Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who Needs A Trendy Tree?

Our Homey Hodge-Podge of Old & New Memories Can't Be Beat

My daughter and I made wooden ornaments like this one,
using markers and glue pens.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I had a carefully balanced mix of silver and blue ornaments, silver garland, and twinkly white lights adorning a lovely white Christmas tree. It was such a perfect work of art. Or so I thought.

Now, whether visiting the dentist or the mall, I see trees adorned in far more stylish themes -- from all-out Disney to fairies, to glittery fish.  Yes, I said fish. There are sports themes, based on your favorite team's colors, logos and mascot. There are designer themes, so carefully crafted and sparkly that one would be afraid to touch them. When it comes right down to it, there are so many design options out there that just about anyone can find something that will  have folks buzzing over his or her creativity and unique holiday touch over the cookies and egg nog.

One of my faorites -- a photo of my husband as a boy, with
his parents and little sister. Both his Dad and Sister have
passed away, so this photo gives us a way to  keep
them with us at Christmas time.
 And if you'd asked me a dozen or so years ago what I thought about this plethora of yuletide personality, I would have filled a cart with such goodies and dashed for the checkout counter.  Not so, today.

Today, I have a family. Not just a "Mommy-Daddy-Kids" kind of family, mind you. I have a full-on, Waltons' style, multi-generational home with Grandma and Cousin Cathy, too. It's the equivalent of a four-generation household, with decades of memories and a basement obstacle course of over a dozen plastic tubs full of Christmas ornaments, lights, decorations, stockings and other odds and ends.

A tin treasure from my
husband's "bachelor" days

This can lead to a pretty baroque sort of tree, mind you. Especially when you add up all the ornaments of each individual family member. We have some "back when we were dating" souvenir ornaments, special wedding keepsake ornaments, old and new  "baby's first Christmas" treasures, new home ornaments, favorite pet ornaments, photo ornaments, cloth ornaments, vacation keepsakes, lace ornaments, candy cane ornaments, inspirational ornaments, and some very special ornaments from family members who are  no longer with us. There are those handmade treasures my niece brought home from school as a girl. And those she and my daughter create today.  Some are nearly falling apart. Others have barely had time for the glitter glue to dry.
Certainly, those specialty ornaments so prevalent today have their place, and I suspect it is among the young, those with a lifetime of memories yet to be made, companies needing to promote their "brand," doctors' and dentists' offices, and those folks whose hobbies are so much a part of their lives that their trees are a fitting extension of their personalities.
A reminder of  our basset hound, Jackie,
 beside a handmade cloth and cotton
Santa my Mother-In-Law received
from a friend decades ago.

But after so many Christmasses as I have enjoyed, nothing takes the place of a sitting on the living room floor amid giant plastic tubs of memories next to a real, live evergreen tree that fills the whole house with the smell of joyful anticipation. It's a ritual to be treasured. Perhaps it takes our family so long to decorate the tree because we pause and tell the stories behind each ornament, so our daughter and niece can appreciate them as well.    
When I look at them all together, I see something so truly unique that my heart swells with happiness. These are the memories of our childhood, of "romance," of commitment, challenges, loss,  blessings, and just plain fun. It's a theme so unique no store can replicate it, and so common every family has one. 

May God bless you and yours this Christmas season -- whether you're decking the halls with the latest trend or a mountain of fine memories! 

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thoughts On Sending My 2-Year-Old to School: An Update on the Experiment So Far

Was I wrong to send my 2-year-old to school?

We're six weeks into the school year now, and there's been a lot of adjusting ... but a routine seems to have emerged. 

Grace is in school twice a week, for a full day. I am teaching four classes, and I am with her in the nursery for the remaining three periods, as well as at mass, lunch and recess. Initially, she stayed in the nursery while I taught, but I could not bear hearing her cry for me as I dropped her off. Being just across the hall, I could hear her screams go on for what seemed forever. I couldn't concentrate.  I just wanted to give up, take her in my arms, and run.

