Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.


How to parent your teen — the manual that made it in the trash

My son turns 13 years-old on Black Friday. Could there be a more ominous sign than that? While hoards of shoppers are waking up at 3 a.m. to suffer through lines and duke it out for deals, my sweet baby, ever so dear, will be entering the darkness that often accompanies the teenage years.

As if he is already rehearsing for the big day of black, my house has recently been filled with a cacophony of slamming doors, woeful sighs and whispers under the breath that I am pretty sure do not include any sweet nothings. It sounds like a coarse symphony that does nothing to evoke my sympathies.

I called a friend a few weeks ago and in a prayerful plea, asked in the name of all that is holy, all that is sane, and all that is merciful, to lend me every parenting book she owns.

She brought me five.

The small stack of books sat in my office and my younger son asked me why I had so many teenager books. Before I could even formulate a response, he answered his own question — obviously remembering his brother’s upcoming birthday.   “Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long seven years…,” he said prophetically.

Seven years? Why do the terrible twos get all the notoriety? That’s one measly year and they are still small enough to be restrained.

As I read, I began strategizing, thinking of systems to implement and solutions to employ. I realized that, if necessary, doors could be unhinged. He would inevitably realize that not loading the dishwasher would be to his disadvantage.   And, I felt hopeful that discussions could be facilitated without anyone actually dying.

Ah, I was going to be the most brilliant teenage mother ever.

I started writing a sort of manifesto for the teen years. I clicked away at the computer thinking to myself that I was doing the holy work of writing the instruction manual for parenting that I always wished I had.

Although my business interests have never evolved passed retail and at that, only on the paying side of the cash register, I had ultimately written my first business plan.

It read like a contract, with caveats and consequences included for clarity. It featured equations for various if/then scenarios and it clearly proved that my naiveté is boundless.

I actually believed that what I had written would be embraced – that is until I proudly emailed a trusted friend with the teen manual, which I intended to present to my son. She is tactful to a fault, so when she suggested that my glorious parenting plan would evoke a middle finger response I was stunned.


I reread my work. It was so beautiful. It had italics and bullet points and fancy words like parameters, privileges, outlined and occasionally.

I guess I could see where it was kind of bossy pants-ish, but it did include a smiley emoticon and an I love you.

I signed it not with the slang, Yo mama, but with the sincere, sweet, your mama that was so obviously me.

Later that night, with my two-page, single-spaced manifesto by my side I sat down and spoke with my son. Maybe it was because I was lulled by the soothing sound of the dishwasher that my tween ran without my mention, but I was uncannily calm. We talked about grades, basketball and ways he could earn extra money.

We didn’t hold hands, or hug or do anything that would invoke Norman Rockwell to paint us, but we talked. I didn’t boss or dictate either, yet I didn’t digress from making my expectations clear.

When we finished talking, he kissed me goodnight and there I sat – the manifesto, a mostly-read parenting book and myself.

I thought about ripping up my beautiful plan I had written about how the teen years would unfold in our home, but I didn’t have the energy to be so dramatic.   I simply folded it into a little square to put in the trash.

I guess what I realized is that maybe the reason children don’t come with instructions is because parenting isn’t meant to be precise. It might be insightful to read some books, or even to write your own plan about how you intend to parent, but often intentions and plans don’t really have much to do with raising children.

Like the rest of us, children are unique and, like it or not, have plans of their own. They will make their own path in the world and it’s our job to guide them as they do. It is a delicate balance between letting go and holding on. Sometimes it’s letting pieces fall where they may, and sometimes it means picking up the pieces and starting over again.

Maybe parenthood could best be described as prayer – a combination of something we hope for, ask of, praise, repent, and offer thanks. It is an active petition that is said every time we discipline, praise, share affection, or just sit and talk. The prayer does not end, like love, it endures time, tantrums and even teenagers. It is an offering of the best of ourselves so that someone we love can become the best of their selves. It is sacrifice, surrender, forgiveness, and humility.PatanganFamily2014_107

Parenting may be described as more gut-wrenching than glorious, but it is no doubt the most Holy work we can do.

While my son may turn 13 on a day dubbed Black Friday, it’s no coincidence this falls the day after Thanksgiving. After all, he has been a blessing everyday of his life. He is a prayer and a gift.

Of course, I know the years ahead won’t be easy, but I can’t help but feel excited about all that awaits.  The spectrum of joy, discovery and promise that lies ahead is sure to be anything but black.












Don’t Stop Believin’ — the Magic of Christmas

We all know Christmas is about an innocent baby born in a manger. But for me, what embodies the spirit of the season this year has to do with a 49-year-old man who will be getting out of prison this week.

I know that doesn’t make you all warm and fuzzy the way your footed pajamas and hot cocoa by the fire does.

I get that.

The birth of our Savior is the greatest story ever told, not to mention it has baby lambs in it too.  There’s no way I can compete with that.

Certainly, the man in prison is no Christ-child.

