Monday, February 28, 2011

Saint Margaret of Cortona

                Many times throughout my lifetime, I have judged people harshly.  Growing up in a small town, gossip and judgments were handed out almost on a daily basis.  Though Jesus’ forgiving way was taught, I didn’t see it displayed very often.  Granted the people that displayed it probably did it without me seeing, but I remember many instances where people were raked over the proverbial coals because of actions they took that didn’t fit the moral code of our little town.  I can only imagine how some of the saints were treated in their lives.
                Margaret was born in 1247 in a town called Laviano, Italy which is in the south western area, the ankle area of the boot.  Her mother died at an early age.  Her father remarried a woman that caused Margaret to suffer.  The young girl was very beautiful, Cinderella comes to mind.  However, instead of marrying a prince, she was seduced by a lord and had a son.  She lived with the lord out of wedlock for nine years when he was assassinated.  I can only guess at the moral atmosphere in Laviano during this time.  In the 70’s in a small town in north-western Montana, people would have talked about her behind her back at every opportunity.  In the 80’s, I would have joined them.  I still struggle with harshly judging people, but now I try to remember to pray.  I wonder who prayed for Margaret.
                After her lover died, Margaret took a hard look at herself.  She decided to make some changes.  After successfully going through a three year trial period, she joined the third order of the Franciscans.  For the remainder of her life, she dedicated her life to God and served him for twenty-three years in Cortona, Italy.  Her son, born a bastard (the term used in those days), became a friar minor.  Her story took a drastic turn from Cinderella’s.  However, I can’t help but think “happily ever after” still applies.
                The next time I begin to judge harshly, I will try to remember Saint Margaret of Cortona.  Prayers would be much more productive for the conversion of the person I am judging and the conversion of my harsh heart.
                Blessings to you all.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Connections of Faith in Culture

Since I was a little girl, I have been a huge fan of The Waltons.  I saw the originals in the 70’s and watched the reruns as much as possible.  For the last couple of years, I have been asking for the DVD’s at Christmas and for birthdays.  I am sporting the original movie and seasons one through three.  I love the stories of family love and overcoming struggles in day to day life.  The truths they portray in the episodes still resonate with the core values of Christian living.  When I was a kid, I loved Elizabeth and Erin.  Watching the show in my twenties, I related to Mary Ellen and her stubborn determination to concur the world.  Now in my, hum, more mature years, I relate with Olivia.  However, I must admit John Boy has always been my favorite and his story inspires me.  It may be that we are both the oldest in our family or it may be that we are kindred spirits in the written word.
                Today after my eye appointment, I couldn’t see up close because of my dilated pupils.  So, I took the opportunity to relax a little and watch an episode or two of season three.  JimBob, the second youngest of the Walton crew, is in charge of taking care of the school guinea pig.  During the night, the critter falls off the dresser and dies.  JimBob tries to tell his middle brothers, but they are too busy teasing him to listen.  John Boy is on his way to the university, takes a few moments to listen, but alas has to leave.  His mother is busy taking care of sick Elizabeth and grumbles at him to go play.  (How many times have I done that as a mom?)  The sisters growl at him about the stupid animal.  The last straw is when his grandfather and father tell him to run along because they are trying to get wood cut for a customer.  He decides to run away.  As is the formula for most television shows, all end wells by the end of the story.  The father apologizes for not listening to JimBob.  The young boy says, “It’s okay, next time I will make you listen.”  This struck a chord.
                Most of us have a beautiful life.  We have our ups and downs, but still we are blessed.  How many times do we not talk to God because our needs seem so insignificant?  Why should He listen to me about my aches and pains when people with cancer are dying?  And does He even listen anyway?  Let’s face it.  We all go through dry spells when we feel He is so far away helping others while we plod along.  There is also the “martyr” mentality where we sacrifice our problems by keeping them to ourselves so God doesn’t have to bother with us.
                While my husband was in Iraq, I struggled with negative people in my life.  Many of them I let make me feel like I was a bad mother and wife.  I also struggled with panic attacks because my husband was in harm’s way.  His job was infantry.  I had a couple of prayers on my desk at work that I prayed many times throughout the day.  I prayed at home and I prayed myself to sleep.  I tried to be stoic and pray for others while I was struggling.  Finally, I needed to make Jesus listen.  I remember the day.  I had left work for the day and was crying myself home.  I turned up Head Lane and finally I cried out to Jesus, “You put me in this mess.  I need you here right now!”  Imagine a three year old throwing a fit for ice cream and you have an accurate picture of my attitude.  All of a sudden, the cab of the pickup filled with a tremendous peace.  I held my hand out to the passenger seat and Jesus was there.  I made God listen that day.  Granted, I know He listens all the time, but there are moments we need to be 100% more persistent.
                Don’t be afraid or think your needs are trivial.  Go to your father in heaven as JimBob would go to his father in times of need and make Him listen.
                Blessing to you all.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quote of the Week

