Unexpected Gift

We had no intention of crashing a party.  We’d simply walked into a local establishment early on a Saturday evening with the intent of having some supper.  Right away we noticed a few tables, covered in white tablecloths,  set up in a U formation and a two-piece band was playing.  Friends, you should note, this is not an establishment where linen table coverings are the norm; clearly something special was going on.  We walked past the group of party guests in search of a table for three, which were in short supply, but our waiter graciously led us to a bare wooden table on the perimeter of the growing party, unadorned with even salt or pepper shakers.  It was clearly a busier Saturday night than usual, but we were in no hurry and happily started out with tall glasses of water while we perused the menus.

We placed our orders and then chatted easily while we waited for our dinners to be ready.  The waiter refilled our water glasses in between his trips from one end of the room to the other, even leaving a large water carafe on our table while apologizing for the longer-than-usual wait.  Meanwhile, the leader of the band announced that the guest of honor was a woman celebrating her birthday, eighty-something years young, and everyone clapped.  She and her husband made their way to the center of the room, which became their “dance floor” as they danced together.  They did not move fast or even in a fancy way; but they danced like they had known one another forever and found comfort in each other’s arms.  A little later, the woman’s husband was invited to play the drums for a few numbers, including Bad Bad Leroy Brown, and this woman kept dancing with various family members and friends, smiling so brightly.  Her husband looked at her from his seat at the drums and beamed!

This was the longest we’d ever had to wait for our dinner orders at our local neighborhood restaurant, but in reframing the events that transpired, by having to wait a while for the food to arrive, our family was given more time to talk, and laugh, and witness a celebration of life.  If we’d been seated anywhere else on that Saturday evening, we’d have missed the party!  How much of life is like that, dear ones?  I want to keep my eyes and heart open for unexpected gifts like this!

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Comfort Zone

How comfortable are you right now?  Are you sitting down in a comfy chair with a cup of hot coffee in your hand? If you get chilly, is there a cozy sweater or afghan nearby to wrap around your shoulders?  Some people may agree that life is pretty good when we are within our comfort zones.  Merriam-Webster defines comfort zone as “the level at which one functions with ease and familiarity.”

Alas, not all of life can be spent in the safe boundaries of our comfort zones.  Today I reflect one such moment.  The lyrics of a song keep running through my head as I write this…Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world, she took the midnight train going anywhere (Journey, Escape album, 1981).  My family often says I’m a little too dramatic, so I must disclose the facts:  I AM from a small town and I DID take a commuter train, followed by a subway train, some more subway trains and one last commuter train on Saturday.  The Uber receipt reminds me that we reached our hotel at a modest 11:34 PM, so there really was not any midnight train involved here, friends!  But, my early-bird version of the tale contains some truths I want to share with you…

Even total strangers will work together to solve a common problem.  Subway doors won’t close?  Everyone steps back.  Someone with a stroller trying to get on/off the train?  People move out of the way or even grab the front of the stroller to assist the parent.  When it’s standing-room only, people make sure that everyone has a spot to hold on those common metal poles.  Someone’s lost?  I witnessed many people on Saturday offering advice to others regarding taking the R train or the 1 train, etc.  When asked, people step up.

It’s much easier to have conversations when there’s a safe distance between us.  I sought respite in the subway advertisements lining the trains on Saturday because I was afraid if I looked anyone straight in the eyes in such proximity, I’d creep them out.   We were too close for comfort!   I whispered a few things to my family members who also were riding, but for the most part, I kept surprisingly quiet for once.  I also confirmed my theory that quiet smiles still work everywhere.

There’s evidence of beauty EVERYWHERE if we are willing to recognize it.  By the last few hours of my family’s day in the big city, I was getting tired and hungry and missing the quiet comforts of home.  It was only going to be a five-minute wait or so for the next train downtown, and I was resolved to be patient.  I did just fine until my husband and daughter asked me, “Did you just see that rat down there along the edge?”  Fortunately, I had NOT seen the rat, but I became increasingly aware of the noise and the crowds and the various smells…it was like I was enmeshed in sensory overload and starting to quietly freak out inside when…all…of…a…sudden, the most hauntingly beautiful cello music from one floor above us floated down and surrounded me in serenity.  I had walked by the solitary cello player just minutes before, wishing we could stop and listen to him and now the gift of that artist was bestowed on me.  I strained to listen and for a few moments blocked out everything else just to hear a few glorious notes.  What a gift.

