Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Blessing

Though I am still in need of packing for my trip home on Christmas Day, finishing three handmade presents, filling stockings, doing dishes and folding laundry, I feel the need to post this note to reflect on the past year and the many blessings that have been born of our earlier troubles.  I am constantly amazed at the abundance my family has been given since starting on this most awesome journey with our beautiful Lord.  So it seems fitting on this day when we honor the birth of the baby Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice for humanity, that I thank all of you for sacrificing your time in journeying with me and becoming part of this blessing.  I was amazed to look at my "audience" of readers and find that almost 20 countries have currently read and followed my simple words.  So in honor, too, of that humbling discovery, I have endeavored to speak to you in your native languages.  (My apologies to those countries whose languages don't include characters on my computer!)

So to each of you in...

Ukraine                Благословення
Germany              Segen, Preisung
Russia                  благословение; благо, благодеяние, блаженство,счастье; 
Romania              Binefacerile
Poland                 Błogosławieństwy
Italy                     Benedizione; Beneficio; Beneplacito
Latvia                  Svētības
Andorra               Bendición
Philippines          Bendisyon
Netherlands         Zegen   
Malaysia             Rahmat

And those in America, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, Kuwait...I say "blessings" to you and yours.  I will pray for each of you and your families as our Christmas holidays continue. 

Hopefully I'll find some time to share more thoughts with you during the week of vacation with my extended family, but until then...

Merriest Christmas!!  And God's blessings on you all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We Interrupt These Advent Messages...

Today's entry has absolutely nothing to do with Advent, Christmas, God, messages or my usual fare.  It's simply a bit of sharing from me to you...a submission I recently sent to a writing contest (clearly I didn't win or else I couldn't print it :) and a story that is dear, yet painful, to my heart.  The topic on which we were asked to write was "Diligence" and the following immediately leapt into my consciousness (maybe today's blog does include God after all?).  I hope you gain some insight from my humble words and a window opens to the challenges faced by parents and caregivers.  During the period described below, I found myself starting on the slippery slope toward losing my voice - which at the time was the most depressing thing I've personally faced - but today is the single largest blessing as it has brought me to this new life and you.


MADNESS IN THE MORNING


I awoke with a start to a familiar feeling of dread, my blood running cold as I realized I had slept through my alarm in the night.  “Oh, God, please let him be okay,” I prayed, incapable as yet of moving my frozen body from its fetal position on the bed.  Though each ticking second could make the difference between a cheerful morning greeting and deafening silence from the room next door, I lie still, unable to will myself to rise and see if my neglect carried with it dire consequence.

How many months had my husband and I been stuck in this holding pattern of sleepless nights and repetitive warning bells?  Eight months? Ten?  My mind traveled back to a day in February when my son had arisen, shut the bathroom door to empty his bladder of nighttime urine, and crashed to the floor in a fog of low blood sugar. We hoped against hope that it was a singular incident, a fluke that follows the inconsistency of a child’s Type I diabetes. 

As I remained huddled under my blanket, I relived the terror of the moments following his collapse:  his inabilities to walk, grasp a glass of orange juice, answer familiar questions, or tell me my name.  I felt once more the hot flush over my body as my cell phone rang with a return call from the endocrinologist, holding my breath as he responded to my question, “Could this be permanent?”   I experienced again the blessed quieting of my heartbeat as my son slowly came back to himself, the glucose penetrating his bloodstream, returning his brain and motor functions to normal. 

Then I shuddered as I tortured myself with the next horrifying memory: the same scenario repeated three days later, only this time concluding with a trip to the emergency room to check for lasting damage to Braden’s cognition. I remembered with heartbreaking clarity the resolution of meeting my husband’s gaze across the hospital bed, knowing without speaking that we were vowing at that moment to never let this happen again.  The sudden image of Drew’s sorrowful blue eyes snapped me out of my reverie.  “Lord, please, not on my watch,” I begged. 

How had we survived these months of sacrifice?  Night upon night of blood sugar checks; sleepwalking through the pricks, bloody fingers and readings; rousing violently when seeing a number less than eighty; patiently enduring the common diabetic belligerence with a low reading while doggedly shaking our slumbering child, attempting to feed him life from a can of Slim Fast milk chocolate shake and a straw.  The careful planning of tenacious but internally frantic parents, setting alarms, taking turns by night, coming to each other’s aid when exhaustion began trumping functionality.  Most recently, fighting depression, anxiety and morbidity of thought in an effort to persevere through this constant reminder of life’s fragility, the sacred commitment of parenting at the forefront…the sacrifice at the rear.

I looked up at the clock, only moments having passed as I raced through my memories.  A sound next door, a stirring from inside Braden’s room, roused my sense of hope.  “Hey mom, how’s it goin’?” my eleven year old asked as he walked down the hall toward the sports page and his morning cereal.  Then like Heaven’s gates opening to flood my soul with light and life, the realization rushed at me that Monday wasn’t my regular night to check him.  In the haze of morning, the assiduousness of the past year had exhausted me to the point of blurring the lines between delusion and reality.  Now a tiny recollection of my husband arising at 3:00AM pervaded my consciousness, and with it dissipated the nightmare I was suffering.

Before my son’s diagnosis, I had always considered my painstaking attention to detail a virtuous character trait, one distinguished by hard work and pride in my accomplishments.  I tried to exemplify integrity and industriousness in each job, vocation and occupation I pursued.  But never before had I labored consistently in honor of something grander and more profound than ethics. I have learned this past year the true lesson of persistence in pursuit of a cause.  I never realized until this period of tenuousness that diligence isn’t just the difference between an admirable work ethic and an attitude of laissez-fare. Sometimes diligence is a matter of life and death.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ready or Not...Here He Comes!

We lived in a white farmhouse style home in the city of Malbis, Alabama when I was a girl.  I'm sure my mother didn't like much about it at first (rickety might be a generous word to describe it) but I remember loving it, especially the upstairs.  The two bedrooms there were spacious and light-filled and joined by a door.  I wasn't old enough to require privacy so this arrangement suited me just fine.  The bathroom was at the top of the stairs.  On the other side of the upstairs banister was my favorite feature...a walk-in closet for all five of us girls to share.

Now the thing I didn't like about the walk-in closet was that we all had to pitch in to clean and organize it every spring and fall.  But the thing I loved was that it was most definitely big enough for several people to fit quite comfortably in.  In other words, it was the perfect space to choose when playing hide and go seek.  Now, it might not have been the most creative and original space to choose, but it was comforting, quiet and dependable.

Yesterday in Father Jim's sermon, he was speaking about the last week of Advent and how we are preparing for the coming of the Christ child.  But he also clarified that each day of our lives, we are also preparing for Christ's second coming, though we have no idea when this will occur.  We do this by working doggedly on our acts of kindness and behaviors that need tweaking to better mirror those works that reflect God's presence in our lives.  After explaining how to better prepare ourselves, he said, "Ready or not, He is coming."

