition about the man was wrong, as he didn't leave until the hymn was over. I have no idea about why he actually felt the need to move over and take the spot at the end of the pew previously occupied by me (I guess I can't really call it mine, either, since the pews don't exactly have assigned seating). But I got to thinking as I drive home that that's all it takes, something that small and quick, for us to take our eyes off the Lord get off track, and for the devil to slither in, even when we've been focusing on prayer.  

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo?

So today, Jen over at Conversion Diary blogged about NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month, which is November -- and just tackling writing projects in general: "I felt God nudging me to write this post, like he was saying, 'There is someone out there who needs to write a book. I gave them this great idea for a story, and they keep talking themselves out of putting it down on paper.'"

Raises hand.

Ugh. I have been so tempted to do NaNoWriMo so many times, but never have...and the ideas for books (both fiction and non) in my head are nearly endless (years ago...YEARS! ...I had an idea for a Catholic chick-lit novel, and got so much encouragement from people I talked to about it (even a Sister of Life), but did nothing). But I'm just so afraid that I will run out of time in the day to get writing in because of excuses (work, trying to work out more, the experimental cooking I never do, thinking about projects, daydreaming about things, reading other people's books that are probably better than anything I'll write and watching TV shows that have started up again...b/c some of us don't have/can't afford a DVR to watch them whenever we want and fast forward through commercials...sorry, I digress, whinely), or that even if I try, everything I write will just be sheer, unmitigated crap. Excuses, excuses, excuses.

I actually started two different story lines a couple of weeks ago, all fired up because I had not one, but TWO fiction ideas that are completely disparate (one science fictiony, the other historical), and after a couple of frenzied hours flipping back and forth between two Word documents, have proceeded to do absolutely nothing with them.

Work ethic, thy name is mud.

NaNoWriMo might actually help me here, seeing as it's deadline driven, and the panic of deadlines is something I find helpful when trying to complete tasks (House cleaning, it can wait. Oh, but someone will be over in 35 minutes? I become a frenzied whirlwind of house-straightening). And you have to achieve a certain word count per day, so it isn't like you can procrastinate until November 28 and then just write 50,000 words by midnight November 30. No, really, you can't: you sign up and write into a system that keeps track of your progress. Also, you can't start it and write into something you've already started; you have to start with a completely new topic.

You know, because that's not intimidating. The list of how NaNoWriMo works gives all sorts of advice, with #7 being "This is not as scary as it sounds." Uh huh. I keep thinking and occasionally blogging about how I don't do enough writing, so perhaps I should just go for it. I overthink to the point of inaction so often that anything is better than nothing, right? Right?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

How are you?

The other day, a friend asked me how I was doing. I actually was doing fine, and said so. But it got me thinking. How often -- usually in passing -- does someone ask 'How are you?' or "Are you doing ok?" Is the person just being polite, or do they really want to know?

When someone asks, do you give an honest answer? Or do you lie, and just say you're good, even if you are anything but?  Do you really want to share that you're really feeling sad, lonely, angry or completely frustrated with your job/parents/roommate/boyfriend/grades/class schedule/singleness/life choices?

How often do you ask others those questions yourself?  Do you expect a complete answer when you ask? Do you truly want to be an ear for someones grievances?

Ok, that's a lot of sentences that end in question marks, lol. I think sometimes, it depends on the level of friendship, whether the person is a co-worker (some of my co-workers I know very well, others are more like acquaintances) or a closer friend. Certain people I know I can unburden myself to if I'm having a hard day. Others, not so much. And there have been occasions where I've asked someone how they're doing, and they have launched into something that's bothering them, when really all I meant was a polite hello. You have to think, though, what if they live alone and don't have anyone else to talk to? I know venting to my best friends about rough days or my frustrations really helps me, and sometimes, we all need a sympathetic ear.

I'm not sure where I was planning on going with this, really, but it's something to think about.

Monday, September 16, 2013

"...a little pencil..."

While I was away on bereavement leave after my dad's passing last month, I spent time helping my mom sort through some of my dad's things between what to donate and what to keep. One of the things we sorted (not that we're finished yet) were his books. My dad had a lot of books and enjoyed reading history -- World War II, the Old West and Civil War history especially -- along with espionage and adventure thrillers and some science fiction.

He also had fair amount of spiritual reading and a lot, specifically, by Blessed Mother Teresa. I took a few of them home my mom didn't want, and have been flipping through them at random. One of the (multitude of) beautiful things about Mother Teresa -- who's feast day was Sept. 5th -- was the simple, relatable way she could express very deep spiritual thoughts, as well as encourage people to work for God, trust in Him and pray always. So today I just wanted to share some of them.

"You can pray while you work. Work doesn't stop prayer and prayer doesn't stop work. It requires only that small raising of the mind to Him: I love you God. I trust you. I believe in you. I need you now. Small things like that. They are wonderful prayers."

"You and I have been created for greater things. We have not been created just to pass through this life without aim. And that greater aim is to live and be loved and we cannot love unless we know. Knowledge always leads to love and love to service."

"Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your eyes, kindness in your face, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greetings. We are all but His instruments who do our little bit and pass by. I believe that the way in which an act of kindness is done is as important as the action itself."

"I always say I am a little pencil in God's hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a little more. Be a little instrument in His hands so that He can use you any time, anywhere. We have only to say 'yes' to God."

Saturday, August 31, 2013

An insufficient thank you

Where do I even begin?

In the weeks before my dad's death, I wrote a lot, more than I'd written in a while. It, and vast amounts of prayer, helped keep my emotions, so often on the verge of being loosed, somewhat in check, at least while I was in public. I was mourning in advance, I think. Some of that will eventually make its way here. Other portions of it - like a post about his cancer and the affect it had on him that I began with the best of intentions but then devolved into some now-confessed anger - likely will not, at least not in its entirety.

I have heard myself, in the past weeks, referred to by some as a very private person, and I suppose that's true in some ways, although I don't see myself as such. I suppose people said it because I didn't broadcast my worries and feelings, or even the fact of my dad's cancer, to the general public. In that way, I think, I am like my dad, who didn't tell some people he was ill because he didn't want to be a pitiful center of attention. Or perhaps it's a lack of trust and a fear of opening myself up. My dad could be like that, too. But sometimes, it's a combination of things. Some things are too close to be shared, at least right away.

Anyway, one thing I do need to do is say thank you. I know so many words, but in the last several weeks I can't tell you how many times I have been moved beyond them. Whenever, anytime in the future, I find myself starting to feel down or otherwise woe-is-me sorry for myself, I need to remember these weeks, and the incredible amount of love that has been poured out upon me by my friends. I have lost count of how many of you (and this doesn't even begin to include family) went out of your way to do something, even something you think meaningless and insignificant, to make my or my family's life easier, to give me solace or make me laugh. If it is even a fraction of the love the Lord has for me, then I am beyond blessed.

