Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Good Word

If you spend any significant time around my house, you will likely hear the following phrases:  “Hello?  Kind words, please!” or “Is there any way you could have phrased that better?” There is also the ever-popular, long, drawn-out, “WhoaTone!”  With election rhetoric in full-swing with no signs of stopping, our children are being exposed to all kinds of words:  put-downs, insults, accusations, and name calling.  Marist’s day of “civil discourse” is coming not a moment too soon.

I’ve had some challenges with words lately as well.  A family member said some very unkind and unfair things to my husband and me this week.  It put me in a day-long funk where I replayed the words in my head, and it distracted me from what was important.  Even my husband said he wanted to turn the car around and go back to bed.

On a positive note (and what happens much more frequently), I have also had friends and even strangers share empathetic, uplifting and encouraging words with me this past month.  These life-giving words changed the trajectory of my day for the better, making me feel happy, peaceful, comforted and worthwhile.  I was then able to pass that grace on to others.  Paying it forward, as God fully intends.

I remember my parents telling me over and over – “sticks and stones,” but the truth is, words can really hurt.  We think that the middle-school years of sharp tongues are behind us (and for those of us with middle schoolers, we are still living in the thick of this), but even as adults we can be the recipients or deliverers of harsh, unkind or judgmental words.

What would Jesus do?  I think we all know the answer.  So simple, yet for us mere mortals, so difficult.  I know that my mouth often works faster than my brain, so I have been known to say stupid, careless things – things you want to pull back in as soon as you say them.  I know that God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason.

During the World Youth Day celebrations this past summer, Pope Francis took a call from a teenage girl who was the victim of bullying in the form of cruel language.  He said, “Gossip is terrorism.  It’s the terrorism of words, insulting one’s heart, dignity and in this young person’s case, nationality. We must choose silence, patience and most importantly forgiveness; however, these choices are not easy. We must ask the Lord for help in choosing to forgive and forget fully, and ask Him to forgive those who hurt us.” (Vatican Radio, 7/28/16)

Proverbs is full of words of wisdom regarding the power of words:

“Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones.”

Proverbs 16:24

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 12:18

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue;  those who choose one shall eat its fruit.”

Proverbs 18:21

And lastly, I leave you with a quote from the New Testament:

“Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

 

Pruning our Gardens

No one ever promised me that my Christian path was going to be straight.  (However, I sure wish someone had written that on a poster board when I was younger and stopped me in the hall, so I would have been a little more prepared.)  When I was young, I thought that the road would be simple and predictable.  Then I got thrown a few detours in my “life GPS.”  Then there appeared a few complete and utter traffic stops and changes in my overall itinerary that were so not on MY life map.

I have asked myself more than a few times in my life, “When is it going to get easier?  When am I going to get a break?  When, Lord, are you just going to let me catch my breath?”  I had this conversation with my aunt this past week, and she reminded me that all this “curing” and “pruning” was nothing less than God’s plan for us and the example for the people we touch in our lives.

When I visited my mother in Florida last March for spring break, I did the yearly updating of her spring flowers.  I dug up the old, dead stuff from the previous fall/winter pots, and refreshed the new flowers for spring.  There were some begonias that were not only leggy, but literally on their last legs, but I was convinced I could revive them (even though I live 6 hours from my mother’s house).  So, I didn’t pull them up.  I did a little fertilizing and pruning and hoped for the best.

This summer during my family’s visit to my mom’s, I realized I should have done something sooner to the flowers.  They needed a major overhaul.  I ended up pulling them up completely, and replacing them with something new – something more suitable for the long term.

We are all now well into the first term of a new school year.  A new term presents a new opportunity to approach and do things differently, to see things in a fresh, more positive light.  To change, if we as parents need to change.  For our children, if they need to change.  As families, we may try a little bit of pruning – a few small changes here and there that we hope will eventually bear fruit for ourselves as a unit and for our children as individuals.  We may also attempt to accomplish a major re-entrenchment – an overhaul to help our children bloom and make our families more productive, if that is what is required at this season of our lives.

I know that this summer I was more focused on my mother than on my children, which was the unexpected detour God already knew I was heading down.  Now that the school year is in full swing, I hope to redirect my children and family into activities that will bring all of us closer to one another, and to our Father, in both individual and group ways.  I am hoping that this will be more of a pruning than a complete replanting, but I know that we will be guided by our Father in what needs to happen to get us all working together in the most productive way in our little field – to reap what God has planned for each one of us to harvest in our own unique way, in our own unique season.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.  He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.  You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.  Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

 John 15:1-5

So. Very. Busy.

One of my friends has a unique ring tone for me.  It is the “buzzing bee” ring tone.  When she told me that, I was a bit perturbed.  Then I realized, “Oh, well.  She sees the truth.  Uncle.”  She also affectionately calls me “hair on fire,” but that’s a separate issue.

OK, so I cannot lie.  I’m a busy mom.  We are all busy parents, employees, friends, spouses and children.  Busy, busy, busy.  This past summer, I saw all the busy pass me by during a time when I was uniquely focused on my mother.  It was like watching the busy out a blurry window – the world was still constantly moving back and forth from my view, while my time stood relatively still.  I still marvel at all the busyness going on around me with the school year that is in full swing, as I wander from room to room in my grief and lack of focus, getting hardly anything accomplished except the occasional thank you note and phone call regarding “notice of death.”

