Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Times, They Are A-Changin'

Have I ever mentioned that I cried almost every day of my first grade year?  My poor sister, Margaret a 4th grader, who had to endure the long walk of shame down the hallway of the school while escorting a weeping younger sister to her classroom.  The truth of the matter was that I was fine for the two weeks.  Mrs. Mobley, my teacher, was kind and loving, nurturing and patient.  Then one day, I was brought into a separate classroom for "evaluation."  It was decided that I should go to Mrs. Mobley's room for homeroom only, changing classes to Mrs. Guy's classroom after, to a more advanced level.  Nothing against Mrs. Guy, but my heart was already set with Mrs. Mobley.  She taught me how to give my mother a "bear hug;" she read stories to our class in clear, inspired tones; she was pretty.  Conversely, though I'm sure Mrs. Guy was a nice enough person, she was not exactly warm; she was much more disciplined and less "cozy" in her approach; and I don't know if I was swayed by her last name, but her appearance to me was slightly mannish and intimidating.  It probably didn't help much that she rarely smiled.  Not exactly a five year old's dream for a first teacher.

To clarify the picture, I wasn't sobbing or causing a  ruckus or anything.  I simply and silently cried all day on and off while quietly doing my work.  The principal, Mr. Patrick, called me into his office, asking if I had a big problem I wanted to talk about or if I could tell him the cause for my sadness.  I mutely shook my head, the tears streaming down my face until stumped, he released me back to the walk of shame.

The truth of the matter was this:  I missed my mom.  I missed my home and my morning routine.  I missed Mrs. Mobley.  And I didn't like change.  Plain and simple. 

Add to that the fact that we were raised in a time of strong-arming children, discipline reigning over quiet understanding, and there concocted a perfect recipe for a neurotic childhood lived by a sensitive soul like mine.

Today, I am raising two children, one a teen and one a tween.  Drama!  (I don't know how my parents survived five children - emotional girls, nonetheless!)  It is my inclination many times to use discipline over understanding; strong-arming over loving inquiry; loud, shrill tones over quiet, empathetic ones.  I could say that I'm an excitable Italian.  I could say that I am a product of my upbringing.  I could say I believe that tough love makes a kid stronger.  All part truths...but none full.  The fact is that sometimes I want to just say, "Get over it.  This is too hard.  Buck up and in the end it will make you stronger."  But the truth of the matter here is it is easier sometimes to get angry than to be prayerful for a solution.  So today I'm praying this prayer for my children:

"Thank you, God, for showing this child the value I truly place in their worth.
Thank You for shoring them up when we have discourse.
Thank You for opening their eyes to my humanity; my lack of perfection and my need for Your guidance as fully as they need mine.
Thank You for showing them the path to understanding and forgiveness.
Thank You for leading them to the knowledge there is always opportunity for change for the better, even when things look bleak; that prayerfully, together, we can not only get through this, but make a difference in the lives of one another.
Thank You for leading us down a path of communication.
Thank You for being with this child each step of their tumultuousness journey.
Thank You for easing their pain.
Thank You for being their loving example of parenthood."

For the record, Mr. Patrick later became my high school principal.  One day during my senior year where I was a member of the Girls Service Club, Junior Civitan, secretary of the National Honor Society and member of our Honor Choir, he pulled me aside and said, "You know, you've come a long way since first grade."  We grinned at each other, at our private joke.  My hope and prayer is that in 10 or 15 years, my kids will say the same thing!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Devil You Know Beats the Devil You Don't

I was under attack yesterday...and without a sword or a shield. 

The day started well enough. But as I became engrossed in things focusing on myself, my mood became darker, my patience thinner, my outlook bleaker. Though I'm sure that I've been guilty through the years of most of the 7 deadlies at one time or another, my most grievous has been that of "pride...the sin from which all others arise." Yesterday, on the phone with technical web support services, my pride reared his hideous head and attacked the operator, engaging me in self-righteousness and taking charge for the rest of my day.  Boy, is he a meanie!

By the 2nd reading at the 12:30 church service, I was fully aware   that I was not in control. I actually looked ahead in the missal to the Gospel reading and (I can't believe I'm admitting this publicly) thought to myself, "Oh, hallelujah, it's a short one! I just can't absorb any of this right now." Yikes!!  After that thought, I felt the temptation of the ugly one. Was I imagining this dark turn? I wondered if I was over-exaggerating in my assumptions as I sometimes do. Then the Gospel reading from Mark 1 began: 

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and He remained in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan."

Now, believe me, I'm not at all likening myself to Jesus, except to note that Jesus, in His humanity, was faced with every temptation we are. The attack is real, a true threat, and we are all in it's path. I wish could handle it as well as He who walked before me, and with the grace He consistently showed. 

