Sunday Evening Time Out

I’m usually pretty good at counting my blessings and seeing the glass as half-full.  Occasionally, though, I get stuck.  That’s right…stuck.  And stuck is right where I am as I write this, buried under a pile of soft blankets, in comfy pajamas, ready to call it a day.  I know very well that this mood will pass, but in the meantime, I’ve put myself in “time out” to get these thoughts down on paper.

Everyone has their own concerns that sometimes weigh them down.  For me, it’s the fear of the unknown as the last of our children prepares to leave home for college this fall.  As excited as I am for her and all that lies ahead, I truly have no idea what it will be like to not have a child at home because that has been my reality for the past twenty-six years. There were only three early years in our marriage when it was “just the two of us,” and those years seem so long ago.

Some people will say, “The best days are ahead,” and while that may be true, I have such fond memories of those baby days, the middle-of-the-night feedings when the house was completely quiet except for the baby and me, and the creak of the rocking chair. I know there will be a time someday when Steve and I can retire and create some new adventures, but right now there’s a little part of me just wishing the time hadn’t gone so quickly.  And I am filled with moments of sadness and concern about whatever might come next.

In prayer, though, I am comforted by the ONE who has accompanied our family through the best and worst of times, the ONE who has never left our side.  These words from Jeremiah seem to sum it up nicely:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   Jeremiah 29:11

 I hope that these words might also bring you some comfort if you have lots on your mind today.  I hope you, like me, will be patient with yourself as you try to accept whatever your current situation may be.  The important thing to remember about being “stuck” in whatever mood one finds oneself, is to not stay there too long.  Otherwise, you may miss out on whatever plans the LORD still has in store for you or me!

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Torch

I’m inspired this morning by the often-repeated words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Yesterday, immediately after Mass, two dozen members of our faith community assembled two hundred four sandwiches for a local soup kitchen and put together fifty “blessing bags” for people who are homeless.   This one little effort by a group of concerned individuals, plus a handful of other gracious donors, is a visual reminder of how we are called to share our time, talent and treasure with others.

Our small, initial attempt at a Martin Luther King Day of Caring is merely a spark in a much bigger effort to keep the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy alive through service to others.  But isn’t a spark all we need, to keep the light of Christ alive in our hearts, and to hopefully spread that love to those around us?

The Winter Olympics begin in a just a few weeks and one integral part of the opening ceremonies is the Lighting of the Olympic Torch that will burn throughout the entire duration of these winter games.  The torch used to light that flame, however, began its journey on October 24 in Olympia, Greece, home of the first Olympics.   Over 7,500 torchbearers will pass along the flame to its destination in PyeongChang.  Each torchbearer’s mission is to keep the fire lit.  Isn’t that our mission, as well—to keep the light of Christ’s love going?

We have the power of our words and actions to keep the light of Christ alive in our own hearts and in the lives of others.  Let’s keep turning towards the light and use our love to drive out the darkness of despair, bigotry, gossip, poverty and injustice.

Flea Market Rocking Chair

It’s just a chair that we paid fifteen dollars for at a flea market back in 1991.  We were coming home from a weekend trip and stumbled across a Sunday afternoon flea market somewhere outside of Elmira–it’s been too many years for me to remember exactly where it was.  We had no babies at the time but hoped that one day we would become parents, so maybe the rocker was like a beacon of hope.  Or maybe just a piece of furniture.  I don’t know, and I don’t really care what our motive was at the time.  All I know is that one rocking chair has moved with us four times in the past twenty-four years and it’s a permanent fixture in our home.

So, why am I rambling on about a fifteen-dollar rocker?  Here’s the thing.  We’ve celebrated Epiphany and now the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (in the United States, it’s observed on Monday, January 7 this year), so the Christmas season is winding down and we’re returning to Ordinary Time.  We don’t really know what the New Year brings but there’s still a glimmer of Christmas hope in our hearts.  Not unlike the Magi, we move forward into unknown territory, not entirely sure what lies ahead, but open to discovery and beauty and all that is good.  When we bought the rocking chair, we were only two years into our marriage and had no idea what parenting would even look like.  We didn’t know, but we moved forward anyway, willing to open ourselves up to a new kind of love.

