Thursday, September 28, 2006

Experiencing Joy

"Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days." - Psalm 90:14

Sr. Mary Charleen Hug, S.N.D. writing in today's Living Faith reflection encourages us to reflect on what it means to have joy as opposed to what it means to have fleeting moments of happiness.

For me, Joy is . . .

having a small bit of quiet time in the morning before the boys are up to say my prayers.

having my boys snuggled up next to me as we read stories together.

feeling the warm sun on my face as I push the boys on the swings in our backyard.

seeing how peaceful the boys look when they are sleeping.

going out for a walk on a beautiful day.

crashing into bed after a long day, with my husband beside me, knowing that all is right with our tiny little corner of the world.

Happy Blogiversary!

My blog is 1 year old today! Thank you for sharing this year with me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Bernie took the boys to his parents' house this evening and I was left with a couple glorious hours of "alone time." I began by weeding my garden, turning over the soil, and planting some tulip and daffodil bulbs. It was so beautiful outside - warm and sunny. I was actually in a t-shirt and shorts! I was just in my glory. It felt so good to be doing some manual labor and working with the earth. Plus, it is such an act of hope. I know that in the spring, after all the cold and snow, I will be so looking forward to those first green shoots pushing through the ground.

After about an hour and an half, I came inside and got changed. When I was in my room, my box full of my journals caught my eye. I have a horrible memory, and thankfully, I realized that when I was relatively young. I wanted to be able to remember what it was like to be a teenager. I began keeping a journal a few days after my 15th birthday. My parents had given me a "blank book" for Christmas. It is without a doubt the best present I ever received. Now I have about 15 of those journals. I tend to write once a week these days, mostly updates on what the boys are doing. I have always figured that I would give them to a granddaughter someday. I know - it's awfully presumptious of me to think that I will have a granddaughter considering that my parents have 7 grandsons! Still, I would have loved to have such an insight into my own grandmother's life (or even my parents' lives). We get such an edited version of our parents' and grandparents' lives. It would be wonderful to know what really happened and what life was like for them.

This evening I dug down deep into my box for that first blank book from long ago. It covers 2 1/2 years of my life from the end of December 1989 through July 1992, right before I started college. I sat down and read it cover to cover. There were so many events I had completely forgotten about. There were people I could barely remember. Tucked into the pages were love letters, including one very special one that had been taped inside my locker the spring of my sophomore year of high school. The writer has probably long since forgotten writing it, but it was beautiful and it is something I have treasured all these years. Written onto those pages was boy trouble and more boy trouble, and more teenage angst than one person should have in a lifetime! "Mentally stable" would not have been the term used to describe me in those days.

I read about my nephews, who were little boys then and are grown men now. I read about fights with my mother and my dread of going to college. I read about my plans of writing the great American novel and creating world-renown art - no one can say I didn't dream big! Reading it though, I started to wonder if I would actually want anyone reading those pages. I'm old enough now to be embarassed by my youth. In fact, the thought crossed my mind that I should actually throw those old journals away. I can't do it, though. Too much of my heart and soul and yes, even teenage angst, was poured into them. I also realize that life is a journey and those days were part of mine. Hopefully, my yet-to-be born granddaughter will realize that as well.

I enjoyed my trip down memory lane. I can't help but wonder, though, if my fifty year old self will look back at the words I write now and be equally embarassed. If only we could get the wisdom of age without actually having to age! Unfortunately, life isn't like that and we can only write from where we are today.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

And the Last Shall Be First

"If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all."
Mark 10:35

I was at a meeting today and struck up a conversation with a woman sitting nearby. We were talking about what it is we do. She remarked that she was a teacher but was taking a year off to care for her mother-in-law who had cancer. She also had three children - all in their teens! What an amazing woman, and what a testament to the Gospel passage above.

Lessons from St. Therese

St. Therese's feast day is coming up on October 1. I just posted a new article on Lessons from St. Therese

Friday, September 22, 2006

Reality Check

It is so easy to get caught up in one's own financial reality, especially when the pile of bills seems to outweigh the income. However, I was reading an article in the paper today on world population which said that nearly 50% of the world lives in poverty and 20% of people are suffering from malnutrition. That just seems so unfathomable to me. By the simple virtue of my birth, I have had the opportunity to have so much. I have so much to be thankful for and so much responsibility to help out those less fortunate.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New Website Updates

I just posted two new articles:

Helping Your Children Grow in a Sinful World

Naming Your Baby After a Saint


The one on naming your baby reminded me of how I got my own name. My mother had always liked the name Patrice, especially because it rhymed with my sister's name - Therese. However, she wasn't sure if it was a saint's name until she went on a trip up to Canada and found Rue St. Patrice (St. Patrice Street) so when I was young I would always tell people I was named after a street sign in Canada!

