Sunday, December 29, 2013

Breaking News

I saw my cousin at a family gathering recently and she said "what's this about a new job? You update Facebook all the time but nothing about this!" And that got me thinking about the process of breaking personal news.
Maybe it's just me. When I have big news I need to roll it around in my head a bit before speaking it. It's allllmost like worrying about jinxing it... but not exactly. This process (of changing jobs) has been just about two months in the making, between applying and interviewing and waiting and giving notice and wrapping up. It's an excruciatingly long time for me to have news. I want to handle it right, release it the right way. I hate having secrets but am loath to tell anyone, hate the attention of making announcements but am dying to talk about it.
When I was pregnant the last time, Scott and I sat together the morning I discovered it and I said "let's just wait to tell people." He agreed. It was our third (ultimately unsuccessful) pregnancy and I did not want to go through the whole roller coaster again, just in case. I hate having to un-tell news even more than the telling. So with our secret sealed in between us, I went off to work. Scott called me when I reached the bottom of our hill- about 2 minutes later- and said "I told someone." I get it, I understand the need to tell, to let it out, to let someone in on the lonely turmoil that is having news.
When I was leaving my last job, it was a quicker process (blessedly) but still, I was going to work with my colleagues and making plans for the future that I knew I would not be a part of. My spiritual director said "you're not lying, you're not keeping secrets. You're cooking something up with God right now and it's not ready to bring it out of the kitchen."
When there's news, there's suddenly a proper procedure. Who needs to know right away? Who will have to hear this directly from me, who will be angry if they hear it from someone else? How can I time the announcement right so that I'm not having to say goodbye for a painfully long time? Is it okay to tell the people I'm leaving that I'm really excited about the new job? Although this is something I'm going through, grief that I have to face, I have to acknowledge that the people I'm leaving behind are sad, too. How am I to accept that grief without being... I don't know... self-aggrandizing? How am I
to be okay when someone doesn't seem all that sad that I'm going? It's all a delicate balance, and fraught.

Still, through this whole process I've felt the strong hand of God on my shoulder, directing my steps like my parents once did, pushing me through the crowd at the fair. I remember the feeling of not needing to be able to see the path ahead or even know where we were, because my much taller parents could see what I couldn't, and would push me in the right direction. All there was (is) for me to do was keep walking. So here I go! It feels good and scary and exciting and unreal and promising and hard. And now you know.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

These are a Few of My Favorite Rules.

I've been thinking and reading and talking a lot about leadership lately, and when you have to explain your leadership style, it forces you to have to determine what it is. I've come up with three of my favorite themes for leadership and ones that I come back to over and over again while working with parish staffs.
1) The Levy Rule: I don't know who Levy is, but I read somewhere about a company that lived by this rule, attributed to one of their leaders, Somebody Levy. The rule is: if you're going to suggest it, be prepared to make it happen. I've been in meetings where people say "we should have a soup kitchen in our church basement! Someone really ought to do that!" They mean Someone Else. But the Levy rule says that if you think it's important enough to suggest, you must be prepared, at least, to work toward making it happen. If you think it would be neat to have a sculpture of the Immaculate Conception in butter, but you don't know how to sculpt and don't have the time to learn and you don't have any butter, then stow that thought away on your inner shelf until a time when you can commit to it. On the other hand, if you know a butter sculptor and are willing to give her a call, then let's hear about that idea!
(Another handy catch phrase is one used by this guy, however not in this video:  "There's no 'they' on the Santa Fe!" is what this submarine captain told his people when they said things like "they didn't order the right part" or "they screwed that up." He taught them to change their language to "we" and that gave them ownership-agency- over the entire system. It's something I'm going to remember and use the next time someone tries to blame someone else for... whatever. Check out the TED talk about how this nuclear sub director got his workers all on the same... deck... I don't know... watch it:
2) Don't Look for Trouble: I have a pet-peeve, and it's when someone (especially me!) throws out a new idea, and it's met immediately with reasons why IT WON'T WORK. Ooooh it makes me seethe just thinking about it. When you hear an idea, even a crazy-sounding, impossible-sounding, hard-to-do-sounding idea, just take a beat. Take a breath and revel in the possibility. Maybe the idea as floated won't work, but maybe it'll be a seed to a whole new flower. Wonder about it. Consider the possibilities. Think about how it could work. Do all that first.
3) Assume and Expect the Best: So often I've heard from parish staff members comments like these: "dno one will come to that." "They won't get it." "That language is too churchy, we need to make it simple." "No one reads the bulletin." I just don't believe that anyone is served by assuming the worst of the congregation. If it is true that you only improve at tennis by playing against someone who's better at it than you, then I think it's also true that we can challenge people to grow in their faith (and their vocabulary) by challenging. Here's an alternative catchy phrase that I try to remind people of on church staffs all the time: "If they're there, they care." Church is not considered mandatory by any means in the majority of our people anymore.If they're in our pews, it's because they care, at least a little, and we can and should work with them on that assumption.

I apparently collect catchphrases. Huh. I've got other rules, too, but... there's time for that in my busy blogging schedule! Now get back to work!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Suprise Saturday!

Don't tell anyone but we had a day off today! Our pastor gave us the day after a stressful week and busy busy weekend at the parish. He's pretty awesome! Anyway, it has been a magical day of pajamas and dog walks and snacks and daytime TV.
First off and best of all, after my early walk with Callie (6:45! I think I am supposed to be discouraging her from waking me up but it's a pretty awesome way to start the day. She shakes her collar and breathes heavy and stomps her feet just like she does when we're coming home from work. She seems so happy to see me, and who would want to discourage that? Plus, she is 9.5 years old... the internet says that's 51 in human years and although I am only 45 I do not like having to wait to use the bathroom when I get up in the morning... so I can sympathize, ya know?) I went back to bed!! There is something special about morning, back-to-bed sleep. SO deep and rich, dreamy and lovely.
Up at 11, we sat down for breakfast and watched some daytime television. Wow, daytime tv is so bad it's hard to look away.  After catching today's episode of Wendy Williams (I can't help myself)  "the Chew"- it's a pretty terrible show, but they featured this recipe and... color me intrigued! 

Later I watched Katie Couric's show (what's it called? I forget) and they had tips for shopping smart that seemed pretty solid. Behold:
Just to redeem myself on the lazy scale (but hey, isn't that what days off are all about? Especially GIFT days off. We have been calling it a "surprise Saturday.") I'll share the mahstahpiece I created for dinner. I have no pics because we gobbled it all down pretty quick, but here's what we had:
I cut the squash into strips, kinda like steak fries, and tossed them in oil, balsamic vinegar, a couple of shakes of cinnamon sugar and nutmeg. I roasted them at 500 d. for ten minutes, tossed them, and roasted ten more minutes. Sprinkled them with goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. OH my they were good. 
I mixed ground beef with an egg, lots of parm. cheese and some onion powder. I melted butter and added Worcestershire sauce, and cooked the mini loaves (which are really just giant hamburger patties, let's be honest here) till they were cooked through. After they were cooked, I took them out and added cream cheese and some shredded cheddar to the drippings and voila: sauce. 
It was all experimental but ultimately delicious! 
Now I'm back in my happy place and ready to relax for the rest of this surprise Saturday on  Monday. Hope your day was restful too!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

That Book Has Been Flagged.

I guess my reading burnout from grad school has faded, and now I'm back to reading for pleasure and no credit. I'm back to my grade school days habit of having a different book going in many locations. Here's what I'm reading now:

Forming Intentional Disciples, by Sherry Weddell.
I've been reading this book for ever. Seriously, if I've done a "what I'm reading" post before, this book was probably on it. But it's a great read, full of fascinating Catholic facts and best practices of parishes doing it right.
This book is in my car, for whenever I get somewhere early and have time to wait.

Rebuilt, by Tom Corcoran.
Everyone who works in parishes is reading this right now! I haven't made much progress, and like the Disciples book better so far, but it's interesting. They basically looked at an evangelical mega-church and tried to apply their evangelizing practices to a Catholic parish, and BAM, started to grow. I'm not convinced that this is the way to survive, and to tell you the truth, I "attended" a webinar with this author this week and he seemed to be implying that there were some cracks in the plan. I dunno, I should read more before commenting probably. This one's in my office.

