Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Darkness and light

Yesterday at the Easter Vigil mass, Monsignor walked around the Narthex saying, “darkness, darkness, darkness.” He tends to use these mantras often. Sometimes he’ll see a parishioner and repeat their name loudly, “Peter, Peter, Peter!” And follow up by completely enveloping them with strong, loving hugs.

No lights were on in the church, candles were being passed out and the pews filled up slowly. It was similar to the darkness of the closed-up tomb where Jesus’ body lay on Holy Saturday. The stone propped in front of it. Not a sliver of light entered. A dark void.

There are days we too sit in this utterly dark space. Unsure of what tomorrow will bring or why today was filled with angst. Holy Saturday is a reminder of our reality. The beginning and the end. The alpha and the omega. The darkness and the light.

My mom has always been able to walk in the dark. She knows the path, never stumbles, and has faith in her every step. There is strength in the darkness for mom. She is one of the strongest women I know. Speaks her mind and fears very little.

There is that time of evening when the dusk descends uneasy despair in me and I flip every light in the house on, dimmers way up. That middle moment when the darkness steals the light, taking me on journeys back to places and times when fear was at the helm so I push through and focus on the light.

In the book Learning to Walk in the Dark, by author, teacher, and Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, she says, “Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me–either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out.” In her book, she guides us on a journey to understanding darkness — and reminds us of all the times God shows up at night. Because God does.

Some evenings fear is consuming when the darkness arrives. Then I remember, fear is normal. Fear needs breath. Someone said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

So I embrace courage and say my prayers and thank God for another day and night.

I thank you for joining me on my Lenten journey and hope you will follow me as I tackle my next writing endeavor.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Thank you, Jesus…on Good Friday and every day

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 39

My student teaching took place in a small elementary school plopped right in the middle of Georgetown. A red brick building with old wooden doors and a ton of character. My mentor teacher, Sister Maureen was a kind, quick-witted nun, with the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND). The SSND order is a group of educators whose mission is to transform the world through education in the broadest sense. A stellar teacher, Sister Mauren arrived at school early, donning her signature long, pleated skirts paired with either a freshly pressed blouse, or a teacher-themed sweater, a silver cross on a chain laying on her chest.

Sister Maureen was not a traditional habit-wearing nun – she had the pizzazz of Whoppi in Sister Act and the care and open heart of Maria VanTrap. In fact, I have her to thank for introducing me to my handsome, happy husband, a teacher at the same school. During our time teaching together, Sister Maureen taught me two significant life lessons:

Never do anything for a child that they can do for themselves.

Thank Jesus often.

  1. Never do anything for a child that they can do for themselves: We worked with special needs children at the time, and I remember the exact situation when she said this. Matas, a second-grader at the time was packing up his bag and the struggle to fit it all in caused him to yell and become frustrated. I instinctively jumped in and started packing up for him until I felt Sister Maureen tap me on the shoulder and say, “He can do it. Just wait”. After a few minutes, Matas remembered the strategies we had taught him to pack up. First, put in lunch box, next notebooks, and finally place the jacket on top. The smile of independence that ensued was unforgettable.
  2. Thank Jesus often. Anytime a lost jacket, homework, or a document was found, meetings were canceled, or a student finally understood why or how or what, I would hear Sister Maureen say, “Thank you, Jesus!” A proclamation that fit itself perfectly in the nooks and crannies of every day. I worked with Sister Maureen for several months and came out a believer in thanking Jesus, all day.

Typically, my outward cries of “Thank you, Jesus!” come after close calls like just missing the red light camera as I go through the intersection; or my son clearing his concussion test and yes, I know it could have been worse.

I thank Jesus for the plane landing safely, and for my parents having each other. For helping me unfold the emotions of kids moving on and the fear of what they will face. I thank Jesus for carrying them and bringing them home. For convincing the hydrangeas to bloom an extra week, for helping remove the tumor from my friend successfully, and thank you Jesus for the support you surrounded my two friends who lost their husbands in the last month. Thank you Jesus for the job and the scholarship and the frugal soul you built me with. Thank you for friends and siblings who know when to bring soup, or chocolate or wine…and when to agree with you even if you’re unreasonable and crass. Thank you Jesus for faith, for mercy, and for grace.

Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross for us and for your Divine Love.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Why all kids need their thing…

Throwback on Holy Thursday…

I am constantly reminded that kids need their thing. ANYthing. Diving, journaling, football, video gaming. Something that is theirs. Somewhere to build their stories. A destination. Camaraderie. Right now, more than ever, kids need connections — with places, with activity, and with each other.

Here’s my Throwback Thursday Post:

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 38

Today at work, I walked with a first grader to the classroom. The tousled-hair blonde with sweet, aqua eyes looked down at his untied sneakers and uttered, “I still don’t know how to tie my shoes…I mean, I just don’t have time, you know (dramatic pause) now that I play baseball.” He caught my eye to make sure I fully grasped the play ball part. I gave him an understanding, “I KNOOOW, you’ve got a lot to do!” response and he gave me the kid nod that said, “finally, someone gets it.”