We live our lives both within and outside of our comfort zones.  That’s just reality.  How thankful I am, especially during this season of Easter, to remember that the One who loves us accompanies us on all our journeys.  Alleluia!

 

Monday Morning

This morning I accidentally forgot to drop my daughter off in the car line at school. We had been deep in a conversation about graduation and other such things, and even though I saw the long line of cars, I drove past that turn and had to pull over by the football field to let her out.  I apologized to her for my mistake and she was gracious enough to still wish me a good day as she lugged that heavy backpack towards school on a Monday morning.

Do you ever become so pre-occupied with whatever’s going on that you miss an appointment or forget to return a friend’s call?  If so, you are in good company.  Before we even got in the car this morning, I had looked at the week’s appointments and made a few mental notes of what I needed to do today.  I started typing something for work after glossing over the daily readings, telling myself I’d go back to them in more detail later.  And this was all before my second cup of coffee!  I don’t think I’m all that different than many other parents of teens in that we never can seem to find enough time to “get everything done.”  Even weekends can feel like domestic catch-up time instead of moments of respite and relaxation.

Life constantly throws stuff at us every day and we need to know how to juggle many tasks at once.  Lately, though, I have begun to realize that I don’t want to multi-task as much anymore.  The past few years have taught me that life is also about making choices, discerning God’s call and beginning to simplify the life in front of me.   While I have a long way to go in the process of simplification, I call on God’s wisdom and grace often in this ongoing process of discernment.  It’s almost like weeding a garden bed or cleaning a closet, knowing what you wish to hold on to and what you are finally willing to let go.  Let my prayer continue to be like the words of the psalmist in Psalm 40: “Here I am, LORD; I come to do your will.” 

Easter Morning

In the stillness of morning, I often find a certain clarity of mind that tends to become more elusive as the day unfolds.  When springtime days finally warm up, I return to the glider on the screened-in porch for morning prayer and coffee.  This is an integral part of my day, as I am alone with my thoughts, the readings of the day, and the LORD.  Other than an occasional car driving by in the before-dawn springtime mist, the only sounds I hear are the birds chirping and the squirrels scampering about.  It is one of the few parts of the day when I have learned to just be still.

In imagining what that first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome encountered the angel in Jesus’ otherwise empty tomb, I envision a similar placidity. Of course, once the angel explains that Jesus is not there, but has indeed risen from the dead, there is no more stillness.  A flurry of activity begins to take place as the women go and tell the disciples the news, all the while struggling to understand what has taken place.

Are we not, in many ways, like the women who encountered the empty tomb on that very first Easter?  Once we encounter the risen Christ after the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, our hearts are lifted even though much of the Resurrection remains a mystery to us.  This amazing act of love by God for us, through the dying and rising of God’s only son, Jesus, causes our hearts to rejoice and share the Good News with everyone we meet!   Alleluia!  He is risen!

In the stillness of the morning, in the days and weeks that will follow Easter, I hope to keep seeking conversation with the LORD, and ponder the miracle of Christ’s resurrection.  Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome’s lives were changed that morning in the empty tomb.  How will you live today as a recipient of this wonderful gift?  How will you keep the joy of Easter in your heart?  Happy Easter, Friends!

Reflections at the Car Wash

I’m going to share with you something that has never been put in print before.  When I was small, I was deathly afraid of two things:  garbage trucks and automatic car washes.  I am assuming it was because both made loud noises, but I am not sure.  Family members tell me I would scream and cry whenever I encountered either.  Decades later, I’ve grown out of those fears, for the most part, but I still don’t enjoy driving through the car wash.

Recently, my salt-encrusted car was crying out for a wash, so I found myself at our local automatic car wash, waiting for the cycle to begin.  During the next few minutes, I thought about how many fears we learn to overcome as we grow up.  While every one of us has a different story to tell, don’t we all have moments of suffering and moments of joy?  Our stories have a common ingredient in that we often must let go of one thing to gain something else.  Easier said than done, right?  To let go, we must TRUST that everything will eventually work out.  Like I said, not an easy thing to do.

The observances of Holy Week and the entire Easter season that unfolds over the next seven weeks provide countless reminders that we don’t have to face our fears alone.  What we take to the Cross each day is also carried by our LORD.  Our risen LORD continues to grieve with us when we grieve and rejoices with us when we are rejoicing.  We trust that we never walk alone in our suffering.  We also have been gifted with a community of friends and family to walk with us along life’s journey.

