Thursday, September 29, 2016

What My Dying Cousin Taught Me About Life...and Faith

  It's been just over year now since my cousin Jimmy passed.  But his laughter haunts my thoughts as I struggle to get through spiritual problems in my life.  When he was diagnosed with cancer he was very open to everyone about it. He had struggled for years with MS and this was just another fight in his daily battle for life.  He had every right to be angry with God for letting this happen to him, again, a man who had a wonderful wife, loving kids and a lot going for him.
  But he didn't get least not that any of us saw or heard. What we heard and read on his social media pages was his request for prayers, when days were good and bad...his concern for his wife and kids...going with his wife to buy her a new car so she wouldn't have to worry after he was gone about their old one.  His one request to his aunts and uncles and cousins was to come together one summer day and enjoy a good old reunion, like the old days when we were all younger and had fun times together.
  So any many of us did join him that day...young and old...gathered round his bright beaming face as we sang old family songs...told stories mostly about him as a kid...and enjoyed the love that was so very present in that room.  Angry at God? How could any of us be angry when God had instilled something in Jimmy that brought all of us together to share one final moment with him?  He was just going home...maybe a little earlier than we wished or expected, but like all of us, he was continuing on his journey to our real home. And Jimmy was ready.
  He thanked everyone for coming...he was ecstatic that so many of us came.  We were all overcome at his courage.  My husband still talks about his he met his illness with an even stronger faith, faith that shamed all the rest of us.  His faith that God was taking care of him, his wife and kids, his mother and siblings, and the rest. His laughter and love for us was never more apparent that day. A beautiful day we all remember.
  That is faith...I only pray I can be so faithful.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Children's Choir and Other Daily Joys

So after a lapse of several years, the school principal asked me about beginning a children's choir again. I've done this several times in the past. It comes and goes depending on the interest of the kids in school.  We've done everything from singing at the kids' Masses to performing on stage in front of other district school choirs. 

It's always been an interesting subject to teach seeing how one; I have never learned how to read music and have always learned songs and sung by ear; two; the teaching degree I received some 30 years ago was in Secondary Education English and Journalism, not exactly Music, choral directing or high school and three; it's always been a voluntary job so the incentive is I just happen to love singing want to instill that love of music in the future generation!

To fit practice into my schedule and the kids, we would only be meeting once a week, Mondays after school for 20 minutes. That may seem like a very short time in which to teach music, but I've honed this skill down over the years and it seems to be the right fit for this age group and for my sanity!

Our first choir practice was yesterday with 22 very eager, noisy 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders bouncing up and down on metal chairs in the school music room right after school. Getting them quiet was taking a little more brain cells than I remember having.

While I took roll and learned names and faces, I had one of the students pass out  the music we were going to practice, a song I sure that everyone knew, somehow forgetting that age and time is catching up with me. Doesn't everyone know "Let There Be Peace On Earth?"  Hmmm, not these kids.  A show of hands got me five out of the 22 that had heard it before. Well, it was easy enough to learn so we began, a capella.  The other downside to not knowing how to read music was I also didn't play piano or know my way around anything besides Middle C.  I totally depend upon my guitar to find my starting notes for songs. I strummed and all I heard was myself singing. So much for teaching the other two songs I had planned for the day.  Arguing erupted between two siblings that were in choir, over who knows what. "Okay," I sighed after shushing them,  "let's sing it together this time..."

Finally, though I had made a rookie mistake of assuming they knew this song which they were going to be singing in two weeks with only ONE more practice between now and then, they learned it fairly well this despite the boys complaining it was either too high or too low for them to sing. Yes, my choir included 8th grade boys who voices are changing and between all five them not a one was singing the same note.

Moving on to a song I knew they were familiar with because they used to sing it with our pastor at Mass every week, I got them started when there was a knock at the door and one of the teachers was motioning to me. "Who do you need?" I called over their voices thinking somebody's ride must have come early.  "You!" she answered.

"Keep singing!" I called out, hurrying over wondering what emergency made her show up at the door.  "I thought it would be a wonderful idea if the choir could sing the National Anthem at our Homecoming game," she told me.  "Umm, well sure, when is that?"
"Two weeks." 

 Okay...the stakes were getting higher...singing for Mass and now singing for the National Anthem both in two weeks.  I hurried back up to the front  of the kids only to see one of the 5th grade boys had taken my spot on the podium giggling and making faces at everyone. "Down!" I ordered, and got them to start them over on the round again.

"Mrs Simmons, how do the arm motions go on this song?" One of the 8th graders asked.  Putting down my guitar I moved my arms up, down and around which elicited a round of laughter from the siblings again. This is why teachers have seating charts I reminded myself. Finally remembering the motions, the words and the tune, we began again. Okay, I thought, that wasn't too bad, I glanced at the clock and time was already up. I ended with the spiel of meeting again next week, how we only had that one practice to get the song we were singing in our heads, reminding them they had to be quiet when sitting in church in the choir loft, that we were already getting requests to sing for other things when one of  4th grade girls raised her hand.  Expecting a question about what I had already discussed, I said,  "Yes, Caylie?"
"Mrs...what's your name again?"
 "Mrs. Simmons"
"Oh yeah, Mrs. Simmons, are we going to have choir next year?" 
"Depends on if we survive the next two weeks Caylie..." I sighed. "Class dismissed!"

