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.”

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!

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.

Practicing What We Preach

I live in a part of the country that many people sometimes consider backward. It is a mostly blue-collar, predominately Protestant, good ol’ boy American place. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but we do have a seemingly high concentration of narrow-minded people…but I have found that really those people are just the loudest people. Most of the people are simple, naïve folks that are simply ignorant of many things and ways of the world. There are a few (and typically those few tend to seize power, I notice) that are willfully narrow-minded and perpetuate their myopic views to the masses to forward their own agendas.  These are the people that take Fox News as the Gospel instead of doing their own research or reading the ACTUAL Gospel to spread the real teachings of Jesus…and these people make me mad enough to spit poison.

So….THIS happened in my hometown recently……

I don’t know why I was so shocked at the rude verbiage used, considering the source, but every time I run into something like this, I am still amazed at the hate and bigotry we allow to bombard us and fill our souls.  What is worse, to me, is that when this disgusting article was blasted all over facebook amongst my local cronies, lots of them LIKED it. People that I KNOW to be decent, nice people and that certainly consider themselves Christian and attend or have been raised in the very biggest, most prominent church in our area. The church I was raised in…I was reminded of reasons why I left, to say the least.

The stupid article has little to no information or backstory. Its sole purpose is to instill hate and fear of poor people and keep them marginalized.

THIS article has a lot more information…but I noticed no one bothered to look it up or any other information surrounding the events to find out the whys and wherefores.

There is still probably lots missing to the whole story, and certainly no one knows the individual stories or character of the homeless people involved except themselves, but that is true of ANYBODY, whatever their race, creed, or social or economic standing. Which is the POINT…you cannot judge anyone in such a manner. Just because someone is poor or homeless doesn’t make them a criminal, any more than just because someone is a rich doctor or CEO makes that person a saint.

I do not know Sean Cononie, and I have never even met him. I cannot vouch for his true motives in anything or his personal character or his religious views, but I can give him and his organization the benefit of the doubt and I can also praise him for helping those that are down on their luck. He is showing the compassion that Jesus commands us to show as Christians. He is also helping the people learn to make their own way again and contribute to their group and society, which is the “American” way, after all. The way that so many of those Bible-thumping, flag-waving narrow-minded people spout at the mouth and yet refuse to practice.

Heaven only knows where I would be now if Jesus had not shown me infinite grace and mercy, had not put compassionate people in my life to steer me back to the path or encourage me along the way.  My sweet mama who suddenly grew a backbone of steel and forced her hard-headed teenage daughter to do the right thing by her baby and by her own life. My son’s grandmother, who is one of my very best friends, who forgave and loved a broken-hearted girl past her pain. My high-school English teacher who helped me find my voice. My fourth and fifth grade teacher, Ms. Key, who taught me everything I needed to know was within my reach if I was resourceful enough to seek it out.  My husband, who taught a very love-jaded somewhat promiscuous woman what it means to be loved by a godly man. The lovely people that share my faith…the sweet ladies I have met at church, the wonderful bloggers I follow, the lay-people and clergy alike…that have taught me there are people with kind hearts and courage to share the true meaning of Jesus’ message.  The many, many friends and strangers that have shown random acts of kindness that caused a ripple effect. All of these people have been the channels of grace to get me where I am. All of this has taught me that I need to always keep my soul clean and hands open to be the channel of grace that may be needed for someone else.

Imagine if Jesus responded to the poor the way some of us do. Imagine if he refused to heal the lepers or show mercy to the prostitutes. What would even be the POINT of our religion???? Jesus himself was practically homeless, wandering and living off the charity of others. Indeed, he and a whole giant group of dudes and ladies were wandering about asking for handouts.

I don’t do online pleads for money (unless it is a cause I am certain of), but I can never pass a homeless person by without trying to give them a little something. If I have nothing on me or miss an opportunity, I am eaten alive with guilt.  People have pointed out that there are plenty of liars holding up cardboard signs and have Cadillacs parked around the corner. So? Unless I know that for an absolute fact that they are lying, I am called to show mercy and compassion and help my fellow human. Their lie would be between them and God—Jesus knows my intentions were pure.  People have pointed out that they are collecting money for booze or drugs…again, that is between them and God. I agree that it is sad when people have addictions they feel they cannot overcome and are wasting their life away; I try to hand out food instead of money whenever I can to homeless on the street so as not to enable addictions, but I cannot assume that every homeless person IS an addict. People have pointed out that many people have willfully abandoned their families and so forth. I agree that is awful, but MY conscience and sense of Christian duty is not waived or contingent upon their unknown history.