                In quite a few posts, I have talked of perfection.  My stand on the topic is as humans we will never be perfect.  This week’s Gospel reading gave me pause for we are called to be perfect.  “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 4:48  Hum, I have some major work to do in the coming years.
                The verses preceding this call to perfection are part of a section entitled “Love of Enemies” and guides us in the direction we are to take to become like our Father.  Jesus state in verse 44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you….”  This is far from easy.  In fact, I believe this is my biggest sin that keeps me stagnant in my journey to holiness.  In the last ten years, there are people who have hurt me deeply.  Some wounds are fairly fresh with scabs and others have left scars.  I feel tugs on the scabs from time to time and anger seeps out.  I vent the anger and pray for God to take it away.  Sometimes I pray for the people who have caused the damage but not as much as I am called to pray.
                Unfortunately there are three wounds that still bleed.  The name of two individuals fills me with such loathing because they hurt my husband.  I have not forgiven them and I stubbornly don’t want to.  Sitting here thinking of the third one, I realize I might be healing a bit more than I thought.  This person attacked my ability to be a good wife and mother.  How silly of me to not let God heal me.  I know I am a wonderful mom and wife.  However, I fear if I am tested by running into her at a store, I will fail and not be kind.
                In my case, I believe I struggle with forgiveness with people close to me and my family.  I trusted, respected, and befriended these people when they broke the trust.  If they had been average people, I could care less what they thought of me and mine.  But I trusted them.  They were my friends.  God doesn’t call us to trust or respect these people.  He also doesn’t call us to hang out with them.  Instead he calls us to forgive, love, and pray.  I need to add this to my prayer life.
                How about you?  Are you good at praying for those who have hurt you the most?  Like me, does this hinder your journey to holiness and perfection?
                Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Dear Aunt

Throughout my years as a child, I was very blessed to have a number of women in my life to help guide me in my faith life.  Each year on February 18th, I specifically think of one such lady because it is her birthday.  She came into my life at the age of three, but, in reality, I can’t remember a time that I haven’t known her.  My parents insisted I call her aunt out of respect and I still consider her a true aunt.  I also have a tremendous amount of respect for her to this day.
                As I mentioned before, my parents didn’t attend church.  I rode the bus to a protestant church.  Unfortunately, the bus didn’t run for special Christmas services.  Instead God sent me Aunt Betty.  The Christmas’ we stayed in Eureka, I would attend Midnight Mass at the Catholic Church with her and her family.  This was my favorite time of the year growing up.  I loved going to Mass celebrating the birth of baby Jesus.  The church sparkled and the love of God flowed.  I sat with a family.  When we moved, I missed those masses and all the time I spent with her.
                Aunt Betty introduced me to the Catholic faith in more than just this once a year ritual.  In my youth, I watched her take her children to church, lead them through their religious education, participate in Lent, and love the people around her.  The peace and kindness she displayed through her faith made me feel good, but it also made me feel lacking.  I always wanted to be like her when I grew up.  I wanted to be a part of Lent, have a first communion, and always be so positive.  I don’t remember her ever saying anything negative about other people.
                Well, I should clarify this last part.  She didn’t like the rainbow people who came to town one summer.  I can’t remember exactly, but they were a group of people into drugs that spent the warm months up north.  Her and my mother and all the mothers put a kibosh on all unsupervised outdoor activities.  We kids couldn’t go to the boat dock at the public beach on Glen Lake or wander the woods.   She also didn’t like when her husband and my dad took all of us kids to the Rexford bar after a day of hunting, fishing, or gathering wood.  In fact, this was the only time I saw her not be 100% loving to her husband.
                Though I never saw her pray, I know she did.  I believe the Rosary was a big part of her life.  And I know she prayed for me.  Of course, this is all from my feelings as a child and not a fact per say, but I am confident prayer was a big part of her life.  I also watched her as she dealt with difficult people.  There were a few in that tiny little town.  If I have succeeded in being a little like her, I am sure she had to pray for these difficult people.  But with her beautiful spirit, I bet she prayed for their faith.  I pray to be able to put up with them.
                To this day, I still work at being much like my Aunt Betty.  I attend church, participate in Lent, and guide my children in their faith.  I try very hard to love my husband 100%.  And I pray.  Quite a few years ago, she moved away from the lake and into town.  She is about one block from the Catholic Church.  I still want to be like her.  When I am her age, I want to live that close so I can walk to church every day.  Thank you Aunt Betty for all that you did for me as a child.  My faith is where it is today because of you.  I love you.
                Blessing to you all.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Winter Blues

