Answer Me This: 4th of July

One of my favorite-est Catholic mom bloggers, Kendra from Catholic All Year, is doing a fun weekly link-up for the summer, and since I love answering questions and talking about anything nonsensical, I will play along 🙂

1: How did you celebrate the 4th of July?

Husband and I put the finishing touches on our house-painting project. We screwed on the shutters and painted the front steps. No joke, y’all, we painted the entire house by hand in this past month…two coats of primer, two coats of paint on the walls, two coats of paint on the trim and eaves, two coats of paint on the shutters and doors, and two coats on the front steps. The two of us with our four hands. In June/July. In Central Florida. For those of you not in the know…it averages about 96 degrees with about 120% humidity. It rains in torrents every afternoon and we have bugs the size of your hand. Pictures cannot do us justice…you really would have had to seen the old beige/pinkish paint peeling off and the obscene amount of cobwebs in person to understand how very fresh and new this is. Plus, we had the whole house stuccoed ($1,700!!!!!! WHAT A STEAL!!!!), so you cannot see the lines of the cinderblocks anymore.  We capped off our productive day with spreading a blanket on the church lawn at St. Ann’s and watching the fireworks over Lake Eva while eating street tacos. Awesome.

Before: Terrible beige peeling off of cinderblock walls

Before: Terrible beige peeling off of cinderblock walls

After: Needs landscaping, but 100% better. Stucco, moss green paint and dark peacock blue shutters and door

After: Needs landscaping, but 100% better. Stucco, moss green paint and dark peacock blue shutters and door

After: take 2.  It is really coming along!

After: take 2. It is really coming along!

2: Do you sunburn easily?

Huh. Do I ever. I have a creamy English skin with a smattering of freckles across my nose and on my shoulders. I never, ever, ever tan. I burn within the span of 5 minutes and then peel two days later. A whole body peel, like a snake. It is the worst because I can see it on the end of my nose and it grosses me out when I change clothes and my skin comes off with my shirt. Once, while snorkeling…actually twice, once in Key West and once in Cozumel…I burned my backside so badly that I could not sit on my bottom for two days, just had to lay on my belly. I could slather on sunscreen every twenty minutes and it simply would not matter. So sad–especially as tan fat looks better than white fat. I could totally fool you into thinking I was skinny.

My back after snorkeling in Cozumel. :-( It is even more painful than it looks

My back after snorkeling in Cozumel. 😦 It is even more painful than it looks

3: Hot dogs, yay or nay?

YAY!!!!!!!!!!!! I love hot dogs grilled or fried, alone and single, or piled high. Covered in cornbread and dipped in honey, nothing tastes better for love or money. Beer-braised and covered in salsa, smothered in mac and cheese, or in la parrillada, slathered in mustard, or covered in slaw–I could eat my weight in ’em, y’all! Bathe in barbecue and crumbled chips, nothing so good ever touched your lips. New York, Chicago, or Coney Island style–a good hot dog makes your tummy smile! 🙂

4: Have you ever personally set off fireworks?

No. I have handled sparklers, but as a general rule, I am afraid to handle fire.  The summer we were married, my husband crossed the county line and brought in contraband fireworks and set them off in his father’s pasture, launching them from PVC pipes. One of them melted the PVC pipe and exploded sideways, on the ground instead of launching into the air. Shrapnel and fire flew everywhere. Somehow we all knew to hit the ground and my 4 year old nephew yelled explicatives to our horror and amusement. I honestly thought I was a widowed-bride until I heard my husband’s laugh out of the darkness. This year, he set off some chasers and one went backwards and chased him…and blew up directly beside him. When I was little, my dad lit a flower bomb and my protective hound dog stamped it out with her feet, crying in fear and pain, but determined to rescue her owner. Pobrecita…she was nursed and coddled and forever locked up when we lit them off again.  Nah…I am just good watching them.

5: Have you ever jumped off the high dive?

