Hold, On – Time is Flying By!

I can’t believe it’s 2018 already. Heck, I’m still trying to process the fact that we’re in the third millennium! Remember way back in 1999, when folks were all worried about the Y2k computer problem? Special committees were set up … Continue reading

A Seasonal Song for You

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This time of year, some of us are walking on eggshells, wondering if we are “allowed” to wish people a “Merry Christmas.” Is it more proper to say “Season’s Greetings,” or “Happy Holidays,” or perhaps, “Bah, humbug!”? I got news for ya’ folks. If it weren’t for Christmas, there would be no seasonal greetings needed, and also no holidays to be happy about. The “season” was built a long, long time ago, around Christmas! Yeah, there’s New Year’s Day, but…who cares about that?! This lowly holiday gets top billing only because it happens to come a week after Christmas, which is the holiday, and the reason for the “season!!” And folks have been using those different seasonal greetings for years, and they all refer mainly to Christmas, followed by that humble holiday who just happened to be lucky enough to tag along with the Star! (the Star……get it?!) When folks use those salutations of Season’s Greetings and/or Happy Holidays, they are, in fact, wishing you a Merry Christmas anyway…they just don’t realize it.

Here’s what it boils down to – you can offer to me whatever you like, by way of seasonal greeting, and I will sincerely thank you, and then wish you a Merry Christmas, BUT, I will only say that when Christmas is really here. Because here’s the next big surprise that will cause a wedgie in your “holiday” PJ’s…Christmas starts at midnight on Christmas Eve! It didn’t start shortly after Halloween, when the stores immediately clearanced the left-over Trick-or-Treat candy and set out the Christmas sweets, decorations, gift bags, Santa hats, Christmas socks, etc, etc. And, it didn’t start on Black Friday, when people got up hours before the sunrise and started the mad rush to buy gifts for everyone on their list. Nope! Christmas starts on the anniversary (or at least the date that has been traditionally celebrated, for nearly 2000 years, as the anniversary) of the birth of our Lord and Savior.

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So, while you’re all biting your tongue wondering what greeting to offer, I ask you to consider this new approach. Greet people within the confines of the correct season. I’ve decided that’s what I’m going to be doing. When someone tosses any of the above mentioned good wishes my way (or offers a greeting for any other holiday of their choosing), I am going to respond with this gem, “And a blessed Advent to you!” I don’t know why I didn’t think of this years ago, but, this little idea finally found a way to get my attention, and I am groovin’ on this ingenious concept! I no longer have to worry about whether or not to say Merry Christmas, because…., IT’S ADVENT!!

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I have spent the past few days standing in front of the mirror, practicing this response, and I think I have it down pat now. “A blessed Advent to you!” I even made up a little song, just for fun, and in the spirit of the season, I’m sharing it with you.

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I Wish You a Blessed Advent

(sung to the tune of, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”)

(refrain)

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

I wish you a bless-ed Advent,

Cuz it’s not Christmas yet.

 

Slow down and take time

To truly employ,

The gift of a holy Advent

And the coming of Joy!

(repeat refrain)

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That was my early Christmas gift to you and, yes, I am still allowed to say the word Christmas – I’m not being a tyrannical scrooge, here! If you go Christmas caroling, go ahead and sing the word Christmas at the top of your lungs, but just keep in mind, we’re still waiting for Christmas to arrive. Once it does, I’ll be wishing people a Merry Christmas for at least a couple of weeks, maybe even until Epiphany, and folks will look at me like I’ve lost my marbles, not even realizing that they are being liturgically incorrect by packing the Christmas albums away the day after Christmas! At any rate, right now, in December, we should all be preparing our hearts to genuinely rejoice and celebrate the birthday of Jesus at the proper time. And that, my friends, is what this season of Advent is all about – not shopping, not parties, not gift exchanges, not decking the halls….just waiting, and watching, in the still of the night, as though we were lowly shepherds in the field, always on the alert for the sound of angel voices. They always come when you least expect them, but only if you find a quiet place, and take the time to listen. So….embrace your own holy and blessed Advent, while there’s still time.

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The Art of Being Useless

My latest hobby is the practice of accomplishing next to nothing. I didn’t plan it out this way. Just over a month ago, I was still a contributing member of society, but now, I am a game-playing, movie-watching, book-reading cat … Continue reading

Where Love Has Led

When I was young, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would usually say, “A comedian!” And, although I never made it to the big stage, I am definitely a full-fledged, freelance (read, “unpaid”) comedian. If you need proof, just ask my friends. Everyone I know (with a respectable sense of humor) thinks that I am funny. Or….maybe they just laugh at me because they don’t know what else to do with me. Either way, I’m happy – as long as I can get folks laughing, or at least cracking a smile.

