Where do you see yourself in five years?In ten?What do you want to be when you grow up?If you win the lottery what would you do?We get asked – and ask ourselves – lots of goal-oriented questions. It might be in a classroom or in a job interview. Wherever it is – or whatever causes us to identify goals – we find that we are always looking ahead. We vow to lose ten pounds and fit into a cherished pair of pants. We save our pennies for a new couch or a necklace.Looking ahead can be a good thing; it can motivate us and keep us going forward. On the other hand, becoming too focused on a goal easily makes us lose sight of the journey itself – an important part of any achievement. When I taught parochial middle school there was a home on my daily route to work that was in perpetual construction. At first it was an addition off the back. Then it was a large front porch. One summer it was a paved garden area and a gazebo. Another time it was a garage. This went on for many seasons; for many years. More than a few times, as I would pass the home, I would see the homeowner standing back and admiring his work. It seemed odd to me because the entire project was never done yet you could clearly see by his stance that he had a real sense of pride in what he was seeing.A few weeks ago, I drove past that home and saw that yet another new project was underway and it suddenly occurred to me that it wasn’t about the final project but about the journey.The image of this man’s home now remains with me as an important reminder that even while my life often feels “under construction” it is important to step back and be proud of the progress.
You’ve been poorly catechized and didn’t really understand the role of a Godparent for your newborn baby and so you gave this honor to your best friend since 3rd grade. It made sense at the time and you both giggled and loved the whole idea of it. Now, years later, you no longer speak to your best friend since 3rd grade. You’ve come to regret this poor choice – in a very big way – and don’t know what to do about the lousy Godparent you chose.You have been blessed by faith-filled parents and have been living your faith in a constant manner for as long as you can remember. Bestowing the honor of Godparent upon your cousin was a good choice. After all, she’s family and your lives have the blood connection that will stand the test of time. A few years later you see that she didn’t really get how important this honor was and has really failed. She apparently didn’t read up on the “job” description and now your daughter is burdened with a lousy Godparent. And your daughter sees this at every family Christmas where other Godparents give their Godchildren gifts and hugs and special attention and your daughter gets nothing. Nada. What do you do?The fact is, most of us are somewhere in the middle when it comes to selecting Godparents for our children. We get that it is an honor and we know it is somewhat important. (And the people we ask probably get it to a degree, too.) Since we can’t predict the future, we do our best and ask the person we feel would be best suited for the role – and he or she accepts – all without anyone necessarily understanding the entirety of the Godparent moniker. I inquired of a friend, a faith-filled practicing Catholic and the mother of a rather large brood, if she was “happy” with her choices of Godparents. Without skipping a beat she replied, “Nope.”So what is the role of a Godparent in the Catholic faith? To answer this I asked my own Pastor who is always so generous with his time whenever I am trying to get to the bottom of this or that question about our faith. Father’s answer easily sums up the “official” and “unofficial” roles of a Godparent: “The 'official' role of a godparent is to be a religious or spiritual example for the child. They are also the official witness of what is taking place. Unofficially a godparent is supposed to be a loving presence in the life of the child. I often tell folks at Baptism that it is through the love of a godparent and grandparent that a child learns unconditional love. Mommy and Daddy have to say 'no' but a grandparent or godparent doesn’t have too.”The first line really had an impression upon me: …to be a religious or spiritual example for the child. This is so clear cut. It should become the litmus test for each time we choose a Godparent. It isn’t meant to be an indictment of the possible Godparent, but forces us to look at whomever we are considering for this important role through the eyes of the young person to whom they ought to be a “religious or spiritual” example. I really, really like the words used here: religious or spiritual example. It doesn’t mean we must seek out someone who goes to daily Mass (although there isn’t anything wrong with that!) but rather we should find someone whose countenance is loving, selfless, and kind: an embodiment of Christ. If we’ve experienced them in this way, we can count on them fulfilling their role as Godparent as they should. As Father then says, they officially witness what takes place at the baptism which is the Rite of Initiation. Father’s brief explanation continues to impress upon me the role of a Godparent:…be a loving presence. In other words, be a presence. Again the words are important. What does it mean to be a “presence” in a child’s life? It means remembering birthdays, graduations, basketball games, acknowledging successes and offering encouragement in difficult times. “Be a loving presence” is as clear as “be a religious or spiritual example.” If we’ve witnessed that this person, this potential Godparent, has been a loving presence to others, chances are he or she will be that same sort of loving presence to our child—his or her Godchild.As Father continues and mentions the “unconditional” love that a Godparent shows a Godchild, we again see that for this to occur they have to be a “presence” in the child’s life. Does this mean they must live around the corner? No. Especially with all the ways in which people can stay connected nowadays, we can select a Godparent who lives near or far; in the end what matters is that the Godparent must choose to be “present” in their Godchild’s life.So we missed the boat and are stuck with lousy Godparents. Can we do anything?No…and yes.No we can’t re-baptize our children and pick new, better, more-improved Godparents. No we can’t change their status or demote them because they were the witness to this incredible event in our child’s life. But we can make sure that our children have other people in their lives that fill the role of Godparents—just without the official title. “Foster” Godparents, if you will. We can also make a concerted effort to be a religious or spiritual example to our children and to practice more unconditional love towards them. If we feel something is lacking in our children’s lives because of their lousy Godparents, then chances are we are up to the task of all this!And it makes perfect sense if our children are a bit older to even share the role of Godparents and let them know that while their own Godparent(s) may have missed the mark (it is probably best not to use the word “lousy” when talking with our kids), their baptism was a joyous day in the life of the Kingdom of God! Help them focus on the day of their baptism. This is particularly important if, within a family, you have one child whose Godparents are especially lousy and some of your other children have exceptional Godparents. Kids should never think they somehow failed to “earn” or “deserve” a Godparent’s love or interest. (On the other hand, if you’ve been given the honor of being a Godparent and have not lived up to the responsibility and the privilege, it is never too late to start.)We can and should pray for the Godparent(s) we have chosen, especially the lousy ones. At some point we thought they were the best candidate for the job and although we now know better, it would be a beneficial experience for us to offer up our sorrow and sadness for their sanctification. While there may not be earthly rewards for such an exercise in humility, the eternal rewards might be significant – for us and for them!
