Out of the Box

free crab

When I was in college, one of my professors told a story of these crabs in a box at the Fisherman’s Wharf in Seattle. He said that these crabs are alive and all just piled in this box, and every once in a while a rebel crab will try to break free and almost get out of the box, but the other crabs will pull him down.  In their chaos and confusion of trying to all climb over each other to get out, none of them get out because they keep each other down.  And they all die.  Steamed or boiled, dipped in butter. It is the inevitable fate of each crab all because they cannot stand to see another doing something different or better.

Several months back, when Papa Francisco was visiting the States, my old Sunday School teacher (from my Baptist days) said some very false and mean things about the Pope and Catholics in general on Facebook.  It was not pleasant and I was very hurt, and, truthfully, quite furious.  I wasn’t actually surprised and was sorta expecting someone from my past to pipe up over the course of that week with something, but when it actually happened my anger was stronger than I anticipated.  At first, I was a lone Catholic in a sea of Fundamentalists defending the Faith and Church teachings with Scripture and Tradition. I attempted to be outwardly patient and dignified as I was inwardly seething at the barrage of insults. I was seriously about to run out of grace and snap as the arguments on the opposing side got personal: someone said how “sorry they were that I had lost my way so badly in my sin” and that they “always remembered me as a very intelligent girl and who used to have a real heart for Jesus and whose dad sometimes wouldn’t let her come to church” (um… first: my dad is a Catholic who took me to a Baptist church at my request four times a week, and second: NO ONE says mean things about my daddy to this daddy’s girl).  I felt like the rebel crab being dragged down, my joy being sapped from me, when suddenly…

The Calvary (Marine-life activists?)  came to the rescue!  Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Non-denominationalists, back-sliders, front-pew-sitters, and even an atheist reached out their hands to pull me out of that box of snapping, fear-mongering, chaos.  I was reminded again and in many ways how ignorance and fear mostly lead to tragic consequences, but kindness and love can help in every situation.  I was also reminded that stooping to meanness only sucks you back into that damn box of crabs.

This past weekend was one of my favorite sets of Bible readings.  Each reading really spoke to me and entered the very cockels of my heart, which was still bruised and as yet a little resentful still of the attack.

Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19  The word Yahweh came to me, saying:

5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations.’

17 ‘As for you, prepare yourself for action. Stand up and tell them all I command you. Have no fear of them and in their presence I will make you fearless.

18 For look, today I have made you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze to stand against the whole country: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the people of the country.

19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you, Yahweh declares, to rescue you.’

As the priest said during his homily, God made me a prophet. He made us all prophets, to proclaim His word and truth.  He made me strong, and with faith in His grace, no one can tear me down because He is with me.  I need constant reminding of this because I am wont to make excuses…

First Corinthians (or One Corinthians, as Trump would say, lol) 12:31—13:13

Set your mind on the higher gifts. And now I am going to put before you the best way of all.

1 Though I command languages both human and angelic — if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.

2 And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains — if I am without love, I am nothing.

3 Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess, and even give up my body to be burned — if I am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

4 Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited,

5 it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances.

6 Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.

7 It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.

8 Love never comes to an end. But if there are prophecies, they will be done away with; if tongues, they will fall silent; and if knowledge, it will be done away with.

9 For we know only imperfectly, and we prophesy imperfectly;

10 but once perfection comes, all imperfect things will be done away with.

11 When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways.

12 Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known.

13 As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.

Isn’t this just one of the greatest passages in the Bible????? It just sums pretty much everything up, to me.  As Jeff Cavins pointed out in the fantastic Bible study I have been doing at my parish, I cannot have one hand raised for Jesus and praising God and the other around the throat of someone that hurt me, because forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a will…Jesus didn’t “feel” like dying for us, he chose to because he loves us. God forgives me over and over again, and I owe my fellow humans this same forgiveness if I expect God to forgive me.  Tearing someone else down for any reason does not build you up and it certainly does not make you holy.  I am called—no, COMMANDED—to love…holding on to resentments, thinking ill thoughts, and spreading meanness is certainly not loving.

The funny thing is, the more you love, the easier it is. That channel of grace gets wider and stronger.  I used to hold grudges ’til kingdom come, but lately my flashes of anger tend to cool quite quickly.  I still have an Irish temper and a smart mouth that gets me into plenty of trouble, but I am becoming more understanding, apologetic, and forgiving than I was before.  Though I have so much more room for improvement, I sure hope it counts for something, anyway, and I know I didn’t come that way, so it MUST be grace…

Finally, the Gospel: Luke 4: 21-30

21 Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.’

22 And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

23 But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself,” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own country.” ‘

24 And he went on, ‘In truth I tell you, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

25 ‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land,

26 but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a town in Sidonia.

27 And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many suffering from virulent skin-diseases in Israel, but none of these was cured — only Naaman the Syrian.’

28 When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged.

29 They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him off the cliff,

30 but he passed straight through the crowd and walked away.

So, God made me (and all of us Christians) to be a prophet and promises He will be with me; He commands me to love, which is the greatest of all things; and He reminds me that a prophet is rarely accepted in his own country (though His reward for us is greater than the suffering).  I am not going to convince everyone I meet, especially in my former church, of the truth I have found, but I can live it…and I can show and tell others of the love and truth…especially those others who have felt the “bad side” of so-called Christians and have the scars to show for it.  Refusing to give in and spread negativity is the only way to fight your way out of a box of crabs.  More than that, by building each other up and loving each other past our faults, showing mercy, and rejoicing in our faith, we can all get out of the box.

Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above

Today we celebrate the Queenship of our Blessed Mother Mary. A new-ish Catholic, this concept is still something I am learning about. Maybe we are all always learning about it, though, so I won’t fret over that. I will say when I learned about the connection of the Queen Mother in the Old Testament and Mary, I was thrilled. Actually all the references to Mary I missed as a fundamental Baptist–from Eve to Revelation–rather profoundly struck me as I was learning about Catholicism; I have felt safe, relieved, humbled, and honored to build a relationship with her since and rather sorry that she is skimmed over by many other Christians. I love the rosary, pondering and attempting to emulate her graces, and the Immaculate Heart.

The thing most non-Catholics do not understand is that Mary never takes anything away from her Son. Catholics do not worship her. We love her for the beautiful, wonderful woman, wife, mother, and example she is and we love her for her fateful “be it unto me according to your word” that was the means to bring salvation–her son, our Lord–into the world. She always gently leads us to Him, and like her motherly commands to the servants at Cana, she advises us to do whatever He tells us. She prays for us and loves all of us as her adopted children.

Being the dork that I am, I love to see how other countries and cultures view the Blessed Virgin and the feasts and celebrations held in her honor around the world.

Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes–France

Fatima

Our Lady of Fatima–Portugal

indian virgin mary

Indian Madonna–I have no idea who painted her, I found her on Pinterest. Isn’t she lovely?

Madonna and Child by Tim Ashkar

asian virgin mary

Obviously, being married to a devout Catholic Mexican, I have a special devotion to the Virgin de Guadalupe; we get up early on December 12th for the celebration of that special Mass and the church is PACKED to standing room only and filled with the overwhelming smell of roses. Dances and a procession follow and then tamale season is kicked off in a big tent in the parking lot. Easily one of the best holidays of the year.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

“A woman clothed with the sun” Our Lady de Guadalupe

I also love learning about and having little home celebrations of other Marian holidays throughout our liturgical year, but as wonderful as all of those things are–and our incessant holidays and feast days are some of the best things about being Catholic–I really love pondering just the simple girl, Mary.

My husband had an artist paint a copy of the Polish Madonna for me for Christmas last year. I begged for a copy for months, and being the art snob that he is, no regular re-print would do, so he scoured the internet for someone that could actually paint her. I hang her in a place of honor above my piano in the living room and I can look at her every time I walk through to my bedroom or to the kitchen. I love how little Baby Jesus is just sitting in the dirt like any little baby, playing while his mommy does the laundry.

Polish Madonna

Polish Madonna

I tear up when I think about how she must have felt to have the baby, her God and Creator, moving and kicking inside of her. I imagine the moment his little naked body was laid in her arms and she looked into his eyes that were so innocent and yet held the secrets of the universe. She probably counted every finger and toe, just like any other mother, knowing he would be perfect, but checking all the same. She got up at night, probably several times, to feed him, check his breath, change his nappies. Think of that! She had to CLEAN Jesus. It was to her that he ran when he fell and scraped his little knees, with her he cuddled when he was feeling under the weather. She sang him songs and rocked him to sleep. She made his meals, maybe even some he didn’t like as well as some that he loved and that would remind him of her when he was older.  I think of her in her plain gowns and humble spirit, cooking and all the sudden a bunch of rich kings from the Orient show up at her doorstep bearing gifts richer than she would have ever seen for her little infant son playing in the corner with little blocks of wood. She tossed him in the air and tickled and blew raspberries on his belly to make him laugh. I sort of chuckle when I think about the time Jesus got “lost” in Jerusalem when he was about 12, and she was worried frantic…”Oy vey! I lost the Son of God! What am I going to tell Him???”  I smile when her mama role comes out at the wedding at Cana and she asks him to do something about the hospitality catastrophe about to occur.

Holy Mary and boy JesusMaryplayingwithJesusmarybreastfeeding

And I cry actual tears when I think of her watching her only son get tortured to death, and then his bruised, bloody body lowered into her arms. How she probably kissed his face and wiped the blood from him as she removed the horrid crown they shoved on his head and mocking purple cloth. The simple woman, who knew somehow this was not the end, but still had to go through the absolute worst pain and suffering imaginable. I wonder if she even for a moment had that doubt and fear start to creep in–just  for a millisecond– when she held his broken body that maybe she was mistaken about God’s plan for her and all of humanity. Her beloved baby was taken from her in the most cruel way ever dreamt of by wicked men, and how she lived through it, I cannot fathom. God gave her the grace to squash that doubt that tried to attack her, I am sure, and the strength to endure the pain and offer up her suffering for all of us–the same grace she was given to crush the head of the serpent. But she was fully human, not divine, and had to choose to keep the faith remember that with God “nothing will be impossible”.  I thank God she did.

Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo’s Pieta

Note: I try to source pictures when I can. All photos were found on the internet and remain property of their rightful owners and I thank them for their beautiful masterpieces that share joy in the world.