But we had her best interest in mind when we started, and I couldn't see myself backing out and leaving my students without a teacher. So now she is with me when I teach, sitting at a table with crayons, coloring book, puzzles, and whatever else I can think of to entertain her for a 40 or 50 minute block of time. I just have to make it a priority to hide the dry erase markers each time, so she doesn't come home with more of those abstract works of art on her arms and face.

She says she enjoys going to school now that I don't 'abandon' her to the nursery.  She really likes coming to class with me. And when we get home, it's fun to watch her mimick me as she teaches her teddy bears that God made them, and gives them occasional permisson for bathroom breaks.

Having fun with the other children at the All Saints Party.
 She knows the names of most of the children in the nursery now, and the answers to some of the kids' catechism questions! She really loves the babies in the nursery, and being with the first grade class. As they color the pages of their prayer book project, she does the same right there with them.

Her behavior at mass has really changed over the past few weeks. She is learning to sit quietly without snacks or apple juice. I don't bring toys for her. She still likes to stack and play with the missals, but at least she's much more quiet than before. She doesn't talk through the mass any more. She still moves around a lot...and I have to see that there's someone on the other end of the pew so there's no route of escape to the holy water font / pool in the back.  Someday, I am sure we'll all hear a big splash. I just hope she's not the one who takes the plunge (a number of our toddlers share her fascination for the holy water font).

She's learning to be around other children, though she can't focus on one thing for long enough to really enjoy playing with another child very long. There are sweet moments, and those that result in time-outs. But she is learning...gradually...how to get along.  The sweetest thing has been seeing her learn to "watch out" for those she feels are younger than her, even if the difference in age is only a few months.  She makes it her misson to be sure the littlest ones have toys, even if they are too young to actually play with them. At least she's sharing! Sometimes. I won't mention the tug-o-wars over building blocks or train tracks with those closest to her own age.

I also enjoy watching her run with the others at recess. The joy on her face is immense.  And my heart gets a good warm/fuzzy coat as I see the older children watching out for her making sure she knows where I'm at (recess is the one time when she ISN'T clinging to me, it seems...though she still likes to know where I am, just in case).

All in all, my doubts are fewer. I'm enjoying the company of the other homeschooling moms, and the chance to break up our old routine with this new adventure.  If all she learns this year is to "play nice," make friends, and have fun, then mission accomplished!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Just for Fun: Quotable Grace, No. 3

    Why birthday cake at bedtime is a bad idea ; )
  • Macaroni's don't grow in a garden. They live in a can.
  • Jesus is Christ and the Father. He eats food and loves children. (her own made-up song).
  • Mommy and me we're best friends.
  • Mommy, my skeleton hurts.
  • I wanna have a tea party with my Daddy.
  • Pleeeeeeease, Mommy!
  • I wanna see the big pumpkin.
  • I no love you Mommy. Hold me.
  • Those little people! They fireworks wake me up!
  • My crayons! Mommy! My crayons! (while sleeping).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Turn: Critics of Catholic Blogs Lack Fairness, Understanding of the Faith

I'm all for free speech. Long live the 4th Amendment! But I have to take a moment from the joys of Mommy-land to vent at some of the  comments I see in response to Catholic blogs about modern culture. A good debate enlightens all involved; however, a truly good debate follows rules of fair play and requires an adequate understanding of the subject matter, and enough reason to rebut it in a civil manner. The best "critics" are able to present both sides and build a solid case that merits consideration. But I don't see that. What I'm seeing most often lacks both fair play and a reasonable understanding of the subject matter.