“If I have to be plagued with mental illness, then I’m going to be the best mentally ill patient I can be!” proclaimed 60-something Amy.I half laughed and half choked at the statement but knew that Amy’s declaration was sincere. It seemed quite funny at the time but, let’s face it, mental illness is no laughing matter. In fact, Amy’s announcement haunted me for many days. I’ve known Amy for about 10 years and each time I see her, I am overwhelmed by how remarkable she is. She always speaks openly about her love of, and walk with, Jesus. When Amy offhandedly mentions some event where her point is how Jesus was “right there,” you can’t help but be flabbergasted at how easily she recounts something quite unsettling and then you are almost unable to grasp the whole “…but Jesus was with me” point of the story.I’ve often wanted to say, “Really?! You see Jesus IN THAT experience?!” Those are the times where I realize how my faith walk is a far cry from Amy’s. I have so much to learn from her.I am intrigued that she refuses to allow her mental illness to provide an excuse for anything. She cracks me up when she says things like, “Just because I have some mental problems doesn’t mean I can be irresponsible with my money…or eat too many sweets…or watch too much television…or…” Every day offers a variety of new challenges for her and every day she does her best to rise to those challenges. Let me add that along with her mental illness issues, Amy has a number of health issues.Amy talks about her mental illness as if it were a lifelong companion—which it has been—debilitating on some days and simply a nuisance on others, making things and tasks that would be simple for most people a real chore for Amy.Amy has not implored the good Lord to be relieved of her cross (something I tend to do in a heartbeat), she simply asks for ways to handle it. She sees it—and all its consequences in her life—as a gift; and that often boggles my mind. When she could not afford a car, she asked the Lord to provide transportation to Mass. And He did. When she was far too lonely and all the Rosaries in the world weren’t enough to keep her spirits buoyed, she asked for a friend. And He gave her one. When she wondered how she could serve God more fully, Jesus gave her a way to be an Extraordinary Minister to a homebound couple.Amy acknowledges how her mental illness made her incapable of tending to her children when they were young. As a result, they were often left without adult supervision for hours on end; but to this day Amy prays for the forgiveness of her now-grown children for whatever emotional harm was caused to them as a result of her illness. She takes full responsibility even though she was, at times, completely incapable of getting out of bed. I understand the depth of her children’s pain and sorrow at what they needed and missed; but I also wish they knew how much their mother’s prayer life is covering them now in their adult daily lives. Ironically, it is a prayer life Amy has because of her mental illness. Sure, in a perfect situation these children would have had a mother who was able to care for them when they were young and then that same mother would lovingly cover them in prayers as they grew older. But very few of us experience the perfect situation.What keeps Amy going—has always kept her going—is the firm belief that Jesus was ever at her side. When she gently reminisces about her one childhood friend and advocate—Jesus—you can’t help but wonder if your own life would be better with a little less mental and physical health and a lot more faith. He was at her side during the many times that she was hospitalized for ailments ranging from the mental to the physical as well as when she was undergoing numerous electroshock treatments. She makes it clear that He is still at her side today. She looks at the hurdles she’s had to overcome—and still attempts to overcome on a daily basis—as opportunities to depend on Jesus. And He never lets her down.Some might find that foolish or naive; but I find it inspiring.In fact, Amy inspires me far more than any other living being ever has; she is a woman who truly knows what it is like to walk in complete darkness except for the light coming from Christ. As I write these words, I shed tears because God has allowed me to know Amy and call her friend.Amy’s story is heart-wrenching, but not unique. Mental illness—in all its forms and severities—is far more commonplace than we often realize. Some of it is from birth while other times it is a result of a dreadful set of circumstances where tenuous personalities and terrible situations come into play. Either way, it is heart-breaking. When I think about our frenetic world in which the information superhighway is traveling at the speed of light or sound (or some really fast vehicle), I wonder what will happen to those who are on the fringe—those who are barely holding on to their fragile world. We can pretend that connecting on Facebook and having many “friends” is good and valuable; but nothing—absolutely nothing—can replace the sort of time I spend with Amy. We may try to tell ourselves otherwise, but it just isn’t the case. The fact is, someone like Amy can’t be found on Facebook or Twitter. She isn’t LinkedIn—except with the big guy—and her news comes in the form of paper delivered to her mailbox. Sometimes I’m very afraid we are forgetting the Amy’s of our world.It occurs to me that while it may seem that the Amy’s of the world need “us”—whatever that term implies—more realistic is the fact that we need “them.” For we may have new ways to spread the Good News and receive it; but people like Amy who are infinitely better in reflecting the light and love of Christ and bringing it out in others.
The Bible is filled with references to oils, spices, balms and the traders and merchants who sold, bartered, and used them. They are fascinating and give us a glimpse into the ancient world of medicine.At their very basic level, these oils are made up of a unique, natural substance known as a “terpene.” These compounds—whether monoterpenes or sesquiterpenes—are said to hold powerful healing properties. Although none of these statements are verified in the current medical community, the use of these oils throughout history and as recorded in Scripture makes them worth exploring.Today’s molecular understanding of monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes reveal that each is made up carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms. Mono has ten carbon and sixteen hydrogen while sesqui has fifteen carbon and twenty-four hydrogen. Respectively they weigh 136 amu and 204 amu (amu is an atomic mass unit).These structures are said to have very specific capabilities and are often seen by the alternative medical establishment as being able to restore in us “God’s image.” In other words, they are often considered God’s medicine. This is because monoterpenes are said to reprogram corrupted cellular information while sesquiterpenes are said to deprogram and eliminate this bad DNA.Of all the oils, Frankincense is by far the most well know. It is mentioned—or alluded to—dozens of times in the Bible and happens to have a very high concentration of monoterpenes. Famous for being one of the oils brought to the baby Jesus, Frankincense is considered a holy anointing oil and in ancient days was seen as a cure for many illnesses. It was also used to augment meditation and raise spiritual awareness. Today’s alternative healer might use it against cancer due to its significant concentration of monoterpenes. It is also seen as effective in stimulating the body’s immune system and fighting against depression. It is one of the ingredients used in aromatherapy for childhood asthma. Second to Frankincense is probably Myrrh—a commonly known oil even if its biblical and current uses are not. It has a fairly high concentration of sesquiterpenes at 60 percent and, like Frankincense, was oil brought to the baby Jesus. During biblical times it had many uses associated with pregnancy and birth that included being rubbed on the umbilical cord as protection against infection and in an aid to the mother for healing after childbirth. Today it is used in many perfumes since it helps extend the life of the scent. It is also used today as an antiseptic and to fight against such illnesses as ring worm and thrush. Myrrh is part of the aromatherapy synergistic blend used for hemorrhoids.Hyssop was offered to Jesus as he died upon the cross. Its earliest uses included treatment for respiratory ailments and congestion. Christ’s crucifixion would have caused a painful, slow suffocation for which the hyssop may have provided relief. It has a lower concentration of monoterpenes at 30% but has always enjoyed wide popularity and use. Currently, it is one of the oils used to treat varicose veins. It is also popular as part of the blends used to treat a variety of physical contusions.Galbanum is actually considered one of the main oils in the Bible. It has a very high concentration of monoterpenes (75%) and is considered a milder oil; it is less antiseptic than oils such as hyssop or clove. Throughout the ages it has been used to treat spasms and muscle cramps.Cypress as an oil has a history that dates to thousands of years before Christ. Cypress is the hardwood called “gopher wood” in Genesis 6:14. Throughout the Old Testament there are references to oils being poured out as anointing and one of the oils that would have been used is Cypress. Today Cypress is often used to reduce inflammation and swelling when part of a synergistic aromatherapy blend of oils. It is also used for different skin problems such as broken capillaries and acne when used in combination with other oils. Cedarwood is the biblical oil associated with all acts of cleansing—from the cleansing of lepers to ceremony purification after coming in contact with a corpse. Cedarwood has as its history the oil used in cultures thousands of years before biblical history for embalming and for disinfecting. It is derived from tree bark and has a very “woody” aroma. This makes it a popular base for perfumes and colognes. Today aromatherapists use Cedarwood as part of their treatment for uterine cancer. Cinnamon is one of the top five oils mentioned in the Bible—whether directly or indirectly. Like the other biblical oils, it was popular in use for anointing and currently is in many of the blends on the market. This is due to its antimicrobial and antiparasitic properties. Although Cinnamon has many uses in aromatherapy that range from colitis to respiratory stimulation, it is used with caution due to its volatile nature. The other healing oils of the Bible include Sandalwood, Cassia, Calamus, Myrtle, Onycha, Rose of Sharon, and Spikenard. Each contains properties that earn it the title of “healing oil of the Bible.” Biblically based and incredibly interesting to study, these oils round out the main oils in the Bible and may one day provide the link between God’s medicine and man’s.