Our three “babies” are grown and as our youngest prepares to leave the family nest this fall for college, I often find the phrase, “What’s next?” creeping into daily prayer.  I have no idea what this next chapter of our lives will bring, but I want to remain open to whatever the LORD has in store for me and my husband and our family.  It’s been an incredible journey so far!  I leave you with a few words from Jeremiah 17: 7-8 to ponder this week:

But blessed are those who trust in the LORD

and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank,

with roots that reach deep into the water.

Such trees are not bothered by the heat

or worried by long months of drought.

Their leaves stay green.

and they never stop producing fruit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Holy Family

As I write this morning, we are snowed in after a large amount of snow fell in our city and surrounding areas yesterday.  The temperatures are at record lows and it’s good to be in a warm house drinking coffee, reflecting on the past few days of Christmas and just life in general.  We are back to just the three of us, plus the dog, and the house seems kind of quiet without the people I affectionately call “the big kids” who have gone back to their own routines.

There’s a Holy Family woodcarving on the piano next to the couch that catches my eye.  It was a gift from a student I taught years ago at a local Catholic school and it has become a treasured beacon of hope.  Through the years, I have turned to the Holy Family in prayer, asking for guidance and strength and sometimes just in prayers of thanksgiving.  I know my own family is far from perfect and our household is often quite chaotic.  But the Holy Family woodcarving on the piano is a visual reminder of something much greater than us, and that is the love of two parents for their new child, who just happened to also be the Son of God.  Is that mind-blowing?  Of course.  But it’s also oddly comforting.  Mary and Joseph, of their own free will, made it all work.  They chose to stick together and follow God’s plan and that would unfold based on nothing more than trust…and love.

Through the years I have come to realize that being a holy family is not necessarily being a perfect family.  Just like the snowstorm altered some of our plans and we had to adjust our dreams to fit the current realities of weather and time, in families we often need to compromise.  Sometimes this works and other times conflicts arise because feelings get hurt in the process.  But if we keep love of God and others in the equation, things usually work out.  Not perfectly, but things do work out!

The Feast of the Holy Family’s Second Reading from St. Paul to the Colossians will be the words to guide me through this upcoming New Year, and I hope they might be of comfort to you today, too:

 Brothers and sisters:

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,

heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,

bearing with one another and forgiving one another,

if one has a grievance against another;

as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

And over all these put on love,

that is, the bond of perfection.

And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,

the peace into which you were also called in one body.

And be thankful.

 

Soup

I recently had the pleasure of sharing a warm bowl of soup with four or five individuals while we were taking a break from setting up for an event.  The soup had been lovingly prepared by one of the committee chairpersons and transported to the parish hall in a slow-cooker earlier that morning.  The meal consisted of soup and bread, nothing more, yet it was incredibly satisfying.  We had been working hard all morning and this little respite refueled our bodies and souls.  The conversation was light, and the mood was cheerful.  The entire meal lasted a very short time, but I knew I wanted to reflect a little more on this notion of being “filled up.”

Merriam Webster’s first definition of communion is “an act or instance of sharing.”  The third definition is “intimate fellowship or rapport.”  You may possibly be most familiar with the definition in-between, and that is the capitalized word, Communion, meaning the Sacrament we receive when we gather together at Mass.  As a bit of a word geek, I was compelled to examine the word communion in its lower-case form because those simple communions might just occur more often than we think!

Was the simple soup sharing a kind of lower-case communion?  I believe it was, and I venture to say that those little communal moments sustain us in between our Sacramental Communion moments at Mass.  During the dark days of the winter season, it’s more important than ever to share some moments of communion, whether it be over a cup of coffee with someone or chatting with the neighbors outside while shoveling the ever-falling snow.  Perhaps with the new year almost upon us, we can make more of an effort to linger a bit wherever we are, including the church gathering room after Mass.  Let’s slow things down a bit, and be mindful of these sacred, shared moments TOGETHER.

 

 

Winter Trees

Let’s talk about trees.  Not Blue Spruce or Balsam Fir.  Just good old deciduous trees.  Yes, I’m referring to those branches that look quite bare these days in our Central New York climate.  Some even say trees this time of year look ugly, but I vehemently disagree!  When all their leaves have been shed after November winds and rains, the bare branches of trees are rather beautiful.  If I were a painter, I would paint winter trees because there is something rather fascinating about the intricate design of each individual branch and the relationship of one branch to another, all connected to the center, the tree trunk.