May the events of Holy Week and the Easter Season sustain us in the days and weeks ahead.  Let’s not be in a hurry to put all the Easter decorations away and move on to the next big thing in our lives.  This year, let’s truly be an Easter people and TRUST that our sorrows will be washed away and replaced with rejoicing.  This year, let Easter linger in our hearts a little while longer.  “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” (Psalm 118)

 

 

 

A Good Day

I know it is going to be a good day.  Not perfect, but it will be okay.  How do I know this?  Because this morning my heart is beating, and I have breath. I have some minor aches and pains, but I am able to move about freely.  There was coffee in the kitchen and the dog and I enjoyed a piece of toast together.  There was no snow to brush off the car and the sun is shining.  I can see buds on the trees even though we have more snow on the way.  Spring is coming.

Lately my thoughts rush ahead to our kids’ upcoming weddings and our daughter’s approaching high school graduation and departure for college.  I have developed the annoying habit of announcing to my husband, “She will be leaving in only five more months,” as if I have a running clock going in my head all the time, which I am beginning to believe is likely.  I must force myself to stop and live in today’s present, not jumping ahead to what may or may not be in the days ahead.

My re-set button is found in the first cup of coffee and some time spent with the Daily Readings.  After my husband kisses me good-bye, I settle in on the old, beat-up couch in the family room to see what I can glean from the Old Testament, the Psalm and today’s Gospel.  I often think about the events of the day before and am reminded of how God was present yesterday in all that happened, and God is present in the here and now.  And that makes me pause for a moment, and just stop and say, Thank you, LORD. 

Even though I have no idea what events may come about today, I trust in the LORD, my protector and guide, to accompany me.  And for that alone, I know it is going to be A Good Day.  I wish you a good day, too!

 

On the Journey

If you were to compare your current self now to the person you were perhaps ten years ago, what would you say are some areas in your personality where you have changed?  And what remains the same?  If you’ve lived as long as I have, you may look back twenty, twenty-five, or thirty years or more!  While I cannot speak for anyone else, I have found that through the years, my once rigid, all-or-nothing approach to life has evolved into something that’s a little more open, more accepting, and less judgmental.  I also know that none of this has happened overnight, and I have a very long way to go.  Each time life has thrown a curve ball, I’ve had to step back and evaluate who I am and where I am going.  I’ve had to learn to accept help from others at times and to realize that asking for help does not mean one is weak.  I have also learned to say I’m sorry when I am wrong and that most often, relationships themselves are much more important than winning an argument.

As the words to a church hymn we sang recently say, most of the time I have “one foot in Paradise and one foot in the waste.”  Being a beloved child of God is not for the weary, my friends!  If you are like me, perhaps you have learned that there are parts of your personality that still need some work.  Sometimes I wonder how my family puts up with all my quirks and moodiness!  It seems like many days I have our LORD on speed dial, asking for understanding.  There’s so much about human nature I just don’t get, yet I believe if I can learn more about other people, I can love them better as my sisters and brothers in Christ.  Perhaps the greatest life lesson has been to remember that none of this is about me.  When I was baptized, I was given the mission to share the Good News and serve others.  I always hope to be on the right track, but when things are not going well, as they sometimes don’t, I turn to my family as well as my parish community for strength and, when needed, a reality check.  To not have to journey alone through life is truly a gift!  Please remember today that you are not alone, either.

We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all.   1 Thessalonians 5:14

Poached Eggs

Our dad made his living as an electrical engineer.  He had a keen eye for fine detail and this was reflected in his daily life outside the workplace as well.  If he came to visit us and we had a squeaky door, Dad would open and shut that door repeatedly, trying to determine the source of the squeak.  Then, he would take a can of WD-40, and, just like that, the squeak would be gone.  Dad was a problem-solver, at times a fierce critic, but a man who believed in following through, in finding solutions.

Through the years, I learned to turn to Dad for advice on many things, especially on big life decisions, because he was so thorough in his approach and would leave no stone unturned when it came to gathering data.  Along with the Family Bible in the living room, Dad kept the annual copy of Consumer Reports Buying Guide.

