Sunday, February 1, 2015

The road less traveled

Sometimes it takes being alone to make you realize that you are not alone.

I will admit to not enjoying winter all that much. Mud, wet rugs, layers of clothes and cold often make me long for more tropical climates. But today, in the midst of a blizzard that is still prevailing, I began listening to the quiet voice inside, beckoning me to don my snow pants (thank you Sean), boots, coat, hat (you are welcome, Blaise), and gloves and to venture into the woods to absorb God's magnificent world. We are blessed to have access to hundreds of acres out of our back door.

Thankfully, I grabbed my camera, and while trudging through 3 foot drifts, I began seeing beauty where yesterday, I did not.

I saw evidence of God everywhere

 Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the LORD, because he cometh to judge the earth.-- 1 Chronicles 16:33
 While loneliness often plagues my heart, I am a writer and live the writer's life of isolation, so part of it is genetics and part of it is my own doing.  I am also an introvert, which is probably no surprise to those who know me and can appreciate my reticence when it comes to social gatherings. I rebelled against it early on, but it is something I have grown to appreciate and yes, even nourish.

 The simple beauty of a snow covered weed is astounding. It reminds me that God can make us all new and He sees the beauty within our often darkened, and dried-out hearts

 Before shoveling this morning, I spent a few moments filling the bird feeders, and was rewarded by feathered friends who stuck around while I captured them. They are a reminder for me not to worry about our future. 
"Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? --Matthew 6:26

 And then, after my wandering, our wonderful neighbors, Jim and Kim stopped by to offer friendship and help with clearing our driveway. God is so good 

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.--Proverbs 18:24

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Jury Duty-anything but trivial

At  -12 degrees, getting dressed in layers, and coaxing the frozen salt encrusted Scion to start Monday morning, was anything but delightful for either of us. Civic duty aside, weaving through Kenosha traffic after a six-inch snowfall to fight for a spot in the overcrowded parking lot is never fun, but especially irritating when you would rather be snuggled under a blanket near a roaring fire as I was earlier that day.

The first 'randomly' drawn summons arrived mid-November; and I say randomly drawn with my tongue planted firmly in cheek as this was my 12th, yes, you heard me, my 12th summons. I was accepting of the responsibility, until I developed a nasty case of shingles all along the right side of my head and neck. It would have been nicer to go in December where we experienced the balmier side of winter, but as typical Irish luck would have it, my duty began with Arctic temperatures.

As I maneuvered out of the car, my feet slid way ahead of me, and to my horror, I noticed that the lot was coated in thick ice, a theme that accompanied me on a four block hike to the front of the courthouse. Because of side effects of late stage Lyme Disease and Levaquin toxicity, normal walking has become difficult, and the slick surface made my journey much more treacherous. My moment of relief upon making it to the building without breaking a hip was brief; quickly contrasted by a couple of guards telling me to put all my belongings through a TSA type scanner accompanied by my walking through a metal detector.

Of course the alarms went off with a dozen irritated would-be jurors behind me. The guard hovered the wand around my body as I tried to explain to him that I have an artificial knee which sets off every metal detector I have walked through since 2008. He scanned again. "You must have a belt on." I did not. "I have an artificial knee," I said again. He scanned a third time. "You must have some metal on." I sighed. "It's my knee, I had a replacement." He stared thoughtfully into my eyes. "You had a knee replacement?" I nodded. "Oh, you may go."

By the time the video outlining juror responsibility began, there was standing room only and approximately a thousand of us craned our ears to hear above the chatter within the room. A couple of hours later, most of the potential jurors were sent home and 37 remained; yes, of course, I was among the 37.

While jury duty is something that few people are thrilled about, it is actually quite an interesting process of waiting and learning about the wheels of justice; wheels that often move excruciatingly slow.

The group of us moved to a court room where the judge welcomed us and explained the case and the magnitude of our civil responsibility. The lawyers took turns peppering us with questions and once they were satisfied, sat down to decide who would encompass the 13 members of the jury. During that time, the judge did something I had never seen before. He took out a 2008 Trivial Pursuit desk calendar and held it up to us, saying that he likes to spend this time playing Trivial Pursuit with the potential jurors. I laughed, wondering if this guy was for real.  He was. For about 20 minutes, he read off questions and those of us who knew the answers, held up their hands to respond. Surprisingly, I answered most of them correctly and first, which caused some of the younger ones to remark that I was "really good."

