The Leaf Blower

The most significant event of my summer was hosting my family reunion.

The plans for gathering 67 of us was no small feat. For months we planned activities for all ages, rented tables, chairs, and a bouncy house for the kids! We worked all summer on our yard, keeping our flowers alive, planning food and décor, generally obsessing all summer about the event and praying for good weather. (I realize praying for good weather is not especially good theology, but I figure prayer never hurts.)

I felt a responsibility for all who traveled, at great trouble and expense. I was so hoping all of our grandchildren would get to know each other and most of all have a memory better than the pandemic had given all of them these past years.

So, you may imagine my dismay when throughout the night before we had one of the worst storms of the summer. I woke that morning and looking out the window, I saw all we had prepared dripping wet. The rain must have come in from every direction because nothing under our tent had a dry spot. My spirit was as soggy as my yard. I pulled the covers over my head and didn’t want to get up, thinking there just wasn’t time to recover and be prepared for my family who had worked so hard to make this happen.

As I lay there my son, Andrew, called and said he would be over shortly with his leaf blower so we could blow the yard, tables and chairs, etc. dry. This seemed like such simple practical help when I felt alone with the water-logged mess. He and my young grandsons, Mason and Dylan, with many towels and the leaf blower dried everything, finishing the repair work 10 minutes after the start time. Grateful my family kept the tradition of being a little late, we were ready.

I know the drying out of grass is not a corporal work of mercy but that day it was for me. I was reminded of Henry, who had shared with me at his Confirmation interview how he and his dad snowplowed all their neighbors’ driveways just because they could help them. And I thought of my friend, Maureen, who left dinners in the truck parked in the driveway of our friend, who was battling a debilitating illness this summer.

Love and friendship look like such ordinary acts of simple kindness, acts of simple service and simple generosity. We all have moments when we can give and share mercy and help. Mother Teresa said, “Do small things with great love.” It can make all the difference in blessing someone’s life.

I Should Have Had the Crepes

Recently we were invited to a cool little restaurant in the city. Maybe I should preface this with the background that we are creatures of habit. We visit the same few restaurants and I inevitably order the same thing each time. So, I took in the trendy décor of this restaurant, found the menu on the QR code and saw the selection. The crepes caught my eye. Many years ago, I had crepes and when I saw them on the menu the memory of their sweet distinct flavor came back to me. 

And then I saw the cheese omelet, my usual-go-to-choice. As we chatted with our friends waiting to place our order, I thought about this “big” decision. When the waitress came to take our order I said, “Cheese omelet, please. It was fine, but as soon as we walked out, I immediately thought what a boring choice I had made. It might be another 30 years before I am offered crepes again…

I have (obviously) thought about that choice and wondered how often I have done this same thing. To not be (even a tiny bit) adventurous. How often do I simply not live with passion, joy, fun?

I recently heard a delightful poem called, “If You Had Your Life to Live Over.” It suggested we might consider eating less cottage cheese and more ice cream, relaxing more, worrying less, watching more sunsets, caring more about actual troubles and less about imagined ones. Life is short, isn’t it? I believe our God wants us to live aware of the beauty, variety and splendor that the simple things of life give us.

Children are teachers of this posture toward life. Doesn’t a child more often say, “yes” to walking in puddles, jumping off anything higher than the floor, hugging another child, and wondering at the bugs on plants, worms in dirt, clouds in the sky? This childlike mindset toward the little things in life might improve our adult hearts.

There are so many big problems in the world. Sometimes things just go wrong, go sideways, fail or break. There is so much we can’t control about both small and significant things.

I believe God would want us to appreciate the gift of life and accept joy in simple things. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I know he wasn’t talking about my breakfast, but I think at the heart of that comment was recognizing our journey as human beings on this earth is a transient gift! Can we find God’s generosity even in life’s small offerings? Can we live with joy?

So, when life offers it, maybe once in a while, maybe next time, I will order crepes. 

Summer Spirituality

Do the different seasons call forth something specific in your spirit? I think each season has a distinct spirituality for me.

I hold a summer spirituality that feels freeing, being liberated from the layers of mittens and jackets, a freedom of simply walking out the door that evokes a spontaneous joy that spring ushers in. Each year I get older and feel it in my joints, but what happens in my soul is the same, year after year, as spring turns into the magnificent warmth of summer. I listen to the cleansing rain that clears the air and feel the warmth of sun on my back. Summer, with the coming to life of the green leaves of the trees and the budding flowers and birds singing, happened yet again! It is a beauty that almost startles me each year. 

