The waiting begins…

The waiting begins…

As I sat down to write this Advent post, I realized that I am way behind where I normally am at the start of the new Church year. We have not yet made our pink and purple construction paper chain that hangs in our kitchen and gets shorter as we get closer to Christmas. We have not moved the Holy Family out onto the front porch, as we usually do to mark the start of Advent. I have not yet blessed our Advent wreath or even wrapped the candle bottoms with tape so they don’t wobble and stand all askew for the next four weeks. The new Advent calendar is still in its wrapper. (more…)

A new perspective on incessant interruptions

My pastor started his homily last Sunday by talking about a priest who used to get annoyed by all the constant interruptions that kept him from his work. That is, until the day when he finally realized that the constant interruptions were his work.

Advent ideas for families, classrooms

From my OSV Daily Take post today:

Advent is right around the corner. As a busy mom and a faith formation teacher, I’m always looking for new ideas for bringing this season to life for my family and my students. Check out a sample issue of OSV’s Advent Take Out: Family Faith on the Go by clicking HERE. I’m already planning to give the construction paper Advent wreath a try with my fourth-grade class. (more…)

A close Encounter of the best kind

When Dennis and I first started dating, after being friends for a while, everything about us seemed in sync. We often said the exact same thing at the exact same time, bantered back and forth like a well-rehearsed comedy team, wanted all the same things out of life, even bought each other the same card on our first Valentine’s Day together. And it was not a traditional, common card. It was one of those eccentric artsy cards. It was totally unexpected and happily surprising when we realized that we were so in tune with each other that even our card shopping reflected it.

Soon after we were married, we moved across the country — from New York to Texas — to start our life fresh. We eventually bought a house under construction and, not long after, had our first child. Life began to get more stressful and less carefree. After struggling through a difficult miscarriage and a year of medical issues following it, we had another child, another move back across the country, and, finally, a third child when I was almost 43 years old. To say that life was very full — and sometimes very difficult — is a monumental understatement.

The blissful feelings of those early days, when we each recognized the other as soul mate, best friend and lifelong love, started to get buried under the day-to-day obligations and normal stresses that come with parenting and professional lives, volunteer service and home owning. It was becoming harder and harder for us to see the couple we had once been, despite our deep and constant love for each other. Our actions, tone and words didn’t reflect the love we knew was there, so we decided that we would do something we had talked about now and then but never pursued seriously: attend a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend.

Even up until the moment we entered the Don Bosco Retreat Center at the Marian Shrine in Stony Point, the two of us were wondering if this weekend could really make a dramatic difference in our busy lives. Marriage Encounter veterans had told us again and again that it would be life-changing, transforming, but we had our doubts. We vowed to give it a 100 percent anyway and see what happened.

I am here to tell you that it was, in fact, everything promised. While the room wasn’t stellar and the food was mediocre at best, the weekend itself was amazing, restorative, renewing, and, yes, transforming. Over a period of two days, Dennis and I explored ideas and feelings we hadn’t thought about in a while — or ever, in some cases. The weekend didn’t dredge up problems or dwell on the negatives; in a gentle and life-affirming way, it gave us an opportunity to stand side by side looking out at the future as one. Through the powerful stories and examples of our presenting couples and priest, we learned how to create a married life of joy, passion and excitement even in the midst of our daily challenges and struggles.

Marriage Encounter is not about sharing your deepest feelings with strangers, something Dennis feared when I first started suggesting we attend. It’s about sitting together, as a couple, away from everyone else and really giving each other some much-deserved attention, something that had been sorely lacking in our lives. We left the retreat center with the resolve to put into practice all the skills and tools we’d been given in order to make radical changes in the way we live out our marriage.