The Learners, by Chip Kidd.
This is the companion book to The Cheese Monkeys, which sucked me in and held me to the (weird) end. This one, I can tell, is going to be good too, but I've been distracted and will have to get back to it soon.  This is a bathroom book.

The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs
I just finished this one, which is written by an animal behaviorist, and fascinatingly talks about how primates and canines can communicate better with each other. Not a dog training book, really more of an animal science book but with great stories and a philosophy of dog-rearing that I really like. She talks about, for instance, the difference between dominance and aggression, and says that if you are dominant, you don't need to resort to aggression.
Riiiiight??? Fascinating stuff.

Love Has No Age Limit, also by Patricia McConnell, who also wrote the leash book.
This is the book I wished for when we brought Callie home! I'm still reading the "how to prepare/bring home" chapters just to see if we did it all right. I'll let you know. This one's in the bathroom too, but I carried it around in my pocketbook today in hopes I'd have a free minute to read it. I didn't.

Bird By Bird- Ann Lamott.
This one's in my Hospice bag, and I read it after prayers and during my Pandora John Rutter channel is playing, if the patient is in a coma and doesn't seem to need me to interact with him/her. Oooooh I like this book, even though I'll never write a novel. She is encouraging and insightful and just damaged enough to relate to.

Messy Spirituality- Mike Yaconelli
Finally getting around to reading this classic, and it's not disappointing. Picked it up randomly when someone donated it at work, and it turns out that this week was the 10th anniversary of Mike's death. Mike was the quintessential cheerleader of Youth Ministers/Ministry, and an inspiring guy all 'round. This one's in the bathroom at work, natch.

I think that's it- by the end of it all, I'll know how to train a Catholic dog to design a book jacket.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Can we talk about that ad???

Is it just me?
Whenever I see this ad on tv my head spins. Not like I'm ovewhelmed by intense thought; more like that girl in the Exorcist movie.
The premise is that this guy is taking his little girl to school. I'm guessing she's a second grader? She wants to dress inappropriately for school, in her butterfly princess outfit. He says no, because of course, that is ridiculous, you don't wear costumes to school. She, like the mature little champ that she is, accepts his direction and puts on a perfectly lovely dress, a dress that 8/10ths of the world's children would thank the stars above to wear.
But then... she sighs. She is experiencing sadness, disappointment. But just a little! She's not crying, she's not threatening to leap out of the car.
So Dad turns around, because apparently they are so early that they have plenty of time to head back and change her entire freaking outfit and make it back to school for picture day.
When did it become so unbearable for parents to allow their kids to feel feelings? This guy's reasonable parenting efforts were dismantled by one sigh. My parents had no problem with us feeling disappointed... in fact I think they kind of enjoyed it. When we'd say "but I want (whatever)...!!!" my parents would say (siblings, say it with me): "Wanting builds character."
Seriously, this girl is experiencing a modicum of disappointment and handling it well and this guy BLEW IT.
I heard a stunning radio doc a few years ago (wish I could cite it, sorry) where a woman said "parents think their job is to make their kids happy, but it is to make them resilient." If move into adulthood as resilient people, you see, they can find/make their own happiness. I believe parents think back on their childhood moments of unhappiness but forget to change lenses- they see those disappointments through the eyes of their inner child, and forget that they were building blocks to the lives they have built. It's not a good thing to live a life free of disappointment. This doc also said that even after all these years of parental efforts to "make children happy,"  modern teenagers' average rates of stress equal those of teenagers who were institutionalized in the 1950's, implying that this formerly debilitating level of stress has become the norm. We are not raising resilient kids.
Wanting DOES build character, and dealing with frustration and the occasional "no" builds resilience, and that's going to be important if kids are ever going to launch from their parents' homes and make lives for themselves one day.
Oh and here's another thing I think whenever this ad plays- I imagine that man's wife coming home from work that day to find that her daughter wore that ridiculous outfit to school... on picture day... and I bet she gives that guy an earful... and I hope she signs her daughter up for the retakes.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday, Not Quick At All* Edition

*also, I realize it is not at all Friday.

1) Well work has been outrageously stressful lately. Not stressful like people who have actual stress have, like, I don't know... emergency room surgeons or EMTs or... I can't think of non-medical examples right now, but you know what I mean. But it has been stressful, in that we have been preparing for our first "real" GOF sessions, the first of which was last night and then will be again tomorrow. They're "real" this time because last month, we had a guest performer who did a one-man show for everyone, meaning we didn't have to break out into groups, or have teachers in place, or any of that hard stuff. Last night went pretty well, considering the MANY loose/moving parts to putting on a night like this.

2) This year (and hopefully not for long), I've stepped into the DRE position, a job for which I am, let me just say, the wrong tool. I don't know nothin' about teachin' no children- my expertise starts at about grade 6. In fact now that I'm thinking of it, the one year I worked with 2nd graders (at a Catholic Charities afterschool daycare) was one of the worst in memory... and it was for the same reason- I had no business leading/teaching little ones. Funnily, I've had so many conversations this past year with people who were miserable about being in the wrong job- and I've told them all what I believe to be true: that God gifts us specifically, and when we are not using those gifts, nobody wins- not God, not the people around us, not us. Now here I am in the wrong spot myself, knowing the job should be done better than I can do, and knowing I could be doing good work in another (aka my former) position. ANYhoo, the hope (prayer) is that someone will step up, take on this part of the job, and let me go back/forward to being an adult faith formation person/pastoral associate at my current parish. In the meantime, everyone suffers. Ha! Just kidding, I think it's mostly me (and Scott, poor Scott).

3) While we're on this topic, let me urge you... when you leave your job, don't just walk away. Even if you hate it or are SO DONE with it or don't care who comes in after you, leave something helpful behind- a calendar, lists of people, information on what you did. Maybe the new person won't need to use what you leave, but it will help, and it will help you feel like you did something professionally courteous. Leave well, that's what I urge you. I'm still digging out from under my predecessor, and it's making me think angry thoughts toward my former colleague! When I've left jobs in ministry before, I've always cleaned out computer files and old stuff, and left a "successor file" for whoever came in after me. Contacts, info, lists, directions, outlines, suggestions. In my last job, the jamoke that took over for me promptly stashed that binder in a back closet with nary a look (I'm told), but a few years later I spoke to his replacement, who thanked me sincerely for the files. Just, kids, seriously- leave well.

4) On a completely unrelated topic, we have been having this yellow jacket invasion at our house. They built a nest (hive?) behind the light over our door, which would be bad enough, but if you remember our indoor squirrel issue from a few years back, you know that the space between our inner and outer walls are basically empty- so we've been killing about 20-25 big-ass yellow jackets in our kitchen every day for a few weeks. Yellow jackets are not bees- they are some kind of nasty, vindictive creatures that, when killed, emit a Shark/Jet-like pheromone that summons its friends to come and co-attack whoever killed it. Nice! Well, finally the pest guy came today, telling us he has chemicals that you need  LICENSE to use, and that he would spray, then powder the nest, then seal it up. "But," I asked, "If they can't get out, won't they just come IN?" He admitted that this was likely and that we should stand by. We watched him work through a porch window at a safe distance, and have since killed about 8-10 half-dead and super resentful YJ's in the kitchen. The pest guy (I like to call him "that pesticidal maniac") was calling me "deah" by the end of the visit and gave me his personal phone number, in case we need to call him back in. I'm not sure if that was a compliment or a hint that things were about to get much, much worse. Either way, I have it in a safe place.

5) I've been doing LEX again at work, in the afternoons with seniors (I like to call it "little old lady lex" but really, these gals are impressive scholars, and blow my mind with their insights every week), and young adult/adult (21+) "alcoholic lex" in the evenings, with wine and snacks. It's turned into this awesome thing, reminiscent of my old beloved "Banana Bread and God" group with kids. Now the participants know how to look for insight in the scriptures, and they dig really deep with each other- AND they bring delicious snacks, which is a lovely development! Only two weeks to go on this series, and then a break until Advent. Now THIS is the job I was meant to do. I'm so glad I can still do it. This week one of my afternoon ladies said "I'm really starting to like the Gospel of Luke!" How cool is that?