This brought back a flood of memories from Malbis: closing my eyes, counting to 10 (or 20 as my older sisters sometimes tricked me into doing so they would have more time to hide!), and then yelling, "Ready or not, here I come!"  Or conversely, hearing the steady counting outside of that closet door as the seeker prepared for their search.  I remember vividly the anticipation and the excitement...will they find me?  Will it happen within a few seconds?  Or will it take longer?  Am I prepared for the flinging open of this door?  Will I be shocked or disappointed?  Or will I be happy to know I don't have to be alone for long and feel joyful that I was found?

Similarly, after I heard Father Jim's message yesterday, I began thinking those same thoughts in regards to the coming of the Lord.  Will He find me?  Will it happen right away?  Or will it take time for Him to realize that I want to be found?  Am I prepared for Him and the flinging open of the door to my heart?  Will I be shocked and sad to leave my family?  Or will I be joyful to confirm that I have never been alone and that I am found?  No matter the answer to these questions, I ponder them and realize this mind space is quiet, comforting, safe and dependable.

The countdown continues:  5-4-3-2-1...Ready or not...here He comes.  And I will work diligently to make preparations for that blessed day!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Say Yes to the Bless

See Similar Images(I know, I know, but I had to...)

My daughter and I enjoy a guilty pleasure in the form of TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress" where women from all walks of life the world over come to shop for wedding dresses at Kleinfeld's in New York City.  Each episode follows the shopping journey of 3-4 women....the highs and the lows...the angst and the joy...the drama and the tears...the supportive families and the scary ones.  (We love the scary ones the most, of course, because they are totally horrifying...probably makes us feel loads better about our relationships with each other!)  At the close of every sale, the consultant says to the bride-to-be, "So, are you saying 'yes to the dress'?" and we all wait with bated breath for the joyfully tearful "yes!" or the disappointingly dreary "I don't know...I think I should keep looking."  Either way, we are waiting for their commitment.

In today's homily, Father Jim was talking about the "yes" that both Mary and Joseph had to give God in order for Jesus' life to be accepted and cultivated in our world.  And what a "yes" it was!!  What a commitment born of faith.  As Father said, Mary could have just remarked to her angel, "Um, unmarried and pregnant and punishable by death isn't sounding so good right now.  Thanks, but no thanks."  And Joseph could have easily commented to Mary, "Uh, sure you were overcome by the Holy Spirit and that's how you got pregnant.  That's totally believable, Mares."  It is not at all farfetched to think that that could have happened and understandably at that.  How accepting would we have been of this heavenly news flash?  But no, rather than doubt and self-preservation, they each listened to and honored the gifts bestowed on them through their dream angels and said "yes" to the bless!  Thank God for each of them and for their selfless commitment on behalf of our world.

So as we continue to await the arrival of Jesus in this last week of Advent, my hope is that I will listen to and honor all of the dreams that God has planned - for me to touch others, to be selfless, to live as a model of Him who made me.  In doing so, I will enjoy miracles both for myself and those around me and, rather than responding with a disappointingly dreary "I'm not sure if I can help with that, God...I better keep looking for other fulfillments," I will be making a joyfully tearful commitment to saying "yes" to the blessings He has in store for me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Peanut Gallery is Heard

It was almost a year ago that my life turned upside down, and I was unable to use my voice.  The hardest part of the experience was most definitely having to go to speech therapy and learn a new and "correct" way to speak.  During the process, I was put on total vocal rest and had to write messages to my kids on a notepad; couldn't go through a drive through window; couldn't speak on the telephone to family or friends; couldn't sing or teach.  Everything changed.

But the one thing that I couldn't do that was the most heartbreaking to me, I experienced in all of its splendor today.  I attended my daughter, Colleen's, water polo game, and as she caught the ball in position one, aimed and shot a strong and successful goal, I was able to yell, "Way to go Colleen!! Way to shoot the ball!"  I was so proud.  She was glowing.  The team was cheering.

Then I thought back to a year ago when I was depressed and downtrodden in the stands, unable to cheer for my child, and tearful that I had to ask a neighboring fan for the score via my trusty notepad.  In my moment of reverie, I thanked and praised God in the Cerritos Community Center for giving me a voice that could add encouragement to my daughter; a voice that could laugh at my friend's sideline comments; a voice that could thank the coaches and ask Colleen's teammates if they needed a ride home.  I thanked Him for giving me a voice that isn't required to do anything special now to be appreciated and applauded by an audience but one that can give my children, in our everyday, normal, humble, INCREDIBLE life, what they need to know how truly special they are and how blessed I feel to be their mother.

Ra, Ra, Ree!  Kick 'em in the knee!
Ra, Ra, Rass...kick 'em in the other knee!!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pray? Or Ice Cream?

I was struggling a bit this morning as I continued my Christmas shopping.  It was time for me to find something to give my dad but the more I shopped, the more upset I got.  I was literally nauseous.  Everywhere I looked, it seemed that nothing was right.  I would think, "Well, he doesn't need that," or "He won't know what to do that with that now," or "That won't bring him comfort or joy."  For the millionth time since our family realized he had Alzheimer's, I questioned, "Why?  What is the purpose of this hideous disease?  Why my dad?"

Then I thought back on my trip to Alabama last week and how, despite his confusion and fear and lack of coherency, he still taught me lessons. 

We awoke one morning and ran into each other in the hall and for the first time, he had no idea who I was.  I have feared this for quite some time.  But in the midst of it, I didn't realize that, rather than feeling hurt and forgotten, I would feel compassion for him who was afraid in that moment.  When it dawned on him who I was, he was so upset, and I just thanked God for taking away that memory as quickly as He could.

A couple of days later, we went to church together.  Mama was directing her choir that night so it was just me and Daddy.  You have to understand that he looks to Mama for everything...she is the barometer by which he conducts himself.  So to say that I was a bit nervous to be responsible for him alone - when I know that he relies on her for social cues, answers to questions and his own wants and needs - is a huge understatement.  I felt we were doing really well together, and we talked on the way home from church about having ice cream when we got there.  But it was clear when we walked in that Daddy was agitated.  He was able to communicate this to me, and I asked if he wanted to pray together.  He said, "I think that would be a good idea."  But when I went to do so, it was apparent his anxiety would not allow him to focus.  We had to fix the cause of it.

I won't go into the problem as it was personal but suffice it to say that, much like him forgetting me in the hallway, we reached another milestone - a first that we had to experience together with this dreaded disease.  It was challenging to come up with a solution, but we worked together and communicated the whole time so we were both at ease.  At the end of our incident, I said to Daddy, "OK, pray?  Or ice cream?"  He asked, "What are those two again?"  I repeated, "Pray?  Or ice cream?"  He exhaled, "Pray."

So we together sat in his room, he in the rocking chair and I beside him, holding his hand and channeling my inner evangelical preacher.  (I'm so very not Catholic in my extemporaneous prayer skills!)  When I finished praying with Daddy, he proclaimed, "Amen," then gave me a sideways look and said, "Good job."  Coming from one of my favorite preachers of all time, I felt pretty humbled by that comment!  I said in reply, "Thank you.  Now let's go get ice cream."  And we did.