 

The new snow on previously-bare tree branches is another wondrous sight, almost like icing on pastries, all sparkly like precious gems.  As I sit gazing out the window at the lightly falling snow, my heart is filled with both beauty and sadness.  Winter days like this provide the opportunity to sit still and contemplate all the spring, summer and autumn days that led to this winter moment.  Many of these memories are joyful, and I find myself smiling, almost chuckling as I think of loved ones near and far as well as friends here in the neighborhood, at church or in our community.  But then my thoughts go to those who we have lost or people who have moved away.  I grieve a little and ask God to continue to bless them and all those who love them, too.

 

Bare winter branches can be, at times, sacramental in that they lead me to marvel at the wonder and beauty of our God and all that God has gifted us.  The dead branches in another five months will once again produce blossoms and leaves and new growth.  Are we not a little like winter trees ourselves?  Do we not at times have to “die to self” in order to grow into whatever/whoever we have been called to be?  Don’t we also have moments in our lives where we experience the waiting that feels like winter?  We know another “springtime”, or joy, will return, and so we wait.  Almost like Advent Waiting.

 

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

(The O Antiphons of Advent)

 

I don’t know what’s left of my life journey, but I do know I never walk it alone. And I’m thankful to have the winter trees to remind me that everything in life involves some waiting, some growing, some dying, more waiting and eventually, rebirth.

Morning Walk

I had a date this morning with someone who loves me even when I hide my bed head under a knit cap and am sporting a lanyard with a container holding poop bags at the end. Yep, my date was with our dog, Jacob, or Jake.

Jake gets so excited when I first take the leash off the hook, but then it becomes a wrestling match to ease his rather large German Shepherd nose into his Halti® collar.  Once that’s on, he sprints for the door and we’re off to walk and explore and stop frequently for sniffing and tracking goodness-knows-what!

I just can’t help but wonder what Jake is thinking with his nose to the ground, through the park, past the courthouse and the library, barely looking at the people we pass by, not a care in the world.

He gets timid on the bridges if there’s a lot of traffic, something that reminds me of his puppy days.  Jake keeps turning and looking to make sure I’ve got things under control.  Don’t worry, Jake, I’ll keep you safe.

This morning, we arrive back at the house after a very short walk and I think, let’s go around the block once before we head inside.  Jake looks at me like I’m nuts when we walk past the yard and our front steps, but he keeps on walking with me.  We take the sidewalk near the house up to the driveway and then the funniest thing happens.  When we get to the end of the sidewalk by the driveway, Jake just stops and sits.  He’s not going another step and he gives me that famous death stare.  He’s done.  The walk is finished, and he wants to go home.  So today I decide, that’s enough.  Let’s go home.  And we walk back down the sidewalk and then he practically sprints up our porch steps.

I don’t have a scripture quote that goes along with dog walking today, friends, but walking with my dog has led me to a talk with God this morning.  I’m reminded that I, too, must take time on the daily travels of life to stop and notice, to taste and see the Goodness of the LORD.  When I’m timid or uncertain or downright terrified, I’m not alone.  Don’t worry, Kris.  I’ll keep you safe.  And somedays being home is better than wandering aimlessly.

Thanks, Jacob!

Unexpected Drive Thru Conversation

A funny thing happened to me recently while driving home from work.  It had been a long day and I really wanted to get home. My stomach was growling most likely because I had skipped dinner, so I drove to a local burger joint only to discover that the drive thru window was closed.  I decided I’d stop at another burger place closer to home.  My rationale was that it would be quicker to go through a drive thru than go into the store to order dinner.  I just wanted to grab a burger and get home.

All the traffic lights seemed to be “with me” for a change so when I pulled up to pay at the drive thru window, I figured I’d soon be on my merry way home with a bag of fries and a burger in hand.  It was all going so well until I asked that one question that changed everything…all I asked the woman at the window was, “How are you doing tonight?”  For what seemed like close to five minutes, this woman shared her feelings with me, a total stranger, while I impatiently waited for my food order.  As I listened to her talk about how it was her dad’s anniversary of his death AND her uncle had just died, my impatience turned to compassion and my “hangry” attitude melted away.  I have no idea why she chose to share ANY of this information with me, but I knew my role here had to be one of patient listener.  When she handed me the warm bag of food, all I could say was “Thank you,” and “I will be thinking of you.  Please take care.”

As I drove home, the burger and fries didn’t really seem to matter that much.  The short exchange of words with a stranger, the quiet understanding of what it means to miss a parent who has died, that had already filled me up in a different way.