I’ve read that the Clintons have a “dead to me” list. Specifically, it seems that Hillary does in regards to her presidential campaign. I guess it would actually be a “dead to us” list because the Clintons seem to be known for their cohesiveness when it comes to achieving political goals.And of course, the whole thing may just be a rumor—either way, though, that’s not quite the point anyhow.Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of appeal in making a “dead to me” list.It is so easy for us to take our hurts and our pains and turn them into such a list; it is only natural to see the injustices and the slings and arrows of life as a battle cry for retribution and retaliation.So a “dead to me” can be quite a handy tool. A good way to “keep track.”Of course, living as a Christian means that while we may very well create a “dead to me” list, we then have to turn around a pray for every person that made it onto our list.Bummer, huh?It’s becomes our job to take those who are “dead to us” and make them alive in Christ.That, after all, is what Jesus calls us to do: pray for our enemies. Sometimes our enemies are fairly obvious: they are the ones who have made life difficult—they have caused us to stumble and fall. Other times, our enemies aren’t as crystal clear to us; they haven’t been outright offenders but they have brought grief to us all the same. We’d have much preferred not to have had them in our lives.I can’t help but think that at one point we were all on the heavenly “dead to me” list until Jesus did the unthinkable. He removed us from that list through the supreme, almost-unthinkable act of self-sacrifice. And now all that is asked of us is to pray for our enemies—those people who are on our “dead to me” lists; and it seems rather easy when you think about it from that perspective doesn’t it? Christ did the hard work, we just need to follow his example with prayer.
“From the beginning therefore he [man] is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.”Blessed John Paul wrote these words in his encyclical Laborem Exercens in 1981.I’ve referred to this encyclical many times in my own writings and in attempting to get at the very nature of who I am as a Catholic woman, wife, mother, author, and teacher. I have found in his words a timeless truth—no surprise there!—and a certain sense of peace as well. Whether I have worked outside of the home out of necessity or out of a desire, balancing work with family always holds it challenges; but also holds its rewards.Nothing offers a fuller sense of satisfaction than a task well-performed. It doesn’t matter if that task is washing the kitchen floor, finding the best bargains at the grocery store, or guiding a classroom of middle school students towards a lesson’s objective. Inherent in who we are as humans, as Blessed John Paul points out, is the need for a person to contribute to his or her family or neighborhood or culture in a discernable way. This is what separates us from the animals but also is what gives us dignity.This is a different dignity—or maybe it is best to say it is another level of dignity—that we all have as created beings; that inherent dignity exists whether we “work” a day in our life or not. The presupposition here is our understanding of the dignity of the human being from conception to natural death.In Laborem Exercens, Blessed John Paul moves past that assumption and explores the value and need for every man to “work” as a way to participate in God’s plan for man on earth and to elevate each day’s work in such a way that it actually becomes divine.That is an incredible understanding of work—and quite a goal we ought to have as a society.When we create a culture wherein safety nets become traps, we are denying dignity to each and every person caught in the trap. We are withholding an opportunity for each and every person to participate in God’s plan.Think about how you felt the last time you finished a project or completed an assignment. I know that when I write a column I may read and re-read it half a dozen times. It feels good. I’ve accomplished something. When I stand next to my three grown sons and listen to them converse with each other there is a sense of accomplishment that I have as their mother. God gave me a job and I performed it to the best of my abilities.When my husband finishes a project at work he has a bit of a spring in his step. Dignity exists within that accomplishment. When my college-aged son passes a particularly difficult test he is more animated and more talkative. It has affected him in a good way. Blessed John Paul goes on to write:“Even by their secular activity they must assist one another to live holier lives. In this way the world will be permeated by the spirit of Christ and more effectively achieve its purpose in justice, charity and peace... Therefore, by their competence in secular fields and by their personal activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them work vigorously so that by human labour, technical skill, and civil culture created goods may be perfected according to the design of the Creator and the light of his Word.”Notice that through work the world will more readily be filled with justice, charity and peace! That makes sense, doesn’t it? If we really step back and think about it, there is an interior sense of dignity that rises up within us when we are productive. Why would we deny that from others? When we all share that vision of work and look for ways to bring that to all, we are creating heaven on earth: we are providing an opportunity for each and every person to feel alive in a way that only work can produce.When Blessed John Paul includes a long list of work that is established in Scripture you can’t deny God’s call upon each of us regardless of what we do: “The books of the Old Testament contain many references to human work and to the individual professions exercised by man: for example, the doctor, the pharmacist, the craftsman or artist, the blacksmith—we could apply these words to today's foundry-workers-the potter, the farmer, the scholar, the sailor, the builder, the musician, the shepherd, and the fisherman. The words of praise for the work of women are well known. In his parables on the Kingdom of God Jesus Christ constantly refers to human work: that of the shepherd, the farmer, the doctor, the sower, the householder, the servant, the steward, the fisherman, the merchant, the labourer. He also speaks of the various form of women's work. He compares the apostolate to the manual work of harvesters or fishermen. He refers to the work of scholars too.”Does this mean that work is all fun and games? No, as further we find in Laborem Exercens, work is always associated with toil. That is part and parcel of the journey we are on. So on the one hand there is a sense of dignity inherent in each of our accomplished tasks, while on the other hand those tasks aren’t accomplished without toil on our part.I agree.During the long days of raising three boys who are four years apart in age I wasn’t always sure I was going to make; and for darn sure I wasn’t convinced that I wasn’t failing at it, either.Studying for his test, my son doesn’t smile and proclaim the joy he is experiencing. No, he perseveres in spite of the obstacles and frustrations.When my husband is in the midst of a project his hours are long, his nights are sleepless, and his mind is elsewhere.This isn’t to say we are entitled to a job filled with joy and reward wherein everyday is an excursion to Happyland. Rather, it is to recognize that we are designed by our Creator for work that may be demanding and difficult, it may be boring or strenuous; but whatever it is, it is also an opportunity to unite with God and give glory and honor to His kingdom.