                Winter blues seem to be hitting a lot of people I know.  A few friends on facebook have been making comments as have two people on their blogs that I follow.  While volunteering at the local Catholic school in preparations for their auction, a friend and I compared notes on feeling bla.  For many people, multiple types of sickness have visited not only themselves but also their family members.  This winter seems especially long with the dramatic fluctuations in temperature.  The warm weather only makes me long for spring sooner, harder, and longer.   This year could have an added downside for me in that I am now at home all the time instead of going to a job that can distract me and help me interact with others.
                I keep thinking about what I can do while I am in this bla, blue, moody state of being with a healthy dose of spring fever thrown in for good measure.  Getting out with friends is always a way to lift my spirits.  But let’s see, I went to dinner last Monday with friends and have an outing planned with different friends in a week and a half.  I almost forgot.  Next weekend is the event of the season as I will be attending the auction with numerous friends and family.  Socially, I think I am doing pretty well (especially for me).
                Expanding my horizons is a sure bet to put a smile on my face.  Last week I attended a talk given by a Holocaust survivor.  I also went to week four of a six part series in the next town over.  I attended part five this week and will go to the final part next week.  I am also planning on attending a Lenten Retreat in a week.  And as always, I am going to piano lessons.  Short of going back to college, I am doing great in this category.
                Volunteering.  They say to volunteer is to give yourself an added boost of all sorts of good things.  Last Sunday and this Sunday I have worked Eucharistic Ministry; plus, I sold a bunch of raffle tickets.  I have been to the school to clean.  This week will be more cleaning, decorating, and table and chair delivery and set up.  In fact, I will probably be doing a good ten to fourteen hours of volunteer work.  This too can be checked off the getting out of the blues list.
                I have plenty of tasks to do around the house.  There is the much dreaded closet that needs to be cleaned.  The living room and bedroom could be painted.  With a family of five, cleaning is always needed to be done.  I have a scrapbook I should be working on for my oldest and I am working on another baby afghan to give to charity.  My kitchen cupboards need reorganized.  The list of books I have to read is longer; plus, I have all my writing tasks that I should be doing.  Boredom really isn’t a part of my mood.
                Not going out for a jaunt can be a problem.  I haven’t been out of the valley since just before Christmas.  I look outside at all the snow coming down and know that it isn’t a possibility to travel at the moment.  Besides, I have all the volunteer work to be doing this next week.  My plan is to skip town when my daughter is on spring break.  I am not sure which direction we are headed, but we must go somewhere.  Also, soon we will be on our way to LA and Mexico for some fun in the sun.  So, though I am stuck for the next couple of weeks, there is hope in the future.
                Where does this leave me?  Really, I believe I have covered all the bases.  If I have left any out, please let me know.  My life is full and good, but I am struggling.  I look at this list of beautiful activities in my life with friends and family and I start to feel guilty about my moodiness.  I should be jumping with joy.  Life isn’t always filled with joy even if it is beautiful.  It is a fact of life. 
Instead of running from the blues, we should embrace them.  This is a time to spend in quiet with God telling him what is on our hearts.  This morning as I grumbled getting ready to clean the school (I actually started grumbling last night) and driving there, I asked God to help the task at hand and my attitude.  The first hour of cleaning I was still grumpy, but it faded until I was smiling and chatting with friends.  When I came home, I was still in a bla mood and decided it was a good time to rest, watch a movie, and crochet.  I still am not feeling particularly joyful or full of energy, but I think I will go have a cup of tea and read up on the saints.  I will continue to trudge through the doldrums with God at my side.  I know in time I will be joyful again.
Blessing to you all.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Little Things: Love and Hate

                Perfectionism is a topic that I think of often when considering my faith life.  I have also written about it a time or two.  If I believe humans will never be perfect, why do I continue to strive so hard to do well and confess when I don’t?  At this last week’s Mass, Father put some perspective on the thought.  With this past week hosting Valentine’s Day and my wedding anniversary, the message he gave me hit so many areas.
                We should never look past the little things we do.  In the areas of love, whether it is the love of our spouse, family and friends, we need to keep the love alive with the small gestures.  I must admit that I am not always good at this, but I work on it.  Lately, I found out my tall husband doesn’t like the covers at the foot of the bed tucked in when he goes to sleep.  I love the tight military tuck.  Now when I make the bed, I tuck in my side and leave his loose.  My middle child loves homemade strawberry freezer jam.  The other night I made him a batch.  By doing little things for your relationships, the love continues to grow.  Little acts of kindness and thoughtfulness will keep the love strong and growing much more then the big things that happen every now and then.  This is a way of getting our relationships closer to “perfection”.  Our thoughtfulness also helps us along our journey to holiness.  What about the little annoyances in our life?
                Like doing small thoughtful things to build on the bigger emotion of love, the little negatives we have in life can grow to the bigger emotions like hatred.  After twenty-two years of marriage, I think it is safe to say I am pretty knowledgeable in the area of a long term relationship.  It hasn’t always been a picnic.  For a year or two, I really struggled with some changes that had taken place.  Much of the time I only saw the irritating behaviors.  He did this wrong.  He forgot about this.  He has a bad attitude.  I could have easily only concentrated in these little things that were making me angry, lonely, and a host of other emotions.  We would not be married today if I had done that.  Instead, I took these negative and less than perfect thoughts to God.  I confessed my anger.  As penance, for each negative I thought about my husband, I would remind myself of the positives he also displayed.  I still have an occasional negative thought, but I can’t imagine not spending the next twenty-two years and many more with this dear man. 
                Though we will never be perfect, the act of striving for it makes us better and stronger people.  By striving to do positive little things, we create a bond with people that will grow.  By working on the little transgressions in our life, we keep the dark emotions at bay saving relationships.  When it comes down to the end, we will be remembered by the little things we work on and do.  I hope you have had a good week.  If not, sit in quiet reflection.  What can you do to strengthen a relationship in a small way?  How can you replace that negative thought with a positive thought?  It isn’t easy, but it is most definitely worthwhile.
                Blessings to you all.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Quote of the Week

