Monday, May 7, 2018

Finding Faith By Swinging On A Star

   My grandpa died when I was seven years old, and yet he left a lasting memory in my heart that lives to this day. See, my grandpa loved the sky. He loved the clouds, thunderstorms, wind, and snow, but his favorite love was the stars. He had over 70 grandkids, many of them born after he died, but each of us knew about his love of the universe and the stars whether all of us had met him or not.
   Grandpa had left a legacy which each of us that had been lucky enough to know him, have passed along to the cousins that didn’t get the chance to know him. 
  Every summer night, Grandpa would hang outside, long after dark, pondering the wonders of the universe. He was not the philosopher type, he didn’t get into all the science issues, but he watched and learned from nature. He knew the constellations, but more importantly he knew his faith. And faith, he said, was like the universe, so vast, so beautiful, that it was not possible in one lifetime know everything you could know about it.  But that didn’t bother him.
Me and several of my cousins were with him one night, stargazing when he declared he could not wait to get to heaven and see what the stars looked like from the other side, as he called it.  That took me back a little because I knew that in order to get to Heaven, you did have to die first. My First Communion date was coming up soon and so I knew my Catechism. You didn’t get to Heaven without leaving this life first. So why would you be in a hurry to get there? I mean, Heaven was great I was sure, but there was so much to do here too!
   “Don’t you see,” Grandpa smiled, “in Heaven, you would just understand it all. You wouldn’t have to wonder about how everything came to be, how the meteorites fly through the sky, how the sun stays in place, because in Heaven you would just know and you could see it all.”
  In his own way he was explaining faith to us too. We cannot expect to understand everything about our faith. We can’t explain everything. But like the stars, we just have to believe in it, believe they will be there night after night for us to admire and enjoy.  If we question too much, we lose seeing the beauty of it. If we don’t look at them at all or just give them a passing glance and say, “yeah, that’s nice, I guess” we don’t see the immense majesticness of God’s creation.
  Grandpa died the week before my First Communion. My grandma came to spend time with us and was there for my special day.  I missed Grandpa and wondered if he was there in Heaven looking at “his stars” from the other side.
   As my cousins and I grew older, we talked about things like Heaven, faith and the universe, about our questions, how it could all be.
   One summer night in August, we were all gathered outside playing tag in the yard when we saw something fly through the sky. Scared, we ran inside and told our parents.  One of my uncles who was an avid night sky observer like his father had been, said, “It’s the meteors. It’s time for the meteor showers.”
   Sure enough, it was mid August, the time for the Perseids showers that come every year, right on time.
   We went outside again and watched. But meteors can be funny things. Clouds obscure them, you blink and miss them. We got tired waiting and I exasperatedly said, “Okay, Grandpa, show us a falling star!” our amazement, a huge fireball went by. Dumbfounded, we all looked at each other. Grandpa was indeed seeing the stars from the “other side” and had even helped us see a little better!
   As I grew older, I struggled through ups and downs in life, trying to live my faith, see the beauty and yet question things, try to understand why things happen the way they do. 
  Faith is hard, faith is easy. Faith is like trying to explain the stars and how they got there, how they stay there and why. The stars beckon us with their twinkles, their beauty and fascinate us with their mystery, yet they are always there night after night reassuring us. My faith reassures me that God is always there, even when I’m scared and lonely. Even when it seems like I can’t do anything right, or nothing is going right in my life. God loves me I know, but sometimes it’s hard to love myself. 
   At different times throughout my life,  I would look up at the night sky and talk to my Grandpa. I knew he was there, looking down at me through those beautiful stars. And I could hear his voice reassuring me that, yes indeed Heaven was just as great as he thought, and I would someday love it too. That I would make it though the ups and downs in my life. Just as sure as the stars were in the sky.
   I would remember the song he always sang when we were getting ready to leave their house, “Would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar and be better off than you are...”
   I knew my faith would help me be better off, but I knew too, like the vastness of universe, there was a lot of learning to do, a lot of growing and some things I just wouldn’t understand until I got to Heaven.
   And just like faith, when you suddenly get an answer in your heart, when something you’ve been praying about finally works out,  or you finally “get it” and understand something about God, Grandpa would suddenly answer me too. A shooting star would suddenly appear in the night sky.
“Thank you Grandpa.“
   And now, with kids of my own, I pass along Grandpa’s legacy so his great-grandchildren know of his faith, his faith which he has passed along to all his grandchildren, the legacy in the stars of believing.  No matter what happens in life, what gets you down, sad, and confused, you hold onto your faith and don’t let go. Even when you don’t understand it, don’t feel like you know everything about it or can’t explain it to anyone. Faith is like the universe of stars. Wonderful and huge. Hard to grasp. But sometimes, you get an inspiration, like a shooting star in the night sky, you suddenly understand. Your heart is peaceful once more.
   But it takes watching and being patient. It takes believing, and it takes awe and wonder. Faith isn’t something concrete or predictable. Faith takes, well, faith! You can’t give it to someone else, but you can, like my Grandpa, help someone find it.
   Every August, my family and I go outside, watching and waiting. Sometimes we see the shooting stars in the Perseids showers, some years the clouds cover everything. But that’s okay. Because though they are covered up right now, I know they are still there. I know, Grandpa is up there watching out for me and all my cousins and our kids and our children’s kids.
   Like my grandpa, I pass along the faith by being patient and awe struck by it. It’s the wonder and curiosity that helps us seek out our faith and grow in it.  It’s like swinging on that star.
   Thank you Grandpa, I love you!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Life Is A Highway