I also wish I could say that after that message, my day radically changed as did my attitude. But sadly, I was too far gone in the throws of anger and discontent.  I gave up for the first time in a long time.  Luckily for me, today was a new day. 

My devotional appropriately read: "Keep your eyes on Me!  Waves of adversity are washing over you, and you feel tempted to give up...I am fully aware of your situation, and I will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear."

Oh, thank you, Jesus, for understanding my need for reassurance. Just as you worked hard for me these two days, coaxing me back to You, so will I work hard to remain with You in smooth times - and in temptation. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vegetable Verification

My husband converted to Catholicism a few years back.  I had never requested him to.  One day he just came home and said, "I called the RCIA program at St. Joe's.  I'm thinking of becoming Catholic."  I said, "Oh, okay" even though I was about to pee in my pants.

Since then we tease him that he is more Catholic than I am...minus the guilt, of course.  That's a perk you enjoy only when  you've been raised Catholic.  Speaking of...on more than one occasion over the years, I've wondered about and had guilt over the possibility of Drew feeling like I expected him to convert.  (Which I truly didn't, I can honestly say.  What a personal decision!)  I've asked him about it, and he's assured me that it isn't the case...that he really feels so connected to this faith.  Still, I've wondered...

This morning, before work, Drew came into the living room and said, "Hey, I forgot to tell you that I got a sign on Ash Wednesday that I'm supposed to be a devout Roman Catholic."  Do tell!  He continued, "The company had food brought in for the team that day.  In between meetings, I went in, looked at the lunches and thought 'Yikes, a bunch of meat.'  I went to the next meeting, and when I came back, there was only one lunch left...a grilled veggie sandwich."  He grinned.  I said, "That's makin' the blog."

Thank you God, for answering my doubt with a little eggplant, zucchini, squash and tomato.  I owe ya'... 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Double-Parking Diarrhea

I had a friend who had self-described "diarrhea of the mouth" any time she got stuck complaining about something that bothered her.  This term needed no explanation to me.  I too have had this condition...when the ugliness just spews forth, verbally running out of me like an illness.  Currently, I have double-parking diarrhea.

I don't know why it bothers me so  much.  It's probably because I've been dealing with double-parkers around my children's schools for eleven years, and I'm simply SICK of waiting for people who stop in the middle of street to drop their kids off.  Part of it is a safety issue.  I've almost hit several kids over the years when I didn't realize they were being let out right in front of my car.  But I know mostly it's because I consider it a blatant disregard for others, their time, and the school rules.  (I can't tell you the number of memos, newsletters and flyers we parents have received from the school administration about this issue.)  My kids could probably recite my exact words whenever it happens.  They are so sick of it, they don't even comment anymore.  Even I'm sick of listening to myself!

This morning I dropped Braden off and within the course of 1/2 block, it happened three times.  I was off on a rampage when Braden exited the car...I barely remembered to say "goodbye...have a nice day!"  (I'm telling you, it's a sickness!)  I didn't have anywhere important to be or a schedule to keep, but still it was churning in me, anger and self-righteousness bubbling up.  I thought to myself, "I have to stop this...God, please help me stop."  Suddenly an old-story I've heard several times popped into my head.  You've probably heard it...

A man boarded the subway with his two children who began running amok, stepping on people's toes and shouting loudly.  A woman sitting next to the man looked on with disgust as he just stared into space, clearly oblivious to the bad behavior of his children.  Losing her patience, she finally said, "Sir, could you please do something about your children?  They're disturbing everyone on the train."  Snapping out of his reverie, he said, "Oh, of course, I'm sorry.  We're on our way home from the hospital.  Their mother just died, and I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do now."

Ugh, just drive a knife straight through me so I don't have to feel the horror and shame felt by this woman.  Following my prayer for help, I realized that I don't know every story of every person who is hurriedly dropping their child off without parking.  Maybe they were up all night with a sick little one and overslept....or maybe their family is falling apart and they are barely keeping it together (double parking being a last worry)...or maybe they were spending a few extra minutes with their child, enjoying them and losing track of time.  Whatever the reason, my place isn't to huff and puff... it isn't to isn't to curse and moan and complain.  It is to be be be understanding and empathetic.  It is to cure the sickness in my own soul (and mouth!) to become the type of person who gives others the benefit of the doubt.

Next I need to pour out some Imodium AD for the "why are people always running right into me while shopping?" disease!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weeping and Rending of Garments

What a perfectly formed cross this year...

"Hey, lady, you've got dirt on your face."

