Friday, September 7, 2012

Mother Knows Best

A very exciting thing happened this summer.  And I promise, it's true.

One day in July I woke up and it was weighing on my heart to say a Rosary.  Now, as a Catholic, I wish I could say that I say a Rosary a day (okay, a week), but I really don't.  Our family got to saying it on Sundays during Lent, and I really enjoy it, but things always seem to get in the way. 

A little background:  A Rosary is immensely comforting.  Basically, you say an Our Father, followed by ten Hail Marys.  You do this five times (each one is called a decade).  If you focus in, you can lose yourself in prayer.  To be very simplistic, Mary the Mother of Jesus has appeared numerous times in visions calling on people to say Rosaries and promising responses to those who do (e.g., to the children of Fatima).

So,  for some reason in July I had the urge to say a Rosary. Now, we were in the middle of a big move so I brushed the thought aside.  Too busy, right? 

The next day my mother-in-law asked me for a favor.  A good friend of theirs had a 42 year-old son, a great dad of three kids.  He was involved in a terrible car accident and was deep in a coma.  He was not expected to wake up for weeks or possibly months.  This had happened about a week ago, and so my mother-in-law, upon finding out, asked me to say a prayer for him.

It struck me that maybe that's why I was supposed to say a Rosary.  I mean, you could say it was a coincidence, but I'll tell you I have never before felt such an urge to pray out of the blue like that.  So, that evening, I looked on his Caring Bridge page and saw that something like 850 people were praying for him, and that he was still in the coma. 

I pulled out my Rosary beads and for the next 20 minutes, counted on my beads and said my prayers.  It's not hocus-pocus:  I concentrated on the prayers at hand and thought with compassion about the father of three lying in a coma.  And that was it.

I'm sure you can guess what happened.  It is exactly true:  the very next day the man woke up out of his coma.  His doctors literally said it was a miracle.  He is on his way to recovery.  I tell this only to show the power of prayer, the power of listening to that voice calling you to prayer.  Do I really believe that five Our Fathers and fifty Hail Marys performed a miracle?  You bet I do.

It is worth noting that Mary, Jesus' mother, does not actually talk very much in the bible.  In fact, the last words she is quoted as saying are directed to the servants at the wedding at Cana.  "Do whatever He tells you," she instructs.

Five simple words.  If only we could follow them always. 

Prayer is the rope that pulls God and man together. 
But, it doesn't pull God down to us; it pulls us up to Him. 
-- Billy Graham

Monday, August 27, 2012

Manners Matter

So, first of all, I have to apologize for not writing for MONTHs.  Our family had a major move and between boxing up things, house closings, new schools...well, it's been a bit crazy.  But we've landed and everyone seems happy and healthy in their new schools, and we've only met friendly, gracious people.  We've been very blessed!  And I'm so glad to be back writing! 

A few things have occurred to me the past few months, and the first is the importance of manners.  I was just talking to a good friend of mine, and she was telling me how they were traveling this summer in a different country.  The family was in a taxi, and the taxi driver, in broken english, said, "Your family must be very rich."  They all started laughing and said, no, why would you think that?  And the taxi driver replied, "Your boys have such good manners."  Her boys are both in middle school and are very well-mannered, but she was surprised by the driver's reaction.

And then my college friends and I met up this summer for a weekend with all our kids...eight adults, eight kids ranging in age from 13 to 6, and two doggies.  In one house.  Everyone had a great time...the kids ran from activity to activity, playing, and made new friendships.  The adults had fun, were able to supervise kids while having our own conversations, and there was no stress.  No one child causing drama, no one child insisting upon his or her own way, no one child seeking the spotlight.

It occurred to me that all the children showed good manners, and that their good manners enabled them to have a great time.  When they played a game, they knew there was no cheating.  They knew no one would be a ball hog.  They knew not to sulk if they didn't win, and to be a gracious victor if they did.  And because they all knew this, there was no tension and no resentment.  There were no factions within the group, and no drama for the adults to resolve.

It's because manners are the little signals we send out to others.  It tells us how we feel about others, and how we feel about ourselves.  When we wait our turn at a four-way stop, we show respect for rules.  When we show up on time for an appointment, we demonstrate respect for others' time.  When we hold the door open for an older person and smile, we show that we have respect for our elders.

But when we don't show manners, we send out signals loud and clear, too.  We are saying we are more important than the next person on line.  We saying we are in a greater rush, that our time is more valuable than another's.  Lack of manners betrays an underlying self-centeredness.  When we don't hold open a door for the next person, when we don't ask to be excused at the dinner table, when we don't say thank you to those who prepared or served our meal, we show a self-importance.  We show that we believe we are the center of our universe and that others exist around us, much like the planets orbit the sun.  Manners show that we know that we are not, in fact, the center of the universe, and we extend to others thanks and respect they are due, simply by being a person worthy of dignity just like we are.

Manners may seem easy to overlook, but a small courtesy done with a smile can brighten someone's day and show that we think them worthy of dignity and respect without saying a word.  

There are no great acts. 
There are only small acts done with great love.
-- Mother Teresa 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An Experiment

It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice.

