Weekend Ponderings: Life (and death) of young, vibrant Catholic girl inspires many to come back to the Church

gloriaGloria Strauss was just 13 when she died of cancer. This young, vibrant Catholic has inspired many to come back to the Church.

This story touched me because of how her cancer was discovered, very much the same way — and at the same age — my sister’s bone cancer was found. In Chris’ case, a horse kick make her knee swell to the size of a grapefruit (which is big, on a seven-year-old). The first doctor said it was a crushed bone … a few weeks later, they found the tumor.

Chris survived, and went on to have two beautiful children (one of whom is serving in Iraq and has a child of his own). This girl’s story ended very differently, and yet it is also a story of what beauty God can make out of tragedy. Her life has inspired many people to turn their minds toward the things that matter … eternal realities we ignore to our peril.

And so, my little sister in Christ, may your angels lead you into paradise,
and may perpetual light shine upon you.
May your soul, and the soul of all the faithful, through the mercy of God rest in peace!

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Weekend Ponderings: “Forget the extra shirt.”

P5020764In the Gospel reading this weekend, Jesus sends out His disciples two by two to preach the good news. His instructions in Mark 6 are very explicit …

He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.

What I find interesting about these instructions is the balance between self-reliance and trust in Divine Providence, between making plans and “going with the flow.” They were to enter a town, stay with the first family that opened their doors to them, heal and preach … and move on.

In some ways, this is also the “secret recipe” for living the life of an Extraordinary Mom. We need to maintain the balance between knowing what we can do ourselves — and when we need others to help us. We make our plans, knowing that outside forces (our own children included) will often conspire against those plans, and we need to be ready to toss that to-do list to the w ind. We need to simplify our lives, because those extra shirts add up to that much  more “stuff” to manage.

Finally — and this is important — we cannot let ourselves be dissuaded from the nay-sayers, those who second-guess our own abilities to parent, or who make snap judgments about us based on what they see our children doing. Who look at the ODD child or ADHD child and assume we are not disciplining them adequately. Who see our child’s low test scores and assume we are not reading (or encouraging them to read) at home.

Repeat after me: “I am not perfect, but I am doing the best job I can do for my children today. Yesterday is past, and tomorrow isn’t here yet. TODAY I’m going to be the best mom I can be.”

Then call up a friend and schedule a play date. There is a REASON Jesus sent them out two by two. We all need a little extra support sometimes!

God bless.

Weekend Ponderings: Paul’s Thorn … and Mine

This is a little late getting to the blog — I should be posting “Miracle Monday” about now.  Please bear with me.

Today I was listening to our parochial vicar, Father Gordon (who will be leaving us in a week or two), talk about St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and I was reminded what a breath-taking confession that must have been for St. Paul to make. While no one actually knows what the “thorn” was, my bet would be either migraines or depression. I blog about it  today at “Mommy Monsters.” 

Okay, you back?  Now for the “main course” …

One of the things I took away from the Catholic New Media Celebration — from Father Roderick, actually — was the idea that each post should be like a good meal — with a tantalizing appetizer, hearty main course, and “something sweet” to finish. Also, he talked about the five I’s of a good podcast (which I’m also extending to blog posts), which should …

  • Interest:  “Hook” them with something intriguing. (Like a good title.)
  • Inform:  Tell your audience what the post/podcast is going to cover, so they know whether they want to stay. (This involves keeping important content “above the fold” for bloggers, I think.)
  • Instruct: “Give people the tools they need to resolve their problems.”
  • Involve:  “Invite a response.”
  • Inspire:  “Pray over your show/blog.”  Here goes …

Lord, today I’d like to remember those who struggle with their own “thorns,” whatever those might be. Use those moments of suffering and weakness to mold us into the beautiful creations you want us to be. St. Teresa of Avila, patron saint of migraine sufferers, pray for us! In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Last but not least … dessert!  Bit of pav, anyone? (Yes, I know his point was metaphorical. But this looks much better.)