Actually, the ability to rattle off meaningless random tidbits is a habit that a dear priest friend instilled in me. He would often come by and play Trivial Pursuit with my kids and me, and would win every single time. None of us had a chance and once I remember him telling me that his brother-in-law threw the game on the floor because he could not correctly answer a single question. I never wanted to be the one who could not answer a question, so I used to study indiscriminate facts and attempt to commit them to memory. It seemed to be my saving grace this time.

In the end, I was not picked to serve on this jury, but I learned a lot about this judge. His sense of humor and warm personality made me want to serve this trial. While I don't know why I have been summoned so many times, I do feel that jury service is an important duty..after all, I would hope to have a quality jury if I ended up in court. Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My word of the year: Trust

Always late to the party, I just learned a week or so ago that many of my Catholic writer friends choose a word to represent their upcoming year. After praying on it for just a moment, I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit imprinting this one on my heart.


What a responsibility.

Trust. Not the noun, but for me, a verb, for it will take much action on my part to realize the true impact of this word. It will be an ongoing effort to open myself wide, allowing God to provide for us in an extraordinarily uncertain year.

Our precious family is again threatened by outside forces so great that we are once more faced with the prospect of losing our home, of financial ruin, and of health issues so challenging that the outcome is uncertain.

Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." The words flow easily from my lips, but living them day after day requires another level entirely.

To trust in Him, means to truly realize that He knows what is best for me. He knows more than my little worldly mind can comprehend. He sees the completed art on the tapestry, but I merely see the loose, multi-hued threads flailing about. What I understand is never the overall picture of what God sees. My vision is limited by my thoughts, my experiences and my poor insight, but God sees the past, present and future and it is His will that all that happens will lead me to Him.

The concept of trust for a worrier like me is challenging but something greatly needed.  Perhaps on the exterior I appear to have everything together, but like a shiny red apple with a little worm crawling inside, I don't. That little worm is wreaking havoc on the sweet delicious pulp of the apple, and worry is like that worm inside me, wreaking havoc on my faith.

My goal will be to put the truth of trust into practice, making it such a powerful theme in my life that I see every sorrow, every joy, every event, every prayer with the unwavering certainty that God's Divine Providence is totally, and purely trustworthy.

This theme is an ongoing quest to learn to trust in what I cannot see, to allow Him to guide my life. Everything.... and to know that in the end, it will be amazing.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Last minute Advent

Somewhere between Thanksgiving and my good intentions, Advent blurred into five days before Christmas. It began well, and the first candle was lit on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.....a prayer said over the wreath waiting in the kitchen.

I hummed "O Come O Come Emmanuel" while decorating the tree. 

The second Sunday came and went and one day my 5-year-old granddaughter asked why the pink candle hadn't been lit for Gaudete Sunday. Yes. She is five. I looked at the wreath and felt that pang of melancholy at never making it to the second or third weeks of Advent. Each year it seems, I replace just a single candle.

My intentions were numerous. I had planned to renew my Marian consecration, to pray a novena, to attend daily Mass, weekly Adoration, to volunteer more; but somehow Shingles and Lyme disease treatment found me, along with the business of appointments, assignments, shopping, baking, and everything, but preparing my heart to welcome the coming of the King. 

One of the issues with Advent is that it gets consumed by Christmas. The truth is, of course that Advent indicates the coming of Christmas. But the kind of Christmas the liturgical period of Advent is meant to signal is not the Christmas we observe in this country. The secular Christmas is about the storing up of things. The Christmas to which Advent directs us is about being emptied, so we can become satiated. 

Advent directs us to the spirituality of emptiness, of enough, of a barren, but quenched soul. Advent reveals to us, the essentials of life and commercial Christmas points to its superfluities. 

The two great liturgical seasons of the church year, Advent and Lent, are about very different things. Advent is not "a little Lent." Advent is not a penitential period. Advent comes to trigger consciousness, not to provoke our consciences. 

Lent reminds us who we are and who we are not and Advent reminds us who God is and who we are meant to be. Advent is about the opulence of vacuity. 

