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 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.