I know I don't even know the half of the people who prayed for me, for my family and for the repose of my dad's soul - who are still praying. I do know that they have sustained me, and helped me keep focused on dad's salvation, rather than his absence. Thomas Merton says that, one day, when we, too, are gone, we will know all who have prayed for us. Some thank yous, in that case, may be delayed. :)

But there have been so many expressions of care and sympathy, beyond the prayers:
Cards came from coworkers -- one who bought be a beautiful orchid that was waiting on my desk when I came back to work this week -- and those who chipped in for a completely unexpected cash collection that they mailed to me at my mom's house.
Cards also arrived from friends who have had or will have masses said for the family and the repose of dad's soul.
My friend Nikki from high school, who I hadn't seen in I don't even know how many years but with whom I reconnected with via Facebook, came to the funeral and took some truly lovely pictures at the graveside - something I would, had I not been focused on the moment, still never thought to do, but a gift I will cherish always.
Michele, who not only baked yummy snacks, but who charmed the Olive Garden manager with her Louisiana Southern accent into giving us a backroom and free appetizers following the viewing, and then, at the reception after the funeral, essentially pushed me bodily into a chair and stood over me, bullying me (lovingly, truly) until I forked food into my mouth, because otherwise I wouldn't have had time for a bite, being too busy trying to be a polite hostess and visit with everyone there.
Pam had my lawn mowed while I was gone so I didn't face code enforcement fines for the jungle my yard already was when I left. Kim and the I'm-still-kinda-shocked-about-the -incredibleness care package.
Julia, Sarah & Michael -- who played the most gorgeous Bach-Gonoud "Ave Maria" on his violin at the funeral mass -- who dropped everything and who came to the funeral on flying trips; I'm so sorry we didn't actually have time for a real visit.
Several friends posted goofy things on Facebook or sent me emails with funny pins from Pinterest to cheer me, or let me alternately cry on the phone or ramble aimlessly in a more-than-my-usual discombobulated manner.
Joy, who I hadn't seen in probably three or four years, chatted with me over Vietnamese one night like we were still in high school and had only seen each other the day before.

So many others texted, emailed or posted condolences on Facebook. I have so much gratitude to so many people, and if I've left you out or not mentioned you by name, I'm sorry, and it isn't remotely meant as a slight. Some will be receiving thank-you notes (because I was raised in South, and that's what we do...and because I have your addresses), but for the moment, this more general one will have to suffice.

I love you all. Thank you.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Spiritual reading fail

I have not been doing well with my spiritual reading lately. Well, if lately means "this year."

Actually, I could go back farther than that, actually.

Because I keep track of the books I read (I know lots of people who do this, some via Goodreads, me in a blank journal), I can tell you that I started reading "The Confessions" of St. Augustine 1:14 a.m. on October 20, 2012.

I'm still on page 141.

Now, to be fair, it's pretty dense material. But I should really be finished by now, especially with as many vacations I've managed to haul it along since I started with the hopes of getting deeper into it (because St. Augustine's writing is amazing), but the last time I can actually recall cracking it open and reading/taking notes on it was in January. In February, I noted in my reading journal that "I will finish it!"

Although I think I'm even more at fault when it comes to Thomas Merton's "No Man is an Island." I bought it after reading (and loving) his "Seven Storey Mountain," but a pen and two boarding passes from flights to and from Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, 2011 mark both the page (62) and the rough date I left off reading. I just need to start over.

And don't even get me started on how many times I've started (and completely failed) to get into St. Thomas Aquinas. Even the "Shorter Summa" is beyond me. Is there a Summa for Dummies out there somewhere?

My lack of progress in these books doesn't stop me from wanting to expand my spiritual reading library, though. Not too terribly long ago, I bought both a biography of St. Rita of Cascia and "Love and Responsibility" written by Karol Wojtyla before he became Pope John Paul II (which reminds me I've only made meagre progress though his "Theology of the Body"). And whenever I get a copy of the Leaflet Missal catalog, the pages are soon dog-eared with other books I'd like to have.

You know that feeling you sometimes get when you know you need to do something? Anyway, this whole topic came about because I've been feeling the lack of serious spiritual reading lately. Beyond daily prayer and going to mass, spiritual reading, at least for me, helps me to see how the saints were open to His call and trusting in his grace, but oftentimes just like us, struggling to make sense of what God wanted them to do. Many incredibly smart men and women, too, have so much wisdom to share through their writings that can help lead us closer to Christ.

The book I finished reading most recently, although a novel, I would couch in the spiritual reading arena. I reread "Brideshead Revisited," by Evelyn Waugh, who converted to the Catholic Church.

Set in England between the two world wars, "Brideshead" is a very Catholic book about forgiveness and redemption, dealing as it does with the wealthy and aristocratic Flyte family, who are Catholic, seen through the eyes of the agnostic Charles Ryder, who is befriended by the younger son, Sebastian Flyte, while the two are students at Oxford. When I first read it in high school, while I went to church and was involved in youth group activities, I wasn't as passionate about my faith as I am now, and, while I knew and recognized the blatant Catholicism of it, much of the book's depth was lost on me at the time.

This time, was just floored by a)Waugh's amazing skill with language -- some of his prose just took my breath away, the bitingly dry and sometimes not-so-subtle comedy, the vocabulary (although Waugh allegedly poo-pooed the book after re-reading it several years following its publication) and, b) the simple yet powerful truths he conveys as Charles -- who is quite puzzled by this new world he's entered -- learns about the (sometimes ill-practiced) faith of his new friend and his family.

Still, I don't doubt it's the prompting of the Holy Spirit telling me to get back on the ball with more serious spiritual reading.

There is a wonderful book by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) called "Abandonment to Divine Providence," -- which, if you haven't read, I highly recommend -- and despite being written so long about, it is just full of sage advice. For example, on this particular topic, he says "If it is God's will that the present moment should be spent in reading, reading will exert a mystical power in the depths of the soul."

Not only can spiritual reading help you grow in your understanding and faith, but it can also help you explain the faith to others or, as de Caussade says, "builds up in me a kind of spiritual store which, in the future, will develop into a core of usefulness for myself and others."

In fact, in flipping through it's dog-eared, heavily underlines pages, various passages leap out at me, so full of beauty and comfort as I write this, I see so much that I need to be reminded of. Speaking of the Holy Spirit... :)

What are some of your favorite works of spiritual reading?

Monday, July 29, 2013

7/7, Day 7.5: Belay that

So I had started a post for this final day of the 7 posts, 7days blogging challenge, but was pulled away mid-writing by family (I've been at my parent's this weekend), and when I came back to it, well, the seventh day had turned into a pumpkin.

I know the whole point of the exercise was to post even when things aren't perfect, or even necessarily ready, and to write write, write every day, but the post I had planned needs more from me...and sometimes that takes time. Plus, I have written every day, only today I just didn't meet the deadline. And while I can't promise I will post something every day from now on, it will be more frequent, and more than just once per week.

Anyway, I have loved taking part in this, and the writing every day -- for me, not for work -- is so good. It seems bizarre even to me to think this, but I'd actually forgotten how much I needed the outlet, regardless of whether anyone reads this blog or not. It's good for the soul. Or at least my soul.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

7/7, Day 6: Revisiting "Brideshead"

Earlier this week, I started rereading "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh. The last time I read it, I was in high school, and it's always fun rereading books after a long gap, because you get different things out of them as an adult.

Sebastian with Aloysius, Lady Julia and Charles
from the 1981 miniseries
 Back then, I read it the first time (for fun, mind, not for school) in large part because I'd discovered the miniseries with Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Diana Rigg and Sir Laurence Olivier through reruns on Bravo, and would come home and watch episodes of it after school (often in the same afternoon as more atypical early 90s teen fare like "Saved by the Bell." How's that for opposite ends of the spectrum?). After I bought the book (which actually has a tie-in cover to the mini-series, even though it was produced in the early 1980s), I was somewhat amazed to discover that Evelyn was in fact a man (baby!), but I do remember enjoying it, more so for its plot of how the upper crust lived in pre-WWII England than anything else.

"Brideshead" is a very Catholic book, dealing as it does with the wealthy and aristocratic Flyte family, who are Catholic, seen through the eyes of the agnostic Charles Ryder (Irons), who is befriended by the younger son, Sebastian Flyte, Lord Marchmain (Andrews), while the two are students at Oxford. When I read it in high school, while I went to church and was involved in youth group activities, I wasn't as passionate about my faith as I am now, and, while I knew and recognized the blatant Catholicism of it, much of the book's depth was lost on me at the time.

Now, even only 100 pages in, I'm just floored by a)Waugh's amazing skill with language -- the lengthy paragraph where, in the preface, he describes the older Charles' disillusion with his Army career just took my breath away, the bitingly dry and sometimes not-so-subtle comedy, the vocabulary (although Waugh allegedly poo-pooed the book after re-reading it several years following its publication) and, b) the simple yet powerful truths he conveys as Charles -- who is quite puzzled by this new world he's entered -- learns about the (sometimes ill-practiced) faith of his new friend and his family.

