Thursday, May 31, 2012

For The Mathematically Challenged...

This is why I majored in English and Journalism in college.  Also, the above is filled with grammatical errors, FYI!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Stopping To See The Flowers

It had been a long time since we had visited our priest friend, who lives an hour away, so my family and I made plans to go to Mass at his parish and take him to lunch.  We chose this past Pentecost Sunday. As the day drew closer, I noticed that the weather people were forecasting a scorching 94 degrees for the day. As excited as I was to go visit Father _____, I couldn't help but remember a hot summer's day a couple of years ago when we went to a Saturday vigil Mass at his church and practically melted in the pew. No, no air conditioning at his old, beautiful parish. I had fanned myself with the bulletin that day and we couldn't wait to jump into our air conditioned van.  So memories of that sweltering time came rushing to me.

Then I felt like a complete jerk. I mean, if I was warm, what must Father be feeling up on the altar with all of his vestments on, saying Mass? He must have been 1,000 times warmer than we were in our summer clothes! So I felt terrible even thinking about complaining about the heat as we drove there on Sunday.

We got there with only a few minutes to spare (construction!!) and there was Father, a bit sweaty yet happy to greet us right before what would be his third out of four Masses that day. But you'd never know it; his face lit up when he saw us and he shook our hands with a big grin and made a joke. It was already starting to get warm in the church, but every time I thought about fanning myself or complaining, I took a glance up at Father in his heavy red vestments and I stopped myself.

I'm not sure if it ever reached 94 degrees on Sunday. I don't think it did. But it made me feel pretty ashamed to even think about complaining. Especially when Father seemed so content.

I mean, I'm such a wimp.

After Mass, he tossed us the keys to the rectory.  "Go on in and make yourselves comfortable; I'll be right over because I have to talk to some people. I'll need to change too," he said sheepishly.  As we stood outside in the sun talking, I realized that he must have been melting.

We went around the back and let ourselves in to his unassuming little house.

"Are you sure we're supposed to be doing this?" asked my oldest son. We'd never been inside Father's house before, and certainly not without him.

I laughed.  "Yes, Father gave us his keys, didn't he?"  Still, it felt strange to be in his house because it felt like we were breaking in or spying.

"What do we do?" I asked my husband as we walked through his little, old-fashoned kitchen.  "Do we sit or stand? Should we go find a couch?"  He laughed.

"Look, Mom!" cried my youngest son, who loves Legos.  Father had on display a little Lego scene a young parishioner must have made for him: a Lego priest in a Lego confessional hearing a Lego penitent. At the top was a little Lego cross.  He was quite impressed by this, and the fact that Father would have that out on display in the kitchen. It was adorable. "Father must like Legos," I said.

"I guess we should go sit down,"  my husband said, who happened to spy an interesting book on Father's book shelf.  "Wow, he's got a lot of great religious books!" he said as he inspected the titles.

I shushed him.  "We aren't supposed to be looking at his books!"  It felt so weird to be in his house without him. "Now everyone go sit down!"

His little, simple house did not have air conditioning either, but it was comfortable and cool inside. We found his sitting room and sat down on the couch. One of the first things I happened to see was a framed portrait of St. Therese on an end table. He loves her dearly. I smiled.

 I also spied a half-inflated football on the floor near my feet and picked it up.

"I think Father likes football," I said with a grin.

My teenaged son took it and held it for a bit.  A football-loving priest.  Very cool. Very real. We also saw some baseball books and a baseball on a shelf.

"He needs an air pump," I said, wishing aloud we had thought to bring ours for his football.

"Mom, seriously? Who thinks to just throw an air pump in the car?" I laughed at that because he was right.

Father finally came in and apologized for taking so long.  "Are you OK? You want a Coke? You want me to put on the TV while you wait for me?"

"Oh no, we're just fine, really. Take your time, Father," I said, feeling bad that he felt he had to wait on us.

A few moments later, he came downstairs looking refreshed and said, "So. Who's hungry? Where would you like to go?"

"It's your choice," my husband said. "You get to pick."

"Well, I am treating, so I don't want any arguments," he declared.

We argued as hard as we could, but to no avail. Finally he told us you can't argue with a priest, so that settled it. We tried again later, but he would have none of it.

After he kept bringing the subject back to what we would rather have to eat, it occurred to me what a great person Father is. Very humble, very simple, very generous. Always thinking of others' needs first.  Unlike me, I can't ever imagine him complaining about anything. I am sure he must once in a while, because we are all human after all, but after spending the afternoon with him and listening to him talk at lunch , I realized that I need to simplify my life in many ways.

First of all, I need to stop complaining when things don't go exactly my way. Second of all, I need to enjoy my life without worrying about the future, what will come next.  Father's quiet, unassuming demeanor was just what we all needed on Sunday to realize that we have so many blessings in our lives, if we would just stop to appreciate them. He has such strong faith. He knows God will provide for our emotional and physical needs.

When my sons found out that Father used to play shortstop in semi-pro baseball before he became a priest about ten years ago, well, his coolness was officially sealed.

"Do you help coach the school baseball team?" my oldest son asked Father.

"No," he said simply and matter-of-factly, yet without a trace of bitterness.  "We don't have enough students for a baseball team." We didn't know what to say to that. We are so used to our large schools, bursting with students on many athletic teams. And here was this little Catholic school without enough students to fill a baseball team, that may even be in danger of closing. It was then that I realized how spoiled we are out here in the sprawling suburbs.

We talked about religion, music, school, joked and had a wonderful time at lunch. He mentioned the flowers some of the ladies had planted by the rectory. "Oh, you have to see them! They are amazing!"

I had seen flowers.

I think.

Or maybe I was too concerned with being warm.

I tried to remember. "You mean the roses by your front door?"

"No, the flowers near the side. There are so many! Oh, you have to see them! They're beautiful!" he exclaimed.

We had a delicious Sunday brunch and ate so much we were stuffed. It was quite a treat.

"I think you're going to be a bishop one day," he told my youngest son, who beamed. "So I'd better be nice to you!"

We drove Father back to the church. It had been a long, warm day and he still had to celebrate Mass at 5:15. He looked tired, but he never let on, never complained, as is his way.