"Um, excuse me,  ma'am, but I think you need to wipe your forehead."

"You are the 4th person I've seen today with that mark on their forehead.  What's going on?"

"Hey, that's weird.  The smudge on your forehead looks like a cross!"

These and other  remarks have made up the running commentary on my personal Ash Wednesday for years and years.  I have always considered the mark to be a sort of badge of honor...a Boy Scout patch for Lenten repentance or something.  I've worn it proudly, despite the stares, pointing and sometimes hilarious observations.  But was I too proud?

From Matthew 6 today was our Gospel reading:  "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.  They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.  Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.  And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."  (Of course, I always wondered about the logic of this sentiment given we are walking around with a black cross on our foreheads all day...the secret's out, folks.  Yes, I'm observing the Lenten season.)  Seriously, though, it is with great restraint that I have learned in recent years to keep my sacrifices and works more to myself.  I'll tell someone if they ask but I try not to, as I often have, look like a martyr while refusing peanut M&M's.

Instead I will try to act as the scripture dictates, Joel 2, also from today:  "Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning;  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.  For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.  Perhaps He will again relent and leave behind Him a blessing." 

Lent, the 40 days before Easter, is a time of repentence and reflection.  It's our time to humbly reflect on how we can best model the giving, loving behaviors charged us by God.  And it is also the time to ask forgiveness for those ways we have erred, those things for which we are ashamed.  But the best part of Lent is our reminder that in Christ we have experienced victory over sin and guilt.  Guilt being a human charge (and often feels exclusive to Catholics!) need not enter into our contemplation.  Because it is through Jesus' ultimate sacrifice that we know each time we sin, all if forgiven.

No weeping for me...
no rending of garments...
no wailing or gnashing of teeth...
Simply quiet gratitude that I can start each day fresh and new with the forgiveness of my Heavenly Father...but of course, without peanut M&M's for the next 40 days.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Healing My Irreverence

Does anyone else ever get creative when asking for things in prayer? 

I felt a bout of diverticulitis, a colon infection I get that is gnarly if not caught in time, coming on while at church this past Sunday.  My lower left abdominal area was really painful, and I thought to myself, "I'm gonna be toast for the next week if I don't get out in front of this."  At that juncture, I really couldn't afford the time in bed or the frustration.  The pain was pretty intense and was causing me, unfortunately, to focus on it during the service...also couldn't afford for my focus to be split for a week.

Some of you may know that the Catholic church has, over the last ten years, been totally reworking the language of the Mass.  The new translations which were introduced last November are based more literally on the original Latin text and now match every other English speaking country the world over.  It's been very difficult for many Catholics to get behind this change and get used to it.  For myself, it has made me more attentive and reflective in an effort to remember the language while feeling the subtext...which is definitely a good thing.

One part of the new Mass language replaced my previously favorite line spoken before the Communion rite. The old line said, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the Word and I shall be healed."  This made me feel humble and so willing to work harder to live up to God's expectations for me.  I looked forward to speaking it each week.

The new prayer, "Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed," is based on the request to Jesus by a faithful centurion to heal his servant (Matthew 8:5-13).   Once I researched the background of the translation, I loved it even more than the previous prayer.  This week, however, I impulsively added my own ending:  "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed...also my colon."

I'm embarrassed to say that I did pray this aloud (though softly) and then followed it with an audible chuckle.  But I have to feel that God's understanding of how He created me...mischievous, laughing, hopeful to find the positive in a negative situation...can forgive the cheekiness in me and see past it to the sincerity of the prayer.  After all, if a centurion can ask Jesus to cure his servant from afar, without even entering his house, surely I, not a leader but a servant myself, can ask God to cure my colon in the context of diligent prayer so that I can go on about my business of helping spread the Word.  I hope that this is the case as I'm wondering if next week's prayer should include "but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed...also my irreverent humor."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Planting Seeds

After my being frozen in a chair regarding my writing course (see my entry, Dr. Seuss meets Dr. Jekyll) accompanied by days of ensuing prayer, last Friday in the shower, I got my answer.  (Am I the only weirdo who does her best thinking in the shower or before a nap?)  Anyhoo, I have been inspired for months by a particular graphic image of a tree and have been trying to incorporate it into my writing news.  It really doesn't make sense, but something kept telling me...nagging me...prodding me to stay after a connection.  So on Friday, after a fervent prayer for direction, the tag line sprouted from my imagination and grew into a concrete concept.  Finally, I had a goal, a list of things to accomplish, and some work I needed to research in order to get my idea off of the ground.  Then... computer broke down...
...wouldn't even boot up...
...uh oh...had I been barking up the wrong tree?
(Sorry, had to!!!)