"Often, almost daily, since I had known Sebastian, some chance word in his conversation had reminded me that he was a Catholic," Charles says on page 86, and again, on 89, the following exchange takes place between Sebastian and himself:

C: "They (Catholics) seem just like other people."
S: "My dear Charles, that's exactly what they're not ... they've got an entirely different outlook on life; everything they think important is different from other people. They try and hide it as much as they can, but it comes out all the time. It's quite natural, really, that they should."

A few pages later, Charles, in talking with Sebastian's younger sister, Cordelia, he asks her if her family talks about their religion all the time. "Not all the time," she replies. "It's a subject that just comes up naturally, doesn't it?" To which Charles responds, "Does it? It never has with me before."

It all reminded me a bit of this quote I read on someone else's blog (forgive me for not noting who's blog that was) last week:

"Writing is a vocation and, as in any other calling, a writer should develop his talents for the greater glory of God. Novels should be neither homilies nor apologetics: the author's faith, and the grace he has received, will become apparent in his work even if it does not have Catholic characters or a Catholic theme." —Piers Paul Read, "The Death of a Pope"

That said, I'm now catch passing Catholic references I never would have recognized in the book when I was 15. The first page of chapter one, for instance, describes Oxford's "spacious and quiet streets" where "men walked and spoke as they had in Newman's Day..." Newman, of course, is Blessed John Henry Newman, who was a teacher and Anglican pastor at Oxford but then later in life converted (Waugh, too, was a convert) to Catholicism. Filled with nerdy glee, I made a margin note about it.

As an aside, does anyone else make copious margin notes in some books? I remember having a discussion with a guy I sort-of dated years ago (sort of because we talked around it for ages and he only finally asked me out to dinner the night before he moved across the country, but that's a story for another day) about taking notes in a book. I am (quite obviously) in favor, and will happily mark up, jot notes, underline and draw arrows to points/words/passages I find interesting or compelling (does it bother anyone else to switch ink colors while taking notes in a book? I'm not Type A about many things, but that's one of them) because it gives immediate access to said notes when and if they're needed again, as well as serves as a quasi-journalish, time capsule of sorts, documenting thoughts had at the time.

He was in the opposite camp, preferred his books pristine, and instead chose to create a file on his computer for whatever book he was reading, then take type in his notes or observations there, rather than in the book's margins. It almost goes without saying that he was an (albeit very well read) engineer.

But I've digressed...

Anyway, what struck me about the above passage from "Brideshead" is that it's true. When your faith is part of your life, it becomes obvious, even if you're not proclaiming it from the housetops. It simply (profoundly, deeply) colors your life and, as Cordelia Flyte said, "comes up naturally."

Friday, July 26, 2013

7/7: Day 5, or What's in a name?

Today is the feast day of St. Anne, (and also that of St. Joachim who also is celebrated today), mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grandmother to Jesus. Perhaps because I was given her name, I've always had a devotion to St. Anne, and ask for her intercession often, I had several friends wish me a happy feast day on Facebook today, which was awesome.

According to Wikipedia (which is, of course, never wrong, lol), “Anne, alternatively spelled Ane or Ann, is a form of the Latin female given name Anna. This in turn is a representation of the Hebrew Hannah or Hanani, meaning 'He (God) has favored me', the name of the mother of the prophet Samuel.” It also means graceful, I've been told.

When I think of grace, my mind automatically begins, “Hail, May, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee.” St. Anne was the mother of Mary, and therefore was, when pregnant with the Blessed Virgin, literally full of grace herself.

I think, too, especially when considering the Old Testament story of Hannah, that (in one of those Old Testament/New Testament correlations) both she and St. Anne were older, essentially beyond childbearing years, when they bore their children, gifts from God. I, who am as yet unmarried, wonder if I, too, will be “old” when I have my children (I certainly would have been considered such in Biblical times, or even in the 1940s, a woman doomed to spinsterhood), should I be so blessed as to marry as I feel God is calling me. But I suppose their fate also should give me hope, in the sense that I too may one day be blessed as they were, that my prayers will also be answered, my patience rewarded. A friend told me once on a retreat that God never withholds His blessings. :)

There is a strength in waiting, a grace and favor to accepting where God has me. A hopefulness in trusting in His plan, His timing, which are so much more knowledgeable than my own human plans.

Anne is actually (full disclosure time), my middle name, although I have never been called by my first name except by teachers who didn't know better. My first name is Laurel, a name which is derived from the laurel tree. In a way, and I've never thought about it before, my two names go well together (not just in flow), but in that trees, and the wood of the laurel tree especially, is strong, a hard wood that is not easily chopped down. Trees also bend with the wind (provided the wind isn't of hurricane strength), with change. In ancient Greece and Rome, victors were crowned with wreaths of laurel leaves. 

People have often thought I don't like my first name, but that isn't true. It's a beautiful name, but my parents simply have never called me Laurel a day in my life. Anne was a long-standing choice, but with an Anne Marie already in the family, and my parents unwilling to duplicate, Laurel was the last-minute addition. For what it's worth, no one thinks I “look like” a Laurel, but everyone thinks I do “look like” an Anne.

I was named for my great-aunt Anna Kroner, my great-great aunt actually, my great-grandmother's sister. I remember meeting her as a child, once sitting by her feet on a front porch in Illinois during a summer visit. She was rather curmudgeonly, although she and my dad were always close. She was a nurse in the 20s and 30s, and, depending on which family story to believe, she either A) could never find a man who was good enough to meet her highly exacting standards, or B) the man she loved broke her heart and she never got over it.

It must run in the family, those  incredibly high standards. I have them, too, I have been incredibly fortunate, however, in that my heart has never truly been broken. Which is a grace unto it self and a way I have been favored indeed.

Graceful. Grace-filled. Moving with elegance and refinement and rhythm, like a waltz. I love to waltz. There is joy in the three-beat cadence, the gentle quarter-step swings to the beat, but I haven't waltzed in years, other than the occasional, solitary turn around my living room. There is a longing to be dancing in a sumptuous dress – I have dreamt of it – like classic Hollywood actresses, women who seemed the epitome of class, there on the black-and-white-screen. I am a romantic, and hope for that, too. 

Anne Elliot, the heroine in Jane Austen's final novel, "Persuasion," was also older, but capable, sensible and a romantic as well. A literary creation who loves her family despite their foibles, and another Anne who patiently waited, trusting and receiving her heart's desire in the end.    

The literary Anne Shirley, of L.M. Montgomery's “Anne of Green Gables,” thought her name to be very unromantic. I am not of that mind, but we are in agreement about one thing:

“...if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E.’
What difference does it make how it’s spelled?’ asked
Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.
Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much
nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can’t you always
see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and
A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.
If you’ll only call me Anne spelled with an E.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

7 Days, 7 Posts, Day 4: Old song/time machine

Working on my back-to-school tab today (and yes I wrote the column, although I'm not completely satisfied with it. And no, I didn't fiction it up, either), I set my Ipod to shuffle to give me some music to work by. 

After about half an hour, a song popped on that that I'd forgotten I'd downloaded, out of nostalgia, at some point, "Adonis Blue" by an English/American group called Voice of the Beehive. My dad has a thing for buying random albums to see if they're any good, and this was one he found (on cassette) back in the early 90s that I, um, appropriated at one point and listened to over and over. I think it's still somewhere in a box with other cassette tapes I haven't touched in ages.

Anyway, this song popped on and suddenly it was 1991 again and I was maybe 13. It's summer break, and, shade-cooled, I'm straddling a large branch 15 feet off the ground and half-way up the cherry laurel tree that used to stand in the center of my parent's back yard. With my back against the tree trunk and my feet balanced on slightly lower branches, my Sony Walkman clipped to my jean shorts and headphones on, I listened and re-wound and listened again, at the same time alternately reading a battered paperback copy of "Romeo & Juliet" and daydreaming about this guy named Craig, my crush of the moment.

