Saturday, December 26, 2009

I've been in your house!

There's a house at the bottom of the hill, one of the big old ones in our town, that we pass every day on our way to and from our house. One day when we went buy we saw a sign that there was an estate sale going on there. We could not contain our curiosity and walked down to check it out.
The house was full- filled to the brim with stuff. It looked like the person who'd lived there had not done any work cleaning or organizing or even cooking in a long time. It was similar to the houses on the new shows about hoarders that are on all the cable channels now. Each room was more amazing than the first- the kitchen cabinets were full but with no product newer than the last decade. The bathroom tubs were full of clothing and toiletries, and each bedroom was full of clothes and other stuff. The attic had a long pole from one end of the main room up there to the other, and hanging from it were hundreds of formal gowns from a department stores- some dresses were there in two or three different sizes or colors of the same style, and most of them had the tags on them. It made us wonder about the woman who had lived there. The sale workers were understandably tight-lipped about her story but we somehow found out that she had not died, but had just... left. We didn't envy the jobs of those staffers, and knew that whatever hadn't been sold would literally have to be shoveled out, into a dumpster or two or four.
In the front room of the blisteringly hot attic, I found a pile of boxes and file cabinets full of pictures and letters and memories from the family that had lived there. They were insanely personal, from times they'd been apart, sweet letters of love and promise and hope for the future. I felt at the same time wicked and privileged to read it all and I soaked it up. I love that stuff. But it broke my heart to think it would be shoveled out with the rest of the junk.
Just tonight we drove by the house, which has been completely cleaned out and is being lived in, by someone. Some repairs have been done but it could stand some paint and the little garage out back is still broken and ramshackle. I don't know anything more about the house now than I did then, but as I drove past tonight and tried to catch a peek in the windows, I whispered to the new tenants there "I've been in your house!"

Friday, December 25, 2009

Welcome to the CAPE

I think in parishes at Christmas time (and Ash Wednesday, and Palm Sunday, and Easter) there can be some mixed emotions at the crowds that appear. The CAPE Catholics all descend and clog the parking lot and the pews, and while it looks wonderful, feels wonderful, and is just the way we think it ought to be all year long, we can feel frustrated too- why isn't it this way all year long? Are these people here to be posers, fake part-time Catholics, doing it because it's tradition, or are they really here to worship God? Why don't they want to worship God with us all year long?
Last night at our most crowded Mass (at four, which the harumphers will harumph "oh they want to get it over with so they can go on with their Christmas plans!") I stood with my pastor in the balcony overlooking the crowd. He said "just watch, half of these people will leave as soon as Communion is over." And we did watch, and he was right, a lot of people did leave after Communion. I said to him, "but... look at how many stayed!" He rolled his eyes at me a bit, but smiled. I'm always telling the staff to think the best of people, be optimistic. They give me the same reaction, but I think they see some whiff of wisdom in it. Anyway, I told the pastor that it was probably best for people to start leaving early, so as to lessen the clog in the parking lot.
I know there are reasonable reasons to harumph at this sudden Christianity that strikes around these holidays. But I think it's better to be hopeful. If they came, they came because God called them to, whether or not they know that. They didn't have to come. Maybe they think it's tradition, or guilt, that calls them to their knees once (or four times) a year, but I think it's the Holy Spirit. And maybe while they're with us, they'll feel a deeper call. Maybe they'll hear something inspiring in the sermon or the songs, or maybe this year someone will smile at them warmly and they'll realize they miss the community that they could be finding at church.
I couldn't help but have a full heart looking down at the crowds of half-familiar faces and wobbly toddlers and perfumed up old ladies. I was glad to see it looking like it ought to look, and feeling like it ought to feel, and I smiled warmly at everyone I could meet eyes with. I hope they come back.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Week Joys and Woes