"I hope you can have time for a little rest now," I said, thinking that I'd probably be a little crabby if I were in his shoes on a hot day like that.

He nodded. "I'd like to. I think I may be able to," he said with a little smile.

He said a beautiful blessing over our family as we sat parked in the van out in front of his house.  Then, as he got out, he excitedly said to us, "See the flowers by the house? The ones I was talking about? Aren't they so beautiful?"

I peered through the window and saw the pretty flowers on the side of his little house. They were, indeed, very beautiful.   I was embarrassed to think I had missed them before.

"I see them now, Father!"

Monday, May 28, 2012

Catholic Summer Reading For Kids: Should I Be Reading This?

     School is almost over for the year, and kids and parents will soon be looking for some good summer reading to pass the lazy days of summer. With all of the many books available in stores and online, how can young readers decipher what is appropriate reading material for them? What questions can readers ask themselves as they read? It can be difficult to know what is wholesome reading. Books that may seem innocent enough while on the shelves may soon become dark or unsettling once they are begun. Sometimes you just don't know until you have started the book. Not too long ago, Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books asked me this very question, and, as a Catholic children's author, I was happy to create some thought-provoking questions readers can ask themselves as they read. My questions are more like warning signs, red flags that may arise as they read, and it's important to keep watch for them.

1.   Does the book I am reading seem to say that I don't need God in my life? If so, this is a danger sign leading to atheism. Steer clear of any book that has an anti-God message, or one that mocks God.

2.  Does the book I am reading tell me that I have power and energy outside of God? This smacks of the occult, new-age thinking, and the belief that humans are all-powerful. Even if the author tries to put Jesus into the picture, it is false. Of course, the saints had powerful things happen to them, but the difference is that it was always, always to lead souls to Christ, never for their own glory, self-love, or ideas of grandeur.

3.  Is Christianity mocked by the author or the characters? As you read, use your intelligence to try to read between the lines to see what the author might be trying to subtly get across to readers. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it isn't. If the author makes a particularly religious character look like a bumbling idiot, have unintelligent dialogue, and makes fun of Christianity, you know there is a hidden message inside: that religious people are dumb, ignorant, and old-fashioned. Keep your antenna up for stereotypes such as these.

4.  Do the characters' actions make you uncomfortable? Is a character in the book doing something you know is morally wrong, but does not seem to be learning from his or her mistakes and feel remorse, trying to live a better life? It's quite okay (and preferable for a great story!) to have characters make mistakes, but again, read between the lines: Is the author celebrating choices and actions that you know are morally wrong?

5.  Does the dialogue of the characters consistently make you uncomfortable? Do the characters (or the author) use words that you would not use in front of your parents, or that make you blush?

6.  Deep down, do you know your mom, dad, grandparents, parish priest, and/or teachers would not approve of the book you are reading? Is this a book you can leave on the coffee table in the family room, or is it one that you feel you would like to hide in your bedroom? Why or why not? What do you think God thinks about the book you are reading?

7.  Are parents, teachers, priests, sisters, and other adults made to look like fools? Does the author consistently have the adults in the children's or teens' lives do stupid things, make dumb remarks, and in general be out of touch with the kids in the book? This is a technique used to devalue well-meaning parental love and authority. Watch for it.

8.  Lastly, use the heart and mind that God gave you as you read. It's called a "gut instinct," and God gave it to each of us so we can decipher what is good and what is bad for us. Is there a general sense of darkness or evil throughout the book? If something just doesn't "feel right" as you read, even if you don't quite know exactly what it is, that is a warning sign that it is time to stop reading and find a new book that will lead your soul to Christ. Ask your guardian angel and/or favorite saint to pray for you to find fun, wholesome books to read.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

God Is So In Love With You!

Eucharistic Exposition & Benediction
Fr. Luigi Gabris, Ss. Cyril & Methodius Slovak Catholic Church
Sterling Heights, Michigan, U.S.A.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Very Special Chair

More from the archives on this Memorial Day weekend. I posted this little piece in the summer of 2009. It is about a very special chair that I was privileged to see.

There are all sorts of chairs: beach chairs, fancy dining room chairs, recliner chairs, and desk chairs. But no chair is as special as this wooden one, pictured here. This is the very chair our dear St. Therese sat at while writing her famous autobiography, L'Histoire d'une Ame (The Story of a Soul). It is one of my top five favorite books, hands down. When you read this book (which I highly recommend you do if you haven't already), you will feel St. Therese right beside you, as if she is talking directly to you through her words. What a gifted writer!

Last month my family and I visited the National Shrine of St. Therese in Darien, Illinois. It is a must-see for any devotee of the Little Flower. As soon as you walk in the doors to see the things she owned and treasured, you simply will not believe your luck to actually be there. I am so glad I had my camera with me. I walked around and marveled at all of the wonderful objects that touched her life. It was a magical experience for me, especially since, on this rainy day an hour before closing, I was the only one in the room. It was so wonderful to be alone with my thoughts as I perused the lovely antiques from France in the peaceful silence.

When I came upon this chair, I froze. No, this couldn't actually be, sitting here inches away from me: the very chair she sat in as she wrote her masterpiece? Then I had to laugh: Therese certainly did not think she was writing a masterpiece! In fact, she was humble and did not think anyone would want to read what she wrote, the stories of her childhood, her innermost thoughts. The only real reason she wrote it at all was because she was ordered to by her superiors, and she always did what she was told. She definitely did not think that the entire world would read it after her death. At the end, when she was near death, she kept on writing, and could barely hold the pen, so she switched to a pencil.

I have to confess I did something I know you are not supposed to do in museums: I reached out and ever so gently touched the chair with two fingers. I just had to touch something that was so beautiful. In this chair history was made, for if she hadn't written her autobiography, she would have died and remained mostly unknown. And in this way, this chair made her known to me. God is so good!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Yearbooks From Long, Long Ago...

It's hard to believe that the school year is almost over.  When you get older, time seems to fly by quicker. Old people always used to say that and I never believed them, but now I understand. Soon it will be time for students to say goodbye to teachers and friends for the summer, holding out the yearbook for signatures, some for the very last time as graduating seniors.