All this from an early 90s pop song. Yes, I climbed a tree to read Shakespeare, although I don't remember why. And yes, I remembered all the words to the song. You listen to something often enough and it sticks with you. Clearly. :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

7 Posts, 7 Days, Day 3: Making the same-old interesting

So part of the challenge of this challenge (and at somepoint I will stop referring to it and just write about something, I swear) is finding things to write about. It's a conundrum I often face at work, too, only in a slightly different fashion.

I've been at my job for almost eight years now, and for the last five or so, I've been covering the same beat for the paper. That means I'm in charge of the annual graduation and back-to-school special sections.i do love the responsibility of it, despite the fact that they can stress me out (the grad tab -- so called because it's tab-sized. Sorry, journalism lingo -- in particular).

The challenge comes in with having to write columns every year that are somehow new and interesting. With the graduation section, it seems a little easier. But for back-to-school, there are only so many times/ways you can write about coming across an aisle of school supplies in a store weeks before you expect them to be there (which I think I've done at least twice) and have it be interesting. So that's kind of the hurdle I have to leap over tomorrow: come up with something about back-to-school that's compelling. Because the reader (or at least this reader) can tell when a writer doesn't really enjoy their topic. There's no spark. 

If I could fiction it up a bit that might be fun, since so many stories in novels and movies are like that, similar plot lines repeated over again only in slightly  different ways: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again, for example.

Hmm...fiction. It is a column, so I can do essentially whatever I want, within reason. Or perhaps I could come up with something in iambic pentameter? Or would that be too much? Yeah, maybe. I'll need to give this idea some thought. :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

7 Posts, 7 Days: Day Two, or Daydream Believer

I think if people knew how many imaginary conversations I have with people -- family, friends, co-workers, crushes (sometimes out loud, although that's only when I'm by myself) -- they would probably think I'm certifiable. Seriously.  I invent situations in my head, and sometimes they play out verbally. In my house. While I'm alone.

No, that doesn't make me sound bizarre, at all does it? 

Maybe I should be writing them down instead. But I digress...

I put part of it down to being a daydreamer with an overactive imagination. I've always been one, a daydreamer, I mean. I know "always" is a pretty definitive word, but I actually have proof.

Really, I do. Although here "always" should read "since I was 7."

Exhibit A is an exchange of notes between my mom and my second-grade teacher Mrs. Carillo (who's first name I have never known, but then who does know the first names of teachers at that age?).

My mother notes in her missive that I have been bringing home incomplete work, and she wonders if I have had sufficient class time to complete the assignments. I apparently told her a girl sitting near me distracted me with her chatting ways.

Mrs. Carillo quickly disabuses her of that notion, informing my mom that really, I ( and not this girl, Christina, mentioned in the note) tended to be the chatterbox, and the only solution -- which she didn't want to stoop to -- was isolation. My teacher said I needed to work on self-discipline and time management in order to complete my work. She also added, almost as an afterthought, that "Many times daydreaming is the problem, not always talking."

Looking at that note now, I find it funny/ironic that some of my personality characteristics were firmly in place by age 7: a daydreaming procrastinator who enjoys talking to people. I now have a deadline-oriented job that basically allows me to be nosy for a living while keep the procrastination in line (work wise, at least). But it should come as no surprise that I'm an INFP, a personality type often referred to as "The Dreamer."

I wrote most of this this morning before work and then rushed off when I realized I was running late. I'm not satisfied with it, but that's the whole point of the 7 posts/7days. Just the writing. Will try to write something better tomorrow.

Monday, July 22, 2013

7 Posts, 7 Days: Day 1

So the last few days I've been bemoaning the fact that I don't write any more.

Now, when I say that I "don't write anymore," that's not completely accurate, since I'm a newspaper reporter for a local paper ( I don't cover national or international news) and I write every day. I also, on a volunteer basis, do a weekly posting (which I almost always post here) for a non-profit group a friend of mine is working on up in D.C. for young, Catholic women, which is also something.

But I don't WRITE any more. I don't journal the way I used to (in fact, I can't remember the last time I did, officially, aside from the occasional rambling on a nearby scrap of paper, that I'll probably find three years from now wadded in the corner of a purse I'm cleaning out, along with a half-used tube of lip gloss, old receipts and a flattened granola bar I meant to eat somewhere along the way...). And I don't write poetry. I used to write poems all the time, about serious topics, or silly things like laundry. I had, and still have, all these ideas in my head (fictional, non, etc...), and I do nothing with them. Sometimes I feel my creativity has been lost, or at least sapped, by the regimented newspaper writing I do every day. What happened to the girl who was going to write books and books? I'm not married, and I don't have kids, so that's not an excuse for time not spent writing.

So when I came across Jennifer Fulwiler's 7-Day blogging challenge over at Conversion Diary, part of me was downright giddy (talk about someone who does write: with six kids and a book just sent into her publishers, I feel slightly less than inadequate, in comparison. What DO I do with my time?!). I do enjoy a challenge, and here was an invitation to link up, to add my URL followed by all of three people to a list of more than 100 who may potentially start to read my blog as a result (actual readers?! What a terrifyingly yet tremendous idea!), to make a commitment to write fearlessly and put it out there, even if what I write is absolute rubbish.

But I paused. This would actually make me write. I couldn't sign up and add my link and then not do it. What if people read my thoughts and think I'm ridiculous, or backward, or just stupid? I read a number of blogs and think, "wow, they're such a good writer. I'd never be able to do with words what s/he's just done."  But Jen spoke to all those fears, and then some. Plus, you know what they say: you should do the things that scare you (within reason, natch. Jumping off literal cliffs is just dumb), because they might lead you to something amazing.

It also seemed timely, considering a quote I came across just yesterday from Blessed (soon to be Saint!) John XXIII: "Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do."

Right. So I signed up and threw my URL up on Jen's site. I make no promises of quality, but I'll do my best. I'm going to write. My heart is pounding out of a bit of nervousness, but there's also the part of me that is just... joyful. Like I'm going to take a little bit of my (clearly overly dramatic) self back. So here goes.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Yard work

This morning, I spent about two and a half hours outside working in my yard, mowing the lawn (mostly grass in the front, mostly weeds in the back) and trimming trees and bushes. Between recent trips and the almost ever-present rain here in Florida, it had been a while since I'd done much, and that was pretty obvious.
The grass was higher so I had to mow some areas twice, and a bougainvillea -- beautiful when in flower but, oh, look out for those thorns! -- was running amok over and around my A/C unit.

And as I was mowing my lawn, I got to thinking (and this is a sample of how my crazy mind works, by the way) that it's a bit like going to confession, yard work. The longer you leave it, the more daunting it seems to be to make yourself get up and take action because it just gets harder. It's easy to persuade yourself that you're fine, it can wait another week. Or, "let me just enjoy this morning off, I'll get to it this afternoon." With the yard work, it's kind of just there, reminding you every time you leave or come home that, hey, this needs doing. With confession, though, if I don't go often, a part of me just feels slightly off.

But once you've done it, there's almost nothing more satisfying, although cleansing your soul is far more important than trimming the verge. :)

Today is also the feast day of St. Bonaventure, who is a doctor of the Church, and I wanted to share this quote of his:

"Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the “throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant,” and 'the mystery hidden from the ages.' A man should turn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope, and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a 'pasch, that is, a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulcher, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: 'Today you will be with me in paradise.'"  from Journey of the Mind to God by Saint Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure, pray for us! 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The ties that bind

Over the July 4th long weekend, I flew up to southern Illinois for a family reunion for my dad's side, which started on Thursday with a picnic followed by fireworks. There are lots of us Klockenkempers: my great-grandmother had nine children, seven (all boys) who survived to adulthood and married and had children of their own (my great-uncle John and his wife have 10). Those children had children. There are even a few great-great-grandchildren now.