Clearly, he was a busy guy. Way too busy to mess with shoe strings and all that tying. Baseball was his priority now and talking about it made him beam. He wanted to share who he was and by letting me know he was a baseball player, he was pleased with himself and satisfied I heard it from him first.

We all need our thing. Something that drives us. Something that makes us jump out of bed and start the day with a spark. Does it define who we are? Maybe. It certainly tells more of our story.

Ever notice the one question adults ask when they meet your children? 

“What DO you DO?”

When our children were younger, they would say things like, “play outside, build obstacle courses, read The Babysitter Club books.” Or they would say nothing – because being a kid is what they did.

As they got older, sports trickled in and gave them new experiences and opportunities for socializing and developing who they are and what they love.

Growing up for me in the sports world, it was soccer or soccer. As the fourth of four girls, you just follow the pack and my sister who is closest in age to me was a soccer player, therefore, I took my spot on the field as right-wing. My sister and I had two practices a week, ate dinner together, and always went to each other’s games toting sliced oranges and water wearing our reversible orange and white mesh uniforms.

Nowadays, there are so many choices for kids. From soccer to fencing, mountain biking to curling. Practices for us end as late as 9:00 pm. Some nights, dinner is eaten at different times, and homework sits on the back burner simmering patiently. As parents, we feel like we are constantly driving somewhere…but boy do I love it.

Thank God. Thank God they found something they care about and enjoy.

Naturally, over the years our kids have dabbled in a lot to find out what makes them tick. In the process, we’ve had: acoustic guitars, bass guitars, ukeleles, soccer cleats, keyboards, lacrosse goals, baking tools, chorus, piano music, gymnastics, basketball high tops, hockey pucks, baseball gloves, frisbee golf goals, shuttlecocks, tennis rackets, catcher’s gear, football helmets, swim goggles, orienteering shoes, toe shoes, tap shoes, ballet shoes, running shoes, metal cleats, turf cleats, unicycles, mountain bikes, skateboards, Ripsticks, bows, arrows, quivers, fishing rods, dart boards, ping pong balls,  and more I may have forgotten.

I certainly am not complaining. I am so grateful they have WANTED to try so many things and happy we’ve been able to afford them the chance. They’ve settled on (but are not limited to) swimming, baseball, and mountain biking (and now tennis!) plus cello, saxophone, and trumpet…a well-rounded crew.

So let them try. Let them fail. Let them know they have to give it more than a week. Tell them to power through the whole season because there is a team or group depending on them and life is about teamwork and persevering.

I know we’re busy, but as I say, it’s a good busy. It’s a time when we can relish in our children’s success, see them win, lose, fall, get up and be there just in case they need us or a Bandaid.

Trust me, we need this activity and connection with other parents as well. Where else would I find out which t-ball team has the coach who squats down to the four-year-old size of his players and says “boys – everybody have fun tonight, everybody Wang Chung tonight!” – to which parents and kids roar in laughter, or which teacher takes away recess for not finishing first-grade homework, or if Instapot really is all that?  Parent connections are priceless. 

My first-grade friend who is simply too busy to bother with tying shoes figured out what makes him happy as all kids should.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Jesus picks teams

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 37

I can picture Jesus standing in his strappy sandals on a hot, dusty day holding a big red playground kickball, stretching his legs amid the blowing dust, and picking teams. “I’ve got Simon, but – by the way – we’re going to call you Peter – and I pick his brother Andrew, plus James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot.”

Grumbling came from the first eleven picked, as they kicked the dirt around them trying to look nonchalant about Judas joining the team. But — Jesus was known for being a sharp judge of character – so they let it play out.

But why Judas? WHY?

Turns out, the old number 12 was ready to play, but not by the rules. Oh, Judas!

Judas was sneaky. On the day Judas betrayed Jesus, the masses believed his poor choices led him to be a spy. Thus the name “Spy Wednesday”. Spy means “ambush” and Wednesday of Holy Week was the day he chose to betray Christ for 30 pieces of silver.

Here are some Gospel theories on why Judas went down the path he did:

  • Mathew’s Gospel tells us he was motivated by the 30 pieces of silver he was offered
  • Mark and Luck were convinced Satan “entered into Judas” to plan Jesus’ arrest
  • John’s Gospel says his motive was money, money, money.

Perhaps the reason was that Judas, like a lot of us, felt better making God in his own image rather than the other way around.

Knowing the sneakiness behind Judas, I wonder if Jesus would rethink his kickball team.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Bring them water

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 35

Yesterday, in Vatican City, the somber Palm Sunday celebration returned to the square, outside of St. Peters’ Basilica. The National Catholic Reporter wrote, “Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists clutched olive branches and braided palms emblematic of the ceremony that recalls Jesus’ return to Jerusalem.”

Pope Francis called for an Easter truce in the hope that leaders would “make some sacrifices for the good of the people.” His homily asked for “weapons to be laid down to begin an Easter truce, not to reload weapons and resume fighting, no! A truce to reach peace through real negotiations.”

“When we resort to violence … we lose sight of why we are in the world and even end up committing senseless acts of cruelty. We see this in the folly of war, where Christ is crucified yet another time,” he said.

The suffering of Ukrainians is devastating and beyond belief.