In our dad’s later years of life, I had the privilege of developing a genuine friendship with him, a great deal of which was spent across the miles over the telephone.  I’d listen as he told me about recipes he had made, most often with his own added ingredients and I’d fill him in on what our kids were up to.  Occasionally, he would ask me a cooking or baking question and I must admit, it felt great to be able to give him some of my own kitchen tips, although this advice was not solicited very often!

These words about Dad were prompted by such a simple memory this morning of him making a couple of poached eggs in a saucepan on the stove.  Once the water came to a boil, he slipped each egg into the pan, gently, then set his digital watch for precisely three minutes.  Every time I make those eggs I think of him and send him a little hello and a prayer of thanksgiving for his presence in my life all those years.

Maybe you have one or two “Go To” people in your life, you know, the ones you can turn to for real advice or some laughter or an occasional reality check.  If you can, take the time this week to give them a call or send them a note, just to let them know how much they mean to you.  If your “Go To” person is no longer with us, keep telling their story.  These memories can be a real gift!

“Praise the LORD.  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”  Psalm 106:1

Birdsong

The sky is still that pre-dawn pink color and the family room is quiet.  Every so often I can hear Jake the dog snore, already dozing again after his rapidly-consumed breakfast.  I’m in no hurry to turn on the TV or even grind the coffee beans yet; there’s an almost sacredness to this blissful silence.  Hardly any cars pass by on the street outside the window and things are just so very peaceful until…I hear the faintest chirping sound.  I strain my ears to hear and sure enough, there it is again…I get up off the couch to look out the window overlooking the raised garden bed.  No birds to be seen, but those are birds I hear.

I know there’s plenty of birds that stick around in Central New York all winter.  I know there’s still another month until spring.  But the sound of birds outdoors this morning is enough to remind me that this winter cannot last forever.  Springtime always comes.  There’s a rhythm to the seasons.  But we must wait.

In the beginning days of the Lenten season, Easter seems so far away.   Our liturgies are simpler, the Alleluia’s gone, and bare branch wreaths adorn our doors.   We take time to pause, to reflect, to look inward, to reach out to others.  Easter always comes.  There’s a rhythm to the liturgical seasons.  But we must wait.

Every springtime season I challenge myself to pay attention to the buds on the trees and try to determine when the leaves really appear.  That probably sounds strange, but once we get a couple of nice springtime days, I forget that challenge and it’s not until the leaves have been around a week or two that I remember I was supposed to watch.  This year will be different.  I hope.

Every Lenten season I challenge myself to pay attention to the Scriptures, to do Lent a little bit better than last year.  Most years I take a few steps forward and occasionally those are followed by a few steps back.  Ash Wednesday this year found me with a sinus congestion and a drippy nose.  It wasn’t pretty, and I never even got Ashes.   But I’m not giving up.  We still have lots of time left before Easter.  I got this.  I have a faith community to journey with me.  And birdsong to remind me that Easter, like springtime, always comes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domestic church

It seems like just yesterday when our own three children had many questions during their Sunday mornings at Mass:  A few I remember more than others:  When could they have “the cracker”?  (their observation of Eucharist), was that guy Jesus? (no, that’s our priest, honey), and why was everybody being quiet? (they’re praying.) Over time, they learned the rhythm of the Liturgy, how to follow along with the psalm response, how to extend a hand at the sign of peace, and their favorite, blessing themselves with the Holy Water.  Over time, our children came to understand that church was God’s house and we are all God’s people.

Not every visit to church was a Hallmark moment, I can assure you!  At the risk of sounding irreverent, some weeks may have resembled a scene from The Exorcist, and well-meaning folks looked at us with a mixture of pity and horror.  There were weeks when one of us would calm a crying infant in the church vestibule or accompany a potty-training toddler to the church restroom for the umpteenth time, but we just tried to do what we thought was best for our growing family.  For anyone who ever had to hand us a pacifier, hot wheels car or sippy cup that fell to the floor and rolled in front of us, I offer you my thanks.

Our baby years are far behind us now, but every time I see a young family with children at Mass, I want to thank them for taking the time and effort to share our common Catholic faith and traditions.  It’s much easier to stay at home, so I solute our young families for being courageous and committed to passing along our culture.  Let’s keep these traditions alive in our hearts and in our homes so that they may not be lost or forgotten.

Lent is the perfect time to re-commit ourselves to the love of God and the love of others.  Praying with our parish community strengthens our resolve to be a Gospel people.  Let’s really LIVE Lent this year, friends.  And let’s keep welcoming and encouraging our young families, as they are our future church!