6) Here's how cool: this Sunday's Gospel is about the dishonest judge and the persistent widow. At non-alcoholic Lex we puzzled over the judge- were we supposed to be learning that God is like a dishonest judge, or that if we just harass God long enough he'll get annoyed enough to grant our prayers? Didn't seem right. One of my afternoon ladies, though, pointed us toward the widow, who is almost barely mentioned in the story. But in Luke, widows are used as an example of a powerless person- someone with no authority, no ability to get things done. This widow, though, DOES have a power- ONE power: persistence. We concluded that maybe the message for us in this gospel is that we have ONE power- prayer- and that all Jesus wants us to do with this story is to remember to hang in there, prayer-wise. I love that!

7) Go Red Sox! All through this series, every time I've tuned in to the games, the sox have started to flounder, and when I leave the room or change the channel, they do better. So, basically, the fate of the World Series is on my shoulders. It's a lot of pressure, but I'm holding up okay. Let me know how tonight's game goes!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Sharing Stories

    Recently I was dining with a few friends and someone told a story. MY story. It was about a funny thing that happened to me several years ago, and I've told it a few times since it happened. But this time, I sat quietly as it was told to a table of people, from someone else's point of view, as if it happened to the teller. I was fascinated. I listened for how different the details would  be- the story teller got a few wrong, but also, dressed some up to be really visual. He held his hands up and made a worried face for some of the story, and gave the characters actual lines, where in my version of the story, there is really no dialogue.
    He got a few laughs, and I wasn't sure whether to be proud or mad about it. Mostly, I was just fascinated by the way stories come to have their own lives.
    I think I've done this before, had this deeply familiar story that turned out to be something that actually happened to a sibling, for instance. Just this morning I told Scott something that I immediately doubted- did my friend bring my dog to visit me while I was on retreat that time? Or did she just say she thought about bringing the dog? It would have been really nice to see my dog there, that emotional weekend, and somehow I can see him, on the other end of the leash from my lovely friend, just lovely that she even thought to do that, even if it didn't really happen.
    One of our family  legends is told by my uncle, who would swear on the birthplace of the baby Jesus that my brother, as a young kid, pulled the tablecloth out from under a table full of dishes, like a magician. I've heard that story evolve over the years- over time the background details have developed; at one point my brother was just threatening to do it, and I think at some points in the history of its telling the trick was successful and at others, not so. I remember hearing how mad my parents were, and the most interesting detail to me is that my uncle says now that my brother was reading a book about magic tricks, and that's what inspired him to attempt it.
    Honestly I have no idea what happened or didn't happen. But I like that my uncle feels this ownership over the story, and I can tell that he has vivid vivid images in his head when he tells it, seeing it all unfold just as plain as day, even while my family sits around him with their eyes rolling and their heads shaking nooooooo, that's not how it wasssss. 
    I think I heard on Radiolab that our memories are pretty much stored in our brains like files in a filing cabinet, and that they get changed every time we pull them out and look at them. So, they said (I think) the best way to keep a memory/file pristine is to never pull it out. What a conundrum! Is it better to have our perfectly preserved memories hidden away, or our stories constantly remolded over time? Maybe our most-mused-over memories and stories bear very little resemblance to our real experience, after a while. But, you know, maybe they're better than the originals.
    I kind of like the idea that  my story can become someone else's memory, even if it's not true. Maybe the reason my friend felt so involved in that story is because of my vivid telling of it. Yep, that's probably what happened, or at least, that's how I'm going to remember it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


It's not Friday. I know. But still, here are seven quick things about which I'm excited. (Warning: this post is chock-full of exclamation points, so you may want to sit down to read it, lest the excitement knock you off your feet.) There are so many things to look forward to right now, and here they are in no particular order.
1) GOF! Our parish Generations of Faith program starts TOMORROW OH MYCRAP TOMORROW??? Are we ready? Yes! We are! And it's going to be great. A few years ago we stopped the insanity and started hiring a guest speaker/performer for the September session, giving us a WHOLE MONTH to put curricula together,figure out teachers, make group lists, add kids who have been turned away from other parishes (oh yes, that happens)... so tomorrow and Sunday we just... host. Hospitality and fun, seeing families we haven't seen for a while, welcoming new people, and putting finishing touches on decorating and food and tech. It's a wild, crazy time, but I am psyched to get started!
2) Real TV! Oh how I've missed my stories! Thank God for such summer tidbits as Broadchurch, Drunk History, The Newsroom and Under The Dome (that last one being a little embarrassing to admit). But I can't wait to finally found out How He Met Your Mother,and see my pals on Parks and Rec, Modern Family... oooh and Michael J Fox is back on tv! I know, I'm a junkie.
3) This frickin' Pope!! Check out this headline: "Pope Francis proclaims an end to the Church of small things" I can't tell you the thrill that a headline like that gives me. Honestly, I couldn't get through two paragraphs of that article before I started choking up. It's so so good.
4) The winter! I know, I know. Famous last words. And this is the first year EVER that I've looked forward to winter. Maybe it's old age or maybe it's the crazy humidity of this summer, but I'm just sick of sweating! I'm ready to bundle up with my electric blanket, and pull out my scarves, and make soup.
5) On a related note, I'm excited about a winter with a dog. I can just picture her romping around in the snow, ice balls on her fluffy toes... and easier-to-scoop-poop! Oh yes, winter is promising!!
6) I'm finishing up my NPR trifecta this Fall with tickets to Radiolab LIVE in Boston! This completes the set with a trip to see Garrison Keillor in the summer, Wait! Wait! Don't tell me! at Tanglewood last month (which is where we usually see GK... it was so cool to see something else there in the dark! Usually we bring a picnic and wine and accoutrements, and the show is mid-summer from 6-7:30 or so. But this show was on  Thursday, so we got food there at T-wood, brought a simple set-up, and watched the show out under the stars. It was fun and beautiful).
7) I started writing this on Thursday and now it is Saturday, and we've had our first GOF and now I'm looking forward to the second one. HURRAY for time passing and good things coming!
Here's a picture of one of the above-mentioned items. Just, instead of pine needles, picture fluffy snow, and ice balls on those toes.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

3 little words

On our recent family camping trip, siting around the campfire, conversation naturally turned to religion. Ha! I wonder if this is something that happens in other families? But hey, if you have churchies in your family, this is the risk you run.
Still, I am not one for religious debate- I don't mind talking about faith (I'd much rather write about it) but I do worry about saying something wrong or worse, not-quite-right. I feel like religion is such a tricky thing to talk about well, especially in group-chat kind of settings. So when we started the conversation, I kept quiet, except when I couldn't.
Often, in those settings, people just want to say what they want to say- they're not looking for insight, I find. But within a group I think there are also people who earnestly long to know, really have questions they'd love to ask. And there are inevitably, I think, people who are wondering why we don't all just shut up about this stuff, or who think it's crazy, or who have been so badly wounded by some church that they are seething through the whole conversation.
Anyway. I've been thinking about one of the questions that came up that starry night- the "where was God" question. It's the bazillion dollar question- I just saw it handled rather badly by a vicar on a BBC show, in fact, today (Broadchurch! Are you watching? It's not a church show, it's a mystery, and wow it's good!).
The question goes "where was God when this bad thing happened?" If something bad happens to one person and something good to someone else, does that mean God picked them to bless, rejected the other? Was someone being punished by God when something bad happened? Or, on the other hand, was someone being blessed by God in return for good behavior, or strong faith?
Well, here's what I think.
I think that like we read in 1 John, God is Love. Ta-daaa!!! No, no, there's more. This idea, that God is Love, is the key to that "where was God" question. If God is Love, then when you ask "where was God" you can also ask it this way: "where was love?" It's an easier question to answer- of course, you can look at the very worst of situations and find love. Say, for instance, that your friend has a terrible accident. Where was love? Maybe love was in his family who came to visit him in the hospital. Maybe love was in the nurses who cared for him, in the blood donated by strangers... maybe love was in the co-workers who sent flowers. Maybe love was in the friends who arranged for meals to be cooked for your friend while he was recovering. Maybe love was in the heart of your friend, who resolved to change his life. But what if your friend died? Love is still there, in all those places. Love abides in accidents, in illnesses, in the darkest of war.
But love- it does not keep us safe. It does not save us from harm or hurt. Love just... loves. Love manifests, love sustains, but love does not do tricks. Love doesn't keep track of faith or good works, Love does not reward, love does not punish.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
Doesn't that scripture seem suddenly more radical? And, if this is true, doesn't it necessarily have to change the way we think about how God works? It changes the way we pray and the way we worship- it changes what we expect of God, and it changes how we share our faith with others. God Is Love are the three most life-changing words I've ever heard. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

It's practically summer again!