No…we have always owned a pool, so I can count the number of times on one hand that I have ever been in a public pool. We never had a diving board. What I have done is jump off the high rock at Juniper Springs and plunged into the freezing (72 degrees is plenty cold enough, anyway) water. I have jumped from rope swings into the water and have been dumped from many a jet-ski. I also have been knee-boarding. Hopefully those count for something 🙂

6: Do you do anything weird in your sleep?

I can carry an entire conversation in my sleep. My mom always said she would wait until I was asleep if she wanted to get a truthful answer out of me. I also stay in one position…I literally do not move once I am asleep, and wake in the exact same position I fell asleep in.

There you have it! That was fun, maybe I will play along next week, too. Until then, back to our regularly scheduled programming.  I am super excited to have the opportunity to contribute to an upcoming online Catholic “magazine” type website–more on that later. I also am getting into the thick of things with my CHRP ladies at Saint Matthew’s…if you are local or visiting Winter Haven the first weekend in October, save the date and come on out…we have big things planned. House projects aplenty are looming, so expect some more DIY stuff in the near future AND my lovely baby sister is getting married soon, so there is lots of planning for that, too!  God bless!

Visit Kendra’s blog–hers is super-awesome and hilarious–and link up to answer her fun questions, or answer them in the comment section here or there!

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.

Marmee Dearest

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I realize I am a week late for Mother’s Day, but this has been a very, very, very hard week. My grandmother is under 24 hour Hospice care and I have been by my mother’s side with her as much as possible. It has been the longest week in the history of eternity, I do believe. I have cried myself sick, mended fences, and run the gamut of emotions. I have also learned that my mother is a pearl of very precious price.

I am an oldest daughter, and say what you will, I get the toughest of mama’s love because of it. I know my mama loves me just as much as she loves my sisters, but I guarantee you, swearing an oath on a stack of Bibles, that she is harder on me. I don’t know why this is, exactly, and I have no daughters of my own to prove I will be the same, (except in my imagination and imaginary Paloma already has high standards to live up to) but it is absolutely so. Ask any oldest daughter and she will give you the same story–including my mother, an oldest daughter herself.

My mama, or Marmee, as I affectionately call her after Marmee March, is a wonderful woman with a very kind heart. Her big blue eyes brim over with tears very readily in good times and in bad as she is very hyper-sensitive–a trait I inherited (the sensitivity, not the eyes–mine are little and green). She has the biggest smile this side of the Mississippi and I have always thought her a very beautiful woman. Until lately, however, I have never thought of her as terribly strong. Physically strong, yes. I have seen her run for miles and miles, dig a backyard swimming pool seven feet deep, build a 20 x20 foot wooden deck, and push and pull heavy furniture across the house singlehandedly. To be honest, though, I always thought was a bit of a pushover. She is not, entirely; she is just a nice person that chooses to believe the best out of others, which takes a different kind of strength. Perhaps her hyper-sensitive nature swayed my thinking previously, I am not sure, but it feels like I have only just noticed her strength in recent years. It seemed to me, when I was a kid, that she reserved her strength to “get my goat” all the time, but that isn’t true or fair.

My parents married very young–my mother was just a month over seventeen–and were desperately poor for a long time. Baby after baby came in rapid succession. Although I love my parents deeply, I always thought growing up that they should have waited. I thought it silly of my mother to obey her mother’s request to get married and drop out of high school and get her GED when she was at the top of her class. Maybe if she went to college, we might not be so poor, I thought. Maybe she would be happier. Looking back, I am ashamed at how hard I was on her, as it isn’t necessarily weakness to bend to the will of another. It can take immense strength to obey, and certainly it takes lots of strength learn to live on love and take on an adult role before you are perhaps ready to do so.