How often do you go back and look through your old yearbooks? I recently did, and a flood of memories came back—the good, the bad, and the ugly!  Some of you have been asking me to do more childhood reminiscing on this blog. I'm happy to do that, for whatever it's worth! But it is fun for me to go down memory lane.  As I flipped through my old yearbooks, it occurred to me that what seemed so important back then is just a blip on the radar now, tucked away in my old, dusty, black-and-white yearbooks. The Popular People are all losing hair (or getting grey ones), putting on a few pounds, paying off a mortgage, taking out the garbage on Monday nights, spraying weeds in the cracks of their driveways with Roundup, carting their kids to soccer practice, and packing school lunches at night just like I am.  You know: the day-to-day, mundane living that we all do, whether we were popular or not (which I wasn't). There's a certain sense of smugness in that for me, I must admit.  I have to look back on that time and laugh at all of the drama; it all seems so insignificant now.  But I also cherish the fond memories of good friends and good times.

I thought I'd share the funniest yearbook signatures I have received over the years at my all-girls, Catholic schools. Names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent).

Those Awkward Middle School Years

Seventh Grade:  

Dear Nancy: Have a great summer and see you next year! You're a nice person and you don't need too much fixing up so don't spend too much time pinching your cheeks.
Love, Susan 

(I didn't need too much fixing up...she caught me putting on blush and pinching my cheeks in the girls' bathroom one day.)

Dear Nancy:  I hope you have a great summer! It was a great year and I hope to see you next year!
Love, Margie  

(Gulp. A great year?  Margie, who told me one morning that she wanted to beat me up. I told her, "Fine. Go ahead and try."  She changed her mind after I said that.  In one horrible, horrible incident, she got caught with a consecrated host in her hand one day after a school Mass.  She laughed and said she had wanted to save it for later.  We were horrified. I still remember standing there in that classroom; that image is burned on my brain. Someone told on her and she got into serious trouble. I wonder whatever happened to good old Margie?)

Dear Nancy:  Stay gold, stay cute and funny and have a great summer. Good luck with the guys!
Love, Melanie

(Guys? Haaaaaaa!  Melanie was always a little, shall we say, "worldly.")

Eighth Grade:

Dear Nancy:  You can't really say we were best friends. Good luck.  
Love always, Amanda

(Yet, "love always"? Amanda wasn't really that bad; we just didn't mesh.)

Dear Nancy:
This has been a loooong but fun year. I will always remember your weirdness in French.
Love, Dana

(I don't remember acting weird in French class...c'est vrais?)

Dear Nancy:
You are a funny, sweet, brainy girl! Stay that way in high school, okay? Stay in touch!
Love, Jen

(Jen used to like to tease me until one day at her class pool party when I did an air guitar solo to a John Cougar song in her living room.  After that, I was promptly admitted to her elite clique. By then, it was too late; eighth grade was almost over. Ah, well. Better late than never.)

High School

Ninth Grade:

Dear Nancy:
It has been a joy to have you in the marching band. Your cheerful disposition is like a ray of sunshine. Thank you.
Mr. R.

(Mr. R, the band teacher, and an awesome one at that! I had a new joke for him every morning, and he made sure to laugh at each one. He was the best. Everyone should have a teacher like him.)

To Nancy:
You know what? God gave me the greatest gift ever. U know what it is? You and I becoming friends. You are the greatest person to laugh with, to talk with, and to cry with. I do not know what I would have done if you were not there. I hope we can stay friends for a long time because I need you in my life! Well, I'm going to go now...see ya babe!
Love, Michelle

(So incredibly sweet! Michelle and I are great friends to this very day!)

I'll send you a postcard from Maine. You are fantastically wonderful. Don't guys drive you nuts? 
Love, Barb

(Barb, her real name, who was a laugh a minute and kept me entertained in journalism class.  I blogged about her daughter here.)

Tenth Grade:

Hey Nance:
I can't believe it, but we honestly, truly for real, made it through Honors French III reasonably sane! Remember, there are more important things in this world than men—What? I haven't figured it out yet, but I will! Remember, only dead fish go with the flow!

Love, Kim

(Kim was a year older than me: a junior. Thus, I was quite awed by her. I thought she was quite mature and knew all of the answers to life's greatest mysteries, like how boys think.)

Nancy, you're such a sweet girl. Biology has been pretty interesting, especially the pig! When you think of pigs, think of me.
Love, Colleen

(Sophomore year was the year we dissected a fetal pig in biology class. It was disgusting. I was traumatized for years by the sight and the smell.)

Eleventh Grade:

Nancy! You definitely made comparative religion class interesting and entertaining! Also, I thank you for correcting my note to Jenny, and all of my other papers. Can't wait 'til we go the Beach Boys concert!
Love ya, Amy

(Oh dear, I was a copy editor even back then! Ugh. And yes, we had a blast at the Beach Boys concert!)

Dear Nancy:
Can't believe junior year is finally coming to a close. Next year we will RULE the school!
Love, Kristie

(Oh, the sheer joy of ruling the school! I miss those days! LOL)


Hey Nancy:
You wild woman you! It's been great loungin' on the couch with you. Hope to see you in the Detroit News one day as a famous reporter! Have a wild 'n crazy summer!
Luv, Heather
P.S. Call me

(Okay, first of all, I was not a "wild woman." Second of all, a "wild 'n crazy summer" was never in my future. Heather was a little wild 'n crazy herself.  However, I did freelance for the Detroit News in the late 1990s: a dream come true!)

Dear Nancy:
Remember me every time you eat strawberry pie and go to Big Boy.  Good luck at Michigan State. I can't believe we graduated.
Love, Renee

(I will never forget those plaid polyester uniform skirts: freezing cold in the winter and hot in the spring.)

Dear Nancy:
You are a really sweet girl. I know people say that just to take up space but I truly mean it. Good luck at MSU. Give me a ring and I'll come up and visit sometime. Good luck with your boyfriend, too.
Love, Rachel

(This one makes me laugh. Rachel wished me good luck with my boyfriend, and guess what? I married him four years later!)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship With Flip-Flops

What an ugly pair of shoes.

