Category Archives: God's Abundance

New Year’s Suggestion

As you know, Fan, I don’t “do” New Year’s Resolutions, but I’m always on the hunt for ways to improve. Since I’m also not good with maintenance, remembering, or consistency in good habits, I’ve found that trying to use the new year to start new habits and ditch the old has traditionally been a miserable failure for me.

This year, I heard about a new twist to the old effort. On one of my favorite radio stations, K-Love (94.1 FM), I heard on the morning show about a pastor who suggested people try coming up with one-word or short phrase as a “theme” for the year and to try to direct activities around that theme. By choosing a positive word and theme, the hope is that it will make a dramatic improvement in the quality of the spiritual (and therefore, earthly) life of those who practice it.

Well, even a monkey like me can handle that. Instead of remembering that I intend to read the Bible/eat out less often/work out more/call my friends/be a better wife and mother…blah,blah, blah, I just have to remember one word. The word I have chosen for this year (yes I’m trying it) does not deal with any of those underwhelming goals which really won’t improve my character. I’m certain if I stick to directing my energies toward my 2011 theme, there will be a noticeable difference in my life.  My daughter suggested a theme for me that almost made the cut: “Don’t Die.”  Good as that suggestion is, I think I’ll wait and give that a shot next year.

This year I already have my theme.  It is a single word.

My word won’t help me blog more.
My word won’t help me stay slim.
My word won’t help me be cheerful with my family, necessarily.

My theme; my word is “Repent”. I chose it because I believe practicing Repentance is designed to bring me closer to God. I don’t mean “The Universe” or “A Higher Being” or some approximation of goodness. I’m talking about The Great I Am. The One who formed me and knitted me in my mother’s womb. I’m talking about The Word Made Flesh Who Dwelt Among Us; The Alpha and Omega who pursues me like a treasure, whether I can fit in my skinny jeans or not.  Getting closer to Him seems to be where I need to be.

I encourage you, if you are so inclined to choose a theme for 2011.  I hope that you can find one that will direct you toward a more rewarding, meaningful and fulfilling life, even if your theme is simply, “Don’t Die.”

Happy New Year!


The Ghost of Christmas ROCKS!

Last year at this time, I was bemoaning “The Ghost of Transition” and how I just didn’t know how to adjust to the changes wrought by my dad’s passing. This year is much, much different.

The Ghost of Christmas Future is smiling silently as I sing along with the Ghost of Christmas present to the hymn in my head. Ghost of Christmas Past is off at a party elsewhere – he does not haunt me today.  And the Ghost of Christmas Transition moved out sometime in January last year when construction began on the house.

This year, my children very much liked their gifts. Frank and I kept it “spare” with gifts for each other, so that relieved much of the pressure of “what ELSE does he need?” when I don’t even know what to get him in the first place.  Instead of worrying over shopping and Christmas cards, I spent my time learning to play “Breath of Heaven” on the guitar so that Clarke and I can sing it at Mass tomorrow.  I tried to spend my Advent in prayerful anticipation instead of hustle and bustle.

And today, now that we thought the prayerful anticipation was over,  we are awaiting the first snowfall on Christmas day since 1947 here in Concord.  This kind of prayerful anticipation makes the grayness of the day a blessing rather than a damp and gloomy fog.

Best of all I am sitting at the island in our newly remodeled kitchen watching my husband prepare ribs for dinner. What can be better than a day like today?  Not much.

I can’t help but wonder what parts of today might become a tradition for next year. The Ghost of Christmas Future and I exchange glances and shrug. He doesn’t seem so malicious this year.

I like him after all.

Christmas Present is getting into the eggnog — he spiked it, the minx. I’ll have to cut him off and put him to bed before dinner, the jolly old soul.

Peace and joy to all of you.  I pray  your Christmas has been all that you hoped it would be.  And if it was Christmas of Transition for you, don’t worry, Transition never stays too long.

Falling in Love

I’m obsessed.