            “I consoled myself with the thought that over time he would probably mellow and come to realize that religion wasn’t about experience, but working toward perfection.”  WINDKNOCKER by Bud Malby    
These words stirred my soul when I read them, so I marked the spot with a gum wrapper continuing to read.  After I finished the novel, I went back to the spot skimming over the page until I came to the sentence.  To understand the quote, you need a little background.  The person telling the story is a priest of the Catholic faith.  He is a good man.  The person he believes will eventually mellow is his best friend from childhood.  When they were fourteen, the friend was born again and believed God knocked the wind into him, the wind of the Holy Spirit, hence the name of the book, WINDKNOCKER. 
Many Christians of all denominations believe we must be perfect.  We judge one another.  “Can you believe she yelled at her kid?  She isn’t a good Christians.”  What is worse, non-believers also believe Christians must be perfect.  If they see one isn’t, they believe them to be hypocrites giving them the excuse not to see what this faith is all about.  One person whom I love dearly with all my heart told me, “I will not go to church and sit with those hypocrites.”  Granted, there are wolves sitting in the pews dressed in sheep’s clothing.  Jesus warned us about this.  I don’t deny it.  I do deny that any of us are perfect.  We work hard to do what is right in the eyes of God, but we come short of that mark.
What is this experience that he mentions though?  Is religion about experience?  It has been for me.  Throughout my life, I have had meaningful experiences.  This is what shows me God is with me on a moment by moment basis even if I don’t feel it.  I have had the wind knocked into me at different youth rallies, church services, masses, and retreats.  But my experiences haven’t just been at religious functions.  I felt God’s presence with me a number of times when my husband was in a war zone in Iraq.  I prayed for a safe journey one winter with my infant son.  I just had a feeling something could go wrong, so I prayed and prayed.  I thanked God when we arrived home safely.  The next morning my pickup had a flat tire.  Many Christians and non-believers alike would say this is just a coincidence, I say differently. 
            Religion is about striving to be the best person God wants us to be.  Religion is also about seeking experiences with God.  Does the priest ever get visited by the Windknocker?  You will have to read the book to find out.  Have you been visited?  I hope you have.
Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Small Acts of Kindness

                Acts of kindness that help us take steps in our journey don’t have to be big.  This month is the anniversary of my sister-in-law’s death.  I remember the evening I received the call like it was yesterday.  
                 I walked into work after a day of studying at the library at MSU-Billings.  A huge paper for my historiography class was giving me some problems.  As I said my hellos, the assistant manager growled at me to call my husband.  I don’t like to be told what to do when it comes to my private life, so I told him I would when it slows down.  The dinner rush was in full swing.  Jim, my friend and manager, told me no.  “Now, it is important.”  This scared me.  My husband was a mess when he got on the phone.  His little sister was killed in a winter storm pile up in Minnesota.  The world instantly turned surreal.  I told him I would leave right away.  My dear father-in-law got on the phone.  “You stay there.  I will not have another daughter out on these roads in this storm.  All of Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota were experiencing a huge blizzard.  I was in Billings, my mother-in-law was in North Dakota, and the rest of the family (husband and son to name just a few) was in the north east corner of Montana.  To say that was one of the longest nights of my life is not an exaggeration.  I traveled home the next morning.  The four hour trip took about five hours the roads were so bad.  The rest of the week was a blur.
During this time of grief, I was amazed at the people who helped me get through the darkness of mourning a loved one.  I really struggled the first two weeks back at college.  What was I doing leaving my one-year-old just to get a degree?  I prayed to God.  Shouldn’t I be quitting school and spending what time I had left on earth with my loved ones?  Like I mentioned earlier, I was struggling with a paper.  I needed ten primary sources and twenty secondary sources.  When I left for the highline, I only had two primary sources and had hit a brick wall.  So, I told God whether I stayed in school was up to him.  If I was meant to stay, I would get the eight books I needed.  If I didn’t, I was headed home.
My historiography teacher was also a minister.  The first ten minutes of class he would take me aside to counsel me on my loss.  I told him about my problem with the sources and my potential of returning home.  He sent me to the Dean.  Now, I had never met this man in my life, but he was an avid Civil War buff.  He lent me three to five of his primary source books from his personal collection.  I found the rest of the books I needed from the Salish Kootenai College.  God gave me the books.  He gave them through the generosity of people taking time out to help a grieving student.
Also during this time, a fellow tutor at the writing lab handed me an envelope.  She was a mom of teenage kids who returned to college.  She was always a calming presence in the lab and in classes.  In the envelope was a cut out copy of my sister-in-law’s obituary.  “I thought in all the chaos you might not have had the chance to get a copy.”  I hadn’t.  The gift meant the world to me.  She also gave me a motherly hug and took extra time to check up on me the next couple of months.  God sent these three people to me.  But most importantly, they listened to God.
Blessing to you all.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Saint Scholastica