On Palm Sunday I am reminded of just how human we are. Imagine Holy Week, the original, the first take. The excitement when healing happened – all the hailing and joy, then suddenly someone’s faith waned and their hosannas faded away. Hope was lost, nails were hammered.

Would you have come running to help when Jesus cried out: I’m thirsty as he hung on the cross?

Who will bring the Ukrainians water? Who will walk among them with Jesus?

Bring your neighbor water, cling to your faith, and pray for peace.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

I write my story

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 29

Kindergarten is a blur except for recess 
and a girl who cut in line

In first grade the Tree House was Magical for some
I found the wood and built my own

Harry had a wand and Hedwig
I widdled a bow and arrow
and wove a leash for our dog

The Giver and Jonas were dystopian
Me my family and bike are utopian

The Hunger Games tangled with win and loss
Everyday I failed
Everyday I succeeded

Stories are in books
I write my story
I live my story
I am my story

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

The humility of Mother Teresa

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 25

Some days I overthink, overspeak, over everything.

I judge, talk over, infuse WAY too much passion, and forget to listen.

Then the guilt sinks in…and somehow my mind shifts to my days living in India. The string of animals in the street, the beautiful flowers adorning rickshaws, and the people. The lovely, lovely people. The calm in their souls is something to beseech.

Then there is the relentless, selfless giving of Mother Teresa…eye-opening and always worth mentioning.

In the 20th century, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a missionary nun and one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century. Known for her charity work, she founded the Missionaries of Charity – a religious organization dedicated to helping the poor. In the Catholic Church, she is also known as Saint Teresa after she was canonized by Pope Francis in 2016.

Mother Teresa was passionate, quiet, tiny, and humble. Personally, I have the tiny and passionate parts down and am slowly working on the other two. She spent 50 years working among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta and founded an order, the Missionaries of Charity. Active in 133 countries, its mission is “to give Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor.”

Mother Teresa is an inspiration to the world and I pray every day for a sliver of her positive passion and humility.

Please pray for Ukraine

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Pray for the children of Ukraine

According to UNICEF: “The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on the country’s 7.5 million children. Humanitarian needs are multiplying by the hour as the fighting continues. Children continue to be killed, wounded and deeply traumatized by the violence all around them. Families are terrified, in shock, and desperate for safety.”

Please keep these families in your prayers all day.

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

What if you wake up and…

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 22

What if you wake up and you never wrote your book, jumped off the high dive, answered the phone, said yes, said no, or waltzed? What if you never asked the hard questions or really said how you feel about that thing? What if you never realize we all walk around with back pain and regrets? What if you never took a chance?

Ever feel like you’re constantly making mistakes and wonder…what if?

In 1960 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks’ p.255, 1960.

Every day these “What if” questions herd my mind into a corral like an overzealous border collie with a flock of sheep, then day flies by and I’ve botched it all again. Or have I? Maybe I did something right. As moms we have to forgive ourselves, trip, fall, grab onto something, stand up on our arthritic ankles and keep going one day at a time.

Here are my “WHAT IF’S”…

  • What if I went all day without saying one negative thing to anyone?
  • What if I didn’t complain to my kids about being on their phones?
  • What if I trusted more and criticized less. A lot less?
  • What if I invested more in what piques my kids’ interest or makes them laugh so crazy hard on their phones?
  • What if I walked by a half-made bed and thought of it as a glass-half-full?
  • What if I didn’t complain once about my own appearance all day?
  • What if I focused on one task at a time and did it well?
  • What if I never asked about homework, grades, or tests?
  • What if I sifted through my 42,644 digital photos and only kept my favorite 200?
  • What if I donated everything we haven’t used in one year?
  • What if I knew a magic word to rid my kids of their worries?
  • What if I planned ahead for dinner, or had just bought the darn Instapot?
  • What if I helped my kids learn to study and discussed The Renessaince rather than use Quizlet?
  • What if I never shamed and reminded them how special they are?
  • What if I told them I know being a teenager can be awful these days, but it will get better?
  • What if I was as proud of myself as I am of them?
  • What if I had to drive for the first time again?
  • What if I listened? Really listened? Looked them in the eye and listened?
  • What if I counted my blessings instead of yelling at them?

Would I be a better Mom?

Posted in Family, Faith and Fitness

Mondays with Mary…Oliver

40 Reflections: 40 days of raw recollections during the Lenten Season

No. 17

The 1930’s began in depression, marring the soul and conscience of the nation. The timeline continues as the Boulder (Hoover) Dam was completed, horrific Dust Storms occurred, and Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Pacific. Finally, in the mid 30’s along with my parents, great sonneteer, Mary Oliver was born.

Mary Oliver is a ubiquitous poet known for her writings of the natural world. Her poetry speaks directly to the reader, using flora and fauna as her perpetual backdrop. Oliver’s words read like prayers, organically creating a community of believers in the joyful celebration of nature.

As we walk through our tattered world, each step feels steeper than the last. Therefore, I leave with you Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese”.

May it lift all of us from profound sadness and leave us floating “high in the clean blue air”.

“Wild Geese”

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

-Mary Oliver