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…

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Lists

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!

 

 

 

 

Lakeside Thoughts

Kind words matter.  Last evening, I witnessed this first-hand when my daughter and I were sitting by the lake eating ice cream, taking in the last few moments of a sunny Sunday evening before sunset.  A family was sitting at a picnic table nearby, and I could hear a young child crying.  As the child clearly expressed some sort of discontent, one of the adults, possibly a grandparent, kept making sarcastic remarks to the child, which only appeared to make the child more upset.  This went on for what seemed like a long time until another adult from the family approached the table (maybe the granddad?) and spoke kindly to the child.  This man asked the child if the next time they went to McDonalds, would he want a “Happy Meal” or a “Sad Meal?”  The child stopped crying and proceeded to get into a conversation with this person about wanting to be happy and it seemed to all end rather peacefully.  Not knowing the situation that preceded the crying, I cannot sit in judgment, but it was evident that this kinder, quieter approach yielded better results than a piling on of sarcasm.

It’s good old summertime, and while we have waited a long time in Central New York for the temperatures to rise and for time outdoors, let’s remember to keep our cool both by drinking plenty of water but also by keeping our tempers in check.  We can choose to be a people of peace if we stop and think before we speak.  When using electronics, we also can follow that same rule of thumb before replying to an email or text.  Before posting anything on social media, we can ask ourselves the following important questions:

T—Is it TRUE?

H—Is it HELPFUL?

I—Is it INSPIRING?

N—Is it NECESSARY?

K—Is it KIND?

Maybe the older I get, I am just turning into a big softy, but I literally cringe when I hear people speaking unkindly to one another or about one another.  While I am the first to admit I enjoy watching entirely too much television, I also will not hesitate to change the channel if I start to hear a barrage of insults, lately being on the news and coming from twitter accounts.  What kind of message are we sending to our kids?

We have the entire summer ahead of us to refresh, to restore, to unwind, to grow.  Let’s dust off those books we’ve been planning to read, or pick up a deck of cards and teach our little ones how to play Crazy 8’s.  I’d like to finally figure out how to truly skip rocks at the lake!  Let’s be kinder and gentler to ourselves so that we can be kinder and gentler to each other.  And when we find ourselves becoming sullen and surly, let’s take a time out or ask for some help.  None of this is rocket science, friends!  Love one another. 

Merton Prayer

When the idea of Merciful Moments Blog first came about, I wanted to share ordinary, everyday examples of where I or others encountered love, mercy and/or some sort of God winks.  Most of the time, the ideas come so very easily and I’m so eager to share with you, dear reader, the good news or laughter, whatever I can to evoke a smile or brighten your day.  While the sun shines and the birds sing today, my heart is heavy as I think of a beautiful young woman, a devoted wife and mother who left us far too soon.  I am left with very few words to speak or even write, but I can think of countless individuals in our community who shared love and support and precious time.

I know there’s little I can say to offer comfort in difficult times, but today I share a prayer that I have always found comforting.  In my heart, I trust that our loving God can fill in the blanks when the words just won’t come.  All I can offer today is this Merton Prayer, a tender embrace, and if needed, a casserole.  That will have to suffice for now.  Godspeed, you incredible, brave Wonder Woman.  Now you can finally rest.

 My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.


But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

 

Vantage Point

This was originally published on  

I will be back next week with a new blog!  

I don’t know what it is about baptisms lately, but from my vantage point at Sunday Mass yesterday, I experienced an interesting phenomenon.  The Sacrament of Baptism was celebrated for two children at a Mass that was also honoring high school graduates.  Not just ANY high school graduates, but a class of students I and my colleagues have had the opportunity to work with since they were in seventh grade.  In a very real way, we have watched these young people grow up through the years.   During this one Mass, it was as if we were witnessing “bookends” in child development…the beginning of life in the Church of God for two young children and the sending forth of these recent grads toward college and beyond.