It's time to go digging through the archives. Some of you may recognize this little piece I wrote two years ago. It has absolutely nothing to do with St. Therese, Catholicism, children's books, or Neil Diamond. But that's okay. Oh, and a side note: Don't wear flip-flops to Home Depot. Let's just leave it at that, folks.

It's flip-flop season.

But isn't it always?

I mean, do flip-flops ever hibernate for the winter? Not really; not even here in Michigan. I see them all year 'round. I think people just pine for warm weather and flip-flops make them feel better mentally. As long as they're in their toasty family rooms, they can pretend they're on a tropical island instead of in the middle of a winter storm warning.

Flip-flops, with their ugly rubber toe-thingy and flat foamy sole, have been around for a long time, but for the past few years, they've been a fashion staple, it seems. Before, you used to see them only at the beach or the pool. No one would be caught dead wearing them anywhere else. That would just be...ew.

Now, they're flapping up and down at the mall, school, nice restaurants, Target, airplanes, church...even the White House. There's nowhere, it seems, where the mighty flip-flop isn't welcome. Getting married? Get a white pair and dress 'em up. Time for Sunday Mass? Slip 'em on and you're good to go.

I have a love/hate relationship with the flimsy flip-flop.

As a copy editor, I'm against them for the hyphen.

As a mom, I'm against them because when little children play in them outside instead of sturdy tennis shoes, accidents are bound to happen. I am sure the folks who make Band-Aids have seen a rise in sales ever since parents started to allow their children to wear them to the playgrounds, parks and backyards of America. Bike riding in flip-flops? Running on the cement in flip-flops? Bad ideas. Someone's going to crash and burn. Hello, scraped-up toes, elbows, knees, and faces.

After all, Jimmy Buffett blew out his flip-flop...and we all know what happened after that. After stepping on a pop top, he cut his heel and he had to cruise on back home. I am sure his day was ruined. Accidents happen to the best of us.

But there is no doubt that they come in handy when you're heading out to the mailbox, to check on your flowers and pick a tomato, or to hang out on the patio.

Here's the thing: In my opinion, flip-flops are the bottom of the barrel, if you will, of the shoe industry. When I put on a pair of flip-flops to head out somewhere other than the beach, the pool, or the mailbox, I'm telling the world, "I give up. I just don't have the energy to care what's on my feet. This is the best I can offer you."

And can I just say that the slap-slap-slap of a flip-flop is really annoying, especially on your way up to the altar to receive the Eucharist in church? There's a lack of respect there, when you don a pair of flip-flops to go to Holy Mass. Surely we can do better than to wear flip-flops to the house of God.

Ah, but the temptation of the flip-flop! At Old Navy, a rainbow of flip-flops awaits you on the back wall. Shoes in every hue of the rainbow, it seems, beckoning you, 2 for $5!

You inch closer, mesmerized by the array of colors. You start rationalizing a large purchase and do the calculating in your head: At this price, you could have shoes to match every outfit in your closet! Neon orange, bright yellow, purple...Then you realize that these are colors that have no business being on your feet, no matter what the shoe is. And that the last time you wore anything bright orange was in the 1980s. (In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I had a neon orange pair of overalls during that dicey decade. Ahem. Now stop laughing; it was the style, remember?)

But the question begs to be asked: Is the flip-flop really a shoe? Or is it just one step above going around barefoot? I do think our feet deserve better. Ask any podiatrist: There is no arch support in a flat flip-flop. (Say that five times fast).

A few weeks ago, I started experiencing heel pain. My podiatrist told me that walking barefoot around the house was now out of the question. I would have worn my slippers, but they don't have any support, nor can I find any in the stores that do. Or if they do, they are made for the dead of winter in an unheated mountain cabin in Alberta.

One day, I ran across a pair of nicely cushioned flip-flops in a department store. I picked one up and was surprised to find that the heel was very cushy. These would make perfect "slippers" to wear around the house until my heels got better.

I was devastated, but foot pain makes you desparate.

"I have to buy these ugly things," I said dejectedly to my friend Michele. She smiled.

"You don't like them?"

"Do you?" I asked.

She was too polite to answer.

I looked down at their athletic style, black color, and athletic-shoe logo on the top.

"No, they're hideous. I'll never wear them in public," I vowed.

Oh, but they are comfortable. For around the house, mind you. And the local pool. And to water the roses and geraniums.


Oh flip-flop, I love and hate you at the same time!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

It's Good To Be Humiliated!

"Great graces cannot be obtained without humility. When you yourself experience humiliation, you should take it as a sure sign that some great grace is in store. "
~ St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Each one of us, at one time or another, has been humiliated. Humbled, taken down a notch, embarrassed, put to shame.  But how many of us would ask to be humiliated?  St. Therese did. She wrote, "I beg you, my Divine Jesus, to send me a humiliation whenever I try to set myself above others." 

Wow. That takes guts. See, she knew that when a person starts to feel prideful, he or she begins to move away from God.  We're all human, and we all have those kind of moments. Of course, I don't even have to beg the Good Lord to send me humiliations, because I already receive them without even asking! Lucky, lucky me!

My humiliations usually come in some sort of manner that involves me being sprawled out on the pavement in public somewhere. My mom calls it "weak ankles," but I know better. It's God telling me some great graces are in store for me! 

Ah yes, my memory takes me back to last summer when I tripped and flew—yes, I actually flew—across a pedestrian bridge over the Ohio River in downtown Pittsburgh (you can read about that effects of that little incident here). That was the night before the big Catholic Press Association awards banquet. You could say I was a little nervous. I lay there completely humbled on the bridge thinking, "Really, Lord? REALLY?"

But the very next day, I was repaid with an award for Olivia's Gift, Deo gratias.  When I look at those photos, I think of my knee all bandaged, banged up and throbbing in pain. But it was worth it!  Ah, to be humbled to show your love for God!

I haven't tripped—yet—bringing the gifts up the steps to the altar at Mass, but it may happen one day. Oh God, please no. Please, please no.

Another time, many years ago, I had my first journalism job after college, at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I was out and about on my lunch hour in my new heels. I was 21 and I thought I was on top of the world, eager to prove to everyone that I was a true professional. Yeah, I tripped on the sidewalk there, too. People stopped and asked me if I was okay. A bruised ego, yes, but nothing more.