It does not involve yellow punch buggies, either.  I’m obsessed by a song.  If you’ve been into my blog in the last few weeks, you saw some disparate themes from religion to paranoia.  Yesterday, I decided to add obsession to my usual rant.

I was diving along listening to K-Love Christian rock station (94.1 fm), trying to avoid Volkswagen Beetles, when I heard a song that was new to my ears.  (I’m not sure if it’s a new song, but it was new to me.)  It’s by a guy named Jason Gray and it’s called “More Like Falling in Love.”    Johnny Carson had the Tonight Show Theme and Randy Newman has “Short People.”  “MLFiL” has kind of becoming my theme song.  There’s an important message in that song that speaks to me which talks about what our faith should really be like.  It says,

“It oughta be…
More like falling in love
than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance.
Caught up, called out  – come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling.  It’s like I’m falling in love.”

There is of course more to the song, but the capper is a line that says, “Falling in love with Jesus brought the Change in Me.”  Oh, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  I guess I don’t have to now that Jason Gray has.

Getting it right

I  attended a weekend retreat recently.  While I gained a lot of spiritual graces, I was privileged to share a table with a lady who was recovering from cancer.  She shared with us that when she was 80 pounds and bald and she had just moved here from another town, she attended our church for the first time…and no one spoke to her. If you read my last post, you’ll know how deeply I was wounded to hear this.  It is likely I was one of the people who did not speak to her.  What a dreadful and life long lesson that was.  I will always be thankful to this gracious woman for having the courage to share that with me; for holding that mirror up to my face and showing me fear.

Following my meeting with this new friend, I had an opportunity to put my new education to use.  Later that week, I ran into a woman in the bathroom at a local restaurant.  She was wearing a leopard print bandanna and over that a straw hat with a band in matching print.  Instead of avoiding eye contact or pretending to be thoroughly engrossed in washing my hands, I looked her straight in the eye and told her I liked her “jazzy ensemble.” She replied with a wry smile that she didn’t at all.  Undaunted, I told her I was sorry that she was having to make that fashion choice but I thought she chose very well.  She seemed to brighten, thanking me for telling her that.  Strangely, her response helped ME feel uplifted.

Just tonight, I dropped into the library.  There, coming out was a dear lady with whom I became acquainted when our daughters were babies in the same daycare.  Later we became friendlier when I joined the parent advisory board and when we moved to Concord eight years ago, she and her husband were among the first to stop by and welcome us to town.  And here she was now in front of me in a brilliant royal purple top and a straw hat with a jaunty purple flower to match on the right side.  The hat covered a perfectly smooth scalp.  Her lash-less eyes brightened when she saw me.  We hugged, and commenced the small talk.

Before long I noted that she had a new look and asked how she was feeling.  I had known she was sick before, but the loss of hair was a shock as the last time I had seen her, it seemed she was on the mend.  Apparently not.  She informed me she had just had a bone scan to see where the cancer had moved to this time.  All I could do was make a sad face and say, “Oh, no…it’s moving then is it?”  “Yes,” she sighed, “I can stand not having hair but I really miss having eyelashes.”  “They’ll come back?” I prompted, hopefully.  “No,” she whispered, “I’ll be on chemo for the rest of my life.”

…And how long would that be? I wondered in my now completely stunned mind.  What a dreadful, awful, horrible thought.  I wish I could un-ring that bell.  I can only be thankful that my friend from church taught me to say something; anything.  To acknowledge.  To be available.  To say how bad it sucks that your eyelashes won’t be back.  It is the prime way to do a small thing with great love.  But it takes a great bit of courage.

I’m sorry for the sins of the past, ladies.  I’m sorry for the times I did not acknowledge, and feared opening up to your pain.  You may decide I’m a self-congratulating ass and you may think I am nosey or intruding or completely clueless…but you will not think I am ignoring you.  You will not be overlooked.  Not by me.  Not by me.