The Jesus "who did not cling to being God," but is like us in all things, models what most of us take the greater part of our lives to learn: how to "be ourselves." The divinity who comes to us as an infant is the archetype of what it means to learn from life as we grow into who and what we're meant to be. The God who comes without retinue or riches is the metaphor of a humility that requires us to remember how really small we are in the universe--and to come to the point where that is enough for us. 

Advent is about the power of emptiness and the spiritual meaning of smallness. 

When we have little to begin with, we have even less to lose. We know, then, that we don't have all the ideas or all of the answers. It means that we have nothing to fight over and even less to boast about in life. We become full of potential. 

When we know who we really are, when we present no disguises and display no vanity, when we are honest both with ourselves and with others, we are free to be ourselves. We have no image to maintain, no lies to gild in an exaggerated world. 
We become full of integrity.

When we learn to live with the basics rather than to hoard what does not belong to us, we can never be made bereft by the loss of life's little baubles because we never depended on them in the first place. We become full of contentment.

When we recognize our own limitations, we need never fear failure. Then we can't possibly be destroyed by losing because we never anointed ourselves entitled to win. We become full of confidence.

Finally, when Advent permeates our souls, we come to understand that small is not nothing and empty is not bereft. To be small is to need, to depend on the other. Smallness bonds us to the rest of the human race and frees us from the arrogant isolation that kills both the body and the soul. To be empty is to be available inside to attend to something other than the self. We become full of the blessings of life.

Then, emptied out by the awareness of our own smallness, we may have the compassion to identify with those whose emptiness, whose poverty of spirit and sparseness of life is unintentional. Then, we may be able to become full human beings ourselves, full of compassion and full of consciousness.

An Advent spent in thoughtful reflection on the power of emptiness and the meaning of smallness puts everything else in perspective. Most of all, ourselves. Or, as Isaiah put it, "The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low."

Perhaps the season did not escape after all.......

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Don't be an angry Catholic

While I am proud of being a practicing Roman Catholic, there are times when I would like to run and hide and pretend that I have no association with the Faith of my infancy.

It seems to happen over and over- my husband or I will attend an event designed for evangelizing other Catholics and nearly every time, we seem to run across a few judgmental and angry people. They are the type who will look down upon others whom they do not feel worthy of being in their presence or worthy of attending the event. Maybe they don't worship the right way, or sing the right songs, or volunteer in the right ministries. Or perhaps they are not considered holy enough. I just don't know.

It happened again this week when my husband attended a men's event designed to bring holiness to the family and into the Church. Several of the men could not smile or laugh, no matter who tried to engage them. They seemed to be critical, sullen and moody and perhaps taking their role as a Catholic father and man much too seriously. I am not saying that we should not treat our Faith seriously, but for crying out loud, smile once in a while! Show a little joy. Sure there is Catholic persecution but it should not come from the members of our own faith. We do not need to judge others as to who is holier than the other. It is not important to bring up the sins of another or treat them as if they are insignificant, while probably wallowing in their own hidden transgressions.

We encourage the sacrament of reconciliation and suggest frequent trips to the confessional. Yet, we seem to be so wrapped up in our own righteousness that we fail to see that the man or woman in front of us may have already been forgiven for their sins and yet, we choose to condemn them. No one knows the heart of the man or the woman except God. It is easy to judge the person next to you for not living up to your expectations of what you think they should be doing or not doing. No one knows the history of the person in the pew, except God--just as, nobody knows the intentions of another, except God.

Even with well known sinners in the Church and outside the Church, we do not know their heart and whether or not they have asked for forgiveness. Perhaps that person had an abusive childhood or marriage. Perhaps that person is ill. Perhaps that person has already made reparations for their actions.

Instead of condemning, it might be helpful to speak with that person, get to know them, and welcome them as Jesus welcomes them. I bring these issues up because I have been that person. And sadly, I have also been a judgmental Catholic. I am a sinner and yet I have been forgiven. It does no good to attend conferences, rallies, or Bible studies if we cannot open ourselves up to being  Christ for others. If we can learn from this, perhaps we will be the welcoming Church that we propose to be.

Please don't be an angry Catholic as I have seen it turn away way too many people. Let's love each other as Jesus loves us. Please

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Eucharistic Adoration. It's not just for old people

My grandfather, aunts and uncles used to call it, "making a visit" and I wondered what they meant.