It's crazy, innit, that it's September already? School started in our neighborhood this week, and oh how things are ramping up at work as we prepare for the beginning of our faith formation year. Time does truly fly, and although I'm half mourning the summer already and half longing for cooler temps, I'm also half-dreading the impending WOOSH of events and activities and half-taking comfort in the fact that before I turn around, it will all be over with. Somehow my stress is eased by the fact that the Fall will zip by as fast as the summer did. Soon I'll be saying "remember when I blogged about how fast this time would go? Seems like yesterday!"
I gues this comfort in the wildly fast passing of time is related to my unease with suspense. I don't kow how it will all end, but somehow knowing it WILL end is soothing to me. How weird is that?
This month we kick-off Generations of Faith with a guest performer (halleluiah, I don't have to know what I'm doing until the second session! Thank you Frank Runyeon!) and that means I have logistics to figure out, meetings to have, and creativity to muster. I'm half-looking forward to getting it going and half... prematurely exhausted. Ha!
Here's a daily online retreat from the Irish Jesuits, in case you've not heard of it yet. Breathe. Breeeeeathhhhhe.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Seeing What's There

Recently Scott pointed out the freckles that dot my nose and cheeks. I was surprised and asked "oh do I still have freckles?" Now, I've had freckles as long as I can remember. I've always liked having them. I remember my cousin Cindy commenting that my freckles were "well-spaced" when I was in middle school, and how satisfying that sounded to me- at a time when I wasn't able to do much well on purpose, at least my freckles were in order.
My freckles seem to fade a bit in the winter and then pop out when the sun hits them in early summer. With all the camping and outdoor activities I've done this summer it makes sense that they're a bit more vivid than usual. But still, I was surprised with Scott pointed them out. As much as I know about the existence of my own freckles and their well-spaced-ness, I kind of had forgotten about them.
Here's the thing: I look at my face in a 6X mirror every morning! How could I have stopped seeing my own freckles? In all my looking for flaws in that mega-magnified mirror, I'd stopped seeing the very things I liked about myself.
I think this situation applies to so many parts of our lives. How often do we forget the very things we loved about the people we love? How often do we spend so much time looking for God to act one way and miss the millions of other ways that God moves? Are we blinded by familiarity, or do we simply forget to look for the good around us?
I know that for me, my relationship with God grew... was magnified... when I stopped looking for God to appear in my image. When I opened my eyes to see what was already there, I was happy with what I saw. I try now not to get distracted by my own rutted way of seeing, and look for God in places where I least expect. I'm going to take a closer look in the mirror, too, and check out these old freckle friends of mine. I wonder if they're still well-spaced?

Monday, August 12, 2013


Today I went for an hour-long massage, an unbelievably gratifying luxury I've awarded myself, justified by the fact that I get a discount for going more often. Outside of going out to eat, I'm not a huge spender by nature (check out my fancy car!) so I add that to my justifications. But hey, why am I justifying it to you?
Anyway, I love my massage therapist, who kicks my muscles' butts (oh yes, muscles have butts) and is just gifted and lovely. Today I breathed into it and asked God for a word, a sign to help me be present and relaxed this week, my vacation week. I got a word, and a sign, all in one:

I lay there thinking about how we still use this word and how surprising it is that it hasn't been replaced by something dumber. Then I thought over what word might replace it... I define the word as giving up something, to someone else... to someone else's control. The replacement word eluded me for about half an hour but when the therapist tackled my feet I thought "surrender." That's the other word for yield, and that's why it hasn't replaced the word yield. Nobody likes to surrender, myself included.
But it also occurs to me that just about every time I pray for a word from God, the word I get is surrender. It's something I must be reminded of, over and over. I pray for a relief of stress, and I'm asked to surrender. I ask for something to be cured or fixed and the suggestion is to surrender. I beg for direction, for answers, and the answer is... surrender. So, I yielded to the skilled hands of my massage therapist, I'm yielding to vacation, yielding to the passage of time at work without me there, yielding to the passage of time altogether. For now, anyway, until I find myself seeking help again.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Sit down and say Ahhhhh

Today is the first day of my vacation, and it comes at a crucial point in my year- just before the pastoral poop hits the fan, if you will. When I get back, I'll have about a week to get ready before EVERYTHING starts again- in fact while I'm gone, people will be hounding the office with registrations and questions and issues, which is all stuff I never had to deal with before taking on these new responsibilities at the parish.
All that made the last week BEFORE my vacation more fraught than usual. There was so much to do and to think about, and an equal amount of stuff that I should have been doing all summer, and had to forgive myself for delaying even longer. Very stressful.
So when I left, I expected to feel like I was taking off a heavy backpack, that I should float out of the building and into the sunset stresslessly.
Instead, I decided to tackle home chores and get them out of the way- grocery shopping, specifically, with which I have a love-hate relationship. I love the instant gratification of ticking items off a list, and love having a full larder, but I hate putting groceries away.
All this is to say that it is taking me longer than I'd like to switch into vacation-mode. Rather than flipping a switch to relaxation, it's more like turning a (small) ship. I have a massage appointment on Monday so if I'm not at ease by then, that should help. The weather is helping by providing me a gross, rainy day today so that all I can really do is read books or watch cooking shows, which I guess I appreciate! It helps me temper my "I should be doing something" anxiety.
On that note, I'm off to take my first stab at vacation idleness. Ahhhhhhh...

Friday, August 02, 2013

7-Quick Takes, No One Wants To Hear Your Pet Stories Edition

I have a weird brand of writer's block, where I can only write an opening paragraph about anything at all, and then if I try to carry on it just becomes a tortuous, random-search kind of text-vomit that no one would want to read, except maybe a curious psychoanalyst, happening on this blog by mistake. My only hope at readable anything is to write within  a structure like "7 Quick Takes" and so, here goes.

1.Our home is full... FULL OF LOVE! You probably know we have two cats (just barely adult, a bit over a year old). Now we've added Callie, a nine-year-old collie/golden/shepherd mix. She is lovely and practically perfect (but for one issue, see below). We got her at a groovy shelter and took her home about 4 days after first considering even possibly thinking about maybe getting a dog. Whirlwind.
2. The first night, we panicked because she lunged after our beloved cats. We had decided to keep her on a leash for the first several days, so we could bond with her and really be able to observe her. I'm glad we did it, and it was definitely helpful (if a pain/headlong plunge into parenthood: "hold the leash while I go take a shower...") what I couldn't figure out was, what to do overnight? Do I sleep with the leash looped around my foot? I asked our dog-owning friend PJ and he said "don't you have a baby gate?" Well, no. Do people have baby gates?? We ended up rigging a window screen across the bedroom door and overnight-ordering a fancy one (with a cat door!) at great expense. We stopped using the gate about 5 days later.
3. The cats are young and pretty adaptable (as opposed to our ex-cats, who were old and did NOT like dogs) so we thought it would work out and it has. Charley is still not in love with Callie, and doesn't like his space invaded by her, but he's not afraid. Katy is absolutely not afraid and often will eskimo-kiss Callie on her way by. Cute!
4. Callie suffers from "leash aggression" or "barrier aggression,"  which is to say that when on a leash, she growls and barks and lunges at other dogs (and cats). Face to face, she's lovely with other dogs, but on a leash she's a madwoman. True to my personality, I've been researching the issue exhaustively and trying different techniques.
5. Callie is not a submissive dog- she IS mellow, which helps in all areas, and she's been trained mostly pretty well. But she doesn't particularly care to please me, is only mildly interested in praise or treats,  and is mostly unphased by correction. I've had some success with distracting her and we've been working on keeping-on-walking when we see dogs. I've been teaching her to look at me when I say her name, and that's going well, and it turns out she knows how to heel!  
6. All things considered I have to say that adopting an adult/elderly dog is the way to go. I can't imagine how much work it must be to house-train a dog, or to every-other-kind-of train it. I know we may not have many years with Callie but the years we have will only involve outdoor pooping, and for that I am thankful. Also, her original owner died (young0 in her fifties!) of cancer, so, you know, she was an orphlan. From the orphlan home (that's a Meet Me In St. Louis reference.)
7. Callie wags her tail in her sleep. Need I say more? She is the best dog ever.
Did you know that blogging from an Ipad is nigh onto impossible? I'll have to post pictures later, including a link to the host of 7QT,, so do come back.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