I don’t really follow Pope Francis; however, as a Catholic I certainly regard the Pope with the respect and honor due his position as successor to Peter.What I do read about him, I tend to get from my friends. He seems to be loved or hated and certainly has made people sit up and take notice.I also don’t watch the news in general or read much on the Internet – secular, Catholic or otherwise. I am not on Facebook and I don’t do Twitter. I’ve made a conscious effort in the past couple of years to purposely reduce the chaos of the world by limiting my exposure to it so that my own world now feels purer and a whole lot more peaceful.Amidst that peace, I’ve recently begun researching “Sophia” for my third and final fiction book in a series that started with Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. I share this because my research about this seemingly elusive, somewhat mystical, and definitely female Sophia/Wisdom/Mother keeps crossing paths with what I’ve read about Pope Francis. Francis continues to enter into my quiet world in a calm, wise, even motherly sort of way. Let me explain.At her essence, Sophia is the wisdom that runs throughout Scripture – yet that small acknowledgement leaves so much to be desired. King Solomon sought her and was richly rewarded; Hildegard of Bingen sang her praises; Mother Julian of Norwich wrote about her when she said that God is both our Father and our Mother. Echoing this mystical sentiment, Sophia was given passing credit in 1978 by John Paul I when he made an astonishing reference to the idea of divine motherhood. In a Sunday Angelus address he said, “God is our Father; even more God is our Mother.”Even more, God is our Mother. It was a profound, brave statement; one that did not get the attention it deserved. One that wasn’t unpacked and contemplated like it should have been.As I research Sophia, I can’t help but see Pope Francis as the possible embodiment of her. I keep reflecting on what I am learning about Sophia and the prophetic words of John Paul I: …even more God is our Mother.Lacking the language to flesh out the idea of “God is our Mother,” we can still begin to see how Pope Francis may well be the prophetic fulfillment. In Pope Francis we see the possibility that “God is our Mother” is a truth whose time has possibly come. Is Pope Francis ushering in the manifestation of Sophia – the groundwork that was laid by Christian mystics and more concretely captured when John Paul I said “even more God is our Mother?”I even marvel at the Pope’s name which is both masculine and feminine. The words and actions of Pope Francis in light of the “God is our Mother” possibility make us contemplate important questions: What is a mother if not a healer of relationships and a pursuer of righteousness for all? Isn’t the ideal mother one who wishes all her children to be in harmony? Does a mother not run to those most in need? Will a loving mother not admonish her children to be kind and prudent in their words and in their deeds? Is it not in a mother’s nature to create a home where the spirit of the law prevails? She doesn’t throw out the letter of the law but her heart always reflects the spirit of it. Indeed, we know that a mother is more apt to speak from her heart instead of her head. When she does, her words are not diluted by too much reason for they erupt from the love she has for her children. Often, she is raw emotion responding to the meekest and most in need. She reaches out to all from the depths of her compassion; everything she says and does is wrapped in concern, passion and love. Sophia, Wisdom, Mother – known by so many names – is one of them Pope Francis?
Throughout history the word “light” has been used to portray goodness, charity, kindness, and salvation. Light, after all, removes darkness—whether literally or metaphorically. People say, “She lit up the room when she entered,” or “He is the light of my life.” We understand the significance of those phrases. During the Christmas season—when the amount of actual daylight is at its most limited—we are most fully aware that Christ is the light of the world. It seems rather fitting that in the long hours without light that we contemplate how He dispels the darkness in our lives. We are able to become keenly aware that He conquers the shadows that sometimes seem to overtake us. During the Christmas season we most fully realize that through the light of Christ we find our way to the Father. A beautiful tradition during Christmastime is to light luminaries. The history behind luminaries is rich and beautiful — and varied. Shepherds marked the way to the Christ child with small fires. Centuries later, the Mexican people would gather around celebratory fires in the town square to sing and give thanks for the Lord’s birth. Elsewhere, small fires would mark the route to church for midnight Mass. Christmas is the time to remember that, in some way, we each are called to be a light to another sojourner—to be a luminary.
I’ve always watched I Love Lucy. Lately, though, I notice that there is something about it that speaks to me in a very personal way. It sort of tugs at me. I can’t say that the show takes me back to anything in particular because it isn’t from a time in my personal life; but, rather, it seems to address a desire for simplicity that lives at the center of my heart.Despite the fact that in real life the marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz did not survive, I have found in talking with friends that the show really taps into something that exists at the core of many women.We love the quaint Ricardo apartment. There isn’t a lot of furniture or tons of space. It is as neat as a pin and we can totally imagine living in that space. When Lucy and Ricky host a card game they need to move the couch out of the way to bring in the folding table and chairs. And yet the card games are always fun despite the tight space. The sparse kitchen is behind a swinging door and, upon close inspection, we see it has very little cupboard or countertop space and yet Lucy and Ethel were able to make hundreds of jars of homemade salad dressing in the confines of that small area. We just knew they managed!Over and over again we watch the antics taking place in the Ricardo apartment and there is a little spot inside of us that desires that easier, simpler life. The small sofa and the easy way Ricky lounges while he reads the paper just seem so inviting. We want to be right there. Even if we aren’t a “keeping up with the Jones’” type of person, there is still a simplicity in all the scenes that draws us to Lucy’s life.The gang’s move to the country was no exception. The place was a bit larger but still the simplicity of life emanated from the wood panels and the view of the yard. Consider when they began raising chickens or growing tulips. We can see ourselves trying to do those exact same things and can feel the satisfaction – even when none of it works out – for our efforts. Simplicity in life does that – it brings a sweetness that settles our chaotic mind and restless spirit. I’ve read numerous articles on how Lucille Ball’s follow-up shows were never quite as successful as I Love Lucy. No one seems to be able to put a finger on it and they say such things as “viewers no longer wanted to watch her antics” but I think they have sorely missed the point. I know why none of her following shows ever achieved the success and endurance of I Love Lucy: they didn’t capture the essence of what pervaded that original show – and why we still love Lucy, maybe now more than ever. I Love Lucy, with Lucy doing housework in a dress and heels, touches our hearts because we all long for a simpler time. Maybe that time never existed in the “real” world but that doesn’t remove the desire we all have for it in our daily lives. I see it as placed there by God. We don’t quite understand – we cannot grasp or maybe we just don’t want to believe – that simplicity can be so rewarding. But there it is, sitting deep down inside each of us – that longing for a simpler life – and it is why we still love Lucy.
