Monday, January 19, 2015

We Must Love Better: A Retrospective

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. 
~ Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This reminds me of another quote, one attributed to St. John Paul II:

Darkness can only be scattered by light;
hatred can only be conquered by love.

Whether St. John Paul II was inspired by Dr. King, or the Holy Spirit breathed this truth into the souls of both men, I don't know. I do know that on this day to honor the legacy of Dr. King, it seems like we still have miles to go before we sleep.

We fight over whether there is enough love for everyone. If we love the babies, we don't love the women. If we hate the sin, we don't love the sinner. It seems to me a God who came to give us life in abundance also gives us love in abundance. Caritas in Veritate, love in truth. Love without truth isn't love. Truth without love, isn't truth.

Rather than bore you with recycled thoughts on how we might love more selflessly while living more boldly in the name of Christ, here are a few past posts that cover that ground from a few different angles.

Love Must Come First: This was written in the heat of the same-sex marriage debates and court cases in response to the unkindness that I saw consume so many people from both sides of the issue. It is a reminder that all issues have faces, lives, and souls attached to them. None in the real world exist in a vacuum of intellectual or theological debate. Read on for more.

See? Kinda kitschy! 
How Do You See the World? While leaning a bit on the kitschy side, this explores the struggle between rules and relationship when it comes to faith. It challenges us (me) to remember the root of our faith is relationship, and right relationship to one another because of our relationship to God. Read on unless you want me to write relationship one more time. Oops! I did it again.

How to Approach the Suffering:  Pope Francis is forever showing us by his witness and teaching us by his words that we must love better, that we have to remember that we are workers in a hospital. Regardless of how good a game face we put on, I believe each of us in our own way is suffering. If we take our call to discipleship seriously, we are all called on to suffer. The trouble is that sometimes we forget how to approach one another in our wounded states. How much damage we do if we treat people as though they are well when they are not. These are my notes on doing triage in this field hospital of life. Read on and tell me how you like these apples.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Project Empty: Don't Be an Amoeba

I admit it. There are times I need to be hit over the head with a copper kettle before I start to pay attention. When I gave in to my word of the year, I knew this whole year would be somehow filled with those moments. Empty is hard, especially when you have been fighting empty for so long. 

Nevertheless, there it is. Empty is still hitting me over the head. The flavor of the day is perfection and comparison. It began last night as I read this status update from Lysa TerKeurst:
"Dear Lord, forgive me for all of the times I've compared myself to others. I know that You have hand-picked all of my qualities. Help me to see these things as beautiful reminders of Your great love in creating me as your daughter. In Jesus' name, Amen." 
Well, then. There you have it. Not only is comparison the thief of joy, it is the thief of grace. God has created me, all of me. Why do I think I need to do it all, and be it all, all of the time? Why does seeing someone else succeed at times give me tinges of guilt at the things I am not accomplishing? In addition to wreaking havoc on my own psyche and spirit, the drive for perfectionism wreaks havoc on the body of Christ. 

Our shortcomings serve a purpose. While many of us are quick to believe we must be the best at everything, that just isn't God's plan. Certainly, we strive to do and be our best at all times, but that is far from the stench of perfectionism. As St. Paul writes, in the body of Christ there are many members, but one body, no one part dispensable or more important that the other. 

If we cannot, in humility, acknowledge and embrace our shortcomings, we elevate ourselves over one another. We deny others the ability to use what God has given them to share. If I can do it all, I have no need of you. We risk becoming an entire body in and of ourselves, comprised of only one cell. We become an amoeba, not a human. 

I say this as a reminder to myself. Failure and weakness are part of the human experience...perhaps even a strength of the human experience in that it opens us to the grace of God. 