As far as I know, Mother Teresa didn’t stop to ask questions of the poor, plagued people on their death-beds. She didn’t refuse to wipe their brow, spoon feed them soup, change their bandages, or say a prayer for them dependent upon their deed or misdeeds. She just gave of herself until she was called home.

Knowing about her and the countless other good people and saints that preceded her and followed in her footsteps, how can anyone turn their head to those suffering around them? Even NOT knowing about them, how could anyone assume that they may not fall or stumble themselves one day and need the assistance of someone?

It can happen to anyone, at any time. And bad things WILL happen to everyone at sometime. There, but for the grace of God, go I…and what we do for the least of our brethren we do also for Him.

Catholics commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus every day with the Mass, but the entire Christian world especially calls the new covenant to mind this weekend with Easter.  It would do us all good to remember the ministry of Jesus and our duty to “go ye therefore, teaching all nations” of God’s infinite and eternal grace, mercy, and love for ALL of us.

Beautiful Lessons, Ugly Disease

Mamaw & PapawMy Mamaw has always been one of the most precious people in my life.  As her namesake, it is quite fitting that we share many things in common: slanty green eyes, full hour-glass figures, and our love of old southern gospel music are just a few of our shared attributes. We are also both outspoken oldest daughters, with firey tempers and sharp tongues.

While she grew up in the foothills of Arkansas in a dirt-poor family of 15 children living hand-to-mouth, I have lived a life of privilege, by comparison. She literally lived those stories you hear old people tell about walking 5 miles to school up hill, both ways, barefoot in the snow.  Working every day milking dozens of cows, she then herded them to pasture and picked never-ending rows of cotton. Married at 15 to my Papaw, they made their way eventually to Florida to build their family home with their own hands, piece by piece, brick by brick. She likes to say she “handed him the boards and took the cussins”. She endured 11 years of infertility, which she blames on my Papaw’s case of the mumps that “went down on him”, and then raised three children nearly to adulthood when God surprised her with another baby at the age of 44. As long as I have been alive, and pretty much as long as SHE has been alive, she has been taking care of someone…if not her own children, then one of her many brothers or sisters, and finally her grandkids who all worshipped the ground she walked on.

A very queen of cooks, with a specialty in fried chicken and seven layer cake (a southern delicacy with paper thin layers of yellow cake slathered in home-made chocolate frosting), she could make a meal you could smell half a mile away…just follow your nose to her knotty pinewood kitchen and pull up a chair. Aside from cooking, she was a master in other domestic duties, waking up before dawn to clean the house spic and span and work tirelessly all day crocheting or sewing. She maintained a lovely yard, a sanctuary of green grass with overgrown flowerbeds and numerous potted plants beneath the dappled shade of huge live oak trees, and she never shied away from heavy yard work– mowing her own grass, painting her own tin roof, and moving an entire patio of bricks clear across the yard in her sixties and seventies. She was never a real lady; her hands are rough and calloused and her feet look like they never saw shoes in all of their days, she has never been afraid to speak her mind, and she could snore down any man…but she has always been a woman to look up to…a woman I wish I could be.

I miss her so much…too much to think about, so I put it out of my mind most days. I am a terrible, horrible granddaughter to the grandmother I love and adore so much because it hurts me to take care of her. That is the ugly and sad truth and I hate myself for it. Mamaw has Alzheimer’s and she is in her last stages, and my time with her is so short, but I craftily find almost anything else to do than just show her the love I do actually have for her–and I really do love her so much. She doesn’t know me anymore and some days she doesn’t want me to touch her or talk to her too much, if her meds aren’t right or on time, and her once green eyes that crackled with fire are faded gray and stare vacantly more and more, with the little spark of recognition less frequent. She cannot walk, and is very easily unnerved or aggravated–she wants to do something and nothing at all at the same time, and almost nothing pleases her. Any memories she does have are all distorted or manufactured…it is nothing like on TV where the old person relives an actual old memory or confuses you for someone in the past, at least not in her case. I would give almost anything to hear her old stories again, just to hear her talk willingly or laugh, even if it meant mistaking me for an old friend.