pavlova

Weekend Ponderings: “And other boats were with him…”

rembrandt1633The Gospel of Mark is quickly becoming my favorite because he packs so much into a few short words. His stories are spare and to-the-point … but every so often he slips in a phrase or detail that makes you go, “Hmmm…”

Sunday’s Gospel reading is like that. In the story of the apostles on the sea with the Lord, being tossed about until He speaks a word that make “the wind and waves obey Him,” it would be easy to miss one little phrase Mark slips in there as he tells the story (Mark 4:35-41):

“Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.”

What boats? You may well ask. As the squalls kicked up, all but capsizing the fishing boat in which the Lord and His disciples were resting … we must assume that the surrounding boats were in similar straits. Being thrashed and buffeted by the prevailing wind and rain. Their occupants similarly terrified. Perhaps even more so — they didn’t have Jesus in their boat!

There are some situations in life that, honestly, I don’t know how you endure without faith. The death of a loved one. A shattering disappointment. A brush with your own mortality. Being a Christian doesn’t anesthetize us to the real pain these situations inflict upon the heart. But it does — or at least should — make a difference in how we process that suffering.

It is blatantly dishonest to deny the existence of the pain. Even the Lord Himself cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The pain is real, and it can be life-altering.

However, for the Christian, our grief need not define us, or cause us to founder and go under. Rather, faith lends a vital perspective — that Someone bigger and wiser than us holds those mysteries in His hands, and will entrust them to us when the time is right.

Photo Credit: Rembrandt by Valtora

Weekend Ponderings: Water Carriers

water carrier

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?”

He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.”    Mark 14:12-16

Sunday’s Gospel reading is a familiar one to most Christians — in his characteristically spare style Mark records the events leading up to the very first Eucharistic celebration. Mark doesn’t even name the two disciples Jesus sent to make Passover preparation — but the Gospel writer goes into some detail about Jesus’ directives on how to find the place they were to spend Passover: a man carrying a water jar would lead them there.

Why was this “a sign”? How could they be sure they were following the right water-toter?  Simply put, carrying water was “women’s work,” and few men would be caught in broad daylight engaged in such a humble endeavor.  It simply wasn’t done.

Earlier today I posted an announcement about the review of “Raising Up Mommy” at CatholicExchange. No many how many other books I write, this little book will always be close to my heart. It records my own journey toward grace, my own purifying experiences in motherhood. Most of them involved copious quantities of humble pie. And yet, invariably good things — life-transforming things — were the result.

Sometimes God asks us to do things that take us outside our comfort zone. We may even appear foolish — as I was reminded last night at a VBS meeting, in which I taught my Tribe Leaders the songs they would be singing next week with the kids. (This year we have an “International Church” theme, so it involved singing songs in other languages, which was clearly outside the comfort zone of most of them.) “Don’t worry,” I encouraged my sheepish group. “If you look like you’re having fun and enjoying yourself, so will the kids!’

That’s true for most of the “water carrying” tasks God gives us. Attitude is everything. Just hoist that water jar, put your chin up — and lead on! In the words of Oswald Chambers, “If you’re going to be used by God, he’s going to take you through a myriad of experiences that were not meant for you at all. They were meant to make you useful in his hands.”

Weekend Ponderings: O Blessed Communion!

the-castThere is one hymn that always, without exception, gets me teary-eyed and choked up when they trot it out at church (usually, come to think of it, at funerals):  “For All the Saints,” and in particular the verse that goes

O Blessed Communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine,
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine,
Alleluia!  Alleluia!

This weekend we’re heading for Poughkeepsie to attend the First Communion of my goddaughter, Ruth Adele Milne, in the yellow dress, the youngest daughter of my dear friend Elizabeth. (Her oldest daughter, Emily Jane, is also “mine.” Though unfortunately we were unable to attend her first because of a raging flu bug that hit both our families at once.)