Today we start our home-stretch toward Christmas day, and our heads are reeling with the financial pressures and deadlines, and the weird schedule at work that is a combination of lots of events to get to, but not a lot of work to do.
Today and tomorrow we gather with our Pastor, whose sister Nancy died last Friday. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November, and died so soon after. It happened so fast, and so sickeningly suddenly. We're mourning for her whole family but mostly for our Pastor and friend, who has now lost two beloved siblings within a year, too young. She didn't know she had cancer, at all- until she went into renal failure and was hospitalized. How long had it been at work in her, silently wreaking havoc, without her even knowing? How horrible to be betrayed by your own body like that, keeping secrets and making promises while slowly getting ready to kick your legs out from under you.
I remember hearing a doctor on an NPR interview who had been paralyzed many years before. The interviewer asked him whether he resented his body, and he said no, that instead he thanked it for sticking with him through all he'd put it through. I love that attitude. But I wonder if people with cancer like Nancy's can ever get to that point.
The pastor is a faith-filled and joyful man, and it's crushing to see him sad- and it's so awful that it's happening around Christmas. He told Scott that of course none of them had done any shopping. It makes me want to help him, but of course there's not much I can do.
I'm slowly starting to understand how God works in these situations... I think... I think He, too, would like to make everything better, to let people live forever, to never experience sadness- but He knows, He must know, that this is all part of a much bigger picture. I have to believe that even though we fear death, and leaving the ones we love, or the ones we love leaving us, God knows about a bigger and better truth, a bigger and better goodness. But it must be hard for him to watch us suffer- like a parent whose heart breaks at their child's tears, but knows that the tears are part of the growing and learning that the child needs. Remember parents used to say "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you..."? Maybe that's true for our Father, too.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Don't wash your face with snow, that's silly.

It's snowing like the dickens up here on the hill. This morning I got up at 6:22 to dig out and head in for the 9:00 Mass, but there was no way that was going to happen. The snow is dumping down in flakes so tiny that you can hardly believe they'd amount to anything. But you know what they say:
little snow = big snow and big snow = little snow.
At 6:22 we probably had about 4 inches but the weather people said that I should stay off the roads because the winds were wicked. So I did, and went back to bed. Up again at 8:22, there were 4 more inches. Now at 10:30, there's probably 2 more inches and still it comes. I've missed the 9AM baptism and the Breakfast with Santa, which they very silly-ly decided to go on with.
Next target for takeoff, to get there for 1:00 baptisms. We shall see.
Here's how it looks from here:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas preparations on the Hill

If tomorrow wasn't supposed to be such a busy day, I'd be pretty excited about the massive amounts of snow forecasted for tonight and tomorrow. We are supposed to have four baptisms at 3 different times tomorrow, along with Breakfast with Santa after the 9 and the 11. Not to mention the "Red Sox" Swap (because it doesn't seem right to do a Yanke swap here in Soxland) and my musical comeback in Lessons and Carols. Ah well. Maybe we can limp in there at some point and make half the day happen.
But here at the homefront, my shopping is done, and wrapped. The tree is lit and surrounded with pretty packages, and soon Scott will be home from the mall with his bounty. I spent the afternoon making treats for my co-workers.Here's what I cheffed up:

These are nifty little treats my sister told me about: pretzels with rollos melted on top and then squished down with an M&M, and I added a drizzle of white chocolate. Oh yeah, they're yummy.

This is bark made with graham crackers, emphasis on the word CRACK, they are so freakin' good. I broke up M&Ms on top to make them even more festive.

I packed them up together in nify plastic chinese-food-takeout box things. Festive!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Love love love

When I was a teenager, all I wanted in the world was to fall in love and for someone to fall in love with me. I remember that every time I had some kind of relationship with a boy, I looked for symptoms of being in love, very much like I do now when I'm afraid that I'm coming down with the flu. Is my throat sore? Does my stomach feel funny? Why am I so tired, IS THIS THE FLU???
As a teenager, I knew all about love, what it looked like in the movies and on tv (Joanie Loves Chachi!) and what it was supposed to feel like. I think all teenagers are similar- especially girls, if they're like me- LOVE was the language of my teen years. I talk a lot about love when I describe having a relationship with God to teenagers now. I tell them that when I found out God loved me already, it felt to me like i was falling in love with Him. I suddenly wanted to know more about Him, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with Him, I thought about Him all the time. Love songs on the radio became hymns. I wanted my friends to know Him.
When I teach about evangelization, and about living in the Kingdom, I tell people we should be like people in love- wanting to tell the world about our new special One, glowing from the happiness of knowing Him. I say, "when you're at a restaurant or at a hotel, you can pick out the honeymooners, can't you? You can see it written all over them!" I say, maybe this is what kingdom-living looks like- maybe we should glow from the feeling of loving and being so loved.
What's funny is we spend very little time at church talking about God's overwhelming love for us. Oh it's mentioned, but sort of in the context of theology. Those of us from MY generation are mocked because we were catechized just post-Vatican II. Religious educators scorn "oh for you it was all crafts and 'Jesus looooves youuu'" as if that is the worst message one could teach or be taught about Jesus.
I wonder how different things would be in our Church if more people know about what it feels like to be in love with God? I wonder how many people would be surprised and changed- converted, if you will- to find out how much God loves them.
PS, God loves you!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Brain Hurts!