For the high school graduates blessed and sent forth, we become known as their parish family, the people they see on Sunday or in Faith Formation classes or in the parish office occasionally when assistance was needed or paperwork was submitted.  As they grew, a few of our students partnered with us in ministry as altar servers or Confirmation peer mentors, choir members and cross bearers.  Some lent a hand in classrooms.   Some journeyed to ND Vision in South Bend, IN with us for a deeper exploration of our shared Catholic faith.

Through the years, I had the unique privilege of getting to know these students’ parents.  Their children will probably never know that occasionally we laughed together, cried together, and prayed for their well-being…that’s all stuff that happens behind the scenes, where it should.   But from my vantage point yesterday, witnessing babies and high school grads, I thanked God for those special shared moments.  Yesterday, at Mass, those babies, those grads…I know they’re really not OUR children, but we are all one in the Church of God.  Welcome, newest members of our Church, and to our high school graduates, Godspeed!

 

 

We Are Family

It’s a busy time in our home right now, with the upcoming wedding of our son and our soon-to-be-daughter-in-law!  For the next few Mondays, I’m selecting a few of my favorite “mercifulmoments” and re-publishing them in case you missed them the first time around!  I wrote and initially published this on mercifulmomentsblog May 2, 2016.   

“I can do it my SELF!”  Isn’t this a common phrase uttered by children who are trying desperately to assert some sense of independence?  It usually starts out with wanting to choose their clothes to wear, pour their own cereal or milk, ride without training wheels, etc.  As parents, we know it’s our job to raise independent, capable, caring young adults.  It’s not an easy journey and there are plenty of bumps in the road along the way complete with laughter and tears, small victories and occasional defeats. We chalk all this up to experience, life’s lessons.

As kids, many individuals got all that yearning for independence out of their systems early in life.  For other late bloomers like me, we spent a few decades trying to show how capable and independent we were only to learn that many of life’s moments are best when shared with the people we love the most.  And the people we love the most really don’t expect us to prove ANYTHING to them.  As a huge Dr. Seuss fan, I think Seuss describes this phase of our lives beautifully in Oh the Places You’ll Go:

“I’m afraid that some times

you’ll play lonely games too

Games you can’t win

’cause you’ll play against you”

One of the best lessons I have learned so far on life’s journey is that I love to be part of a family.  In fact I have three families that I love dearly:

(1) My own family and extended family including all relatives near and far, living and deceased,

(2) My community, a handful of dear neighbors and a wider circle of people in our town and our children’s schools from over the years,

(3) My parish families, past and present, and all those people in ministry who I have been blessed to call friend through the years.

Even though there are still times in life when I occasionally feel the need to prove I am capable or I am strong, most often I soon realize that the source of my happiness lies in community with others.  Pope Francis speaks of this journey in the following words:

“I think this is truly the most wonderful experience we can have: to belong to a people walking, journeying through history together with our Lord, who walks among us! We are not alone; we do not walk alone. We are part of the one flock of Christ that walks together.” ― Pope Francisthe Church of Mercy

 A few years ago I added a very special community to my prayers:  the Communion of Saints.  I used to toss this term around like any good Catholic girl, but I had no idea what it really meant.  What I’ve come to believe about the Communion of Saints is that they are all those men and women who have died and gone to heaven before us.  They’re with us in prayer and they can help connect us to God as we can reflect on their lives and learn by their examples.  Remember, most saints were ordinary people chosen by God to do extraordinary things.  With God all things are possible, so walking with the saints seems like the best path for this next leg of the journey.  Thanks for walking with me!

Encyclopedia Catholic?

It’s a busy time in our home right now, with the upcoming wedding of our son and our soon-to-be-daughter-in-law!  For the next few Mondays, I’m selecting a few of my favorite “mercifulmoments” and re-publishing them in case you missed them the first time around!  I wrote and initially published this on mercifulmomentsblog May 23, 2016.  