Advent is coming up soon, followed by Christmas.  Sometimes during the days leading up to Christmas, I can get so consumed with the “busyness” of the season that I forget to watch for the little signs of Christ present in others and everyday situations.  If I always seek the “drive thru” moments, I may miss out on the wonder and beauty of this time of joyful anticipation that is Advent.  I encourage you to occasionally take the “long way home” this Advent instead of staying on the fast track.  Let’s usher in this Advent season slowly and mindfully.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

 

 

Thank You

This past summer, I purchased an economy-sized box of Thank You notes.  They were attractive, and I was certain I’d put them to good use!  Months later, that extremely large box of barely-used cards now sits on the table almost mocking me.

To make matters worse, during the month of November, people seem to get all grateful on social media, posting #thirtydaysofthankfulness and other such things.  Before you write me off as some type of Scrooge, please know that I DO live a life of gratitude.  I just really have become a slouch when it comes to writing thank you notes, so today’s blog is the beginning of my attempt to turn things around.

This morning I say thank you for a warm mug of black coffee and my old, soft bathrobe.  Thank you for a dog who still loves me even though I ran out of his favorite dental treats.  Thank you for a clear head and a heart full of love and a reason to get out of bed this morning.  These thank you’s lead me to spend some time in prayer with the Psalms:

I will always thank the LORD; I will never stop praising him.

I will praise him for what he has done; may all who are oppressed listen and be glad!

Proclaim with me the LORD’s greatness; let us praise his name together! 

I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me; he freed me from all my fears.                     (Psalm 34: 1-4, GNT)

Thank you for this day, Lord.  Thank you for the people I will encounter. Help me to use this day to share the gifts you’ve given with everyone I meet.  Let me trust in your goodness and mercy!  Thank you, Lord, for loving me even on the days when I am not acting particularly lovable.  Thank you for knowing what sits on my heart and for continuing to walk with me on the best of days and the worst of days.  Thank you for your unceasing love and guidance.

Thank you for all the things in life that are, in all actuality, not things at all—the people, the conversations, the grace-filled moments that remind me that I’m just one small part of something so much bigger and wonderful than this human brain can even fathom.  Thank you for continuing to fill me, your humble servant, with awe and wonder, Lord:  I thank you LORD, with all my heart.  (Psalm 138: 1, GNT). 

 

 

 

Grocery Store Contemplations

Is a weekly trip to the grocery store part of your routine?  There’s a store I visit on my way home from work each week.  As I walk up and down each aisle procuring items from the list, I’m often alone with my thoughts.  There’s a certain peaceful rhythm to this routine chore and at times the quiet lends itself to prayer, rather unexpectedly, I assure you.  I think about my husband, our children, their grandparents, and people I know who are going through all kinds of things. Once the cart is full and all the items on the list are checked off, I advance to the checkout area.  On a recent shopping trip, while standing in line, the woman in front of me turns and apologizes that she might take a while because she has WIC coupons (no need to apologize for feeding your children, I reply with a reassuring smile).  What I don’t tell her is that I can remember standing in a grocery store line twenty-three years ago with our two oldest children in the cart, hoping the amount in my wallet was going to cover the groceries and two packages of diapers. I know it’s not easy being a mom, I think to myself, and I hope she knows I really do not mind waiting for her transaction to finish.    

The WIC coupons do slow the line down, but that gives me even more time just to think and pray, adding a prayer for the young mother in front of me and for all mothers and fathers who worry about keeping their children fed and clothed.  When it’s time for me to hand my bags to the cashier and answer the weekly question of How heavy do you want me to fill your bags, I am surprised that the cashier has more to tell me.  She can’t be older than a high school teen or maybe a college freshman.  Her eyes get wide and she begins to tell me about how rude people have been in the store today.  She goes on to tell me about some of the unkind things people have said to her and just the general rude behavior that’s been going on in the store.  She asks me why people don’t use their manners anymore, this young, very wise cashier.  Inside I laugh because most of the rude people this young person has encountered are much older and should know better, right?

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.

 These lyrics are from Jackie DeShannon’s hit from 1965, penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  Don’t they still ring true today?  What about Jesus’ words in Matthew 22: 34-40 that we heard in yesterday’s gospel?  What makes it so hard to love our neighbor?  Is this something we can all work on together?  Let’s try, friends. Our world needs love NOW.