He is an addict.

He is an ordinary Joe.  Well, kind of anyway.

What I mean by ordinary is he made a mistake, and how much more ordinary can you get than making mistakes – it seems to be at the essence of our humanity.

I guess what is unique about his mistake, unlike so many of mine, is it landed him in prison.

Thirteen years ago Joe was arrested for buying cocaine for personal use, and was charged and sentenced as a trafficker.  His punishment was 20 years with no chance of parole.

Kind of harsh.

The world is full of addicts though. It seems everyone’s addicted to something — drugs, fame, possessions, power and oh, how I could go on.  So, Joe is kind of ordinary that way.

Joe is one of six boys whose family grew up next door to a dear friend of mine.  Their moms were best friends for 40 years.  Even the way my friend described her childhood, that Joe was so much a part of, was kind of ordinary.  They carpooled together, teased each other, and played with all the other kids until way past dark.

When he was arrested and given such a severe sentence, my friend said all she heard everyone say was “what a shame.” Two years later, when talking about their beloved friend Joe, old friends would still say “what a shame.” Six years later… “what a shame.”

I guess she got tired of the hopeless sentiment and decided to do something about it.

Joe had already made appeals all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.  Each one was denied.  The only hope he had was clemency from the Governor to commute the duration of the sentence, which was basically the equivalent of a snowball’s chance in hell.

My friend and his brothers took that chance.

So I guess that’s when the ordinary became extraordinary.

She had worked tirelessly on trying to get him out of prison since 2006.

When I say tirelessly, I assure you she was tired.

She has three kids and didn’t have time to dedicate driving six hours round trip in a day to meet with clemency aides.  But she did.

Several times.

Perhaps as remarkable, she had another friend who had no ties to this family working just as diligently on the case.

As the years passed I saw how much time, effort and prayer, that she and the others involved put into the effort to get Joe out of prison.

Finally after six years, Joe was granted a clemency hearing.  Sadly, Joe’s mom passed away less than a month before it would be held.  After learning of her death from a prison guard, Joe was not allowed to attend her funeral.

The tragedies of it all, hardly made me think of the word believe.

Yet when his hearing was finally held, I was visiting New York City where over the Macy’s on 34th Street was a huge sign in brilliant white lights that said just that word.



Earlier that morning, I was rushing to get dressed.  We were going to meet another couple that traveled with us for breakfast, and then a day of…well, everything.  We were in New York City, after all.

At 7:39 a.m.  I received a text from my friend back in Florida with the novena prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe.   I was just one of the many prayer warriors she had commissioned to pray on behalf of Joe.  His clemency hearing happened to be on the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe, and it was the last day of our novena.

I told my husband that I wanted to go by St. Patrick’s Cathedral and light a candle for Joe, his family, my friend, and all of the other people who worked so hard to get to this point and yes, for his mama too.


While I was putting on my umpteenth layer of clothing for the clearly we-are-not-in-Florida-anymore cold, my husband pulls out his Ipad.

The clemency hearing was going to be broadcast on one of those boring government channels that no one watches, and my husband (who is clearly not boring) knew where to find it!

Suddenly, I was nervous.

The night before I left for New York, I saw my friend and she was anxious about the upcoming hearing.  I told her she had to have faith – she had to believe. I told her that this was about so many more people than Joe.  God had a plan for each person that had been affected.  However it ended up would be just another part of His plan.

We all talk about letting go and trusting God, but it’s scary as hell when you have to do it.  She had done her diligence.  I had no doubts about that.  Truly, it was time to let it go.

Still, I was scared for her.  I knew the chances were slim.  This Governor had never commuted a sentence before.

As the clemency hearing played out in real time, I intermittently watched and walked away. I was anxious.  I couldn’t imagine the pressure they were all feeling.  For the first time ever, I thought how hope is a terrible thing.

I didn’t want to believe.  Believing was causing me to pace and cry and fix my eye make up all over again.  Believing caused a pit in my stomach that wouldn’t have been there if I could just walk away.

I listened to Joe’s good friend tell the Clemency Board and the Governor about how he visited him in prison and brought his children along on many of those visits.  He spoke of the time his daughter was asked to choose the catholic she admired most and she chose Joe – the prisoner.

Apparently she saw Joe embody Christ, not a cocaine addict.

One of Joe’s brothers spoke of how his parents never regretted the time they spent visiting him in prison, sometimes driving as long as 10 hours to see him.  He also read a letter from Joe accepting responsibility for his crime and its consequences.  He asked for mercy.

Mercy.  That is the word Joe used, if you can believe.

My eyes pooled again when my friend’s 80-year-old mother spoke, after her 8-hour commute to the Florida Capital, about the little boy of her best friend.  I couldn’t think of a more beautiful way to honor the legacy of their friendship than speaking with a mother’s love on behalf of the friend she had just buried.