Being Catholic

Disclaimer:  The following blog was written while on vacation in Maryland and Washington, DC.  Normally, I’m fairly lighthearted and quippy in my blogs.  However, recent events and statements have caused me to write about something near and dear to my heart.  I’ll get back to my normal fluff next time.

I am visiting with my brother this weekend at his parish in Avenue, Maryland.  He’s a Catholic priest and I’m his Catholic sister; however, I am not a nun.

Every time I see my brother at work, I see his love and his passion for The Church.  It is a rare and beautiful thing.  His love of his ministry is what makes him so good at his job.  He is good for The Church as She is for him.

In recent years, there’s been a string of damaging news for my faith.  There has of course been the tragic abuse scandal, the unfortunate and very public fall of the outspoken Catholic actor, Mel Gibson, and recently, the announcement by popular novelist Anne Rice that she is once again leaving Catholicism – and all organized religion – due to the Christian church’s opposition to gay marriage.  Very public stories such as these wound me deeply as they damage the view of Catholicism by those outside the faith and those who have left it.

People ask me how I can continue in my faith given the scandal.  Others take the examples of famous Catholics as an expression of who we are.  A friend of mine told me that when Pope John Paul II died a few years ago, her protestant mother-in-law opined whether the Pope would have gone to heaven or not because, “As you know, Catholics aren’t Christians.”

I believe she was mistaken.

But this is the sad truth that I think is worse than all the bad news in the media.  It happens all the time; like any organized religion, the public at large is sometimes misinformed by bad press or unhappy former members.  Worse yet, those inside the faith are also misinformed and there is a lack of understanding of what we practice and why we practice it.  Not that I can correct or combat all this except for living the best example that I can, but I will say two things I feel are very important to convey:

1)   Catholics, are in fact, Christians and we do read the Bible.  Catholicism is the best possible structure for me to build my ever-growing relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Following Jesus Christ, is as I understand it, a main component of being a Christian.  We believe Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, so yes the Bible is a central part of our living faith.

2)  Another very important fact about how I have experienced the Catholic faith is that GUILT IS NOT PART OF THE EQUATION.  Central to my faith is the notion that Christ exists within the Eucharist and very much wants to be a part of our lives.  He wants to be in relationship with us.  He does not continue to heap guilt upon us following our sins – check the bible for the story about the woman caught in adultery if you don’t believe me – and He does not want to push us away.  While we are not encouraged to not feel remorse for our sins, (ie, some amount of guilt) at no time in any part of my upbringing in a Catholic home or Catholic Schools or at church has anyone ever tried to use God’s word to shame, embarrass or humiliate me.  Instead, when I sin, I am offered the sacrament of reconciliation (known as confession in olden days) in order to tell my friend Jesus that I was sorry I hurt Him.  I felt bad, I confessed, Jesus forgave me, and we both moved on.  So, “Catholic Guilt?”  Not for me, my friends.

An important corollary to my rant, if I may:  it is not part of our teaching that we may plan to do something sinful and just go to confession afterward and all will be well.  We are expected to be sincere in our sorrow and want to make things up; thus comes the notion of penance – where we show God we know we are wrong and have sinned and make restitution for our sins.  So all those movies where the promiscuous teenager tells her friends that she’s going to “go all the way” with her boyfriend and then just go to confession and all will be forgiven…well, that’s not quite how it works.  We’re not allowed to “plan for sin.”   By the same token, it is also mistaken idea that we are supposed to feel guilty all the time for our sins and, even after confession and forgiveness, carry the remorse and guilt with us.  It negates the Grace received in the sacrament.  Living with guilt nullifies the gift of Gods Mercy

A few years ago, my brother helped further clarify in my mind, what we’re about. He was leading a peaceful prayer vigil across from an abortion clinic in Washington, DC (it’s part of his job, people, so ease up here…) He instructed his parishioners when they arrived at the clinic that, “If these women and doctors do NOT know that we were here because we love them, then we have failed.”  Later, one of the nurses at the clinic came across the street to thank him, because all to often, these demonstrations are seriously devoid of love.  It is a great shame, that this has consistently been the case for so long; that’s not what we’re supposed to be about.