Nothing New Under the Sun

sunshine

My friend Christie always teases me that I was born in the wrong time-period. She says she can picture me in a bonnet. The other day I came to work in a dress something similar to Baby wore in Dirty Dancing and she said, “Don’t you look very Puritan today!” She says it all in love and not with the least bit of malice, and I actually sort of take it as a compliment anyway. I wasn’t too chaste in my early twenties–though I wasn’t exactly a partier, either–so it is nice to be thought of as conservative…and pure.

Despite my tendency toward promiscuity when I was younger, I actually have always been somewhat old-fashioned. I am a home-body, and although I appreciate and applaud the strides women have taken these past several decades, I would love nothing better than to be June Cleaver and answer the door in my dresses and pearls with a glass of brandy for my husband and a piping hot dinner on the dining room table in my house of sparkling floors and plump couch pillows. I am pretty sure that Haley over at Carrots for Michaelmas (one of my favorite bloggers) and I would have been BFFs had we grown up together, because I hitched up giant My Little Ponies to a toy baby pram to use as a covered wagon so that my Barbie could be Laura Ingalls, and begged my mother for pinafores.

Sometimes this world seems to move too fast for me. There are so many people in it and always rushing to be somewhere, and rarely using good manners; children–toddlers, even–constantly on cell phones or some electronic devices; bawdy lyrics on the radio incessantly–even in country music (which has lately really gone down the drain–I am not into this “bro country” thing)…it just hurts my heart sometimes.  I was killing time in Wal-Mart the other day while my car was having its tires balanced and rotated, and I was walking up and down the aisles looking at things. I have no small children and no little girls, and it is my heart’s greatest desire to have a wee lady, so I decided to look at baby clothes and little girl toys and fantasize what I might have for my future daughter. The dolls were just so ugly–scantily clad with garish make-up and the baby clothes even seemed like they were less than modest. I always picture babies as being sweet in pastels, at least for their first year (this is a huge Southern thing), but there were all kinds of animal prints and neon. I just think animal prints are for panties–or animals–not babies.

I have spent the past week reading the Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery, which is one of my favorite authors. I realize her books are flowery and geared for children (though the children would need to be very knowledgeable about literature and classical mythology to really get them), but it feels so nice to escape into a world of simple beauty. And even though I could shake Emily on scores of occasions (Dean Priest is beyond gross; if you love Teddy then tell him, you fool, or at least quit running away when he is about to tell you; and for goodness’ sake, get over your stupid pride and network in New York so you can climb your Alpine path!), the books really make me long for dairy cows and buttoned boots.

It has taken me a few days to really snap out of my wistful longing and realize that her idyllic world never truly existed. In a way, yes, there was a time and a place where all those lovely things happened, but ugly things happened, too. There was really hard work, lots of narrow-minded people, incurable diseases, fast and loose people, people with ugly hearts–not unlike today.

The truth of the matter is, there has always been nastiness in the world, ever since the fall of man. There has always been raunchy music, slutty clothes, promiscuous or evil behavior, abortion, pollution, bad manners…there really is no such thing as the “Good Ol’ Days”. I wouldn’t even say it is getting worse (except pollution). We have far more people than any time in history, so incidents seem more numerous, but I am not sure the proportionate volume has really changed. I think that the sum of human happiness and the sum of human failures is pretty static, proportionately. In fact, if anything, we are probably in a better time and place in history than even my beloved Laura Ingalls or Maud Montgomery, despite the great wonders and discoveries Laura had or the charm and propriety Maud had. We have more opportunities and freedoms, cures to many ailments, and lots more general knowledge. I suppose what I really want is to know what I know, but travel back in time so that I can wear long dresses and Psyche knots and get around in a horse and buggy at will–but that is absurd as I don’t have a Delorean or a Tardis. What I need to do is attempt to keep the pure, sweet things alive and spread beauty and love in the world as best as possible, which is part of my duty as a disciple. I can help keep evil at bay, but that sweet world of my imagination or in my books won’t come to pass until the next Kingdom, which will be better than ever I could imagine and far better than the world in any book.

We, including and most especially myself, should probably stop sitting on our laurels and whining about how things are not how they used to be and how this world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and instead enjoy the blessings we have and spread them around. Montgomery wouldn’t have wanted me to think that way, either, because as Anne Shirley pointed out to a naysayer, “There are ever so many bright sides…It’s really a beautiful world.”

Miracles in Muscatine

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This weekend was completely worth the sore throat and laryngitis from which I am currently suffering. Getting on a plane is always the sure-fire way for me to catch a cold (sigh), but I would endure a lot worse to witness the miracle that God wrought through my husband.

In 2013 my husband was called out of the blue while he and I were lunching at work by a woman named Liz. My husband, much to my annoyance, always answers his cell phone for every person or entity that calls him, no matter what we are doing or where we are, however I am so glad he took this call. Liz introduced herself and probably gave a thorough explanation as to the reason of her call, but my husband, as a typical man was only half-listening. After some moments, he passed me the phone with a bemused and befuddled look on his face, and said, and I quote, “This woman said I signed some papers in the Navy agreeing to give my stencils to people. Can you please see what she wants?”  Now I, with a bemused and befuddled look on my face and suppressed laughter in my voice, inquired of Liz as to her request of my husband.