For example, today I read a string of comments criticizing a Catholic blogger and declaring that she'd never get a tenured position in the field of sociology for implying a cause/effect relationship based on a correlation between the introduction of widespread contraception and the objectification of women. This feeble attempt to discredit her made me laugh out loud!  First, I doubt that was ever her intention. It was a BLOG. She was expressing an opinion.  Second, sociologists don't abide by scientific standards in all that they do, and much of what is presented as research is based on anecdotal or ethnographic accounts rather than statistical analysis or studies that can be repeated and proven by other scientists in a methodical way.

But I digress. For I must readily admit I am no expert in the field of sociology. I'll leave that to those with a grounding in this academic discipline, who are better able than I to question such research. What I am reacting to is the venomous rage I see in so many unfair comments aimed at anyone of faith who speaks out in a public way. It borders on hatred, and the irony is that many of these folks are the ones accusing us of "hate speech." While Americans claim to value "free speech" and "discourse," there is no room for differing opinions on subjects of sexual ethics, reproductive "rights," and gender identity, for example. It is as if saying certain behaviors are not compatible with one's faith is the same as saying we detest the individuals involved and would burn them alive if we could get away with it. We are painted as fear-mongers who promote hatred. While there have been those who have promoted hatred in the name of Christian faith, it is as unfair to say we are all bigots as it is to say those of alternate sexual identities are all child molesters (in fact, most of my friends who fall this category are wonderful, kind people in stable, committed relationships). They are not of my faith, so I do not have the same expectations for them as I do of those who share my faith. They are not called to the same life which I am called.  However, if they wish to be what a Catholic is, then change is needed. But that is true for all of us! Being a follower of Christ means taking up one's cross and pursuing virtue to heroic extremes. It is dying to our own self.  So for someone to say my faith is full of hatred because it is not compatible with their lifestyle is unfair and goes against all that has been achieved toward promoting fairness. It is akin to the oppressed becoming oppressors.

As Catholics, our call is not one of hatred. To be what we are called to is to give up our very lives (figuratively and in many cases literally) for love of Christ and neighbor, even those who hate us. It's a tall order. But the rewards we expect are worth the sacrifice. If we are in any way promoting hatred, unfairness, or cruelty, then we are not truly followers of Christ.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thoughts on Sending My 2-Year-Old to "School"

As I get the clothing, supplies, and other items in order to send my 2-year-old daughter to nursery school, I am finding that my mother-in-law and others think this may be the worst decision I've ever made -- thus making me the worst mother in human history for pushing her out the door too soon.

It's a decision I've been torn about, but my husband and I believe it is the right one for our daughter. Our home is not typical in that we are juggling the needs of multiple generations as well as some very special needs. We don't want our daughter to get lost in that mix. While having Grandma in the house with us comes with numerous blessings, it also presents a few challenges (especially when Mommy and Daddy are old enough to be grandparents ourselves). The same is true for having a young adult who is developmentally about the same age as our daughter, but physically many times her size. While it is heartwarming to see them play together, not all the behaviors our daughter has picked up in the process are appropriate for her, regardless of whether our niece can help what she does or not.

I hope I don't sound cold-hearted. We do want our daughter to love and appreciate every person she meets regardless of age, race, disability, and so on. We believe our home situation will help foster greater empathy for other people, regardless of differences. We are aware of the good that can come from our family structure. But we are also seeing in our daughter a hunger for playmates her own age. Having no young family members nearby, we have often taken her to play with other children at the library, park, mall, and other public play spaces. This has been good for her, and she enjoys it, but there is no regularity in the kids she sees or the behaviors she learns from them. She will never see most of them again and I think on some level she is a little sad about that. One day she asked why there were no little girls or boys who come to her house to play with her. Having been an only child myself, this nearly broke my heart. 

So this is why we're sending our two-year-old to nursery school -- we don't care if she learns phonics or spelling right now. We just want her to have the opportunity to form ongoing relationships with children her age, who share her faith, and whom she will see on a continuing and regular basis. And we are blessed to have found an affordable place where she can spend a couple of days a week outside the home singing songs, playing, and making friends she WILL see again. We are so grateful to have found a co-op of Catholic homeschooling parents who have formed a wonderful little "school" for their children.

