Monday, April 27, 2009

Miracle Whip

Finding time with God first thing in the morning is a great way to put order to our day. We can offer everything we do to Him and we can listen while our minds are not yet cluttered with the business of our day. In prayer, we enter into a relationship with God. We talk with Him, we share with Him, and we are open to Him. With Him, our path in life makes sense.

When I was young, our family of ten stretched, reused and recycled. Empty Bama jelly jars filled our cabinets as drinking glasses while relish and peanut butter jars were used to hold tadpoles and crawdads and lightning bugs. Only the salad dressing jar seemed never to be empty. Always in the same spot on the door of the refrigerator next to the ketchup and the mustard, it was never considered just another condiment. Sure, it could moisturize a bologna or a Carl Budding meat sandwich but for my mom the other possibilities were endless. Every container of Mrs. Grissom’s chicken salad or pimento cheese was doubled by adding salad dressing. A can of tuna fish or a half dozen hard boiled eggs could feed a family of ten for next to nothing by adding salad dressing. Perhaps that was the “miracle” in the whip.

Like that salad dressing jar, my mother’s “jar” also never seemed to empty. She always had enough to spread around. She had incredible amounts of energy and time. She’d start early in the morning before we were awake with her meditations and morning prayer, and oftentimes, morning mass which would order her day and fill her jar. Her tiny five foot frame was well cared for. She exercised every day either with Jacquelyn Lane on the Television or at the Cosmopolitan Health Spa. She combed her wigs at night and did home perms. She sewed our clothes, made curtains for our rooms and drove us to art lessons and dance lessons and practices. She was a woman who moved with the times and as she moved she made those around her feel special. She could make her love stretch to each child and my dad and have time for neighbors and self. With prayer, she could double or triple what she had to serve for the day. I’m sure there were times when she reached for that jar and it was empty, but like the salad dressing, for us kids and others around her, she seemed to always be right there on the inside of the door.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Storms of Life

It seems we all have to face some kind of storm in our lives and we are all asked to have faith and courage and to trust in the Lord especially during those most difficult times. This life is just not perfect; however, in the Gospel of Matthew we read that no matter how rocky our lives may seem, God will not abandon us. As life hurts, He heals. As rough times occur, He calms. And even though we know His saving power and we’re sure we’ve seen everything, He still leaves us amazed.

Growing up in a family of ten and being one of the youngest of eight children, I enjoyed the luxury of many previously used items. Not just clothes from my two older sisters, but toys, baseball gloves, school books, bicycles, teachers, and eventually, cars. People, scripts, examples and lessons so carefully placed in my life and all for one reason. All with the common goal of getting me to Heaven.

I specifically waited for everyone to tire of what we just referred to as the “showboat”. It was a large plastic ship with slots in the sides and several scenes that slid into those slots with stand-up cardboard figures and scripts. However, by the time the ship sailed my way, almost all of the figures were missing. I slipped the scenes down the slots and tried to make up my owns plays with the few figures that would still stand but it just wasn’t the same.

Through life, we look for our showboat. That one large piece that makes all the little pieces make sense. That person, place, or thing that saves us from the turbulence and renews our faith. In our youth, we may see that piece as a friend or a sister or even a toy boat but as adults, we find that one large piece to be God. Yes, it’s true that the other “things” can temporarily keep us afloat but only God can actually save us.

May God calm the storms in our lives so that we might not just keep our heads above water, but that we might sail. In these uncertain times, we turn to Him. Only He can truly save us. Pass it on.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Patience

Patience is a virtue that is easier to discuss than to obtain. We learn phrases early in life such as “good things come to those who wait” and “so and so has the patience of Job”. Life offers so many opportunities. How do we choose what is important and what is worth the wait? We are called to discern the truth. We are called to wait. We are called to have patience.
My mom has never been known as a patient person but she knows how to prioritize. My mother is an artist, a painter. While she was busy raising us eight children, she found ways to express her art but was forced to put her own dreams on the back burner. She never extinguished her dream but she lowered the flame. She painted dressers and walls. She sewed clothes and helped us with projects. She even gave me my first oil painting lesson upon my request and at the realization that I just did not have the eye. Her canvas may have sat on the easel, blank, for years but her pallet was always at the ready. She never let go of her dream and today, after raising her family and building a bookstore business, she paints almost every day of the year. God’s creation is her model and on her canvas His masterpiece is caught in a moment. She has waited patiently. She has ordered her life and her dreams are a reality.
She just participated in two art exhibits in New York and now has an exhibit in a gallery in Miami. The painting above is from a trip we took together to Medjugorje.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Roller Skates

