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...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Losing Power

Riding the road of life in a little Honda Hybrid
I drove the carpool this morning.  On our way to my daughter's high school, we stopped at a red light and conversation happened to halt at the same time.  The silence was deafening especially to our neighbor who said, "Cynthia, did your car just stop running???"  I cried, "Oh no, we're going to have to call a mechanic.  I can't believe we just broke down!"  (Pause...) Then my daughter and I looked at each other and started laughing  because we knew that our Honda Civic Hybrid shuts down completely at stops.  Literally...the engine turns off.  It is designed this way to conserve power rather than wasting gas while idling.

Once we had our laughs, Riley said, "Has it always done this?"  Colleen and I said yes.  Then she exclaimed, "How many times have I ridden in this car over the years and I never noticed?!?"  We helped her out a bit and just chalked it up to the fact that we rarely stop completely while driving our short route to school.  That and the fact that one or more of us is usually gabbing the whole way, covering up the engine sounds.  As we reassured her regarding the strength of her powers of observation, I started thinking...

Whom have I overlooked in life that I should have thanked for secretly reserving my fuel, my energy?
How many years have I travelled the same path, only to realize later that I didn't see or hear those things that were right in front of me to which I was being led ?
On what insignificant pursuits have I wasted my energy, all the while losing the power of success that I have...draining me of my talents rather than filling me with productivity and drive?
How many people have reassured me that they haven't gone unnoticed as I busied myself with tasks other than caring for them?
What have I overlooked because I've surrounded myself with noise rather than silence, stillness, and reflection?

The power is in our hands...
God fuels us with the Holy Spirit.
And with our tanks full and our route clear,
I'm certain, people will notice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Channeling Uncle Orrie?

My Mema, Lucy (Lucia), was one of six children who immigrated from northern Italy in the early 1900s.  Her siblings were Orrie, Anna, (Lucy,) Lee, Ray and Tony. I knew them all, which is to say I knew their names and they - sometimes - knew mine. The eldest, Orrie, I felt I knew the least.  He already seemed ancient by the time I was a child in the family.  He was kind but didn't speak much to us.  In fact, the sole reason he remains in my memory is his truck.  Dark blue, probably a Ford...something akin to the image on the right...and covered with "Jesus Saves" signs.

I didn't really know Uncle Orrie's story.  I didn't know what converted him from his Roman Catholic Christian upbringing to that of Evangelical Christian.  It didn't really matter.  All that mattered was that he drove that truck all over Jacksonville, Florida trying to save people's souls.

Now truth be told, I always thought he was a little nuts...or at least in the sense that "I have an eccentric relative who thinks his truck and bullhorn are gonna make a difference" kind of nuts.  And because I have never been a prosthelitizing kind of gal, it made me a little uncomfortable, even as a child.  It's not that I'm ashamed of my Christianity.  But I feel I may be imposing on those who might not believe.

A few nights ago, we had one of my daughter's best friends, a source of light and joy in our family for ten years, over for dinner.  Her parents were out of town because her grandfather was deathly ill. I had been checking in with her and her sister, and she was excited to come eat some risotto in her parents' absence.  Before we ate, I had that same moment of doubt regarding prayer since I don't know what her family believes.  But I thought to myself, "This family needs prayer right now," and so I asked if I could pray for her grandfather.  She said yes so I did.

The next morning when I opened the door to receive her for carpool to school, her face tear-stained and sorrowful, she ran into my arms and wept as she told me her "BuPa" had passed away in the night.  I recalled my Mema's passing just a few short years ago and told her I was so sorry she wasn't there to share family stories and be with her parents.  She cried until she was all cried out.  I told her to come back later if she needed to unload more since I am the perfect size shoulder for her to cry on...we're both under 5'...which made her laugh. As she was leaving for school, she turned and said to me, voice cracking, "Thank you for praying for us last night.  It meant so much to me."  I was stunned.

Oh, the hundreds of times I've missed an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life and heart by hesitating and choosing not to pray.  I need to remember that these moments of amazing grace are within me - within all of us - to impact the people we love, the people we don't love, the people we don't even know.  I'm so grateful I finally listened to this call to bless a child, a friend.  And I didn't even need a bullhorn.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rain on My Brain

I've been laid up in bed for several days now.  I rallied for my son's and daughter's birthdays then commissioned myself to sleep away my infection for two days.  (Thank God, truly, for my beautiful husband who shouldered the family's commitments the whole time.)  I thought about this blog once during my illness but just couldn't muster the energy to write...and really had nothing to say.  Then this morning, on my second day of the new antibiotic (more about the 1st antibiotic later this week...oh yes, it's a saga), ideas and lessons began to rain on my brain.  That phrase stuck with me, although it's a little Eliza Doolittle-ish.  Maybe we could rewrite My Fair Lady  and rather than learning to speak proper English by saying "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain," Eliza could repeat over and over:

"Felt sane, not pain, as God rained upon my brain." 
Ok, give me a break.  I said I've been sick. Although somehow even I don't think this would fly with Lerner and Loewe.  Anybody have a better one?