“Your husband signed up to be a bone marrow donor while he was in the Navy. We have a patient with whom he seems to be a good match. I was calling to ask if he might consider donating stem cells for her.”

She went on to explain that the patient was a 28 year old woman with leukemia and without a donor she would most likely die. Although my husband signed up for the program, he was not obligated to donate if he changed his mind. They would be flying us to Washington, DC for a week to have the procedure completed. It would not be a surgery, she said, but similar to donating blood, but somewhat more involved. He would get a daily shot of some kind of medication that would cause his bones to release stem cells into his bloodstream; after several days, they would harvest the stem cells by cycling his plasma through a machine and separating the stem cells from his blood, which would be cycled back into his body. This process would take about 3 hours.

I explained to my husband the process and he was concerned at first about things people without illness get concerned with: could he afford to miss the time from work? Would it hurt? Will he get sick himself without his “stencils”?  But he soon asked himself what would happen to the girl if he didn’t do this? He was explained that finding a donor was rare and probably her only and last shot at life.

I could say that his sweet nature and generosity won out in the end (because he is the sweetest, most generous man), but really it was just his humanity. He was the only hope this girl had at getting a second chance, God had given him so much, including wonderful health, and he could not say no. He wouldn’t be able to sleep at night because he would have felt like he murdered her. He didn’t feel guilted into it; he felt it was his duty as a human and a Christian.

So we flew to DC and were put up in the Marriott, given a car to use, and free meals at the hotel. Not a bad gig, especially considering I was just along for the ride. The first few days he was feeling well enough after the shots to see the sights. We saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, a few museums, and the White House. By the third day, he was feeling sore and achy and just wanted to lay in bed. He was content enough to allow me to watch a marathon of House Hunters and another of River Monsters, so I tried my best not to fuss.

The fourth or fifth day, I cannot remember which, they did the blood-cycling thing and we watched movies in a little bed at the clinic. He wasn’t really in excessive pain, but he did feel some flu-like symptoms of general soreness, fatigue, and achiness. We flew home Friday or Saturday and he was back at work on Monday, feeling almost normal. He was completely back to himself after a few days and he kept saying that what the girl was going through must be a lot worse, so he wasn’t going to complain too much.

We were not allowed to have any other information about the patient, but we were told that she was given the transplant successfully and we were called again in a few months’ time to be told that she was doing much better and things were looking good. After about a year, Liz called back and said that we could sign a release to exchange information with the patient. She explained the pros and cons—it can be heartbreaking to get to know someone and it turns out they don’t get better; we might feel pressure to donate again if it is needed and wouldn’t be able to hide behind anonymity anymore; she may not wish to know about us and that might be upsetting for us. However, for my husband, he never thought twice about it. He wanted to know her, if she wished it. So be it if she needed another transplant. If it was God’s will for her to leave this world, despite everyone else’s best efforts, he wanted to know her while he could. There was already an unspoken bond—I suppose something similar as a mother has to her unborn baby—they were connected in very deep ways that were not only biological, but spiritual.

Luckily, Erica must have felt the same connection, because after some weeks my husband received a call from her. She gushed her thanks and told her journey and they talked for hours. Turns out they have similar backgrounds: both immigrated here when they were about 3 years old—she from Honduras, he from Mexico– and grew up in small farm towns and worked in agriculture; they come from large families—he is one of 8, she is one of 12—and both are the second to last in line. She and her husband also struggled for years to have a baby and they have one son. Both of their moms are old-school Hispanic ladies that command respect despite their diminutive size. Even funnier was the fact that her blood type was now matched to his and they share DNA. Biologically, they are more like siblings than their real siblings are. We joked that her newfound energy came from him and now he was all tapped out, and that she would need to cut her fingernails twice a week like he does.

We would speak with Erica every month or two on the phone, but never saw her in person or even a photo of her. We made plans for her and her family to come visit in Florida and take in all the touristy sites, but she decided to organize a bone marrow drive in her hometown first and asked if we could join her. The University of Iowa helped her coordinate the event and agreed to fly my husband, myself, our son, and his mother there to visit her. We had to promise not to meet her until the bone marrow drive the next day after our arrival, so we killed time by wistfully wishing for our own white wood-frame farmhouse with a red barn and patch of corn and teased our own Colonel Jackson about taking a trip down the Mighty Mississipp’ (see Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton for all you Yanks:-) )

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Me and my Jackson in front of the Mighty Mississippi

The first time we met Erica, she was explaining her story to the news cameras and a small crowd of people at the public library in Muscatine, Iowa. She stopped mid-sentence and embraced each of us, crying. My husband even had to blink back tears. It is hard to know what to say in a moment like that. Here is this woman who almost certainly would not be standing there had my husband not donated stem cells, but at the same time, it was nothing…it was the least he could do, it was the ONLY thing to do…it was not a great sacrifice on his part, but at the same time, it must be truly something to know that you were that necessary to someone else. It must be truly something to know that you were the instrument God used to make a miracle. In a way, he was just the jar that held the water that turned to wine, or the staff that parted the Red Sea—just a physical object God used to display His mercy and might—but should we all be so lucky to be used that way. The wedded couple at Cana probably treasured that crockery above all their other worldly possessions and I bet Moses never lost that staff. Erica and Elmer know that God did all the work, but it is so nice to have the tangible sacramental of His grace to have a constant reminder of His love for us.