She said Joe was a good man who gave in to the temptation of drugs.  She testified that indeed he has a good network of friends and family who will support his transition out of prison, but that his mother has an even greater network of friends both on earth and in heaven that would make sure he stays on the right path.

I didn’t think there was much that the Governor could say about that.

The last speaker on Joe’s behalf was the woman who became familiar with the case through my friend.  I am just going to quote her because there is no way I could say it better.

“As I understand it, clemency is mercy or favor or grace, and a relief from a just penalty.  I am reminded of that definition during Advent as we approach the commemoration of the birth of Christ.”


So, I thought some about the birth of the baby in the manger and all the years and generations of believers who have come and gone since then; all those who brought petitions, pleas and pardon before Him since that momentous night in the stable – THIS was just one more in a flurry of billions which He has heard.

But He heard.

The Governor did what he had never done before.  He granted clemency to this man who made a bad a choice, and paid the price for 13 years for that choice. This man, who had lost so much more than his freedom behind bars, will be set free

Joe will be given a second chance – just in time for Christmas.


After turning off the live broadcast, we went to a crowded bagel joint for breakfast and I kept crying tears of joy, gratitude and humility from the goodness of it all.  And, the beautiful thing about crying in New York, is no one tries to hug you or ask if you are okay.  They just leave you alone to cry salty tears over your toasted bagel with salmon spread.

This just made me love New York all the more.

I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and like an eager child, I lit a candle at the first altar I could, just besotted with gratitude.  Afterward, I visited the many altars at the beautiful cathedral including the one to our Lady of Guadalupe which was covered in flowers and surrounded by people who had come to honor her feast day.


It was a beautiful sight and how grateful I was to have prayed for her intercession on behalf of this man.  The power of prayer is as strong as ever, reminding me that even though I may just be a speck on this universe, I am a speck who God thinks is quite special.

That night I had yet another religious experience – rock and roll.

No, not the Elvis kind –the eighties kind.  You know Guns N’ Roses, Whitesnake and  Quiet Riot.

We went to see Rock of Ages, the musical where they glorify 80s rock music.

It was almost impossible for me to sit in my seat as the talented cast belted out songs from the decade of my youth.  It was both hilarious and irreverent.  I enjoyed every single minute of it.


The final song of the production embodied not only the spirit of Christmas, but that of faith.

It was the song by Journey – Don’t stop believin’.

As it filled the theater, with its pleas to hold on to that feeling, I was on my feet and celebrating that feeling of faith that had been renewed in me.

It’s easy to stop believing.

One day you realize there is no Santa Claus.  There are no talking snowmen or elves or reindeer.

That magic is gone, and we think that it is okay because it’s childish and silly and there is no room for that in our grown up, real world lives.

But it’s in our adult lives that faith is paramount.

We have to keep believing even when the odds are against us.  We have to stay soft and open to the gifts that await.  Gifts that have nothing to do with Macy’s, despite the brilliant sign it boasts this time of year.

This Christmas, for the first in such long time, I can say that I believe.

While I have never lost faith in that baby boy born in a manger with the sweet lambs nearby, I did somehow lose the magic of this time of year which has nothing to do with lists and everything to do with faith in the people in my life.

The people who stand by you at your darkest hour, who petition for you, who forgive you, who believe you are worth a second try, who get what it’s like to emulate the life of Christ no matter the time of year, those are the people who make the season magic, merry and bright.

So if you have not found that magic yet, don’t stop believing.  I promise it’s out there.

And if you are fortunate to already believe, find a way, no matter what life throws at you, to hold on to that feeling.

Each of you who have taken the time to read, comment and share have added to the magic of my year. May your faith in God, goodness and mankind spread with each kindness you share, so that others may believe.  Merry Christmas to you!


Show some heart for Blaine

I got an email from an old friend last week.  Now that I am 40, I have a lot of old friends.  I don’t mean that in the aged sense, but more that I have known this girl for a long time — since I was 11-years-old in fact.   We were best friends and signed all of our novel-length notes– BFF. We even shared one of those jagged half-heart necklaces where one bestie’s end was engraved with Be Fri and the other bestie’s with the letters st ends.  In retrospect I am not sure why anyone would want a necklace that says st ends.  Yet at the time I thought my st ends half-heart necklace was beyond cool.

If you recall, 11 can be kind of tough.  There is some funky stuff going on with your body, you’re a tad emotional and you vacillate between knowing exactly who you are and not having a clue.  (It actually reminds me a lot of 40, now that I think about it.)

I know the necklace was a bit “You complete me” a la Tom Cruise to Renee Zelleweger in the movie Jerry Maguire.   But, it also meant I was part of something bigger than myself, and who doesn’t want that?

Anyway, the point is my childhood BFF sent an email wanting a bible verse…from me.

Never did I think I would be the girl to dole out bible verses.  However, start a blog about works of mercy and somehow people know you as a God girl!

Really, I was so glad she did contact me because I learned of an incredible work of mercy that she is involved in.  I love it for at least 500 different reasons, but it might seem tedious if I tell you them all.