While my great-grandmother was alive, we used to have the reunions every two years over Thanksgiving, which was near her birthday, but since she passed away in 2004 (she was 109!), we moved them to summer and now only hold them every three years.

We started having them regularly when I was in high school, and I've never missed one. But others have. And this weekend, I was able to meet one of my dad's cousins, and her husband and three children, whom I had never met before. The funny thing was, she knew me, because she'd found me online several years ago and has been reading stories I wrote for the paper. We chatted away like we'd known each other forever.
With other cousins, aunts and uncles, I exchanged stories about past visits (some decades ago) and updated each other other family who weren't able to attend. Although some of us are veritable strangers, there was this common bond, this connection and fascination with our shared history, that is such a blessing. There was lots of laughter.

Family can also be a challenge. With the togetherness, there is the danger of almost inevitable gossip, the expected-but-well-meant "When are you going to get married so we can have another family wedding?" questions, clashing personalities and political ideologies and the "don't tell so-and-so I said this, but..." conversations. There was the constant go-go-go of having to meet up for meals and events that, in rural Illinois farm country, involved a lot of time-consuming driving, which could be a bit tiring. To save money, I also shared a hotel room with my parents, and my introverted self found the lack of privacy to simply recharge after those full days a bit daunting,

Still, there was the love we share for who we are and where we came from, and for those we have lost. And there was prayer and comfort offered for those who are sick, or out of the country, or struggling, because there is another common bond we share, our Catholic faith. On Saturday, we concluded the reunion with a vigil mass, celebrated in the front yard of my great-grandmother's house in the tiny hamlet were my grandfather and his brothers grew up. No one lives there now, and the hundred-year-old house really isn't in a state to be lived in, but the property is still in the family. So we scattered chairs and blankets in the front yard, a local retired priest came over and set up an alter on the front porch, my Uncle Joe played hymns on his guitar and we had mass under the trees and the late afternoon sunshine in a place we all, despite the distances we now came from, are bound by. It was beautiful. There were nearly 100 of us, and I am so thankful for all of them.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A different kind of bridal shower

I was totally thrown off by working Monday, which is usually the second day of my weekend, so please forgive me for being a day late. I'm also in the midst of dishwashing and packing (again, when I haven't completely emptied my suitcase from my last trip) to head to Illinois tomorrow for a family reunion over the July 4th weekend. As I'm leaving straight for the airport from an abbreviated day of work tomorrow afternoon, and since I'm nothing if not a first-class procrastinator (although at least all my laundry is done), needless to say I'm a bit crazed.

So as I sat here a few minutes ago, pondering what to write, an email popped into my inbox. It was from my friend Jenna, a St. Peter's parishioner and roommate to my cousin Carrie. And my writing problem was solved. Let me explain:

I know, for me, and for a lot of you, I'd warrant, we feel called to marriage, and we spend a lot of time daydreaming and wondering and praying and crushing and over-analyzing and worrying needlessly about who our husband will be and when on earth will God bring us together already because this whole single thing is getting really old. Am I right?

But not all of us are called to marriage, ultimately. For some, God calls them to religious life.

In late May, Ben, a young man I know (he's in his late 20s now, but I was in grad school and volunteering in youth ministry when I met him on a retreat during his senior year of high school) was ordained to the priesthood. His ordination (and that of three other new priests) was in another diocese across the state, and I couldn't go, but the diocese streamed the ordination mass live on their website. And I cried tears of joy for him, for he had found his calling, his bride, in the Church.

I cried similar tears when Jenna, who for those of you who don't know her, is all-out fun and smart and faithful, sent out a mass email (also back in May), letting her friends know that she, too, had discerned her call to become a nun with the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, an order that ministers for terminal cancer patients who cannot pay for their care. As I read her initial email, though smiling, I wept again. I know you're probably thinking I'm a weepy mess more often than not (ok, I kind of am), but the reason for my emotion is that these two found the desires of their hearts, the answer to their prayers, their home. I would (and have) done no less for friends who become engaged to be married.

Now (here's where that email I received tonight comes in), Jenna has set up a donation web site and is seeking help from family and friends to help join her order. See, what some of you might not know (in fact, I don't think a lot of Catholics are aware of it, actually) is that in order for a woman to enter religious life, she cannot bear any debt. And Jenna has more than $32,000 in student loans she needs to pay off by September, if she hopes to enter the convent this coming October on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. The amount seems daunting, when you look at it from a practical level, but I have no doubts that God can make this happen.

In her own words, Jenna says:
"Please look through my site – read my story, look at the pictures I have put up of me and of my future Sisters (and Brothers) and prayerfully consider donating the suggested amount of $50-$100. If your financial situation does not allow for a donation of that size, please offer whatever you are able to no matter how large or small that amount is. I am grateful for donations of any size and truly blessed by your generosity. Also please note that you can make your donation anonymous on the website if you would prefer that. 
I also ask that you send this to anyone and everyone that you would like to - anyone who might be interested in helping financially and willing to pray for me and my sisters, and all our benefactors. I'm happy to have this email go far and wide. Even the smallest donation means a great deal to me, and I cannot do this at all without prayers. 
Please know that I will be praying for all my donors/benefactors personally -- forever. I really do mean forever. I cannot offer you anything material for your support, but my confidence in the Lord and His generosity and in the power of prayer steadily increases and I know that your generosity will never go unrewarded. I can also assure you that my appreciation is beyond words.
 I'm happy to answer any questions and so grateful for your help. Thank you for helping me move towards the life of service the Lord is calling me to!"

Think of it, in a way, as a bridal shower. When a woman is engaged, she is celebrated with parties from friends, coworkers and family who celebrate her, bringing with them towels and small appliances, tea pots and (sometimes hideous-but-well-intentioned) decorative items as a means of support as she prepares to start her new life with her husband.

Now, Jenna won't need any of that, in fact, she'll be leaving pretty much everything behind. But how much will the world benefit by her gift of self? There's no way we can know, but the least we can do is give her a wedding shower -- of financial help, if possible, but of prayers most certainly -- as she prepares to become a Bride of Christ.

the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.Dom
the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.
Last but not least, I hope everyone has a wonderful Fourth of July, and may God Bless America!

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Who do you say that I am?"

Leaving Mass yesterday evening, I snagged a copy of my parish bulletin as I do every week. On the cover of this Sunday's edition was a somewhat pixelated representation of Jesus, and my very first thought was, "Wow, that looks like David Copperfield with a beard."

I tried not to laugh, especially since yesterday's gospel reading was the "Who do you say that I am?" passage from Luke, and that very question, along with a reflection on the gospel passage, was directly below the picture of David Copperfield Jesus.

David Copperfield, or is it just me?
Now, I don't follow the illusionist, so I don't know why my mind immediately went in that particular direction (for all I know, the artist might have used Mr. Copperfield as a's probably more accurate than artwork that depict Jesus as a blond). But I think it's a little like people watching in airports. You're sitting there, waiting for your flight, perhaps munching on a snack to pass the time, and you gaze at the people rushing by. I inevitably see people who look like someone I know. Or when people post photos of old school class pictures or yearbook pages to Facebook, especially from the early 90s, the look exactly like people I went to school with, although in that case, I'm pretty sure the clothes and hairstyles have more to do with it than actual recognition.We look for the familiar.

Ultimately, though, it's not what Jesus looked like that's important, but who He is because, until we get to Heaven (God willing!), we won't see His face. Who do you say Jesus is?