   I've been thinking about confidence lately. I have seen tiny jobs seem gigantic for want of confidence. I have experienced the pain of losing confidence and floundering where I should have been succeeding, or at least should have been just fine. Often when I feel underwater, I realize that what is missing is not resources, not help, not even strength, but confidence.
   We have a new dog, which gives me empathy for new parents- it's amazing how adding a life, even that of an old, mellow dog, tinges every new decision. The first night with our dog we fairly panicked, ordered an expensive baby gate, and worried that our cats would never forgive us or feel safe in their own homes. Soon, we took her up to my sisters' house and the difference in confidence was palpable. My sister exudes a calmness with dogs that comes from knowing she'll be able to handle whatever comes up. It reminded me to snap out of my un-confidence and relax.
   On a white water rafting trip with my youth group many years ago, I had two lovely high school girls in my car on the long ride home. They were marveling about our rafting guide, who was probably only a year or two older than they were at the time. They said "I could never be that confident" but I reminded them that one was a singer of solos, and the other accompanied her school choir on piano in concerts- I said "I bet if you put that girl in front of a crowd and asked her to sing, she'd freak out!"
   Confidence is about knowing you have what it takes to do what is needed. In ministry, my confidence came (and then came back) from knowing that God had chosen me to take this road, had moved me in new directions I never could have imagined, had gifted me specifically to do what other people could never do. I remind myself that God has anointed me for the work I'm doing (an image we don't talk about much in the Catholic Church). When I remember that, it feels better than thinking I have to invent some gift in the face of troubles- I just have to rely on what's been given me.
   Wisdom is earned, but confidence... confidence comes from taking steps, trusting, leaping and surviving.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Which Cat Am I (this week)?

I write a tiny (in size) column for our parish bulletin every week. Sometimes it connects with the readings of the week in a faith formation kind of way, sometimes it's meant to get people thinking about evangelization and sometimes it is meant to ready people for the future (in light of the Pastoral Planning process here). This past week, someone mentioned that she was going to cut out my column and put it on her refrigerator, which I took as the utmost compliment. She said it made her wonder which cat she was... so, for your fridge (I expect to see it next time I visit...) here's that column:

We have two young cats who are very different from each other. You can tell as soon as you meet them that they have different personalities (felinalities?). One of them is happy and content, pleased to lay around, chase a flashlight beam in the evenings, and fill his belly with food. He sits in the windowsills and placidly observes the world.
The other cat, though, has a heart for adventure- she wants to get out in the world and see it all! We are constantly on guard when coming in or going out the door as she will, Houdini-like, slip by in a bold escape attempt. Usually we stop her, but sometimes she's just too fast and wily. When she does get out, she looks around and then comes back to the door with a  pathetic mew to be let back in.
The cats remind me of my own relationship with God - a God who shows me the limits and boundaries for how I should live my life, who has expectations of me, who wants me to live within the plan God has set for me. I can relate to how God might feel, watching my determination to live life according to my own rules, even though God’s intentions for me are (as my parents used to say) for my own good.
I see now that there's a freedom to living within God's intention for us - we don't have to be tempted by the "outside world" and can be content, happy, and free when we stay in God's house.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


I'm home on a Sunday night, which is reason enough to celebrate with a blog entry. It's weird to be home on a Sunday, in my pajamas mid-afternoon and all the other Sunday things that people do. I'm home because we went in SUPER early- I had a baptism to wrangle and Scott sent his kids off to camp. He's not going to camp this year because he's recovering from an operation that his surgeon assured him he'd be fully recovered from in 2-5 days. What have we learned? Don't trust surgeons. Finally someone admitted to him that healing takes at least two weeks, and since he can't drive, I'm chauffeuring him around and so when he came home from work today, well, I had to come too.
Meanwhile, we're adopting a dog! She's nine years old and her person died of cancer, and she's a collie/golden retriever mix. She's very sweet and fluffy (wait till you see her tail!) We bring her home tomorrow, and we are so excited. I've been envisioning our lives with a dog included, and I think it's going to be great.
Meanwhile, I have a new job! No, I haven't lost my old job, I've just added another one to mine.  Our religious ed director has retired (who DOES that??) and when our interview process didn't turn up the perfect person to take her position, I was (ahem) promoted. I'm going to try like heck to keep my own work going, while doing hers, and delegating a lot. The best news is that we've hired a part-time admin. assistant to take on the administrative parts of the job, which is the only thing that has kept me from hyperventilating over the past month. It was announced in the bulletin this weekend, and all the older people coming out after Mass (I was greeting) said "congratulations! That sounds like a LOT of work!!" So.
Meeeeeanwhile, I've been taking a Canon Law and Marriage course from the Archdiocese. It's interesting, which is better than I expected. It's all women, and they ask veiled personal questions like "what if SOMEONE was married on the beach, despite her mother BEGGING her to go to the church?" One woman asked a question about annulments granted on the grounds of fraud, and then said "well, that's my marriage." Awkward!!! 
I'm taking the class so that I can be certified as a Pastoral Associate, which people on the Catholic streets say will be valuable for people who want to keep working in the Archdiocese. It's hard to know if this is true, or will be true, or... what will be true. But hey, why not get as certified as possible? If there's one thing I've learned from my Canon Law and Marriage class is that I don't really want to get into the annulment-arranging business- too much to know! But hey, who knows what I'll end up doing? I never dreamed I'd be doing whatever this is going to end up being.
Meanwhile, my mother's been in the hospital this week, again, sporting a nasty and un-helpful attitude... I've been too overwhelmed to be any help at all, this time around. Next health crisis, I am so there, siblings!
I think that's it. For now. But meanwhile...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Hey Grandpa, what's for Sprummer?

 Happy first day of Summer! It's been just the right combination of sunny/thundery/rainy around here, and my garden is full of glee (and earwigs. AUGH!). The lettuce I scattered as seed has come up green and lush. I missed the spinach and now just pick it out when I see it towering over my lettuce plants... I never have  had much luck getting the timing right with spinach. But my peas, my peas! They are growing in leaps and bounds, and the tomatoes and zucchini plants seem to be bouncing back from their near-drowning over a couple of rainy weeks.
Anyway, all this is to declare that this is my favorite food season: Sprummer. Last week, just in time, the strawberries came in and I ran to the farm market to scoop up a few quarts. We ate some all day, one at a time, I set aside a quart for my Dad, and mashed the third quart with some sugar for strawberry shortcake.
(Our strawberry patch, for which we fight against the squirrels and rabbits for domination, is bigger than ever, and produced great berries this year! We got a few handfuls of them- but not enough for any kinda recipe.)
Today, a week later, I couldn't keep myself from going back for one more quart- I ended up slicing them, drizzling a bit of honey over them (less than a teaspoon, but it makes the most delicious difference...) and we had them for dessert tonight with whipped cream. For dinner we had taco salads with lettuce from the garden. So gratifying!!
For breakfast lately I've been whipping up flaxseed buns for egg sandwiches. So easy and good for ya!
And, can I just tell you about the stuffed mushrooms we had for lunch today? Good Gawd.
ALSO! Flour-free pizza crust that is to. die. for. Last week when I made it, we were out of pizza sauce so I made a paste of olive oil/soft butter/garlic/parm cheese and brushed it on the crust, and let me tell you. Heaven. Speaking of flour-free, this almond-flour coffee cake (I made it with strawberries) was a relative hit with my family. Who'd have thunk?
Sorry, I have no pictures, as we've gobbled everything up before snapping photos.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thinking Outside the Box