                I have always been fascinated by twins.  For the first nine years of my life, I grew up as an only child.  I hated it.  If I had a twin I would have always had someone to play with.  As it was, I had my dolls.  When I played make believe, I always had a twin brother.  In fact, I convinced my little sister I was adopted and had a twin brother and an older brother somewhere out there in the world.  I was also fascinated about how twins, split up at birth, led very similar lives.  Needless to say in the novel I wrote, my main character has a twin brother.  Also when I read about Saint Scholastica being a twin, I had to look a little deeper.
                The twins were born in Nurcia, Italy in about 480.  Both children were devoted to Jesus.  Benedict, Scholastica’s twin, founded the religious order of Benedictines.  He helped her found a convent that was only five miles from his monastery.  Scholastica is said to be the first Benedictine nun.  Neither the convent nor the monastery allowed that either could enter their houses to visit.  Thus, they would travel to a nearby house once a year to see one another.
                Brother Benedict, with some of his brothers following him, came upon the small home just a short distance down the road from his monastery.  His sweet sister sat waiting for him.  In her early years, she would run to meet him.  Now the trek to the house left her tired.  She stood to give him a hug motioning to the chair next to hers.
                “I thought we would sit in the sun until it grows to hot.  My weary bones enjoy the light.”  He took her wrinkled hand in his own.  A small strand of gray hair fell out of the habit which she impatiently pushed back into place.
                The afternoon passed in reflection of God’s grace throughout the year.  She talked animatedly about the young girls that had recently joined her group of pious woman.  He talked about the work he and his brothers had done.  Benedict noted that even when the sun became its warmest Scholastica’s hands never seemed to warm.  Neither suggested going back into the house, but they retired when they were called to dinner.  After they finished breaking bread together the sixty-three-year-old nun finally broached a topic near to her heart.
                “Benedict, I thought we could break from tradition tonight and stay here at the house.  I would like to spend more time with you.”  She looked into his eyes reading his answer before he spoke.
                Irritation crossed his face.  Growing up, she had always been free-spirited while he followed the rules.  He thought she had grown out of this by now at their age.  “You know I cannot stay the night.  I expect the brothers to not leave the monastery for the night; I cannot very well break my own rule.”
                She clasped her hands in prayer lowering her head.  Tears fell from her face and sobs raked her body.  Nervously he fidgeted with his napkin.  He hated it when she cried.  The brothers sitting at the table quietly stood and began clearing food.  None of them knew what to do with this woman.
                Scholastica lifted her head with a smile when suddenly a clap of thunder rocked the farmhouse.  He jumped from the table and rushed to the door.  The wind almost tore it from his grasp and a torrent of water hit his face.  Struggling, he finally shut the door.
                “Scholastica, what have you done?”
                “You wouldn’t grant my request, so I asked God to intercede.  He sent the storm.  You didn’t hear me, but God listened.”
                As the hours passed by, Benedict’s brother slept on the floor.  He and his sister sat next to the fire chatting about the future.  Benedict had many plans for continuing God’s work.  Scholastica smiled while listening.  She talked of handing her duties over to one of her sisters and resting.  He scoffed at this and discussed what he thought she do in the coming year.  They departed the next morning to a clear bright day if a little muddy from the night before.  Benedict hurried along to get back to work.
                Three days later as Benedict prepared for the day his heart skipped a beat.  Looking out the window, he saw a pure white dove fly past and ascend into the clouds.  His twin sister said her good-byes as she went to be with their lord and savior.
                Saint Benedict sent his monks to the convent for his sister’s body.  He had her corpse put in the tomb he prepared for himself.  He would rest with Saint Scholastica in death as he knew she would want only he wouldn’t need a storm to persuade him this time.
                I believe I will always be fascinated with the bond of twins.  However, now I know there is a bond stronger still.  If we seek, look, listen, and develop our relationship with God, we will have a bond beyond all understanding.  Yes, the bond I have between my children and husband are amazingly strong, but God is with me twenty-four/seven.  Nothing can compare to that.
                Blessings to you all.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Two Manilla Envelopes