Erica took us on a tour to visit the hospital and staff that cared for her for the many, many months she was receiving treatment. It is awe-inspiring and humbling to know that there are so many people that make it their life’s work to help others in their very darkest hours and that God gives them the knowledge, heart, and determination to help see them through.

Dr. Silverman (center) performed the transplant of my husband's stem cells for Erica.

Dr. Silverman (the little woman in the center next to my husband) performed the transplant for Erica. What a rewarding life she must have 🙂

Her family insisted on making us a fantastic meal of authentic pupusas and tres leches on our final day there. Although not a Eucharist, we were reminded of how Jesus is with us when two or three are gathered together in His name and how the disciples in Acts broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

http://kwqc.com/2015/07/19/local-leukemia-survivor-meets-bone-marrow-donor/000000

It was a beautiful, never-to-be-forgotten weekend. Praise God for Erica’s continued good health and beautiful spirit! I am sure the Holy Spirit is working through her to reach others—both with her never-wavering faith and with her hope for a cure for others. Praise God for people like my husband, who take to heart that what he does for the least of his brethren, he does also for Christ. Praise God for His mercy, love, and grace…even our dark times in this sinful world can be used to show His love and we are able to offer up our suffering as Christ did for others.

I encourage anyone and everyone that is between the ages of 18-44 and is eligible to please prayerfully consider signing up to be a donor at Be The Match. The chances of being selected are small, but you just may be called to be the miracle needed for someone…and you never know when you may be in need of a miracle yourself someday.

https://join.bethematch.org/UIMDP

Colors of Jesus

My mama has this set of Santa figurines that depict how Santa evolved through the years and how he looks in various countries—for instance, 1909 Poland looks like a tall, skinny Bishop and 1908 Germany wears green and carries a long garland of holly. My sisters and I are all fighting over who gets these in the will when mama is gone because we all love them so much.  It always fascinated me that Santa looked different to different people—I had always assumed he was like 1925 USA Santa, round and red—the one that matches the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas poem.  Fascinated me, but didn’t weird me out or anything. I accepted it and loved it.

For some reason, my reaction to seeing Jesus depicted as anything other than the medium blond to light brunette with clean red and blue, or perhaps white, robes did bother me as a child.  The first time I saw him depicted as a black man, I was almost troubled. Not because I disliked black people in any way, but because I always knew Santa was not real and Jesus was…and so Jesus had to look like a particular someone. He couldn’t be changeable. Since naturally the first pictures I saw of Jesus were your standard Renaissance European paintings, that was how he looked to me.  I understood that you could draw Jesus in a story and he wouldn’t look like a Master painting, but I just always equated those paintings with his actual portrait—like he sat for them like George Washington or King Louis XV or something. If he looked different to different people, then maybe he wasn’t real.

Obviously I was a silly little child, and perhaps my upbringing in a predominately Southern white Baptist church didn’t help matters, and thankfully I have outgrown that notion, but only by experience and a natural inclination to open-mindedness.  In reality, Jesus was Jewish and from the Middle East, so he was likely not blue-eyed and more than likely not medium-blond.  Most adults understand that no one really knows what Jesus looked like in the flesh, but it may not be so clear to a child, and even as adults, we cling to our mental images formed as children.  Children, while whimsical and imaginative, do not always grasp the abstract and naturally associate mental images with physical ones. Some children, like my Jack, are more “concrete” in their thinking, and don’t much alter their mental images of something, once formed, without considerable trouble.

While children are born not realizing any sort of negative connotations with race…they can obviously see that everyone looks different and we are all various shades of brown; we have different hair color and textures, and different shapes and shades of eyes, and they recognize no superiority of one over the other…They do learn behavior and most of us do not make it to adulthood unscathed by racism.  With all the trouble brewing and bubbling in our country lately—and really, since always—I have had to stop and actually evaluate my own thoughts and behaviors and then dissect where they come from. Frankly, dear reader, I am ashamed of myself. While some things are a product of my raising, others were self-perpetuated long after I reached the age of reason.

I always considered myself open-minded and progressive in lots of ways. I have friends of all shapes, sizes, and colors, of various religions and a plethora of cultures. I have dated white, black, Hispanic, and Asian men. I have the same profound disgust for ignorant white people as I have of ignorant people of other races. By ignorant, I mean people that embody a stereotype and perpetuate it and glory in it…not the standard definition, which means someone that simply knows no better. Yet, I am not innocent. I think we would all be liars if we were to deny that we never had not even one racist thought or pre-conceived notion about someone due to their status, appearance, culture, or religion.  It isn’t ever right, but it does happen to all of us, no matter your background or skin-color.