So I stopped everything, praying, "All right, God, I've begun recognizing there are always signs for when I should slow down.  Is this one of them?  Or is it a mere fluke with my dilapidated, ten year old computer?  You're gonna have to send a sign, and MAKE IT CLEAR!  You know how dense I typically am!"  So I waited for answers to the questions:  Should I start designing a website for future freelance copyrighting jobs?  And should I desire success from it and other non God-related writing jobs, so that my family's territories can increase?  So that we can have more to give more?  So that we can free up time and finances and energy to work on behalf of those who need?  In other words, God's "least of our brothers and sisters."

That night, I opened my email from a website to which I belong, Funds for Writers, and read the following title from the editors' weekly commentary, "Juggling Websites."  I have never read a piece about website decisions before from this source.  Coincidence or sign?

The  next morning, my daily devotional reading began with a verse from 1 Samuel 18:14, "In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him."  I was afraid I awakened my sleeping daughter when I read this as I couldn't contain a loud, "What??" escaping from deep within.  The passage went on to proclaim that we must "speak favor" over every area of our lives and "...not simply our own lives, but over our businesses, our employees, our children and our families."  Fate or intentional message?

Lastly, Colleen and I went out window shopping last night, and all of a sudden, amidst the shop artwork, she exclaimed, "Mom, there's your tree."  And big as my vision for the future, hanging on the wall, was a tree in the exact shape and painted in the exact colors as the one I had been envisioning (okay, maybe less leaves but close enough).  We just looked at each other...spooky!  No doubt about the message now.

abstract designs,abstracts,borders,corners,decorations,designs,dividers,floral,floral decorations,floral motifs,flowers,leaves,nature,plants,visual artsSo, as I begin creating, developing, writing my way into a new phase, I remember that God's answers are most always easy, for He is helping us as we stumble on our way.  I remind myself that there is yet another I will not grace with a name as to give him credibility...that puts obstacles in our way to stop us from succeeding; to force us to give up when it gets too hard; to make us question the gifts we're given and the answered prayers from our Heavenly Father.  How do we know the difference?  God is constantly planting seeds in us.  Seeds of discernment, wisdom, peace.  We need only ask for them through prayer...more prayer...unceasing prayer.  Then, when heeded, these seeds in our lives will take root and blossom into unparalleled beauty.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dr. Seuss Meets Dr. Jekyll

Frozen in a chair.
Ain't goin' nowhere.
Feelin' like a fraud
Representin' God.

Wish I had a clue
'Bout what next to do.
Can't get a direction.
Fear's my new complexion.

Should I write a book?
An article? A story?
Should I stick to blogging folks
about Gods earthly glory?

Should I keep my mouth shut?
Who do I think I am?
Am I the deleted words?
The Garbage? Junk? The Spam?

Devil's little whisper
Turnin' to a shout.
Yellin' at me ugly thangs
Like "ridicule" and "doubt."

Satan wants the last thought.
Even the last word.
You won't win this battle, man...
Devil, you rat bastard!

Wish that I felt peace.
Wish these thoughts would cease.
Frozen in a chair.
Ain't goin' nowhere.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

I've been trying for the past few days to find my daily dose of Spiritual medicine to take.  I don't know if it's the jet lag, my daughter's upper respiratory infection, my "from the marrow of my bones" weariness or the fact that my husband is working 2nd shift right now (great for me because I get to visit with him all morning - probably not so great for God because that's generally the time I spend with Him!), but nothing has been coming through.  I cannot find the remedy for this week.

My last few days of devotional reading and prayer time have clearly been directed toward people in my life with whom I have been communicating...about fulfillment, work/life balance, health, relationship with God, financial hardship, anxiety.  As I've continued to read, I've been reflecting, "Look, God, you should really pass this message along to "so and so."  It's more for them than for me.  Could we get back to my direction at some point?  I'm waiting for Your word." 

Not ten minutes ago, it hit me.  This is my path for these quiet days.  My
personal stuff is in basic order right now.  I am not in need of powerful help or clarity of direction.  I've been getting that each time I've asked for it for months.  My
course is to offer prayerful communication with those I love who are now faced with their big
decisions and rocky days ahead.  Those people who stood behind me to offer prayers,
protection and support during my difficult doses last year.  As I said to my girlfriend
on the phone the other day, "It's now clear to me why I had such a tough year last year. 
It's my job to show people how not to handle stress and big problems...they gotta
do the exact opposite of everything I did!"  No nervous breakdowns on my
deep-seated depression and anxiety attacks...been there and wouldn't wish it on my worst
enemy.  No, it's clear that my lot in life is to have done it all wrong...and encourage others to do it differently.  Happy to be the author of the guidebook, "Handling Anxiety for Dummies."
I find that prayers of thanksgiving are the most soothing balm, even and especially for hardships.  As James 1:2-3 says, "Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  So each day I pray, "Lord, thank you for this trial.  Thank you for the opportunity to draw closer to You through the need to lean on You in all things."  Or something to that effect...