For the past week, between doing posts for my blog, prepping for pre and post Superbowl activities, chasing kids around, and multiple engagements to attend, I have frantically been working on two writing projects that I am sending into a writers contest in Seattle with the due date creeping ever closer.  Yesterday, I finally mailed them.  They are due next Friday, nothing like getting close to the drop dead date.  How does this matter to my journey to holiness?  How does any secular work matter to our journey to holiness?  I believe it is there; we just need to look for it.
            Two years ago, I was captivated by the horror of an article I read.  My memory has cobwebs, but I believe the story came from Florida.  A young girl was taken from her “mother”.  The child was considered a feral child.  At the time, I was working on my novel about a young girl becoming a healer.  I threw the two concepts together to write a short story.  After I finished, I had a couple of my first readers take a look.  All of them liked the story.  I sent it to a contest, but was disqualified because I did something wrong.  Well, my husband encouraged me to dust it off and submit it this year.
            Two nights ago, I was going through the story for the twentieth edit and panicking because I missed important details and had to add them.  Okay, it wasn’t twenty times.  I have an issue with patience and editing.  God must want me to learn something, but it is taking me forever!  Anyway, a revelation struck me.  Two years ago, I loved the story.  I thought it could win.  In the past week, I found quite a few holes in the story.  In fact, quite frankly, it stunk.  I must have been learning these last couple of years.  Some days I get so overwhelmed by how much I don’t know.  I need patience with myself to learn.  The last couple years have not been wasted nor will the next couple of years, or five, or ten, or twenty.  I need to relax and let God help me on my journey.
            After I finished adding the important details, I knew the story needed to rest.  I kept debating back and forth whether I should skip my women’s Bible study group in the morning.  Our work often does cause us to skip time to be with God and fellowship with our Christian family.  I chose to attend the study group.  A couple hours away would not hinder my progress.  Besides, I was getting nervous about sending the piece.
            Sitting down at the computer to do one final edit, the words sat there mocking me.  The first sentence looked like a jumbled mess.  With butterflies in my stomach, I told God I was finished.  I made three prints right then and there without doing a final edit.  I may regret the decision later.  I packaged the story and the beginning of my novel.  With check, paperclips, entry form, writing, and self-addressed stamped envelopes, I sealed the manila envelopes.  I held my hope in my hands and said a little prayer.  Yes, I want to be a famous author with movies of my characters hitting the big screen.  I don’t need to ask.  God knows this.  Plus, I am not ready.  I still have another couple of years of learning before I am even partially good.  So, I prayed for God’s will to be done and to bless the people reading my work that they will give me critiques to grow into a better writer.
            With a smile on my face, I made another trip into town.  I patiently stood in line letting a lady step in front of me.  At the counter, I smiled at the mail clerk as he prepared my envelopes to send away.  God is now in charge.  It is out of my hands.  I trust Him in getting me through one more step of my career.  Okay, the career I hope will at some point make a tad bit of money…someday.
            So, I do believe my manila envelopes are helping me on my journey to holiness.  They brought me closer to God in prayer.  It may be trivial, but God wants to be a part of our entire life even the trivial.
            Blessing to you all.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quote of the Week

            “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.”  Ephesians 5:26-27
Growing up, somewhere I picked up the idea that it was wrong to get angry.  If I was to be a good Christian, I should never get mad.  You can imagine I felt guilty every time I became upset for a wrong done to me.  After my husband and I were married, I was angry about something done to me by a family member.  He turned to me and said, “Lisa, it is okay to be angry.  Jesus got angry at the temple.”  What a revelation, but I continue to be struck by passages allowing anger.  Yet with all things, we are not to wallow in our anger.  Be angry and get over it.  Don’t sin by taking revenge or belittling people.  Let it go.  Continuous anger only breeds sin and misery.  In the thirty-first verse it states, “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.”  In the past I have had a difficult time letting go of my anger.  Even today certain topics that are brought up can get me going on a “self-righteous” anger tirade.  But I am human.  I pray about my anger and let God take it back for me.  Do you have anger in your life?  As the saying goes, “let go and let God.”
Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Noemi Ban, An Inspiration

As my husband and I traveled over snow and ice packed roads Monday evening, I knew I would hear a true life account of one woman’s survival of the holocaust.  I didn’t know that my braving the elements would result in feeling a genuine contentment of love from a small eighty-eight-year-old woman from Bellingham, Washington.
At the age of twenty-one, the German army marched on Noemi’s home country of Hungry.  She told a story filled with fear.  The family had their father taken from them to where they had no idea.  The rest of them were forced into a ghetto in Budapest.  After a short time, many of them marched across the city to stay in a factory until the trains were ready.  With only a small box filled with a pillow, one towel, one pair of undergarments, and dried food each, they entered the crowded cattle cars with only two buckets for about eighty-five people per car for sanitary purposes.  They traveled for eight days during the month of June in extremely hot conditions.  Auschwitz greeted them at the end of their destiny.  Noemi at this point was separated from her mother, sister, brother, and grandmother.  They went to the gas chamber while she went to the barracks.  Months later, Noemi went to an ammunitions factory in Germany to make bombs.  The women quietly revolted by sabotaging the bombs so they didn’t explode.  As the allies moved into Germany, they were forced to march across the country.  Noemi and eleven other young women escaped.  Relief filled them when they were discovered by an American soldier and taken to safety.  Noemi later found her father.  She married and lived in Hungry until the revolution.  Once again she found herself in the clutches of a dictator.  She, her husband, her six-year-old son, and her eight-year-old son hid in huge balls of yarn on a truck that took them across the border.  They made their way from there to the United States.
                Of course, this is a completely condensed version of her story.  The details she added brought tears to my eyes many times that evening.  Noemi mourned for her mother having to die watching her own mother, daughter, and son dying with her.  Yet, I was astonished by the humor she wove into the story.  While crossing past the border into Austria in deep snow, she didn’t have Julie Andrews to sing for her.  Not being a witty person, I marveled at the lightness of her heart she obtains to be able to help us laugh to try to keep our hearts light as well. 
                Two stories struck me about how four women in her life chose a journey to holiness.  While in Auschwitz, she saw people pass out from lack of nourishment.  These people would be loaded onto a truck and put to death.  Noemi became very sick.  While standing in formation with hundreds of other people, she fainted and remained unconscious for three hours.  The soldiers never saw because the woman behind her, the one on her left, and the one on her right held her up in a standing position for the entire three hours.  If a guard would have noticed, Noemi would not have been the only one to die that day.  Later she met one of the women in Hungry after the war.  They celebrated life.
                In Germany, Noemi and the women arrived in terrible condition from lack of nourishment and water.  They were mere skeletons.  One of the women discovered a bucket of potato skins outside the kitchen that looked like it had been forgotten.  They feasted.  Years later at a conference, Noemi started talking to the woman sitting next to her and they shared their stories.  The other woman, a Jewish prisoner in Germany, worked in the Nazi kitchen where Noemi stayed.  She left the skins out to help nourish the women.  If discovered, she would have been put to death.  I sat in humble silence listening to these two stories of holy acts that could have easily led to martyrdom. 
The message Noemi most wanted to leave us with dealt with hate and love.  In answering a question at the being of her tours to tell her story, she responded, “No, I don’t [hate].  Hate kills everyone.  It makes you a prisoner.”  If she were to hate, Hitler would win.  What a testimony.  She also told all of us that she loved us.  We came to help her remember her family that died.  When she said she loved us/me, I felt the loving arms of a grandmother wrapped around me.  The love could be felt in the entire room.
Blessings to you all.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lost Causes, Saint Jude