Anyway, as I reflected on the last few days, a common theme began to emerge regarding a quality on which I need to work when I'm not well.  Although I prayed so much more than usual, my instinct was still not to  seek God first.  It was to ask "Why me?"  Thankfully, answers to this question were abundant as I read books from under the comfort of my furry blanket:

"In the future when I am tempted to ask the question 'Why me?' I will immediately counter with the answer: 'Why not me?'  Challenges are gifts, opportunities to learn.  Problems are the common thread running through the lives of great men and women.  In times of adversity, I will not have a problem to deal with; I will have a choice to make."  (Andy Andrews, The Traveler's Gift)

"Your sense of security must not rest...in things going your way.  I am training you to depend on Me alone, finding fulfillment in My presence....Instead of grasping and controlling, you are learning to release and receive."  (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling)

And again from Sarah Young...

"Look back on your life, and see how I have helped you through difficult days.  If you are tempted to think, 'Yes, but that was then and this is now,' remember who I am!...I remain the same throughout time and eternity."

So today as I write a bit more, catch up on the overflowing laundry and rest when I can, I will endeavor to seek God first in all things....in sickness, in health, in financial difficulty, in overflowing wealth, in failure, in success, in triumph, in despair...in ALL things.  Then blessings will rain upon my brain!

Friday, November 4, 2011

God in the Grocery Store

I've been under the weather the last few days so I went to the doctor this morning to try and stay ahead of it.  While at the grocery store waiting for my prescription to be filled at their pharmacy, I was just barely making it through.  You know those moments...the ones where people see you coming and greet you with a smile only for it to turn to a look of confusion or repulsion as you approach?  The far away picture of you looks a lot more pulled together than the one from up close:  untidy hair, greenish pallor, face contorted in discomfort, old T-shirt and tennis shoes which happened to be the easiest thing to don to get you out of the house then back to bed.  Yessir, I was looking pretty!

Anyway, I was checking out at the pharmacy, feeling awful, in pain and a little stressed about how long it was going to take me to heal from this since my kids' birthdays are this weekend.  As I was wheeling my cart away from the counter, I passed the blood pressure machine and in it, a man, 40-something, Hispanic, black ponytail, work clothes appropriate for manual labor, maybe house repairs or painting.  He looked up at me and said, "How are you today?"  I said, "Okay, and you?" not really feeling okay but in spite of my soreness, wanting to be friendly.  He looked cheerfully at me with merry brown eyes and said, "I'm great.  I hope you have a great day."  I nodded and continued on, feeling a beautiful wash of peace over me.

I was walking out the door to the store and suddenly, there he was in front of me.  He moved aside so I could pass through the doors before him and said, "Please, ladies first."  I thanked him and then he ran ahead, looked back for a moment, grinned warmly and waved.

I can't explain it, but I knew I had just met God.  Of course, I don't know if he was actually God - or an angel - or an ordinary man that God put in my path because I needed to know He was with me and watching over me today.  But I knew without doubt that I had had a moment of divine connection. 

Maybe movies like "Dear God" or "Evan Almighty" aren't too far fetched.  Maybe God really appears suddenly sometimes looking like George Burns or Morgan Freeman or a little Mexican man in a white jumpsuit and work boots...to give, if only for a moment, tangible evidence to support our constant need of comfort and faith.  All I know is that I felt so blessed for the rest of the day and it quieted my heart to know I wasn't alone.  Who'd of thunk that God may drive a white Toyota work truck while driving around town blessing the folks in Long Beach, California?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Great Friend

I went to dinner the other night with two friends I only see every nine or ten months. We've known each other more than 20 years.  The greatest thing about our friendship is that it feels we've barely skipped a beat when we are together even if we have been apart for a ridiculous amount of time.  Over our delicious Mexican cuisine, we spoke easily of our lives, families, jobs, and trips, and laughed about past follies and experiences we had as young adults performing while travelling the world. We had the most beautiful time - it was so great catching up - and I left that night feeling joyful and content.

Since then I have been puzzling over the reason why when reunited with some friends, you have a cheery reception while with others, it is a nerve-wracking reunion.  I prayed over this because I have experienced the nerve-wracking more often in my life and have felt guilt about not better staying in touch.  It came to me that while some friends are meant to travel beside you for a long portion of your journey, others are not.  And if the ones who are not meant to continue by your side don't find their own path, they feel an emptiness without you.  Sadly then, there is often blame assigned.  I've been on both sides in this situation and think back to the times when I felt anger or reproach.  In retrospect, it all centered around feelings of discontentment in my own life, thus making it difficult for me to be happy for my friend as they moved on and reached for greatness. 