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As the years went on, though, the what do you wanna be question was answered rather randomly, just because: a) I really had no idea what all of my options were, or b) I was basing my answer on my current preoccupation. So my response would jump around, from comedian to veterinarian, from bakery chef to writer, from actress to librarian, and finally to photographer, because that was where my interest was when the time came to choose a school. The truth is, though, that I had only one true longing for my life, and it was this….getting married and having/raising children. I can hear the collective GASP! Who would have guessed that a child of the 60’s and 70’s could harbor such a traditional longing? This was the age of women’s liberation, the dawning of Aquarius, the far-out, groovy era of turning your back on the established order of home-life, job, and family. A sacramental, life-long commitment to one person?! Bah! Being open to children, when “free-love,” contraception, and abortion-on-demand was all the rage?! Humbug! I know….what was I thinking?! But, you see, despite the flagrant distractions of the modern culture, my ongoing confusion, and a lack of parental guidance, I still had a great advantage. Because of my baptism, I had the Holy Spirit and my Guardian Angel watching out for me, and leading me gently on, a million missteps notwithstanding.

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All that time, when I was wandering around as a young woman, mixed-up by what the culture was telling me and by what I thought I should be, God (who is Love) was guiding me gently along, there to pick me up when my poor choices had me meandering off of the trail, dangling off of cliffs, or stranded in deep crevasses.

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While in photography school, Love led me to my husband. Almost right away, the Holy Spirit whispered into my ear, “This is the one I have chosen for you.” I listened to those words from Love, and flirted and joked my way right into that crazy man’s heart. (He had a wacky sense of humor, too, one of the first things that attracted me to him. That, and….he was quite handsome!) Even though we were both still caught up in the “misleadings” of our time, we traveled on together, while Love walked closely beside, his hand ever upon us, his wise counsel silently piloting our steps.

We were married in 1982, with a dispensation from the Catholic Church (of which my husband-to-be was a member) to be married in a Baptist Church, in which I had spent almost my entire childhood. Less than two years later, when I realized we weren’t really making it to church every week (my plan had been to switch back and forth, one week at a Baptist Church, next week at Catholic Mass, and so on), I convinced myself (through Love’s inspiration) that I would be willing to attend a Catholic church every week, if it meant we would actually get to church every Sunday. It worked, and, after eight months or so of full immersion, I was hooked. I wanted to learn about the Catholic faith, and be able to receive Holy Communion every Sunday, with my husband (who had now embraced his faith as an adult, and was living it fully). In the summer of 1984, I received the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. From there, it was parish retreats (and Love, of course!) that led us deeper into our faith and gifted us with new, Catholic friends. Three years later, we were excitedly awaiting the birth of our first daughter. Even with serious medical complications, we went on to have two more daughters, trusting in Love for protection and aid.

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Because motherhood had been my deepest longing, I was one of those “all-hands-on-deck” kind of moms – staying home most days with them, while working a couple of days a week with my husband in his (by then) own photo studio. The two older girls went off to school before our third one had joined us, and I did everything – room mom, cupcake baker, party planner, you-name-it. I was at the school almost every day, willing to stay and help if needed…until the end of the fifth year, because Love began calling me to an ever deeper level. We pulled the girls out of school to follow the counter-cultural call to home schooling. (It’s hard to pick the absolute best thing about this choice, there were so many – no more rushed mornings, or piles of paperwork and fundraising efforts from the school; we could work at each child’s own pace, using my creativity and problem-solving skills at full-throttle; we met other Catholic homeschoolers and became more deeply immersed in the study of our faith….the list goes on and on!) We loved every minute of it (well, okay…you got me – almost every minute!). When people would ask me (and they did, often), “How can you stand spending all that time with your kids?!” I was left uncharacteristically speechless. It had never occurred to me that moms would not want to be with their children as much as possible! But, Love had called me to this life choice, and through it all, he was there, closer than ever before, still nudging us ever forward.

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And, now, thanks to Love never giving up on me, my husband and I have celebrated 35 years of marriage. We have raised three incredibly awesome daughters, and are blessed with 5 grandchildren (two of whom are already in heaven, due to miscarriage in early pregnancy). Our sixth grandchild is due in late October (from our “northern contingent), and we just returned from four glorious days of visiting with them. Such sweet joy our family gives to us!