She needed a bible verse that pertained to hope or healing for an 11-year-old girl.  It was for her friend’s daughter, Blaine, who had just been diagnosed with leukemia — for the second time.  She was four years old when she was first diagnosed.  It had been in remission for seven years, and unfortunately is back.

My friend's daughter and Blaine (right) in 2010

My friend’s daughter and Blaine (right) in 2010

My boys are 11 and 8-years-old and I still carry children’s Benadryl and Tylenol in my purse just in case they sneeze or get an ache.  So of course, when I read leukemia, my stomach felt like it was in the middle of a crunch, even though I wasn’t doing situps.

My heart hurt for her mama.  I can’t imagine going through a real illness like that with my children one time, let alone two. Yet somehow, even though I’ve never met her, I believe she will find the strength to get through it a second time because love, especially love for our children, somehow gives the smallest of us herculean strength.

My friend needed a bible verse because she was going to be part of a prayer book that listed, for every hour of the day, a scripture chosen by participants.

Truthfully, I don’t know the Bible as well as I should.  Still, there is one verse that I know by heart and think it is perfect for any age.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future,” Jeremiah 29:11

So I sent her that verse along with a few others that I found that I thought were appropriate.  I also asked her to tell me more about this book they were making.

It is called a Ring of Encouragement.  In it will be pictures of friends who are praying for Blaine, next to the bible verse they chose.  She can flip through it and see the faces and verses of love that have been chosen for her throughout the day.

That really seems like the best kind of medicine.

It made me smile to think of that young girl looking at the pictures of people in different parts of the country, who love her, are praying for her, and believe that she has a hope and a future.

I believe that.  And I want her to know.  I don’t think it matters that she doesn’t know me, that I am just some 40-year-old “God” girl who came to know her brave fight from someone I first met at the same age she is now.    I think maybe it matters more that she doesn’t.  That someone out there who she’s never met is praying for her.

But how cool would it be if we all did this?!  If we all offered a prayer for Blaine?

Please join me by sharing  a bible verse, inspiring quote or encouraging message so she knows we are all praying for her healing.

Just leave it in the comment section, and I will make sure she sees them.

Here’s a chance for us to be part of something bigger than ourselves; to take the best pieces of all of us and send a healing message to Blaine that she can carry in her heart.  No necklace needed.


Hail Mary, full of grace

Can you imagine an ambulance picking up your spouse to take him to the hospital, him joking with the paramedics one second and eyes rolling back the next?  Your pulse is racing; his stops.  The paddles shock life back into his body. You wonder who’s going to shock it back into you, now that your own heart has stopped.

It’s an unsettling scenario.   It has also been my mom’s life for almost the last four years since her husband was diagnosed with cancer in his head and neck.  Not that situation every time; in fact that was the first time they have had to use the paddles on him.  It’s just that was the most recent ordeal.

Since the diagnosis, there have been: surgeries, chemo, radiation, Staph infections, pneumonias, MRSA, ambulance rides, ER visits, hospital stays, falls, walkers, wheel chairs, specialists, internists, hospitalists, neurologists, cardiologists, speech therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, feeding tubes, catheters, pharmacists, drugs, side-effects, nurses, home health aides, sleepless nights, isolation, weakness, numbness, visiting priests, last rites and tears.

At the center of it all, is my mom, his sole caregiver.  Read the last paragraph again – none of it happens without her involvement.

Instead of being at a loss for words to describe what her life has been like, I feel flooded with them—to the point that trying to convey the mass and entirety of their meaning dilutes them altogether.

My mom married Bob the year I was pregnant with my first son, 12 years ago.  I was 29 years old and I wasn’t interested in having a step-dad.  That sounds so bitter, but I mean none.  It was just too weird at my age to think of having another parent.

So while I didn’t think of him that way at first, I certainly considered him a blessing.  He was fun and funny; good-natured and good-hearted.   He treated my mother with respect, devotion and love.  He was there when I gave birth, when my dog died, and when my kids were sick. He took me to look at houses when I wanted to move, tile when I wanted to renovate and furniture when I wanted to decorate.  He and my mom would let me tag along with them to estate sales and lunches out when my kids were small and I was lonely.

After he found out I wanted to be a writer, I received a package in the mail with some videos of writing courses.  The note said “Your stimulus package is here.  Hopefully, it will enable you to unleash those fine literary talents you have kept in abeyance.”  I know because I still have the note. I carefully cut the encouraging words from the package slip and hung them on my bulletin board where I kept his kindness before it could drift from the warm memory of my heart.

He signed it “Daddy Bob.”  That’s what I ended up calling him, thanks to my son who couldn’t say Granddaddy Bob.  He started calling him Daddy Bob; and the rest of my family followed suit.   Somehow he evolved to be my Daddy Bob whether I intended him to or not.

His illness has been hard on me too and again I feel flooded with words.  Yet, if I were forced to speak, I am afraid nothing would come out.