                Last night after cleaning up after the Superbowl festivities at our house, I mumbled to my husband as I started drifting off to sleep that I still hadn’t picked a person to write about for this morning’s post.  He grumbled that I should write about the patron saint of lost causes.  The Steelers have been his favorite team since he was a little boy in the 70’s.  Needless to say, he was pouting after the game.  So I thought I would humor him by writing about Saint Jude the patron saint of lost causes.  Being that I am very tired from all the cooking, cleaning, and merriment from yesterday, I feel like my writing today could be a lost cause, but here we go.
                Jude was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles.  Because he could get easily confused with Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, Jude is also known as Thaddaeus and called Judas, son of James.  Names get tricky when working with the apostles because there is also Simon the Zealot; Simon, who Jesus named Peter; James, son of Zebedee; and James, son of Alphaeus.  Wow, my head is spinning a bit.  I have been taught all of this many times throughout my life, but I can still get confused.  The list of the twelve can be found in Luke 6:13-16.  While reading this section, I remember when I was in grade school struggling with the difference between disciples and apostles.  I may use this as a topic for another day.
                There are days I try to imagine what it would be like to have been one of Jesus’ apostles.  What a privilege to be able to help Jesus at the beginning of His ministry like Jude was able to do.  Jude witnessed miracles and heard the sermons from Jesus’ own sweet lips.  At the last supper, Jude asks Jesus, “Master, [then] what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”  John 14:22.  Jesus is going to die before He is known to the world.  The twelve will know Him and “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”  Jesus continued his discourse during the dinner.  I imagine Jude held onto these words in the days of grief to come.  If Jude keeps Jesus’ word, God will love him and dwell within him.  The same can be said of us.
                Jude also sat in the upper room after Jesus ascended into Heaven when the Holy Spirit descended on him and Jesus’ other apostles and followers.  I meditate on this scene from time to time.  I have had the Holy Spirit rest with me on many occasions, but to have felt that power with the first believers must have been beyond the mere words of extraordinary or awesome.  They took this power and traveled to proclaim the good news.  Jude and Simon the Zealot, tradition holds, went to Persia to evangelize in this region.  They were also said to have been martyred there.
                Jude is known as the patron saint of lost causes through tradition. King Abgar of Edessa tried to get Jesus to come to his country to cure him offering asylum to Jesus.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Thomas sent Jude to visit the king.  During this visit, King Abgar was cured and converted to Christianity as did many of his subjects.  Since that time, people connect Jude to helping those with health problems.  St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee is named after him.  This hospital has helped many children with terminal illnesses and their families.    
Coming to the end of my research, I can’t help but think of the concept of lost causes.  My biggest lost cause was my career when I started having health issues.  I knew running two miles twice a year in the time allotted would never happen again because of the RA and fibromyalgia.  I knew I couldn’t go out in the field for military training if the weather turned bad.  During my worst days, I couldn’t even go to work and sit at my desk.  My days as a soldier and a technician had to end.  It was a lost cause.  So I prayed.  With God’s help, I formed a new Lisa.  Yes, the soldier still resides in me, but I have learned to become a stay-at-home housewife and mom.  I am also learning a little about the writing world.  Hopefully, I will learn about the publishing world as well.  We need to open our hearts for the lessons lost causes can bring to us, even during a defeat on Superbowl Sunday.
                Blessing to you all.