Funny how life takes you places you never thought about visiting.  When I was younger and thinking about the life ahead, I pretty well knew I wanted to get married and have kids and I wanted to write.  The writer part came first because I was eight when I started writing stories.  So in my mind I was growing up to be a writer, novelist and journalist and would get married and have kids someday.  I loved this country road I was traveling because I could easily see the trees, streams and fields along it. It was relaxing to cruise along and enjoy.
  Getting on the street of education I studied for a teaching degree in English/Journalism. This street was much faster than the country road, but had a lot of signs about cities and tourist places I hadn't been before.  It was nice to cruise along, but when I graduated chose a job as a secretary and starting a family  I diverted onto the ramp of a state highway, fast paced but very scenic. I enjoyed raising my kids and I kept writing; mostly fiction with some little anecdotal articles of things my kids did and sold them to small magazines which kept the flame of my journalist/novelist/writer dream alive.
  The highway changed into an interstate when my husband and I started teaching martial arts to kids and teens as a hobby.  Saturday mornings saw us rushing to get breakfast then piling the kids into the car and heading to the gym to teach sixty kids each week how to protect themselves. 
    By this time our own kids were all in school and after staying home with them for ten years I got out into the job market again, but as a school secretary which isn't really a writer's job either.   Suddenly the speed limit on the interstate went from fifty-five to seventy. But during those years at school I wrote teen fiction and learned how to self publish some books that my kids, my nieces, nephews and kids in school and martial arts really enjoyed. 
   When my youngest graduated from the grade school I was working in, I decided it was time for me to 'retire' so I could write full time. It was still the interstate but I could breathe easier now the speed was back down to fifty-five. That lasted a year when I was asked to work part-time in our church office as once again, a secretary. Actually it was as youth minister but in our church you wear a lot of hats and this job turned into not only being youth leader but becoming tech savvy and setting up computer networks,  creating and providing content for our parish website, social media and creating booklets and brochures on religious subjects.  It wasn't really what I thought my style of writing would be, but I was getting paid to do it among other things and it was teaching me a lot about non-fiction.  The part-time turned into full time and I continued running our martial arts business, took care of husband and kids and wrote fiction on the side and self published my teen books, five in all.  The accelerator was reading seventy-five.  Things were passing by in a blur but there were some interesting rest stops and scenic tours we took. You can't drive across life without stopping and visiting beaches and floating rivers.
  Not long after that I saw an ad for a stringer for our local newspaper and I finally had the chance to become a journalist!  Now I added running around on job assignments which took up weeknights and weekends. That lasted about a year.   My dad got sick.  I could no longer juggle the extra journalism job with everything else and help my mom care for him, so I dropped that job. 
   During the next several years the signs of construction ahead began popping up with lots of detours that took us places we didn't want to go.  We slowed down, sped up, the road got crowded and we were stuck in traffic jams and didn't like the scenery but all the while we had to keep moving because getting off the interstate wasn't an option.
  I began writing a lot more non-fiction, pieces about life and its struggles, about how God wants us to keep looking and hanging on to Him.  My husband and I were speeding down the highway of life, but God was the GPS.  I didn't know where we were going but I kept trying to have faith God knew. It wasn't easy and my writing began to falter especially my fiction writing. Somehow the highway was robbing me of my creative thinking, there was too much to look out for, pot holes, obstacles, and detours for me to make up the fun stories I did in my youth.  But I kept writing, anything to at least be writing.
    My creative writing has been trying to surface lately, struggling to see the scenery on the side of the road and I keep trying to slow down enough to let it. But it wasn't until my husband invited me to speak with college students about being a small business owner, creative content writer for a church and a self publisher writer that the thought hit me. I am a writer and always have been and always will be. While talking with these college students who are also writers it was such a joy to be caught up in their enthusiasm about life, writing and journeys. It helped me see my life in ways I hadn't before; that it's okay to be on the highway because you really don't have a choice about that, but it's in the stopping and looking for refreshment, relaxation and fun that you live your life. And most of all it's in relying on God to be your GPS. Whatever goals or dreams you have for your life, put in His hands and somehow He will guide you to those dreams. You may not realize it until you look back at what you have accomplished through His help.  I realized that I have been a writer all along, and writing an amazing array of different things, fiction, non-fiction, religion, adventures, counsel, advice, how-to, history and so much more. If I hadn't been on the highway I never would have had those opportunities to write so many different things. Life is a highway and with God as your GPS you'll travel amazing places.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Duck Butts

   This is the upside of a duck. It is what you would normally see when driving by a pond or creek which had Mallard ducks swimming around in it. But that is not what I see most mornings.