I have tried to care for him mostly by caring for my mom.  I have cooked for her, cleaned, picked up prescriptions, groceries, taken care of pets, sat with her in the ER, the hospital and at doctor’s appointments.  I have fielded middle of the night phone calls, and valiantly tried to help lift him when he needed help up the steps or off the floor after falling.  But whatever I have done to help, pales in comparison to what my mom has done.  As much as I have tried to be there for her, she is very much alone in her plight.  Knowing that just makes me sadder.

When I think of dying, I don’t think of it in terms of years, but that’s what it has been – years of slow decay.  It seems like he has been through everything – everything but death.  I have wondered why God has kept him alive when his quality of life is so bad.  I have wondered if caring for him will kill my mom.  I have wondered if my boys remember how good he was to them before he got sick.  I have wondered just about everything it seems.

But after years of going through it all, it somehow seems more distant than familiar.  He stays in his bedroom and for the most part doesn’t want visitors.  At first this hurt my feelings, but then it became kind of a relief.  It was so much easier to serve on the other side of the door.

So that’s where I have been mostly, until today when I visited him in the hospital.   He is so physically different, worn and almost wasted.  I have to catch my breath.  It’s awkward seeing him so weak.  It’s like trying to ignore the very strong elephant in the room.  I just want things to be easy and light, the way they used to be.

But easy and light is over for Daddy Bob.

He started crying when he saw me.  He thanked me for coming and said he was happy to see me.  He got so excited when I talked to him about the boys.  I tried to stay composed.  I have been here too many times.  Too many goodbyes have been said.  I look away and think momentarily about how people talk about telling loved ones what they mean to them while they still have the chance.  I have done it before.  I can’t do it today.

Before I leave I kiss him goodbye and tell him I love him.  On the way home, the tears spill.

I go to a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Fatima in my dining room.  It is known as the traveling statue of our Lady.  Pope John Paul II wanted a statue of Our Lady of Fatima to be in every parish because of his devotion to Mary and the rosary.   The statue travels from home to home so that families can gather and pray the rosary.  It happened to be my week to have the statue.002

Standing in front of her, I think about Daddy Bob, my mom and our call to comfort the sick.   I think of the example my mother has set with her devotion and selflessness over the past few years.  I think of Mary’s own suffering watching her son die on the cross.  She never walked away, as hard as it must been for her to watch the torment of her child.  She stayed.

Love compels you to serve and comfort, even when it means your own discomfort.  It gives you the strength to step up, to keep going, to endure for however long is necessary.  That’s what Mary did for Jesus and what my mom does for her husband.

In honor of them both, I take the rosary from our Blessed Mother’s hands into my own and begin to pray for Daddy’s Bob’s comfort — “now until the hour of his death.”


After several days in the hospital, Daddy Bob is back at home again being lovingly cared for by my mother.  On Saturday, I brought him the traveling Madonna thinking it would comfort him.  He was so happy to have the statue.  He kept asking me how long she would be able to stay. Unfortunately, I was supposed to get her to the next person the following day.    

I decided to ask that person if they would be willing to sacrifice one of their days, so that Daddy Bob could enjoy a longer visit with the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.  I would like to acknowledge the generosity and kindness of Maggie Stormant, who insisted that Daddy Bob take the statue for her entire week.  It is these simple gestures and thoughtful sacrifices that we can do for one another that sometimes bring the biggest comforts. Without hesitation and without having ever met him or my mother, she sacrificed her week.  Thank you, Maggie.

I also want to thank my mom, for courageously allowing me to share such an intimate part of her life and for setting such a remarkable example of what it means to comfort the sick.  Most of all, she has shown me that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7

Love never fails.



Well, Maytember is almost over.  That’s what some of the other moms at my children’s school are calling it.  I like it in a Bennifer/Brangelina kind of way – of course, without the drama of a breakup or affair splashed across the cover of People magazine.

But, May has become as busy as December just without all the Ho, Ho, Ho’s.  There’s Mother’s Day, First Holy Communion, Confirmations, Graduations, Appreciations and parties for all of it.

As I write this, my children’s last day of school is tomorrow.  One more party to go and then summer can sprawl out like an oversized beach towel on the sand.   My kids have already lugged home their worn out markers, folders and notebooks that, months ago, pristinely held all the promise of a new school year.  Gosh, is there anything more exciting than new school supplies?! Well no matter, now they are looking as worn as the rest of us trying to survive the most ceremonial month of the year.

It is nice to celebrate the last day of school though.  It has certainly been a long time since I was a student, but I remember how special those days were — filled with giddy laughter, enthusiastic yearbook signings, and warm goodbyes.

Last days are significant because they embody the school year in its entirety.   Through prayer, I had a rare glimpse of what this encompassed.

No, the Lord didn’t give me visions of kids in their blue plaid uniforms and backpacks loaded with the weight of the world.  Instead, for a Spiritual Work of Mercy, I began attending a new prayer group at my children’s school.