Elizabeth, who is MUCH better at staying in touch with photos and letters and little tokens of remembrance than ever I was, nearly made me choke on my Diet Coke with the last picture she sent of her kids.

Emily is officially a young woman. Wow. Seems like just yesterday I was changing her diaper and begging her mother to let me take Em for a walk around the apartment complex so she could get a couple hours of rest. Now . . . wow. I’m a little afraid to blink, in case she makes me a great-godmother while my eyes are closed!

The thing about this “blessed communion” is that it goes on under our noses when we are least aware of it. Both the glory and the struggle. All under the mighty eye of God, who gives us just what we need when we need it — as any good Father does.  (My husband was reminded of this just today when Sarah insisted on bringing a box of Timbits into class with her, and resisted his offer to let him carry it in for her. Long story short, he was picking Timbits off the floor and kicking himself for not trusting his first impulse and taking the donuts away from our excited daughter.)

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine. And that’s what I’m most looking forward to this weekend: a glimpse of the glory, when my goddaughter gets her first real taste of Jesus. I tell my kids that we’re never closer to God than at that moment when we receive Him in the Eucharist — that if they listen very closely, they can hear the angels singing.

Of course, they’re all geeked about the party and the presents, and truth be told it can be tempting to let the hoopla detract from the main event. Until we remember that, on this day of all days, our children are getting to experience for the very first time, a foretaste of the heavenly Wedding Feast to come.

Better than bakery cake, any day of the week.

Lord Jesus, You are the Bread of Life, the Wine of Gladness,
You are the Joy that never ends.
Give us an unforgettable taste of You to sustain us
As we feebly struggle across the long days ahead,
Until we taste at last that heavenly Bread,
Consumed with the Fire of Everlasting Love,
And that Blessed Communion that will never end.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Weekend Ponderings: Caution! Do you know where your friends are?

kitchen-madonnaThree of my favorite Catholic women writers just posted about the lunch they had together they other day. Oooh, I WISH I could have joined them!  Writing can be such a solitary, sedentary sport, with most of the communication going one way (out!). It can be tempting to lean on our virtual connections, and neglect the real-time ones. And yet, there is nothing quite like a REAL cup of tea (or a Cosmopolitan, as Kitchen Madonna and I are doing here), sitting across the table from a good friend. Getting to see her eyes twinkle, hear her warm laughter, crunch the cookies, feel the warmth trickle down the back of your throat. Yum.

Those personal connections soften the hard times, and sweeten the good ones. But they do require a bit of effort. Tonight for the first time in . . . well, forever . . . I’m going out with my girlfriend Katy to a benefit for Safe House. It’s being held at St. Andrew Parish in Saline (7-9 p.m., if you’re interested), and it will probably just involve sipping tea and buying a new set of sheets. But with a good friend . . . sounds like heaven!

Like all God’s gifts, friendship requires a certain amount of investment to function properly. I recently sent out invitations to a half dozen church friends — we used to run the mother’s program at church together, but have since moved on to other things. I’ve missed these women, and figured it was time to do something about it!  A little chicken salad and iced tea, maybe a pavlova for dessert. Time to catch up!

We’re all busy. We all have a million things on our to-do lists. But a year from now, how many of those things are going to matter? Only the relationships we build with one another. I was reminded of the importance of keeping proper perspective again today from the first reading, from Acts 5, which is about the Pharisee Gamiliel, one of the greatest Jewish teachers of all time (and some say a secret follower of Christ). In discussing what to do with St. Peter and the apostles (who had recently gotten on the last nerve of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court), Gamaliel makes an astute observation about human endeavors of all kinds.

“…So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go.
For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.
But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them;
you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

So the question I put to you today …  How many of the activities on your list are “of human origin,” and how many are of lasting significance? Are you maintaining the gifts God has given you — including the gifts of friendship? When was the last time you hugged a kid . . . or a friend?