   It's not the side of a duck I've been seeing lately in a big puddle in a field near our home. I drive by this field which is very small, several times a day.
    It's actually a tiny piece of property just behind a store with a storm water creek on the other side. That creek is usually where my fine feathered friend resides, but this spring has been very rainy. The field which is for sale and has been for several years, tends to hold water in one spot. The water doesn't run off much to the chagrin of the property owner who is trying to sell it.
    But this spring a couple of ducks have discovered it is the perfect spot to find food.  Because it is just a puddle, when the weather is dry there is grass growing there, but when it rains a lot, this low area of the property becomes very saturated and becomes almost a pond in itself.  And now the ducks have discovered it.
    It's the perfect place for  two Mallards to enjoy a peaceful breakfast. It's open and exposed but that makes it easy for them to spot predators on the prowl.  It is filled with very clean rainwater and fresh green grass which makes for excellent fishing.  At least I think that's what they are doing because most of the time what I see is this:

   Because the area this puddle exists is a heavy traffic area, I really have to keep an eye on the cars in front of me and I never text and drive so when I glance over to the puddle to see if the ducks are eating  I use my phone's Siri to send a message to my husband.  "Duck butts."
   The problem with me speaking my message to Siri is she doesn't understand the context of my message.  What she types is like she is waiting for me to finish a sentence. "Duck but..."
   Now, I've tried several different ways of stating my message but it kind of ruins the joke if you have to first spell out the word b..u..t..t. to Siri.  And no matter what sentence or phrase I speak to Siri, 'Duck Butt' does not seem to be in her vocabulary. So that has become the joke in our house too. Not only do we get to see duck butts from our car window, we laugh because Siri cannot understand why we send incomplete messages. "Duck but..."
   Lately, a couple of Canadian Geese have also discovered the pond. When they land the ducks graciously let them have the space for a while. But later in the day, the ducks will be back again enjoying their almost private pond, eating contentedly, upside down.

Friday, April 20, 2018

How A Taxi Driver Helped Me Learn Patience

I was searching the internet for ways to stay patient in traffic. I have a really bad time being patient in traffic. While I don't blow my horn or wave the bird at people, I mutter and get upset which if nothing else hurts my blood pressure and anxiety levels.  But it also makes me forget there are real people out there driving cars, riding in cars or trucks maybe having a bad day. If I could just remember to smile more when in my car at least it would lower my tension, and honestly you may help lighten someone else's day.   Take time to read the article below about a New York Taxi Driver who listened to the Spirit whisper in his heart to stop and wait.  He found a much better way to spend his time.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Patience and the Passionate Person

   I always thought I was a patient person. Okay, stop really I really do think I am patient. But perhaps I think I am patient compared to, well, myself, not other people who apparently are having to be patient with me.
  Let me explain.  I know I am a passionate person. I get excited, happy, laugh loudly. I love getting excited for other people's ideas, fun, joy and accomplishments. Want someone to be happy about your new job, child, life event or your new craft, I am the person you come to!  I love being excited for you and asking all those questions about how fun it is and how marvelous it makes you feel.
  But, to every high there must be a low. Or as my dear hubs puts it, "To every positive there exists a negative."  That whole yin/yang thing.  And apparently since I can be very happy for you, I can also get very sad.  I see a squirrel who has met its end on the highway and I'll burst into tears.  My kids tell me they are having a bad time and I struggle to find ways to help them be happy again.  Some one tears around me in traffic and my mouth sounds like I just came off a pirate ship movie.
   So you see there is a down side to being emotional and not always patient.
   But I am learning that despite being very embarrassed that I get really angry at other drivers when they don't drive the way I think they should, I can use it as a learning moment.  Oh and let me tell you I have a lot of learning moments. In fact as I look back at this blog, those learning moments have been continuing since 2011!  Apparently there is no end to learning moments. You never 'get to the end' of learning moments.  You learn about one, and a whole handful more come your way.
  But sometimes I call it the 'wack a mole' syndrome, where you are doing really well in one area (the mole raises his head out of the hole) only to have your goodness whacked by the devil who tempts you into messing up in another area. (why did I poke my head up to see how good I was doing?!)
  So while my passionate side gets all excited about doing better in one area, whack! I flip off my mouth unkindly at something I never cared about before.
  I do believe somehow I can be both a passionate person and be patient. Passionately patient? Or patiently passionate? 
  I'll keep you informed!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Giving Thanks