As television commercials and store circulars clamor for you time and money this Christmas season, you may be feeling – like so many others – a yearning to get back to basics. To reclaim Christmas and its meaning, which isn’t all that difficult to do once you set your mind to it.One way to do just that is to make a commitment to give gifts that matter – gifts from the heart. Just as the Father gave His Son to us from the depths of His Heart, so we can gifts from the heart as well. Our own creations that require we take the time to explore our relationships. I have found that a perfect gift to consider for friends, teachers, co-workers, and family this year is a Christmas basket. Even if you aren’t clever with crafts, there is something wonderful about making Christmas baskets.A Christmas basket is something that you create with the recipient in mind which means you can make a dozen of them and they will all be a bit different, or you can consider ways in which all your friends and family are similar and make the same basket for a dozen different people.Here are some easy tips to get you going for the perfect Christmas basket—and reclaim your personal relationships this Christmas:Make a list of the people for whom you typically shop so that you know how many baskets to purchase. Your baskets can be any size and kind of container which then becomes a gift in and of itself (sewing basket, garbage can, pet bed, hat box, utility bucket—you get the idea) so when you take your list to the store, make sure you keep an open mind. Check out stores like TJ Maxx, JoAnn Fabrics, and Big Lots.Include a Christmas movie or two. Maybe one that makes you cry and one that makes you laugh out loud. You can go with classics like George C. Scott’s A Christmas Carol or something where the theme just revolves around Christmas time like Family Man or New in Town. Just make sure the movies are age appropriate! If you bake, include some of your homemade goodies. Put them in new plastic containers so that the containers themselves are also gifts. To keep you goodies fresh you may want to purchase some Christmas cellophane bags so that the baked goods aren’t directly in the plastic containers. If you don’t bake, check out some of the amazing regional goodies at stores like HomeGoods or specialty stores where you can get gorgeous cookies from France or pasta from Italy!Everyone loves a good devotional and one of the finest you will come across is Tending the Temple by best-selling authors Kevin Vost, Peggy Bowes and Shane Kapler. This devotional combines health and faith and is a great gift to include in your perfect Christmas basket. It is the sort of gift that keeps on giving!Have a Mass offered for the intentions of the recipient of the Christmas basket and include a card that lets her know so. This is a most appreciated gift for everyone!Consider a set of pretty, padded hangers, a few new kitchen towels and oven mitts, a picture frame, or bath salts. If you would like to make bath salts yourself, here is an easy recipe: You will need Epsom salt, Essential oils, such as lavender, or orange and food coloring (certainly optional); you will Mix 1 cup of Epsom salt, ¼ cup sea salt, add 2-3 drops of essential oils, and food coloring to your preference. Put the colored salt in jars. Decorate the jars with lace, sequences, or beads. Then there’s always a new pair of scissors, a first aid kit, a nifty new level and measuring tape, or an in-a-pinch sewing kit. As you can see, creating Christmas baskets is a beautiful way to explore a person’s meaning in your life and to show that you care for him or her in a special way because you took the time—which in and of itself is a huge gift nowadays! Besides, it is balm for our spirits to be imaginative and get engaged in creating and giving gifts that come from the heart.
What you put in the collection basket says a lot about you and where you are at in your journey.Some of us put in our 10 percent tithing without a second thought.Some of us put in the few “extra” dollars we may have.Some of us struggle with the need to “give” to the already “rich” church and so put in very little.I remember once when one of my sons was quite young and had – unbeknownst to me – picked up all his change from his room and put it in the collection basket as it passed. I think it was about nineteen cents.But very few of us realize that when that basket passes, it is an incredible opportunity to give anything and everything to God.Sure, it is about money and tithing; but money is only the beginning. That collection basket is a chance to empty yourself so that your gifts may be joined to those of Christ’s at the altar and used for God’s kingdom. They will be joined in the consecration and if offered with no strings attached can be appropriately dispensed by God, who sees all.Remember that Mass transcends time and space and you are joining all the Masses said, at all moments in time, and that your gifts become priceless in the ways they can be given to others if you so freely give them yourself.The next time the collection basket passes, along with your spare change or your envelope, make a point to put in your joy. God will use it to bless someone else who may need a bit of joy.The next time the collection basket passes, along with your spare change or your envelope, make a point to put in your praise and awe of the mighty God we serve. God will use it to bless someone who may be struggling with their faith and in need of your beautiful gift of praise and awe.The next time the collection basket passes, along with your spare change or your envelope, make a point to put in your sorrow, grief or despair. God will divide up those burdens among your fellow worshippers – across time and space – who are asking with a heart full of love to lighten someone else’s burden. Trust that someone’s heart is open to your needs and your load will be lightened or you will be given courage and strength to carry it. In other words, there is no way you can put your sorrow or your grief or your despair into the basket and have it taken to the altar and it not be changed!We simply don’t know the ways our offerings may be used; but we can be assured that they will be used in anointed ways. The point is to give everything over at that moment in Mass and trust in God.Does God need this from us? Of course not!Does God desire this from us? Of course He does! Just as He freely gave His Son, we, too, can give freely of ourselves gifts that can be blessed at the altar; gifts that can be joined at the foot of the Cross and used in blessed, anointed or even redemptive ways (reflect on redemptive suffering, for instance).Consider some of the words and phrases said at Mass during the consecration and see your gifts collected in the baskets now placed at the altar being transformed with these words:Through him we ask you to accept and bless these gifts we offer you in sacrifice…Father, accept this offering from your whole family…Bless and approve our offering: make it acceptable to you…Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel…Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven…Let your spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy…There is so much that we can freely give to God and an ideal time to do this is during Mass – when that collection basket gets handed to each of us. We can fill it with love and kindness and hope and pain and regret. We can ask our guardian angels to accompany it to the altar. We can allow ourselves to be transformed by what we can give at the altar as much as we can be transformed by what we take from the altar. God allows us, in so many ways, to participate in His goodness. Filling the collection basket to the brim is just one incredible way in which we work with God for His kingdom!So the next time the basket makes its way to you, remember: Nothing is too big or too small to be taken to the altar – it only needs to be given wholly so that it can become holy.
Did you ever notice that the Advent season seems to come and go in the blink of an eye? All of a sudden you find yourself at Christmas Mass wondering how your time to prepare for Christ so easily slipped through your fingers.