So in these moments of sorrow and doubt, I recall the very important lesson my father taught me while home.  Even in his most confused, most anxious, most agitated, most vulnerable state, he chose to pray.  Before crying...before getting angry...before feeling abashed...even before ice cream, he chose to pray.  And now I must take his beautiful lesson forward with me each day and live with that dictate as my guide...in order to honor him, to remember him as he was, to lift him up - and in doing so, lift myself  and those around me as well.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Amen, I Do Believe


Displayed over the French doors
in our family room
There are a couple of words associated with church that I just can't imagine the service without.  They are words that I love. 

The first one is "Alleluia!"  I love that it is an exclamation.  I love that it is affiliated with singing and music.  I love that it is an exalted form of praise.

There's actually a great family story about Handel's Messiah that is a favorite of ours.  When we were little, my mom left the house after having had a big run in with my eldest sister, and when she left, Theresa broke out into the glorious "Hallelujah" chorus.  Little did she know that Mama had forgotten something and walked back in while Theresa was singing.  Boy, did she get it!  But still to this day, it makes me laugh to think about.  (Sorry, Mama, but it is hilarious.)


We're even instructed
from the boughs of our tree
The second church word that is essential to the service and to my heart is "Amen!"  It's the perfect little button up to a prayer.  It is one of the strongest expressions of approval. But mostly it is the profound meaning that makes it so dear..."So be it!" or "I believe!"   

I reflect on the meaning during this, the Advent season especially since I have "BELIEVE" displayed throughout my home every Christmas season.  It began as a "Believe in Santa" direction for  my children but has come to mean so much more over the years. 

We believe in the birth of Jesus, our Saviour on Christmas.  We believe in His love and joy in each of us.  We believe in the power of family, faith, forgiveness.  We believe in second chances for those of us who err.  We believe in the spirit of holy reverence for this beautiful season.  We believe in the gifts of life and each other. 

We believe... 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bring Me Your Dreams

(Now that my computer is back up and running, I can resume posting!  Thanks to  my beautiful husband for fixing it...)

I was in charge of carpool and the girls weren't ready to go yet. After much prayer and contemplation, I had decided to go back to work and I was going to be late. I lost it. I'm embarrassed to say I literally screamed at them to get in the car. Once I dropped off, I came home to take Braden to school only to find that Drew had dressed him in pajamas rather than school clothes. Drew insisted no one would be able to tell the difference...but they were feety PJ's so I'm not sure what planet he was on when he picked out clothes for the day. I changed Braden's clothes, dropped him and headed up the 405 freeway to begin my new production position. With every mile that passed, I was questioning my decision to return to work. And the commute...why did I say "yes" to a position in Van Nuys? It was an hour and a half from my house at best. My chest started getting tight, my breathing became shallow, and I realized I was at the beginning of a panic attack. No job was worth this kind of stress. I took the next exit and did a 180 degree turn back to my home. I burst into the house in tears and told Drew he had to call the new job and tell them I just couldn't do it.  I just couldn't take the position.

The next night, despite previous misgivings, I found myself back in the college classroom, giving a lecture and demonstration voice class in front of a group of advanced college singers and a visiting academic.  It had been several months since I had been in  the teaching arena, and I had let my piano skills wane in the interim.  As I stumbled over the fingerings of the 32 bar selection, the student demonstrating stopped and refused to continue.  The visiting clinician asked the student why, when he had been given clear instructions as to his direction, would he not continue.  The student, one of my favorites, sighed and said, "I think Cynthia is brilliant at choosing musical theater repertoire for her students but I just don't think she is skilled enough as a teacher to advance my talent."  I was stunned into silence...then into tears.

Last night, I was finally enjoying my decision to stop teaching, stop working in the work force and had decided to do some sorting and clearing out in my house.  Amidst the clutter and piles of categorized chaos in my living room, the doorbell rang.  I opened the door to a family of 12; mother, father and 10 children, some adopted, some foster, some birth children.  Several of the kids were mentally challenged and the whole family entered my home uninvited but profoundly thankful that I had "agreed" to give the children private voice lessons for an incredibly nominal fee.  The mother appealed to my sense of compassion where the mentally challenged children were concerned, as she knew I had years and years of experience working with this demographic.  The father appealed to my sense of femininity as he complimented me and cajoled me into taking his kids on.  So in the final analysis, as the children stared at me with huge, sad, expectant eyes, I shoved aside all of the piles, drug my piano into the living room and launched into a somewhat simulated enthusiastic lesson.  Afterward, I vowed I would never let that happen again.  But before I could make the phone call to stop the family in their tracks...

...I woke up.

Yes, all three of these scenarios were the dreams I was sent as answered prayers to my current dilemma over whether I should go back to work in the spring. My voice is somewhat healed - enough so, I've been thinking, to handle one day a week. I talked to my husband. I talked to my sister. Most importantly, I talked to God. I've prayed...and prayed...and prayed some more. And because I am SO dense, I have asked God multiple times for a clear answer...no ambiguity, please, I asked.  So He sent - not one, not two, but THREE separate dreams - in a row - to answer my question.

Do I really need to wonder what He is trying to say?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

American Flag Bikini and Gold Tiara Required

This past week I felt like Wonder Woman.

I flew home (not in an invisible airplane) to stay with my parents for a few days and help them with their Christmas preparations. In only four days, we...

Decorated their Christmas tree and the entire house

Purchased gifts for 6 daughters/spouses & 10 grandchildren

My dad and I purchased and wrapped all gifts for my mom

Assembled three Advent calendars

Attended two church services

PLUS managed breakfast, lunch, dinner, laundry, Art class, church music prep, cleaning the house, boxed items to be stored until after the holidays...did part of this in the pouring rain...all the time talking, laughing, crying, singing, communicating in both words and gestures but always with love.

Essentially I helped Mama get 3/4 of her Christmas jobs done. Maybe I AM Wonder Woman!  Or am I?  Let's examine the evidence further.

I have black hair
I am strong
Obviously I possess super-speed, super-stamina and super-agility (you should have seen my 4' 10" frame hanging the tree angel from a tack on the ceiling!)
Maybe most importantly, I have "Super Friends" who help me.  This trip those "friends" included:

Batman (my husband, who held down the fort in my absence)
Superman (my brother-in-law, for gifting me the airline ticket)
Supergirl (my sister, who lent me her car)
AquaMan (another brother-in-law who lifted my luggage into the car in a single bound)
Catwoman (another sister who talked me through a couple of challenging situations)
The Wonder Twins (my kids who got rides for themselves and fixed themselves meals and were just generally self-sufficient while I was away)

The evidence is stacking up.  By the way, I forgot to mention that the name Cynthia means "Diana," Wonder Woman's alter ego.  Oh my gosh, could it be true?

But wait! I have no Lasso of Truth, no golden tiara to use as a projectile, don't know hand to hand combat and definitely don't communicate with the animal kingdom.  Who am I then?  As Queen Hippolyte from the comic series said, "Go in peace my daughter.  And remember that, in a world of ordinary mortals, you are a Wonder Woman."  Was she talking to me?

No, my answer is clear.  I am like every other "Wonder" woman...an ordinary woman who loves her family fiercely; who would move Heaven and Earth to make sure they have what they need; who loves to serve and care for others; who leans upon the strength of God to get her through challenging and busy situations in order to show His love to those for whom she feels responsible.