Oh, how my family groans when I say this.  I don't care, though.  I say it all the time because I think it bears repeating.  It's also not exactly reinforced by our media today, with divorces, fights and lawsuits making the news day in and day out. 

So I repeat myself, smiling. 

But yesterday, my littlest was home sick.  I was cooking in the kitchen and flicked on the Today show.  There was a really nice little feature about a mailman who went about his daily tasks, cheerfully and with such a sincerely nice and dynamic attitude that I stopped to watch for a minute. They interviewed co-workers as well as those to whom he delivered the mail, and everyone said the same thing:  that this one man brightened up their day every time they talked to him.

I love people like that.  People who have a zest for living an authentic life -- people who focus on being genuinely interested in the person with whom they are interacting in that very moment.  People who enjoy what they are doing, right then, and have a smile and an attitude so happy it's contagious.  How refreshing from the everyday we are getting accustomed to -- where it's perfectly fine to listen half-heartedly to a conversation while googling at the same time.  Where it's fine to pick at dinner while texting surreptiously under the table. 

So, today, I had a bunch of errands to do.  I decided I was going to pretend I was that mailman today and look people in the eye, thank them and share a nice little conversation.  Now, I am normally a pretty cheerful person, but I was going to kick it up a bit.  It was a little experiment.

I had  to go to the post office.  Perfect!  Talk about karma.  There was a fairly long line.  When I finally got to the post office lady, I gave her a big smile and said, "Hey, how are you?" before I asked for my stamps.

It worked!  She grinned back and said, "I'm feeling much better, thank you."  With that, while she was getting my stamps, she relayed she had been out two days sick.  I told her my daughter was the same way but I was glad they were both better.  Then she started humming a song as she counted out my change. 

"I was singing that same song in my head!" I told her -- turns out we had been listening to the same radio station, and we laughed.

Now, you would think the others on line would have been annoyed by our chatter, right?  Well, an older lady next to me was leaving, but before she did, she stopped at our counter, winked and said "Keep singing those songs, ladies." 

As I left, the postal worker waved good-bye and I noticed the older lady getting into her car.  She waved goodbye at me and I got into my car, too.  I was in such a good mood on the way home.  It is so heart-warming to share just a little bit of unexpected kindness, and it's so easy.

I hope I made the man from the Today show proud.  I hope I take this day and make it a habit.  I think the world would be a better place if we all tried this experiment.  I hope you will think about it and try it, too.   
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world. 
 -- W. Shakespeare

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Dessert of One's Own

There's just something so nice and neat about a dessert made just for you.  I don't mean a dessert made with you in mind, but an individual-sized, complete dessert -- like the little banana puddings I made for a gathering we had.
The neighbors were over and we had all the typical football fare -- nachos and guacamole, dips and chips, pizza, chili and cornbread. Everyone was pretty full once dinner was over and there was a break between the third and fourth quarters.  We cleared the plates, replenished water glasses and general lull fell over the gathering.  Kids were getting tired and adults were starting to regret that second bowl of chili.

But then -- I reached into the refrigerator and brought out a tray of sixteen glasses of cool banana pudding.  It's actually not banana-flavored pudding, but more like a parfait.  The bottom layer is a homemade vanilla pudding, the middle layer is sliced bananas and crushed Nilla Wafers, and the third layer is fresh whipped cream. 

The puddings had been chilling all day, and their sudden frosty appearance was met with happiness and a renewed energy.  Kids loved them because they were sweet and fun to eat, and adults liked the sweetness too, but there was something more I thought -- a bit of nostalgia for the Southerners, and a bit of comfort for all.  I think everyone relishes the thought of his or her very own dessert, something that's made carefully for each and every person.  It's something you can eat at your own pace and hold on to at the same time.  You can devour it quickly, or savor it slowly.  It's up to you, and there's a comfort in knowing that your host prepared one just for you.

To me, that is the essence of cooking for others -- preparations take a while, there's no doubt.  There's the planning, the shopping, the cooking-- but it is worth it when friends gather, have a good time, and enjoy the food that I have specially prepared for them.  It's a little respite from the problems and worries that plague us all, and brings a bit of cozy peacefulness, if even for a while.

And that brings to mind my favorite verse that provides comfort.  This verse never fails to give strength to my shoulders and ease my load at the same time.  It brings an irrepressible sense of calm, of peace and of relief. 

[Jesus said,] Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart;
 and you will find rest for yourselves. 
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. 
Matthew 11:28-30

Wishing you comfort this winter in puddings, friends, and favorite verses.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gratitude for Our Constant Companions

It must be hard to be the youngest.

I realized that last week, when my youngest daughter made the off-hand comment that she had never seen Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  She casually noted this when a commercial came on, advertising that it was being re-released in 3D.

What?  I mean, what a classic movie!  We even have the DVD up in our playroom.  Really, how could I have neglected her so?  My oldest daughter was the only grandchild for a while.  Believe me, if there were a Disney movie out, be in it theatres or on DVD, she not only saw it, but she had the matching Barbie and was wearing the princess' dress.