And the best part? I don't have to drop my daughter off and leave. I get to stay, help in a variety of ways, and possibly even teach others. I am so excited to get to share this experience with her!  She is not "leaving" me. We are setting out on an adventure together, where she can learn to be independent while still knowing I'm just in the next room if she needs me. To me, that is the best of both worlds.

So even if this does make me the worst mother in the world in the eyes of some, I know my husband and I have made a choice that will bring our daughter joy and put her on the road to making friends and learning at a comfortable pace. This is a time for joy, and loneliness doesn't foster joy.  She's extremely excited about the prospect...so why shouldn't we be? 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Learning to Trust Like the Lilies...

From my senior year in high school until the adoption of my daughter, I've worked in some capacity, almost all of it full-time in the professional realm. So now as I sit out another year at home as a new mother, I am learning how frustrating it is to have very little control over our household income, especially in these difficult economic times. While my lifestyle has never been extravagant, I was always able to dine out on a whim, go on vacation, and buy gifts generously when birthdays and holidays rolled around. Getting married only added to my financial security -- we had two sets of income and only one set of household expenses.

Yet, after the arrival of our daughter, we gladly cut back so I could be home with her during these important and early years. I'm a pretty mean budget-maker and a fairly decent "enforcer". And when it comes to coupons, I have mine neatly arranged by category, store and expiration date. I'm also learning to sell old items on Craig's List and buy in bulk to get more bang for our buck. But despite this, I'm worried. No, I am SCARED.  My husband's income is not meager by any means, but between taxes, a mortgage, insurance, home and auto repairs, and the rising costs of just about everything, the paychecks are gone almost as soon as they come in, and our savings cushion has lost a lot of its once-comfy padding. Gasoline prices keep going up, as do groceries and utilities. And we're among the lucky ones. We haven't had to depend on credit to get by. We've trimmed the "fat" from our lifestyle significantly. We seldom eat out, and fast food chains have become our choices when we do. But making ends meet still stresses me out as I match the bills and the budget against the skinny reality of our checking account.

So what's the good news in all of this? God, of course. He's teaching me an important lesson rather late in life: He's there to get us through and all we have to do is trust in Him.  I've always "known" this in an intellectual sort of way. Yet, my self-reliance has always produced the results I needed, so the lesson never truly sank into practice in my life. Jesus' words in Matthew 6 have so much more meaning for me now than they ever did before:

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?

Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, "What are we to eat?" or "What are we to drink?"  or "What are we to wear?" All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

So there's my challenge - learning to trust like the lilies. Others have learned this lesson so much earlier in life than I. Yet, it's never too late to learn something new. So it's time to close the spreadsheets and turn to prayer -- not for my own needs (because all my family's basic needs are met, and then some) but for others, especially those whose need is so much greater, and those who lack faith and feel hopeless in the face of these tough times.

May God bless our country, our neighbors, and especially our children with faith, true joy, and simple trust in Him!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Just for Fun: Quotable Grace - No. 2

Here are a few more fun quotes from my little Grace. She continues to amaze me with the things she says.
  • I want to get married.
  • I need an x-ray.
  • Daddy, can I have a pet?
  • No, Mother.
  • You wanna play blocks with me, Mickey Mouse, Yes?
  • Do puffer fish drive cars?
  • I want to see God.
  • Oh No! I don't know how to drive!
  • Mommy, I need a favor.
  • I so tired of coloring.
  • Can I have a cup of sugar, please?
  • Is Jesus' owwie like Humpty Dumpty?
  • I no like fire quackers.
  • Where are all the purple fish?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You Know You're A Stay-At-Home Mom When...

Here are a few tell-tale signs that you may be a stay-at-home mom, based on my experience. I'd love to add yours to the list!