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Some days, when I am not distracted by worldly concerns (like continued breast cancer survival and related health issues, paying the bills, worrying about my children, arguing with my husband about something stupid, etc), I can spend the entire day just basking in the glow of “my” success. But, right about the time I’m busy patting myself on the back, I’ll find myself falling off another of those pesky cliffs, making a hard and painful landing, right into the arms of Love. And with that harsh reminder, I will once again swallow my pride, and allow Love to lead, because his plan has always proved to be better than mine, and will always be best in the future. Lead on, Love – I’m right behind you! (Ummmm…on second thought, knowing me, maybe you’d better just push from behind, where you can keep your eye on me!)

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Weathering the Storms of Life

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As a country, we’ve been going through the valley lately, experiencing some pretty serious hardship. In our lifetime (despite all of mankind’s advances in science and technology), most of us will face some sort of calamity or painful loss, possibly even catastrophic destruction, sometimes individually, sometimes as a community at large, sometimes as a nation. The United States of America has just endured the one-two knockout punch of back-to-back destructive hurricanes. Add to that the tragic, widespread fires out west, the anniversary of the indescribable terror of 9/11, and the crippling division being displayed amongst our citizenry, and…yeah, we could definitely quote Charles Dickens’ opening line in A Tale Of Two Cities (one of my all-time favorite novels, which I highly recommend, if you’ve never read it!), “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We have “it all,” and yet we are finding (more and more often, it seems) that it can all be taken away in a heartbeat. The question is, will we confront these challenges facing inward, focusing only on ourselves and our own problems, or facing outward, together, with a disposition of serving others? In other words, will we allow it to make us stronger, more compassionate, and united, or reduce us to an outraged, bitter, broken people? From what I have seen, so far, from the stories of people reaching out to help, sending money, praying unceasingly – most of us have opted for the healthy and fruitful orientation.

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The absolute best perspective on all of this tragedy comes from an (almost) unbelievably sweet and adorable couple, who I know you have all heard about since Twitter (whose existence I usually refuse to acknowledge) is apparently abuzz with the news of these people. I am referring, of course, to Irma and Harvey Schluter, the elderly couple from Spokane, WA (ages 92 and 104, respectively), whose story has been shared on every reliable (and, otherwise) news source since last Friday when the story first broke.

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These are two remarkable people, who survived the challenges of World War II, had three children, and then fostered over one hundred more children. If the story stopped here, that would be enough, but Irma and Harvey also offered some sage advice. This amazing couple (who are still in love and still relatively healthy, with minds as sharp as tacks) shared these pearls of wisdom from their years of commitment and sacrifice:

“Each one’s gotta have love,” says Harvey.

“That, and faith,” adds Irma, “Two things that were here before and will be here after (the other Harvey and Irma pass from history).”

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THAT’S IT, PEOPLE!! Yes, it’s as simple as that! That’s all we need to get through this – faith and love. (And, yes, they are referring to faith in God, because that is their history and their personal motivation – they even taught Sunday school classes together! – and it is what facilitates a growth in self-sacrificing love.) As a former foster-parent of two children, I know, without a doubt, that welcoming one hundred & twenty foster children into your home (and doing the job with the proper spirit) requires a supernatural “inpouring” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and authentic love (spelled out by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 13). If we open our hearts and our lives to embrace these truths, we will weather the storms of life, no matter how widespread and devastating they might be, and we will do it together. And together (i.e., hand-in-hand, united, with one voice, committed to one another, in concert, linked together, etc, etc.) is where we need to be right now. More “storms” are on the horizon, some we can see, some not even on our radar, but they are there, and they will come. Will we face them together, or separated; in a spirit of “love thy neighbor,” or a spirit of “I’m right, you’re wrong, and I will hate and mistreat you because your beliefs don’t jive with mine”? The choice is ours, and our choice will decide our ultimate fate. As for me and my family, we’re gonna follow the example of our country’s “very own, real-life, time-tested” duo, Irma and Harvey, from Spokane. I speak from personal experience when I say: Love, rooted in faith, will build an effective fortress, a sturdy stronghold, in which we can withstand the onslaught of any and all storms that head our way. Let’s keep building….together!