My daddy was under immense pressure to care for his wife and expanding family as the sole breadwinner with an electrician’s salary. This, coupled with him being quite young himself, led to a drinking problem. I am a daddy’s girl through and through, but I have a healthy fear and distaste of a drunken man, and wondered why my mother put up with such shenanigans. He never struck any of us, but we had some strategically placed pictures in the house covering up holes in the walls. I thought her weak for staying with a man that had so little self-control, when he came home drunk again on what would have been the last straw for me. Marmee took her vows seriously though, aside from loving him to distraction, and her years of prayer and faith in the marriage brought around a miraculous change in Daddy’s behavior and he quit drinking. I realize that not every marriage is salvageable, particularly if there is addiction and especially if there is abuse involved, and it takes strength to realize that and leave if necessary, but it also takes strength in situations like ours (which didn’t involve either, but was generally stressful and unpleasant) to know when to stick it out and pray for change rather than throw in the towel. I am proud of my mom for her faith, and my parents’ happy marriage is a witness and a model for my own.

Perhaps because she did marry young and had to leave school early, my mother made damn sure her girls went to school and excelled. Nothing less than our absolute best would be tolerated or acceptable. College was expected and obligatory. When I got pregnant as a teenager, I thought my mother would kill me like she always promised she would if I did such a thing, but she practiced the right balance of tough love and nurturing to put me on the right track so that I could become self-sufficient and care for my baby. My mother taught me how to be a mother, and thank heaven I had her give me some hands-on training because I might have been a miserable failure without her.

It is somewhat expected, I guess, that a mother should be an example to her daughter on how to be a wife and a mother, but it is my mother that is teaching me how to be a better daughter that has been her surprising lesson for me. My Mamaw–my mama’s mama–is slowly wasting away with Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, the Hospice nurse doesn’t expect her to make it through the night. It is not as physically painful as cancer, perhaps, but it is just as heart-wrenching and horrible. Marmee  has faithfully visited her mother every single day, rain or shine, for the past year or so, feeding her lunch (when she used to eat), changing her, bathing her, and generally soothing her. Mamaw has been quite cranky and sometimes downright mean with my mother in a way that she never was when she was in her right mind (can’t say I blame her, either–for being cranky, not for being mean to my mama).  My sweet, sensitive mama tries not to take it personally and just lavishes love and care on Mamaw even when she is at her worst. She has a strength I never hope to HAVE to possess in her care of her mother.

This past week has been a real turning point in the way I view my mother’s love. I have seen her at her most vulnerable and at her strongest. As my grandmother lays in bed practically comatose, my mother has not left her side–for a week. She has been living in a nursing home for a WEEK with her mother, relentlessly praying for a peaceful passing and making sure she is comfortable, with all the general unpleasantness that comes with caring for a person that is on their deathbed. I have had to take turns with my sisters to beg her to eat and practically pry her away to get a shower. She has had perhaps two hours of sleep a night since Mother’s Day, curling up next to her sister on a twin hospital bed in the back corner of the nursing home. It is heartbreaking to see the exhaustion and pain in her eyes, but so inspiring at the same time. She has never looked more beautiful to me.

So, a week late and with nothing to give but my undying love and wholehearted awe, I want to tell my mother how much I love her and admire her strength. She may have been hard on me at times, but she is whipping me into shape because someday I may have to face something as scary and devastating as she has. I pray not, and I certainly hope that nothing ever happens to my mother to make her suffer so horribly as my Mamaw has, but I will always remember to draw from her strength, whatever my lot. Thank you, Marmee for being a shining example of how I should be as a wife, mother, and a daughter. I love YOU a bushel and a peck.

Cooking Lessons, St. Joseph the Worker, and Me

Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God through him, alleluia.–Colossians 3:17

Last week was one of the hardest at my job in a looooong time. I have a hard job as it is, which I have discussed briefly before, but last week sucked the life-blood out of me. I came in early and stayed late by hours and felt very discouraged that nothing I did or said would make a difference and I was always going to be a hamster in a wheel, never getting anywhere and running until my little feet fall off. This isn’t true, of course, as most days things go as smooth as possible in a world that revolves around chaos.  My job is actually quite an important one in which I make many heavy decisions that can have serious repercussions for many people. Truthfully, I actually like my job just fine and I do get to help lots of people, but, you know, when it rains it pours and all that. I don’t know if Daniel Day-Lewis actually backed out of a movie in which he would play a claims adjuster, but his sentiments expressed about it are spot on with how I felt last week.