My spiritual medicine has been swallowed and is ready to be poured out for others.  Thank God the only side-effects are grace, joy and peace in Him who cares for me.  Praise the Lord and pass the castor oil!!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Each Day is Valentine's Day

My dad was never a really demonstrative kind of guy. He told us he loved us often; said he was proud of us frequently; asked how he could help us occasionally. However, like most men raised in the 1930's and 40's, he wasn't terribly generous with physical affection.  One unexpected look of merry amusement or heartbreaking pride in his beautiful, blue, knowing eyes along with a hug, then, could bring you to your knees.

As in matters of affection, the same held true for gift giving. Mama usually took care of us kids in that department. But every now and then, Daddy would surprise each of us girls with a small remembrance.  One such time was a Valentines Day when I was about 11. Daddy came up to our rooms and gave us five girls a handwritten Valentine and a plastic, pink, puffy Ziggy Valentines pin. (Both Ziggy and Garfield always slayed my dad with their dry wit.) I'll never forget how excited I was about this unexpected treat, made so much more valuable by the rarity of it's predecessors. The card was signed, "love, love and love again....Daddy," in the gorgeous, messy, artistic scroll that was my fathers' handwriting.  I was struck, even at 11 years old, by the repetition of the three "loves" in his signature. It was as if he was trying to express, since he didn't often physically, the depth of his feelings for us...triple what we might suspect. Oh, how I loved that card and gift.

This past Sunday, Daddy had a rough morning. He rallied beautifully for the first two days of my mothers trip.  But the toll of the effort required in mentally processing without Mama, his touchstone, was exhausting. It broke my heart...his frail humanity, his wish to keep his dignity intact, his inability to recognize me as his daughter rather than "this nice young lady." (Though my dark humor kicks in here and is grateful he wasn't calling me "this old hag" or "this terrible taskmaster.")

Thankfully we made it to church, another source of comfort for him, and the tide turned. Suddenly it was Communion and Daddy's throaty Irish brogue swelled with the music: "Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord if You lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." He and I sang with abandon, side by side, just like old times. I felt I had been given a gift.

Little did I know that the true gift would come moments later as we exited the church, walking to the car. I asked, "May I take your arm?" then impulsively leaned my head on his shoulder and whispered, "My Daddy." He squeezed my arm, leaned his head on my head and said, "My little girl." And for that brief moment, his memory jogged by our voices raised together in song, he remembered who I was. Like the Ziggy pin, it was an unexpected gift I will forever cherish.

So on this Valentine's Day, as people all over the country are celebrating their love for one another, I celebrate the beautiful gift of grace given with "love, love and love again" from my father here on earth and my Father in Heaven.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Child of the Light

My first solo in church was at the age of nine.  My father, our choir director, asked me to sing the offertory hymn - alone - in front of several hundred people - all eyes on me.  A daunting request for a child, right?  Nope, I couldn't wait to rock the house!  The song was newly composed in the '70's and called, "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light."  I loved the simple melody and lyric and, though I was trembling as I approached the microphone, I think I knew that this song was about me.  Even prior to my studying subtext later in my career. I knew this felt familiar somehow, and I lived the text. 

After that mass, the song became a sort of family anthem.  We sang it at each grandchild's baptism...or at least 13 of the 16 that I can remember.  It was comforting.  It was our history.

It went out of print for a while, and I missed hearing it at Mass.  Five years ago, unbeknownst to me, it resurfaced in our hymnal.  My grandmother had just passed away, and I was having a really difficult time getting beyond my mourning.  One Sunday, I asked God to help me move on.  Low and behold that day at church, for the first time in probably 15 years, "Child of the Light" was on the docket.  I wept and wept during church (so much so that our minister of music approached me at the end of Mass and asked if I was okay.  How embarrassing!  I told her the significance of that particular song on that particular day and thanked her for listening to God's direction while choosing her music.).  The chorus was always the most uplifting to me:  "In Him there is no darkness at all.  The night and the day are both alike.  The Lamb is the light of the city of God.  Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus."