1. You know the names of all the Sesame Street characters.
2. You prefer the original yellow Wiggle to the new guy.
3. You catch yourself chatting with telemarketers.
4. You have a dirty diaper in one hand and a pizza coupon in the other.
5. You catch yourself saying things like "I mean it...I'm not kidding!"
6. Going to the supermarket is the high point of the day.
7. You've run out of ideas for things to make out of construction paper, pipe cleaners, and other craft supplies.
8. You have a day of the week devoted to scrubbing crayons and washable marker graffiti off the furniture and the walls.
9. You have a favorite diaper commercial.
10. Laundry has become as second-nature to you as breathing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Prayer from My Past

A few years after I came into the Catholic Church in 2004, I discovered in my dusty NIV Bible something of a treasure -- a prayer I had scribbled inside the cover more than a decade earlier. I had written it just before the communion portion of the worship service. The prayer goes like this:

Jesus, live in me.
Make my heart your home.
With your love inside me,
I can never feel alone.
Fill each empty longing
With your love
and joyful peace.
Jesus, live inside me.
May you be found in me.

Of course, at the time I actually wrote these words, I viewed them as a metaphorical expression of my desire to be more like Jesus. I had no idea that God could or would answer this prayer in a literal way. But He did.

Today, Communion is no longer symbolic. I have tasted the Love, the utter Light of Jesus who transforms bread and wine into His very own Body and Blood. Regardless of what I see and taste, I know now without a doubt that He is not only with me. He is inside me.

In fact, the moment I realized what was happening amid all the "excessive ceremony" (as I perceived it during the first few masses I visited) was an expression of what Catholics believe. We kneel. We genuflect. We honor God physically present among us in the humble disguise of bread and wine. But until the moment I "got it", the liturgy seemed overdone.

But then it happened. The priest elevated the bread as he said the words of consecration, "This is my body." Wait a minute, I thought. If those words were actually true, I'd kneel and genuflect too. That's when it hit me. I believed in a God who was all-powerful. Why couldn't it be true? And why would Jesus say those words if it weren't true?

Everything I knew of Scripture only supported the truth that confronted me. As the Church, we are Christ's body and His bride. How does that happen? By allowing Him to enter our hearts, not just emotionally or spiritually, but physically, in order to transform us. And once inside us, He accompanies us and helps us know His Father's will, while still allowing us the freedom to choose God's will for ourselves in every circumstance of our lives. He fulfills our longing and unites himself to us intimately in an embrace of pure and absolute Love that burns from within and radiates from us to others in love of neighbor. 

Now, I am able to remember God's mercy and grace every time I receive Christ during the celebration of the Eucharist. He heard and answered my prayer, and I remember and cherish the words of this prayer as I savour the sweetness of His Presence within.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just for Fun -- Quotable Grace

This list is short, but I'm sure it will grow over time. Below are my favorite quotes from our adorable little toddler:

1. Jesus, Mary, Apple Juice (instead of "Jesus, Mary, Joseph"?)
2. Holy God, have some lemonade (we think she was trying to sing "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name")
3. Show me the thunder...
4. Mommy, can I drive?
5. Mommy, what's that? (approximately 500 to 1000 times per day).
6. Hey, boy, what you doing? (making friends at the lake).
7. Mamma, I want "nose get" (her way of saying "music").
8. Mamma, I love you.
9. That-a-that (this one is about a year or so old...it was her only word besides Mamma and Dadda).
10. And now....I princess!
11. This old man, he had a farm, E I E I O !
12. I need shoes, Dadda.

Have a blessed day!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In Good Time

In the beginning, there was now. We ate, we slept, we played. Then came later, and we were able to look forward to Christmas and to birthdays. before that, though, there was then, which allowed us to remember Christmases and birthdays past, and to talk about yesterday's trip to the zoo. We dreamed of never-never land, believed in forever, and hoped for ever after.

