Early Morning Coffee Thoughts

It felt like a fall morning when I awoke and took our dog outside in the backyard.  There was dew on the grass and the air was crisp, not cold but chilly enough to warrant a sweater or jacket.  The brewing coffee made the kitchen feel cozy and I looked forward to reflecting on the daily readings with my favorite purple mug in hand, wondering just what wisdom might be waiting to be discovered.

It’s the gospel reading that touched my heart today.  Jesus gathered his disciples and selected from them his twelve apostles, those who would be sent to deliver his message to others.  While the selection process itself was not carefully detailed for us in scripture, one thing was made perfectly clear: “Jesus went out to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)

Nothing was mentioned about anyone having character references or a well-prepared resume, but the fact that Jesus took some time to pray before making such a monumental decision was made abundantly clear.

I think that reminder resonated with me this morning not because I don’t pray enough but because I don’t always remember to STOP, slow down and pray.  I’ve turned into a praying multi-tasker, if there is such a term, in other words praying while driving or praying while walking or praying while pushing a shopping cart through the frozen foods aisle.  Seems like I’ve been doing a whole lot of talking to a God who patiently listens but I’ve kind of been neglecting the listening for God’s response part.  That’s my take-away from today’s readings.  What’s yours?  I’d love to hear!

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Labor Day Thoughts

 

 

A conversation with a young man yesterday has me feeling a little bit blue on this Labor Day.  Maybe it’s because what he said I have heard before from other people, young and old.  It’s a phrase that begins with, “I just…” or “I’m only…”  In this case, the young man was speaking of his employment and he was putting himself down for working in a fast-food restaurant.  (I’ll bet anything that he is working today, on Labor Day, while I sit at home enjoying a longer weekend than usual with my family.)  I was quick to tell him how much I respected the work he does, and that there is no shame in making an honest living.  What saddens me, though, is I don’t think he really knows how sincerely I believe this.

What makes people feel “less than” others, and what can we do to lift people’s spirits up?  I don’t begin to have a lot of answers to this question, but yesterday’s conversation reminds me that everyone needs to feel affirmed and appreciated.  When someone goes out of their way to say, “thank you” to me, those simple words captivate me and inspire me to share that same appreciation with others.

So, this Labor Day, let us enjoy our families and the last dregs of summer.  But let’s also remember to thank all workers for the services they provide.  Let’s start a chain reaction of gratitude that will flow right into Thanksgiving.  “Prosper the work of our hands, Lord.  Prosper the work of our hands!”

 

Souvenirs

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “souvenir” as something that serves as a reminder.  Have you ever noticed that while you are traveling, there tends to be a greater expectation that you “buy something so that you can remember the trip?” Visit a museum, amusement park, zoo, state park or restaurant and you will be seduced by an endless array of coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets, shot glasses, t-shirts and key chains.  Sometimes we buy Salt Water Taffy with a town’s name on the box even though we go the other fifty-one weeks of the year without ever craving a piece of it.  Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that the words, “Boy, I sure could go for a piece of salt water taffy right now!” have never been uttered out of my mouth.  So, what’s up with that?

I’d be a hypocrite if I told you that I avoid the gift shops. I rather like purchasing those car magnets and stickers because they dress up my otherwise ordinary car and lifestyle.  Cookbooks from other towns’ cafes and restaurants captivate me and sometimes I just cannot resist.  There has been a shift in my focus through the years, though.  The older and wiser I get, I tend to lean toward celebrating the moments that have happened rather than the loot we’ve accumulated along the way.  A picture postcard from a museum gift shop, a smooth shell collected from a walk on the beach, a pottery plate I painted myself with my family in an art studio—these all become my treasures because of the moments we shared, not because of any dollar value.

The young man in Matthew’s gospel this morning (Matt 19: 16-22) goes away sad when Jesus tells him the key to eternal life with God requires great sacrifice and sharing our abundant wealth with others.  Our kids’ kindergarten teacher taught them a song years ago for Valentine’s Day about how “Love isn’t love until you give it away, give it away, give it away…”  My guess is that the young man hadn’t lived long enough to experience difficult times where reliance on God becomes humbling and necessary.  I know for myself it has been in some of the more challenging moments of life that God’s love and the love of others has been made abundantly present.  It has been through the example of others that I have learned to be more generous and less reliant on material goods for happiness.

What are your souvenirs?  Look around at the things you have accumulated.  Pick something up off a dusty shelf or coffee table and try to close your eyes and think about the moment, the people, the memory. That’s where the treasure just may be found, my friends.

Summer Porch Prayers

In the summertime and early fall, I spend a fair amount of time inside our screened-in front porch in the mornings with a cup of coffee and the daily readings.  The air temperature has cooled overnight and I usually catch a light breeze.  It’s not exactly quiet, but a good deal of the sounds at least in the early morning hours are birds or squirrels.  Eventually more and more cars drive by and it’s not quite as peaceful, but porch time is still the most reflective part of the day for me.