Friday morning I took a few hours off in the morning to go to the dentist. Since I knew I was going to have to stay late to make up the time missed anyway, I decided take a detour on the way to work and go to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for the first time in goodness only knows how long. I absolutely needed the quiet time with Jesus to calm my busy mind and I knew it would do more good than harm to put in that time with Him and make it up later at work. I knelt in thanks for a good while, then I poured my heart and soul out to Jesus, just asking for strength, courage, and a pleasant attitude, among my other intentions for others.

It is amazing how God works. Sometimes you feel you wait years before you hear an answer (and sometimes you literally do) and sometimes He lobs the answer at you like a perfectly thrown football, spiraling right at your wide open hands. Sometimes, His answers are in motion before you even ask for them (hopefully more on that kind later). As I got up off my knees and settled into my seat to start my Rosary, I saw a lady out of the corner of my eye reading the missal. Inspired, I picked up my own missal out of the little pocket of the seat in front of me and turned to the readings for that day’s Mass, which I missed earlier.

I make it to daily mass perhaps once or twice a year, due to my work schedule, and the liturgical year moves faster than I can keep up much of the time, so I had no idea that Friday was celebrating St. Joseph the Worker. As I sat there reading the explanation of the feast day and the accompanying Scripture, I was floored. It was a glaring reminder that my work will be blessed if I keep in the attitude of Christ.

I went to work that day with a much lighter spirit and accomplished much. Even though I stayed late (again), my weariness was not so profound. This was an answer to a prayer, but really only a Tylenol version–something to get me through the pain. The actual answer came at the end of the day when my mother-in-law came to stay with us for the weekend.

As I have mentioned before, Ma De Lara doesn’t speak any English, but my Spanish is improving my leaps and bounds, so I am not uncomfortable to be alone with her. I guess she decided to up my game, because she had me take her grocery shopping for ingredients to make gorditas zacatecanas. She has been giving me cooking lessons on her visits because she wishes to make sure the culture lives on through me and any future baby De Laras.

Ma De Lara delegates the most menial tasks for me–peeling potatoes, gutting chiles, flipping many (thousands) of tortillas. I am not experienced enough or trusted enough to flavor the meat or cook the rice in her presence yet, but my attention is sharply recalled to her deft hands if it is diverted elsewhere–eventually there will be a test. The cooking lessons last for hours, because no Mexican woman worth her salt does anything half-way and the men are very hungry when they come in. It feels brutal–hot from the stove, my lower back aching, my hands perpetually smelling of onions and peppers, and my eyes itching without me being able to scratch them.

Ma cheerfully does her work, occasionally praising or admonishing me in Spanish, as I struggle to keep up with her pace. I think of how this is all she has ever done: cook, clean, raise 7 babies, and pick crops. Sixty-eight years old, and she still does the same tasks (less the crop picking–although we did go pick peaches and blueberries this weekend) as she cares for all of us and helps to raise her grandbabies.

St. Joseph is always the quiet one–he doesn’t say much in the Gospels and not much is known about him. Outside of being the earthly father of Jesus, he wasn’t important. Aside from his earlier lineage, most of his ancestors were probably just normal people. Nothing to suggest that he would be anyone special–many other Jews could claim similar heritage, and indeed many of us today can claim to be descended from royalty or nobility. We can assume he was a man of honor and empathy, because when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy, rather than exposing her to the law, which would have condemned her to death, he thought of just letting her go quietly her own way. We know he was obedient because he listened to God’s command without question when he was told to take Mary as his wife and again when he was told to flee Bethlehem for Egypt. He was a wise man, considering his honor, empathy, and obedience, and also because we know that he was hand-selected by God to be the earthly custodian of Jesus, who “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” The human side of Jesus would have had to learn from somewhere. He may have been a carpenter, but more than likely he was a day-laborer or a handyman (tekton), which is hard manual labor no matter which way you call it, and probably means he was not a man of wealth. St. Joseph probably had little inkling as to his actual importance–and perhaps it would be better that way, because I cannot even imagine how intimidating it would have been to KNOW you are the foster father of God.