My parents never spoke of it at all.

In my 30s, I finally learned what "making a visit" really meant; and along with several Catholic homeschooling families, I brought our children to experience a different way to pray to Jesus. Aside from the children, the chapel was generally filled with those in their 70s or beyond. It seemed sad to me that my generation or my parents generation had no idea what Eucharistic Adoration meant or why they would want to go.

Eucharistic Adoration is a practice in which the Blessed Sacrament is adored by the faithful. And let me tell you, it is a really nice privilege to be able to take time out of a busy day to slip into a chapel for prayer.

Thankfully, the practice of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is making a resurgence among young Catholics. At St. Anne in Pleasant Prairie, the youth are on fire with love for Jesus.

This Saturday, they are hosting Behold. A time for praise, worship and prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Louisa Frederiksson says this, "With the new school year, our lives become very chaotic. Adults, teens, and children all experience the speeding up of schedules. In all of this business, we might lose sight of God.

 Father Todd Belardi is at St. Anne's Behold event to tell you how you can use this new year to form the new and improved version of yourself with Christ's help. Come and join us at St. Anne's Catholic Church at 7 on September 20th for a night to praise and adore our Lord, to experience the healing of Reconciliation, to feel the joy of fellowship, and to learn with our guest speaker. See you there!"

Want to learn more? Watch this captivating video on the Behold experience
Behold Jesus

Friday, September 5, 2014

Melancholy moments, but still here

This morning my dear friend and mentor, Fr. Bob asked me why I haven't written in my blog for some time. He was curious as to whether the evil one has sabotaged my writing.

While the latter is not the case, at least overtly, I think that perhaps the evil one has influenced my desire to chronicle my life under several pretexts. Primarily, I have been going through a rather melancholic time in my life. Days ensconced in cooking, cleaning, laundry, Barbies, swings, and a plethora of dishes for my son who was home on college break and our 5 year old granddaughter who has gone back to school have ended as abruptly as they began last May. And while I have my loving husband by my side, it just isn't as fun to cook for two, and it isn't as necessary to maintain the same cleaning regimen with two as it was with four.

The silence is once again deafening, and it has occasionally occurred to me as the mother of five children and grandmother to eight, that I was not designed to live in solitude. My purpose has always revolved around caring for others and ensuring that their lives run smoothly. My needs were always on the back burner, as it was supposed to be for all good mothers. Am I correct?

Perhaps not. Quite possibly, I am overtime for something new.

In these couple of weeks of the annual pondering of my purpose, the excuses for why I had no time for various things has evaporated. I do have time and it's necessary to focus a bit more on doing things for myself rather than ignoring the fact that I am a human being who also needs a bit of nurturing now and then.

My first foray into this began last June when I traveled to Georgia with a couple of writer friends, and truly, it was liberating and so unlike anything I have done before. Two weeks later, I traveled to New York to help my daughter and son-in-law as they had our newest granddaughter. More recent indulgences have included afternoons of reading, golfing, and becoming a Marriage Ministry Leader with my husband, and a troop leader for American Heritage Girls. Interspersed with my job as a freelance writer, I have been taking self defense courses, and not only learning about my second amendment rights, but successfully passing a couple of firearms training courses and getting my concealed carry licenses to carry a concealed firearm in 36 states.

Now that I have raised a few eyebrows among those who consider me to be a petite, placid, ill-equipped 50 something woman--the desire to expand my knowledge in self defense and the use of firearms has been a burning ember deep within my soul since I was a young girl.  I recall watching longingly as my dad and three brothers would be the ones to go to the shooting range.  I, on the other hand, was forced to remain home as good little girls should and do 'womanly' things. I never understood why girls couldn't shoot, and this summer, I realized that not only could we shoot, we could do it well.

I think my dad would be proud too. The irony was not lost on me the other day when my husband and I were out shopping. I wandered off while he was looking at movies, and instead of finding me by the clothing or makeup, I was in the sporting goods department, pricing ammo.

So, while the transition to empty nest has happened once again, the sadness that accompanied it has lessened a bit because I have learned that while my life has revolved around children, I am still a person of value and the desire to continue growing and educating myself is ever present.

Now, if you need me, I'll probably be at the range.