Mary’s Rockin’ Eve

OK, maybe “rockin'” is going a little too far. We just ate some brownies, and we’re now sitting by the fire, watching what appears to be a Disneyworld infommercial on the Travel Channel. My dad and step-mom (and Chiara) have already headed off to bed, and it’s not even 10 p.m. Noah and Olivia, on the other hand, say they’re in it for the long haul. We’ll see who survives until midnight. Noah, of course, makes it to midnight every year since he not only rings in the new year but his birthday as well.

It’s hard to believe we’re on the brink of another new year. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, so you won’t find any of those here. I do, however, like to set some “goals.” Last year one of my main goals was to go on a retreat for the first time since high school. I went on three in the span of six months, so, as you can see, I take my “goals” very seriously. This year my goals once again lean toward the spiritual side. I would like to look into getting a spiritual director, something that intimidates me for a number of reasons, and I’d like to go on another retreat. Although I can’t go on a longer retreat, I would like to go on something that will challenge me in an intense spiritual way. Last year it was the silent/contemplative retreat that forced me to stretch. I would definitely like to do another silent retreat since that was really a phenomenal experience and one that has had a lasting impact in my life.

I’d also like to learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I simply cannot get this prayer routine, no matter how many times I give it the old college try. You might as well hand me an instruction manual and tell me to land a plane. I open that book of Christian Prayer and my eyes glaze over. I wonder if some of it has to do with the fact that I’m always trying to learn on my own and I could really benefit from the communal prayer experience. Another part of me thinks it has to do with my lack of connection to the Psalms. I know the Psalms are important. I know many saints and spiritual greats say that the Psalms are imperative to their prayer life, but so far I haven’t experienced that profound Psalm Aha! moment. I’ll keep working on it, but if anyone has any secrets to the Psalms, please pass them along.

Finally, one of last year’s unmet goals, will roll over to 2009: I want to spent a weekend with my dear friend Dorothy, which would be an awful lot like going on private retreat with a spiritual director. So maybe I’ll be able to fulfill all three goals in one big spiritual extravaganza.

That’s about it. It may not sound like much, but, trust me, those spiritual goals are quite a challenge for me. If I can be even half as successful with these goals as I was with last year’s goals, I’ll be happy. I don’t put time pressures on myself with these goals. In fact, I don’t really put any pressure on myself. I just put the ideas out there into the universe and begin to take baby steps toward achieving what I want.

Feel free to share your goals or resolutions. Maybe we can help each other along the way. Happy New Year! May 2009 be a year of blessings and spiritual surprises for all of us.

A gift hidden in sorrow

Our dear blog friend Emilie Lemmons died in her sleep on Dec. 23 while her husband held her hand. You can read his last post on her blog and the last quote she wanted to share with all of us by clicking HERE.

I wanted to post about Emilie’s passing as soon as I read the sad news on Christmas Eve, but I found myself unable to put into words the strange grief I was feeling. As you know, I never met Emilie, never even spoke to her by phone. I knew her only through her blog and our common bonds as mothers, writers, bloggers and spiritual seekers. I was awed by her strength in the face of tremendous hardship, in her ability to enjoy every minute with her young sons even while she was dying, in her grace and honesty right up until the end. When I learned of her death, I wept, not a few sentimental tears for a stranger’s sorrow, but hysterical, overwhelming, sob-inducing tears. I found it odd that I could feel such strong emotions for someone who was never in my life in any concrete way.

It just so happens that throughout Emilie’s last days (which I knew of from reading her blog post about going into hospice care), I was experiencing a terrible professional betrayal. And let’s just say, I wasn’t handling it well. The fallout, which is by no means even close to over, paralyzed me. Suddenly I wasn’t sure about anything — about my career (which also happens to be a vocation), about my obviously misguided hope that people will do the right thing (especially when they work for a Catholic organization), about my next step forward into whatever unknown I was about to face. I found myself unable even to read my Advent reflections, no less pray about them. I felt empty and abandoned. I felt a spiritual darkness I have not felt in a very long time. But through all of it, my mind kept coming back to Emilie, and I would realize that despite my seeming inability to pray, I was praying for Emilie — constantly.