There is something about summer that helps me to feel my childhood again. I have such treasured summer memories. As a child, I remember the first day I wore thin sandals and could feel contact with the ground after a winter of wearing thick boots separating me and the earth. I hold memories of summer at my grandparents where we could walk to the corner store and buy an ice cream cone (for ten cents). The pure vanilla, soft on my tongue, its calorie count a non-existent issue. I remember swimming in lakes, riding the waves in the ocean, total refreshment of diving into the clean cool water of the municipal pool.

Anna Quinlin wrote of a summer memory, saying, “Afterward I wondered why I hadn’t loved that day more… why I hadn’t known how good it was to live so normally, so everyday. But you only know that, I suppose, after it’s not normal and everyday any longer.” The spirituality of summer is an opportunity to be present to the everyday, the slower pace, the chance to have our feet on the grass, in the water, hiking on a trail. It is a chance to feel warm wind in our hair, sun on our nose, and watch our neighbors emerge from their winter hibernation. It is to know the beauty of God’s creation, glorious, gorgeous, blooming with life, and filling our souls. Does your heart have different seasons? I hope you revel in the simple irreplaceable gift of this summer. 

Mary Undoer of Knots

At a very low point in my life, I sought the help of a therapist. When he asked what brought me there my only description was, “I feel like I am a tangled ball of yarn. I have no idea where to even begin to unravel my life.” I remember the response coming from my gut and a feeling of hopelessness pervading my spirit.

Maybe that is why the devotion of Mary Undoer of Knots and the story behind it has always resonated with me. The tradition originated with a meditation of St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, in the second century, when he compared Eve’s disobedience, tying humanity in knots, and Mary, by her obedience, undoing the knots.

The resulting devotion originated later, from a 300-year-old painting depicting Mary untying the knots of a wedding ribbon. A German nobleman, Wolfgang Langenmantel’s marriage was about to end when his wife Sophie wanted a divorce. Distressed, Wolfgang sought counsel from a wise Jesuit, Fr. Jacob Rem. Wolfgang met with the priest four times in 28 days. On the fourth visit Wolfgang brought their wedding ribbon to the priest. It was a custom of the time for the maid of honor to tie the arms of the bride and groom to symbolize union for life. Before an image of Mary, Fr. Rem prayed for the couple while untying the knots in their wedding ribbon. As he did, the ribbon became dazzling white. The priest and the couple took this as a sign of Mary hearing their prayers, and with her intercession they resolved their differences and remained married for the rest of their lives.

In 1700, 85 years later, Wolfgang’s grandson, Heironymus Langenmantel was inspired by the story of Wolfgang and Sophie. He commissioned artist Johann Schmittder to paint for the family a picture of Mary, depicting the narrative. The painting became known as Mary Undoer of Knots.

Eventually the family bequeathed it to the Carmelite Convent in St. Peter Church, Germany, where it remained unknown until 1980 when Jorge Bergoglio saw it and took the image of the painting back to Argentina in a postcard. The image of Mary Undoer of Knots became popular as he promoted it. It came to worldwide notice when Jorge became Pope Francis, and the world learned the story.

I know we can all have times, like I did, when our life seems to be in knots that are hopeless, when we lack peace and serenity. I have no doubt that with the help of my therapist friend and the grace of God, the ball of tangled yarn in my heart found a way to untangle. We always can ask Mary for help and trust in God’s mercy. She leads us to the Lord and unties the knots of our life with a mother’s love. Mary reminds us, with God’s mercy, nothing is impossible.

Click here for ideas on how we can draw closer to Mary, who will lead us closer to God.

Easter People

Christian leader, Floyd McClung, wrote about a conversation he had with his daughter.

“When she was little and we were living in Amsterdam, my daughter asked me, ‘Daddy, what does God look like?’ She saw a lot of old men wandering the streets in Amsterdam, so I told her God didn’t look like an old grumpy grandfather. God’s not like a judge, measuring every wrong thing we do… I told her God looks exactly like Jesus. Jesus took children into his lap and told them stories. Jesus wasn’t afraid to be seen with a really bad woman. Jesus went to a wedding feast and saved a family from terrible shame. We have images of God that have been imposed upon us by others. Nobody gets to do that—we need our own experience of Jesus that defines him for us. The most incredible thing in the universe is that God has broken into our world to show us who he is, through his Son, Jesus.”

I pondered this story as I struggle to live as an Easter person in what seems like a world simply not in sync with living like Jesus. It feels like a disconnect of faith to go about life as usual when we watch the daily news of global, national and local mindboggling senseless violence of one human being towards another. What’s the spiritual and emotional bridge from the troubled world we live in, to the radical love of God, in Jesus?