Today, we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, someone who knew (even while he was in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth!) exactly who Jesus was:

"Next day, John saw Jesus coming towards him; and he said, Look, this is the Lamb of God; look, this is he who takes away the sin of the world. It is of him that I said, One is coming after me who takes rank before me; he was when I was not. I myself did not know who he was, although the very reason why I have come, with my baptism of water, is to make him known to Israel. John also bore witness thus, I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and resting upon him. Till then, I did not know him; but then I remembered what I had been told by the God who sent me to baptize with water. He told me, The man who will baptize with the Holy Spirit is the man on whom thou wilt see the Spirit come down and rest. Now I have seen him, and have borne my witness that this is the Son of God." John 1: 29-34

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Custody of the eyes

Last week, a friend posted a link to a blog post by Simcha Fisher over at the National Catholic Register.

Fisher wrote about "custody of the eyes," but not just in the sense of thinking impure thoughts. Instead, she talked about the temptation of snap-judging others for what you see as their failures. Here's a few graphs of it, because it's just too good to try and paraphrase:

"Many of us, men and women, could use practice keeping custody of the eyes when we're looking at someone whom we are NOT attracted to, lustfully otherwise -- someone whose dress or behavior we don't approve of. Lust isn't the only passion that needs reining in.

Here's an example. When I was shopping yesterday, I saw an enormously fat woman wearing short shorts and a cherry red shirt that was cut so low, it was hardly a shirt at all.  I mean, gravity was being disrupted.  Light was going there to die. Whatever you're picturing right now, it was more outrageous than that.  I mean!

So, as someone who takes modesty seriously, what did I do? I thought bad things about her. I jeered at her in my head. I imagined how annoyed I would be if I had had one of my young sons with me. I compared my weight with her weight. And I concluded that she --  not people like her, but she herself -- was what was wrong with America today.

This was all in a matter of a split second, of course. I didn't stand there gawping at her; and pretty quick, I caught myself. I made a conscious effort to think about something else, and I moved along. But if I had been practicing custody of the eyes, I would have moved along much sooner, because I need to protect myself -- not against lust, but against the sins of nastiness, cattiness, and disdain. If I had been practicing custody of the eyes, I would have just moved along automatically when I realized my weaknesses were being exposed.

But that's not the best I can do. How much better would it have been if I focused on protecting not only myself, but this woman: if, by long, well-established habits of charity in my thoughts, words, and deeds, I had found it very easy to see this woman simply as another child of God. This should be our goal whether we're gazing at someone who is immodest, or sloppy, or whose style is too trendy, or too pricey, or too pretentious, or old fashioned, or bizarre, or too anything."

I don't know if it's because I'd read Fisher's post earlier in the week -- I don't always get a chance to read her posts, but I usually enjoy them when I do, because she is is both funny and honest about faith and life -- but I found myself thinking of it several times over the past weekend when confronted with similar situations. 

First, I was at a store when an adult man (in his 30s or 40s) yelled at his mother for interrupting his tally of the cost of movies he was planning to buy. Somewhat horrified, my first thought was, "how rude is this man?" But what if he had some sort of developmental disability and couldn't control his outbursts?

Or when I was leaving another store and saw a woman with her three children in the wet parking lot. She had shoes on, but none of them did. My first thought was "How lazy, that's so dangerous," not, "Maybe they can't afford shoes."

Finally, yesterday at mass, the cell phone of a man several pews away went off during the reading of the Gospel, and he answered it (what?!) and had a brief conversation before hanging up. As I sat there, trying to focus on the reading, all I could think of was "don't judge him, you don't know what's going on....but couldn't he at least have taken it out into the narthex?" Mentioning it to my best friend later, she said wisely, "I try to give someone the benefit of the doubt when that happens. Maybe there was an emergency, or someone's in the hospital?"

I think we've all been there. We see someone wearing or doing something really inappropriate, and our first thought isn't to pray for them, but to ridicule, to judge, to gloat that we're superior and would never, ever do the same thing. But would we? We don't know circumstances, and Fisher's post reminded me of that. It's something I plan to remember in the future, too.

Monday, June 03, 2013

An apology, and small moments

Again, I am very sorry for the posting gap. The last few weeks have been incredibly busy ones at work, with the school year ending and filled with promotion ceremonies. It's really my busiest season, work wise. I'm currently in the throes of finishing up a special high school graduation section for the paper that involves a lot of over time. I've managed to carve out a few hours a week to get to the gym (if only to burn off stress), but most of the time, when I haven't been working, I've been turning my brain off with TV.  I've had several one-day "weekends."

This, admittedly, hasn't helped me settling into the house. Things are still finding their place, although I've certainly made progress.

Anyway, I had a fun little exchange with a coworker last week. I will admit to not being the most vocal of evangelists when it comes to promoting the faith, and for the longest time, I thought that all promotion of the Church had to be BIG. I think I've mentioned before that I'm not very good at it. But I've gradually come to realize that small things make a difference, too.

For example, I didn't used to post much about saints or the Church on Facebook. But the more I thought about it, I realized that not doing so was tantamount to denying part of myself, a part I wasn't remotely ashamed of. Why should other people post about favorite TV shows, or political viewpoints, and me not post about the faith I love? So, although it isn't every day, I now frequently share quotes from saints or venerables, or note feast days, or like photos of Pope Francis. And last week, one of our sports writers asked me a question.

"So, are you doing a new thing, posting about saints every day now?" It wasn't asked in any sort of snide way, just curiously, as something he'd noticed.

I had to think for a second, and realized I'd posted a St. Francis De Sales quote and shared an image of another saint who'd had a feast day.

"Feast day?"

I went on to explain briefly that all saints are celebrated and honored either on the anniversary of their birth or their death.

"So, how many are there?" my coworker asked. "A few hundred?"

I almost laughed. "Actually, there are thousands. I don't even know how many, to be honest, and often there can be 10, or even 20 that have the same feast day."

"Oh," he said. "Ok." And then he went back to writing his sports story.

And in that moment, I realized that was evangelization. Something so tiny, a conversation of maybe two minutes, with no fireworks or grand gestures. A whisper in time, if you will. It made me think of Elijah, and the wind, and the rocks and the fire, none of which God was in, but the rather the smallest sound. Not that I'm remotely a prophet, but sometimes I think God's still, small voice can speak through us, too.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Things that go bump in the night

Sorry for the radio silence the past two weeks. I was in the process of packing to move, and then moving/unpacking (which is still going on. The unpacking, that is), and between that and work, I was pretty full up. But I'm trying to get back into the swing of things, writing-wise.

So I've moved into this little house by myself, a cute little thing with two bedrooms and a bathroom straight out of the 60s, with mint-green tile accented with a black-tile border. Well, on the second night I was here, I was awakened by a crash. I sat bolt upright in bed, flipped on the light, checked the time (it was about 3:30 a.m.), and was out of my room and flipping on a hall light to see what was the matter...and to avoid tripping over boxes... in no time flat (probably the space of less than a minute).

Now, it's an older quiet neighborhood, but again, I'd only been in the house for two days, and I wasn't sure what was going on. But I wasn't thinking clearly enough to be cautious (it's like when you come home from a long day, or a trip, and it's dark and you flip on all the lights and then go around checking all the closets and under beds...or is that just me? And what on earth would I do if I found someone?) and if someone was trying to break in, I wanted to know.

So I get into my living/dining area and the problem is, fortunately nothing dangerous or dramatic, but only a curtain rod. See, there's a pair of French doors off the dining area into a screened patio, and I've been having the hardest time with the tension rod (it's actually a shower-curtain rod, since I thought it would hold up better. Haha, hold up! See what I did there? Ok, nevermind...) I bought to hang curtains to cover them. And let's just say it slips. A lot. Tension-rod failure, a fair amount of the time. The rod had been pulled down by the (negligible, seriously, they're not heavy) weight of curtains and clattered loudly to the tile floor, thus waking me up.

So what's the point of this little domestic tale?

As I moved to put the rod and curtains back into place, I realized I had something in my hand. It wasn't my cell phone, and it wasn't something to defend myself with, at least not in the traditional sense.

It was my rosary.