On another day while employed at that same newspaper, one of the employees from another part of the building glared at me and asked, "Are you allowed in here, young lady?"  I had to explain that I was an employee.  "Oh, I'm sorry, you look so young!" he said, laughing.

I didn't laugh. Yep. Humbled, I was.  

But St. Therese, in her saintly wisdom, was right: These things are good for us. I got to thinking about that, and so one day, after thinking about the sin of pride, I told the Good Lord, "Lord, please send me a humiliation. I think I need one."

God answers prayer! 

As I signed books one day at an event, a nice man came up to me and told me that his daughter's name was Olivia and he'd love for me to sign a book for her. We talked about the popularity of the name for a bit. I told him I'd be happy to sign a book and uncapped my pen. "And your daughter's name?" I asked him.

"Um, that would be Olivia."

Oh, dang. 

Yeah. Well, it had been a long day.

Then, in a store trying on sunglasses, I started up a conversation with the young lady working behind the counter.  "What do you think of these?" I asked her expectantly. She was fairly young. I'm pretty sure I had leftovers in my fridge older than her.

She stalled for time, then finally said, " look like a bug."

"A bug?" I was horrified.  "I don't think I'll take these," I said and quickly took them off.

"I'm sorry, ma'am!" she exclaimed. "The frames are just too big for you, that's all!"


A bug? 

Ha! She just lost a sale, that salesgirl.  I shrunk out of the store and went home. 

Another time, I was in the produce section of Trader Joe's. I grabbed my bag of butter lettuce, put it into my cart, and wheeled away toward the dairy products.  I was trying to decide between Greek yogurt and regular when suddenly I heard a little bit of a commotion behind me. 

"My cart! It's gone!" cried a perplexed, elderly woman. I glanced over at her and watched her exchange comments with another shopper. "I just turned my back for a second! Where could it have gone?"

"Are you sure?" the other shopper asked. "It has to be around here somewhere!"

It was then that I knew. I just knew

Sure enough, I looked into the cart I'd been pushing around and found all kinds of groceries. None looked familiar. That's because none of them were mine.

I closed my eyes, sighed heavily out of embarrassment and wheeled the cart back, shamefaced. "I'm sorry," I said to the lady.  "I stole your cart by mistake."

The lady showed visible relief. 

"I'm so glad! I didn't want to have to go get everything again."

"I'm sorry," I apologized again. "It's my fortieth birthday today and I'm aging by the second! This is not a good sign," I murmured.

The lady came over to me and gave me, a complete stranger, a big hug. "God bless you, Honey," she said, and patted me on the back. "Oh, you're going to be just fine."

We shared a little Christian moment right there in Trader Joe's, patting each others' backs.

Recently at the drugstore, I was paying for my purchases with a coupon. Things didn't go as planned, and the cashier accidentally rung it up incorrectly. When I politely told her of the error, it took her and a manager to straighten out the mess.  It also took lots of math.

"I'm not sure I understand this," I said, studying the receipt. "Shouldn't the total be ____?"

"Well, I messed up and added it again, but I took it off down here, but then you had the coupon, and I double rang it, and then I had to divide by seven, delete the quantity, add the percentage, multiply it to the 5th power, and carry the nine so that the total would be $29.37," she chirped. "Then of course, I gave you the discount."


"But..." I managed to eke out.

She repeated the impossibly confusing (to me) calculation. Then the manager got in on the discussion.

"Do you understand?" she asked me hopefully. 


She went over it a third time. "I want to make sure you understand."

I still didn't get it.  

"Sorry," I said, red-faced, to the other customers in line behind me.  They didn't appear to be all that forgiving. I turned back around to the cashier.

"Oh yes, I see NOW," I said with a little laugh. 

Does that count as a lie? Because I really didn't.

I gathered up my purchases. In the end, I decided to trust the cashier. I sat in my car and studied the receipt, then in my humiliation stuffed it back into the bag.  UGH! 

There are other instances, but I think I'll keep them to myself, thank you very much. Let's just say that God must have many graces in store for me, and leave it at that!

"But, you know my weakness, Lord. Every morning I make a resolution to practice humility and in the evening I recognize that I have committed again many faults of pride. At this I am tempted to become discouraged but I know that discouragement is also pride. Therefore O my God, I want to base my hope in You alone. 
—St. Therese

Friday, May 18, 2012

Authentic Catholicism Is Never Outdated

This will give you a jump start this morning. Be proud, people!

Bonus points to those in the Detroit area who can identify the priest at 1:29! I admit I didn't recognize him at first!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

87 Years Ago Today...

...our beloved St. Therese was canonized.  My dear friend and sister, I have no words to tell you how much I love you.

Little Flower in Heaven, ora pro nobis!

Why I Love Sacramentals

Get those sacramentals blessed, people!

In recent years, it seems as if sacramentals have gone out of vogue—whatever that means, anyway.  Someone once told me, "Those were big in the old days.  No one uses them now, except little old ladies." That comment made me really sad, because I don't consider myself a little old lady (although some might! I finally got myself off of the AARP mailing list, thank goodness. What the heck was that all about?). I see great value in sacramentals. Rosaries, chaplets, relics, medals, holy water, blessed salt:  these blessed objects are all spiritual armor that we need in our day and age now more than ever! How can we fight the battle without armor? And if you don't believe there's a battle, well, I guess I'll save that for another post.

Some people think we simply don't need sacramentals, that they are only props. I couldn't disagree more. There's something about holding my St. Therese chaplet in my hands when I am anxious about something, moving my hands along the beads, that gives me comfort when I say my prayers. Do I need it to say my chaplet? Of course not. But there is something so incredible about having something tangible to hold in your hand as you pray. You can even say the rosary without the beads, if you're good at counting and keeping track in your head, which I am not.

And some say that the holy water, blessed salt, etc. is all hokum, which is also misguided. It's as misguided as some thinking Catholics worship Mary. Again, a topic for another post. We don't think holy water is a magic potion. We do, however, believe that since it has been blessed, it disposes us to receiving God's grace. We are not to treat these things like superstitious objects, but the objects are now indeed different. They are not changed in the way that bread is changed into the Eucharist, but they are now different in that they are set apart from ordinary objects. In a sense, the priest's blessing is "attached" to the objects.