On our street this summer, one family has moved away and now another house has a dumpster nearby and I’m wondering if they, too, will be leaving or perhaps they are cleaning or remodeling.  The neighbors’ house on the other side of the dumpster has had some landscaping done and there’s a vivid pink flowering plant in full bloom this morning, with that dumpster just a few feet away on the driveway behind it.  Maybe the coffee just hasn’t kicked in yet, but that image of beauty and growth (pink plant) in contrast with that green dumpster (used to get rid of garbage) resonates with me this morning.

I am thankful for my husband who has spent far more time than me this summer in the garden and attending to the weeds. The back patch of garden once again has color and life and new growth, as if it were just waiting to be uncovered and set free from all that was holding it back from really growing.

What am I willing to cast off in the dumpsters or weed piles of my life today?  Are there grudges or fears or insecurities weighing me down?  What kind of new growth do I hope for, dream of, desire?  These, my friends, are the questions that I ponder while my little city street awakens to yet another day.  I share these thoughts with you and rest assured that THE Master Gardener of All hears my prayers.

Elusive Rainbows and Other Such Things

Can I just say that this has been the weirdest summer ever?  I cannot really articulate too much on this statement but I assure you, dear reader, what I write is true.  I entered the month of June with great hopes for some summer enlightenment and as July prepares to bid us adieu, I have yet to glean anything that is transformative or even remotely helpful.

I am convinced, however, that life provides plenty of teachable moments and while the big questions of the universe have not been revealed to me so far, this summer, I have been graced with wonder and awe in little snippets, always just enough to remind me that God’s grace is all I need.

In my carefully scheduled, over-planned daily calendar of events, God has revealed beauty, humor, persistence and a reminder to me to remain humble.

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.”
(Isaiah 55:8) 

 When I start taking myself way too seriously, which is often, that’s when I notice a little chipmunk racing across the road or a mother deer splashing in a puddle with her two babies.  As I lament my unfinished daily “to do” list, I think of two other moms whose lives were cut far too short by cancer.  Suddenly my “problems” seem rather insignificant in the greater scheme of things.   As I fret about upcoming transitions in our family life, I am comforted by the many ways God has intervened over the past fifty-one years and has never given me more than I can truly handle.  Why would it be any different now or in the days ahead?

Not every day is a rainbow day or a good hair day or a low-stress day.  Some days ARE better than others.  But just the promise of an occasional rainbow or little snippets of wonder and awe sustain this determined disciple.  Your grace IS enough, LORD.

Shiny Blue Portapotties on a Flatbed Trailer

I was recently driving to the local post office and found myself behind a large truck that was transporting two portapotties on a large trailer.  They were probably on their way to a weekend graduation event or an outdoor venue of some type but as soon as I saw them, I knew I had to reflect on this image just a little bit more.

You see, when I saw those portapotties, I was reminded that even the most wonderful life events must allow for a little bit of a mess.  Just think about the arrival of a newborn infant and the number of diapers used in those early days or the process of housebreaking a furry canine family member.  In a roundabout way, I am talking about hospitality here, friends.  Planning for a houseguest or planning a party for a large group entails carefully anticipating what the other person(s) will need to be comfortable.  Every little detail matters, not just the ones that we find easy or pleasing or exciting.

Am I going out on a limb if I say that the same can be true of practicing my faith?  It’s easy for me to fall into that “same old, same old” routine of praying or even to put aside my morning Scripture reading now that summer is here and the living is easy.  Maybe I find myself in a prayer “rut” or becoming increasingly negative, even “judgy” at times.  Those subtle changes inside prompt me to delve a little deeper, and, above all, face the mess.  Just like securing enough portapotties for an outdoor event, it’s up to me to keep being present to God and others in prayer and relationships.

In a general audience on May 15, 2013, Pope Francis shared the following words: “This is a prayer we must pray every day: ‘Holy Spirit, make my heart open to the word of God, make my heart open to goodness, make my heart open to the beauty of God every day.’”

I’m waiting for a daily devotional that I ordered from our local bookstore to come in today and once it does, I’m back into the routine.  You see, part of my “mess” is that what I was reading daily to accompany the daily readings just wasn’t touching my heart or reaching me anymore.  I needed something more and turned to prayer, and re-committed to “showing up” for God and the people in my lives this summer, to truly be PRESENT.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Graduations, Celebrations and Good-byes

Our June calendar historically is the time for dance recitals, high school graduations and other end-of-the-year celebrations.  At such occasions as these, we often see people we possibly have not seen in a while and it is wonderful to re-connect, even for a few short hours.  We reminisce about favorite times in the past, comment on how things have changed, and often promise to “get together…soon.”  Eventually, though, we must part again, and let’s face it, good-byes aren’t always easy.  It may sound simple and too sentimental, but I just don’t think there’s ever enough time.

 

I am thankful that we have happy occasions to celebrate, but sometimes I’m at a loss for words when saying good-bye to someone I won’t see for possibly a very long time.  Do you ever feel this way?  Some people have a way with words, but I tend to get tongue-tied in the moment, or am moved to tears at that moment of good-bye.  Tears of both gratitude and sadness, tears of love and friendship.