Then, little by little, we learned to chop the eternal now into smaller pieces -- eons, millenia, eras, epochs, ages, centuries, decades, years, seasons, quarters, months, weeks, an occasional fortnight, the all-adored Weekend, days, hours, half-hours, minutes, seconds, moments, milliseconds, and beyond.

This great human innovation allows us to pace ourselves, to arrive promptly for meetings, to pick up the tempo in our music, to have rhythm, and to enjoy two periods of Kentucky basketball. We can synchronize our watches, take time-outs, earn overtime after hours, become millionaires in an instant, and change our oil in a jiffy.

At best, we remember the past, live in the present, and plan for the future.

At worst, we rush, hurry, hasten and scurry until we become so weary we must call a time-out, take a break, and seize the day.

It's no wonder we enjoy timeless classics, pay heed to age-old wisdom, and contemplate eternity.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Even Then...

Memories sometimes take us by surprise. This happened to me yesterday as I knelt at mass after receiving Holy Communion. I could see myself as a teenager  -- naiive, clumbsy, opinionated and often insensitive to those around me. My way of seeing the world was "right" and everyone else had a lot to learn. And under this somewhat crusty shell, I was insecure, uncertain and overly sensitive. Seldom did I ever think before I spoke. It was a mindset that led to more than a few awkward moments and hurt feelings. I ached for that poor girl who longed for acceptance, without ever allowing herself to be vulnerable to others or learn from them in any way.

Yet, her stubbornness also angered me, as it had in the ten or so years that followed. Throughout my college days, life had taught me many lessons. I learned to be more sensitive to other points of view and open myself up to new friendships. I learned to relax and have fun, to laugh at myself and my own little quirks, and to take time for quiet and relaxation. It was an exciting time in my life, but there was little continuity between the girl I once was and the young woman I became. It was as if I had divorced myself so completely from my past experiences and beliefs that I existed in the present only, with no grounding in the past. There were many times when I felt as though I'd lost some vital part of myself that I couldn't identify or describe.

So, as I knelt there during the silence of communion, irked at the memory of these two extremes, I wondered why such distracting thoughts come when you least want or expect them. I tried to focus again on the moment at hand and be more attentive and reverent.

Suddenly, in the silence, I heard the voice of Christ deep inside my heart, and His words startled me.

"I loved you, even then," He said.

I wondered if it could have been my imagination, so I again tried to focus on communion. 

"EVEN THEN," his voiced echoed again, with greater emphasis.

A wave of peace rushed over me and I knew these words were truly His, and he was calling me to forgive my own past failings and love the girl I remembered, just as He did. My mind wasn't wandering after all.  He wanted to show me something about myself. The room seemed to fill with light, and tears came to my eyes. 

As I heard the sounds of those around me returning to their seats, I felt great joy inside, and eagerness to share this sense of love with those around me. Yet, when I tried to tell a friend what had just happened, I realized immediately that I was communicating very poorly the power and beauty of this amazing experience. Even now, as I type these words, I know that I'm only capturing the faintest essence of what it was like to feel such a strong, loving presence in my soul.

I can only imagine, if such joy can come to us when we partake the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ during communion, what an eternity with Him in Heaven might be like!

Jesus Christ, your kingdom come!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why Do We Blog, Anyway?

Why, I wonder as I enter these words, do people blog?

Face it. This isn't a letter. It isn't personal. On first glance, blogs appear to be nothing more than a collection of random thoughts spilled onto a computer screen in an almost "stream of consciousness" manner. We don't piece together the type of story that gets printed and bound in a book or captured on film. We seldom use our blogs to persuade or inform others. Yet, the Internet is full of these "blogs," and each exists for a reason -- but what is it? Why do we do it? Wouldn't it be easier to pick up a phone or pay someone a visit? And isn't it safer to just write our thoughts down privately with pen and paper in a journal or as a letter?

What is it about us as humans that causes us to create blogs, personalize our "my space" pages, and adopt a slogan or motto we hope is uniquely our own and post it beside our name and photo?