Don’t get me wrong, friends.  If I had not just gone through the death of a parent, I would be right there with you.  Busy.  So very busy.  In fact, when I was at the MMPG intro meeting last week, I spoke with many friends who were already feeling quite stressed on behalf of their children and their families – and it is only September.  I am with you ladies and gents – I have felt your pain.  I so get the busy.

I have been told by a wise friend many times:

“If you don’t have time to pray and read the Scriptures, you are busier than God ever intended you to be.”

 This saying is even written on her workspace wall, and she is so very right.  Does God truly want us to be so busy that we cannot take time to talk to Him, share with Him our greatest fears, or bring to Him our greatest hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families?  This friend also says to me frequently, “We are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS!”  (I know I’ve shared that one before, but it’s worth repeating.)

So how do we use our time?  If time is a precious as we think (and we all want more “time”), then what is the best use of our time?

The Use of Time

Take time to think

– It is the source of power.

Take time to play

– It is the secret of perpetual youth.

Take time to read

– It is the fountain of wisdom.

Take time to pray

– It is the greatest power on earth.

Take time to be friendly

– It is the road to happiness.

Take time to laugh

– It is the music of the soul.

Take time to give

– It is too short a day to be selfish.

Take time to work

– It is the price of success.

Take time to do charity

– It is the key to heaven.

Author Unknown

 In Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba, he said, “Faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation.”  What a great way to use our time, if we would only take the time.  So often we pass each other by with a quick, “Hey! What’s up?”  What might happen if we took a little more time to stop and hear the answer?

So today, let’s take a moment and try and quiet our minds and our hearts to the “quiet presence of God” that is available to us at every moment of our lives, if we would just not be so very, very busy.

“Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time.  Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:6-7

The Storm Around Us

This past weekend, my daughter and I were trying to escape the literal and virtual storm that was surrounding us.  Hurricane Hermine had blown through south Georgia and northern Florida, and somehow we had escaped with only a temporary loss of power and a lot of debris strewn around my mother’s house on Amelia Island.  We were fortunate, compared to so many.  However, the hurricane of loss that swirled around our family could not be escaped.  My mother and my children’s grandmother was gone.  My mom’s house – full of family, flowers, and food – felt so very empty without her.

More than 20 years ago, my husband and I were also in a hurricane on the island.  The day following, we went shell-seeking, as the storm tossed some real treasures on the beach.  We collected lots of shells that still adorn my mother’s house.  My daughter and I thought that maybe we would be equally fortunate.  We desperately needed to get away from all the swirl of of planning and executing a funeral – for just a short time, for our our own well-being.

Of course, if we had been logical, we would have realized that the storm came from the Gulf, so we should not have expected any real finds.  However, she and I walked hand in hand to the end of the island, unsuccessful in finding any shells, but tossing lots of “live” sand dollars back into the surf to survive another day.

We have had a tradition in our family the last few years of collecting sharks teeth.  Each of us has a bowl with our personal booty.  I said to my daughter, “I feel like I’ve been looking down so much for sharks teeth and shells today that I haven’t even enjoyed the beauty of what’s right in front of me.”  Because of the hurricane, the sky was as beautiful as it has ever been – it was bright blue, and full of big, fluffy clouds.  She reminded me, that despite the immense beauty of the sea and the sky because of the storm, that there was still tremendous beauty as I was looking down at the sand in front of me.

Given this past summer, that struck an incredible chord in me.  I have been looking down all summer – mostly at the floor of a hospital room.  My head has hung low.  My heart has hung even lower.  I have been looking down, and not out.  Not up to God.  But down at my own sadness, fear and anxiety.

But as my daughter reminded me, in looking down, there was still immense beauty.  The sand was full of shells in all colors, shapes and sizes.  It demonstrated the beauty of God’s creation, in its most simplest form.

In the lowest points this summer, when I could hardly look up from the floor, there were nurses who did the hard work of caring for a dying soul, who they did not know, but who mattered to so many in real and concrete ways.  There were friends of mine and my mother’s who took the time to reach out to me and to my family in practical and sincere ways.  When I got home from the hospital late at night, my mother’s friends fed me, and welcomed me into their homes, before I collapsed in a heap in the bed.  Just to start again the next day all over again.

As a Catholic, I did not overlook the fact that my mother was in a hospital named for St. Vincent de Paul – whose members “serve individuals who are in need and are part of an international society of friends united by a spirit of poverty, humility, and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection.”  Every day as I walked to the cafeteria for coffee by a statue of St. Vincent de Paul meeting a man in need, I knew I had a cheerleader by my side.  Every day I saw families in much greater need than me, caring for their loved ones in the best way that they knew how.  Truly, pain, suffering and grief do not have an zip code or a social class.  We are all one.

I am thankful for my daughter for reminding me that beauty resides not only in the big picture, but also in the very smallest parts of our lives as well.

Open My Eyes

Open my eyes that I may see the deepest needs of men, women and children

Move my hands that they may feed the hungry;

Touch my heart that it may bring warmth to the despairing;

Teach me the generosity that welcomes strangers;

Let me share my possessions with people in need;

Give me the care that strengthens the sick;

Help me share in the quest to set prisoners free;

In sharing our anxieties and our love,

Our poverty and our prosperity;

We partake of your divine presence.  Amen.

– Vincentian Prayer