As for my own children, they are named for the Biblical David and Isaac but there are several St. David's and at least one St. Isaac that I know of so I think that they are covered!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Dominican Tradition

I just posted a new book review on The Dominican Tradition by Thomas McGonigle and Phyllis Zagano.

St. Paul on Love

Today's 1st reading comes from St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians and is on what love is. Of all the writers in all the world who have tried to put love into words, I think that St. Paul comes closest to what that ideal love should be. The text is familiar and is commonly used at weddings, but I invite you to take some time with the passage to truly ponder it and its implications for our relationships.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Celebrating our Giftedness

"Now you are Christ's body, and individually parts of it. Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, administration, and varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work mighty deeds? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak? Do all interpret? Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts." 1 Corinthians 13:27-31

St. Paul tells us that we are all part of Christ's body and that we all have some gift we can bring to the table as an offering and a means of helping the church (also known as "the people of God.") It is wonderful to watch people who are gifted in certain areas putting their talents to use. When people use their gifts, other people are enriched by their actions.

For example, David's new soccer coach is wonderful. I had heard high praise for her before he joined the team and I have been just as impressed. A mother of three boys and a lawyer by day, she interacts so well with these kids. She is organized, knowledgable about the sport, and cares about the children. We are lucky to have her.

The same holds true for the woman who runs our Religious Education program and our Pastoral Minister. These two women are just so good at what they do. They touch people's lives on a daily basis. We have had other people in these positions in the past who have been extremely well-meaning and competent and gave all that they had to the jobs, but the two we currently have are truly gifted in the areas they work in. These are the jobs they were meant to do.

It can be hard though to find where our own particular brand of giftedness fits in. Sometimes we don't find the perfect job or volunteer opportunity to utilize those gifts. Sometimes we just feel like square pegs sitting in round holes. I know I get that sense about myself on occasion. For example, I am on my parish council. I really don't know what benefit I bring to this group but I am trying to do my best with it.

When it comes to Religious Education, I try to do no harm. I tried teaching children in the past and it was a disaster. I do wonderful with adults and with my own children. I look at a group of other people's children and I have nothing to say. So, when my director of religious education approached me to help out last year, I agreed to volunteer as a teacher's assistant. I can pass out papers and art supplies, take children to the bathroom, help answer questions about the project we are working on, etc. Here I can be useful. The woman actually doing the teaching, on the other hand, does have a gift for teaching.

I feel that my gifts are in my writing ability. I hope that people benefit from them and that this is my small way of helping the church. Yet, even then, sometimes it's hard to know. It's wonderful when someone takes the time to write to say that I've helped them in some way and absolutely lousy when, like today, my mail brings a rejection letter which stated that my ideas just aren't "exciting" or "unusual" enough. I'll keep on, though, because at least here I feel like I'm where I belong. So thank you for letting me share my gifts (modest though they may be) with you. And I hope that you, too, find a place where you can make the most of the gifts God has given you.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Taking Up the Cross

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus tells us "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34) What are the crosses in your life? Depending on our own particular vocation and stage of life, we each have our own challenges.

My mother used to tell me that the day we get married, we pick up our cross! While that may be an unusually negative view of marriage from a woman who has been married to her high school sweetheart for over forty years, there is some truth to the statement. Marriage involves giving up oneself for another. Love means putting your spouse first. Ideally, this goes both ways, with the husband sacrificing for the good of the wife and the wife sacrificing for the good of the husband. But life is not ideal, and it often seems like one party is giving up more for the other. (Ironically if you ask both parties in a marriage, both will probably maintain he or she is doing most of the giving!) Add children to the mix and the need for sacrifice grows even more. Love requires it.

It sometimes seems as if many people forget that component of marriage. People want the joy and companionship of marriage but they don't want the work. They don't want to give up any of their individuality. They don't want to put the marriage before their own needs or desires.

But Jesus tells us that following him means giving ourselves up and accepting the challenges that come our way with a willing heart. He calls us to love as He loved - completely. For those of us who are married, we love Jesus and follow Jesus when we love our spouses and children. When we clean the house for the umpteenth time, take out the trash, make dinner, do the dishes, change diapers, nurse broken hearts and kiss away boo-boos, we are serving and loving Jesus. When we put aside something we wanted to work on in order to read a book or play a game with our children, we are serving and loving Jesus. When we listen and truly pay attention to our spouse talk about the joys and sorrows of his or her day, we are serving and loving Jesus.

We do not need to search for our cross. There are a hundred opportunities in every day to deny ourselves and serve another. Jesus is calling us to love fully and completely. In doing so, we follow His lead.

David's 1st Soccer Game

David had his first soccer game today. I have to say, I enjoy watching soccer much more than I enjoyed his t-ball games. T-ball involved very little action. At least this has kids running all the time and there are things to cheer for on a regular basis. It is also shorter than T-ball - a big plus with Isaac repeatedly saying "Please can we go home!" For the record, David's team won 3-2 and the boy had a great time running around chasing after the ball.