Several years ago, when my youngest son made his First Holy Communion, I made a special trip to the Italian imports store in the area to pick out his rosary. This was a big, big deal!  I chose a rosary of the most gorgeous deep blue, Paul's favorite color and of course, the color we usually associate with Our Lady. We were so excited to give it to him the morning of the big day.

When we got to the church, a priest (not our pastor) was seated in the vestibule before Mass. It wasn't that crowded at the time and he wasn't talking to anyone, so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to have him bless Paul's rosary. My son stood there in his little navy suit and white boutonniere, holding his new rosary.

"Hello, Father, " I said. "Would you please bless Paul's rosary?" I beamed.  This was a special moment.

Little Paul held out his new rosary.

What happened next is something I will never forget.

"Sure," the priest said. Then he held his hand out over the rosary and flippantly said one word:


He pulled his hand away, signaling the end of the conversation.

I could not believe it. I was heartbroken and angry but I had to keep my temper in check.  Jaw clenched, I looked down at my son, who looked a bit confused. I had to do something in that awkward silence, so I guided Paul away to distract him.  I found my husband and told him what had happened, and he, too, was horrified. Shocked, too, since Father was usually so nice.

What a moment that could have been for my son! He could have witnessed the priest giving a beautiful blessing over his special First Communion rosary. It would have taken him less than 30 seconds to say some special words. I wondered what we were supposed to say about it. We certainly didn't want him to think that this is how priests bless rosaries or other religious objects. It broke my heart, until my husband said, "Don't worry, it will get blessed properly.  We'll go see Father _____."

I instantly felt better. But Father lived far away. I didn't know when we'd see him next.

Not too long after the incident, my husband called up Father, telling him we wanted to come for Mass and a visit.  "There's one other thing," he said.  And he told him the story.

Father sighed. Apparently this type of behavior was not new to him.  "You bring everything; I'll bless all of it, don't you worry!"

When we visited Father in his office, we quickly recapped the story.  He shook his head sadly, but then smiled. "Come on, bring it all in," he motioned with a wave. I sheepishly pulled out the little bag of sacramentals, including Paul's special rosary, and we laid them out on his desk, one by one.  I will never forget our family sitting there in Father's little office as he said the most exquisite blessing. It was a long one, and so tremendously beautiful. Not rushed to get it over with, not something canned.

It was, in a word, perfect.

I was thrilled. And what an experience and an education for our boys, to see a loving, holy priest say those words. My boys will always remember that moment.

So yes, I dearly love sacramentals, "in vogue" or not, and I'll continue to use them and talk to people about their importance and beauty.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Happy Birthday To My Mom

In honor of my mom's birthday, I wanted to share one of the many awesome songs we heard growing up in my house. I can remember going through Mom and Dad's record albums and always finding Neil Diamond in their collection (Cracklin' Rosie is another favorite!). I have fond memories of us acting silly and dancing in the family room in our blue jeans. The first time I ever heard this song, I loved it to pieces, and I still do. Neil Diamond songs always get the volume turned way up when I drive around town in my minivan! You might just hear me singing Forever in Blue Jeans at a stoplight, windows down. Mom and Dad even took me to see Neil Diamond in concert when he came to Detroit, and we had a great time. Lots of love, yummy Italian food, and tons of fun, goofy memories were the mainstay in our home. Parents are the very first teachers of their children, and how appropriate that Mom also taught me to love Our Blessed Mother.  Thanks for everything! Love you, Mom!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Finding Joy In Suffering

Not too long ago, a well-known megachurch pastor came out with a book about how to make every day feel like it's Friday. It's funny how my Catholic brain instantly thought, Wow, what a concept. Having a Friday mentality of suffering and sacrifice every day of the week.  This will truly change souls for the better!  Then I read the rest of the cover, and I realized that no, it didn't mean that at all. It's a manual on how to be happy every day. As in TGIF kind of happy.  Every single day. As if that is even possible. This may not be a fair assessment of his book, but it did make me pause to think about people and how we view life.  If we're not happy, something must be wrong, right? Because, darn it, we deserve to be happy every day, don't we?

Sure, it would be nice but...completely unrealistic. And I think that's why people seem so unhappy a lot of the time. Look, we all suffer. We all have our crosses in life. Some are heavier than others' crosses. I don't know why that is, really. I'm no theologian, but I do know that people who wish they were happy all of the time will always be miserable because they are missing the bigger picture here. It's not healthy to expect to be happy all of the time, and frankly, it's irresponsible to be promoting such an idea. Yes, we can make gratitude lists and the like, and those are wonderful things to do to remind us to be grateful for what the Good Lord has given us. And there are other ways to make ourselves feel happy. And of course, God wants us to be happy!

But sooner or later, the good feelings will fade and we'll be right back to being sad again. Those little tips and techniques won't make us happy all of the time. I mean, come on, I'm not happy all of the time, and I'm very, very grateful for all that God has given me, and I tell Him so every single day.  But there are some days that I'm downright sad, to be honest. Is that a bad thing? Should I expect to be happy every day? Should every day really be a Friday?

Suffering is inevitable; we all know that. No one escapes life without suffering. The problem as I see it is that we just don't really know how to handle suffering, or  how eternally valuable it is.

A more helpful, and holy, approach to life? Find the joy in suffering.

I know, it sounds crazy. Who would actually find joy in suffering?

But St. Therese did, and it is described beautifully in a little booklet called Joy In Suffering According To St. Therese of the Child Jesus (Bishop A.A. Noser, S.V.D., D.D., TAN Books).  "Even though a person may feel bad, and even though a person is still plagued by faults and failings, St. Therese shows us how to live each moment such that one's life is immensely fruitful for eternity, and nothing will be wasted." (from back cover)

Last summer,  I, too, learned to find the joy in suffering. I sustained a sharp, although not hard, blow to my head, and while on vacation was hospitalized in a small country hospital with a serious concussion. It was the scariest time of my life. When the ER doctor first came in and saw me, he stared at me with a solemn look on his face. He went over my symptoms and discussed possible bleeding on the brain and what that would mean for me.

"I'm going to be honest with you," he told me gravely. "Judging by your symptoms, I'm very concerned about you." Then he just stared at me.