The really interesting thing is that so far my excitement and hopefulness and anticipation for what’s ahead for us is actually continuing to increase even though the weekend is behind us. I kind of expected that after we left our Marriage Encounter cocoon, we’d be right back to where we started, but that’s absolutely not the case, and if you look at the presenting couples, you can see that this new reality is not a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. We were in a great place when we left Stony Point on Sunday night, but I have to say that today we are in an even better place, and I find myself giddy — much as I did in those early days of our relationship — over what I realize I still share with Dennis. That’s not to say we don’t expect fights or setbacks. We wouldn’t be human if we could live a perfect life. But we do expect to be able to manage those setbacks better and to bring real healing to any divisions threaten to pull us apart, the kind of healing that can actually make our bond stronger.

We will be married 15 years in April. The WWME weekend was the best anniversary gift we could have given to each other. We can look toward the future and see a life where the intense feelings of love and our joy in being a couple do not have to diminish with age or time or struggles. Because we have made a decision to love, because we have been reminded of our great gift and given what we need to keep that gift alive and flourishing, because we have put God back into his rightful place in our marriage, nothing seems impossible anymore.

If you have not yet made a Marriage Encounter weekend — or if you made one a long time ago — sign up today. You will never regret it, I can promise you that, and will more likely wish you had done it years ago. We did ours through the Archdiocese of New York, which will be sponsoring 2010 weekends Feb. 12-14, April 16-18, Aug. 13-15, and Nov. 5-7. Call 914-524-7088 for more information on NY weekends. For those outside the archdiocese, click HERE to go to the Worldwide Marriage Encounter national website, which will connect you with local ME weekends and resources.

The up side of a glass ‘half empty’

Here’s my latest Life Lines column:

By all appearances, I am a glass-is-half-empty kind of person. Something as simple as a burned pot of tomato sauce or a broken dish can send me crashing into a woe-is-me state. And yet, I would argue, beneath my pessimistic veneer beats the heart of an eternal optimist. My husband, Dennis, would probably raise an eyebrow over that statement, or just outright laugh, but the older I get, the truer I believe it to be.

I think it has something to do with my desire to shed some of the worldly wants that take up too much of my energy. And I think it has something to do with the realization – finally – that I am truly blessed and that I should appreciate my blessings while I have them. Because I know all too well that in the blink of an eye life can go from near perfect to perfect storm.

It occurred to me recently, as Chiara skipped through the kitchen singing a song about a baby beluga and Olivia practiced Hot Cross Buns on her violin and Noah headed out to a middle school movie night, that life is good, very good. Despite the chaos, despite the almost-daily nagging that must go on just to get the kids to do what they know they are supposed to do, despite the bad economy and general stress, there is not much that could make my life any better than it already is.

As I get older, and, dare I say, wiser, I am starting to notice things I once took for granted. I look around and see a healthy family, and thank God that the worst we have had to deal with so far is the occasional cold or stomach bug. I watch my children surprise me with an unexpected act of kindness toward someone else, and I thank God for the time I’ve had with them and pray that there will be much more. I hear Dennis upstairs getting Chiara ready for bed, reading a book and saying her prayers, and I thank God for a husband who is still my best friend.

I’ve never been one to shy away from telling people my age. The numbers have never meant that much to me. But now, at 47, I am definitely more aware of time and its passing and how quickly the years seem to fly by. I know that what I have today may not be what I have tomorrow – physically, mentally, financially, professionally.

Sometimes when I talk to my grandmother, who is almost 97 and still living on her own, I hear the exhaustion in her voice. Her days stretch on endlessly, as do the nights. Just bending down to tie her shoe is fraught with danger because one little misstep and she could fall. In her I can see at once how powerful and how fragile life is. She is a testament to willpower and determination and strength. But even with all of that, time eventually has its way.

I pray that I get the kind of time and health that my grandmother continues to enjoy, and yet I am very conscious of the fact that I am now the age my mother was when she died. A swing of 50 years.

It would be easy to dwell on the latter possibility, to mark my days with what-ifs and fear, but then I’d be giving up what I have right now for what may never be. “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Mt 6:34)

So it turns out that maybe the glass is half empty, but that’s only because I’ve decided to drink fully from the cup of life.

To read other Life Lines columns, visit my website by clicking HERE.

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