Think, however, if we all were to travel together our entire lives, no one would ever forge a new frontier; discover a cure for disease; lead the country; have children (or not have children); leave a job; leave one's parents.  We are not meant to have identical paths. We are led down our own course by God who has plans for each individual person to bring glory to Him through all that they do, in every facet of life. 

As a final note, I contemplated whether or not I should even write about this because, as usual, I couldn't discern whether the message was sent to me or if I was just musing, arriving at conclusions on my own.  So as I was pulling up to church services last night, I prayed for God to answer my doubt clearly...you know me...gotta get knocked off the pew.  During his homily, Father Jim said, "You know, most of us say we have lots of friends, but in reality, there are only a few who are genuinely happy when we endeavor to succeed and achieve great things.  The others are acquaintances but a true friend knows your heart."  My daughter, Colleen, whispered, "What is it?" when I jumped at his words.  There it was - an answer to my prayer, a literal memo posted on the desk of my life.  "I'll tell you later," I replied as I thanked God yet again for His constant wisdom, direction and comfort in my heart.  Talk about a great friend...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Whatever Gets You Here

Deacon Don said the sermon this week at church.  About half the parishioners that day were 1st year Confirmandi, high school students starting instruction to make their Confirmation.  The deacon said, "You're here.  It doesn't matter what got you here...nagging parents or friendships or taking the class...really, the reason doesn't matter.  You're here...whatever gets you here."

I started thinking about what got me to church over the years, leading me to this place in my life and the commitment I feel toward my faith.  I've made a list:

5-6 years old - A delicious nap!  Nothing could put me to sleep quite like (what I felt) was a droning sermon.

10-11 years old - The Spirit of the Lord choir!  I loved singing with the choir that both my dad and mom directed over the years.  And I'm not gonna lie...the possibility that I might get a solo and sing in front of the congregation was a driving force and an added bonus.

13 years old & on - Summer visitors - translation...boys!  There was an incredibly cute boy who summered in the bay area with his mother.  I thought surely he would eventually notice me (picture unruly curly hair, slightly buck teeth, and chubby thighs...I was workin' it!).  I couldn't believe this never panned out into anything of significance, but boy did I feel inspired to attend services.

14-15 years old - Krispy Kreme donuts!  Enough said...

16-17 years old - St. Lawrence Youth Group and Youth Choir!  Trips to Six Flags, Christmas hayrides singing carols and drinking hot chocolate, Fish Fry's, Spaghetti Dinners, Ecumenical concerts with youth from other parishes...these were great years where I really loved being at church and fellowshipping.

Mid 20's - Father Stan!  Okay, I'll admit it...I had a crush on our pastor.  But I tell ya', there's nothing like an earnest speaker with a kind heart, sandy blond hair and Birkenstocks to make a young woman without a family commit her Sunday mornings.

Mid 30's - Setting an example!  Yes, these were the obligation years.  Of course, there were many Sundays I wished we could have slept in, having been up with sick toddlers half the night and working hard during the week.  Nothing compares with a little familial guilt to motivate you.  (Whatever gets you there...)

Mid 40's...today - Wanting to be there!  Yes, I've finally arrived.  I truly look forward to the message and the Word, to the liturgy and the inspiration.  At long last, all the reasons are wrapped up together - except I promise I don't nap.  I have a handsome man by my side, two children with whom I love sharing the service, the music is wonderful, I'm involved in the parish activities, and I love our pastor...though not in the same manner as Father Stan.

(Please post YOUR reasons for getting to church each week now or when you were younger!  Would love to read them.)

It's been a journey but one I wouldn't change.  Although my reasons were hardly altruistic and in fact, were often the motivation of a selfish child, they still kept me coming back week after week.  And if I gleaned even one little nugget from every few services over the years, those seeds planted and developed sowed what was necessary to cultivate a true desire to follow Him.

As I was leaving church this week, an older gentleman, maybe mid 70's, stopped me and said, "Hey, were you the gal reading up there today?"  I said, "Yes, I was," expecting him to tell me that he had gotten something out of my delivery.  Instead he said, "You know, I've been coming to church here for 43 years...

...and you're the hottest chick lector I've ever seen!"  My mouth was agape until I chuckled and said, "Well, that's not exactly what I was expecting but I'll take it...thank you."  Colleen and I walked out and she said, "That was a little creepy."  To which I responded, "Yep...but whatever gets you here!"