I'm not Wonder Woman.  I'm just Cynthia.  And I'm ok with that.  (Although I imagine my husband wouldn't mind of I donned the American flag bikini, tiara and red boots for an evening or two!)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sitcom Salvages

My family and I love watching reruns of the sitcom, Frasier.  It's so smartly written, brilliantly cast, and expertly acted.  We actually had to STOP watching it for awhile as we were beginning to finish every punchline for the actors before they could deliver them.

Anyway, some of my favorite episodes are the Christmas shows.  There is a particularly funny scene in Season 5's "Perspectives on Christmas" which finds Niles in an elevator with three people, two of whom are husband and wife and have a huge, freshly cut Christmas tree taking up most of the space.  The dialogue goes something like this:

Niles:  "What a beautiful Christmas tree."

Husband:  "It's a fire hazard but the wife insists on getting a real one."

Niles:  "You know, they sell a fire retardant spray now that you can cover your tree with and it makes it more fireproof."

Husband:  "Causes cancer."

Niles, feeling hilariously and frustratingly overwhelmed by the man's inability to see anything but the negative finishes with:  "Happy Holidays then."

This punchline gets a huge laugh and the mischievous expression on Niles' face never fails to make me roll.  How many of us have constantly tried to spread Christmas merriment only to be met with Scrooges and "humbugs?"  (And how many times have we been the Scrooge?)

Last week, I was out running errands and during my two hours out was bullied out of my cart's natural path by a cranky shopper; left without help on the floor by a busy salesman; then finally honked at and almost run over by an impatient man in a gorgeous little red sports car who obviously didn't have to spare the 10 seconds time that it took me to cross into the parking lot.  Initially, when he almost ran me down, I said crossly, "Whatever, dude!"  Then in the next few steps, I recalled Niles and said aloud, "Happy Holidays then."  I started cracking up and felt greatly cheered.

So now I have yet another goal for this Christmas season...instead of getting irritated with someone for whom this Season may not mean what it does to me, I will laugh and say, "Happy Holidays then," in an effort to remain full of the Spirit of the Season and keep the laughter and joy alive in all that I do.  Thanks, Niles!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sacrosanct Standup

I think God is hilarious...

I hope I don't get struck down for that observation and assumption.  But I'm telling you, God created me to be funny and to love laughter, so He knows reaching me in this manner will be the way to get me to listen.  Let me explain...

Last Friday, I received some really exciting news.  The press release I was hired to write for my friend, Annie and her event "DANCE EXCELLENCE" was released to the online press and went all over the world, even being picked up by the API.

I had to take Braden to school and then I wanted to call my nearest and dearest to celebrate this milestone...because now I can begin building my writing portfolio.

I called my husband...he wasn't at his desk.

I called my sister...she, who is most times reachable on her cell...didn't pick up.

I called my mom and dad...they are ALWAYS home on a Friday morning...they didn't pick up.

I hollered aloud in my empty house, "WHAT is going on here?  Where is everybody?"

Then I heard a metaphorical clearing of the throat by God, "Ahem, not to rain on your parade, Cynthia, but have you stopped to do your daily devotional reading and prayers yet this morning?"

I burst out laughing and said, "God, you're hilarious!  Of course, that's why no one is available."

I went straight to my favorite, pristine white chair in my living room, read for 10 minutes, prayed for a bit then sat there and looked around.  I didn't have to wait 5 minutes...the return calls started rolling in and those who weren't on the other line the 1st time I called started picking up.  Again...hilarious!!!

So as I relish the beginning of a new and exciting career, I am reminded to say first and foremost, "Thank you God for giving me the words, for sending me the opportunities, for loving me and caring for me and allowing me to work for You to expand my territories and Your territories by opening others to news and love of You."

He could quit His day job and become the most successful standup of all time - but thank goodness He won't!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

We Believe in Santa

I feel like I spend the better part of this blog confessing my weird little quirks and human foibles.  I guess after 43 years of living, through both good and bad situations, I don't really feel like I have much to lose in admitting my humanity.  In fact, these idiosyncrasies define much about who I am - again, both good and bad!  
Love the jolly expression
on my Russian Santa
seen here in the foreground

Today, I have a new confession...

I love Santa Claus. 

I was a devout believer when I was a child.  Letters, prayer intercessions, mall visits - the whole nine yards.  And except for the Christmas when I asked for a "real" veterinarian's medical bag and received a plastic Disney one instead (God bless my mother for going to the trouble to find it), I was generally pleased with the answered requests.

In retrospect, rather than the gift giving aspect of St. Nick, I truly think on a subconscious level the appeal of unconditional goodness and generosity was overwhelming to me.  I felt this concept of giving without receiving was so beautiful.

In later years, I've had the pleasure of playing Santa to my children and Secret Santa at our sibling gift exchanges.  I love the secrecy and the anticipation; the surprise and the fanfare.  But my Santa collection has got to be the single most anticipated part of the holidays for me.  (I know, I know...weirdo...)
 
My first few Santas
 My mom and dad and sister, Christine, have had gorgeous Santa collections for years.  I used to look at each figure and admire the detail and form, so I'll admit that when I announced that I wanted to start my own collection, it was purely for aesthetics and whimsy.  The first few Christmases, I got different styles of Santas engaged in different activities and made out of various materials...some workshopping, some gathering, some made of resin, some wood, some ceramic, a music box, assorted ornaments. 
 
My first Jim Shore Santa.
How appropriate that he's
holding a lantern, lighting
the way to the glory of Christmas

Then I received my first Jim Shore Santa from my sister, Christine.  I was smitten.

Jim Shore renderings hence became my focus. There is just something about the expressions and posturing of these works that speak to me.  They each convey a different human feeling...merriment, gravity, generosity, benevolence, mischief.  I've added to my collection by purchasing several throughout the years but more often than not, I have received them as gifts.  They are scattered in vignettes throughout my family room.  I unpack them the day after Thanksgiving, the first whisper of Christmas to speak in my house so I can enjoy them for the entire season and as long as possible before wistfully packing them up again.  (At least I'm not wacko enough to keep them out all year long.)

As I stop to think and wonder about this little eccentricity of mine, I know without a doubt the reasons I am drawn here.  The idea of Santa Claus represents all of what we Christians hold dear...hope, charity, selflessness, joy, grace.  Even the accountabilities are similar...see here the "Naughty/Nice Jim Shore Santa" carved with a warning for those who have erred (though bless Mr. Shore for omitting names on his "naughty" list) and a stern look and darkness of color representing the knowledge that our actions have consequences.  Conversely, the joy that we feel, the personal reward to our hearts when we endeavor to help, serve and spread God's love and cheer is similarly represented on the opposite "Nice" side.  And hey, props to those with the names "Robin, Kelly, Wendy, Sandy, Michael" who received a Jim Shore shoutout for their good works!  (Of course, though I wish the name "Cynthia" was displayed on this carving, I'm equally thrilled to note that it is not highlighted on the Naughty list...whew...)