I was thinking the other day why there isn’t a physical description of Jesus in the Bible. In general, most Hebrew authors were fastidious with their words…they all had to MEAN something and get to a point, so there aren’t too many physical descriptions in the Bible as it is, but there ARE some. David was ruddy of complexion—which means be was rosy cheeked, or perhaps very tan from being outside all the time. He was handsome, or, “comely”.  Esau was hairy. Jacob was fair with smooth skin. Samson had long hair and Elisha was bald. John the Baptist was wild-looking. Others have no exact description, but you can make inferences: Bathsheba and Esther were babes, Elijah was skin and bones.  Nada about Jesus…not even enough to infer. Why? Because it didn’t matter at all what he looked like. The point of the Gospels was to show how he WAS…what he was trying to teach us to be.  The only physical part that mattered was he became HUMAN. The rest of the New Testament goes to great lengths to stress he came for all of us—Jew and Gentile alike, and that we are all “one body” in Christ as part of his Church.  Jesus didn’t care about your job, or your social-status, or even how many husbands you had…he loved anyway. He looked past all the physical, to the heart and soul of people.

Even more than that, the epiphany for me was that there is no description so we can all picture the physical Jesus how we want to—however we identify with him so that we COME TO HIM.  I think God knew our little pea brains, tainted and stunted by original sin, could never measure up to their full potential here on Earth anymore since we broke our full communion with him back in Eden; he knew that we tend to be clannish and identify with things we know, so he left it open for us to picture Jesus looking similar to ourselves, because eventually the purpose and meaning of Jesus would transcend our mental picture of how he looked physically.  It was only as I grew in my faith that my mental image of Jesus became fluid and changeable. It was only then that I could see him in the eyes of my brothers and sisters.  When I am at my cleanest—after reconciliation, and after taking communion—I see him absolutely everywhere and in everything.

How beautiful would it be, however, if we could skip right to the transcendent part? How lovely would it be if my first mental image of Jesus isn’t always a European Master’s view (even though they are wonderful paintings), but could be different every time? What if we started our kids out from the beginning showing them different images of Jesus, and explained to them that Jesus is ALL of those colors, because we are all ONE in him? How even better would it be if we make them understand that because we are all one, we, too, are all of those things…all created in His image and likeness?  The message of Jesus would shine through earlier and brighter, maybe, and those subtle, ingrained notions of a white Jesus would never be the norm. Wishful thinking and it may not ever happen until the Second Coming, but we could make things a lot easier in the meantime if we exposed ourselves, and especially our children, to the many colors of Jesus.

“Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” by John Giuliani

Note: I don’t know where all these pictures came from exactly, but I do thank whoever made them. I cited where I could, and some are common icons. I do not make any money at all on this site, so I take nothing from you. Each one is beautiful. 

Our Love Story: Or, The Only Piece of Advice We Are Entitled to Give

Whew! Sorry ya’ll! I have been on an unexpected hiatus because my busy-ness went up from about a level 8 to a level 18 on a scale of one to ten. I have plenty of things to catch up on with you guys, but today is a special day: my third anniversary with my sweetie! As it is a Tuesday and raining cats and dogs outside with terrifying lightening strikes seemingly in our yard, we are waiting until the weekend to do anything special, so I will take a little sec to tell you our little story.

My husband is always telling me “It is us against the world, baby!”

And, I tell ya, that isn’t far from the truth. We have dealt with family feuds on both sides, tackling and nearly eliminating a mountain of debt, the continuing pain of infertility, and major remodeling projects with a house that fights back.  But our marriage has a not-so-secret weapon: a Christ-centered relationship.

I met my husband in November 2010.  I met him online and I am not ashamed of that.  For some reason,  people think that is weird sometimes.  It’s not.  You and I are meeting online right now.

I had to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.  A lot. I AM ashamed of that.

I had a high-school relationship that spilled over into college and beyond.  This man is the father of my son and is a very good man and a wonderful father. He will even be a very good husband…for someone else.  We were too young and dumb and immature, with problems and obstacles way too big for us to overcome.  We did not have a God-centered relationship, though we both came from good, God-fearing stock.  Anyway, about three weeks before our wedding, this relationship imploded. Badly. I am talking we had third degree burns.  And I was MAD.  I went on some stupid rampage trying to prove a point—that I was desirable and I could have any man I wanted.  Of course,  he didn’t care what I did or didn’t do, so I hurt no one but myself and worse, I hurt my son. My son never really saw the men in and out of my life, but he felt the repercussions from them because I was sad, mad, or just honestly not as good as I could have been as a mom.  I never neglected him and I took very good care of him, but instead of trusting in God to find us someone, if we were indeed to have someone, I went hunting.  And continually got my heart broken, or broke someone else’s heart, and in either case, lost a little more of the person God intended me to be for the person that was out there waiting for me.

After about 5 years of my nonsense, God brought me to my knees.  My heart needed HIM, not a mortal man.  I joined the Catholic Church and fell in love with Him all over again and my heart healed up slowly.  I then prayed for a husband if that was God’s will for me…a real man that would love Him, me and my child. A man that would challenge me and guide me and nurture me, although I had my Savior, and I didn’t need another.

I made a list of criteria…of course the above mentioned was numero uno.  Because my faith was new and so important to me, Mr. Right had to be Catholic. I am not against people marrying outside their faith—that is up to them.  For me to be “equally yoked”, I needed a man that was of the same faith.  Besides, there are plenty of other things to debate about in marriage, and that was one thing I didn’t want to debate about.  Other than that, I had no real specifics other than there be no weird criminal history and preferably he be educated or talented in something.  I liked short, tall, fat, thin, quiet, loud. I trusted that if God wanted to call me to married life, he would work out the specifics that were best suited for me.  In the meantime, I just kept my prayer request in my heart and worked on being the best mom I could be and providing for my son.  I had a good career, bought a house with a big back yard and started my own little home improvements.