Ma is like my own living, breathing St. Joe. She is certainly not a parent of God, but she is a contemporary embodiment of the virtues of St. Joe. She is not classically trained in anything in particular, but is a Jack–er, Jane-of-all-trades. She works tirelessly for her family, taking life in stride. Although not highly educated, she is very wise and respected, and we all turn to her for advice. She loves Jesus and Mary with her whole heart and is a very devout Catholic with very strong prayers. It is a comfort to me, as much as it makes me smile,  to see her wave crosses in the air and whisper prayers of safety for us as we back out of the driveway. She is very empathetic and I have never heard her judge a person for anything in my life–when wronged by someone very close to her, she simply removed herself from the situation and refuses to be goaded into saying mean things about that person, and instead mumbles, “Pobrecita, may God help her.”  None of her children may be very prominent or “important” people, but who knows that she isn’t in some great lineage that does produce someone of notoriety someday–more importantly, she recognizes that although she is small in the scheme of things, her kindness can go far and accomplish much. She presses this to her children, who, for the most part, exhibit this virtue as well.

Although our jobs are very different, and tiring in different ways, and neither terribly important to the universe (unlike St. Joseph’s actual job), the cooking lessons and getting to know my mother-in-law a little better first-hand instead of through a translator, have been, and continue to be St. Joseph’s intercession and God’s answer to my prayer for finding value in my work.

Whether it be flipping toasting tortillas with her bare fingers, climbing ladders to clean the trim on the house because it is cochino, bending over picking berries in the cruel Florida sun, or painstakingly plucking feathers from tonight’s future roast chicken, the woman does it with a song of gratefulness in her heart. I am ever so lucky to have my own beautiful, sainted mother and this adopted one to give me shining examples to live by. I suppose I should suck it up at my air-conditioned desk job and learn to be thankful I am not on the other end of the phone.

P.S. If you ever ARE in the unfortunate circumstance to be in an auto accident, do be kind to your adjuster, though. Trust me when I say we get absolutely no benefit from your misery, either.

How the Roman Road Leads Us to…Rome

 

When I was in middle school and up until about half-way through high school, my best friend and I would walk the two blocks from our school to our church to join the youth group in “soul-winning” every Wednesday afternoon, which was, in all actuality, a social event for us. We would get to walk somewhere by ourselves, be reunited with the friends we longed to see since Sunday, go on a field trip, have dinner, sing in choir and then have Bible study that night.

The weekly field trip, as it were, was more often than not to a poor or lower-middle class area to go knock on doors and frighten people into Heaven. Armed with little Gideon’s New Testaments, flagged with neon page markers and underlined verses, we waylaid harried mothers in the middle of cooking dinner, children playing kickball in the yard, and fathers just stepping out of the car into the driveway and asked them point-blank if they died this instant would they be in Heaven or Hell. We passed out little pamphlets and invited them to the only truly “Bible believing” church in the area. Many times we were swatted away like flies; sometimes people ignored us even though there were signs of life within the home. I have been guilty of this myself, when I see a Jehovah’s Witness coming up the walk, I have been known to hit the floor and hold my breath until I hear their retreating footsteps. Sometimes, though, people would humor us—they would listen politely and go through the motions of praying the prayer of salvation and then promise they would come to church on Sunday. We would walk away from the house, feeling self-important, to report the number of souls we won to Christ that day to the rest of the group waiting on the bus. It became almost a contest to see who could win the most souls, and it was a special prize if anyone converted a Catholic.

We had a specific tactic–a favorite of all Evangelical Protestants–the Roman Road coupled with the Four Spiritual Laws. Specific verses, plucked out of context, arranged in such a way to scare the living daylights out of anyone that believed them and cause a smirk or sneer of derision out of those that didn’t. In all my years of soul-winning, I cannot recall even one time when I met an unbeliever and convinced them to believe—like, TRULY believe. Later, I would learn this is because I didn’t believe it myself fully, at least not in the context in which they were presented. Even though I doubted their sincerity, I still counted those that humored my efforts as “wins” and kept a little tally on the inside cover of my New Testament.