I have fond memories of watching black and white Mickey Mouse Club re-runs as a girl.  I mainly followed the short serials such as Spin and Marty and The Hardy Boys, but there’s a short Jiminy Cricket film that I remember this morning called Encyclopedia.  In it, Cricket sings of the wonders of these big books of knowledge and how they satisfy one’s curiosity.

Our parents proudly purchased a set of encyclopedias for the family in 1972 or 1973, almost around the same time that we got our first Zenith color television set.  Those encyclopedias sat on a shelf below the TV and were well-used over the years for our homework assignments.  We were taught to respect the books, to always return them to their rightful place on the shelf and to take good care of them.  They also, however, became an integral part of proving one was right in a multitude of disagreements in our large family.  While the thirst for knowledge was recognized in our home, so was proving that one was right at all costs.  Running and grabbing the correct encyclopedia to prove a point was very common.  It was almost a survival of the fittest at times…or quickest with the answers. And in someone proving himself or herself right, subsequently someone else was wrong or at least not as fast to defend their case.

I believe for a very long time this was pretty much the way I lived my Catholic Faith.  Maybe I was, to coin a phrase, an Encyclopedia Catholic.  I could list the Corporal Works of Mercy or with some prompting, even the Seven Deadly Sins, both helpful if playing a round of Catholic Trivia.  But it was not until I started reading Scripture daily that I began to look at what it really means to encounter Christ, to love our neighbor, to show compassion or mercy.  I dare say I never “owned” my Catholic faith until I began to grow in understanding of Jesus’ encounters with others in the Gospels.

“The truth is not grasped as a thing; the truth is encountered. It is not a possession; it is an encounter with a Person.” ― Pope Francisthe Church of Mercy

 The only drawback to “owning” one’s faith, however, is you never can sit back and do nothing again.  From that first spiritual awakening, it becomes obvious that in order to encounter Christ, we must walk with others, we must work with others, and we must laugh and cry and be with others.  We learn to realize that our actions have consequences and sometimes our words can inflict pain.  The Catholic Christian, in his/her awareness of this, must strive to see each person as one of God’s beloved sons or daughters, with their own stories, their own “baggage,” their own sorrows and joys.  If I fail to see Christ in you, I fail to see Christ at all and am only being an Encyclopedia Catholic.  Today, LORD, help me to see the person of Christ in EVERYONE I encounter.  And please help others to see Christ in me.  Amen.

Lessons of the Heart

I imagine many churches nearby, like ours, are wrapping up another catechetical year and collecting registrations for September classes which seem so far away.  This time of year is bittersweet for me, as we bid farewell to students, especially our Confirmation and First Eucharist kids and their parents.  I find myself wondering, did we teach them enough?  Will they come back?  Were we able to convey the depth and breadth of our God’s love?  Did we do more than just transmit information…were we able to reach some hearts as well? 

I do realize that most of these questions I pose repeatedly to myself don’t have easy answers and often immeasurable metrics.  But I will continue to ask them, to offer our families the best that we can give them as we journey together in our shared Catholic faith.

I also know that some of the best lessons of the heart take place when we are gathered around the Eucharistic table with our brothers and sisters each weekend as well as when we encounter Christ in others at work, in our neighborhoods, in our homes, or in our schools.  These life lessons help us to see firsthand how we are to love God and others, and often these lessons are neither neat or perfectly executed.  Some weeks we return to church the following Sunday feeling jubilant, and other times we come back deflated or discouraged, but we come back again and again, seeking nourishment, comfort, peace…

I hope this summer our families will continue to factor in Sundays or Saturday Vigil Masses around all the fun summertime activities that appear, like family reunions, camping trips, graduation parties, weddings and soccer/baseball/lacrosse tournaments.  Let’s look for one another on the weekends so that we can continue to grow in God’s love and share that love with all we encounter on the days between the Sundays.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7  

 

 

