Friday, July 31, 2009

"A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house." Todays Gospel reading is one of my favorites because it smacks my life with "what goes around comes around". When I looked up the definition of prophet I found: "a prophet is a person who has been encountered by the supernatural or the divine, often one who serves as an intermediary with humanity" and when I looked up intermediary, I get something about being a conduit.
Now I get it! All those "things" my parents told me for all those years and I did not honor the teachings - to be expected - but now I realize it connects me, electrically, shockingly, to something that is just greater than myself and the world in which I live. And I, the connection, now, having children of my own, who has no one who accepts anything in this house that I say, have to persist. I have to make the connection for these kids and maybe someday, they too will be shocked - no, no, no - will be the conduit for others. Maybe someday we will all make the big connection, will accept the prophet and will encounter the Divine.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Simple Days




Well the St. Patrick's BBQ was more fun than I remembered. We threw darts, shot pop guns, tried to win a cake at the cake walk, threw the baseball, won prizes and ate BBQ. We even bought more to take home for later. We saw lots of people we knew, made a visit to the beautiful little church and generally just spent time together away from home and work. It was nice to see the kids enjoy a simple day of fun.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Each year that passes makes me appreciate a little more just how blessed I am. I have a wonderful family that loves me unconditionally (believe me, I give them plenty of reasons not to), a kind and supportive husband, great parents who continue to pass on daily lessons of faith and life (whether I'm asking or not) both verbally and by example and a challenging job with fun co-workers and great customers. I know it sounds hokey but I can sound however I want on my birthday. Yes, and today, my family is taking me to the St. Patrick's Irish Picnic in McEwen, TN. One of the priests in the Diocese used to work with us at St. Mary's and has been assigned to St. Patrick's and so we are venturing down Hwy 70 for about an hour and spending the day playing games and eating BBQ and checking out Fr. Michael's new home.
In the past several weeks, as I've pondered my life as I always do close to a birthday, I've noticed my biggest fault in life is that I'm not focused. Not to mention that I have a bad habit of jumping on band wagons but that confession will have to wait for a different time. I've pondered and I've deceided to spend this next year trying to rein in my life and stay focused on one "thing" at a time. And I mean in a spiritual sense. The most difficult part is that I love everything I do. I love spending time with my family and I love working and I love my friends and I love to write and I love to read and to learn and to send those mini biographies of the Saints to Italy and I love to work in the yard and I have to cook and to shop and I have to do the laundry and pick up and I'm all over the place. So today I hand down a little piece of my personal self and admit that for one year I'm going to work on improving my focus on how all these "things" I do can get me closer to Jesus and I'll let you know little by little how it goes. But for today, I'm spending the day with family and friends in McEwen, TN focused just on them (after I work a little on a few more Saint's bios). God please give us good weather.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

As my children head out to the neighborhood to play, I can't help but remember how great it was growing up in this neighborhood. I know God puts us in the places He wants us to be but I also know we have to be open to where He leads. We have been led back to the comfortable place where it all began for me - the lessons, the faith and the friendships. As so it goes...
Early lessons of faith and values taught by my parents were duly noted but dodged. Stored but ignored so to speak. Along with Vatican II, the sixties brought us a new neighborhood which for me meant a whole new world of possibilities. As Latin became English and altar rails were removed to welcome the flock more fully to the table, houses in our neighborhood were being completed and families were moving in weekly. As Pope John XXIII had opened the doors of the Vatican to other religions, I was knocking on doors meeting new families as soon as the moving vans rolled away. In a family of eight, soon to be ten, I took it upon myself to scout out new members of the hood and report back to my tribe. Open wide the doors became my motto also and I felt comfortable anywhere I landed.
The hood was my home. "Hello my name is Julie Dortch and our family lives over on Vaughns Gap and I'd like to welcome you to the neighborhood." That was my line. I learned. I practiced. I delivered. Although I couldn't separate people as religions but as possibilities of friendships or clients or attention, most of the families in our area seemed to be either Catholic or Jewish. From almost anywhere in the hood, we could see the steeple of the new Catholic Church and not too many years after we moved in, the Jewish Community Center was built on the back side of the Church property with a stretch of land and trees in between. A huge swimming pool and tennis courts brought together the Old and New Testament kids without politics. We became a community before "communities" were in and the area was soon referred to as Vatican Valley.