In Scripture, we see some good-byes including those from Paul in Acts 20, in Ephesians 6, and in 2 Thessalonians 3.   The following words from Numbers, though, are both a blessing and a good-bye:    The Lord said to Moses:  Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them:  The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them. (Numbers: 6 22-27)

 

So, when faced with good-byes, if words fail you, remember you are not alone and that good-byes are only poignant because the moments shared have been so wonderful together!

 

Lake Thoughts

There’s a line in a Lee Ann Womack song that says I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.  I don’t live anywhere near an ocean, but am fortunate enough to live in a small city by a very large lake.  I’m not a boat person and I’ve never even been on a jet ski, but I often go to the water and just sit.  It doesn’t matter what time of year or what kind of weather because in all seasons, I find the lake to be beautiful and peaceful and so much bigger than me or any of my individual cares or concerns.  The lake has existed long before I arrived in this city and the lake will be around long after I am gone.  And that, for some reason, is extremely comforting.

Last evening my daughter and I watched the sun set on the lake while a few little children were throwing rocks into the water.  Twelve hours later, I can still hear their excited laughter at the waves washing ashore.  Those giggles sounded like pure joy mixed with a little wonder and awe at this very large body of water and all its power. I thought of our own three children, especially as our nest at home begins to feel emptier and emptier.  I silently thanked God for the memories of laughter and summer ice cream cones and sunsets on that same lake.

Going to the water is like a re-set button for me.  The lake does not require me to do anything but just sit and watch and listen.  I don’t have to come up with solutions or defend my positions or solve problems that seem unsolvable.  The water keeps my ego in check.  Sitting and looking at the lake fills me up again with wonder and awe of our gracious God.  I need the water just as I need my family, my prayer community and my friends.

I hope, dear friends, that you find some refreshment and peace this summer in whatever quiet moments you hold dear.  Just like water, life is precious.  Make each sunrise and sunset count.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bumper Sticker Reflection

This morning on a rainy drive to drop off our daughter at school, we were behind a vehicle with a bumper sticker that read Purr More, Hiss Less.  Not knowing the driver, I made a hasty assumption that the vehicle owner most likely is a cat person, but I really don’t even know that for sure.  That simple sticker, though, has given me something to ponder as I sip the second cup of coffee and look out the window at a rather grey day.

One of the daily readings this week is from Mark 12:  28-34.  In it, Jesus tells us about the two greatest commandments:

 The first is this:  Hear, O Israel!   The Lord our God is Lord alone!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.   There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Each day, each hour, each minute of our lives we are given the opportunity to either “purr” or “hiss.”  When we choose to love one another, when we respond in compassion to others’ actions instead of reacting in anger or mistrust or neglect, we work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

I have learned over the years to consciously turn each day over to God and ask for strength and guidance so that I may fully love my family, my neighbors, my co-workers and friends.  This also means loving those I don’t know yet.  I often miss the mark and end up hissing, growling, sulking or retreating to have a pity party.  These moments don’t last long but are a reminder that I’m still a work in progress and have a long way to go!  But I find strength in these words from Mark and I am strengthened by the love of those who accept me in all my brokenness.  I am made whole in God’s love and will continue to look for God in everyone I meet today.  I want others to know that I am a woman of peace and love without having to read the back of my car for validation…but then again, I wonder if I can just find a sticker that says that just in case?

Garden Lessons

Do you like to cook or bake?  If so, you might find great comfort in following a recipe.  I know I do, especially when baking.  There is a certain security I feel in knowing that if I follow all the directions precisely, most often the desired results will occur.  The bread will rise or the cookies will bake or the pie crust will turn a delicious golden brown.

Unfortunately, I have discovered that gardening in many ways does not follow this same rule of certitude.  I can sow the seeds at just the right time, water on schedule, plant in full sun or partial shade depending on the flower’s or vegetable’s needs, etc.  I can seem to do everything “by the book” and yet the plants may succomb to a virus, a fungus or some furry creature with a hearty appetite (yes, Mr. Squirrel, I’m talking to you).   So does that mean I stop planting a garden just because there are many factors I just cannot control?  No way.  That would be far too easy.  Planting a garden involves taking a leap of faith and often consulting others for help.

Discipleship, like gardening, my friends, is not for the faint of heart.  For fifty-one years, I have, more often than not, stuck to my Catholic Christian faith.   Along the way, though, there have been times where I’ve given in to temptation, anger, pride, and the list goes on and on.  I’ve frequently had to turn to others for advice and this life has required a daily, sometimes hourly leap of faith.  I’ve come to rely on God and others in my faith community for strength and support.   I am not the textbook example of the perfect Christian if there is such a thing, but I am strengthened when I read in Acts of the Apostles 2: 46-47 that “every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.”  Isn’t that what we are all about as a parish family?  

It’s just the beginning of a new gardening season at our home and we are just about to begin Ordinary Time again in our church home.  I can be prepared for some things and do my best to stick with the plan, but I’m also getting ready for whatever yet unknown variables that may or may not come my way.  I’m going to try to enjoy both the garden and parish life to the best of my ability each day.  In the end, it’s all up to THE Master Gardener anyways, isn’t it?