Eventually, I went on a free dating website because I was house poor.  It was the best mistake I ever made.  I was on the website a grand total of 48 hours.  I am not bragging, but seriously, after 24 hours, I had 57 emails from men—most of them disgusting creatures.  Rather than weeding through the slough of perverts and douche-bags in my in-box,  I did a quick scan of guys in my area and saw a photo of a tall, thin Latino leaning against a rail with a big boat in the background.  I thought to myself: he has traveled somewhere, so that is cool; he appears pretty handsome; and I sure do like Spanish accents. His religious views said he was Catholic and better and better, he lived within about 30 minutes of me.  So I emailed him a monologue and said I was shutting down my account and he would need to contact me ASAP if he was interested.  He will tell you that the email he received sounded like it was from a neurotic, demanding person…and if that is so, why on earth he responded to it is beyond me. My version is, I knew what I wanted and what I did not, and all others need not apply, and this was a limited-time offer, baby.

He emailed me back the next day and then we exchanged numbers.  He called and to my dismay he did NOT have a Spanish accent…but a perfectly normal American one.  But he was ever so nice…we chatted a while and a few days later agreed to meet up at a Chinese restaurant.  He actually was on his way home from visiting his parents’ farm and smelled…so he stopped at Wal-Mart to freshen up and buy a new shirt. I was in Target in my holey jeans and Chuck Taylors and not at all my normal dressed-to-the-nines first date self.  I quickly bought cheap make-up and fixed my face in the car. He showed up just as I finished applying my lipstick.  I took one look at him and knew…I was going to break his heart and ruin his life.  I was sure of it. I could see that he was a genuine person, an honest person, a simple person….and I was a hot mess, practiced in the conniving and deceitful ways of women.  I prayed a quick prayer that either God would give me the grace to a woman worthy of such a man or make him turn tail and run without me having to chase him off.

So, we had our first date and talked and talked.  I learned he was born in Mexico and immigrated at the age of 3 so that his older brother could attend a school for the blind here.  He had such a fascinating story and spoke so humbly and he was just so damn sweet that I just had to see him again, but I let him take the reins.  For once, I really tried to behave like a lady; and he was always a true gentleman.  He actually courted me, and interestingly, refused to kiss me until our third date. I lingered while he helped me with my coat and made my lips available like Scarlett O’Hara throwing herself at Rhett, but he didn’t take the bait.

He is so sweet and shy!

By and by, after we had been dating about a year, he decided he would move closer and he got a job at the same company I worked for.  It had been pretty much never since I had someone around so often and someone that I actually had to answer to, so I, of course, freaked out and had to break the whole thing off…on his first day at his new job…which was at MY job.  I was at first relieved, for about 3 hours, but I just knew in my heart it wasn’t right. God had given me exactly what I asked for…which doesn’t always happen. God answers all prayers, but they don’t always happen to be exactly what you ask for because what you ask for isn’t always the right thing.  Hubby was devastated because this really was an out of the blue thing.

I don’t remember who called who at this point, but it righted itself in the span of about 3 days and we were suddenly on fast-track because we both knew that we wanted to be with only each other forever.  He proposed on Valentine’s day 2012 and we were married just 4 months later in June.  We had a giant Mexican wedding and were married through the Church.

The night before our wedding, we thought we had a bad omen: we LOST our marriage license. After my Narc Cop BFF tore apart my husband’s car and took out his dash looking for it, my sister in law sent up feverish prayers to Saint Anthony. Our priest solemnly told us there would be no wedding without that paper and my heart nearly exploded. I went home in tears to ransack the house. Since there were boxes everywhere in preparation for his move in, I felt so dismal and overwhelmed. My husband stayed with me to tear apart the house and eventually we found the fated piece of paper in one of his boxes of junk to THROW AWAY in the wee sma’s if the morn. Exhausted, we sheepishly we curled up and slept on the couch, waking up to each other on our wedding morning to a knock on the door from Father Charles. His eyebrows raised, he flicked his cigarette and inquired if he should perform a wedding that afternoon. Still in my pajamas with my husband cowering in the shadows, I told him all was well and we would be there at five-thirty.

Father Charles actually said something on our wedding day that I will never forget.  He looked each of us in the eyes and told us it was our job to make sure the other got to Heaven, and that did not mean for us to kill each other to meet that goal. I cannot say I am an expert on marriage, by any stretch of the imagination, but I can tell you that we both take that statement to heart, though we do our lapses in judgment and downfalls and have come close to trying to kill the other to send them to Heaven prematurely.  Despite the double-whammy of nearly throwing our marriage away, quite literally, and seeing each other prior to the wedding, we have been doing just fine.

I can tell you that the first year was SO hard…learning to live with another person when you are both independent people is very tough.  When you come from very different cultures, it is even tougher.  We both had to learn that you are still YOU, when you become one as man and wife. We finally hit a stride and we have learned how to communicate much better and we have really become one. There is no one I would rather be with and I cannot even picture my life without him.  I have no advice at all to give because we are still “newlyweds” in a sense, except that if you ever hope to make it to a place and a time where you are entitled to give advice to others, you have to have God in the marriage. Bottom line is, I have never been happier, more at peace, and more content, and while we know that the future is scary with unknowns and obstacles are in our path now, if we keep Christ in our relationship and continue to use the example of His love for us and the Church as the center of our marriage, we can at least be assured that at the end of this journey, we will have got each other to Heaven.