The Mother Who Cleans Up the Mess

I love this new article by Pat Gohn I just posted on my website - primarily because I am so domestically challenged myself. Check it out!

The Father Who Sees in Secret (and the Mother Who Cleans Up the Mess!)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Gutenberg would be proud

3 1/2 year old Isaac loves words, especially big words. His love affair started with a Charlie Brown book that contained the word "acetylcholinesterase." My mother than introduced him to the perennial favorite - "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from "Mary Poppins." His latest hobby is to sit down with the dictionary and pick out big words and have me write them down on a piece of paper for him. Then, he will take these same words and use his letter magnets on the refrigerator to spell them out, or he will have me spell them out on the floor using lincoln logs or change from his piggy bank. These words go across our entire living room.

Well, yesterday he decided he was going to move on to a paragraph in a "how-to" manual he was looking at and he went to the refrigerator to attempt to spell that. Unfortunately, he didn't have enough magnets. So, this morning at computer time, I told him he could type out his paragraph. And sure enough, he did. He looked up letter after letter and typed it in. Ofcoursehewriteslikethis with no spacing, but still, I told Bernie if they still had manual typesetters, I could get that boy a job!

Our Lady of Sorrows

Today is the feast of our Lady of Sorrows. The words of Simeon must have echoed throughout Mary's life - "and you yourself a sword will pierce" - Luke 2:35
While Mary's sorrows were certainly unique in human history, I think all mothers can relate to the "Mater Dolorosa." At some point all of us will be hurt as a result of our love for our children. Love and pain often go together. To love completely is to allow oneself to be hurt. It hurts to see our children in pain, whether that pain be physical or emotional. It hurts to see our children make bad decisions or to struggle with the challenges that life gives them. Yes, motherhood can bring great joy, but the sorrows run just as deep. In those times of need, we can turn to Mary for comfort and understanding.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Crazy Pace of Life

I was finishing up reading "No Greater Love" by Mother Teresa and came across this passage:

"Everybody seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater development and greater riches. Children have very little time for their parents and parents have very little time for their children and for each other. So the breakdown of peace in the world begins at home."

This is just so true. I see it in my friends' families and it is no one person's fault. These are good parents. There is just this push to have children involved in everything so that they won't be left behind in any area. Children have lost the time to daydream, to play, to just be, or even to make a meaningful contribution to the family because they just aren't around to do so. Meanwhile, parents (often both of whom are working outside the home) act as cheuffeurs and social calendar schedulers. The whole thing is just so crazy. Spending time together is the most valuable thing we can do as a family. We should guard that time much more carefully.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Hidden Life of Stay-at-Home Moms

I was watching my local diocesan news program, "Real to Reel" last night. They were interviewing new teachers and principals as they were beginning the new school year. There was also a piece on Elms College, my alma mater and former place of employment, as they were forging new collaborations with the diocese and the lay ministry program. As I watched, I couldn't help but want to be involved in some way. Sometimes it is hard as a stay-at-home mom to watch the world go by and feel like you can't really be a part of it.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not lacking in things to do. The thought "I'm bored" hasn't crossed my mind in years. I have my two boys who keep me busy every hour they are awake (and sometimes in the middle of the night!) I have my writing and my website (http://www.spiritualwoman.net). I do some freelance web design when it comes my way. I am also involved in my parish. Religious Education is starting up next week which will once again find me helping out in fourth grade. I am on Parish Council this year, and on the Technology Committee for my son's school. My "To-Do" list is overflowing.

Still, being a mom is not a much-appreciated profession. The question "What do you do?" or "Do you work?" can make me cringe, especially when asked by former classmates or former work colleagues. It is as if I feel the need to justify my life, because of the sense that someone with a Master's Degree shouldn't be spending their life at home. Over the past five years, however, I have become more comfortable with my stay-at-home mom status; more convinced that what I do does matter. My children need me and love me. They know I am always there for them. I have seen how quickly being a baby turns into going to Kindergarten, and I am glad that I got to be there for the whole process.

I read somewhere recently how Jesus stayed at home for 30 years before transforming the world with his three years of ministry. He knew he had this tremendous job to do, yet he was content to work quietly in Nazareth supporting his mother until the time was right for him to step into the limelight. Mothers are like that. We willingly stay out of the limelight for a while. Yes, the world does continue to go on without us and sometimes we may wish we could play a more prominent role, but God has a plan for each of us. It may be that I will spend many years in relative anonymity - just another mom at the park or the pick-up line in school. I will no doubt continue to cringe as people ask what it is that I do. Yet, I know what I do is important. I am helping in some small way through my children to shape the future. My life may be hidden, but I am where I belong. God knows that and in the end, His is the only opinion that matters.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Mary's Birthday

Today we commemorate Mary's Birthday, a reminder that, like all of us, Mary started out as a baby. Up to the time she was 12 or 13, she probably lived a very ordinary life. And then, Boom, an angel showed up, Mary said "yes" and everything changed forever.