This weekend we hear the familiar story of one of Jesus' conversation with his apostles. He asks his closest friend, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" They answer him by saying that people think he might be Elijah, might be John the Baptist, might be one of the "ancient prophets" come back to life.
The crowds are trying to make sense of what they are seeing in Jesus, trying to reconcile him to their old, existing images of what someone sent from God would be like. They are unable to "think outside the box" and instead, try to make Jesus fit the boxes they're familiar with.
I think we do the same thing with God. We have images of God that we cling to, even when they're unhelpful to us. We hang onto our images of God so tightly that when God doesn't behave in the way that fits our image, we give up believing. We create God in our own image, and then measure God's behavior (or lack thereof) against that image. When things don't go according to our plan, we decide that it is God who's at fault (or, non-existent)- not our images. We find it easier to discard God than it is to discard our boxes.
Of course, Jesus was way beyond what the crowds could understand him to be, and of course, God is beyond our reach of understanding too- Jesus calls us not just to change in behavior but a change in thinking- a paradigm shift. We have to stretch our understanding, dare to imagine that God could be something beyond and different from what we expect and are comfortable with. How do we do that?
The Apostles knew who Jesus was, and it was because they spent many hours face to face with Him. The crowds only knew pieces of Jesus, gleaned who he was based on his appearances and sermons. But the apostles, they logged time with Jesus. It was because they spent time in His presence that they could see Him for who He really was.
So, to follow their example, if we are going to be able to shift to a new paradigm, a new understanding of this God, we can't step away, boxes in hand, self-assigned images intact. We have to log time with God. We need to be face to face with God, spend time in His presence. Just like the Apostles, getting to know Jesus is not a promise of a life without pain- but there's a promise of a happy ending that we cannot find in the boxes we create.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Awakening Faith

I have a catless lap for the first time in a while, and so can take a moment to tell you about my recent experience using the PNCEA's Awakening Faith program. (Wait, are they not called the pncea anymore? Well, anyway, the Paulists. When it comes to evangelization, they're literally the book-writers.)
AF is an out-of-the-box program for Catholics who may have stepped away from the Church and are curious or feeling an inkling to step back in. Part of its greatness is that it's NOT the RCIA- not designed to firehose the participants with remedial dogma. The six sessions consist of short essays that you read with the participants, as-is, and then discuss. The essays are thought-provoking and applicable, and just a little bit challenging. But what's nice is that as a leader, I can claim no author-ship for what's written. I can say "so what do you think about what this person has to say?" without implying that it's right or wrong to agree or disagree, and without having to implicitly defend it. The writing is well done, though. The first night, as I prepared for the class, I thought "oh people are going to be so bored with reading this, there is so little here!" But as we started to read, my participants would say "oooh" or "hmm, that's true" as we read along. We had great, fruitful conversations after the readings, and I got to pull from my bag of teaching stories to complement the lessons. What fun to hang out with people who have never heard my stories!
I had two women participate, and they are very different from each other, but the three of us bonded over the 6 weeks in a really nice way. We had goose-bumpy moments, teary bits, and lots of laughter. I think both of them came away feeling encouraged in their journey back toward the Church, in their own ways. I think I'll offer it again next Lent, with a PR push on Ash Wednesday. I'm looking forward to doing it again!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I'm a Hospice Vigil Volunteer, for real.

I survived! Un/fortunately, so did my patient. I had my first vigil shift the other night in a hospital room, with a (too young) woman who is dying of cancer. I was there for four hours overnight, watching really bad info-mercials while she slept, and at other times, trying to will her back to sleep like a mother of a newborn baby. She was agitated, which is something that happens sometimes, and kept making moves to take her blanket off and get up. She couldn't have gotten up, and ultimately was doing tiny, confused crunches for an hour- I wanted her to relax, to give in, to let go, to stop trying so hard. She is not verbal, so all I could do was kind of coo to her- I found myself (rather than coming out with "you can go now!") saying "you're doing a great job." I don't know if this is a helpful thing to say to a dying person, but it seemed like the best I could really come up with. I wanted her to know she didn't have to worry about anything, she was doing (as they say in Hospice) the "hard work of dying" and that's all she had to do. That and sleeeeeeeep.
I know the idea of these vigils is to be there when people are dying, and when they die, but she was just going on living, and didn't die while I was there, but it still felt like good work to be doing. In fact, I couldn't help but think that every patient should have someone sitting in with them. A patient across the hall, who had a hard time speaking, kept yelling out to the nurses and hitting his call button. He could really only yell out a syllable at a time, and they couldn't figure out what he wanted. As the night went on I could tell that they were answering his bell less quickly- and sometimes only over the intercom (he couldn't talk!). Finally a staffer went in and figured out that he was cold. He needed his blankets pulled up. It was one of the saddest things I've ever witnessed. I imagined my parents in hospital beds, trying to be understood- and I imagined myself, alone and cold and... alone. My patient's nurse wouldn't have known that my patient was agitated if I'd not been there to tell them, really, and my patient would have been all by herself, doing useless crunches on her way to nowhere.
I'm going back tonight, and will pray like I did the other night for mercy for my patient. Mercy as in "please God, just give this person a BREAK!!" I have my phone charged and my book ready and am hoping she'll just be in a deep deep sleep all night as I count the seconds between her breaths. I know she'll go when she's ready- and if she's ready when I'm there, I'll be glad for her to finally get some real rest.
UPDATE: We both made it through the night again, but my patient passed away early this morning. She seemed much more comfortable last night, and slept almost the whole time. The nursing staff was different tonight and so sweet. I watched them give her medicine and touch her face, check her body for what I knew were signs of impending death. They spoke to her so sweetly and respectfully, even though she was basically unconscious. They seemed so much more caring and sympathetic.
And about that man across the hall. He was still yelling, but this time I could see him a little better as the chairs in my patient's office had been moved.  Turns out, he's kind of awful- yelling AT the nurses, grabbing at them, and throwing things at them. True, he did not seem to be "all there" so maybe in his daily life he's a charmer, but not in the hospital. Still, the other difference last night was that the nurses were attentive and patient with him, even when he was grabbing their gloves and refusing to let go. One nurse sat outside his room to do her work so she could keep an ear and eye on him, and even called him "sweetie" at one point. Sweet, he was not. But she was! Overall, my faith in hospitals was greatly improved.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pinterest Hits and Misses

Friday? What? Oh. Well, I call the holiday weekend rule. 
Anyway, here are seven things I've tried from Pinterest, to varying degrees of success. Oh, and they're low-carb.
1) Cauliflower Pizza Crust
Well, it was okay, but I think my oven is uneven and so some parts were fine and crust-like-ish, and others were like... well... cauliflower. I'd try it again, except that I have better things to do with my cauliflower. And if I were to do it again, I'd make smaller ones instead of one big unevenly cooked one.
2) Baked Avocado Eggs
So, in theory, these should be great, right? But the first thing that happened was that most of the egg blobbed out onto the baking sheet, and that made my first words of the day be swears. Apparently you really have to scoop out quite a big to make room for an actual egg in there. So, all I ended up with was a yolk and a bit of white. It wasn't awful, but it was disappointing.
3) Zucchini Chips
Here's what I was picturing. I was picturing... well, the chips in the picture? I mean, is that too much to ask? Instead, I waited over an hour and ended up with something somehow simultaneously soggy and dry. Blech. Maybe if I were really more patient, but I am not.
4) Green Bean Fries
OH these are so good. Really. Delicious!! I eat them with ranch dressing, and they are just so good, and easy, and fill that snack-sized hole that carbs leave.
5) Skillet Steak
I'm all for the grill, but this really is the way to go. I don't have a cast iron pan, so I pre-heat the broiler pan and then transfer the steak in there when it's time. Key to success: copious use of butter (seasoned or not)
6) Almond Flour Peanut Butter Cookies
I am scarfing these as I type. I do miss baked goods, wicked, and these fit the bill. Unfortunately, Scott's allergic to almonds, so I will have to eat all of these before he comes home (tomorrow- don't worry, there's time!) But I should say, mine looked nothing like the picture here. What the hell, Pinterest posters??
7) Broiled Parmesan Tilapia
Another winna!! Really, bread crumbs are unnecessary, the parmesan does the trick. Yum.
Hungarian Mushroom Soup
This is so freakin' delicious. Skip the dill weed, because dill weed is gross. This soup, minus the dill weed, is just perfection. Enjoy.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Good Heavens, Miss Sakamoto... You're Beautiful!