Christian theologians are now making the case that two things keep us in touch with our soul: relationships and ritual. As I pondered the truth of this I thought, isn’t that what an authentic Catholic Christian community offers us? Will we be in touch with Jesus and live in Easter hope, through our relationships and in ritual? In a year of coming back to Mass after the pandemic, as we create relational experiences like mission trips, retreats, bible studies, family program, etc., isn’t our Church simply and continually inviting us to ritual and relationships? Didn’t we just experience ritual in our three Holy Days of the Triduum with faithful family and friends? I live in hope that by staying close to my Church, of relationships and ritual, I am able to walk as an Easter person, even in this broken world.

I wish you, my friends, all the blessings Easter offers us! May you walk in hope!

Just to be is a blessing… (Abraham Heschel)

Observing sacrificial practices for Lent seem to be in the bones of Catholics. Prayer,
Fasting and Almsgiving are the traditional ways to prepare for the Holy Triduum and
celebrate the pascal mystery; the dying and rising of Jesus Christ, which broke the
chains of death for humanity. It is a penitential season when we examine our lives and
own the sinfulness. It is a time to try to transform our lives to more reflect our faith in
God, our desire to follow Jesus, to simply become a better person.

This week when visiting a friend in Hospice, it came to me, that one sin I could claim, is
that of taking the good things in my life for granted. As I walked out to the parking lot I
thought, I am going home. My friend and his wife were not going to sleep peacefully,
that night, with their children in their home. I shouldn’t take going home for granted.
I shouldn’t take for granted that I can walk to my car! After helping my sister for several
months as she recovers from an accident that left her with shattered legs and now is
learning to walk again, I shouldn’t take that I can still walk for granted.

I write this after just finishing our uplifting Confirmation Retreat and listening to witness
talks of the hardships some of our friends have endured. I thought I shouldn’t take my
health for granted. I shouldn’t take this community for granted. I shouldn’t take that I
was born to a family that raised me in a faith-filled and loving home for granted. It is so
easy to take the everyday goodness of being alive for granted. The Confirmation talks
were a witness of faith because each person found strength and goodness beyond their
challenges.

How would we be better people if we weren’t taking things in our life for granted? What
if we practiced being grateful this Lent and renounce the sin that takes the many gifts of
life for granted?

Unshakable faith develops as we take each moment, and thing, and person and
experience, as gifts from God, not for granted.

February: First Loved

February is not my favorite month. A few of our Christmas decorations are droopily
hanging outside. It’s just too cold to make the effort to take them down. Does every
family have someone sick these days… with some known or unknown virus? The days
are getting longer… but not that much. Lent is between us and Spring.

For me, love, redeems February. In the middle of the month is the holiday of love,
Valentine’s Day. I so enjoyed the project of decorating a Valentine bag as a child and
making valentines for my classmates. I am happily surprised that my husband invited
me out for dinner on a weeknight. I am up for any reason to crack open the chocolate. I
am looking forward to our all-parish fundraiser, Hearts on Fire. More than anything I am
delighted to have an excuse to lift up the theological virtue, Love, to remind us of the
grace of being loved.

There are so many divisive forces it seems in our local and global world. I appreciate
being reminded of the simple sentiments and symbols of love. My prayer this month is
to try to soak in God’s love. More than anything I want to grow in trust of being first
loved by God. If we need a day, a holiday, a celebration, a season to just remember
that… I am grateful.

C.S Lewis said, “Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” So,
whatever February is bringing, or not, maybe it is a good time in this middle of winter, to
check in on how well we are caring for ourselves and others, how evident is our love, in
our words and actions, remembering, “We love, because He first loved us.” (1John 4:
19)

Groundhog Day Revisited

These past months of this pandemic has been likened to the movie
Groundhog Day, when the main character wakes up to relive the same day
over and over again. The futility of it was exhausting for the main character.

Might we all confess to feelings like this? Seriously, we aren’t out of this
yet? We live in the Groundhog Day of continual news of depressing
statistics of illness, crowded hospitals and overwhelmed healthcare
workers. How many people do you know who had revised plans for
Christmas? Some schools found themselves back to virtual learning.
Sometimes we need a scorecard to keep track of who is in and out of
quarantine. The list goes on of disruptions, disappointments,
inconveniences, cancellations, and even in some cases severe illness and
loss.

The editor of this Newsletter, Michelle Lucas and I were discussing this.
She said, “We attempt to continue life as normal, but it’s not normal. This in
between time is so strange. The constant decision making paired with
analyzing risk is exhausting, yet I feel like we need to live life and model
living life with faith, not fear.”

It seems we are somewhere between the beginning of this and hopefully a
time when it isn’t a main topic of discussion or planning. We are living in
this liminal time. We are not here, and we are there.

I found some direction in Pope Francis’ New Year’s wishes to the world. He
acknowledged, the pandemic is hard, but he encouraged people to focus
on the good which unites us.