Until this one day…..suddenly everything seemed so….ridiculous. Almost 20 years later, I can picture the whole thing as vividly as 20 minutes ago.

It was August, which is a time of pure torture in Central Florida. You are never completely dry, your hair is never laying down, and the air is always like that puff of wicked-hotness that blasts you when you open a 400 degree oven. I was wearing a Monica Gellar inspired black and white floral print skirt that touched the toes of my super-trendy black mary-janes (so Clueless, right?). My partner, who I viewed as my arch-nemesis throughout my teenage years because we vied for the same boy’s attention, was wearing a barely legal pencil skirt that juuuuusst touched her knee and her beautiful strawberry-blonde hair lay smoothly down ignoring the 112% humidity. The rickety bus dropped us off in the poorest part of our poor town and we were assigned the right side of the street before it lumbered away. Never saying a word to each other, we plastered welcoming smiles on our faces when we approached each house.

Walking up to a teenage Haitian girl feeding a baby rice on the top step, we introduced ourselves and proceeded to accost the dear with verse after verse pointing to her clear damnation. The girl distractedly fed the baby one rice grain at a time and occasionally nodded in assent. When my partner asked her if she would like to go to Heaven she said yes in a thick accent. She began to pray with her, and I also bowed my head, but kept my eyes open. The young girl wasn’t praying at all, but steadily feeding the baby grains of rice; she even looked side-eyed at me and caught my gaze. “She doesn’t speak English”, I thought, “she has no earthly idea who these creepy white girls are praying over her!”

My partner and I walked back to the bus when it stopped to pick us up and I looked back at the girl, who was continuing to feed the baby. She looked up at me with a completely bemused look before diverting her attentions back to the infant, who began squalling for his dinner to be fed in a proper manner. Back on the bus, my partner triumphantly announced that she led that girl to the Lord as I slid into my seat and propped my knees up on the back of the seat in front of me and pondered what the heck I was doing there.

I started rifling through my memories of each afternoon of soul-winning…and I could not recall ever seeing one face again after my initial contact. I never saw them in church—and buddy, I’d notice if they were because I was there a LOT. I never remembered anyone thanking me or crying or walking away with a new bounce in their step. I felt like a dismal failure as a Christian as I looked forlornly at my tally marks that stood for nothing. I tried to give myself hope—maybe I planted a seed and Christ would water it! Maybe I did…who knows, but I began to feel that maybe the tactic was all wrong, because I cannot remember any of us ever bringing anyone to church from those Wednesday trips, so it wasn’t just my failure. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I never felt a sudden change or even a cozy comfort from my own knowledge of the salvation plan and the day I said the prayer. Why not? It was not the first time, nor the last, the “one and done” doctrine had bothered me—it just felt so incomplete, somehow.

Being a public school kid, I had exposure to outside ideas, which, coupled with my naturally curious mind, marked me as a potential trouble source in my fundamentalist world. I toed the line for many years, wanting acceptance and desiring so badly to have the fire in my heart that I perceived that many of them had, but I was not buying any of it and my skepticism brought suspicion upon myself. As a cocky teenager, my questions got bolder, my remarks got sassier, and my smirk more frequent. It wasn’t long before not only was I uncomfortable around people I knew my whole life, but I was becoming justifiably unwelcome.

It would be years before I felt true fire in my heart, as my journey to the Catholic faith was not an easy Point A to Point B journey. However, after truly discovering Catholicism, I felt an inner glow and peace I had never known, and I feel sure it radiates outside of me—maybe not all of the time because I am human with bad days and good days, but certainly it never goes out and it is genuine. My evangelism and discipleship have changed and I attempt to allow the Holy Spirit to use me to show kindness and work for unity to help bring people closer to Him.