I know what season it is, Easter. And what better way to spend the Easter Season than by saying thank you. I was inspired by an article in Readers Digest this month on writing thank you notes. So I am embarking on a journey to write...thank you after thank you. Instead of getting upset at the world and the anger, hate and violence that is happening, I am going to concentrate on being thankful and in thanking others. So even though postage has gone up to $0.50 for each letter you mail, I think it will be a good sacrifice to make to remember we should tell others we are grateful for what they do.

I am also inspired by the routine Jimmy Fallon does on the Tonight Show where he writes thank you notes.  Not all of them are G rated mind you, but the idea is what struck me. Why don't we still write thank you notes? We should! So with that said:

"Thank you Jimmy Fallon, for reminding us to say “Thank you!”

“Thank you, waterfalls, or as I like to call you, fish roller coasters.”

‘Thank you quilts, for being blankets made of other tiny blankets.’

‘Thank you zebras, for being the perfect referees for a game of horse.’

‘Thank you word o’clock, for letting me know that time is Irish.’

‘Thank you website button that says, “forgot my password’ for basically being my password.’

‘Thank you gummy worms for being excellent bait if I want to catch Swedish Fish.’

‘Thank you cliffhangers, for…’

Monday, March 12, 2018

Have You Found Jesus? Was He Lost?

  It may sound a little weird, but one of my favorite movie scenes is from, “New In Town”  when the Blanche Gunderson, the Minnesotan plant secretary  is driving  Lucy Hill  around town. Being the town ‘mom’ Blanche is asking Lucy all kinds of questions to find out how to make her feel at home.

  But by this time, Lucy, a young up and coming executive from Florida is getting weary of all the ‘do you scrapbook’, ‘are you dating’, ‘are you a vegetarian,’ questions so when Blanche asks, “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” She sighs and replies, “Isn’t that what you’ve been doing?” But Blanche persists and asks, “Have you found Jesus?” Lucy  turns to look at her and deadpans, “Well, I didn’t know he was missing.”  Then seeing the horrified look on Blanche’s face, adds, “It was a joke.” Blanche stops the car and says,  We don’t much joke about Jesus around here.
   Some people have no trouble talking to others about Jesus or asking if they have been saved.  But ask some Catholics to talk about Jesus and we all get a blank look on our faces. Talk about Jesus?  Don’t we just pray to Jesus?   But if we don’t talk about Jesus,  how do you share your faith with your family? Notice I said “share” not evangelize because evangelize seems to be a word that scares everyone! “I don’t know how to evangelize.” “Doesn’t evangelize mean going door to door asking people if they have found Jesus.”I’m not a theologian, I can’t talk to my kids about Church matters.”

 The  best way for us to ‘evangelize’ or talk about Jesus to our kids is by showing them how important He is in our lives.  And while we do need to engage our kids in conversations about the Lord, it doesn’t have to be hard or as uncomfortable as Blanche and Lucy.
   It starts with bringing them to Mass when they are toddlers and pointing at the cross and whispering that is Jesus and when the priest is holding up the Blessed Sacrament and whispering that is Jesus too.  It begins in small ways just like you teach them about the sun and the trees and the colors.

   As our children grow in addition to talking we add our example of praying, going to Mass and other devotions help us.  “Why are we going to church so much Dad?  “Because we go visit people we love a lot, like Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Jo, and Jesus.   Why did those people die in that storm?” “Because this world is not forever, but Heaven is and that’s where we’ll see everyone again.

   Teens need the example we give them going to Mass too as well as talking and listening.  When the news is full of violence and hurt,  we can help our teens cope by talking about how we trust in God to keep us safe, and how some day we’ll all be together again in Heaven.  It’s hard to talk about people dying and getting hurt and answer the most asked question, “Why doesn’t God stop those things from happening?   That when we need to remind them that we live in a natural world, as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, and in a natural  world things can happen like earthquakes, and people hurting others because they turn toward evil instead of good.

   But God is always right beside us trying to help us get through those things. Quite the opposite of abandoning us, He is there holding our hands carrying us through the natural world of hurts, sorrows and calamities. If we open ourselves to His love can inspire us to help others in those situations and know God is with them.

  The Catholic Church gives us prayers of reassurance, of mercy and forgiveness that help us through those times of doubt and feeling alone.  The prayers we teach them are not magic charms that will keep them safe, they help keep their souls centered on the God who helps them not be afraid even when bad things happen.