I'm using my brain in new (okay,old) exciting ways this week. It's finals week in grad school, and I just passed in my take-home final for my Psych of Religious Development class, and should right now be studying for my New Testament final, which is Thursday in class. Blue books! I am not sure I've taken a blue book exam, ever. I have a study guide, and once I study that (maybe I'll use note cards!) I should be fine.
But the real brain-cell tickler is that I've been singing in the choir- a temporary gig, for Lessons and Carols. I was asked to join as an Alto, which I am not. I was a second-soprano, way back when. I'm totally new at reading the alto line in SATB music.
It's HARD! Altos never get their starting note, and they don't get to follow any melodical instinct. The alto line goes up and down when one least expects it. They're all over the place! But the sound altos make really does flesh out the sound of the choir, and it's cool to be the ones to sing the tricky notes. It turns out that I haven't lost all my music-reading abilities, and my voice is still pretty trustworthy.
It's old and new territory this week for me.
Okay, okay, I'm gonna go study.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I couldn't do it, really.

Have you seen "Men of a Certain Age" yet? It's on TNT, starring Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, and Andre Brauer. It's funny, but it's really dark, too. I wasn't expecting that. It is the kind of show you kinda wish you could stop watching, even while you can't stop watching.
Ray's character is in the midst of a divorce, and watching him interact with his ex-wife is tough. During scenes like this I picture them on their wedding day, so happy. I imagine how sure they must have felt about each other that day.
But the thing that really gets me is this: how do you separate from someone who knows you so well, who you know so well? Even after only 8 years of marriage, I know Scott so well. I know he can't keep a secret, I know how cranky he gets when he's hungry. I know what makes him laugh, I know how emotional he is. I know how he'll react to things. I know he wakes up happy... well, you see what I mean, I KNOW him. Intimately. And he knows me, like no one else does.
How do you live with distance between you and someone you know so well?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Mary's "yes"

So yesterday was our parish's feast day, the Immaculate Conception. Are you the last Catholic to hear that this immaculate conception is the conception of MARY, not of Jesus? Well it's true! Rumor has it Mary was conceived (in her mother's womb- this is always specified. I guess it's to distract people from asking where she was conceived, which is too personal a question.) without sin. How about that?
Every year on this day I hear a sermon about Mary and how fortunate we are that this young woman said "yes" to God, and agreed to be the God-bearer, the first tabernacle, if you will. I ponder this. If it's true that she was chosen even before she was born, then what choice did she really have? Would it even be possible that she could have said no? How would that work? Did God have a couple of other girls conceived without sin, just as plan B,C,D? Or would her "no" have pushed back the date of the coming of our Messiah until God could work up another immaculate conception of some other girl and grow her up to child-bearing age?
But I guess she, being human like us, had a choice. Sure, she was specially gifted and prepared for this pivotal role in history, in the Kingdom. But ultimately, it came down to her accepting God's plan for her and agreeing to participate in it, using the gift God gave her. Did Mary know how special she was, how gifted she was for doing God's work? Maybe she had an inkling. How different would the world have been if she refused to move in the ways God asked her to move? Or, if she was too afraid to try?
I think the same is true for all of us. Maybe we have very little awareness of the gifts God has given us. Maybe we are afraid to put ourselves out there, afraid to trust that we have what we need within ourselves, put there by God. How different would the world be if we agree to move in the way that God is asking us to move?

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Memorial Service

Today we went to the memorial service for Scott's youth minister at the Congregational Church in our town. The church was full to overflowing, and the service was lovely and moving. Howie was a Young Life staffer, and had been in ministry for decades. At one point, his wife asked people to stand in accordance with how they knew Howie: as a family member? As a Young Life leader? As a teacher? As a ministry colleague? It was remarkable thing to see.
As I sat there listening to this man's life being told, I had a lot to think about. I wondered if I lived enough great stories for people to tell about me after I die. I wondered if it was a mistake to never have had children. I wondered if I was doing enough in my ministry that people would be able to say "she taught me about God."
The structure of the service was interesting- it was over two hours long but despite the fact that I was SO hungry throughout, since I had neglected to have lunch, it was thoroughly lovely and inspiring. I had only met Howie a few times, but I know the influence he's had on Scott. During the prayer part of the service, we were invited to turn to God with our thanks for bringing Howie into our lives, and I thanked God for Howie because without his encouragement of Scott to go into ministry, I guessed I never would have met him. How about that? Howie, I'm sure, never thought "hey I made that marriage possible!" He never knew the influence he had on me, a person he'd barely met.
In all, the service made me want to be a better person, a better minister, a better Christian. I want to be the kind of person who has a memorial service that inspires people to be better.