Vatican Valley became my comfortable place where I sought opportunities and learned from mistakes and received faith to carry me through life. This same hood is now a place for my children to live and to learn and to pass on.
We can still hear the church bells and despite the many added electrical wires, we can still see the steeple from our house. We belong to the Jewish Community Center as do many of the families in the hood, Catholic, Jewish or any other religion. We are fortunate to be in this place where all are welcome and some of the old remains with the new.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Enjoy the Moment

Well as usual the summer is flying by! July has completely slipped through my hands and I can see the beginning of the school year on the horizon. Man how I'd rather just have all my kids home together and not scattered all over in four different schools. But that's just not how it is and time does move forward and it reminds me just how important it is to enjoy each and every moment. We stayed in Nashville this summer and went to the pool, bowling, the movies, the zoo and the Opryland Hotel so far. I've tried to take off an extra day and just spend time with the kids. While shopping in Walmart this weekend, I saw a friend who used to work at the bookstore who's in her 70's and I made the usual comment of my life just being "busy". As we parted, she said, "You enjoy that ya hear?" "Yes ma'am I will." As I drove home I realized that she meant what she said. In our hectic lives with our children and our families and our friends and our co-workers, we need to make a conscience choice to "enjoy that, ya hear!" Time passes and children go back to school and people move and we can be left with a bunch of wonderful memories or we can be simply left with the past. As we move forward through July, enjoy time with one another. Listen to your co-worker, they may find another job tomorrow. Spend time with your children, they'll be raising a family of their own soon. Invite your neighbors to cook out, they may be moving. But most of all - Love the one you're with.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Personal Touch

My mom and I drove down to Atlanta, Sunday, to shop at the Merchandise Mart for the bookstore. Each year my youngest brother Pat is there, set up in a temporary exhibit, showing his beautiful furniture. Each year I am amazed at his new designs and at just what he can manage to fit into a small rectangular spot and make look appealing. I watch as everyone who passes has to stop and sit or talk or ask for a brochure. Each one seems to want to know just what he's selling. Do you sell the bedspreads? Do you make the monogramed headboards? Do you upholster? Are the chairs for sale? Can we just buy the fabric? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. He's designed the piece, he's cut the wood, he's upholstered, he's loved it and he's ready to pass it on. Each piece is usually named for a family member with whom it shares some quality. And that is what is handed on. In this small booth in this random aisle in this huge building in Atlanta, Pat passes on his God given talent to create for a total stranger a way to rest their head or their feet or their bodies. It's never just about a piece of furniture, but it's always about helping someone else make their home a little more personal. He shares our family stories so that all who come know that every cut, every tuck, every carriage bolt is personal. It's worth sharing. Learn more at http://www.carriagehousefurniture.com/ .

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friendships

A couple of days ago my high school class of '78 gathered to have dinner and just be together. As always, we had plenty to eat and much to say. We started these "supper clubs" quite some time ago and used to have them more frequently but as with everything, our lives got so busy with our families and our work that before we knew it, another 6 months had gone by and we hadn't managed to work it out. But I have to say, once we are together, it's just like old times. There are those of us who had gone to grade school together and some who had just known each other since high school and a few who ventured on to college together. We share our families and our travels and our work and our food. Each time we get to know something new about somebody and each time we promise to get together a little more frequently. But, who cares how often because the quality way surpasses the quantity. There's just something about gathering together and sharing a meal.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Richness of Time

The other day I was in my office at home and my daughter Julia came in and asked me if I'd like to see where she hid her dollar. I stopped long enough to look up and notice that she was standing near my bookcase. She stuck her hand into the bookcase and pulled out her dollar and I had her freeze until I got my camera, remembering an old great aunt of whom many stories were told of her hiding all her wealth inside books. And the story goes...

Summer jobs for 13 year old girls were scarce in our neighborhood when I was young. The boys grabbed all the lawn jobs early and parents chose the older girls for babysitting. My dad's mention of my great aunt's need for a house cleaner once a week was immediately appealing. Well, it was until my brother Mike heard and started telling me that Aunt Nell was scary. He talked of a house filled with cats and bookcases loaded with books where she hid all her money because she didn't trust the banks. I was petrified and tried to break the deal but my dad would never go back on his word to Aunt Nell. Maybe he too was afraid of her.

Each week that summer my dad dropped me off and my sister or my mom picked me up 4 hours later. Each week Aunt Nell begged me to sit and talk instead of clean and so I tried to squeeze in a little work between our spending time together. She was quite a sight, I must say. Her wiry, burning red hair, her extremely long fingernails and her bulging eyeballs were hard to look at. She smacked her lips together when she spoke like she was trying to hold on to her teeth and every time I'd rise to go do something she'd ask me what I was doing. Trips to the kitchen to put her "Meals on Wheels" lunch together included cleaning and putting away dishes and wiping out the oven and the fridge. When the postman came to the window to deliver her mail and to talk, I escaped to dust the bookshelves and the end tables. Bookcases did line her walls and I couldn't help but wonder if there was truly money stashed in the pages. We spoke many times about books and she'd occasionally have me pull a title and bring it to her. I couldn't believe when I checked out her bedroom and found more bookcases with the "bulkier" titles so to speak. I promised myself I'd never tell everything about my visits with Aunt Nell; not what we talked about and not what I found in those bookcases. But, I did repeat what I learned from her about her Baptist background and Bible stories and her cat Jezebel. The lessons that complimented my visit and my time. That gift of time was all she wanted.