The Christmas season which ought to be one of peace and good cheer is often everything other than tranquility and joy. Family events and fractured relationships bring stress where they should be gatherings that refresh and renew.For a Christian, this really doesn’t have to be the case. It really shouldn’t be the case and a few tips to take into the Christmas season will help replace angst and strain with harmony and pleasure. First and foremost, Christmas is the time to celebrate the birth of Christ. When we lose sight of that and begin focusing on our family get-togethers and the obligations of smiling and hugging people with whom we hold grudges, we take our eyes off of Christ.Like Peter stepping out onto the water, it is important for us to remember through the entire Christmas season that this is really all about the birth of our Savior; it really isn’t about us!When we remember that Christmas is about the celebration of the birth of Christ, we are able to more clearly see others through His eyes. This means that we aren’t as likely to see the hurt in our relationships but the way that Christ loves that person who has hurt or harmed us. Seeing one another through Christ’s eyes allows us to move past pain and sorrow and anxiety and into a place of love and kindness. All the exterior facades fall away and we can embrace one another in Christ’s love.Then there’s forgiveness. Everyone struggles with forgiveness in one form or another. While forgiving people who have hurt us is important, it is often accomplished in steps or stages. Don’t look at Christmas as a time where you have to feel total and complete forgiveness for everyone but as a time to take at least one more step in the right direction. From that vantage point, Christmas becomes less stressful because we aren’t in a position to have to become perfect but simply become “on our way.”Along with seeing others through the eyes of Christ and taking forgiveness one step at a time there’s the physiological aspect of stress which we can counter by breathing.That’s right – breathe this Christmas season! Breath deep.Studies show that when we are stressed we don’t breathe deeply and thus only increase the way our bodies are succumbing to stress. Become conscious of your breathing during the Christmas season and make sure to take time to breathe deep and relax.While you are breathing deep, invite the Holy Spirit into your life. Don’t pick up the phone or get in the car without asking the Holy Spirit to be part of whatever it is you are doing. Heading over to your in-law’s or company party? Breathe deep and ask the Holy Spirit to be part of the experience with you. This will allow you to rest in the spirit and see everyone through Christ’s eyes and speak words of love. Inviting the Holy Spirit into whatever you happen to be doing will also help you hear the words of others with kindness and charity. That friend who always seems to throw verbal zingers your way will be heard differently when you listen with the Holy Spirit in you.Finally, keep Christmas simple. The biggest gift has already been purchased: Your Salvation through Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. Use this Christmas season as a time for personal relationships—more reflective of the one you have with Christ or are developing with Christ.The Christmas presents you give shouldn’t be bought in a frenzy or in haste. Let them become more special, more fun this year. Consider making the perfect Christmas basket for your friends and family.Christmas is about the birth of Christ. It is a time of peace and goodwill. It is a time of simplicity.All the Black Friday deals in the world cannot beat the deal of a Savior being born. So as the stores ramp up their promotions and the hype increases everywhere that you are connected, take a step back, breathe deep, and rejoice in the birth of Christ in a purposeful, peaceful way.
The rich man asked Jesus what was necessary to enjoy eternal life. Apparently the man had been a devout follower of the laws but still questioned what that final “piece” needed to be for his own salvation. I think it is interesting that the guy knew, in his heart, that more was still being asked of him. Unfortunately, the answer saddened the man, for Christ told him that he had to sell all his possessions—and the guy had a lot of stuff!We don’t know, based upon the reading of the text, if the man did or did not do as Christ instructed. We read that he walked away sad but that doesn’t necessarily translate into disobedience.I am often sad when I have to “do the right thing” but it doesn’t stop me from doing it.So let’s give this rich guy the benefit of the doubt and say that he forlornly sold his possessions but then followed Christ. We know, of course, that his sadness would have been fleeting, right? After all, he was now in a position to enjoy eternal rewards with Jesus. However, in this scenario we are then left with a bigger picture: what did all this rich guy’s friends and family say while he was liquidating?“Are you crazy? Think how long and hard you worked for all this!”“Why are you acting so irrational? There must be some other solution!”“You are being a fool!”That, by my estimation, may very well be what Jesus was asking of the rich man—and what He asks of each of us: to be a fool. Which on the face of it sounds ridiculous; but when we contemplate what it means to be a fool for Christ, we can understand the depth of what we have to give up—or how we must be perceived—to be a “fool for Christ.” And then we see that being a fool for Christ takes us to the very heart of humility and selflessness where our ego simply cannot exist. We know in our hearts it is that “something more”—just as the rich man knew that there was something more being asked of him.Being a fool for Christ often translates into doing things that make us look foolish—that even make us feel stupid or embarrassed. If we have become comfortable in our positions, aren’t risking anything for the Kingdom, and are surrounded by like-minded people, we can’t possibly be fools for Christ. It is when our egos take a hit, when our actions are questioned, that we become the real fools. Being a fool for Christ means feeling embarrassed at your own passions because you are sharing them where they aren’t understood or even welcome. It puts your ego on the line and exposes you to ridicule and even mockery. Being a fool for Christ means people are saying about you, to you, or even behind your back, “What are you thinking? Who are you kidding? What are doing?”You see, those questions have no sound, reasonable answers outside of the request Jesus makes of us to be in obedience. I can’t explain why I would write and publish Catholic books when I could be lucratively employed in the secular world—except that Christ has called me to it. There are no rational answers to those questions, just as there were no sane answers the rich man could have given to his incredulous friends and family. He was just being a fool for Christ.
I was so delighted to receive permission from Libreria Editrice Vaticana to collect a dozen papal encyclicals together in one book for a truly unique Marian study. As I shared with the prelate, my goal for the gathering of these documents was to show how the teachings of Mary have evolved through inspired revelations beginning with Pope Leo XIII in 1891 and ending with Pope John Paul II’s 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Life of the Church). It was an honor and a privilege to write study questions and reflections for these documents—definitely a dream come true for the teacher in me. My approach stems from my own love of Mary which begins in her role as a Jewish mother; and it is from that perspective that I take this journey back in time to unveil Marian doctrine in the Church. In fact, I was recently able to share my reversion story on Journey Home with Marcus Grodi which has made the opportunity to do this study on Mary all the more meaningful.Reading the words of our popes – those prophetic teachers – gave me an understanding how this Jewish mother came to be so revered in the Catholic faith. The encyclicals that begin with understanding Church teaching on the Rosary, and for more than 100 years move through time to the fullest understanding of Mary as co-Redemptrix, are life-changing. They allowed me to take this beloved Jewish mother and see how providence ordained her role in salvation history. And now I invite you to take this journey as well.The encyclicals are reprinted in their entirety and, according to the Vatican requirements, have not been edited. This means that some use the language or spelling of the day – all of which adds to the profound experience of reading these incredible documents gathered in one book. They are:Octobri Menseo September 22, 1891- Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the RosaryLaetitiae Sancae September 8, 1893 - Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Commending Devotion to the RosaryIucunda Semper Expectatione September 8, 1894 - Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary Adiutricem September 5, 1895 - Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the RosaryFidentem Piumque Animum September 20, 1896 - Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary Augustissimae Virginis Mariae September 12, 1897 - Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Confraternity of the Holy RosaryDiuturni Temporis September 5, 1898 - Encyclicalof Pope Leo XIII on the Rosary Quamquam Pluries August 16, 1898 - Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Devotion to St. JosephDeiparae Virginis Mariae May 1, 1946 - Encyclical of Pope Pius XII on the Possibility of Defining the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a DogmaApostolic Constitution November 1, 1950 - Encyclical of Pope Pius XII Defining the Dogma of the Assumption Ad Caeli Reginiam October 11, 1954 - Encyclical of Pope Pius XII on Proclaiming the Queenship of MaryGrata Recordatio September 26, 1959 - Encyclical of Pope John XXIII on the Rosary: Prayer for the Church, Missions, International and Social ProblemsRedemptoris Mater March 25, 1987 - Encyclical of John Paul II on the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Life of the Pilgrim ChurchAs far as my responsibility as editor in this book, I did my best to simply exist in the background and guide the reader through these prophetic papal documents in a way that the questions and reflections try to make each document deeply personal and relevant. For instance, while reading one of Pope Leo’s encyclicals, you are asked to reflect on such questions as: How was Mary able to represent every person in her fiat? What is the connection between Jesus as the way to the Father and Mary as the way to Christ Ultimately, I pray you will like what I’ve done as I’ve tried to be faithful to the guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout. November 21st is the Feast Day of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and makes the month a particularly beautiful month to begin a Marian study with the Popes—especially as it leads into December with the 1st being the beginning of Advent. This work is consecrated to Jesus through Mary and really will make the Marian Feast Days of November and December that much more powerful as you delve into the papal writings (with Vatican permission!) on the role that Mary plays as our Mother and as co-Redemptrix. If you would like to use this book as a study, it is available to purchase individually or in groups of five.http://bezalelbooks.com/marystudy.htmlOf course, if you would like to purchase larger quantities, please email me at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com. And if you have any questions about setting up the study, I’d be glad to help. God bless you on your journey.