Santa Claus, or the various identities he holds throughout the Earth -St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Babbo Natale, Ded Moroz, Papa Noel, Weihnnachtsmann, Father Christmas - represents all that we reach for in our broken world.  It is telling that each country has a name for and a story about him.  It shows we are all, no matter the location or the circumstance, in need of this legend, this possibility. But the beauty of this yarn is that it doesn't have to be a fantasy.  It can be the ideal displayed in each of our lives, in living with bigheartedness and goodwill.  So this day, this Advent season, and every day throughout the year, I will endeavor to make it on to God's "nice list" thus embodying Santa's spirit of the season for all to enjoy.  Won't you please join me?


This piece is called
"The True Meaning of Christmas"

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Santa Claus is Coming to...Long Beach?

Christmas Spoiler Alert!!!  (Don't let children under the age of 12 read this!)

One of my most endearing and heartbreaking memories of my daughter was when she was in fifth grade.  It was Christmas and Santa Claus had given her tickets to see High School Musical in Concert - it was all the rage!  Unfortunately, Santa had left Drew's name and credit card number on the ticket stub.

After the hullabaloo of the season was over, but before we had gone to the show, Colleen came into the dining room and timidly asked, "I saw a credit card number on the concert ticket.  Mama, is there really a Santa Claus?"  How I wanted to run and hide or crawl into a hole.  This was the parental moment I had been dreading for years and had truly hoped would come much later.  Unfortunately, there was no way out so when she heard the truth, she literally fell onto my lap and sobbed for the better part of a half hour.  Finally, after much talking, reasoning, explaining and apologizing, I got her pulled together and slightly cheered.  When I thought she was settled into another activity, I escaped to my room to pull myself together.  No sooner had I sunk down onto the floor, leaning against the door but  there was a knock. I opened it to a confused and anxious looking daughter.  She burst out, "Does this mean there's no Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy either?????"  I just looked at her and said, "Oh, Colleen" whereby she started to wail and gnash her teeth all over again.

We laugh now when we tell this story and she chuckles along with me at the reasoning and logic it took to connect all of the dots.  Still when I think of this moment in Colleen's development, it is with sweet sorrow and deep compassion.  Oh, the heartbreak of finding it all out at once. It was a necessary milestone in her maturity but it dashed a belief she had held for her whole life.  How unsettling that must have been.

I'm so grateful to know that our deeper belief systems do not have to end in this kind of uproar.  Although we are constantly being thrown curve balls in life, and we may even begin to doubt the purpose of the discord, we can at least be assured that God's hand is at work behind the scenes.  He delivers gifts of a different kind and is actually supernaturally capable of being all over the world in less than a single night's time.  He flies, not in a sleigh, but on the wings of the Holy Spirit, carrying presents for each of us...the gift of each other, the gift of laughter, the gift of pure, unadulterated joy, the gift of Himself.  So as we wait in hopeful anticipation for His coming this Christmas season, we can be comforted in the knowledge that we never have to ask the question, "Is He real?"  We can feel the answer in every moment of our lives.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tick Tock, Tick Tock


 "Why is this grocery line taking so long?"

"Will this red light ever turn green??"

"Why is the clerk moving so slow to check if this Christmas gift is in stock?"

"Why am I being kept on hold forever?"

"Why is my daughter not waiting for me at school when she called to tell me she was ready to go?"

Yes, these are the uncharitable thoughts I have on a somewhat regular basis as I wait to shop, to drive, to be helped, to pick up...patience doesn't tend to be my strongest character trait.  I am actively working to change this quality.  But until my new habits are formed, thoughts like these are a constant reminder of how much I hate to wait.

I actually think many of us feel this way.  If we stopped to analyze the reason, we would probably all come up with a variation of the same issue. Our lives are jam-packed...with errands, social commitments, work, housekeeping, tight schedules, noise...how will we ever find time to be patient?

I was reminded of the need to slow down and be patient at church yesterday as we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent.  The word Advent is derived from the Latin word "adventus" meaning "coming."  In these four weeks before Christmas, we wait, patiently and watchfully, readying ourselves physically and spiritually for the coming of Christ.  In fact, the gospel reading yesterday from Mark began with these words:

"Jesus said to his disciples:
'Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come."

We are the gatekeepers mentioned in this Gospel...the ones who are able to lovingly give to others, who may not know to watch and wait, a taste of what it is like to live mindfully of those words.  Our careful, loving actions can prove that we are vigilant since our deeds define us each moment, not just the moments immediately before Christmas. 

I think to myself that I can spread the joy of Christmas by being giving...being quiet...being gracious...being patient.  I can laugh with another person waiting in line at Michaels (sorry, but they never have enough cashiers...I'm just sayin'); let someone pull ahead of me while driving (side note: I had just written this blog entry, went to pick up my son from school and DIDN'T let a guy pull out in front of me...come on, Cynth, follow your own advice, would ya'?); be kind to telephone attendants during this very busy time of year; most importantly, shore up my family members and friends with the spirit of generosity that awaits me as my Lord comes again.  In this way, the ripples will spread from my family outward and we will include others in echoing Mark's message of preparedness:

"What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!"

With these thoughts and words in mind, I'll prayerfully work this Advent season to keep my eyes more on the coming of Christ and less on the ticking of the clock...or the changing of the  light...or the moving of the line...or the...or the...or the...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Final Note of Thanks

Just a quick post as I wrap this Thanksgiving weekend...one that was filled with family, friends, food, fun, theater, football, more food, and Christmas preparations...

I hope one day to be quoted by someone as often as I have quoted Sarah Young in this blog.  Her words are hitting me in the right place at the right time apparently.  So to sum up beautifully my feelings on thankfulness, I will again quote from my morning reading of her devotional, "Jesus Calling:"

"A life of praise and thanksgiving becomes a life filled with miracles."

Simply said...deeply felt...joyfully shared with you all.

I hope your Thanksgiving was everything you hoped for.  I look forward to sharing the Advent season with you all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Four F's

For those of you who know me, you know I love to write rhyming pieces occasionally.  Less on the order of Robert Frost or Elizabeth Barrett Browning and more like Dr. Seuss they are.  But writing in this whimsical style has always been a joyful expression for me, like a child myself in oh, so many ways.  So in honor of Thanksgiving, I have written a little (nay, incredibly long) poem o' plenty to share with you all.  It is centered around the four F's for which I am most grateful...

On this Thanksgiving Day, I look back upon my year
And feel such joy and gratitude that I am healthy, here.
With great appreciation for true lessons, all they hold,
I celebrate my four "F's" and the story that they've told.

(Fine) Food is the first "F" that I am grateful for.
It represents tradition and it hits me at the core.
There's nothing more symbolic on this day, for all it stands
Than the feast that is prepared by loving, giving hands.

Light browning of the marshmallows atop sweet 'tater pie
Then baking of the biscuits as they rise a mile high.
The tastes and strong aromas bring back memories since past
Turkey, dressing, cranberries are visions that will last.

The prayer before the meal takes place
And with it all we bless -
Family, country, God and home...
Our humble, lovely nest.

