My Father’s Smile

My father has a wonderful quality: faith.

Recently I received an unexpected bill and was feeling frustrated. Just when I thought I was getting ahead! I aired my frustrations to him, and he quietly smiled.

Just seeing that relaxed me.

He reminded me that there will always be unexpected expenses in adulthood. It’s not something to despair over– just a part of life to accept and tackle. He’s confident that I will manage and overcome these situations as they arise, so I’m beginning to believe it.

It used to be that I wanted a partner who would embody those qualities in him.

But now, I am delightfully surprised to see them appearing in myself.

I rarely panic these days– even when I have just reason to be overly emotional. When I do, I get over it much quicker.

His gentle strength emanates. I’ve become a calmer woman.

Someone my friends rely on.

And today I’m relying on myself, more and more.

Yet I always know his advice is a phone call or a hug away– if I do need him.

He’s taught me that though I may fall, he’s not far away. He will always encourage me to get up and keep going. He will always smile at me.

When my belief falters, his bolsters.

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The Beauty of “War Room:” Don’t Believe the Bad Reviews

Last Wednesday I heard about the Kendrick Brothers’ movie “War Room,” at choir practice.

Our choir director said it was a prayerful movie and that anyone of faith should go see it. That despite the title, it had nothing do with actual, political war. That an unbeliever who saw this movie would be convinced of the power of prayer.

I was sold immediately. I’m a believer, but it sounded like just my kinda movie.

Thursday night, the next day, I was invited to my parents’ for dinner, along with a longtime family friend. She’s a mother of five, a grandmother and a devout Catholic woman– I grew up next to her family.  I had planned to invite her and my step-mother.

Once I brought it up, SHE said she had heard about the movie and planned to invite ME! We both enjoy movies and are single. My step-mother ended up canceling, but she and I kept our plans.

We decided to share a medium popcorn and she asked for butter– just like me. Apparently there wasn’t enough salt, so she poured a heaping pile of it in some napkins, then folded it up into her purse so that we could disperse it in the middle as we ate our way through it. It made me laugh.

I was so glad she went with me. Like me, she’s a movie talker!

After, she wanted to stay and watch the credits. We were the last to leave. Afterward, we went for dinner, which I hadn’t been expecting. I had the best time.

I won’t spoil it- -but I will share a few details.

It’s an ambitious movie that works because it’s focused on one small family, and the way the one family member’s decision to surrender to a disciplined prayerful life transforms the family’s circumstances in every area.

The hero is an elderly woman named Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie). I think she deserves an Oscar.

She’s got the sternness of Madea, with a little more empathy. She’s a small woman of fire– but she commands just as much respect as Madea. She’s the kind of woman who commands your attention. The kind of woman who refuses to accept your facade, no matter how good you think you are at hiding the pain. The kind of woman who reminds you that you deserve love. That you are accepted and forgiven, no matter what. The woman who teaches you about God’s grace.

Miss Clara notices something amiss in her realtor, Priscilla, and buts into her business in the loving way that older people tend to do. She wants to know about her marriage, her daughter, if she has a relationship with the Lord.

It parallels “Fried Green Tomatoes,” in that a woman’s life is set right by a deep friendship with an older woman, a mentor, who helps another adult woman who feels a bit lost.  This woman could have given up on a marriage that was held together only by contempt. Their own daughter felt unloved as a result of their constant fighting– there was no affection present at all. On the brink of infidelity, both partners in this marriage might have abandoned hope and ended up divorced.

But Priscilla (Elizabeth Jordan), the wife and mother who befriends Miss Clara, is so desperate she is open to prayer,

Miss Clara challenges her to fight FOR her husband, rather than with him. To fight in Jesus’ name.

And it’s Priscilla’s devotion to changing HERSELF, accepting her husband and loving him as is, and praying unceasingly for him, her daughter, and her own change of heart– that is what inspires.

It’s about acceptance, surrender, owning responsibilities, about amends.

About passing on your faith and what you’ve learned with others.

It’s about creating a physical space in your life to be with God and his Word– to pray for those you love most.

It’s about the Bible.