God is like that. You can be going along enjoying your rather ordinary life and all of a sudden, God throws a wrench in the plans. God sends us on a mission or sends us a new set of challenging circumstances that will in some way help make us a better person. We have to believe that we too are called to say "yes" to whatever it is God is asking from us today. God knows what is best for us. We need to let go and trust.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Words on Peace from Mother Teresa

I'm reading "No Greater Love" by Mother Teresa for a writing project I'm working on. I came across this passage today which seems especially relevant:

"Peace and war start within one's own home. If we really want peace for the world, let us start by loving one another within our families. Sometimes it is hard for us to smile at one another. . .

In order for love to be genuine, it has to be above all a love for our neighbor. We must love those who are nearest to us, in our own family. From there, love spreads toward whoever may need us."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

One down, 179 to go

David had his first day of school today. Amazingly, he left happy and came home happy. He said he made two new friends - one boy and one girl, although he did not know what their names were! He was all excited that they consider him a "OC" - meaning "Oldest Child" so he gets all important papers that need to come home to our family. So, all went well for him at school and for Isaac and I at home. Hopefully day #2 will go as well.

Article on Domestic Abuse

Many thanks to Heidi Hess Saxton, editor of Canticle Magazine for allowing me to share this article on When Abuse Hits Home: How to Help a Victim of Domestic Violence. It is such an important issue that touches so many families.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The challenge of raising "Good Catholic Boys"

I am very thankful for my boys. As much as I wanted to have daughters when I was younger, I truly believe God knew what he was doing when he sent me David and Isaac and now I can't honestly imagine bringing up a little girl (although if that bridge comes someday, I'm sure God will give me the grace to cross it!).

Still, boys have their own challenges, not the least of which is to raise them with their faith intact. Somehow it is more acceptable for girls and women to pray and be involved in church activities. Being a "Good Catholic Boy" is in no way considered cool. I am always impressed when I see teenage and young adult men in Church. They are few and far between but it gives me hope for my own two children that maybe, just maybe, they won't succomb to the societal pressure to toss their faith by the wayside as they get older. Even though I am sending them to Catholic school, I know that pressure will still be there. I went to Catholic school for all of my education and in the process met very few boys involved with their faith. While hopefully they believed in God, most weren't involved with Church at all. I never dated a young man who went to Church of his own accord, although they were willing to go to date me (one of my parents' rules). While I firmly believe I was meant to marry Bernie (I certainly prayed hard enough to make the right decision) and he faithfully if somewhat unenthusiastically comes to Church with us every week, I sometimes think it would have been nice to marry someone who shared my commitment to having a deep relationship with God. Some of my friends at Church have husbands who do have that commitment and I think it is such a wonderful blessing.

That is what I want for my sons. I want them to have an active faith life. I want them to go to Church on Sundays because they want to be there. I want them to give to the poor and do community service because it is the right thing to do. I want them to be proud of their faith and have it be an integral part of who they are. I know I have my work cut out for me, and I know I can't do it alone. I need God's help bigtime, and even with that help, I know that David and Isaac still have free will and may choose a different path. All I can do is pray, provide a good example, and hope for the best.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Power of Our Words

Yesterday I lectored for the last time at my parish. I have been a lector for just about as long as I have been able to read, beginning with school masses at my Catholic grammar school and then at age 16 as an "official" lector at Sunday masses. When I joined my current parish after I got married, I was eager to continue this ministry. However, God has now called me to new roles in my parish community and I don't want to take more time than I have to away from my family; something had to go.

Still, it was with a heavy heart that I went to Church last night. I have always enjoyed lectoring. 99% of the time, my lectoring goes unnoticed which is how it should be. The focus should be on the Word of the Lord, not on who is proclaiming it. Yet, last night, God spoke through some of my fellow parishioners in my hour of need. Three different people commented on how well I lector - one before mass, one during mass, and one after. None of the three knew this was my last day, and yet their words meant so much to me. It was if God was saying, "You have done a good job. Go in peace."

Our words can often have an effect far beyond that which we may intend. God can speak through our words to share love and consolation with other people. It is so easy to offer a kind word to someone and brighten their day in the process. With our families, we can use our words to build up, rather than tear down. If a criticism must be offered, it can be done with kindness rather than anger. We can offer praise and encouragement whenever possible. We can say "I love you," "I appreciate you," and "I'm glad that you are here." We can say "Thank you," and when needed, "I'm sorry." A harsh word, once spoken, can never be taken back, but by the same token, a kind word can live forever. Our words have power. Use them wisely.