Yesterday, I woke up in my parents' home, the second day caring for my dad while my mom is away.  Friday was good, but we hadn't found our groove yet.  I prayed about it, just deciding to be myself.  "No way to fill my mother's shoes," I thought,  "so best to just follow my instincts.  Show me the way, God."  We sat down to breakfast - Daddy with two pieces of cinnamon toast and I with the Fiber One cereal I toted in my suitcase to Alabama.  I asked, "Daddy, do you mind if I read my devotional aloud?  I always read it at breakfast."  He said, "I think that would be a marvelous idea."  So I proceeded to read one book's entry; a second book's entry ("Well that just couldn't be any clearer," he commented.); lastly, I read the Scripture passage aloud that was referenced for my second journal.  1 John 1:4-5:  "We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.  Now this is the message that we have heard from Him and proclaim to you:  God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all."  (my italics)

I looked up puzzled, wracking my brain for the familiarity of that phrase.  "'In Him there is no darkness at all.'  I love that line.  How do I know it?"  Daddy and I just looked at each other.  Then it dawned on me that I had heard it in a song...but where?  The melody came to me, and I started singing aloud.  It was the chorus of our family anthem!  How fitting and beautiful that God sent me this message on this seemingly daunting day...a reminder that He is watching, helping, guiding each moment of each day.  Daddy and I spent the rest of the day in comfort, me consciously and he unconsciously, realizing that we were meant to be together today and each day of my mother's absence.

(Postscript from Cynthia later in the day:  I just realized after rereading the above Scripture passage that the one referenced in my book was John 1:4-5, not 1 John 1:4-5.  I am convinced now more than ever that this message was intentionally sent for me.  How else could I have known to look up the "wrong" but exact verse that was special to my family?  Amazing grace, how sweet today.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Bets Are In

I write this post on Wednesday morning knowing that, with my pre-dawn flight on Thursday and my commitment to caring for Daddy for the weekend, I won't have time otherwise.  But I wanted to quickly write to make some predictions...

I predict this Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday will be four of the best days of my life...

I predict that Daddy and my sisters and I will share in a time never before known together...

I predict that we will not only be "fine," but will thrive as a family in the way that families do when they rally around one another to help...

I predict that my mother will be peaceful, happy and joyful as she celebrates a beautiful birthday with her family in Florida...

I predict, most importantly, that God will be present with us every step of the journey, every moment of the day, as He is always, but more so as we call upon Him for help and comfort...

Wish I could call for big, fat bets on my predictions...I would win it all in a landslide.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Help Me, Jesus!!

God knew I needed a hand today.

I awoke with an overwhelming sense of obligations.  The list ran through my head, "Laundry, gotta do the laundry.  Oh, have to grocery shop before my trip.  Pick up Colleen at 11:00.  Shoot, she also needs to go shop for treats for her secret sister in water polo.  Eww, I forgot that chicken broth leaked all over the cabinet...gotta clean it up.  Dishes, blog, pack, noon doctor appointment, kids...ugh, WORK OUT!! (I don't wanna...but it's been three days...still don't wanna.)  Doggone it, just ran out of kitchen garbage bags!  Today of all days?  There were 200 in the box and we run out today?!?  Ok, add it to the grocery list."  Needless to say, by the time my husband came in the house from his morning workout, I was silence and dogged energy.  Silence from Cynthia...never a good sign.

So the Lord came to help me.

First, Drew gathered me up in his arms before he left and said, "I'm so happy for your dad that you are able to go and stay with him.  You always know just what to say and just what to do.  I know you'll make it easier for him."  Waaahhh...although the part of "always knowing" could easily be questioned, I appreciated so much his saying it.  It was exactly what I needed.

Second, an email came from my mom right before I was to sit down and do my morning devotionals.  She told my dad she was going on her trip, and he said he thought it was a good idea, maybe she should stay longer than just the weekend, and he wasn't at all surprised that I was coming to stay with him.  Big, fat "whew!"  Things were becoming easier by the minute...

Lastly, my devotional reminded me that if I need to say, "Help me, Jesus!" thousands of times daily to just get by, to not feel bad or worry.  That's what He is here for.

So today I begin my laundry list of duties, saying, "Help me, Jesus!" with each step, secure in the knowledge that He will and is happy to.  Now, help me Jesus, I gotta go work out!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Party of One, Please

This morning a line from my devotional caught my attention and made me chuckle.  "Your desire to live in My presence goes against the grain of 'the world, the flesh, and the devil.'"  Yeah, yeah, I know it doesn't seem humorous out of context, but if you had been with me last night, after a long day of emotional trial, you would be laughing too.