It makes me want to overhaul my own space– to create my own War Room. To eliminate the clutter.

To put the focus back where it out to be: on God.

I heard a lot of “That’s right!” and “Uh-huh,” and “AMEN!” in the rows surrounding us.

I know I will see this movie again.

Please, give it a chance. Even if you’re a non-believer. Especially if you are.

About People

That’s what prayer is, for me.

My favorite way to pray is connected with others in a group. Of course I pray alone. But the power is undeniable when you’re surrounded by others and you’re all in it together.

Today I’ve been blessed to stand connected hand-to-hand with others in prayer, twice. First at Mass. And just now with a small group of friends. I was stressed, and I mentioned this– not expecting anything. One friend went out of their way to assemble a few people together to pray with me over the situation that was worrying me.

And just that small act of faith alone reassured me.

If these people were willing to take time out of their day to pray over me, and one by one say a quick intention on my behalf, I have nothing to fear.

A Stranger’s Christmas Spirit Finds Me: In a Mall

Christmas shopping tonight, I had a chance encounter.

I was at a little stand in the mall, which always sells religious gifts made in the Holy Land.

I was looking at gifts centered on the Blessed Mother.

A woman came up to me and asked me to look at a silver key chain. She didn’t have her glasses.

She wanted to know if it had the Blessed Mother on it– which it did. She also wanted to know what it said in script on the bottom: “Medugorje.”

I read it to her.

She told me that she is a survivor of brain cancer– and her faith is very strong. She tells everyone about it, to spread hope– especially for those who are ill. “I know God is gonna use me,” she said.

Though she still battles her illness, all she spoke of was being blessed. Being grateful. She’s made so much progress with great doctors, hard work and a lot of faith.

Mainly, she spoke of never taking anything for granted.

She had such light in her smile, she radiated kindness.

She was looking for a silver key chain to match her car key starter. She had family who had gone there and been healed– that’s why she was attracted to it.

I looked for another– but there was only one.

I told her that I’ve heard of Medugorje myself, and I’d love to go there one day.

It’s unlikely that’ll ever happen, but it’s a nice dream.

It was so refreshing to talk with another believer– a total stranger, right in the middle of the Christmas rush to buy.

Though she was initially going to buy it for herself, she offered it to me.

I refused and told her she should keep it.

But she told me that no, she thought I was meant to have it.

That maybe God had meant her to give it to me.

I accepted her offer, and I bought it for myself.

Little moments like that, how can you not believe?

God showed me much-needed evidence of Christmas spirit in that woman.

That’s Aight With Me

It seems as I’m posting in a more confident voice, I’m losing some readers.

My subscription numbers fluctuate slightly. Gain one, lose one.

I’m talking less about God, and focusing more on me.

I’m not as humble. But to be a good Catholic or Christian, you don’t need to put yourself down.

It’s okay to like yourself!

I feel like a common trap with our faith is to become so meek, we compromise ourselves. I’m outgrowing that.

And maybe that’s not something everyone can relate with, but that’s fine.

Because this blog is for me. It’s to validate what I feel. It’s a reflection of my journey and growth and the epiphanies along the way, simple and profound.

But I’m not letting the fear of the unknown dictate what I’m going to write. The right readers will find, and appreciate, what I’m sharing. They’ll stick with me. They’ll “like” and comment, or not.

I’m realizing that I’m not speaking to anyone in particular, it’s not about the reaction I get anymore.

I’m thinking out loud.

By being myself, I can’t lose!

What’s Wrong with Religion?

It’s fashionable these days to identify as “spiritual, not religious.”

But I ask, what’s the taboo on claiming a religious identity?

If you have any religion, good for you. If it makes you happy, that’s what matters.

I’m aware that for many people, religion has been a radically different influence in their lives. They have good reason to distance themselves from it and to be suspicious of anyone associated with it.

But for me, prayer and Mass and the Sacraments have been the bedrock of my life.

I’ll tell you what I know.

I cherish all the benefits of religion: tradition, structure, discipline, dogma, family heritage.

Religion is more than a belief system, it’s a tremendous supportive network. It’s a rock in the storm of life.