The second "F" I can't forget is that of my true Friends.
Their patience, grace and love for me truly knows no ends.
Through dark and light, both day and night, together we all stand.
"Battle stations," is the cry.  "Make sure your post is manned!"

For when one sister stumbles down, the batallion then engages.
And helps the sister heal her heart in itty, bitty stages.
My life was topsy turvy once, when the war cry was called out.
My girlfriends shielded me from harm, from sorrow and from doubt.

And now that my life finds itself so joyful and so blessed,
It's my honor to give these girls a reflection of my best.
Like friends the 3rd "F" revealed, I must with thanks, recall...
My Family - in all forms it takes...extended and ours, small.

My immediate clan, here in my home, my daughter and my son
My husband leads the path we've chosen, the race we're blessed to run.
For without these three I know I'd be a selfish, "me, me!" girl.
They keep me grounded when my head and temper start to whirl.

My daughter bright, devoted, true - a source of touching pride.
Though never know what's in her heart...wish I could see inside.
Her grace and faith and manners are shining more each day.
What I would do without her, I just really couldn't say.

My son with all his challenges, keeps his joy intact.
In humor and in cheerfulness, he rarely shows a lack.
The courage and the fortitude displayed throughout his life
Will aid as he grows older and meets with active strife.

My husband is my champion, my friend, my one true love.
That we were meant to share our lives was planned by God above.
We're growing older, greyer, plumper....stronger year by year.
Our lives together march ahead with favor, thanks, and cheer.

My family extended includes those folks marked by blood and birth.
My parents, siblings, nieces, nephews who bring fondness, mirth.
We gather one, two times a year to share our gladness, tears
But living life seems simpler somehow as we draw ever near.

My final "F" is number four though truly number one...
Faith - the Spirit, God the Father, God His Holy Son.
I do not know what I would do if faith filled not my soul
It's saved my life - I've found a niche in Him who makes me whole.

It isn't just the church, the Mass, the Scripture or the prayer.
It isn't just the way we give, the way we choose to care.
It's so much deeper, so much fuller, so much more profound.
It's promises and living Word and oaths to which we're bound.

Faith leads the way for my four F's and makes them become clear.
All four F's enhance my world and take away my fear.
One lucky gal to write this list to honor all great things
That bring me hope and love and peace - yes, every "good" life brings.


A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to you all...thanks for reading...and thanks for letting me share.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Other Half

This will be a short, but heartfelt post about my greatest blessing...my husband.

For those of you who think this is cheesy or cliche', you may have yourself a good laugh (or eye roll) at my expense...but I encourage you to continue reading as I consider myself the most blessed person in the world and hope to share a piece of this blessing with you all - and offer hope to those who may not feel the same way in their life.

Drew is most definitely the other half that makes my life whole.  He's great at everything I'm not and fills in the places in me that are missing.  Now, I'm not just talking about which one of us can help the kids with which part of their homework assignments...while he's brilliant at math (and I can barely do simple arithmetic anymore) and I'm adept at English (he stumbles while reading a story aloud), the qualities go so much deeper below the surface.

He's thoughtful, logical and deliberate....I'm impulsive, scattered and impetuous.
He's measured and calm...I'm hotheaded and wild.
He's sunny and optimistic...I'm, well, I'm getting there.

This is not to say that my qualities are bad and his are good or vice versa.  What I mean to say is that we compliment each other beautifully.  While he would rather sweep conflict and discomfort under the rug, I want to bring it into the open and shine on it for all the world to see.  Now, although I've learned to be more sensitive in the way that I do this, I believe my prolific communication style has benefited him greatly...and his measured logic has calmed me...it works both ways.

But in the ways that truly count, we are the same.  We have the same moral compass; the same work ethic; the same love of humor; the same compassion for the downtrodden; the same commitment to our family and our marriage. 

Our marriage, like most, has had ups and downs, highs and lows; some lows SO low that we didn't know how we would dig ourselves out.  In the way of offering hope, it's important for the reader to know that we have not always been where we are now...but are so committed to each other that we worked and worked and worked to get it right...sometimes until we were weary; sometimes when we wanted to give up; sometimes when we felt there was little hope.  But in persevering, we found so much more than we ever thought possible in each other, with each other, for each other.  I am so grateful that our marriage is so healthy and loving in spite of and because of these trying times.

So in my week of thanksgiving to God for my gorgeous life, I say, "Thank you, Lord, for my beautiful husband.  Thank you for his strength when I am weak.  Thank you for my strength when he is weak.  Thank you for blessing our life together with great abundance and great love."

Here's hoping that you find all that you are looking for in the people with whom you choose to spend your life.  I've found this year that many times it's just a matter of saying "thank you" for what you have.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Hello?" - "Yes, God Ringing"

I had approximately 100 loads of laundry to fold last Friday...okay, okay, maybe 5...just felt like 100.  My deal with myself is that, now that I am home all the time, I may not turn on the TV during the day unless I'm folding clothes.  Because let's face it, although I do not want my brain rotting out of my head with excessive noise and over-stimulation, who wants to do laundry for an hour without something to distract you from this mundane task?

As I did my chores, I settled in to watch The Dr. Oz show.  I will admit it...I am a sucker for this program.  I love learning new ways to take care of my dilapidated, aging body plus, I think Dr. Oz is charming.  This particular program was a bonus because Dr. Oz had Joel Osteen as his guest discussing the topic, "Medical Miracles," the power of prayer on healing.  It was a fascinating look at several case studies where the patients in question (one with a life threatening case of breast cancer and one with injuries from an automobile accident that exposed her legs to the probability of amputation) prayed specific prayers for healing and were completely cured.  Joel Osteen also shared his story of his mother being given 5 weeks to live thirty years ago with a terminal cancer diagnosis - after praying these same prayers, she is still alive and well.

The difference I found in the prayers of these faithful women and the great reminder that I received while watching this episode was not that there were miracles performed - this I believe happens all the time - but that the speech the patients used for healing was driven by gratitude.  I tend to say something akin to, "Lord, please give me the strength to endure this pain/problem/injury.  Please take it away as you see fit."  Instead, the patients on this episode - and thousands upon thousands, if not millions like them - pray, "Thank you for taking this away Lord.  Thank you for healing me.  Thank you for making my body whole so that I can do your will."  It's all a matter of communication through intention.  I'm begging, not believing.  I believe a miracle is possible, so why am I not calling for it?

"Hello, God?  Hey, it's me, Cynthia.
Thanks for taking away the ringing."
The current problem I have is a terrible case of tinnitus, ringing of the ears, that began in April and has persisted 24 hours a day ever since.  I NEVER have a quiet moment.  It is difficult, mostly, to fall asleep.  The last few weeks, my left ear has gotten markedly worse and with it, a tendency to "fill up" for 30 seconds or more at a time, while diminishing my hearing.  I have actually (after the first few weeks of it) never felt this would last forever.  I know it will go away one day.  But still I pray, "Lord, please help me endure the ringing, the annoyance, the fear of losing my hearing.  Please take it away in Your time."'