I looked into the old doctor's eyes and without blinking, slowly asked him a question I'd never imagined myself asking, but the look on his face was so darned serious, I couldn't help myself.

"Wait a minute.  Am I going to die or something?" I was only half kidding.

The doctor was silent for a moment. To my utter astonishment, he did not say "No, of course not." Now I was really getting nervous.  He simply said, "Let's just get some tests done immediately."

As I lay on the gurney in that little hospital in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, I started to panic. Did the doctor just have a bad bedside manner, or was he really that concerned?  My husband tried to reassure me, but the doctor's stern warning kept playing through my mind.  I'm in deep trouble here, Lord. Deep, deep trouble.

In my nauseated, woozy state, I pleaded with every saint my muddled head could think of, starting with St. Therese, the Blessed Mother,  St. Anthony, St. Michael, St. Anne, St. Joseph, St. Padre Pio, St. John Vianney, St. Philomena, and moving on down the line to those not canonized yet, like Blesseds Zelie and Louis Martin, Fulton Sheen and Fr. John Hardon.

So this is what it feels like, I thought. Now I know.  Soon, however, in a strange way, I became surprisingly calm and still. While not exactly happy, I began to feel at peace. I had all of my friends in Heaven praying for me. It was up to God what would happen to me. And that was sort of freeing, actually.

A nice nurse came in to attend to me.  She told me her name was Mary. I was instantly comforted by her name. She took such good care of me, like a mother would.

We waited for what seemed like hours and the incredible results came back: No bleeding on the brain. I could go back to the hotel and rest, and head for home the next day.

Mary came over to me and patted my hand.  "I'm very happy for you, Nancy. Now you have some peace in knowing that you've had the scan and it says you will be fine."

I sighed in relief. "I prayed to every saint I could think of," I murmured in tears.  She smiled knowingly.  It was then that I looked up and out into the hallway. On one of the hospital door windows were red shapes I couldn't make out at first. Then I knew: roses.  They were window clings of falling roses. I couldn't believe it. But then again, nothing the Little Flower does ever surprises me anymore. I had prayed as hard as I could for her to send me roses to let me know I'd be okay, that God was there, and there they were. I was placed into the wheelchair and Mary wheeled me away. I will forever be grateful to Mary, and to St. Therese.

I was ill for weeks, and spent all of that time in bed because I could not move about. It was quite frightening, having a fuzzy brain like that.  I kept thinking, What if this never goes away?  I had temporarily injured a part of my brain that could do simple math computations and thinking was a bit difficult at times. I worried that I'd never be a writer again. My thinking was a little confused and hazy at times.  It was hard for me to come up with words when I talked. I was completely miserable, and could not even do some of the simplest things for myself. I certainly could not get out to Mass; I could barely even walk and did not leave the house. The only thing that got me through that terrible time was (slowly) reading that book of St. Therese's joy in suffering. Boy, did that marvelous saint know suffering in her life. And she embraced it each time.

During that time, the strangest thing happened to me. I actually found joy in that suffering. It was all being put to good use, you see. I actually felt productive, even though physically I was not.  I was offering up my suffering for something of immeasurable value. For some, it's the end of abortion, for others, the salvation of sinners, for still others, vocations to the priesthood. No suffering is ever wasted in this way. God hears all of it. Ask the Good Lord what He wants you to do with whatever you are suffering with right now.

Thanks be to God, my brain did heal and everything became normal again. But I look back on that time as very valuable for my soul and for my relationship with God. You see, all of our sufferings will be put to good use if we look upon them as opportunities to show our confidence in God, our love for God, and our will to please Him. We know that He sends us these trials out of love for us to test our faith, and to draw us closer to Him.

Please don't misunderstand: Some people suffer such tragic circumstances, and I surely don't mean to imply that it's as simple as "offering it up" or "feeling joy." And I know that my illness does not compare to some that others face. But all I know is that during my own trial, I drew closer to Him than I ever had before. I prayed a lot. I had conversations with God and His saints. It was the most valuable time I've ever spent, and I spent it all with God. Offering up my pain helped me to empty myself of my pain. I can't even imagine the utter bleakness of lying there for weeks, suffering with nothing to show for it.  Yet people do this all of the time. Why? Because they are being told that they should strive to be happy; it should be Friday all of the time.

Is suffering fun? Of course not! But is it valuable? Is it valuable to our souls? A resounding YES!

"There are people who make the worst of everything. As for me, I always see the good side of things, and even if my portion be suffering without a glimmer of solace, well, I make that my joy," St. Therese  once wrote.

Come on: Who else does this but Catholics? Our One True Faith holds the key to living this life and living it with purpose and for the good of souls: ours and everyone else's.

So instead of telling us that we should be strive—and expect— to be happy every day, with a "fun Friday" mentality that everything should be great all of the time, that somehow life is letting us down if we are not happy,  perhaps we should be taught how to learn to live with the suffering that God in His infinite Mercy and Wisdom chooses to give us, and how to put it to good use for our salvation. Life simply can't be a blissful, happy Friday every day of the week. It just can't. And when we expect a book to teach us how to make that happen, we will end up being disappointed, and very sad.

God made us for so much more than that, don't you think?

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.
James 1:2-5

This Is True Love

Blissful sigh...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

On Mother's Day: Ave Maria

On this Mother's Day, enjoy the great Luciano Pavarotti in this beautiful tribute to Our Lady, the Blessed Mother.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, model for all mothers everywhere.

Friday, May 11, 2012

You Might Be A Hardcore Catholic If...

Time for something funny today. It's not fun to be serious all of the time! And we Catholics can be very fun...oh yes we can! I like Catholic humor.

My personal favorite among the list?  Correcting the BCE and capitalizing God and Mass. That is so me!

I didn't write these (although keep a lookout for some I will write in the future!). I found them on a blog and I can't remember the name of it, but that's okay. Just enjoy them, and laugh because you know they are all true!