My friend and I purchased tickets to a local event in which our Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron was engaging in a dialogue with Rabbi Joseph Krakoff from the Shaarey Zedek congregation in Southfield, Michigan on the topic of Genesis.The event—which was co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit and the Jewish Federation—took place at the Maple Theatres in Bloomfield, Michigan on a humid Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, seating at the Maple Theatres is awesome: it is roomy and comfortable and really ideal for just such an occasion. Sherry and I made an outing out of the whole thing and had a late lunch at a local deli before heading over to the venue. We were greeted by surprisingly long lines that immediately created a sense of excitement and anticipation. Everyone just knew this was going to be “something.” The damp, muggy afternoon air didn’t hinder anyone’s mood.It felt rather exhilarating and, well, sort of heavenly.The theatre holds a few hundred people and it was sold out—or if not sold out, just about sold out. Archbishop Vigneron and Rabbi Krakoff were on the stage when we arrived with a few minutes to spare before starting time. The lighting was low with a perfectly placed focus on the table at which both men sat. As the crowd meandered in, the men were clearly engaged in a quiet conversation that seemed respectful, comfortable, and amiable. The microphones were not yet on but at one point we heard laughter erupt and somehow knew that this was going to be a blessed event.And anointed it was.Rabbi Krakoff guided the format which included, for the most part, a bit of reading from Genesis, a Jewish perspective on particular passages and then an opportunity for Archbishop Vigneron to speak to the same verses from a Catholic perspective. The men discussed the fall of Adam and Eve, the duplicity of the snake in the garden, marriage, the soul, and life after death—among other things.It was thrilling to see the connections between the Jewish and Catholic faiths and interesting to see where they diverged. Both men are to be credited for the ways in which they handled the differences. For instance, Archbishop Vigneron perfectly articulated original sin while Rabbi Krakoff explained that Jews believe a child is born “neutral.” Archbishop Vigneron explained that Catholics believe in one life and that a soul and body are created together and ultimately join together after the resurrection while Rabbi Krakoff explained the Jewish understanding of life after death that included possible reincarnation but no Hell. I was incredibly proud of my Archbishop when he kindly and with great sincerity mentioned gratitude for the ways in which our Catholic faith arises from the Jewish faith—particularly the mention of us being “grafted” in and the ways in which the New Testament invokes the Old Testament. It was love incarnate. After about an hour of discussion, both men took questions via note cards given to the audience members. For the most part, it seems like the questions were directed to Archbishop Vigneron. Ultimately, Vigneron fielded questions about divorce, baptism, angels, and Satan with ease and intelligence. I’ve heard and read a lot about the “new evangelization” and yet have seen tremendous hate on the internet (and intolerance in all forms of media) under the guise of this “new evangelization” as people of faith verbally accost unbelievers and even one another. In some sad ways this new evangelization looks like e-Crusades. (Have we learned nothing from history?) It has left such an ugly taste in my mouth that I’ve begun to see “evangelization” as a dirty word. This event changed all that. Archbishop Vigneron and Rabbi Krakoff sat on stage and represented the very best of men of God. They were kind, charitable, tolerant, and knowledgeable as they opened their hearts to one another and to us, their audience. As Rabbi Krakoff offered in his closing remarks (I’m paraphrasing here): It isn’t about needing to agree on all things but needing to talk together. I couldn’t help but feel what real evangelization is all about: love.It is clear that so much more is accomplished through loving dialogue than through the venom that is spewed as one person tries to convince another of what is “right.” Whatever knowledge we each took home that night, my prayer is that—more than anything—we each experienced an increase of love and tolerance in our hearts for our fellow man based upon the examples witnessed to us by Vigneron and Krakoff.
Every year about this time I get a number of inquiries about women’s groups. Summer is winding down and the anticipation of autumn stirs a woman’s spirit towards a more contemplative time of year. I love hearing that women want to start study groups or book clubs; and so I always try to post an article on how to get something like this started. (And I’m always available at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com to answer questions!) I was recently invited on Brian Patrick’s EWTN Sonrise Morning Show to talk about the great value Catholic fiction in our faith walk so it made sense to also get this post going about starting a women’s book club—to sort of go hand-in-hand with that guest spot.Starting a book club is so much easier than you may think and if you’ve been toying with the idea, I’m hoping this will give you the courage to go for it!First: Pick your book.Decide if you want to read fiction or non-fiction. Since I’ll be talking with Brian about fiction books, my passion is to invite Catholic women to see how fun it is to read Catholic fiction. At Bezalel Books we’ve put together packages specifically for women’s clubs and of course I think it is a great place to start your search. Our packages do include some non-fiction as well. Find our packages here.Second: Get the group together.You really only need two or three women to have a great time (am I right?) and so you shouldn’t feel like this has to be a big production—although if you know you have the leadership and hostess gifts (charisms), by all means, gather as many women as your heart desires!Consider extending an invitation or two to women with whom you don’t necessarily know very well. This is a nice time to establish new friendships and since it is confined to specific dates and times, it doesn’t require you become best friends nor does it make all kinds of demands on you.Maybe someone in the carpool lane at the kid’s school that you’ve always smiled at and said hello but never struck up a conversation; or it might be a neighbor with whom you’ve chatted over the mailbox but it never became more. You get the idea.On the other hand, feel free to use it as a reason for you and your closest friends to stay connected as well.No matter what, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in selecting the women.Third: Establish meeting dates and times (and location).When you know who you are inviting, your best bet is to look at your own schedule and offer a couple of options for getting together. I would suggest an hour and a half to two hours, once a week. So, for example if Tuesdays from 9 to 10:30 a.m. or Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. work best for you, offer those dates and times to the women.I do have a friend who finds that twice a month commitments work best. For her it is always the first and third Thursdays.Ultimately go with the most popular choice for the group. Too many options will muddy the waters; just a couple to put out there is fine. Chances are you will open your home to the group but you may decide that the parish center or some other location works better. Just make sure that you coordinate the days and times you offer with the location availability. All this, along with the book title, should be part of the invitation you extend.Make sure to give a tentative start and end date as well. Decide if you are purchasing the books and the women will reimburse you or if you are asking that each purchase her own book. Fourth: Have fun!Determine if your first meeting is just a chance to set the stage or if you will dive right into the book which means that a chapter had to have been read before the gathering.For your first meeting you might provide a light snack and beverages and have a signup sheet for the following three of four get-togethers. If you try to sign up too far into the future, women might not be able to commit because schedules change. I have found that a reminder email is helpful as we all get caught up in our schedules and sometimes forget these things that nourish our souls! Something that goes out to everyone a day or two before the meeting and is a simple message; "Blessings…I just wanted to remind everyone of Tuesday’s book club…we will be discussing chapter 3 and that we are looking forward to Sue’s snacks…"These wonderful get-togethers make for great times! They provide opportunities for personal relationships to take root and grow; they allow you to journey with others in anointed ways. And remember I’m here to answer questions to help get you on your way!