Te amo mucho mucho, mi amor. Para siempre!

A Mildly Red Pentecost: Misadventures in Planning

So I had this really grandiose plan of making this Pentecost Sunday a true blue (red) celebration—something I could stake a claim on in the family calendar and have people over and really celebrate the beauty of our Catholic/Christian faith. I had been thinking about it for months, because I wanted a holiday that was specifically always celebrated at the De Lara house…we are the “newlyweds” and we have just one almost grown kid, so we don’t merit high enough on the family scale to claim a “major” holiday. HA HA HA…who was I kidding? My ridiculous schedule, my always-under-construction house, my procrastinating personality, and my mediocre talent all conspired against me. Not to mention, we had a tragic week, so no one felt much like partying anyway.

I painstakingly researched international celebrations for this feast in hopes of adopting some new traditions for my family. Pentecost, although a very major holiday, is not as popular as it should be—my cynical side thinks this is because there is nothing to secularize, “consumerize”, and sell to the masses. My son and I started celebrating Christmas Around the World about 10 years ago, before we met my husband, and we typically “adopt a culture” during the Christmas season and celebrate in their traditional manner with decorations, games, and foods (as closely as possible, anyway, and in addition to our own regular traditions). I thought perhaps we can do a condensed version of this for Pentecost, taking little things here and there and coming up with a really nice celebration that we can share with our family and friends. It would be new and different and completely alien to most because much of our circle is not Catholic and many of them have no idea what the Pentecost is. I know many Protestant denominations do celebrate it, but we never mentioned it at all in the church I grew up in.

Some of the ideas I had were:

  • Shocking the household awake with trumpet music, as a sort of a play on the French tradition of using trumpets during the Divine Service (our parish doesn’t usually use trumpets, but there is no reason we couldn’t have them at home).
  • Having a morning prayer outside in our really great back yard and walking through the morning dew (The “Veni Sancte Spiritus” sequence at The Pentecost Mass includes the phrase “Heal our wounds, our strength renew, on our dryness pour thy dew.”) as per the English custom.
  • Mass all decked out in the liturgical color red.
  • Berry and peach picking, and then sharing the wealth with neighbors or, even better, the shelter. Pentecost is a Jewish holiday as well, commemorating the birthday of the Jewish faith when God gave the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. It marks the beginning of the Feast of Shavuot, or Feast of Weeks, and the beginning of the harvest season. It is obligatory to take special care of the poor during this time, as well.  It was a nice sunny and breezy day, so a picnic lunch would have been perfect after our harvesting.
  • Dinner was going to be spaghetti with red sauce (because I do this really, really well, or else carne asada con salsa rojo—always a Mexican staple at parties) on a backyard tablescape decked out with ferns and strewn with rose petals, with paper doves hanging from the roof of the porch.  It is a Polish and German custom to bring green branches and plants inside for this Feast in hopes that the Holy Spirit will enter the home and bring life and blessings and it is an Italian custom to scatter rose petals over the congregation to symbolize the tongues of fire, and also to hang paper doves from the ceiling.
  • No birthday celebration is complete without a birthday cake, so I was going to have a red velvet cake (which is always MY birthday cake, too) and top it with 13 candles to symbolize the 12 apostles and Mary (because 120+ for all of the disciples present would have been a fire hazard).
  • Finally, I was going to take a leaf out of Kendra’s book and have a backyard bonfire, while the kids do another English custom of cheese wheel rolling race.  We don’t have a hill like Gloucester, but we do have a nice enough incline to allow the laws of physics to create a rollicking good (and mostly safe) time. Think of that opening scene of Little House on the Prairie.

Womp womp womp………I got as far as wearing red at Mass. And walking in the dew.

photo 3

Our backyard patio oasis is still under construction, and this construction takes up almost all of our free time. It is a serious to-do with handmade cobblestones for the floor, a giant brick oven, a 20 x 25 pavilion—the works. No parties just yet. No fire pit. No picnic tables. We are now officially two months behind schedule on this renovation…but when it is done, I will have mind-blowing before and after pics for you.

I did make red velvet cupcakes because I seem to have lost one of my cake pans. Only I had just two bottles of food coloring, so they are more like brick red velvet cakes. *sigh*

photo 1

Also…due to my week, I neglected to go grocery shopping, so instead of spaghetti with red sauce we had penne with vodka sauce—from a jar! *bigger sigh*

Jack abandoned us for a Memorial Day weekend crab-boil at his cousin’s, so hubby and I, along with my drop-by-the-house-at-random brother-in-law, celebrated by our lonesome.

NEXT year, next year will be awesome.

I did have an inspiration and an epiphany, though…which I will post about later this week. And Mass was super awesome…we went to Spanish Mass at St. Ann’s and the music there never disappoints. So, despite my lack of a formal reception and celebration, the Holy Spirit was (is) with us anyway, and I suppose that is all that really matters.