Drew and I had several meetings yesterday that were child-focused...always emotional as a mother.  Stressful as well as I pray and endeavor to say the right thing and respond the correct way whilst feeling the whole time like I am a bug squirming on a slide under a microscope.  "Did I answer that the right way? Does he/she think I'm a ___________ parent?"  (You fill in the blank:  controlling, unempathetic, passive, permissive, domineering.  Those are generally my adjectives.)  Anyway, the meetings went fine, though I was spent at the end...and starving!!!  Shoulda packed a snack.

I got home and called my sister with whom I had been trying to touch base all day.  I caught her with a few minutes to talk and we started going through my trip home this week and our schedules.  I insisted, "I'm feeling really great about the trip...not stressed at all."  I spied a brownie left over from my Superbowl gathering...ate it.  "Really, the meetings today were okay.  We got through them.  A bit challenging but nothing I couldn't handle."  Okay, just one more brownie. 

To prevent myself from completely losing the respect of every one of my blog readers, I will not divulge the number of brownies that were missing by the end of my telephone conversation.  But I will remind my daily readers of my prayer started several weeks ago in regard to emotional eating.  I have been praying that prayer successfully for two weeks...apparently, I was unable to focus on it while also on the phone.

So the humor of the devotional reading came in the form of my momentary focus away from God and the infiltration of "the world, the flesh, and the devil."  Disturbing that he was lurking in the shadows waiting until my defenses were down and out, then luring me in with that which he knows I find challenging to ignore...chocolate and sugar.  Arrrggghhh...

But the successful part of constant prayer is the knowledge that today is a new day.  It is one I will not squander out of guilt, shame, fear or anger.  I will not go back to my previous ways, "Well, I already ruined the week.  I'll start again next Monday."  No, today again I pray this prayer successfully:  "Lord, fill in me what is missing that is causing my hunger.  Fill me with Your spirit so I feel satiated."  I know I will prevail over this momentary lapse, stronger for the knowledge that I recognize the dangers and the pitfalls of my humanity.  I will get up, dust myself off of the cocoa powder and gluttony, and venture to fully live in His presence in spite of the sad, singular, dessert party for one I threw myself in a moment of "woe is me" weakness.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Crystal Clear

Isn't it great when the messages we receive from God are crystal clear?  When there is no question that it is meant for us?  When there is absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever?

My husband looked over at me yesterday after the church sermon, and we just shook our heads at each question, it was delivered expressly for my benefit.

The entire homily was about serving...specifically serving those infirmed, sick, and in need.  Even more specifically, it was about their daily care...washing them, feeding them, clothing them, waiting on them, and loving them through it - yes, because of it - all.

I travel this week to go and stay with my father for a few days while my mother goes out of town to celebrate her brother's 80th birthday.  This is my mother's first trip away from my father since he essentially became home bound.  My sisters and I will be in charge of his care while she is away.

I truly am looking forward to being able to spend time with my dad in this everyday living kind of way.  It is a privilege with which I've never before been blessed.  But the thought of filling my mother's shoes is an almost humorous about trial by fire!  She is larger than life in this role as caretaker, and there's no way, despite my best efforts, that I could possibly live up to her expertise.  So when Father Jim started preaching yesterday, expounding more and more upon the importance of the caregiver role and how rewarding it is - from the time of Jesus when He bathed, clothed and healed the sick to today in all of our varied, worldly roles - I knew the message was for me.  This was truly my Father in Heaven saying, "Don't fear, My child, for your earthly father will be taken care of.  Walk beside Me throughout your time with him and together we will ease his burden."

Thank you, Father, for your assurance, your comfort, your signs of strength.  Me and my father are so lucky you will be with us.  Wish you could join us for a fish dinner at Ed's on the Bay!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Devil is in the Details

I googled "the devil is in the details" this morning as a disconcerting train of thoughts led me to wonder about it.  The general interpretation is that when overlooked, the smallest details in a plan can cause the most damage.  Ignoring small details can lead to big trouble.  As a previous event planner, I can attest to the truth of this philosophy.

Unfortunately the thoughts that led me here were only that of my Superbowl plans for today.  I'm having just a few people over, and I started going through my mental checklist for what I need to do and what my timeline should be.  "Details," I thought, "Think through every little detail, Cynthia."  Without warning, that phrase "the devil is in the details" distressingly came to mind.

You see, even though I understand the meaning of this colloquialism, I'm afraid I have to apply it a bit more literally to my life.  Yes, I love to plan.  Yes, I am organized.  Yes, I try to prepare for every eventuality.  And though I am successful in pulling off events, parties, celebrations, and meetings without a hitch, along with the minute details comes an anxiety, worry, and perfectionism in me that I know is not Godly.  There is my devil, waiting in the wings - or on my shoulder, more accurately - whispering words of doubt and frustration in my ear so that my graciousness escapes me and leaves behind a sniping, nervous Nellie...attractive.