I may have mentioned before that I often sleep with it...or at least fall asleep with it. Sometimes I'm not even saying it, it's just a comfort to hold, a security blanket of a kind when I'm worried, or in an unfamiliar situation (new house making strange noises, for example), or awakened in the middle of the night with that uncomfortable feeling that someone, somewhere, needs prayers. When it's not in my hand at night, it's hanging from one of my bed posts. And when I do start saying my rosary at bedtime, I usually wake up in the morning and I'm sleeping on top of it (wooden and on a knotted cord, it's not coming apart easily).

But that one little incident the other night triggered something in my mind, a quote by a saint (I couldn't quite remember who) who called the rosary a weapon. 

The next morning (after going back to sleep) I Googled, and it turns out that there are a number of saints and blesseds who think of the rosary as one of the most powerful weapons we have:

“Give me an army saying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.” Pope Blessed Pius IX

“The Rosary is THE weapon for these times." Saint Padre Pio 

"The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon. Use it with confidence and you'll be amazed at the results."
St. Josemaria Escriva 

In fact, among the 15 promises for praying the rosary Our Lady gave to St. Dominic and Blessed Alan de la Roche (They're awesome, to say the least! You can read them all here), are protection and "a powerful armor" against that which will try and harm us.

It might have been silly to go rushing out into my living room without knowing what, if anything, was there, but clearly, the rosary is a weapon against sin, against evil, against temptation and, in my case, apparently against things that go bump in the night, even if they're just fallen curtain rods.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Catching a glimpse...

This morning, I mowed my parent's lawn. It's something I hadn't done since high school (or possibly during breaks in college, so it's been a while), and a chore I regularly complained about ever since my dad had me start doing it at 12. I couldn't tell you how many times I mowed it growing up. They have a quarter acre, so it's a big job, and my parents (still) don't have a riding mower. Now that my brothers and I are all out of the house, my dad usually mows it, but lately he hasn't been able due to illness, and my mom can't either.

As I carved out squares of shorter grass with the mower, I discovered that I didn't mind the chore it at all. And I realized something else: I have often wondered why none of my job applications for better positions in different states have yet to bear fruit. I often tell myself that God must have me still here for a reason, I just don't know what that reason was. But today I got a small answer. I still live where I do so that I'm near enough to drive up to my parent's place and help them with things they can't do anymore. They kept thanking me for doing the job, when it was such a little thing, really. God knew they would need the help, and that just the simple act of my being there would offer them comfort.

Last week was rough. The bombing at the Boston Marathon, and the aftermath that filled a city - a nation -  with fear and sadness; fear of what might be next, sadness for those lost and injured. Then came the plant explosion in Texas, more lives lost, more people's lives turned upside down.

Sometimes we wonder where God is in situations like that, and why he allows bad things to happen. I don't necessarily have the answer to that last one, but I know God was in all the people, first responders and bystanders who ran to help, not even thinking about themselves or intending to act heroically, but just wanting to render aid. It was in the country united in prayer to lift up those affected in both of those tragedies, showing love and support however they could.

My point is this: God knows what he's doing, even when things seem chaotic or unsure. He sees the big picture, while we don't, but every now and again, we catch a glimpse.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Distracted prayer

I don't know about you, but my prayer is rarely as focused as it needs to be. It became especially obvious as I sat in Adoration this morning and my mind couldn't stay still. I'd missed daily mass, so I read the readings for the day, then started a rosary. "Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is..." not the only thing on my brain. My thoughts ran the gamut, even as I prayed my way through the decades, even as I gazed at Jesus in the monstrance. Here, roughly in the order they came to me, is a small sampling of an hour's worth of thoughts:

 "Oh, that's an interesting jacket that woman's wearing. Four decades to go. The rosary seems to go so much faster when I pray it in the car in the morning. Is it because I'm moving and there's lots going on around me? Thank you, Lord, for protecting Amanda's daughter Grace after she took a 12-foot tumble out of their barn's hay loft. Thank you for allowing my brother to arrive at his Middle-Eastern deployment location safely. Will my friend Marie and her husband who are soon moving back to the area from their overseas deployment have any single male friends they might be able to set me up with? Should I sign up for a Catholic online dating site again? Or is that urge to troll through profiles of single men a temptation to not trust God with it? Be patient, be patient, be patient, please help me be patient. ... I love my rosary, how it's more than 100 year's old, and how the beads no longer stay in one place, having slipped their moorings through years of prayer. Maybe one day I'll wrap it around the stem of a wedding bouquet. It belonged to Miz Bertolotti, my great-grandmother who I never knew but from whom I inherited my awesomely dark under-eye circles. Yay, genetics! But we'll never really know where she got them, since her parents died and she and her siblings were adopted after the 1900 hurricane and Galveston flood. ... I'm glad my insomnia didn't keep me up last night, and I feel well-rested. I hope I can get up off my tail and make it back to the gym today, my jeans are tight. I need to wash some clothes, and make sure I get to the dentist on time (I could have done without my phone going off at 3:30 this morning with a reminder of the appointment, though), and the store, too, since I'm out of lunch meat and tomatoes and why am I suddenly craving orange juice? Please let the rental application for the new place be accepted if it's God's will. ... What is God's will for me to write for GoodGirls today? About yesterday's gospel and how the 153 fish represent the diverse population of the Church, and how the net, which didn't tear despite the weight of the fish, is the Church itself? Or about God's love for us, or Peter's love for Jesus? Or possibly about how I can't imagine living my life without this faith, this beautiful Church and it's sacraments. Thank you, Jesus, for giving me the opportunity to make it to confession Saturday! How DO people live without you, when life gets crazy or bad things happen? ...mmm, I love the smell of incense. One day I need to learn the "Tantum Ergo" by heart..."

As Adoration wound to a close, I realized how little I'd focused. I'd finished my rosary, certainly, and thanked God for the time spent with him, but oh, how I wish I could have just sat still and made my mind a blank page, receptive to what the Lord wanted to tell me! But then, after reposing the Blessed Sacrament, the deacon turned to the small group in the church and thanked us for coming. "God loves you so much, but he loves you even more because you chose to spend time with him today." That eased my mind a bit.

It also was reassuring, once I got home and did a little research, to find that some of the saints struggled with distractions, too. "Even very devout servants of God complain about wanderings and instability of the mind," St. Ignatius of Loyola once said. Among them are St. Gemma Galgani (we celebrated her feast day last week), who once asked God to be forgiving of the wanderings of her mind in prayer: "Oh God... my God! ... Do not be offended if in the morning I come as I am!"

Also, St. Therese of Lisieux, a doctor of the Church, struggled with distractions. In "The Story of a Soul," she writes: "...the recitation of the rosary is more difficult for me than the wearing of an instrument of penance. I feel I have said this so poorly! I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary; I don't succeed in fixing my mind on them. For a long time I was desolate about this lack of devotion which astonished me, for I love the Blessed Virgin so much that it should be easy for me to recite in her honor prayers which are so pleasing to her."

So while I will work to be better at focusing on my prayer when distractions arise, it seems I'm at least in good company.

Have a blessed week!

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Annunciation

Can you imagine being 14 or 15, and suddenly having an angel appear before you? Not only that, but then the angel says you're going to have a baby. And not just any baby -- the savior of the world.

I don't know about you, but I'd freak out.

On a silent women's retreat several years ago with the Sisters of Life, one of the nuns guided us in a reflection. She asked us to read the gospel passage for the day and imagine ourselves in the place of one of the people of the story. Who were we? A towns person, or one of the disciples? How did we imagine the scene? Was it hot, for instance? How did the actions of Jesus make us feel? Why?

