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.

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.

God, The Police and My Father: A Blizzard Rescue Story

God reminded me tonight that He is always there when you need Him.

Returning home from Mass tonight, I crashed into a large snowdrift headed south on Rt. 59.

I think it’s no coincidence that on the way out, I grabbed a bulletin and saw this Bible verse:

“Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.” ~ Psalm 27:14

Living by your faith, whatever your denomination, is a lot like driving in a blizzard.

You can barely see in front of you, it’s treacherous at times. You may veer off-course. But you are on full alert– all your senses are attuned to your driving. You have to drive carefully, slowly. And you have to trust God to steer you away from danger, and to rescue you when you need it.

And it works.

Mass was PACKED.  Even in this blizzard. I felt proud to be there. I don’t normally go to St. Mary Immaculate in Plainfield. It’s large and modern, and a bit out of the way. But tonight, it was comforting being one of many. People were standing in the foyer as well. The parish has changed since I was last there.

There’s now a giant crucifix hanging directly above the altar, rather than mounted on the wall. It was riveting.

I thought about how when I doubt humanity, Mass is the one place I can go to be reminded of the good. People will still go to Mass, even in a blizzard. That makes me feel safer in this world.

I was sitting in the middle aisle, and this is a LARGE parish. There are many rows– it can get confusing. When I tried to return to my seat, I noticed that I couldn’t find it! I was standing, look around like I would do if I had forgotten my parking spot. And then I caught the eye of the man who was seated behind me. He smiled and pointed, and I was realized I has standing one aisle too far. 

Thanks to that man, I found my seat. God was paying attention.

Then I set out to get home.  I was going to stop for some food– but that plan changed.

I was approaching the intersection of Rt. 59 and Theodore. Driving in the middle lane I was being careful, but the wild snow drifts caused me to skid. I pumped the brakes but there were cars in front of me– so I swerved right to avoid impact. I was terrified for a minute that I would flip, but luckily there was so much snow, I got stuck on top of it.

God was paying attention.

Immediately, I saw a police officer turn his lights on from the other side of the intersection and head south. I hoped he was coming to help me. The first thing I did was thank God I was okay. Then I called my father, to let him know where I was and what happened.

While I was on the phone, the officer tapped on my window. I told my father I would call him back. The officer asked if I was okay, and if I was going to call someone. I told him that’s the plan. He suggested I try backing out, and I tried. No avail. I then called my dad again, and he said he’d be there. And the local garage I use– they were on the way.  Officer Forniff asked if I wanted to wait in his vehicle, which I appreciated. He stayed until he had to go, but another squad arrived to wait the remainder with me until a tow arrived.

So I found myself sitting in the backseat of Officer Zilka’s squad car! Oddly, this is the second time I’ve been in the back of a squad car- without being arrested. The first time my car had also broken down. The police came and waited with me that time too. That was a few years ago, in Romeoville. Officer Zilka and I mostly sat in silence. She’s serious and quiet. I told her I think it’s awesome she’s a police officer- she said that’s what she’s always wanted to do. It made me feel extra safe to be sitting there with a female officer. She waited until my father showed up, and then even till the tow truck from Mark’s Service Station showed up. She waited until we we assured her we were okay.

For those who don’t trust the police– THIS is why I *do* trust them.

And this is why I love my father so much. He’s usually my first call when something important happens– because he always answers. And I know if that I need help, he’ll be there with no questions asked. He gave me a hug before he left.

Why do I believe in God? Because of my father, John Bohrer. I knew that he would be there– but that he would drive safely and not rush. My father is the kind of man who never pulls a rolling stop, who will never run a yellow light. He follows the rules, even when no one is looking. He believes in doing things safely, the right way. And I love him for that.

This is why I choose to live in Joliet, near my parents. Because life is easier with family nearby.

Tonight, he drove from home in a blizzard just to make sure I was okay. He didn’t need to– I could have handled this on my own. But I’m glad he did, because I could not feel more cherished right now as a daughter. The tow truck was able to drag me out of that drift, and I didn’t have any damage. I was able to drive home safely. My father always knows what to do.

“Go straight home,” my Dad said, and I listened.

And minutes after I got home, he called to make sure I was there.

“I’m home Dad,” I said. “Thank you.”

Thank you, God, for my father.

Atheists, Creative Spirits, and The Glory of Defiance

For a long time, I’ve been struggling to understand why I continually attract–and am attracted by– Atheists, artists, and creative people.

All my life, I thought I was looking for a “good Catholic man.”

I think I’ve been wrong.

I like having the culture aspect of growing up Catholic in common. But I’m not convinced that I’m only compatible with Catholics.

I’ve learned that I see God in everyone. Whether they “believe” or not. I’ve learned to look beyond the obvious.

If I am looking for a Catholic man, he will also need to be very open-minded. Progressive, not only conservative.

It’s not the answer to simply conform and obey.

It is RIGHT to question authority. To insist on thinking for yourself.

I thought maybe I was attracting these types because MY faith was weak. That I needed to pray more, do more good works, or something. That somehow, it was *my* fault– and this was a punishment.

Because that’s the way we are taught to think, when you’re raised Catholic. Guilt is embedded in your conscience. Any unanswered prayer, any bad thing that happens, there’s always a reason– God is teaching us some sort of lesson. And it’s up to us to figure out what that is, in the void.

I believe that, to a point.

But I think I was misreading it all along.

Now I see that many people who profess NO faith are the kindest, most loyal people you’ll ever meet. They will agree to help you move without even knowing the date, and stay the whole time. They will be your friend unconditionally. They accept people as they are, exude enormous empathy, and in many ways embody the Christian faith and the example of Jesus more than many of the most vocal Christians.