Since last Friday's Dr. Oz, I realized I have to rephrase my prayer: "Lord, thank you for healing my ears.  Thank you for taking away the "noise" so that I can live peacefully in your presence, sharing Your light and love with all I touch.  Thank you for helping me find the right help, medical, spiritual, physical or otherwise to take care of this problem.  Thank you for leading me down the right path.  And thank you for granting me the silence so I can be still and grow nearer to You."

Cynics and skeptics (or "realists" as I have often called myself) may think this is a foolish way to live...not learning to cope, but looking ahead to something which may never be.  But I would rather know, as I am preparing to meet the Lord at the end of my life, that I spent each day thanking Him rather than complaining; looking toward possibilities of light and healing, rather than toward the darkness; using language of love rather than words of bitterness and contempt.  And when my ears are cured - whether it be today, tomorrow, 30 years from now or the last day of my life, I will know that God will recognize that I spent my years trusting Him for a miracle and will receive me gladly into His loving silence...or jubilant song...or laughing and merriment...whatever He sees fit as my reward for faith. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Week of Gratitude


Just layin' upside down on a giant pumpkin!
The little things we can be grateful for...
 Welcome to my Thanksgiving week of gratitude postings!  The next five days will focus on different aspects of thankfulness including some things for which I never thought I'd be appreciative.  Starting with today's...my flaws...

Truth be told, I have been very frustrated for the past two weeks with my Heavenly communications. Prior to that I had been feeling so connected and filled up and was enjoying the surprise of a new, warm, absolutely trusting relationship with the Big Guy.  In fact, I never knew I could feel so at peace and completely free of expectations for the future.  So when things started to slip, I actually panicked.  In reality, I had simply gotten out of my daily habits...arising, reading my devotionals and Scripture before starting my day, praying on their messages and for my intentions for a bit, then "getting down to it."  The reasons I strayed were, for once, altruistic...I had to help a friend through a surgery; I had to prepare for my first Movement for a Better World project at church that happened this past Saturday; I had to run errands to provide for the needy family we decided to "foster" for the holidays.  So I was confused when, despite my good intentions and acts, I felt farther away from God than ever.  I said, "Lord, I'm doing these things you've called us to do...feeding the hungry, helping the downtrodden...what more do You want of me?"  I was getting NO messages, no answers, and my frustration and agitation were rising.  Yesterday was the final straw, and I just couldn't elevate myself from the deep, dark recesses of my soul.  (My husband said, "Are you mad at me honey?"  I said, "Absolutely not."  But of course, when I'm not talking a million miles a minute, there is clearly something wrong.)

So this morning, I arose to greet the day.  We have a house guest - the daughter of one of my dear friends - and I thought, "Oh, I promised Jazmine I would make waffles for her and she's going to be up anytime.  I better get on it."  I thought of the past week and my decisions counter to my previous morning rituals.  Then I made a clear decision...even if she was hungry, Jaz could wait 20 minutes until I was done with my morning prayer time.  There should be nothing more important (save my kids being deathly ill or a house fire!).   I sat down to read, still feeling badly about my foul mood yesterday, but hoping God had absolved me.  God bless Sarah Young and her ability to cut straight through to the heart of the matter in the words of our Lord in her devotional, "Jesus Calling."  This was what I read:

"I am pleased with you, My Child...You don't have to perform well in order to receive my Love.  In fact a performance focus will pull you away from Me...(and) can be a subtle form of idolatry: worshipping your own good works." 

Whoa, talk about an answer!  I was hearing God's voice in my head.  It was as if I was actually sitting down to have a conversation with Him, and He totally eased my questioning heart.  The passage continued:

"Shift your focus from your performance to My radiant presence.The Light of My Love shines on you continually, regardless of your feelings or behavior. Your responsibility is to be receptive to this unconditional Love.  Thankfulness and trust are your primary receptors.  Thank Me for everything, trust in Me at all times.  These simple disciplines will keep you open to My loving presence."

And with the close of the passage, like a flood, the ideas and messages bombarded my consciousness and I knew I had discovered the communication problem...me.  So without hesitation, I began to say thank you...

Thank You for a bountiful harvest
& for Autumn's beauty
"Thank you for my flaws, Lord, as the knowledge of my imperfections will keep my focus on You."

"Thank you for granting me a sensitive and understanding heart, Lord, as it will continue to help me discern Your will."

"Thank you for my deep emotional need, Lord, as it will keep me connected to You, the only One who will always fill the void."

Thank You for reading and thank you for remembering, with me, to be thankful for all that we have...all that we do not have...all that we strive for...and all that we will one day receive.  Day One of gratitudinal posts down...four to go...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Doctor is Out

At Braden's middle school with some of the faculty, Drew and I are experiencing a difference of goals in regards to Brae's diabetic care.  We are so grateful Braden is finally becoming independent in his medical care and want the teachers and school administration to be on board in supporting this effort.  It has been a long road - one fraught with insecurity, ostricization, and embarassment on the part of our boy.  We really feel he is starting to turn a corner and want this positive momentum to continue.  I was discussing with my sister, a speech pathologist and teacher of little ones, the fact that I might need to call a meeting with all of the players to get us all on the same page.

As I was thinking about bullet points for this meeting, I prayed, "God, thank you for equipping me with the skills necessary to handle this type of issue.  Please always help me to be an effective advocate for my son.  And PLEASE give me the right words and the right attitude when the time comes."  (I tend to be a bit of a hothead.)  I started thinking about the events that led me and my family to this place in time and how we all ended up together.  How does God know which person to give to whom?  It amazes me.

A few months ago, I was sharing with my girlfriends that I was so happy that the challenges I have are manageable to me and that I'm not faced with certain other challenges that I don't think I could handle.  "Like what?" they wanted to know.  "Anything bloody, oozing, amputations, dressings that need changing.  I know it sounds ridiculous but I don't think I could stomach it.  I get really queasy."  I have been known to go green and have to exit the room at Braden's routine blood draws.  They replied, "Then that won't happen to you because God knows it's more than you can bear."  My daughter, Colleen, currently wants to be a surgeon.  I can't conceive of having chosen that path.  I am so admiring of anyone who makes a commitment of that caliber.  I can just imagine myself in surgery giving instructions to the nurse...

"Sponge..."  (to wipe my sweating forehead)

"Clamp..." (to clip my lips together to keep from making gagging noises)

"Pan..." (to throw up in over my shoulder)

Heaven forbid I should have to ask for an electric saw or rib spreaders!  They'd have to mop me off the floor along with the patients' bodily fluids!!

No, God gave me what He knew I could handle.  A boy with social challenges but a giving heart.  A boy with learning roadblocks but a hilarious sense of humor.  A boy with a non-working pancreas but a productive mind.  A boy with whom I can talk and laugh and listen and share and care for as God shows me along the way.  A boy who will overcome these challenges and be a successful, contributing member of our greater world.  A boy whose path has been carved out for him by his Father who loves him and has him in His care.

No, doctoring is out - but mothering is in.  And I believe myself to be the luckiest woman in the world that I have been called to do just that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Time to Forgive

Okay, I've been skirting this issue for days so I guess I should just come clean because the signs are piling up.