The other day I listened to this episode of RadioLab, about bliss. They talked about the Marsh Chapel Experiment, which I had heard of before, but they interviewed one of the participants who talked about how his experience there led him to a life of deeper faith. It was intriguing to me that these people, already theology students, had an encounter with something chemical and came out with a lasting faith.
My fellow Psychology major friend and I have talked about how much has changed since we were in school learning about the DSM-III. Just this week the DSM-V came out and although I haven't read it (ha!), it sounds like so many of the disorders and syndromes that we studied about have been reduced (revealed?) as chemical issues at their heart. I heard recently about a drug that is being used to treat anorexia. Anorexia! If all these psychological states are just chemical imbalances, what happens to talk therapy? What happens to ferreting out the roots of our dis-ease and working on our mental health? What happens to "tell me about your mother?" Is it all unnecessary now? It's hard for me to believe and also, hard for me to think that the work people have done on their psyches over the years has been worthless. On the other hand, if we can take a pill, balance our chemistry and not be tortured by anorexia, well... that's good, right?
Anyway, during this episode they interviewed a person who had experienced what we'd call a "conversion moment" at a concert with his Christian friends when he was young- a moment when he felt part of a Universal One, a moment of joy, of connection, of groundedness (all my words), of religious bliss. He said he's left that faith since, and as I remember the story, he feels a little jealous of people who can eat a mushroom and conjure those feelings.
I've felt that Universal One feeling, and here I stay, in faith. It wasn't a chemical thing (that I know of!) but a moment, I realize, of falling in love. The people on the show talked about faith as something you experience and then either stay with or lose. It seems to me that love is the same way. Everyone falls hard at some point. The trick is maintaining it, or at least being able to recapture it when necessary, or be able to come to terms with this feeling-and-relationship in a way that it can be sustained.
Later that afternoon, I was standing alone by our fire pit, tending a burning off of extra brush and kindling that has accumulated over the last summer (when it was always, somehow, too hot/rainy/windy/busy to have a fire) and listening to music when this song came up on my list. I took the moment to stand still and feel the sweet warm wind blowing my hair around, felt the heat from the fire, noted that I was surrounded by a happy home (yard) and near Scott, my beloved, and I fell right back into that Universal Oneness, that memory of falling in love with God that happened so so so many years ago.
You are the one my heart is waiting for. You are my treasure, you are my key, you are the door.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Different Gifts but the Same Spirit

This weekend Scott and I led a retreat for the leaders (young adult and older-adult) from a parish from our Archdiocese. This parish had (very) recently lost their DRE/Pastoral Associate to cancer. Her funeral had been just a few days before the retreat, so it was fresh for the people who knew her.
I knew this DRE/PA too, through our regional meetings. I didn't know her well but she was respected and had some good friends in the group. She seemed nice and had good things to say, but we were of different ministry eras.
Anyway, it really struck me the different ways people on the retreat spoke about this woman. Some were teary when they said "she brought me into my faith, welcomed me and encouraged me into ministry. She never gave up on me. " Some said "she was relentless and difficult, if she wanted you to do something she would push and push. She did not take 'no' for an answer." Really, all the comments about her were respectful, but it was striking to me that this personality trait, this doggedness, can be seen by some as encouraging and empowering and by others as off-putting.
It makes me think that no one can be "all things for all people" and that even people who we might not see as gifted for leadership can be used by God to reach the people who need to be on the receiving end of that person's gift. I do believe that God speaks everyone's language, and now I am realizing that God can use every gift in one way or another- even the gifts that annoy mere mortals such as we.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

On Death and Dying- Or Not

I have a dark sense of humor, and I don't mind admitting that. An evil-sounding chuckle leaks out when something that shouldn't be funny strikes me funny. Still, the older I get the more squeamish I am about meanness, I guess because I can see better, with each passing year, how mean I can be at heart. Still, I find more things funny than I think the average person does, and that's a gift I'm thankful for.
I think I'm gloomier than a person might expect about me, too, and fear-fuller. I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine about cancer- it seemed to me like everyone is basically going about their lives waiting to find out which cancer they will end up with. Is that just me? It's just so everywhere. Somehow I think that when I'm inevitably diagnosed, I'll say "ahh, so that's what it's going to be." Maybe it'll be the killing kind, maybe it'll be the kind that gets neatly sliced out and life goes on. Still, as much as I expect my own, I'm always surprised to hear about anyone's cancer. Bad news is still so surprising.
While I waited to hear if it would be breast cancer that would be my particular cancer, or not, I thought about how relieved I'd feel to find out that it might not be the cancer for me. But you know, just because this wasn't breast cancer this time, it's not like that's crossed off the list of possibilities now. Still, it was a great relief to hear "completely benign" and I have this feeling like I've been given a bonus year or so during which I should feel especially grateful and worry-less, and relatively complaint-free. Seems I'd better lighten up.
Ann Lamott says that Christians are supposed to see death as a major change-of-address. I'm pretty cool with death but I'm less enthusiastic about dying.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The week that is

   I should say, in case anyone's worried, that we're fine and safe- our home is about 25 miles outside of Boston, way outside (we pray) the danger zone, or at the very least way outside the 'lockdown' zone. We are near an airport where helicopters appear to be stopping in to refuel, and that's an eery sound.
   We were in Maine the day of the bombings at the Marathon, and we never had even considered going in to watch it- we used to go cheer for the runners years ago, when we were young, but nowhere near the city. So we were never in danger on that day- but when we heard the news I started checking on people in Boston and who might've gone in and watching Facebook to be sure people I know were okay. It's been a weird experience to be so close to real stuff, and the social media-ness of it all has been fascinating to me.
   But also this week, I found out that I don't have breast cancer- a mammogram had found calcifications, the "troublesome" kind, and so I had to go back. I know I've written here about my unease at being in suspense and so you'll understand that I was a bit of a mess for 5 days while I waited for Aleve to wear off before the biopsy (which was stereotactic, you can google image that if you can stand some anatomically correct illustrations. It's an unsettling, uncomfortable, and downright weird experience) and then 4 days to wait for the results. Turns out I'm downright cranky and nasty while under serious stress. Maybe I'm the last to know that characteristic of myself. Also, I eat a lot under pressure. 
   So, it's been a weird week, a roller coaster of emotions, and on it goes as we're glued to the tv waiting for something to happen with this white-hat-guy. Weird.

Friday, April 05, 2013

7 quick takes!

1) I've realized that I don't have a big life-bucket list, just a couple of things: I'd like to go back to Canada, and it would be even better to see a Red Sox game up there. One bucket list thing I had and have completed was to break a window with a rock a-la It's A Wonderful Life. When the convent next to our parish was due to be demolished, I saw my chance, and Scott and I went over to live my dream. It wasn't easy! I think the glass was leaded or something... anyway, mission accomplished.
2) I have a couple of food-related items, like eating at that restaurant that looks like a ship on Route 1. Another food-bucket list (oh that sounds gross!) item that I recently ticked off was to have a burger with a fried egg on top. Intriguing, no? There's a new restaurant near work that features the best burger in... dare I say it... the WORLD???!!!! It comes with an egg on top, and it's heavenly.
3) This morning I got up early (it was still dark!) to take my sisters to the airport. Super early is a good time to go there, because the roads are relatively empty, and people are too tired to be impatient with the other drivers who are hemming and hawing, reading the signs and looking for terminals. When I got home, it was like I had the world in front of me- how would I spend this block of time, this gift of bonus hours? I could get started in the garden, or... OH start writing that book! Maybe, if it went well, this could be my new routine! Up before dawn to crank out a bunch of pages! I could have a book by the end of this century! But instead, I crawled back into bed, downloaded a book on my ipad, read for a while, and went back to sleep. I'm not an early morning person. It's good to know things about one's self.
4) I've got that garden feeling. The irises are out in our little garden, even while a small pile of dirty snow sits nearby. I have compost to stir, dry grass to cut back, seeds to scatter, brush to burn. I have an old shredded American Flag that I need to dispose of, too, and it seems like burning is the prescribed manner. I'm a little nervous about burning a flag in our yard, in case any of our neighbors are veterans or very patriotic.
5) We haven't had the bird feeders full all winter- so that's on my list for today too. The cats will love it, and the squirrels, of course. My parents bequeathed me a squirrel-hurling feeder that is supposed to discourage the nasty buggers, thusly:
Here's the thing, though. Our squirrels seem to just enjoy the ride, and that fun ride also shoots about a pound of seed out and spreads it conveniently about the ground so the squirrels can scarf it up with no trouble at all.
6) The Red Sox are back! I do love baseball season. That's all I've got about that right now. Except, who are these new kids?
7) It's been a week and I'm still so tired from Holy Week. I know, I know, it's not like we're ditch-diggers, but Holy Week is a lot of work- a lot of walking, a lot of smiling, a lot of extrovert-ing. We ended up cranky (Scott mostly:) and overly emotional and wiped out. It's exhilarating to look at the calendar for this month and see an epty square here and there. But it's taking some time to transition into lent-less life.
I'M GOING OUTSIDE!!! (check out the home of 7QT at