But not my youngest.  She was the baby in the bjorn on soccer fields, falling asleep as Mom cheered her older sister on.  She was the four-year old staying up past her bedtime as her older brother's baseball game went into extra innings.  She thinks all second graders are whisked away after school and driven from one activity to another -- a few for her, but a lot for older brother and sister.

She's got the sweetest disposition and cheerful nature because of it.  She'll have fun anywhere, because she's always had to look around and make friends with the other siblings, the other little ones.

But still...I felt bad.  Beauty and the Beast reproached me.  Didn't I ever just have time for her?  And so on Friday, we went and saw it.  Just the two of us, with some popcorn and fruit punch.  What a treat to see her enjoying such a glorious movie for the first time on the big screen.  The soundtrack, the animation...Disney at its finest.

I looked over at her in the theatre, her little face rapt, her 3D glasses too big, her mouth crunching popcorn...and my heart swelled up with love for this littlest child. 

It's good to appreciate your constant companion every now and then.

You all probably know, or at least have heard the bible verse about our own constant companion:

Even the hairs on your head have all been counted.  Do not be afraid.  Luke 12:7.

That statement strikes me with incredulous comfort each time I read it.  Does God actually know the number of hairs on my head?  The bible promises he does...but do I ever think about that?  Am I ever grateful enough that God himself would ever know something so trvial about me, someone so trivial?

And yet the words are there.  The words that have resonated throughout history.  The words that have lasted throughout thousands of years remind me, too:

Even the hairs on your head have all been counted.  Do not be afraid.  Luke 12:7.

It's good to consider these words, and like I said, to appreciate our constant companion.

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Little Things, and a Little Way

It was a dark and stormy night (apologies to Snoopy).

It was actually a dark and stormy morning here in North Carolina.  A rainy Wednesday, and no one wanted to get up and make breakfast.  No one wanted to go to school and take tests.  No one wanted to go to meetings at work.

But we had to, and so to make it just a little bit easier, I served hot crescent rolls for breakfast.  This is a big treat for my kids because I don't think they are a particularly healthy way to start off the day, but they sure did cheer the kids up.

Then, as I surveyed my messy house and pile of laundry, I decided to make myself a cup of tea before diving into the housework of the morning.  As the water heated up, I had to choose between my favorite mugs:

"Owl" -- the picture of my new nephew.  Isn't he adorable?

      Or, "Good Morning Beautiful", which my teenage daughter got me for Christmas and because I thought it was very ironic this morning:

Or, my happy little ladybug-garden one my sister got for me:

Now, how can anyone be sad when you use that mug?  Isn't that ladybug adorable?

So, I chose the "Good Morning Beautiful" one because it reminded me of my daughter...but I'll use the other ones later in the day for my decaf!

As I sipped my tea and set about the  tasks I do, it occured to me that just a small thing -- choosing a special mug-- changed my whole mood.  Likewise, a little thing for my kids -- unrolling pastry and cooking crescent rolls-- cheered them up, too.

I reflected on how Little Things count so much.  Like my sister's blog, Jen's Fun Little Things.  She makes beautiful quilts, cooks yummy food and delights in cute bargains.  It just makes her blog -- and her home-- very warm and loving.  I think anyone who visits her -- physically or virtually-- has a respite from their troubles, a soothing friend to chat with.

And I thought of one of my heros, Saint Therese of Lisieux.  She's one of my favorite saints because she seems so approachable.  Although she died when she was only 24, she wrote an autobiography called The Story of A Soul.  In it, she describes her humble "little way" in which small, kindly  gestures demonstrate God's love in the world.  And I think this resonates for me everyday.  Odds are, I am not going to don shining armour and lead the French army.  Odds are, I am not going to spread my faith throughout foreign lands.  But if I can do a little thing everyday -- let someone cut me in traffic with a smile, hug my kids, volunteer for just one more thing, and say a prayer of gratitude each night...well, maybe that's enough for little me.

May today there be peace within.

May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.

May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.

May you be content knowing you are a child of God.

Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.

It is there for each and every one of us.
St. Thérèse de Lisieux

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Quiet Twinkle, but A Star Nonetheless

You do know what would have happened if it had been three wise WOMEN instead of three wise men, don't you?

They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.

So funny!  And a good way to remember that yesterday was "Little Christmas" or the Epiphany, where we traditionally celebrate the Wise Men appearing before the Christ Child and bringing gifts.  

Don't you wish you had a star to guide you daily like the Magi?  I know that as I run around trying to grocery shop, clean, and run errands, drive carpool and cook healthy,  satisfying meals, it seems as though my life is pretty much filled up.  Trying to squeeze in a contemplative moment or two constantly takes a seat on the back burner.  Is there really "no room at my inn"? 

And I look at people like the Magi, who seem so certain in their task, so steadfast in their committment to follow the star.  And I feel so small compared to them.

But then God throws me a little twinkling that I can't ignore.  A friend shared with me a prayer by Thomas Merton that I think everyday people in this busy, hectic world can relate to.  And after I read it, I thought, maybe just the discomfort in knowing that I could be doing more is actually okay.  Maybe that's what will keep nudging me, poking at me, guiding me ever so slowly, but ever so surely towards the Christ Child, too.