The premise behind it was to pray for all of the school’s children, prekindergarten through eighth grade – by name.  The whole school, teachers included – BY NAME.  Admittedly this sounded tedious to me.  After all that’s a lot of kids.

The group met at 8 am, Wednesday mornings with the thought that it would be easy to meet right after morning drop off.  But that didn’t sound easy to me.  I don’t do drop off – my husband does.  I make the lunches, remind the boys to wipe the table clean, feed the dog and to not touch each other. I find missing keys, shoes, and clean uniforms.  I tame bed head with a special elixir of water and gel.  I tell them to put their clothes in the hamper and brush their teeth.  Then, I stand at the door, with the dog and cat (because for some reason they are always there) and I say, “Bye, I love you, have a good day.”

Anyway, that’s what happens here on school mornings. When they leave, I eat oatmeal, drink coffee and go about my business.  I am a routine girl, and that’s my routine. As such, the thought of setting the alarm clock early to pray over a litany of names seemed like a real snooze.

But there’s this whole Works of Mercy thing I committed to, so I thought I would give it a try.  I don’t want to ruin the suspense here, but usually when you reluctantly try something new, you end up loving it.  It’s kind of just the poetry of life. It’s almost inevitable.

First off, to my relief, we only read the names of one grade per week – not the entire school.  Woo hoo! The group always started with praise and I certainly praised that (although not out loud)!  I thought it was nice though to take a moment mid-week and reflect on gratitude. Following our praise reports, we began with a theme like faithful, teacher or fortress.  Our leader always carefully picked scripture to go with it.  I loved the verses she picked and pinned them on my bulletin board in a pile the way a cook at a diner stacks his orders.

Anyway, we would discuss the scripture and how it related to the weekly theme.  The discussions started slow like waiting for coffee to percolate, but suddenly it was like we each had 2 shots of espresso and thoughts spilled into profound theological and moral discussions. Sometimes, I left those meetings and felt so privileged that I got to partake in such relevant and significant discussions of faith in a secular world. Part of what struck me, was how thoughtful these conversations were — there was consideration given to other viewpoints, other lifestyles. It wasn’t just, we believe this. Period. Everyone else is a moron.

I don’t really know how to make you excited about that, but I was just so truly impressed by these discussions.  They were fair, factual and faith based.  That was my favorite part of the meeting.

Sometimes we shared personal things and with that, sometimes there were tears.  Always there was empathy and compassion.  The prayer group adopted the rules of Vegas policy and remained confidential.

After discussions, we read aloud prayers collected from the students.  They were on little slips of paper like the name of a Secret Santa.  We distributed them randomly, smoothing the creases as we opened their sacred prayers. We read aloud intentions for everything from the pope, teachers, friends, pets, parents, and siblings.  Sometimes there were prayers of gratitude for the blessings in their life.

It was amazing. Both in terms of the insight it gave me into the depth of faith these children have and also the hardships and hurts they carry.  They worried about their parents getting divorced, or their grandparents who were in the middle of a divorce, they prayed for family members who had cancer, they prayed for their dad to finally get a job, their mom to be happy, they prayed for guidance in picking a school for the following year and to do well on tests, recitals and games.

It was such a gift to read these prayers and to join the other women in praying for these children.  It was enlightening to know how deeply they were impacted by many things that were simply out of their control.  It made praying for them all the more meaningful.

Lastly, we prayed for our children by name, the name of whatever class we were on for the week and the special intentions of people in our parish or community that asked us to pray for them.

There are a lot of things I can accomplish in a day or a week, but truly, praying for those children ultimately mattered more than whatever I got checked off my list.

Thinking of those battered slips of paper again and their messages that often brought tears to my eyes makes the end of the school year a little more bittersweet.

So, in keeping with the format of the prayer group, my praise is that I got to partake in discussions that helped me to understand my faith better, and insight into the hearts of children.  My prayer is that these children know how much they are loved by God and how He listens to their prayers whether they are on slips of paper, said aloud or remain silent in their heart.  May this always fill them with peace and warmth like the sun shining down on a slow, easy summer day.


Ashes to Ashes

I can’t decide what to do for Lent this year.  Sure I can give up something, but, what?  Swearing?  I’ve done that but find that sometimes there is no appropriate alternative to convey what needs to be said other than a four-letter word.

Sweets — this is quite remarkable if you can really go six weeks without indulging.  My husband usually chooses this, and sure enough by noon on Ash Wednesday he has already had a donut, a cookie or a few pieces of candy off of someone’s desk at the office.  It always astounds me that he had the wherewithal to pass the bar exam yet he can’t remember what he gave up for Lent on the very day he has ash smudged on his head.

green beerAlcohol — really?  Why would anyone do this?  St. Patrick’s Day is always during the Lenten season and unless you are a serious-serpent lover, show some respect for the legacy of this Irishman and have a little green beer.