You Might Be A Hardcore Catholic If...
-you've accidentally genuflected at a place other than church ex. the movie theatre, school auditorium
- you're sick of being asked why priests can't be married.
- you have a "favorite" religious order.
- you say the meal prayer no matter where you are.
- you have a Nativity set at your house during Christmas, and have also played with it.
- you've accidentally made the sign of the cross when leaving regular buildings.
- whenever anyone says "JPII" in your head you think "We love you".
- you know that Father could take on Eminem any day.
- you know that Advent is the beginning of the new church year.
- you have a special place in your heart for Mother Teresa.
- you're more than willing to come forth with a valid miracle to help Mother Teresa become a saint.
- You know at least five people named Mary.
- You want to name one of your sons John Paul.
- you have a Mary statue in your  yard.
- You can name off all the Joyful, Glorious, Sorrowful, and Luminous mysteries.
- you consider your rosary to be your spiritual weapon.
- You've memorized the St. Michael the Archangel prayer and recite it when you feel tempted by sin.
- one or more of your friends entered the seminary or the convent.
- you have 20+ cousins.
- you believe in Purgatory and know it's important to pray for the souls who are currently in Purgatory.
- you think Scott Hahn writes the coolest books.
- you're able to sit still for a full hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
- your idea of a great date is Mass followed by good conversation at a local coffee shop.
-You refer to John Paul II as John Paul the Great.
- you never leave home without your scapular.
- you are discerning the religious life.
- you often end disputes with, "Let's look it up in the Catechism."
- you and your friends have shown up at Adoration at 4:00 in the morning.
- when watching Star Wars and hear "May the force be with you" you respond with "And also with you."
- you have participated in sword fights using palms on Passion Sunday.
- you've run into your Parish Nuns at a Cardinals game.
- you and your friends ever played "Mass" instead of House, or Cops and Bad Guys.
- You have your own designated seat at Mass.
- they know you at every Catholic bookstore in the area, and ask you where you’ve been if you haven’t stopped by in a while.
- on the night before the first Sunday of Advent you and your friends have a Liturgical New Year's Eve party, and count down to the new Liturgical Year!!
- you're named after a saint, not a family member.
- you know at least three awesome stories about Padre Pio.
- you get excited about going to Mass.
- you arrive at Mass half an hour early to get a good seat and talk to Jesus.
- Redemptive suffering gets you through sports.
- your mom always makes sure to celebrate your feast day.
- You associate the smell of incense with major feast days.
- You attend multiple retreats per year.
- Your teachers grade you down when you write papers about moral issues and papers involving God.
- you've ever referred to yourself and your significant other as "a couple discerning a vocation to marriage".
- You and your many siblings went trick-or-treating dressed as Popes and martyrs.
- you feel compelled to make the sign of the cross after reciting ANYTHING...and then you catch yourself and have to remind yourself that it wasn't a prayer.
- You have a priest come bless your house with holy water before you move in.
- You never eat before church, and brunch afterwards is always the best!
- Your first serious conversation you have with a potential girl/boyfriend involves your conversion story.
- You lie awake at night wondering why the St. Michael Prayer was removed from the end of Mass.
- The word "vocation" to you does not simply mean "job".
- People tend you look in your direction in class or at work whenever anything involving religion comes up.
- You always have one or more saints on some part of your body.
- You have a Rosary or Saint Christopher pin in your car.
- One of your Crucifixes has five years worth of dried out palms stuck behind it.
- You would rather get your picture with the pope then with a huge celebrity.
- You have more than one Rosary hanging from your bed.
- You have contemplated being in a religious order at least once.
- Your one wish is to be able to ride in the popemobile.
- you have a small family because most of your uncles and aunts are priests and nuns.
- you say "God bless you" anytime anyone sneezes, out of habit.
- You know the greatest way to start a date is with The Mass, because you'll have the greatest meal, Christ in the Eucharist.
- You know more about St. Francis of Assisi than "he was some guy who could talk to animals".
- you have had multiple meetings with the priest at your own will.
- all your pens and post-its say "Discover the Priesthood".
- You had competitions with your friends on Ash Wednesday to see who could keep their ashes on the longest.
- You still write "Your Kingdom Come!" or "JMJ" at the top of your page/letter/report/test.
- You find yourself asking all the cute boys whether or not they've ever considered becoming a priest instead of asking them for their number.
- You spend your Thursday nights at choir practice hanging out with people at least thirty-five years older than you in preparation for Sunday Mass.
- You mentally correct every textbook use of "BCE" and CE" with "Before Christ" and "Anno Domini". You also mentally capitalize every written use of the word "God" and "Mass".
- You know that some Catholics don't eat meat on Wednesdays or Fridays, even not during Lent.
- you live in the Vatican.
- you find that praying the Rosary is a good way to pass the time (especially at work).
- you get really excited over a holy day of obligation.
- if you are tired of people referring to the birth of Jesus the Immaculate Conception.
- you've ever been told my your mom, "Offer it up", and then felt very obliged to do so.
- when discussing possible names for your future children with friends or your future spouse, you start ruling out names that aren't virtues, saints, or biblical.
- you've ever thought it would be fun to read the CCC as if it were a novel.
- you instinctively grab the person's hand next to you when it's time to pray.
- you hug strangers at Mass during the sign of peace.
- when you hear someone's name read off, you think in your head "pray for us".
- you've ever ruled out dating someone because they weren't Catholic.
- you tell other people your last name, they begin spouting off names of people that you are probably related to.
- You plan what to wear based on the liturgical color of the day.
- You hold office hours at the Catholic Center/Catholic Student Center/Newman Center.
- You and your roommates have scheduled "spiritual nights" to discuss whatever issues of faith that are on your mind that week.
- you held a Pope party (complete with Papal flag, and German beer) for the election of the B XVI (it was a Tuesday night).
- you were disappointed when you couldn't find a Catholic version of trivial pursuit.
- When you tell the someone who your favorite musical artists are they have NO IDEA who you are talking about.
- When you hear the word Madonna, you think of the Blessed Virgin, not the song "Like a Virgin."
- You know that "prostrate" is not a place where men develop cancer.
- you convince your roommate that Jesus loves Him/Her no matter what religion they are.
- Instead of change, you find a rosary under your couch cushions.
- when you've said the Rosary outside a Planned Parenthood in protest with a Respect Life group.
- you have at one point had to stop a younger sibling from playing in the Holy Water font. 
- You look at this list and laugh really hard, because you know it's so true.

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