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Little Adversity

Sometimes, a little adversity in life is a good thing. We may not realize it at the time, but hard times make us stronger, give us confidence and motivate us to try harder. 
 Even in the midst of adversity, when we feel we are drowning or are surrounded by rising waters, God lets us know He is always with us. It's called Hope.
Hope drives us to keep moving forward, to not give up, to rise above the floods of sorrow, fear, disappointment and shine!
So no matter how hard the waters try to drown you, bloom where you are planted, lift you eyes to the sun and see the strength God has given you to be who you are supposed to be!  Keep Thriving!


Friday, September 9, 2016

St Peter Claver; A Saint for Our Times As Well

Peter Claver was a Spanish Jesuit, who saw the horrors of slavery and wanted to make sure all those children of God knew the Father's love. When a ship arrived, Peter first begged for fruits, biscuits, or sweets to bring to the slaves. He then went on board with translators to bring his gifts as well as his skills as a doctor and teacher. Claver entered the holds of the ships and would not leave until every person received a measure of care. Peter gave short instruction in the Catholic faith and baptized as many as he could. In this way he could prevail on the slave owners to give humane treatment to fellow Christians. Peter Claver baptized more than 300,000 slaves by 1651, when he was sickened by the plague and later died.

Last Sunday during his homily, our pastor touched on the story of St. Peter Claver and added to his list of patronages the patron saint of modern slavery and the unspoken about yet thriving business of human trafficking. 

Sunday, my family and I adopted St Peter Claver as another role model in addition to St. Michael, St. Joan of Arc, St. Hallvard and St. Maria Goretti to follow in our efforts to help protect women and children from rape, assault, abductions and the sex trade. I urge you to not look away, realize this is going on before your very eyes and speak up.  Women of all colors, races and backgrounds are being assaulted in our colleges, in their homes, in every day businesses and no one speaks up for them.
I will speak up for them: right now!

Read more on St. Peter Claver

More information on helping: Joyful Heart Foundation

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

It's Not Going to Be Easy But It's Going to Be Awesome!

A quote from Steve Gleason, former New Orleans Saints NFL player, during the documentary of his battle with ALS and the journey he is about to undertake.

Can't wait to see this;

Friday, July 8, 2016

Joy! In the Midst of Darkness...Literally!

  Ever have one of those weeks?  It was the little things...appliances not working correctly, clients dropping off from the family business because it's the middle of summer...machines not working at the office...medical concerns with my mom...
  I was looking forward to a relaxing Thursday evening, just my husband and me. It had been hot and humid all week and we were even contemplating going out that evening for a dip in the refreshing waters of our nearby water park...when it hit.  A the noon hour.  We heard the sizzle of lightening nearby and then then house was in darkness. Okay, that's happened before. No need to be alarmed. It will be back on soon enough...
  Eleven hours later...
   Ragged from running coolers of our not so frozen food to our daughter's apartment, the office where I work, and also running food from my mom's house which is just up the block from us to my brother's house (which thankfully, is not up the block from us and they still had power), my husband and I sat down at the kitchen table trying to make believe that the candlelight between us was romantic.
  After 33 years of marriage, my husband and I love each other immensely, and we love our 'date' nights...but this night...well, was not one of those nights. We were exhausted from running here and there, juicing up our phones at our business, eating a meal at our son's apartment...and going back home to find the house still in darkness and ever growing humidity (75%) ) and heat (still hovering at 88 degrees at 9 PM)   and the dog and two cats looking at us like 'what is going on guys? Turn on the cool air!!"
  I snapped a picture, trying to be funny about the candlelight...but we were tired, dripping with sweat and really not looking forward to spending the night in the basement with the dog.
  But we did finally head to the basement at least until the lights popped back on at 10:20 and the air conditioner (poor thing) finally had the house cool enough four hours later so we could go back to our beds.
  We got up and though we did have coffee in the house, we didn't have any breakfast food (eggs, milk, butter all at our daughter's apartment) so Mike ran to the grocery to make what is probably going to be one of many trips we'll be making in the next day to replace the foods that didn't make it. He brought home eggs and muffins.
 We sat at breakfast contemplating when to begin the fetching of food from everywhere and if I would  still make it to work on time.  When it hit us.  We were very blessed, very lucky that a tree had not come through our roof, no flood waters had risen in our basement and basically, we were inconvenienced for a few hours. 
  Sometimes in the midst of our 'suffering' we forget to look on the bright side. And honestly I don't always appreciate other people trying to point out the bright side when I'm not there yet. But it was nice that we both thought of it at the same time, while sharing our breakfast coffee;  that the night could have been much worse. And as we bowed our heads to pray before eating, holding hands, we did thank the Lord for what we had. And it was good.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Joy! Every Adversity Carries the Seed of Greater Benefit

  I love this quote from the book, "Chasing Joy" by Edward Hays.  He speaks of "rejoicing always by searching for something good, the potential of happiness, hidden in every event-even events that are sorrowful." This last discovery of joy hidden in some misfortune requires trusting in God.
Faith encourages us to open ourselves to God's creative ability to convert darkness into light, to generate life out of death, to convert anger into peace and sorrow into joy.
  The quote, "Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit," gives us the promise that these joy-laced seeds that are hidden in the darkness of suffering do not grow instantly or miraculously no matter how deep your faith is.  Rather, each adversity holds a seed that must be cultivated, nurtured and grown in trust and love.
  Nothing happens overnight...the universe which God began trillions of years ago is still must our trust and joy.