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Miracles

Lately people have seemed so beautiful to me. I see people walk back to their pews after communion at church and I am so moved by the uniqueness and depth of each face. I'm struck by their walks, by their hands folded in front of them or hanging down to their sides. Walking tabernacles, transformed by taking one bite.
At the Youth Ministry Food Fast this weekend, 90+ kids gave a whole day of hunger and service to raise funds, but they also navigated the social waters, watched each other with studying eyes, thought deeply about God, took brave leaps into relationship with kids, adults, Jesus.
The middle schoolers, especially, made me ache with their gawky paleness or their round baby faces, still trying to figure out their own limbs, suddenly longer than ever. Still trying to hear what their own voices can sound like and trying on relationships and personalities like shirts.
The volunteers at the Fast were brave, patient, confident, welcoming. Scott was tireless, adaptable, loving, joyful. Upstairs, new families helped out with placing pots of tulips and lilies in the just-right spots. At Mass, old men took enormous pride in handing out candles and turning out the lights at the right times.
I even feel sympathy for the terrible old-man drivers on route 1, even though they pull out of parking lots onto the highway at a too-low speed and then slow down. I see their white heads and worry about their safety.
I'm not always like this. Lately it's overwhelming me. I feel raw with love for the world, ready to cry at sweet things, daring to feel relief in the Good news of Easter and to feel hope for the future. Maybe it's this darn new Pope and his crazy loving ways, maybe it's my bronchitis. I dunno. Whatever it is, even though it's harder work than indifference, I'd like it to stay.
Happy Easter, everyone. I wish you peace, joy, love.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Q) Who made me? A) God made me.

   At a Parish Council meeting the other night, that pesky question was asked yet again. "Are the children learning their catechism?" One of our older parishioners said "I mean, can they answer 'who made me?'"
That question is troubling for many reasons. Our parish has used a lifelong, inter-generational approach to faith formation for the past ten years, emphasizing the philosophy that it's the adults in our parish who need the most faith formation-  that all members of the parish (not just those under the age of 16) need to grow in their faith, and that if we have a strong, faithful adult community, the children will "catch" the faith. But old habits die very slowly. Every generation, I suppose, asks that question in some form or another: "will the kids of today get what I got?"
   The good news is that the answer to the catechism question, even with the change in philosophy, is YES. We are consistently amazed that the kids in our program know a lot about their faith, can answer questions and remember what they've been taught... but also, it's amazing how joyful they seem in church, actually happy to be there. We hear from a few people each year that their kids are upset when they have to miss a session. This past month I heard from a mother who said she was sick on Sunday morning but her kids said "But... we ARE going to GOF, right?" and from another parent who said that they attended last month's makeup session instead of attending a school activity that night. I don't know if the people of my parents' generation- the Baltimore Catechism generation- would have skipped a secular activity for a Church one by choice, but I know that I would never have chosen a CCD class over... anything.
   In my day, the Church was bouncing far away from the Q&A format of faith formation, believing it to have created un-critical followers who could answer all the questions but did not know Jesus. We were raised on love and crafts, the far side of the pendulum swing, very little doctrine or dogma. We learned that Jesus loved us, and little else.
   Which brings us back to that question. Which is better? Knowing your faith by rote, or feeling it by heart? I think that the difference is in the life-long-ness of this model. We can take the luxury of spending time on kids' hearts, knowing that there's time for the knowing later, when (let's face it) they're more ready cognitively to handle concepts like consubstantiation. We have a whole lifetime. It's not a matter of dogma OR love. It's a hard-struck balance.
   The other night (on my way home from this Parish Council meeting, in fact) I tuned in to Catholic radio on Sirius, and heard Cardinal Dolan talking to Fr. Robert Barron. They were talking about the new Pope, and about how much the world might be learning about the Church from seeing him, from seeing our process for electing him, from seeing our reactions. Fr. Barron said "you don't start out to teach a kid about baseball by outlining the infield fly rule. You expose the kid to the beauty of the game, and eventually, the fly rule comes to make sense."
   I believe that the best place to start for faith is heart-first. If we want people to know God (who is Love), we must focus on relationships and the stories of our faith. In life and in faith we learn who we are through the relatives we encounter, the love we receive, the stories we share, and the traditions we carry on from generation to generation.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Coming Close

I almost had my first vigil tonight. My volunteer coordinator called me around 4:30, and I said I could be there whenever she needed me- the patient was close to death in a nursing home, and the family needed to go home for the night at some point, get some rest. I ended up being scheduled for the 12-2:30AM slot, so I headed for home to eat dinner, maybe take a nap, get things done before my "shift."
But the patient died, peacefully and surrounded by family, at around 7:00. I came so close! I wasn't exactly excited to go and sit with a dying person, but I am kind of anxious to get my first vigil behind me. Ultimately, as much as I feel called to this ministry (it's not technically a ministry volunteer position but it is a ministry for me), I'm nervous about witnessing death. Mostly I'm worried that I won't be a help, or that I'll cry too hard to be calm, or... I don't know.
So I wait on, for my next "opportunity."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Better Faith Through Technology

I am late to this analogy because I am the last living American to get a GPS. I remember that my friend Paula described this idea many years ago, and it made sense then but I really get it now, now that I've experienced it. It just goes to show you.
I got a hand-me-down GPS just a couple of weeks ago. I had been toying with the thought of possibly considering getting one, but couldn't really justify it because my iphone does almost the same thing (no voice though... you have to read it which is a little dangerous when driving, no?) when my friend offered me hers. She said she never uses it anymore and I leaped at the opportunity. Now, every time I use it (which has only been a few times so far) I'm amazed at how God-like it is. Well, no, it's not God-like, but it reminds me of how this journey with God works.
A professor of mine said that it's not quite right to say that God has a "plan" for our lives. Plans are like a list of directions that we are expected to follow, and if we step off plan, we are hopelessly lost and we're on our own. He said that we could think of it more that God has an "intention" for our lives. Which is to say, God has our destination plotted, but our path toward that destination can (and will) vary. Like with the GPS, we can follow the prompts, but we can also choose our own way- and like the GPS, I believe, God is willing to "recalculate" our path, to again prompt us to move toward His destination for us. So merciful.
I've learned that with the GPS, I have to be moving in order for it to tell me if I'm headed in the right direction. I can't park my car and expect to get anywhere... and in life, this journey requires that I keep walking. In our faith journeys, we must be moving toward coming to know God better, toward working our missions. Wisdom comes from the travels, and it's earned.
Today as I was driving from one place to another, I realized I hadn't heard my GPS' voice in a while and I had a (very) mild panic... had I missed a turn? Had she (she?) been trying to get my attention and I was distracted? Had it come unplugged? Was I hopelessly lost? But I realized that the GPS hadn't said anything because I was just expected to keep going the way I was going. No turns coming up, no exits to take, just stay the course.
It reminded me of how often I'm looking for God to tell me what to do next, to tell me what's coming- to assure me that I'm doing okay. I thought, maybe in my life right now I'm not meant to be getting ready to turn... maybe I'm just meant to carry on until I hear differently. When it's time to go, I have to trust that God will let me know, and help me recalculate.