Aunt Nell was a character; a wild, flaming red-headed, untamed, say anything chick. She didn't care what people thought or said about her. The less they knew, the better, except that she hated to be alone. She kept the house and the chores and the gooseneck rocker so people would need to visit and those who did were pleasantly surprised. I even received a book that summer which I still have in tact with all the content. It's a constant reminder of the wealth found in reading and the importance of taking time with one another.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

America

Independence Day brings on board two great Americans, St. John Neumann and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Hard for us to believe today, John Neumann was born in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic and there was such an overabundance of priests, he had to find another country to live in if he wanted to pursue his vocation. Coming to New York to be ordained, establishing parish schools and ultimately becoming Bishop of Philadelphia, his is some story. But, the stories that touched me most were those surrounding his language skills. He took time to learn at least six different languages so that the immigrants could hear Mass and attend Confession in their own languages. Stories of making all feel welcome. In our own country, he literally taught all nations.

Tekakwitha lost her parents and brother to a smallpox epidemic and she was left with partial blindness and a scarred face. She became Catholic when she was 20 after some Jesuit missionaries came to her village. Her aunts and uncle were not happy with her new religion and she eventually had to flee to Canada to escape ridicule. Because she took the Lord's Day seriously, she would not work on that day but would spend time in prayer. Her aunts and uncle would deny her any food on that day since she would not work and her life was even threatened. She spent a lot of time in the woods making crosses from sticks and spending time in prayer. She is actually the patron of the environment and ecology and in these times, she would be a good one to prayer to for our planet. She needs a miracle to be declared a saint and we could use some help to save our lands.

So on this day to celebrate our freedom, we share a saint who welcomed all and a blessed who loved the land and it's environment. God Bless America.

Saints continued

I was thinking on my way to work yesterday about St. Pancras and St. Rosalia from the previous blog and I realized that I never mentioned that what we get passed to us from these saints are such lessons as standing up for our beliefs and sacrificing everything for Jesus. Now we have a difficult time picturing our 14 year olds going before an Emperor and standing up for his beliefs and we hope they never have to but we can picture them in a crowd of older boys being tempted by "a good time" or "money" or "friendship" to do something ridiculous. We can picture our young girls choosing to take time alone to pray for the world or for friends in need or instead of spending time in a "cave" as sacrifice, spending time with the aged or the lonely or someone in the hospital.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Saints for today

I've been writing some new mini biographies for an Italian holy card line. I thought my new list had some truly obscure saints to write about and yet their stories are found everywhere. Many of the stories come with the idea that they are legends passed down and embellished along the way. Hey, I understand that fully because in our family, that's how stories flow. By the time the tenth person hears what has happened, they are truly amazed. Truth is, we entertain as we go and keep life exciting. On to the saints...

The first bio I had to write of whom I knew nothing was St. Pancras. He's young when both parents die and he goes to live in Rome with his uncle. This is during the persecutions of Diocletian and although everything I read says it couldn't possibly match the dates, the stories are all the same. Both he and his uncle convert to Christianity and as Pancras begins to give away all his possessions to those in need, he draws attention to his beliefs. He's brought before the courts and asked to worship false gods, which he refuses. Then, he's offered wealth and power if he'll deny his religion and he refuses. At age 14, he's beheaded. Age 14.

The next obscure saint is St. Rosalia. I'm thinking they'll be nothing on her only to find out that in Palermo, Sicily there is a huge celebration on July 15th around her life in a cave and her saving of the city. Legend tells that she dedicated her life to Jesus by living in a cave. Years after she died, a plague broke out in Palermo and she appeared to a hunter and told him to get her relics and process with them through the streets of the city. He found her body just as she had said and three days after the procession, the plague ended completely. I found many pictures and information about the grotto they've built inside her cave and the huge celebration in July around her life. It tempts me to plan a trip next July just to see the festivities.

As I read the hundreds of stories about these saints' lives, I try to write something that would make us want to learn more. They're all fascinating in their own odd ways. There's always a life event that prompts their choices. Most start life just as we do but, the paths they lead us through in their choosing to follow Christ so intently is truly amazing. Those choices, and many at such a young age, are what sets them apart. Choices that each one of us could probably make most days if we walked with our eyes wide open. Some simple. Some complex. If you want to be truly fascinated by the legends and the lives, read on. I have put these mini bios on my website, http://www.juliecragon.com/ or http://www.stmarysbookstore.com/ or you can find them in most Catholic book or gift shops. I hope they prompt you to want to know more. They are truly amazing.