And many Christians are self-righteous, afraid to associate with anyone different, paranoid that allowing their children to meet, befriend or date anyone of a different race or creed. They hate anyone who challenges their beliefs.

And hate is not the answer. Love is the answer.

Empathy and tolerance is the answer.

I still identify as Catholic– but I am quick to qualify that I am also a Democrat.

It is not wrong to be gay. I also support a woman’s right to choice.

People are human– and God made us all. Diversity is the glory of life, not the bane of it.

I am a proud liberal who ENJOYS having friends and dating people who challenge me, who show me a different aspect of humanity. I like learning about different cultures. I like to listen and find out WHY people believe what they do. I don’t just interrupt and say, “Well this is what *I* believe,” and then list all the reasons why someone else is wrong. I’m not out to convert people to my point of view at all costs.

I used to be terrified of change. Now it’s comforting. Change is the one thing you CAN count on.

I accept people as they are, and I’m not threatened because their having a different opinion doesn’t make feel insecure or less of a person. I am happy to agree to disagree.

Some people just want to argue for arguing’s sake. Even if you AGREE with them, they will switch the conversation to another topic they can debate. They don’t care about a civil conversation, they just want the drama.

The only way to deal with these people is to just shut them down.

Truthfully if your faith is strong enough, you should be able to get along with anyone. You know who you are, so you can be anywhere and know that you are the same person.

I wasn’t attracting the WRONG kind of people. I was hung up on labels.

The reason I have such a strong and persistent attraction to Atheists and creative men is deceptively simple.

And it’s only recently– in the past year– that I’ve had the insight to see it.

I learn slowly, but I do work through information I’m given and make up my own mind. I will change my mind, openly admit it, and explain why once I figure it out.

The common denominator is a defiant spirit.

It’s taken a long time for me to embrace it, but I realize that I do have a rebel yell.

I appear to be very “nice”– and I usually am benevolent to most people. Unless given a reason otherwise, I treat people with respect and expect they are being honest with me.

But make no mistake, I have no problem asserting my opinions and calling out bullshit, either.

And men respect that in a woman. Too many women are submissive, desperate to agree. They don’t want to upset their man, they have no opinions, they agree with everything and put up with everything as well. Even abuse, be it verbal or physical.

At times in my life, I’ve been that woman. But not anymore.

I used to be so afraid of confrontation. But not anymore.

You can’t avoid things– they don’t go away. You have to face them and work it out.

Sometimes the only thing to do is fight, for your own dignity.

Because “fun” is not the glue of love, as I have learned. TRUTH is the the glue. When you’re secure enough and respect one another enough to tell the truth, especially when it hurts.

Because I’d rather be told the truth than flattered.

Until now, I had only done this in my closest relationships. My very best friends, and only the romantic relationships that were the deepest. If I trusted another person enough to fight with them and let them have it, that meant they were part of my inner circle. I used to be a woman with weak boundaries, who was too worried about upsetting the status quo to stand up for myself.

I was quite naive, and my kindness was often used against me.

This translated to every area of my life– friendships, jobs, relationships.

Finally, I learned to recognize these manipulators. I stood up to them. I shut them down.

Now, I’m slowly rising in my confidence. In the past year especially, I’ve gotten in touch with my anger. When you’re Catholic, you’re also taught not to express anger– but to repress it, so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. You’re taught to pray it away. And it doesn’t work.

That’s WHY a heaping majority of Atheists were formerly Catholic.

The truth is, religion can be damaging.

Silence is the weapon that kills the faith of many.

When you’re raised in a culture that teaches you not to talk about what’s hurting you, not to show emotion– just to carry on and stuff it all, it’s not good for you.

Praying is not enough. Confession to a priest is not enough.

We need to defend ourselves as well. We need to assert boundaries. We need to communicate with others directly.

Faith can be a rock in the storm. It is for me.

But it takes a lifetime to work through how to manage it in a way that allows us to balance our feelings, express them when necessary.

I’m still working on it, myself.

But every day I’m getting smarter. I’m less afraid.

And my voice is getting bigger.

This blog is helping immensely.

Amazing Grace (Underneath My Seat)

As I unloaded my laundry from my car just now, I spied something teal peeking out from underneath the passenger seat.

And I had to laugh when I saw it, because it was a journal I had thought I lost. Last summer!

I remembered going to eat alone at my favorite local diner. But I couldn’t remember leaving with it– I even asked the server and cashier if they had seen it? I thought another patron must have found it and was enjoying my journal (it was blank.)

But just now, there it is– wedged underneath my car seat.

The most notable thing about this incident is that the journal itself is religiously themed– called “Amazing Grace.” It also says, above it, “my stories, my faith, my life.”

I remember feeling particularly disappointed to have “lost,” this journal. It has inspirational quotes on every page, with Bible verses sprinkled liberally as well. I thought it was gone, and I forgot about it.

But all along, it was just hidden–and God was waiting for a better time to show it to me.

This is why I entrust my life to God.

He throws the best plot twists! My life is more exciting than anything I could write, because God is writing the story of my life. All I have to do is keep turning the pages, and enjoy the story.

I think our faith is a lot like this journal. There are times when we doubt ourselves– and may even doubt God.

But He is always there, whether we see Him or not. He is patient. And when we least expect it, our faith blazes again and shows us just what we need– just when we need to see it.

Opening the journal, I found a verse I think is perfect:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me– watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

Matthew 11: 28-29 MSG