For me, blogging seems an ideal way to explore who we are and what we think (whether we like pink or orange as a background and which book or movie really reflects how we feel about life). I see blogging (and personal web pages in general) as a way of getting to know ourselves, expressing ourselves, and connecting with others, at a time when many folks say that human beings as a society are more disconnected than ever.

I don't believe it. We are as much into "community" as ever. Things like blogs are a clear sign that whether we connect in person or electronically, people always want to explore what makes us tick, as individuals and as parts of a group (whether our families, churches, clubs, or other organizations--live or electronic). The virtual world we've created online mirrors the real one in which we live. It is full of good and bad, happy, sad, and so on... Whether in person or online, people will find a way to form a community and share what makes us unique as individuals and as part of the world in which we live.

So, why not blog?

Some Days Are Like That, Even In Australia

Sometimes things go wrong from the start. Whether you view it as a matter of getting up on the wrong side of the bed or use more colorful terms to express your frustrations, there are times when nothing we do comes out the way we plan, no matter how hard we try. And once this kind of day begins, there's really no stopping it. 

I was having one of those days recently, and I couldn't help but think of the children's book, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." From the minute Alexander wakes up, everything misfires. All his best efforts go wrong. And it seems no one cares to hear his side of the story. His response to each of these challenges is to grumble and say "I think I'll move to Australia."  And that's how I felt.

But as a grownup, a more mature response is expected of me (even when my "inner child" denies any responsibility for the situation at hand and screams for just retribution against all my perceived oppressors). So I set aside my plans to visit the Land Down Under, and I thought about the Book of Job, and the barage of diabolical attacks this poor man suffered. I am amazed at how anyone could keep going in the face of one tragedy after another. First he loses his livelilhood when his livestock were destroyed, then his children, then his health. And even his friends believed he was to blame for his own predicament.

In light of such trials, my "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" seemed like nothing. None of the things I hold most dear was taken frome me. So why was I so troubled? And then it hit me. It all came down to one thing -- Pride. How could anyone think that I might be wrong? That I might have missed or overlooked something? That I might not be perfect after all? Now it all makes sense.

Unlike Job, I can assure you I am not always blameless. I do take a shortcut now and then. I do procrastinate, overeat, and make mistakes. Whether I want to admit it or not, I am not perfect -- and moving to Australia won't change that.

So, why should I be surprised that sometimes things just don't go as I had planned or hoped? And why am I shocked that it's possible for my best efforts to collide head-on with someone else's "Terrible Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." And worse yet, what if (and let's just say this in hypothetical terms to protect my ultra-sensitive ego), what if there really is  room for improvement in what I've done, despite my best efforts. What then? Am I more special than anyone else? Should I get a "breeze through life with no obstacles" pass? I suppose not.  So, when it comes right down to it, we are all just human. And that means me, too. We have good days and not-so-good days. That's just the way it is.

As Alexander's mother put it:  "Some days are like that, even in Australia."

Is That Really Me?

Have you ever seen a recent photo of yourself and thought "Is that really me?" That photo looks nothing like me! 

Time really has a way of messing with our minds, and our sense of identity. Whether we feel younger or older than our actual age, or whether it seems our "insides" and "outsides" just don't match, sooner or later we all have to make sense of the difference between how we see ourselves and how we must seem to others.

There's no way to see all the marks of time and experience on each person's soul. Who is she now? Who has she been? Who did she want to be when she was four years old? 

Strangely, it seems that our identities are both "ever-changing" and "ever-constant" at the same time. When I think of my life over the years, I can see a thousand ways I've changed. And at the same time,  I'm exactly the same person I was when I started.

As I sit and try to unravel this mystery of  "me," I can't help but think of tree rings. Each one represents another year in a tree's life. The tree looks different on the outside, but on the inside, it's all still there -- the same inner core that was there at five years, 10 years, 50 years, and so on.