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Utensils vs U-turns

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My recent explorations of life have led me to yet another fork in the road, and it got me to thinking…..why, in our excursion of earthly existence, do we never come to U-turns? It would be so nice just to have the option to hang a 180 louie, and go back to where we had that first little inkling that we were lost, but no, that never happens. Instead, we amble on aimlessly, with the GPS disabled, until THE FORK is suddenly upon us, and strenuous selection is required. I also find myself wondering why we never come to a spoon in the road, or a knife? Personally, if I happened across a spoon in the road, I would interpret it as a message to stop for tea, or perhaps a bowl of ice cream. In other words, a spoon would be an obvious sign to stop for refreshment, so….., now that I think of it, I’ve had lotsa spoons in my life’s trek. I can’t say the same for knives, though. If I came to a knife in the road, I might consider it a sign of danger, time to turn back or keep a watchful eye as I journey on. Unless it happened to be merely a butter knife, in which case I would begin to get a craving for some toast. But if, by chance, it was a machete, I would definitely pick it up, because… I know myself well, and after I wander down the wrong road for quite a while, and the truth finally dawns on me (plus, considering the lack of u-turns), I could, possibly, use the machete to hack my way through the heavy forest underbrush to the proper path.

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Unfortunately though, the only utensil in my present passage is a fork, and, in my experience, forks always seem to make an appearance in the woods, where a murky dimness permeates the locale, and clear vision is compromised. Wherever it happens to show up, a fork definitely calls for some discernment and prayer, because it’s decision-making time. Should I take the left tine, or the right tine, or can I just plop down where I am and refuse to budge? Sometimes it’s very challenging, because we don’t always have an indication of where the branching tines might lead. There are times when we think that we are able to make a fairly reliable guess regarding where each path might convey us, at least for the first few miles, but paths seem to have a mind of their own, and like to head south just when we least expect it. If I were a poet (which I just might be), and two diverging tracks stood before me, I’d take “the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost recommends this route, and since he happens to be one of my favorite poets, I am apt to think of him at a time like this. Actually, I think (in my more mature years), I HAVE taken the road less traveled….or perhaps, with my obsession for alliteration, I’d call it the fork frequented by the fewest. Oh there were times, of course, when my goal was to be one of the lemmings, to travel in the rush hour horde of the “in-crowd,” but I left those days behind a long, long time ago. For many years now, I have preferred my own, singular brand of “coolness,” and believe me, in my desire to embrace my uniqueness, and follow the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I feel more trendsetting now than I ever did before (sans hipster clothes, flashy car, daily lattes, or perfectly plucked, big eyebrows).

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I digress, however, from my current crisis of utensil impediment. The choices are clear, in the sense that, it’s one way, or the other. But, a life of faith means that I am never alone in the matter of arduous appraisal. God has blessed me with many gifts to ease my burdensome backpack, as I navigate this earthly passage. I have a lamp for my feet, and a light unto my path (which seems rather redundant to me, but that’s a Psalm writer for ya’). And just in case that’s not enough, I have a heavenly appointed Guardian Angel, just waiting to be called upon for assistance. Should these ministrations not be quite sufficient, I have a Blessed Mother in heaven who loves me dearly, and is always willing to do what a mother does best, if I would simply run into her arms. Top that off with a multitudinous cloud of witnesses on my side (Hebrews 12:1, referring to all those saints who have gone before us and live now in heaven), how can I possibly go wrong….IF…, I can still my heart, toss aside my egoism, and just listen! Which is exactly what I did at Mass this past Sunday. I finally remembered to turn my spiritual GPS unit back on, and Christ touched my heart so clearly and profoundly that I was moved to tears. My choice was then confirmed by those in my life whom I love and trust the most, and with this group of like-minded sojourners, whose prayers continually lift me up, I have taken the first step down the trail upon which I surely must trod. I will not flinch, will not look back, because my heart is at peace, and my merry band of travelers walks with me, down my very own mystically lighted lane, which has become my only TRUE & HOLY choice. I travel now in tranquility, surrounded on all sides by comfort, protection, and assurance, as indicated by the beautiful words of this Irish lady’s favorite Emerald Isle saint. How can we possibly go wrong in such company?! Vaya con Dios!

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Donning the Mimi Millinery

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My grandma status is suddenly skyrocketing into the higher ranks. A little over two weeks ago, my middle daughter and her husband welcomed a foster child into their home. They are recently certified foster parents, and this is their first placement. He is a precious little peanut, and “my” first baby boy.

