Broken Yolks and Other Lessons

Our dad was a bit of a perfectionist in the kitchen.  While most of the weekly cooking duties were clearly our mom’s domain, part of the Sunday morning family ritual after Mass included Bacon and Eggs.  While we kids had the job of setting the dining room table, Mom poured the orange juice and was on toast detail, but Dad watched over the bacon and eggs like he had been charged with the task of guarding the Hope Diamond. Each slice of hickory-smoked bacon was arranged almost scientifically on the broiler pan, the oven timer was set, and then he’d pull out the cast iron skillet to make fried eggs.  It was Sunday morning, and life was good, until a yolk would break, as they sometimes do, and then an expletive or two would be heard coming from the kitchen.  Dad took his eggs extremely seriously!   Nothing went on the plate if it was not just so.

My brother reminded me of our Sunday egg ritual recently when I posted an early-morning photo on Instagram with the caption, “If at first you don’t succeed, fry, fry again.”    Right after my post appeared, he wrote, “Dad would’ve been so upset you did that!”  My reply was, “And therein lies the lesson!  I didn’t utter one swear word when Egg #1 broke.  I slid it over and grabbed another egg. And our dog didn’t mind the broken yolk at all!”

For my siblings and me, Dad’s “eggcitable” temperament in the kitchen was an early lesson with both good and bad messages intertwined.  To do a good job and to be careful were important lessons learned, but there was a perfectionist tone that has taken me many years to work through.  Through the years, Dad mellowed.  I’m not sure if his approach to egg-cooking ever became less intense, but through life’s many ups and downs, Dad and Mom continued to teach me many things.

The lesson I treasure most was one I stumbled upon totally by accident, when I stayed overnight at our childhood home a few years before our mom passed away.  At this point in their lives, Mom’s Parkinson’s Disease was well-advanced, and she suffered from dementia.  Our once-vibrant, funny, beautiful mother was now almost child-like and gentle, relying on our dad for so many of her daily needs.  Dad took on the role of caregiver.  The marriage vows that they had said some forty-plus years earlier began to illustrate “in sickness and in health.” But that’s not the only lesson I learned.  When I went downstairs to grab the tote bag I’d left in the kitchen, I saw them sitting together in the living room, praying the rosary together.  Dad later told me they did this every evening before bed.  I never knew this until that one visit, and it’s an image I will always remember, as it was so intimate, so very beautiful.

Our mom was buried on what would have been our parents’ forty-ninth wedding anniversary.  Our dad passed away ten years later.  While I miss them both dearly, I treasure the merciful moments like these that were part of our family’s story.  Laughing with my brother about a few broken yolks reminded me of the importance of telling our family stories and keeping the memories of those saints who have gone before us alive.







Grocery Store

I just wanted to get into the grocery store and get out again, as quickly as possible.  My daughter and I had divided up the list of needed items and we both had our own carts.  It was a solid plan, foolproof, so I thought, until I reached the deli counter.   A wall of customers surrounded the glass case.  Number eighty-six was lit up on the “Now Serving Customer” sign, and there was no clear path for me to even take a number.  After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a minute or two, Number 87 was called.  And then the strangest thing happened.  Nobody said a word!  Nothing.  Again, a deli clerk announced, “Number 87!”  Still, silence.  I didn’t see any of the customers holding tickets, so I just asked the crowd, “ARE there numbers?”  Finally, to the left of me, a response, “It (the number machine) keeps breaking and someone has to keep opening it up for the numbers.”  “Okay, thanks,” I said, “Have you been waited on?  Ma’am, how about you?  No?  Well, you be 87, then, and I’ll be 88.”  Problem solved.  I’d get my husband’s turkey and roast beef, and head for the organic bananas in Produce.

That was the whole conversation.  Not particularly earth-shattering, but it was the following exchange that felt like a graced moment.  The woman I’ll call Number 87 was pushing one of those really cool, but extremely large shopping carts that looks like a race car, with a little toddler girl buckled in one of the two seats.  She approached me after she’d received all her deli meat.  “Thank you for letting me go ahead of you.  My husband had to take our son to go get a balloon, I know things got a little crazy, I’m sorry…”  I told her not to worry…we have three kids of our own and I miss the days when they were little.  I told her I like to see young families like hers as it reminds me of those days.  No big deal, right?  But it felt good, just the same, to spread a little sunshine.

After the bananas and two bags of shredded lettuce were secured, I headed for the soap and shampoos aisle.  On the way, though, I witnessed a very tender moment, and it stuck with me the rest of the afternoon.  A couple stood in one of the aisles, a man and a woman, and the woman was visibly upset or sad about something.  The man embraced her and leaned down and gently kissed her on her head.  I heard her quietly say to him, “Let’s just get what we need and then go.”   I moved one aisle over just so that I was not intruding on their quiet moment, but it felt very personal for some reason, and I felt privileged to have witnessed such tenderness.