It started last week when I got an email forward from my friend, Katherine (http://chefkatherine.com/ - check out her website...yummy!!) on the topic of forgiveness.  I cringed but read it anyway as I have been struggling with forgiveness of someone in my life for a while.  It read in part:

"We are no longer "fixing a flaw in the other person", rather we are holding their hand in an effort of mutual support. Have you every noticed that when you are hiking on a bumpy trail and you reach out your hand to help someone, you find yourself steadied. That is what love in Christ is, mutual support, since all of us are on the rocky road of sin."

Truth is that I am so flawed an individual, and while I try to work on so many of these flaws, sometimes I think to myself, "I'll just hold onto this one thing for myself.  I'm still mad.  I'm still hurt.  I'm not perfect and God knows that.  I don't need to give this up yet. There has been no admission of guilt or apology on this person's part, so there really is no need to address forgiveness."  Meanwhile, I'm destroying my own life as I relive the injuries over and over. (And of course, reliving all of the smart, seething comebacks I wish I had said throughout the years.  Ok, stop judging...you know you do it too!) Of course, God knows I'm not perfect.  But I am ignoring the fact that He calls us to continue to work toward becoming more and more like His image.  So unless He's a stubborn, crybaby waiting years for an apology, I guess I haven't exactly mirrored Him yet.

I would love it if you all would post comments on how you have had success with this very difficult task.  (Or am I making it more difficult than it needs to be?)  Please let me know your suggestions so that I may work to rub the ickiness out!  I know there are things I can do beyond those that I've tried.

I need to reach out my hand from this rocky road.  I need to take the hand of my offender, squeeze it and say, "I'm sorry you have been hurt so badly that you feel the need to hurt others.  How can I help you?  How can we heal your heart?"  I do feel I would steady myself in doing so.  I shudder to think of the condition my soul would be in were God to hold out forgiveness to me in the manner I have to others.  I know that no matter what I do, even when I don't seek forgiveness - either out of stubborn pride or ignorance - that He is there to forgive regardless.  There is no comparison to that kind of love and grace.  The best I can do is to try each day to model it and hopefully find one day, my walk steady and my hands wound around those I've helped.  Pray for me that I will soon walk the higher road!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lifevest Needed

There's an old joke about true faith that goes something like this:  "A religious man is on top of a roof during a great flood. A man comes by in a boat and says "Get in, get in!" The religious man replies, "No, I have faith in God. He will grant me a miracle."

Later the water is up to his waist and another boat comes by and again the driver tells him to get in. He responds that he has faith in God and God will give him a miracle. With the water at about chest level, a third boat comes to rescue him, but he turns down the offer again with the words, "God will grant me a miracle."

With the water chin high, a helicopter throws down a ladder and they yell for him to grab on, but mumbling his mantra with water in his mouth, he turns down the request for help for the final time. He arrives at the Gates of Heaven and says to St. Peter, "I thought God would grant me a miracle but He let me down." St. Peter chuckles and responds, "I don't know what you're complaining about. We sent you three boats and a helicopter."

This is a great illustration of asking for a miracle; growth in one's business or family finance; growth in opportunities for success; growth of faith for oneself and one's family; or deliverance from a challenging situation.  But when God sends assistance through a person, opportunity, or path - and it's not what we're expecting or the manner or timeline in which we want it to happen - we shrug it aside and turn our backs.

I wish I could remember in the heat of the moment that God doesn't do things in our timeline.  He sees the whole picture as only He can.  I have turned away from many an open door and I'll tell you the reasons.  They were almost always out of stubbornness, insecurity, laziness or pride.  (Pride was probably the biggest one!)  If I ask God for help, I have to remember to be accepting of the help He sends.  Even if it feels embarassing or humbling or offputting to me.  He's answering my prayers.  So I need to remember to graciously say "thank you" to Him and let Him help me so I can continue to help others. 

I hope I don't end up drowning in my sea of excuses before I realize God is saving me every single day! Quick...someone throw me a lifevest!  (Or don't because otherwise I won't learn.  Doggie paddle all the way...)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Faith Like a Child

I learned so much by not learning anything at church today.

Let me explain...

When I was growing up, there was an unadvertised sign that read "Reserved for the McGonagle Family" on the 2nd pew on the right side of the church.  In other words, without a post, the congregation knew that our family would be sitting in that pew come Hell or high water.  (Both of which make me very nervous to think about, by the way.)  Anyway, the point is, we always had ringside seats for Mass and there was no escaping the "eye of the church" - eye of God, eye of Monsignor Stuardi, eyes of the congregation on our backs.  We were in plain view, so it was next to impossible to squirm, daydream, slouch, or generally be unparticipatory.

Today, my family doesn't have a secret reserved seat but we do sit in the front of the church most times. Often one or more of us is involved in the service - reading, serving the altar, playing in the Praise Band - so it makes sense for us to be up close.  I like it there very much.  Not just because I'm 4' 10" and can't see over people's heads otherwise.  But I like it because I feel "a part."

Today we were running late and the front half of the church was stanchioned off for the first year Confirmandi.  We took a seat in the back third of the church and had just enough time to say a quick prayer before the opening hymn.  I felt disconnected immediately but I didn't comprehend it until about halfway through the service.  Until that realization, this is how I spent my time:

Opening Hymn - leaned over to tell my daughter that this was not my favorite song and that the band was out of rhythm

1st Reading - listened briefly but in kind of a prideful way as the reading was about good wives and how they should be cherished...I'm pretty mortified to tell you that but as long as I'm being honest, might as well come totally clean

2nd Reading - wrote out three separate checks for the collection since I ran out of checks the last two weeks

Gospel - Okay, here's where I started tuning into the fact that I hadn't been receiving God's word AT ALL so far.  So I listened to the Gospel.  But then a baby with a sippy cup in front of me was so cute, my attention shifted again.

I thought, "Lord, I'm like an unfocused child right now!  I can't see what's going on, so my attention is completely lost.  My concentration is negligible and I'm more interested in the kids in front of me and what they're laughing about than I am about Your Word.  What is wrong with me???"

Then it hit me...I am like a child...compared to the history of the world and God's divine presence, I'm more like an embryo.  I know so little and need so much.  I need constant bombardment of His presence to keep me centered.  And I'm finding when I don't begin my day with His word and my prayers...immediately...I do not rely on Him as much throughout the day. I'm like a little toddler needing her parents time and attention every waking moment.

So, of course, once I thought through all of that (and grasped again that I was mentally writing this blog rather than focusing on the sermon), I began tuning in without needing to see the action.  I listened with my heart rather than just my ears. And I loved Matthew's gospel and the ensuing homily which detailed the servant who doubled the money His master had given him...as we should double the gifts our Father gives us each and every day in gratitude for our blessings.

So hopefully, I am multiplying my gifts by writing this little piece today, for you to reflect on and possibly enjoy as you think back on your church experiences.  As a final, funny note, I have to mention that at Communion when we sang the refrain of the praise song, I laughed aloud:

"They say that I can move the mountains and send them crashing to the sea.  They say that I can walk on water if I would follow and believe...with faith like a child."

How precious that God knew this child would need a resounding confirmation that the messages being received are really there.  Never thought I'd be stuck in the terrible two's still at 43...