I often wonder if I take for granted many of the words I have heard all my life. Countless times I have been told that Jesus is the key to our life. The One Way. He can lead us through the adjustments we need, not to just fit in to this life, but to live fully and deeply in His love. And yet, daily I search for answers. Daily my interest is peaked by false promises. Daily I seek opposite paths. Seems to me that I can follow Jesus and His teachings and be right there with Him in the end.
When I was young, we owned metal roller skates which came with their own key to adjust the length and width to properly fit our feet. We threaded string through the hole in the keys, tied a knot and hung the keys safely around our necks. From the previous experiences of our siblings, we knew that without that key to make the proper adjustments, our skates would be either used painfully or not at all. Invariably, we all lost our keys and borrowed from kids in the hood until those too where finally lost. I crammed bigger high top shoes between the end of the metals bars and then put my feet into the shoes. Too big or too small, I forced my feet into many uncomfortable situations for the pure joy of skating. Holding on to that key would have made life easier in my world of skating.
In much the same way, Christ is the key to our journey. With Him, all the parts of this life just seem to fit. May we all hold on to that key.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Story and Meaning

Working with my mom in her Catholic bookstore business for almost 28 years has taught me so much about our Faith and traditions. Day in and day out I realize that just within the Catholic Faith alone there is so much more. So much more to learn about the History of the Church and the rituals and the Saints and Vatican II and the Pope and types of prayer and spirituality. We are a Faith rich in symbols and story and meaning. There are so many people who have their stories and so many books that can enrich and draw us into a deeper relationship with God and thus a deeper and more meaningful relationship with others.
This Lent and Easter Season is the first time my mother has actually stayed in Florida with my father long enough to cause me to have to change her beautiful displays to follow the season. She has taught us all that displays should fulfill 3 criteria. First, they should be laid out in odd numbers. Second, they should be big. And third, they should tell a story. As a friend of mine once said when she helped on the displays while Jean was out, "the only story these displays tell is the one of how badly she's missed." But, I have to say that one more time she has handed down, not the talent unfortunately, but lessons of the story and meaning behind all her colors and flowers and merchandising. The Dogwood to remind us of the Crucifixion with the legend that since it may have been used for the cross, Christ promised it would never grow large enough for such again, with its blossoms in the shape of a cross and the four ends marked in brown to signify blood stains and the center resembling a crown of thorns. Purple material representing the royalty of Christ as King. The red for Passion Sunday and the white for Easter, the sign of purity, as well as the trumpet looking Lilies, the sign of innocence and hope and life. I had to pay attention to which books had the appropriate Scripture and meaning, something my mother has always done as second nature because she has lived her life as it pertains to the life of the Church, to a life with Jesus Christ.
May this Spring season, this time of Resurrection and new life, bring us all closer to living our lives as they pertain to Jesus Christ Our Hope. There is so much more.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Left Behind

Faith in Jesus Christ is an incredible gift. A gift meant to be shared. A gift meant to be used and passed on and practiced. To truly love one another, to pass on God’s love to one another, is not just to profess but to practice.

My father set his goal early in married life to have twelve children with his high school sweetheart and a Cadillac big enough to fit them all. His goals would have been a reality in the children department plus one if all of their children had lived. Frank Gerard was just a year younger than me but I know he was only home for a couple of days before he died because of complications from a hole in his heart. What my parents must have gone through with each child they sent back, I could never imagine. But, they never missed a beat with us kids handling tragedies and sadness with strength and faith. Now the Cadillac part would have been a more difficult fulfillment because the car department was never my father’s strong suit. As children began to drive, his buddy A.J. would call him with some deal on his lot, some handed down beauty he referred to as GAUgeous, that would eventually end up in our driveway. Regardless of how we had to get “the deal” started, it always miraculously got us where we had to be with minutes to spare. With a large number of kids comes not just car and other material challenges but also the challenge of passing on the faith and the basic responsibility of passing on the tools to get us all to Heaven. The basics so no one’s left behind. Often we would hear at restaurants and the beach and the grocery store, “Lady, do you ever leave someone behind somewhere?” “Have you ever forgotten one of your kids?” “Do you have to count heads when you get in the car?” We all just laugh because we’ve heard it all before and we like to entertain the masses.