Shopping — I gave up buying clothes for myself last year, but found the caveat of home-decorating to be as enjoyable.  I must say my house looked quite lovely by Easter.

I am not trying to rain on anyone’s Lenten parade, but I don’t get how any of these sacrifices bring us closer to God.  They just seem like rebranded knock-offs of cast away resolutions from a not-so-new year.

I know that giving things up for Lent is intended to remind us of the ultimate sacrifice He made for our salvation – His life.  But, does it?

When you are craving a cookie (and, unlike my husband, actually remember to not eat one) are you thinking of Christ?  I bet most people when opting to keep the lid on the cookie jar, are thinking more of how they will look on the beach in a few months than they are considering Jesus’s suffering in the garden of Gethsemane.

Perhaps if we decided to say a sincere prayer while everyone else is passing around the green beer, these sacrifices would do more than keep us sober.  Like so many things, it seems the meaning of the tradition has been lost like a rogue jellybean at the bottom of an Easter basket.

I am not suggesting that we forgo these offerings, but that we align our intention with them so that we may be more aware of His presence. The time spent between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday should be used for prayer, penance, alms-giving and self-denial.  It is meant to be reminiscent of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by Satan before his public ministry.

I am certain if that Samoa Girl Scout cookie reminded us of Satan’s lure we would be less likely to succumb to its yumminess.

Lent is a time to focus on our preparedness for the resurrection, and we can use these sacrifices as a means to purify ourselves.  In the past I have been guilty of culturally participating without any cognizance of purpose.

It reminds me of a movie my husband and I watched recently, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” a dark romantic-comedy about one man’s experience knowing that the planet would be struck by a meteor in a matter of weeks.

It was entertaining to watch people’s reaction to the world’s end — some went on selling life-insurance, mowing their lawn, or dusting furniture.  Others committed suicide, participated in riots or drunken debauchery, all while the media still reminded viewers to set their clocks back for daylight savings time.

The main character, whose wife left him once the certainty of the meteor was announced, went on a pilgrimage with a woman he befriends in his building to find his high school sweetheart.

Okay, I am going to spoil the movie now, but it’s been out of theatres for months so you probably weren’t going to see it anyway.  Drum roll please — the man and his new lady friend fall in love.  Ta da!

Wait – I’m not done. After they finally figure out that this is the love a lifetime, kiss and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, you know what happens?  The world ends.

Yes, it really ends.  One minute they were laying there looking into each other’s eyes, professing their love for one another and the next minute the screen went blank, the credits rolled and I burst into tears.

I was shocked, the world really ended.  (Okay I know I have said that three times now, but I am still not quite over it.)

My husband was confused by my astonishment since that was the basis of the entire movie.  In fact, while I sat dumb-founded wondering how their newly-discovered love could instantly be nullified by a giant rock, my husband kept putting the throw over his head so he could laugh at my naiveté without hurting my feelings.  Sweet, I know.

While I found it interesting to consider other people’s reactions to knowing their demise was imminent, my reaction was just as absurd.

I thought because something really wonderful had just happened, that it would change everything – the meteor would suddenly blow off course and this couple would have the happily ever after that Hollywood always promised before it became so cynical.

I got so caught up in the love story that I lost sight of the movie’s premise which is eerily similar to life — that which is of this world will pass away.

ash wednesdayThe season of Lent begins solemnly with the dust of ashes being marred on our forehead.  I am not sure how much clearer it has to be for us — death is inevitable.

Left for discernment is what becomes of us upon our death.  Will it be glorious like Jesus’s resurrection?  Are we prepared to be in His loving, divine arms and will sacrificing our indulgences during this Lenten season get us closer to an eternity of joy, where we realize just how inconsequential the treasures of our earthy life were?

I don’t know the right answers because too often I focus on the wrong things myself.  It is easy to become distracted from the main message, to lose yourself in the love of things and people from this world.

But, I don’t want to be the one in the end feeling foolish and unprepared — incredulous that there was no tricky plot twist.

It will be as it was always written.

“The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever,” John 2:17.

Perhaps that is what we should ask ourselves during Lent– not what we are going to give up, but for whom.  When you look at it like that, it’s not a tough choice at all.

Please share your comments, insights and suggestions on what to give up for Lent this year.  I need some inspiration! Thank you for taking this journey with me. 


‘Tis the Season for Sunshine, Sand and our Savior

Our elf on the shelf wishing the rooster is a reindeer, while I wish he'd go back to the North Pole.

Our elf on the shelf wishing the rooster is a reindeer, while I wish he’d go back to the North Pole.

‘Tis the season to figure out how to cram the most wonderful time of the year into our already jammed-packed lives.   Between the tree that needs topping, gifts that need buying, cards that need mailing and cookies that need baking, I am not sure I have time to be as jolly as an elf.

Poor baby Jesus; he didn’t even make that list did he?  No, we don’t crowd in front of churches during the season to get a glimpse of our Savior; we are too tired from waiting in line during the wee hours of the night on Black Friday.