I never understood cutting. Or really gave it much thought.In my years as a middle school teacher, if any of the students had actively cut him or herself, I was completely unaware.Ditto regarding my years as a mother of teens.Then an adult friend said something to me recently that really took me by surprise.She had a sibling who had died and the subsequent days were filled with a sort of grief that became somewhat unbearable to her. Family relationships being what they are—and my friend being the driven, faith-filled Catholic gal that she is—started to create a perfect storm of human frailty. I watched as my friend motored through a variety of emotions that ranged from helplessness to anger and then circled back to logic and reason peppered with charity and kindness. Through it all, my heart carried her burden. It pained me to see her in such anguish. At one point, exhausted from it all, she quietly said to me, “I see why people cut themselves.”I had no response. In her pain, she connected with the pain of others who choose to cut themselves to alleviate their ache and burden—to somehow grab control of things. The physical harm they inflict upon themselves serves a real purpose, a relief. It is something they are in charge of when everything else around them seems uncontrollable.My friend desired that sort of control in that very moment.In an online article on Education.com, Wendy Lader, PhD, clinical director of S.A.F.E Alternatives and co-author of Bodily Harm, says self-harm is more prevalent than most people think. “Studies on adolescents in community samples report a lifetime prevalence between 15 and 20 percent,” she says.She goes on to say that the most common reason is control of emotions. “For kids experiencing intense emotions, it can be used to deaden the intensity. For those feeling a sense of numbness, it serves the opposite effect, helping them feel something.” Let’s face it: this need to cope with intense emotions is something that we have all grappled with from time to time—and we know how difficult it can be, as adults, to get those emotions under control. So it is no wonder that among our adolescent population—which faces a tremendous amount of stressors along with the standard teen angst fare—the cutting phenomenon is on the rise.In the same article on Education.com, Susan Bowman, a licensed counselor and author says, “When kids cut themselves, it releases endorphins and they get a high from it. It becomes a control issue: This is the way I release the pressure.”My friend’s pain was—as much as is humanly possible—my own. So in her simple statement about cutting, she spoke volumes. If she had turned around and cut herself right in front of me I believe I would have understood. In her own pain at the death of her sibling and the ensuing family dynamics surrounding that difficult time, my friend had an incredible epiphany. She recognized that sometimes emotional pain or trauma is so deep, so overwhelming that we can’t cope with it and we need to find some sort of release. And it is the specific release of cutting—or self-harm—that our kids are pursuing more and more.There are a number of indicators for parents, guardians, and teachers to be aware of for possible self-harm which, while typically starts around 15 years old, can certainly start at any time. According to a study by Cornell University and a few other reports, these include:Wounds (it seems obvious but pay attention to wounds—especially clustered wounds and scars) on the most common areas: wrists, arms, hands, thighs.Bandages on the same areas especially in a consistent basis.Blood inside clothing or on sheets or towels.Clothing that doesn’t make sense for the season—for instance, long sleeves or pants on a hot summer day.Signs of distress, depression, anxiety, or withdrawal that seems out of pattern, excessive, long in duration, or inconsolable.All current reports and studies agree that self-harm—cutting, self-injury—is far from being “fringe” behavior for kids. It doesn’t just affect the children of “other” families.It shouldn’t be stigmatized or ignored. There are many avenues of help available.And of course, this is a reminder that we are all called to be bastions of love, kindness, prayer, and charity for all children.
Our kitchen garbage can is actually 26 years old. I bought it when I was pregnant with my oldest son, Jared. And it really is in good condition, considering its age. The only problem with it is that the lid's opening is in front, versus on the top. So to throw trash away, you have to use your hand -- or the actual trash -- to push the flap in and then you can throw your garbage away by opening your hand and letting it drop. Sometimes it is best to just lift the lid off and throw things away -- this is particularly true with coffee grounds.Anyhow, it all works perfectly fine for my husband and I but my boys inevitably got the lid covered with food and I found that I washing the flap of the lid at least 3 times a week.So when I saw a really nice shiny, new garbage can that had an automatic lid, I had to purchase it. It is an actual motion sensor so whenever you wave your trash near the lid it opens up -- from the top – and you can drop your trash in without getting it everywhere. It is battery-powered.When my husband John walked in from work one day, he looked at the box, read the words "Automatic Lid!" and remained quiet, God bless him.Then, on the weekend, he patiently opened the box and put the trash can together with its batteries in the lid. Barely speaking a word as he worked, I knew he was going to support me in my quest for a kitchen garbage can that required less clean up. Or at least that’s the story I choose to believe.Once the can was put together and turned “on,” John lovingly smiled at me (I’m pretty sure it was a smile of love) -- his job was done -- and then he walked past the garbage can and towards the living room.John's movement was detected by the lid and the lid dutifully opened. Hmmm....we wondered how far the motion detector worked on the thing and soon discovered that the only way to avoid activating the lid was to hug the wall opposite the can, or belly crawl, as we passed.And still not a word from John as he read through the instructions to see if the lid would work without batteries. Nope.As I went to get the packaging so we could return the can, I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe.My Aunt Polly always says that John is going straight to Heaven. "No Purgatory time for this man," is what she says.I finally agree.
Jesus called us “friend” giving us insight into the importance of friendship.We know his friends were as varied as we are—and he cherished each in a special and unique way, teaching us to do the same. Although his is our first, most important friendship, our earthly friendships also have special blessings for us.There are five friendships that every woman needs in her life.1. A woman needs a friend with whom she can pray. Not just words over a meal but the sort of Holy Spirit prayers that arise from the depths of the heart and soul and make their way straight to heaven.2. A woman needs a friend with whom she can laugh. Not just an exterior chuckle but the interior laughter that erupts from the belly and releases—even for a brief, passing moment—all the stress and burden that often rests on her world-weary shoulders. 3. A woman needs a friend with whom she can cry. Not just tears that rim the eyes in a sentimental moment but the painful cry that seems to have no end but is now met with the kindness and compassion needed for healing.4. A woman needs a friend to whom she can expose her weakest, most vulnerable, sinful self and still be loved. Not just the superficial “I’m not perfect” stuff but the real, true self who has been to the edge and back and now needs a friend to help carry the load to the foot of the Cross.5. A woman needs a friend for whom no judgment exists. None. Not just in offering non-judgmental words to a dilemma but someone who simply could not see her friend through any eyes other than the eyes of Christ because that is where her spirit lives.Trust your first and truest friend, Christ, for all your earthly friendship needs; and ask to become to others a blessed friend as well.