I don’t know much about many mental diseases or disorders, but I sort of imagine that in many cases it is like the person is trapped inside their own head. Neurons and pathways just aren’t linking up properly to allow that person to shine through.  Alzheimer’s isn’t like that. Sometimes Alzheimer’s feels like the person is a tire with a slow leak that you cannot find to patch up–the air just keeps escaping, there is no fixing it, and you start to panic. Sometimes it feels like all your really nice, plump, juicy grapes are turning into raisins–dehydrated shells of their former glory, but sweet nonetheless.  Sometimes it feels like Alzheimer’s is more like the person is fading away–like a hologram, static-y and glitch-y like Obi-wan Kenobi relaying a message through R2-D2.

I expressed this to my good friend at church, Arlene, whose mother suffered from dementia. She explained to me that this disease, as ugly as it is, has its beautiful points, too. For one thing, she pointed out, it gives me an opportunity to be a channel of God’s grace and mercy. I have the privilege of being an instrument of God for my fellow human, and my most beloved grandmother especially, in her darkest and final hours. It is always His will that I do this, and I must pray for the courage to do His will over mine. She also expressed to me that this is probably my Mamaw’s purgatory and when her time has come, she will be ready to enter the pearly gates, or be that much closer to it.

Purgatory was not something I struggled with when I was going through my conversion, once I understood what it was, and that it was not a place of torture or punishment, but a purification/glorification process, so it makes sense that an upright, God-fearing woman that committed no major sins that I know of complete her purgatory stint with this disease and have no further ramifications at its end. I know my Mamaw doesn’t specifically believe in purgatory, but I do know that she believes we do our suffering here on earth, and that  suffering comes whether you are a good or bad person because this world is full of toil and trouble…so I think she would actually agree to an extent.

Suffering, too, brings us closer to Jesus. We get a tiny little smidgeon of the suffering He endured for us, and become a little more like Him. James tells us to “count it all joy” when we are faced with trials. Joy? We never ever see that while we go through it, of course. I didn’t understand it entirely when I first read it, but there is a quote in one of my favorite childhood books, Rilla of Ingleside, in which Rilla, who is a teenage girl growing up during WWI with three brothers and a sweetheart overseas in the military, marks the second anniversary of the start of the war with a reflection that she thought before the war started that the past two years would be full of fun. When questioned if she would trade the past two awful years for years of fun, she says, “No. I wouldn’t. It’s strange – isn’t it – They have been two terrible years – and yet I have a queer feeling of thankfulness for them – as if they had brought me something very precious in all their pain.” If I follow God’s command of showing help and mercy to my grandmother, my suffering is not for nothing. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier, somehow, though.

I have learned, too, through dealing with the effects of this disease that strength comes when we are seemingly at our weakest. My mom, who is certainly earning her saintly crown already with her corporal works of mercy, tends to her mother tirelessly and so devotedly. I know that she is exhausted sometimes, and her sadness is palpable when she leaves Mamaw’s side for the night, but she does count the suffering all joy and treasures every remaining moment with Mamaw. My sweet Mama, who is meek and mild, sensitive and shy, has shown remarkable strength and courage in this losing battle. Oh, that I could be more like her, I think to myself while simultaneously hoping there are no more opportunities to warrant such a show of bravery.

This slow descent into death has given us all a chance to say goodbye, after a fashion. Instead of it being like a hologram of a person, the end of the disease is really most like teleporting, Mr. Spock style–she is fading here, but showing up stronger in the new world.  I know I will cry when Mamaw is gone, but I also know I will be so relieved and happy because her earthly suffering will be over and she is fully in Heaven. My Papaw died unexpectedly for me, when I was a child, and it traumatized me and hurt for so long. Although it isn’t that I love my Mamaw any less than I love him, I know that the pain will be less when she goes. In may ways, it feels like she has been gone for years already…and so slowly that I never noticed her leaving.  My greater sadness will be if I cannot muster up the courage to do as I ought, and let her and Jesus down with my own selfishness.  I love them both too much to be so small-souled and cowardly.

Pray for me, friends. Pray also that my sweet grandmother lives her final days in peace and comfort. Pray most of all that we find a safe, reasonable cure for such an ugly disease.

God bless you.

Mamaw & me