All we have to do is see someone we haven't talked to in years and suddenly we're able tap into the memories, feelings and sense of identity we had back when we were in high school, without losing track of who we are today or where we've been all along the way.

But even though we remain inside the very first, best and lastest versions of ourselves, we still have to work with the present "bark" of our being, which is the hard outer shell that everyone else sees. And that's rough. Time and experiences leave their marks.

As we meet new people and get to know them, we slowly share who we are, layer by layer. But even then, everything is filtered through the present, like tapping maple trees to drain the sweet syrup from the inside. You have to start from the outside to get there, and  what you're able to draw out is but a fraction of the whole. The same is true of our personalities. We're never able to share with anyone all of our layers in quite the same way we understand them within ourselves.

Perhaps that's why people have such a deep need for other people, and for God. The inside of our souls is always trying to shine through all the many outer layers. And this part is so essential and pure within us. It's the part of us that believed in Santa Claus, hoped for the impossible, and believed happy endings really do happen. But, depending on the storms we've weathered over the years, this part of our being isn't always as easy to reach as we'd like. Some things are just too painful to recall. Or maybe we just can't see past our own or someone else's outer "bark" to appreciate what lies beneath.

But when we lose this part of ourselves, we become like hollow trees that are easily destroyed in the next big storm.Without that first seedling of self that is capable of faith, hope, trust and great love, we've already begun to die inside, just like a hollow tree.

In my experience, that's just what happens when we become so hard and doubtful on the outside that we can't accept the light of God who knows each one of us inside and out -- layer by layer. Just like the sun and the rain that give life to the trees, God and the people around us help to preserve that core of who we are so we don't become hollow and weak.  

With others, we share ourselves through conversation and common experiences. With God, it is prayer that allows us to express the whole of our being without even uttering a word. He knew us before we were ever formed in the womb, and knew our names. And He is the only other being in existence who knows the whole story of our lives -- each and every layer.

How I hope and pray that each and everyone who reads this blog gets to know Him and is able to preserve the best of yourself and share it with others.

A Prayer Answered!

No blog about grace would be complete without a photo of my favorite Grace, our daughter. A prayer answered, she came to our home through the gift of adoption in the winter of 2009. She teaches me something new about life every day. A living gift of hope and faith, she came to us when we needed her most. Thank You, God, for Actual Graces!

A Long Overdue Return to the Blank Page

It's quiet here...and my thoughts return to writing. At one time, it was not only what I did, but who I was, or wanted to be. I was young, ambitious, and eager to make my mark  in the world. Unfortunately, no one had discovered my talents, so I spent my days working as a secretary at a downtown law firm and my nights filling journals with new ideas. Each day at lunch I carried my copy of Writers Digest to the deli across the street to search for that golden nugget of advice that would catapult me from "ordinary" to "literary greatness."

Years later, I sit in my living room floor as my daughter sleeps, sifting through the cobwebs of my memory to find some grain of inspiration to fill the page of this, my first blog entry. I've written so much in the years since I sat in that deli -- contracts, news and magazine articles, advertisements, press releases, case studies, white papers, and multi-million dollar business proposals for a Fortune 500 company. Many would say that "I made it." I made a comfortable living tossing words on a page. Others will say "I lost it." I abandoned my artistic ambitions to pursue a career in the corporate realm.  Both are right.

Fortunately, life has a way of bringing us back to our roots, and teaching us the beauty of what we failed to see before. We are able to see the gifts we once took for granted, and for me, so many of those gifts lie in the ordinary moments of life that I used to overlook.  

As I enjoy a break from my career to focus on raising my daughter in these beautiful first years, I once again have time to reflect on those moments of grace when God whispers so quietly in my heart that I seldom hear His voice. These little graces guide me gently in the right direction, if I let them. And it's then they become real, actual graces with the power to transform my life from ordinary to truly meaningful. These actual graces are the bursts of energy that propel me onward in hope.