I will conclude by adding that what hurts us most besides misconception and an inability to demonstrate our faith with Love outside the walls of the Church is what’s happening inside the Church among Catholics all the time.  For some, they are in church and participating at a minimum because they feel obligated to do so.  They don’t understand or acknowledge at times the presence of God in His Word and in our lives.  The belief in Christ’s real presence is sorely lacking.  If we had this love; this passion, this fire for Christ, we could quell the misconceptions by living our lives truly for Christ in love and mercy.  The notion of Catholic Guilt would cease to exist.  Thank God we have had a few brave souls to blaze the trail.  One of the recent and most widely recognized and admired examples of Catholicism was of course, Blessed Teresa (known worldwide as Mother Teresa).  She said it best for all of us.  She told us to “do small things with Great Love.”  And this is how I see it for myself and my church.  We are to do small things with great love, living the gospel every day – forgiving others AND ourselves for our mistakes.

I am so sorry for all of you readers who were at one time part of this rich and wonderful faith and were pushed away, turned off or otherwise run out due to misguided teachings, ill intentions or downright evil behavior.  The Church loses great treasure when She loses her faithful. It is my prayer you have found for yourselves a space that is right for you and helps you remain in God’s great love, free of guilt and filled with His real presence.

And the beat goes on…

Over the last few days since my daughter has come back from camp, she’s had a renewed interest in playing the guitar.  It just so happens we have a few lying around the house since I had played myself as a youngster.  I took it up when I was about her age, but not until after my dad heard me sing in public.  I’d been begging him for years, but as the youngest of four who followed others that had asked for this lesson or that and lost interest, it was “not a happening thing.”  However, he had no idea I sang and after hearing me one night, decided I was good enough that he’d spring for lessons so I could accompany myself.  I attacked that guitar with gusto I had for no other activity besides sleep.

What I am reminded of now is something I had long since forgotten:  the thwok-thwok-thwok of strings not quite fully flush with the frets and the eye-watering twang of a chord played wrong.  Blessedly, my daughter has much more ability than I ever did, so the thwok and twang are quickly dissipating.  I’m so proud I could pop.  And to my delight, she’s taken nicely to my book of Easy Guitar for Beatles music!

My husband says that Clarke has a much better “rock and roll voice” than I do.  Yeah!  (And  Ouch).

You see, I used to be pretty good, but I had let my talents begin to rust several years ago.  I was singing and playing at my boyfriend Steve’s house, hoping he’d have a nice compliment for me.  Well, let’s just say I had an expectation discrepancy.  My compliment was as follows:  “I wish you’d quit playing, dear.  It’s annoying.”  I was fairly dashed and I foolishly believed that I was annoying, so I quit for several years.  Luckily, I was smart enough to realize that man was not the man for me.  I picked my guitar back up and dumped his a$$.  But I didn’t do too much with my guitar until after I got married and joined the choir at my church.  Folk choir saved me.  But then, kids came along. I was far too busy to play for a while and once the little people got to be toddling age, they couldn’t keep their hands off the instrument.  so I put it away again.

And now my daughter still can’t keep her hands off the guitar.  I’m not worried about her breaking it like I used to be when she was a handsy little toddler.  Frankly, she’s an inspiration.  So, I bought myself some new strings and a book of scales and have been practicing myself.  By golly, I’m excited again.  And since we’ve been singing together at church, maybe someday we’ll play together too.

For a while, I wondered if I was done.  I wondered if it was time to pass the torch.  But that’s just “Crazy Talk!”  I’ve decided I’m not passing the torch; I’m just her light hers.  And she, in turn, is re-lighting mine!

Claire-la-palooza: the phenomenon that’s sweeping the nation

Happy Claire-la-Palooza Everyone!

I’ll bet you didn’t even realize that you’re in the middle of a holiday season.  However, you’re right in the thick of it.  In case you’re wondering if this is the next Kwanzaa, let me assure you, this is much more sacred.