Recently, I have re-visited the Roman Road through Roman eyes. It is hard to argue with the black and white divinely inspired word of God, and indeed, Catholics have no argument against it at all despite what Protestants may think (Catholic friends, check this out for a hearty LOL—my favorite phrase is “The Vatican has redefined many of its keywords”). In fact, Catholics walk further down that Roman Road to the finish line to include the sacraments, instead of taking the first exit off at the end of a prayer.

It may seem more complicated, but it is really not. Catholics believe we are saved through God’s Grace—not works (Ephesians 2: 4-9), as commonly believed by those outside the faith. By accepting the free gift of God’s Grace, we are professing our faith and receiving Him into our heart, but we live our faith through works. Our Baptism, even if done as an infant before we are aware of what it entails, is the opening of the channel of grace and the beginning of our salvation. What we do from there either hinders or increases the flow of grace; the grace is still free and it is always your choice to accept it or throw it away. Our sin separates us from God and blocks the channel of grace that He continually bestows upon us, but confessing it and repenting re-opens the channel so blessings can flow anew. Jesus paid the price for our sin and the grace provided through His mercy enables our faith and works through faith, which are not innately valuable on their own and do not merit us salvation without His grace.

Nothing about the Roman Road implies that it is a “one and done” deal. Yes, we are saved by accepting the grace of God through faith—absolutely. We continue to be saved by grace, through faith, which is lived through works. The saving does start at a moment in time, but it continues on throughout our lives, and does not end at the end of a prayer. Jesus himself makes it very clear in the Sermon on the Mount that faith and works go hand in hand and neither by itself is justification. He continually preached this in his parables, as well, and instilled this in his disciples. This teaching is most clear in the Book of James, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man can say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works…Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only…For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:14-18, 24, 26).

That being said, let’s revisit the famed Roman Road:

  • Romans 1:18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” —I think all Christians can agree that men deserve God’s righteous wrath for our offenses against Him and against each other, and that men suppress God’s truth and attempt to pervert it for their own purposes.
  • Romans 3:10 “As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one.”–I think that is pretty straightforward. Catholics believe we are all born tainted with original sin thanks to our first parents, Adam and Eve, choosing their will above God’s
  • Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”—Again, no argument here.
  • Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”—Yep. Sounds legit to Catholic ears. We deserve death because of our sin, but God gives us the gift of salvation through His Son, and in Him, we are alive forever, even after we shed this earthly body. Catholics believe this better than most, because we profess the communion of saints and practice it.
  • Romans 5:8 “But God commendeth His love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”—True, John 3:16 repeated. God loves us, even when we don’t deserve it, and because He loves us so much, Christ died for us so we can be in full communion with Him again. Mankind continually broke God’s covenant, but instead of killing us, He died instead, to form a new covenant.
  • Romans 3:24 “Being justified freely by his grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus”—Uh…yeah. Grace. We think so, too. We are reading the same thing, after all!
  • Romans 10: 9-10, 13 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart of man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”—We totally get that, too. We even confess it over and over again at every Mass, every time we pray the Rosary—all the time. We continually ask and pray for salvation.
  • Romans 8:30, 35, 38-39 “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—We agree, no outside forces of any kind can take us away from the love of God. We, can, however, remove ourselves. God would still love us, but we would be rejecting Him and His grace. Paul was speaking to the early Christians that were being martyred, giving them hope and courage to face whatever might befall them because the reward of heaven would be theirs.

It has always made me squirm when I have confided to my new Catholic friends that the vast majority of evangelical Christians do not consider Catholics true Christians. They are always shocked because they would never say that about a Protestant, though they will wonder sadly why Protestants will reject lovely sacraments, sacramentals, and devotions that bring us only closer to God. Catholics take turns from being genuinely hurt to heartily amused when confronted with what Protestants think Catholics believe. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said it best when he said “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.” Protestants, Go ye therefore teaching all nations, baptizing them, and all that, but please read up on the first Church and understand you are preaching to the choir when you knock on a faithful Catholic’s door.

Your sister in Christ,

Janie