So, I think back to when I was 15. Putting aside a lack of worthiness, how would I feel if the Annunciation had happened to me? When you're a teenager, everything -- even the littlest of things -- is dramatic, so I can't imagine being calm. Angels have no earthly bodies, so I'm a little hard-pressed to imagine how Gabriel would appear, too. He's always depicted in human form, but would that really have been the case? Perhaps Mary was afraid, but was calmed when the angel told her not to give in to fear. Still, were I to suddenly find my virginal self pregnant, I'd be fearful and so confused... about how it happened, and what my parents would think.

Yet in today's gospel reading for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord, Mary seems so calm. St. Luke does tell us that Mary was "greatly troubled" at the angel Gabriel's greeting, but other than that, she hardly seems astonished to see a celestial being standing in her bedroom. And she's curious, sure, about how she'll soon be with child, as she has "no relations with a  man. As the gospel makes no mention of her parents, I suppose Sts. Anne and Joachim are away from home. I feel like it would be morning, the start of both the day, and of God doing something completely new.

And Mary said yes. Plans were made, she was betrothed to St. Joseph already, yet she trusted in God's will for her. Born without sin, she had been made ready even before this moment.  She thrilled at the news that her cousin, Elizabeth, was also with child. Could I have done the same? I like to think that I trust in God completely, but it is so hard sometimes, and I know I don't always. Sometimes I let fears get the better of me, and panic. Mary just said yes.

Blessed Mother, pray for us!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Habemus Papem!!

Everything, and I do mean everything, I read about our new pontiff, Pope Francis (it's neat just to type it! I'm so, so incredibly glad we have a Holy Father again!), the more I praise the Holy Spirit for guiding the college of cardinals to elect this man. Our Church is so blessed!

So many have already, so quickly, written about his background, and his humility -- reflecting on how he lived simply as a cardinal in Buenos Aires, taking the bus, living in a small apartment and cooking his own food, rather than living in a vast house with servants; and the fact that he asked for the world to pray for him, as his first act as the Holy Father. He's a Jesuit who has chosen the name Francis! Not only is he humble, but he's smart, with degrees in chemistry, philosophy, and theology, and he's taught all of them, along with literature and psychology as well. AMDG!

I didn't think it would be this soon. Only the second, and first full, day of conclave after an afternoon session on the 12th. Only five rounds of voting. I'd thought it more likely that Thursday would see a new pope.

I was at work and had just finished eating lunch at my desk when suddenly someone pointed out smoke was pouring out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Dark in Rome, it was hard to tell at first if the smoke was just gray. I got up from my desk and walked closer to the TV, actually leaning in as if being closer to the TV would make it more obvious. And the smoke continued to lighten. It was just after 2 p.m. And the smoke was white. "Congratulations!" my boss, sitting at her desk nearby, said to me.

I was supposed to go to an assignment around 2. Fortunately there was a window, from 2-4 p.m., for me to go and take some pictures. Knowing how important this was to me, my boss said I could turn up the volume on the television. I told my boss, laughingly but in all seriousness as I sat down in front of the newsroom TV, that I wasn't going to leave until we found out who the new pope was. As the minutes ticked by, I got more nervous that I wasn't going to be there. I even started nervous eating, practically inhaling the contents of a nearby box of Girl Scout Tagalongs. But then came the announcement, and I couldn't hear, what with some of my coworkers yammering on circled behind me to watch the announcement. And then the microphone for the announcement didn't seem to be working, either. A moment of frustration! It wasn't until his name, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, scrolled across the screen that we knew. He wasn't one of the cardinals I was familiar with.

Still, I wanted to hear and see our new pope, but I had to leave the office and do my job. As I drove to my assignment, I flipped on the radio and I was able to hear the very first portion of his address to the crowds, "Here I am," and the Holy Father leading the crowds in prayer for our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. It was lovely and simple and brought tears to my eyes. Coming back to the office afterwards, I read his full statement, and was immediately struck by it's simplicity and gentleness, it's beauty and modesty. I would expect nothing less from a man who, when he was elevated to cardinal, chose as his motto miserando atque eligendo, “lowly and yet chosen.”

Already, it is so easy to love him, our new papa!

Monday, February 18, 2013

A letter to my 25-year-old self

Dear Anne at 25:

Hi there. Don't be shocked to receive a letter from yourself nearly 10 years in the future (I turn 35 Wednesday). My reason for writing this is to offer you some encouragement while you sit waiting for your life to begin. It's also to encourage myself because, frankly, I've felt a bit under attack the last few days as I approach my birthday, and I think I need a reminder.

So here's a possibly hard truth: you're life has been going for a while now. You're in the midst of it. I'd like to tell you that when you get to where I am, in 2013, you'll have no regrets, that you're married to an amazing man, you have several kids, have written a novel or two and life is perfect, but that isn't the case. You're still single, so no husband or kids. You're too busy to write those novels at the moment. Fortunately, your regrets are few, and none of them major.

This doesn't sound at all encouraging, does it? Hold that thought.

I know right now back in 2003 you're feeling a bit stuck, living at home with mom and dad post-grad school while you job hunt. Dad wants you to take any job that comes along (if I remember correctly, he's pushing a job at a local insurance company), but you want to write, so stick to your guns. The job you get isn't perfect (and no job is), and it's not the highest-paying gig, but you learn a lot. I'm still there, and there have some pretty amazing coworkers.

You see all your friends are pairing off, getting married and having babies. You've been to a load of weddings lately. You share their joy, but you want that joy for yourself. And you are in mid-crush on Patrick. I know he seems like the be-all and end-all of Catholic guy perfection: prayerful, cute, engineer-smart and writing you those witty, lengthy emails from where he is in New Mexico. You're thinking about a possible future with him. I know it's too late to say don't get so caught up in the whole thing, but try to curb it a little. You spend way too much time daydreaming about him. Nothing comes of it. I don't say this to be discouraging or cruel, mind. I just want you to realize that sometimes, crushes can come close to idolatry. If he were really invested in you, he would show it. Give your heart to the Lord instead, and He will care for it so devotedly.

So you're wondering where the upside is. From where you sit, you're probably thinking I'm some washed-up spinster. But you're not alone. You have a pretty amazing roommate. I know you have no kids of your own, but I do have five -- yes, five! -- wonderful godchildren. People still think I'm in my late 20s. I am loved and appreciated and supported by so many. I don't feel old at all, so let me tell you, 35 is hardly the end of the world. And speaking of the world, you know how you want so desperately to travel? There is plenty of travel in your future. Hawaii is coming up pretty soon for you, actually. Then there's a fair amount of domestic travel in the contiguous 48, too. You're heading to Oregon, Nevada, D.C., to name a few. And Italy. This will be the most amazing gift and help you grow in so many ways. Puerto Rico is coming on the horizon for me in the next few months as well.

I want to encourage you to take advantage of this time that you have. Learn new things. Take up some new hobbies. Volunteer. You're going to have a great time working with the youth group at church soon. This may not make much sense to you, but your friends with kids? A few of them are actually envious of you. You can read uninterrupted for hours, and run into the store for 20 minutes without hauling what seems like a week's-worth of camping supplies with you to keep the kids happy and occupied. You can travel. Don't waste this time. There is so much you can accomplish, so much help you can give, just as you are.

Finally (although this is probably the most important thing), at 35, you're going to be much deeper in your prayer life than you are now. This is a good thing. God deserves your attention. He longs for it. Be open to His guidance. Although it's an ongoing struggle (and I'm hardly a pro at this), I can say that trust Him so much more now than you do. His plans are not yours, and while you are going to be frustrated about how things work out sometimes, ultimately that is a very good thing. All those things you hope for? It's not that you don't deserve them, because you -- I -- do. Take it from me when I say you weren't ready. I still may not be. But I know that God's plans are all for the good, and He watches over me.

The future is unwritten, ultimately, and only the Lord knows what's in store. Have faith in that. Take some chances, because he won't let you fall. And when things look cloudy, lean into His embrace, because He will hold you fast.

"The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior,
Who will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
Who will sing joyfully because of you."
Zephaniah 3:17 

Anne at (practically) 35