Claire-la-Palooza is the month (to month and a half) long season of the celebration of Me.  The feast day is June 20, but it begins with the first time a friend or colleague buys me lunch or sends me a card and ends with the last time my friends or colleagues buy me lunch or I receive a card.  This way, planners and procrastinators alike are free to participate.  Send a card early?  It starts early.  Send it belatedly, Palooza lasts even longer.  Within the last few years, I’ve named actual opening and closing ceremonies according to which dates get booked first and last.  Sometimes gifts are involved and sometimes it’s just a drink with friends.  Mostly, it’s all about spending serious social time with the people I hold dearest and enjoy the most.  (Note:  If you have not previously been involved with “C-La-P-Za,” and would like to be, feel free to join in.  I’m sure if you’re buying me lunch and gifts, you’ll quickly make it to my “people I hold dearest and enjoy the most” list.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.  There’s actually a reason for the season, so they say.  To quote Mandy Patankin in the movie adaptation of The Princess Bride, “Let me explain…no, is too much…let me sum up:”

It all began because my brother and father loved to watch golf on TV when I was growing up.  This, of course, was in the days before the Home and Garden channel’s “Watching Paint Dry” series aired.  It was my sweet sixteen.  However, I am the youngest of four, so it was technically called, “Oh hell, the brat can drive now.”  My dad, brother, sister and I were to have our usual family meal at 7 pm sharp.  But some ridiculous tournament was on…I think it was too late in the year to have been The Masters, but just the same, there was some sudden death shootout in which two boobs in plaid pants were embroiled.  So we held dinner.  And the boobs played on.  And we held dinner some more.  Finally, Dad decided 8pm was too late to eat and we sat down to have  my birthday dinner.

I haven’t seen two men eat that fast since the Dutch Harbor Oyster eating contest when Big Mike swallowed 27 oysters in 25 seconds.

Before either man had finished their plates of pasta, they couldn’t stand it any longer.  The sudden death shoot out had not…yet (aaaargh!) ended.  Dad granted permission for himself and my brother to break The Cardinal Rule and take their dinners into the den and finish their meals in front of…golf.

There was no party.  There was no cake.  There was not even a full meal together.  The tournament finally did end amongst many oohs!  aaahs!  and other expository sounds and phrases, and although I don’t know which person won or why it was so important, I know I felt as valued as a pimple on a pig’s butt.  I am grateful that my sister stuck with me and kept me company.  After dinner, I did the dishes and went to go meet up with a boy I had a crush on that was still totally hung up on his ex girlfriend.  It was the most depressing day of my life.  (Yeah, I know:  you people with, like, seriously depressing lives that have a legitimate right to be upset about something?  Just roll with me here a little, okay?)

So, woe is me, yadda, yadda, yadda.

As is my nature, I took this event and used it to make a change.  I couldn’t control sudden death golf matches, or how my family behaved, but I could sure control how I wanted to celebrate the one day of the year that is meant to be about happy stuff and has special meaning for me.  I made some important choices.  First, I married a man who didn’t give a flip about golf (I love you Frankie!) and I made sure every June 20, I took the day off from work and spent it doing something that I WANTED TO DO and that possibly garnered me some good attention.  But most importantly, I found a catchy name for my day and learned to stretch out the event so the joy and excitement could last.  Although the Red Hot Chili Peppers were probably still in diapers at the time, and Lollapalooza was a gleam in Flea’s infant eye, the holiday now known as Claire La Palooza was born 28 years ago and lives on today.

And now we come to the true spirit of Palooza:  Everyone can own it – I encourage it, as a matter of fact.  You can share my personal ‘Palooza or you can create your own around your special day.  No matter how or when, take a day to remember that you are special and worthy of celebrating and treat yourself that way.  It’s more fun if you get some friends involved, but since it’s your holiday, do with it what you wish.

Happy Claire-La-Palooza, fan.  And many, many more!