At night, when I was lying awake in bed worrying about how to handle my work situation, I would think about Emilie awake in her bed worrying about leaving behind her husband and two sons. And I would pray. In the morning, when I would stare at my computer as if some magical fix would arrive by email, I would think of Emilie starting her day and wondering if it would be her last. And I would pray. For several days running, the only thing I could pray about was Emilie. And that was Emilie’s great gift to me. At a time when I could not find the words or the inclination to pray for the guidance and trust I needed in my own situation, at a time when God seemed very far away and maybe not all that interested in my little problems, Emilie kept me in God’s presence when I most needed it. Without her even knowing it, in the midst of her great suffering, she was still giving to other people, still making a difference in the life of a complete stranger.

I didn’t realize all of this until days after her death, until I finally found the words I needed to pray. I honestly didn’t think I would make a spiritual rebound so quickly, and I don’t think I would have had it not been for Emilie. That’s not to say I’m out of the dark spiritual woods I’ve found myself in lately, but at least I’m on a well-marked path.

Sign of love

And now a few words from the home office as we wrap up our Christmas celebrations:

“God’s sign is simplicity…he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby — defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love; so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love…God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him and love him.” — Pope Benedict XVI

We’re in the home stretch

Well, we are in the final countdown to Christmas. For the first time in the eight years we have lived here, we are not going anywhere for Christmas and we are not hosting anyone here. Kind of weird in a peaceful and calm sort of way. We decided to give our family a rare but much-deserved holiday without highway travel. Today is incredibly quiet. We’re not even heading out to the overcrowded vigil Mass today since we can go tomorrow morning. Noah will serve Mass on Christmas day, which is especially nice.

A few incidentals to report as I reflect back on the last few weeks:

I managed to follow through on my plan to make it through the entire shopping season without setting foot in a mall. I have not darkened the doorstep of either big mall in our area since way before Thanksgiving. In fact, I can’t even remember when I was last there. While I did a lot of shopping online, I did everything else right here in town. It was a very stress-free shopping experience.

I am also happy to report that the Christmas stocking tradition was given a reprieve. It required some last-minute visits to stores, but since my self-imposed rule meant not leaving the boundaries of my town, it was no big deal. In fact, I could have walked to the stores had it not been about 7 degrees outside. (I should note that while I would not walk to a store in 7-degree temperatures, I did see three people out jogging. That’s just insane.)

We made it through all of our various Christmas-related events. Here are a few photos from the girls’ “holiday dance demonstrations.”

As I write this post, the girls are sitting here in the family room talking about Christmas. Olivia is reading to Chiara — a book called “Silent Night,” and she’s asking Chiara if she knows the most important thing about Christmas: That Jesus was born, and we all get that present. Now Olivia just yelled, “Only seven hours until we go to bed.” Somehow I have a feeling that the seven-hour itch has to do with more than Jesus’ birthday.

Chiara’s Christmas intensity has been increasingly obvious the past few days. She worried aloud last night that Santa might forget what she wants. She can rattle off her list at the drop of a hat, right down to the “new place mat” she requested. Every night, when we light the Advent wreath and pray before dinner, she insists on “reading” from a prayer book. She always says the same thing: Thank you God to giving the baby Jesus to Mary. One day at lunch last week, she continued her “reading” by saying that Jesus was home with Mary and they were playing games and that Joseph had gone for a walk to take out the trash. Sounds like life in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago was an awful lot like life right now.

So I guess this is it. Merry Christmas everyone. I’d like to think I’ll post some sort of reflection for Christmas, and I may even write one in my head, but will it make it to the blog? Probably unlikely. Just know that I will remember all of my wonderful blog readers in my Christmas prayers. Thank you for being part of my journey. Peace.

Lessons from George

When we first moved into our house eight years ago, we couldn’t help but wonder about the little cottage behind us. Somewhat neglected and almost hidden behind overgrown shrubs and towering oaks, it seemed as if it were out of another time. Then we met the owner, George, who was a lot like his house – quiet and unassuming. An older single gentleman, George lived the life of a hermit, or at least that’s how it appeared to the outside world. He often looked disheveled and unkempt, which belied what we knew about him – that he was quite well to do, given that his family had once owned all of the land on which our little neighborhood now sits. (more…)

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