(Well, not exactly my first, because eleven years ago, my husband and I were foster parents of two adorable siblings, Evan and Larissa. Evan was only six months old when he came to us, and he did become my boy for a while. He formed a very strong attachment to me [and, vice-versa!]. Larissa was almost two, and cute as a button. They blessed [and challenged] our lives for one year, and then went back to their mama, which was a very difficult transition for Evan and me. I remained in contact with the birth mom and the kids for a short time after that, but it was just so hard on the little guy, when I would come to visit and then leave him again, that I decided it was best to step away, for his sake. A year later, their grandma called me out of the blue, to see if we would be willing to take them back into our home again, and consider adopting them. By that time, I was deep in the throes of my chemotherapy side effects, and was in pretty bad shape. I didn’t even know if I would beat the cancer, let alone survive the chemo. The scars in my heart ached afresh, as I told her that there was no way we could do it. I felt absolutely terrible that we could not take these children back into our home, and I struggled for a long time to see the purpose in all of that heartbreak and sorrow. It was difficult not to look at our fostering experience as a stupid, useless mistake. However, I know that God’s ways are not always understood by someone like me [i.e, stubborn, prideful, shortsighted, etc.], and so I have clung to the hope that we did make a difference in their lives, and I still pray for those two children every day. And now, my daughter & son-in-law’s call to foster parenting leads me to believe that I am witnessing some of the fruitful harvest of that perplexing time of love and loss. I’m sure that our sacrifice led to more benefit than I will ever come to know in this life, but seeing just a bit of it is definitely a consoling reward.)

So, anyway, here I am now, ten years after our own fostering experience, finding myself blessed to be the foster Mimi of a beautiful boy. I fell in love with him instantly, and can think of no better pastime these days than holding him in my arms while he sleeps peacefully. (Good thing for him that it’s an hour drive to his house, or else he would be getting awfully tired of his Mimi hanging around constantly!) In the meantime, my oldest daughter and her husband, living in the northern realms of the U.S.A., are expecting my third granddaughter. (Plus, they have two little ones in heaven, who we never got to meet, and I do count them in my grandchild total, too!) That branch of our family tree, having recently purchased a used, pop-up camper, decided to squeeze in a last-minute trip to our neck of the woods to visit the new addition. It was a call to arms for this Mimi – “Man your battle stations, rearrange all the furniture, move the cats out of the spare room, drag out the inflatable mattresses, clear off the shelves of the local grocery, dig out all of the kid’s old toys, and buy some earplugs….the boughs of this family tree are temporarily swinging back towards the trunk!”

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I proudly added another stripe to my Mimi hat, publicly announcing my promotion. I looked pretty sharp, all dressed up in my foremother finery. I had all the plans laid out in my mind, all my kids and grandkids tucked snuggly into their nighttime positions, everyone I love, all under my roof when I go to bed each night…but then, a big “reality windstorm” hit and blew the Mimi hat right off of my head. As it turns out, Fourth of July in our neighborhood is truly an authentic reenactment of a revolutionary war battle. It is not a safe and quiet place for overnights, especially in a far-from-soundproof, flammable camper. Before the battle became too intense for us, our company’s Minnesota arm swung to the west, to our property in Indiana. The Dayton brigade was able to join us for a couple of nights, but then had to return home (there are strict rules about transporting foster children into “enemy territory,” and they only had a 2-day leave to be out of their county). At least I had them under my roof for a while, but that other company went awol, deciding to remain at our personal campground outpost. Now, I had to give up my comfy bed, and all the other comforts of home, to go and be with them. I kicked and screamed and put up a good, toddler-sized fuss, but they are too experienced with these things. They gave me a time-out and a good talking-to, and went on with their plans. SIGH……

The little ones have had a wonderful time, with Papa teaching the 3 year old to fish and shoot archery. Both of them got to take a rowboat ride with Papa and Daddy, and playing in the bountiful supply of fresh mole hills has been a pile of messy, home-spun fun. It’s nice and quiet out there, with no noisy, alarming fireworks to contend with (although we did notice a few on the horizon, once or twice).

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And (you may be wondering) what has Mimi been doing? I have been shopping, several times, for lots of groceries; I’ve slept several nights in an uncomfortable camper bed (with a home visit every third night, just to catch up on sleep and showering); and I have enjoyed immensely this precious time spent with my granddaughters (especially the 21 month old, whose vocabulary has taken off like a bottle rocket during her time here with us). And, when time permits, I have been working on my Mimi hat, trying to dust it off and get all the dents and wrinkles out of it, so it will be presentable the next time I have to wear it. But, then again…., maybe Mimi hats are better with a few dents and wrinkles, and lots of learning-to-go-with-the-flow. So maybe tomorrow, when the northern contingent pulls out, I will put the hat into millinery storage, count my blessings from this adventurous visit, and thank God for my beautiful family, all held safely under His far-reaching roof, each and every night.

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