Yesterday's scripture reading was the passage of Jesus and the disciples, the loaves and the fishes.  I always identified most profoundly with the disciples' point of view here.  "What do you mean we're supposed to feed over 5,000 men with 5 loaves of bread and two fish?  What are we, miracle workers?"  Little did they know...

The disciples were nervous, anxious, and if I can further interpret from my own experience, getting somewhat bitter.  I've been there.  Yet the lesson here for the disciples - and me! - is that we cannot plan for everything in life.  It's impossible.  There will always be something unexpected to broadside us.  The trick is how we handle it when these little lessons come our way.  Are we going to question God?  Are we going to get angry and frustrated?  Are we going to shut down and deny the problem?  Or are we going to laughingly and trustingly call upon our God, who is with us every moment of every day, and ask, "God, I'm gonna need your help with this one.  Only You can help me handle this situation with grace, faith, and aplomb.  Only You can keep me calm and steady.  Only You can open my compassionate heart.  Only You can multiply the 'loaves and fishes.'  Go ahead and take over - I'm in Your hands."

So on this day of prayer and worship (plus football), I blow the devil off of my shoulder, put out a tray of crackers and hummus, make the hot artichoke dip if I get to it, kick off my shoes and enjoy my friends and family, graciously asking for help if it's needed - and ordering pizza (with sardines? they're fish after all) if more loaves and fishes are required.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

My Scripture reading this morning, Mark 6:1-6, is one which I have always found rather unremarkable in passages focusing on Jesus.  In it, Jesus journeys back to Nazareth, his homeland, and is preaching in the synagogue.  The people listening are astonished and condescendingly inquire as to how a "carpenter" could attain the kind of wisdom Jesus was displaying.  They took offense; they judged; He left.  Verse 6 says, "He was amazed at their lack of faith."  I used to close the reading of this passage with the thought, "Well whaddya think, Sherlock?  Why would you think they would have faith - most people were judging You at that time!"  (Terrible, I know...)  I would fantasize that things would have been different had I been there...that perhaps I would have recognized the Messiah without all the miracles and majesty.  (I know, the gall...)

For some reason this morning, however, verses 4 & 5 struck me dumb.  (Jesus said,)" 'A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.'  So He was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying His hands on them."  When I read the second part of this, I stopped short in fear.  Then to confirm my interpretation, I glanced down at the footnotes for 6:5:

"According to Mark, Jesus' power could not take effect because of a person's lack of faith." (My underline)

I felt nauseous.  Yes, exactly as I feared, the passage was talking about me...

For the times I believed in myself and my own gifts rather than the power of God's hand...
For the times when my anxiety and focus on worldly cares trumped my faith in His bigger plan for my life...
For the times when my anger, jealousy, judgment, stupidity, or carelessness hurt others rather than blessing them as He meant me to...
For the times I felt small and insignificant, unworthy and afraid, rather than the proud warrior He envisioned and created...

For these and other times, "Jesus' power could not take effect because of a person's lack of faith."  I have been that person.  How blind I have been.  How I mourn my losses.  How I endeavor to leave that person behind, leaning only on my faith for the miracles intended for my life and the lives of those I touch.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

G.O.D. Security Systems

My husband was out of town last night and even though we are more than sufficiently guarded at our house...locks, double locks, bolts,two big ol' watch dogs, security lights, etc...I have never liked the dark and always sleep restlessly while he is away.  I told my girlfriend this morning that with every creak and crack that our 60 year old house makes, I sit bolt upright in bed.  I know we are fine but there is just something about having my husband's massive 6' 4" inch frame next to me at night that makes me feel at peace.  Adding to my frustration is that the next day, I am exhausted and ineffectual which is stressful to me as I am concerned I will not have the energy necessary to function.

However, there are just days when God's message cannot be made clearer to me.  I read the following right after hanging up with my friend, so I must quote a large portion to you from my devotional passage:

"I am your strength and shield...I also provide the strength you need each step of the way.  Instead of assessing your energy level...concentrate on staying in touch with Me...Refuse to waste energy worrying, and you will have strength to spare.  Whenever you start to feel afraid, remember I am your shield.  But unlike inanimate armor, I am always alert and active..  My presence watches over you continually, protecting you from both known and unknown dangers.  Entrust yourself to My watchcare, which is the best security system available.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go."  (My italics and bold.)

How can I doubt that I am safe and protected?  I feel so comforted knowing that the next time I find myself without my husband in the house, I can rest assured that the massive, universally large figure of G.O.D. Security Systems is protecting us from every risk, always with our safety at heart.

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