It was at that moment that my daughter, now with her cart full, approached and probably wondered why the only contents in my cart were:  peppermint tea, turkey, roast beef, bananas and shredded lettuce.  I spared her the details of these special moments and efficiently located the rest of my items.  To her, it was a quick trip to the grocery store together.  To me, it was a few more life lessons on encountering Christ in the most unexpected places.  Keep your eyes and hearts wide open, friends.  You just may have your own God moment, when you least expect it, in Aisle Eleven!

Sandcastles and Sheep

There was a little toddler at the beach yesterday playing in the sand.  She kept running to the water’s edge to fill up her bucket, then would run back to the place next to her mom on the beach and pour the water into a little hole she had dug.  Every so often her mom would pop a little cracker in her mouth or hand her a sippy cup, but for the most part the little one frolicked gleefully by the water.  My daughter and I kept smiling as the little girl played, amused by the little one’s antics.

The few hours spent at the lakeshore yesterday with my youngest daughter were bittersweet.  She leaves for college at the end of next month, and as much as I say I know she is ready, in my heart I know that I am not ready to see her go.  I felt the same way when her older brother and sister left, too, but this time it is a little bit worse.  Yesterday, as I watched that little toddler and looked at my own 18-year-old girl, I realized how much of life has already passed by.  I saw grandparents at the beach with their grandchildren, and I realized that could be us in a couple of years.  How did we get here?  Where did the last thirty years go, when so much of this was just beginning?

I take these thoughts to prayer often of late and I don’t even really know what to pray for.  So, I ask God for acceptance of whatever lies ahead.  I thank God for the times we shared with our kids when they were little.  I pray for the safety and well-being of those in our family and families everywhere.  I ask that those without families of their own will have good neighbors and friends to be family to them, that nobody will be lonely or scared.  I pray with the all-too-clear realization that nothing in life is promised, especially not tomorrows, so my prayers have become fervent, pleading, incessant.

Last night at our local Newman Center, our family attended the Sunday evening Mass.  Even though the Gospel was from Mark 6: 7-13 (Jesus’ sending forth of the disciples, two by two), the homilist referenced Jesus’ conversation with Peter (John 21: 17):

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

 I don’t know why this was part of the homily, but it was important for me to hear last night after our afternoon at the beach, because Feed My Sheep has been a Scripture passage that I have used in prayer for over fifteen years.  I’ve had one or more of our “sheep” at home for the past twenty-six years, and now our “flock” is scattering.  Looks like the next question in prayer will be, “Who ARE the sheep, LORD?”  It appears I’ll have to stay tuned and find out…


People love to make lists.  There’s grocery lists, playlists, Christmas lists and bucket lists.  We write lists on sticky notes, the backs of envelopes, or when nothing else is available, on the palms of our hands.  You may think you are high tech because you use some sort of app on your phone for your list-making purposes, some of you are huge fans of spreadsheets.  Whatever the case may be, humans make lists to organize thoughts or tasks or whatever it is that we have a whole lot of!

To count one’s blessings is by no means a new concept.  People pray in thanksgiving or prayers of gratitude.  Some people write daily in Gratitude Journals or keep a jar of blessings in their homes.  We are taught at an early age to “think positively” and to “look at the glass as half full, rather than as half empty.”  In prayer, I have often used this approach, with the hopes that being filled with gratitude will continue to fuel my desire to give to others.

Today, though, my prayer took an interesting turn and I went where I least expected to go.  In my head, and on my heart began to form an entirely new kind of list, one I dare say would be extremely hard to put on paper.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12: 9

Yep, it all started with that line in 2 Corinthians yesterday.  I read it before Sunday morning liturgy, then heard it proclaimed, but today I was still thinking about those words.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  That’s where the list came into being.  I started looking back on fifty-two years of messes, heartbreaks, failures and pains.  I thought of times when life did not seem to be fair or when I was too scared or too broken or too angry to even imagine there would ever be a better day again, and yet as I looked back over all these instances and more, I began to remember the people along the way who somehow were there to offer advice or solutions or maybe nothing more than a smile or a nod.  YOUR grace, LORD, was sufficient, and in my moments of weakness or sadness or despondence, you carried me.  You lifted me.  You loved me.  Every day, if we look around, there are little reminders of just how sufficient this grace was, is and will be.  If I were not so afraid of needles, I think that would be my tattoo line!  May all your days be grace-filled, friends!