The Pope’s words came back to me at our high school sophomore retreat
on Catholic Social teaching this past weekend. The topic itself was uplifting,
thinking about how our Catholic Church has held up the dignity of the
human person and prioritizes care for the vulnerable. “Whatever you do to
the least of others, that you do for me.”

While planning for the retreat I was focused on who couldn’t make it, for
one reason or another. But when I got there, I could focus on who was
there and how beautiful the retreat experience was! I hope every parent of
a student on the retreat or helped with it reads this. You can be so proud of
your sons and daughters. They conducted themselves with respect for the adults, their peers, and the topic. They processed the ethic of care for others with kindness and maturity. Led by Taylor Baar, our outstanding youth minister, and supported by the older teens, college students and
adults, the teachings came alive. I felt uplifted. I was witnessing this
meaningful formation, of the future church.

Here in our own little community, I saw vibrant faith and care for others. I
saw the young church focusing on the good that unites us. This community
was living life in faith, not fear. We aren’t out of this pandemic, but we are
holding together the threads of faith, and the Church is prevailing through it.


Advent Longing

I don’t know if there is a “right way” Advent is supposed to “feel” but this year seems to be off kilter in some ways. Is it just me or is this a collective or shared impression? It seems the events of this season are weighing down the promise of “glad tidings” and “peace on earth.” How do we enter the innocence God invites us to embrace in a world dealing with, as I just heard it called, this “evolving pandemic,” heartbreaking senseless violence, loss of loved ones, December tornadoes and one anxiety evoking headline after another?

I am trying to center my thoughts in the images I have reflected on for many Advents. Waiting. Expectation. Peace. Joy. Love. Hope.

But the theme that personally resonates with me this year is the Advent theme of “Longing.” Fr. Ronald Rohlheiser wrote, “Advent is about getting in touch with our longings.” I am longing for ease for those suffering illness, processing violent trauma, and grieving loss.

I am longing for a world where peace reigns and justice is the norm. I am longing for Christmas to bring Emmanuel, which means, God with us. I am longing for the peace that comes from trusting God is with us. Advent is about getting in touch with our longings and letting our yearnings hope in new ways.

I am holding onto Fr. Tony’s words reflecting on the Christmas parade tragedy. He said, the only effective response to evil is to live its opposite, which is goodness, love and maybe holding faith in a better world. If we don’t do this, evil wins.

The Savior came to us as a vulnerable baby saving us from evil and promising deliverance, even from the finality of death. Jesus, born of a virgin, with only a donkey to transport them and Joseph to protect them and no one offering them shelter. Seems like a crazy plan, from our almighty God, for saving us. But a God who could work out salvation with such a plan maybe can take our deepest longings for meaning to come out of chaos, loss and grief and make whole our broken world. I long for that and will allow my heart to hope in that this Advent.  

As I pondered all of this, I remembered a quote from the concentration camp survivor Corrie Ten Boom. She said, “If you look at the world you will be distressed. If you look within you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”

Good advice for Advent longing. May the longings of your heart rest in Emmanuel.

Grateful for Small Mercies

I know the saying is “God will never give you more than you can handle” … Dear God… we are fully booked, and we can’t handle any more for a while. Thank you!!!

This was a quote my sister’s husband posted. I write this sitting at her hospital bedside. She was hit by a car last week which left both of her legs and her arm badly broken. We all say how grateful we are she didn’t hit her head and seems to have no internal injuries. But at best that feels like a good news/bad news point of view as it breaks my heart to watch her begin what we know is a long journey to functioning normally.


I am reminded of a passage in the Anna Quindlen novel, One True Thing.


In the story, she described a family out for ice cream, just before their mother was diagnosed with cancer. The daughter in the story thought back on what she called “the last normal day they had” and reflected, “Afterward I wondered why I hadn’t loved that day more, why I hadn’t savored every bit of it like soft ice cream on my tongue, why hadn’t I known how good it was to live so normally, so everyday. But you only know that, I suppose, after it’s not normal and everyday any longer.”


I am mindful of the day before my sister’s accident as a normal day.


On my way to the hospital, I was so focused on getting here that I literally was “not seeing” the fleeting view in front of me. I realized the road was literally ablaze with the color of the trees. How often do I live, moving onto the next thing, and miss the blessings before me?


But today, I pulled over on the side of the road to look and thank God for the beauty of this day. I will be grateful, when I get up from writing this, that my legs and arms work. I will be grateful that I believe that prayer will support my sister’s healing. I will hug my brother-in-law for giving us all a prayer that made us laugh. I will not take for granted healers that can knit together shattered bones and kind caretakers that are an empathetic presence when they walk in the room. I will be grateful for the small mercies that help us remember to not lose hope even in the times when we long for the normal days.