For many, I think the term itself implies some sort of zest beyond what is acceptable.

But in my life, a devotion to religion is, and always has been, normal. Both sides of my family, plus my step-mother’s family, are all Catholic. Irish, German and Italian! I’m a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic school till I decided to transfer to a public school after my freshman year. I wanted some variety.

My parents always took me to Mass on Sundays. The idea was if I was too sick for Mass, I was too sick to do anything else. As a child, I thought of it as boring. But now I’m thankful– my parents cared enough to instill a respect for routine and specifically, religion, in my life. We prayed over meals– though quickly! I know many parents say their children can choose to be religious when they are 18. But I think it’s sad that many are not raised with religion as children. If you’re raised without it, it seems the majority never understand the beauty and power of having that as part of your life. If you’re raised without religion, you’ll most likely continue as an adult without it. Or you’ll spend your life as a spiritual nomad, looking for a denomination or religion that seems to fit you. At least if you’re raised with SOMETHING, you have a starting point. You can choose to leave it and join another, or you can reject it entirely, or dedicate yourself to developing a deeper relationship with it. In my case, I rebelled for awhile in college by not going to Mass.

But I never stopped praying. I never stopped loving Mary, or the Saints. I kept close friendships with nuns and the priests my family had known for decades. And they helped guide me.

When you’re raised with religion, it feels natural to participate in it and share it with others. I feel a peace with other Catholics that I treasure. It’s like having a giant extended family. I love that in almost any city, I can find a Catholic church. I’m lucky that my religion is often in the majority.

I grew up surrounded my nuns and priests, especially since my favorite aunt was a Catholic nun. Reflecting as an adult, I’m both surprised and somewhat sad that she didn’t talk about the Bible to me. But for 10 years, she took a leave from her convent and lived with us. She was a living example of Christ’s love. She was FUN.

She had no enemies. She never said a bad word about anyone. We never prayed the Rosary together, although we did pray often. She just exuded a gentle and steady love. When she moved back home with her community, she would send me prayer booklets, icon cards, and religious cards for my birthday, holidays. In college, her e-mails and care packages helped sustain me when I was desperately homesick. What little money she had, she was always sending me little gifts. She was always telling me that I was special and that God has a wonderful plan for me.

We kept in touch with cards by mail and often prayed over the phone together. She’d pray the Guardian Angel prayer with me. She was a gifted listener. When I would feel afraid or nervous, I’d call her and cry and just talk it out. She didn’t often give advice but her calming influence always reassured me. She would always remind me to be kind, to give the person who had upset me the benefit of the doubt. To consider why they may have acted that way– without malice. When she died in 2010, it was if a light in my life had been snuffed out. It was a Dark Night of the Soul for awhile.

But that loss of her only drove me closer to the faith I’d shared with her all my life. Now I feel she’s a guardian angel to me herself, protecting me and reassuring me still. Now I pray to her. I keep her close to me by being more resolute as a Catholic. I remember all the times she asked me to go to Mass with her and I said I was too tired and didn’t want to get up that early. She was never angry and always accepted my decision– but she never stopped asking.

Now I see it was something she wanted to SHARE with me. It’s harder to find people now to go to Mass together.

I realize now what an act of love it was for her to want to go with me to Mass. And I feel bad that I bypassed so many opportunities in my life to do that with her.

And now, on my own, I’m starting to want to delve deeper into Catholicism. I’m beginning to read The Bible more. I’m feeling closer to the Blessed Mother, praying to her more often. I’m feeling a desire to pray the Rosary, though it’s intimidating.

I even have a Non-Denominational friend who wants to learn to pray the Rosary with me. How beautiful is that?!

If you weren’t raised with religion, please try to open your heart and consider it.

You might be shocked by the peace you feel. And if you are afraid to pray, that’s why we have so many prayers.

Just read it out loud and I promise, God will hear you. Here’s one you can try:

The Guardian Angel Prayer

“Angel of God,
my Guardian dear,
to whom God’s love
commits me here.
Ever this day,
be at my side
to light, to guard,
to rule and guide.

Amen”

He always does, even if He doesn’t answer right away.