God Moments While Folding Laundry

It’s the weirdest thing.  Some mornings, I’ll sit down with that first steaming cup of coffee and settle in with the Daily Readings, ready to have some quality prayer time.  The house is quiet, except for the snoring of our dog on the couch next to me.  This is often the quietest part of my day, and I’m ready and open to sit with the WORD.  Speak to me, LORD, I’m listening, is my silent prayer.  And I read, and I sit, and I think, but sometimes…nothing happens…well, something happens, but it’s not nearly as wonderful as when I encounter God in an unexpected moment, like I did in the laundry room on a recent Sunday afternoon.  Let me explain…

I wasn’t looking for anything other than an empty laundry basket and the box of dryer sheets.  I’d moved the wet clothes to the dryer, put the second load in the washer, added detergent, and started folding a pile of clean towels that had been sitting on the nearby table for the past few days, smelling fresh but rather neglected.  That familiar why am I such a bad housewife? tape was running through my head when all of a sudden, in the action of folding a bath towel, I felt strangely peaceful.  I found myself remembering time spent long ago with my mom, when she taught me how to fold clothes.  A smile crossed my face and any angst I’d felt while playing Sunday afternoon household catch-up had dissipated.  As I folded every last towel and washcloth, I felt myself turning to God in prayer, thankful for that gift of relationship with my mom that I’d been fortunate enough to have for the first thirty-five years of my life.  I glanced around our laundry room, badly in need of sprucing up, but my eyes fell upon the sturdy washer and dryer that have served us well over the past few years.  I thanked God for the miracles of running water and electricity and stability and the reality of HOME, even with all its quirks and imperfections.

The month of May hits me hard each year as I miss our mom terribly and the anniversary of our Dad’s death is later in the month.  Many of you reading this may be able to relate to that feeling of loss.  What happened in the laundry room on a recent Sunday, I believe, was a brief God moment, a little nudge to help me open my eyes to all that I do HAVE, right here and now, a reminder to be grateful and open to God’s gifts every day.

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praise to your name, Most High,

To proclaim your love at daybreak, your faithfulness in the night…Psalm 92: 1-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wedding Gifts

When Steve and I announced our wedding engagement years ago, we did all the ordinary things that brides and grooms were doing at that time.  This included attending a Pre-Cana retreat at a local church, selecting wedding readings and readers who were close to us, and completing a Bridal Registry at the now-closed Burt’s Department Store.

Looking back on all those preparations, I must chuckle now.  The adventures we have lived, the highs as well as the lows, have taken us in directions I never would have imagined.  Our Scripture readings would be extremely different if we had to select them now, less sentimental and containing more wisdom!  There were items on the registry that ended up being not very important, and there were gifts received, without even asking for, that have become personal treasures.  Today, I reflect on one item that is especially near and dear to my heart.

A Wooden Risen Christ Wall Crucifix hangs in our bedroom to the left of the doorway.  It was a gift from Aunt Ruth and Uncle Al, two very special family members who had been a part of my Pittsburgh relatives (Mom’s family) and accompanied our Hammond family on summer vacations to Michigan where my dad’s relatives lived.

With the crucifix came a small note written by Aunt Ruth, reminding us that God is, and will continue to be, a part of our married lives, come what may.  That crucifix has become my daily reminder that along with God, we will get through today.  Being an extremely tactile person, I touch the foot of that cross most mornings when I first get out of bed, asking God to walk with us or even saying, “We’ve got this, LORD!”  I know these words are not particularly eloquent, but in my heart, it’s the sincerest prayer I know.

I’ve written about some of the changes lately in our family’s lives, and at times my anxiety rears its ugly head.  But I must tell you, dear friends, I do know, deep in my heart, that it is all going to be okay.  I feel as if we are surrounded with love and grace, and the words of Scripture and our liturgies strengthen me.  Sunday liturgy provides the fuel I need to face whatever each week brings!

 Those who trust in themselves are fools,

but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. 

(Proverbs, 28:26)