During Easter, Kuhns Variety Store entertained all of the children in the area with their selection of live pastel baby chicks for sale. I coveted those chicks. Each year I begged and each year I was given the “destined to die due to coloring” speech. However, this particular year, our backyard neighbors received three chicks for Easter and I spent hours visiting and playing with the tiny gifts I thought should be mine.
Three weeks after Easter and after the deaths of two of the chicks, mom had signed us up for arts and crafts at the Metro Parks and Recreation Center; a means of passing on her love for art. I happened to be at the neighbors when the station wagon was scheduled to leave and did in fact pull from the driveway. My mom noticed my absence when she arrived at the park and called to ask our neighbors if I could stay there until they were finished with class an hour later. By the time the wheels rolled back in the drive, I was steaming that I had been left behind. Mrs. Robinson called into the back yard that my family had come back. I could see that and I called right back to her that I hoped her damned ol’ chicken died. Needless to say, using profanity did not go over well with my parents. I got a good “talking to” and a long period of time alone to “think about it”.

Jesus left us with simple rules that my parents, mostly by example, tried their best to pass on to each of us. Rules to live by in the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes and the Works of Mercy and the other many lessons and parables given to us in the Gospels. Life seems so well laid out by His rules. We can love one another; really simply love one another and all will be well. Or, we can ignore His teachings and His great love for us and all our parents have tried daily to pass on. Big enough Cadillac or not, we still have to actually get in or we will be “left behind”.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Visits

Around 5 am each morning I sit in my office and spend time reading and writing before anyone in the house wakes. To add to my daily routine, my godchild gave me a daily flip calendar of The Purpose Driven Life. It has actually made me think more about my personal relationship with Jesus. Warren speaks about our friendship.

Friends spend time with one another. God wants us to spend time with Him. That’s what God asks us to do every day. He wants us to take time out of our busy lives and come to Him especially if we are in need but also in our times of happiness. We are more apt to go to Him when we are at our weakest but we need to remember that, as a Father, He would love for us to make a formal visit and just tell him that we love Him.

When we were young, beyond our control and yet always welcome, neighbors stopped in our house and sat for a visit almost daily. We visited my grandparents every Sunday. I made visits to my sister in college on weekends. Taking time out of our busy lives to sit and visit was and is important. Every time my mom got the chance she took us by the Chapel for a visit. I say the Chapel but I mean any Chapel in any city, anywhere. When I was older she explained that she would make some excuse to stop and then sit quietly and silently present and dedicate each one of us to the Lord. She knew that we understood the importance of visiting old people and friends and siblings but she wanted us to know that taking time with God one on one was essential. That with God on our sides, each of us would be okay in the world. Not only protected but led and fed.
In the past several weeks, thinking about my personal relationship with Jesus, I've made a couple of trips to the Chapel and prayed the Stations, in particular, a little meditation called Mary's Way of the Cross by Pfeifer. A tremendous little booklet sharing Mary's walk to Calvary. This little visit gave me this message from His Mother at the sixth station where Veronica wipes Jesus' face: "Mother, give me courage, too, to help with the means at my disposal - be they ever so trivial in the eyes of others. Greatness shows itself in little things. Small services can be a sign of genuine love. A kind word, a friendly look, a gesture - these little things that can transform hearts, heal rifts, fight depression, change selfishness into a love that recognizes the need of the neighbor. How I long to be like Veronica and have His face etched in my memory forever!" Led and fed.

As usual, the example and the importance of taking time with Jesus handed down to me by my parents made my day. Oh, if I'd just put into action all they passed on through the years!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hand Me Downs

I’d never had to search for my faith. Faith was always smack in front of me leading my way. I’d run from faith, dodged faith, avoided faith. I’d been annoyed by faith, and oftentimes, questioned faith. Truth was, I’d always gone by the motto that ignorance was bliss. If I didn’t accept this faith that my parents so believed in, I wouldn’t have to suffer, I wouldn’t have to spend time with God, and I wouldn’t have to be good. I could go through life and not care about the outside world. But, for some reason, God would follow me around like a Shepherd keeping me close and constantly luring me back. So close, that faith would eventually hook me and make me accept all the goodness God had to give if only I would follow Him, visit Him, listen to Him, ask Him. I tried so hard all my life not to be like my parents and yet the examples they set were planted so deeply, there was no uprooting them, no avoiding them. All they wanted to do was to share with us the way, the One way. I took every by-pass, every back road, every opposite path. The road I’m traveling still seems long but a little less rocky with the faith my parents have handed down. A strong Catholic faith etched in tradition, rooted in the call to be disciples. They prayed. They cast their nets. They blessed and broke and shared and in return they always had enough not just for us but for all who came to the table. They have clung to Christ through the many joys and sorrows of this life and have taught me a faith that knows there is so much more in store for those who truly love Him.

Today is about passing on Faith; about seeing Christ in the ordinary; about unconditional love and total awareness of the presence of God. I believe my parents have been given these spiritual and worldly gifts because Jesus knew that they would give them away to those in need. We are Christ’s instruments in this world. May we all accept the challenge of passing on the Kingdom.