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Nanny McPhee

My entire life I have feared the impoverished and disabled.  I always dreaded the youth group trips to the old folk’s home.  I avoided the mentally disabled girl a year older than me in grade school.  Still at the age of 42, I have a major hang up with God’s Special Children.  I do believe they are amazing, I just don’t know how to act around them unless I already know them.
Quite a few years ago when my boys were in grade school and my daughter wasn’t born yet, I was at the county library browsing for a novel or two.  A scary looking creature came up to me and started talking.  She is medium height and squat with graying hair.  She has a purple bulbous nose with quite a lot of chin hair.  One of her eyes only opens when she works a little harder to raise the lid.  My best comparison is she is an older version of Nanny McPhee.  I am so shallow that I haven’t watched those movies because of the way Nanny looks.  She told me numerous stories and jokes.  Much to my relief she wandered off.
This past May when I retired I began hanging out at the library again doing research on different writing projects.  The same creature surprised me by stopping to talk again.  Dread and impatience filled me.  She must have realized I was in a hurry.  She left with a lame excuse from me.  Throughout the summer I saw her a couple more times at the library, park, and on the sidewalk at a coffee shop I go to weekly.  Each time I saw her I hid my nose in a book or fiddled with my keys to avoid eye contact.  Each time I felt guilty.  Was she Jesus?  Was I avoiding a task God was sending to me?
Yesterday, God game me another opportunity to reach out to her.  I went to the library to do a little work in-between 4th Day Group and mass at the Cathedral.  She walked by and instead of looking down; I smiled and then looked down.  This gave her all the encouragement she needed.
“Hello, can I ask a favor of you.”
“Yes,” I said with another smile.
“Could you spare five minutes to talk with me?”
I agreed.  For the next five minutes we chatted.  She did most of the talking about her past of living through a car accident, the death of her mother, and a bout with some major drinking.  She asked me questions and politely listened.
As she got up to leave, she asked me one more question.  “Would you say hi to me the next time we meet?”  What a small humbling request.  I told her I would try and she went on her way.
I am sure God will have her cross my path again.  I hope I have the grace to smile and say hello.  I also hope I remember to ask her name.  This journey will take me far outside my comfort zone.  I will definitely not be the next champion like Mother Teresa, but I might be able to make a little difference.  Or God could humble me by having the lady make a difference for me.  Either way, I am a bit excited and a bit scared.
So, tell me, is God setting you on a task that you find difficult?
Blessings to you all.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Don't Despair

“It is a woeful thing to see souls beginning to chafe and grow disheartened because they find themselves still subject to imperfection after having made some attempt at leading a devout life, and well-nigh yielding to the temptation to give up in despair and fall back;"  Saint Francis de Sales
I picked this quote because it seems to go so well with the saint I talked about this week.  Saint James the Palestinian grew very disheartened when he felt he lost fifteen good years of being a follower of Christ by committing three sins.  We all become disheartened when we do something we have confessed to time and again even if we aren’t new Christians.  One of my biggest sins is gossip.  I struggle with this sin every time I am with a group of people.  It is ten times harder when I am with a fellow gossip.  Over the years, I have tried very hard to only say nice things about people.  This has helped with this sin, but I still fall back.  I don’t despair much though.  God made me and He knows my imperfections.  He cheers when I conquer my sins and He waits patiently for me to say I am sorry when I haven’t conquered.  Please don’t despair.  We are far from perfect.  Just remember, God loves you.
Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Babysitter

                Last week on the radio, the hosts of The Catholics Next Door were talking about facebook.  In one lawyer’s last thirty-two divorce cases, facebook was stated as a problem in the marriages.  People are connecting with past flames which the spouse finds is inappropriate and other issues arise.  I also heard that lawyers are asking their clients to not use facebook during the divorce process.  Some people spew all their negative emotions for their spouse on facebook giving the other ammunition during court appearances.  These are definitely not steps towards holiness.
                Two days ago, I was wasting time on facebook playing Bejeweled.  I was working hard or hardly working on trying to get up to the next level.  While I was playing, I was thinking about my next big writing project.  Okay, so I wasn’t thinking that hard.  But to my surprise a chat box popped up.  I could get into some trouble by my next statement, but I will take the chance.  My favorite babysitter wanted to connect.  Now I am not talking my favorite babysitter that I have hired for my kids, but one that took care of me when I was little.  Some of her siblings whom I am friends with on facebook also babysat me; hence, the potential to get into trouble.
                Now this babysitter is about seven years older than me which made her a teenager when she took care of me.  The best thing she taught me was joy.  She would put records on the turntable, the good dance music from the 60s.  I am sure the volume was loud shaking the walls in our trailer house.  We sang, danced, and laughed.  I twirled around and felt like the luckiest girl in the world with this beautiful teenager spending “grownup” time with me.
                Our parents have been friends since I was three.  There are so many memories with her family.  Some I will share later because her mother played a big role in my faith development as a child.  Besides music, I have one other memory of my babysitter.  Her family lived right next to a beautiful lake.  We always went out to visit.  My favorite times were swimming, ice skating, and sledding with her and all her siblings.  Well, one day at the beginning of winter she and I went down to the dock to check the ice.  She decided it looked good, but she made me stay on the dock.  She made it out about five or six feet when we heard it start to crack.  We were so scared.  I had to yell for our dads.  They took a long 2X4 and pushed it across the ice.  She grabbed a hold of it and they drug her across the thin ice to safety.  Needless to say, we had a talking too.  I learned never to go on ice unless our dads cleared if first.
                Facebook, like all things in life, can waylay our journey to holiness.  However, it can be a great tool to reconnect with people from our past and connect with people in our future.  I am very thankful I chatted with my old babysitter which brought up memories that I can apply to my current life.  Sing, dance, laugh, in other words, see the goodness in the life God has given and live with joy.  And if you find yourself on thin ice, yell like crazy for your Father in heaven to slide a 2x4 onto the ice to pull you to safety.
                Blessing to you all.