Admittedly on Christmas day things are a bit different.   There are lines of people waiting to get a coveted seat during the suddenly standing-room only service. (I know because I can’t remember the last time I got to sit in a pew on Christmas). Still, it pales in comparison to the throngs that zig-zag through shopping malls to get their picture taken with a mere mortal dressed in red faux-fur with a face you couldn’t even identify in a mug shot because of the snowy white hair that conceals it.  Bah, Humbug!

I realize I sound like I have lost the spirit of Christmas.  On the contrary, I found it, and in the most unlikely of places – South Beach.  Yes, in Miami I became merry and bright by discovering the best way to remember the reason for the season – forget about everything.094

A girlfriend called and invited me to join her and another friend in South Florida.  I asked her when, and she said, we would leave that evening.

I laughed at her, and not with a hearty ho, ho, ho either — but more ha, ha, ha-ve you lost your mind?  After all, I am not that girl who can just throw her bikini in her beach bag, and drive off into the sunset.  First of all, my night vision is terrible, and my swim wear has since traded places with my sweats in my seasonal closet organizational system.  Not to mention, I am a mother with a husband and children to consider.

Besides, I can’t think of a worse time for me to drop everything and indulge in a decadent December dalliance.  My to-do list is as long as Santa’s naughty and nice list put together, and not just with Christmas trappings (oops, I mean trimmings), but with the day to day responsibilities of my life.

Who just gets up and walks away?  I did.  (Insert big, happy smile here.)  With the encouragement of my husband, a little last-minute schedule coordination and an over-packed suitcase, I left the Christmas chaos for the bliss of the beach.  I figured if the Elf on the Shelf can fly back to the North Pole every night to tattle on my kids, I could indulge in a little getaway of my own.

Sitting on the beach in the balmy, warm air I felt about as far from the North Pole as I possibly could, and it was heavenly.  I couldn’t get over the fact that I was so far south from Santa — more because of my state of mind than my location.  I felt like the boy in the Polar Express, who got to open the first gift of Christmas, only mine wasn’t the sound of a bell, but that of the sea shore. 086

Retreating from shopping, gift wrapping, and even the merriment of holiday parties allowed me to feel the peace that comes at this time of year, because the peace has nothing to do with those things.  I dare say it comes from removing ourselves from them — even if it’s just momentarily.  In doing this, I enjoyed the simplicity of seagulls, sand and sun.  I was amazed how guilt-free I felt.084

My nagging conscience kept reminding me that it was December and that I should be in full-elf mode – but I was too mesmerized by the melodic crash of waves to listen.  Besides, who wants to be a scrawny, height-impaired elf anyway?

When I came home, I was happy to see my husband and children, but not so much that long to-do list that clung to me like tinsel on a tree.  It was still there, as appealing as a lump of coal – waiting.

There wasn’t much on my list that had to do with God.  As much as He should have been at the top of it, He wasn’t. There was too much other stuff competing for my attention.  Meanwhile the birthday boy waited patiently for the gift of my time.

God doesn’t advertise with cute little television jingles, and I have yet to receive a catalog of His graces in the mail.  He doesn’t send me coupons, or emails with special deals.  Yet what he is offering is worth so much more than what we are buying.  He isn’t about making the deal.  He is the real deal, and ironically He is often overlooked.  Talk about getting the shaft on your birthday.

What I learned from slipping away at the last minute is that things can wait.  So, let them.  Yes, I am telling you to procrastinate this Christmas season.  Don’t worry about color-coordinating your tree or finding the perfect gift for the persnickety.

Seriously, it really doesn’t matter.  Just go and be with Him in prayer, in silence, in the laughter of your children, in the cardinal that flies by your window.  Be with Him.

As I write this, it is a rainy manic-Monday.  My husband is out of town, I have an unidentifiable leak in my closet from the adjacent bathroom, there are towers of laundry to fold, and that tattle-tell elf keeps staring at me like he is gloating at all I have yet to do because of my impromptu excursion.

So when I picked my boys up from school today, I decided it was time for another get away.  We didn’t go far — just across the parking lot to the church’s adoration chapel.  We each took a pew and offered our own silent prayers.  It felt as decadent as sitting on the beach in December, even though my focus wasn’t on tiny grains of sand.  It was simply on Him – the birth of whom offers salvation and everlasting life in a paradise far removed from here.

I enjoyed my get-away with God so much; I decided to add something else to my December to-do list – time with Him.  (Yes, you snarky elf I am going to make my list even longer.) I am going to start a new Christmas tradition by taking my children to adoration every December to spend some time in prayer.  Unlike so many other holiday happenings it actually has something to do with the birth of our Savior.

The best part is I don’t have to go away to enjoy the spirit of Christmas, I simply have to go to God and the madness that muddles the meaning dissipates like tiny grains of sand in the vast ocean.