Grace-filled isn't always graceful. It doesn't mean that I am always floating gently above the surface, devoid of emotion or failure. Yes, by definition, that is hard to reconcile. When I explore the fullness of the words, graceful evokes images of ballerinas leaping as though lighter than air, ladies walking with perfect posture in heels and pearls. I don't think that is the graceful that Christ desires of us, or the expectation I want to pass on to my daughter (or son, for that matter.) When I use the word grace-filled, a very different image appears. An empty pitcher, being filled with water, grace being poured out onto an empty and open soul. Grace-filled.

It isn't when I am somehow perfectly hovering above the messiness of life that I am most graceful. It is precisely when I have fallen on my giant patootie that I am most filled with grace. It is when I am fallen and dirty and beaten that there is more likely room for grace to enter in and fill me to the full. 

I was once told a story about Native American weavers. It was said that when these artisans would weave their tapestries, they would always leave a little hole, a little imperfection, where the spirit could enter. That image has always stuck with me in a powerful way. God has allowed the same in us after the fall, but we spend countless hours and millions upon millions of dollars trying to eliminate the imperfections that may be our very ticket to grace. 

How much simpler life would be if we instead perfected the ability to embrace our quirky idiosyncrasies, the thorns in our flesh, the faceplants and facepalms, and learned to laugh and surround ourselves with the body of Christ. Surely we would find that we are stronger together, that you can do what I cannot, and I can do what you cannot. It is possible that we would learn that our weaknesses do not make us worthless, but rather in them we realize our true worth to a God who comes to lift us up through them. Perhaps we would be quicker to remember that God alone is perfect, and even He comes united in three persons. 

Now there is a lesson I want my children to learn.

Wishing you and yours a year of grace-filled moments, bruises and all!

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Friday, January 9, 2015

{SQT} On Words, Madness, Blankets, Baking, and Fighting the Good Fight

It seems that Quick Takes are already off to a sporadic start here. C'est la vie...and so it goes. Here is a quick recap of my heart and home over the last week (or so).

My Word of the Year: I don't usually surrender to making resolutions, and though I have seen people adopt a word for the year, it wasn't something I had ever done...until now. Read all about it (plus a few other things) here.

Cartoon by David Pope as shared on Twitter (@davpope)

Je suis Charlie: The world continues to go mad. Continues, because let's face it, the madness has been among us since the first drop of blood was spilled after the fall. I appreciated the response of artists following the attack at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It just goes to show the vital part art can play in the expression of ideas and healing of hearts (and in the proclamation of the Gospel message, though that isn't quite at play here). 

The #jesuischarlie tag has become widespread in showing solidarity throughout webland, and I seem to not be the only one who has read that as Jesus is Charlie. A woman in my prayer & fasting e-group sent this reflection after her similar mistake.
When the media was showing the signs 'Je Suis" CharlieI kept seeing in the first two words Je Suis   JESUS  then when I looked at it I saw JESUS  ISThen when you learn that those two words in French translate to I AMIt gives me Faith and Hope of His everlasting Covenant  right?
He is, and always will be, the great I AM.

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Them: This week also marks the anniversaries of both of our father's passing. My dad passed away 18 years ago and the Hubs' father passed two years ago. You would think after 18 years I'd have some wisdom to offer him, but there really are never any words. For both of us, we have children who will never know their grandfathers. We have mothers who still grieve in their own ways. We ourselves continue to make an attempt at grieving while still carrying on with life with small children. One day perhaps we will figure it out, but I have a feeling we will keep muddling along and grabbing onto Jesus to lift us up and dust us off as we do it poorly. Maybe we can at least hope to be able to have audible words to attach to the thoughts and feelings. 

In the meantime, we continue to pray for our fathers' souls, so that one day maybe our children will know them and we might aspire to see them again in the heavenly kingdom. Your prayers are appreciated always!

Brrr! It's Cold In Here: (no Toros in the atmosphere - just cold) There isn't much of a story to go with that. I just wanted to share that picture because...well...HELLO...he's adorable! There's a similar picture of G in the window from past winters too. I will have to dig that out and do a side by side one day. Today is not that day. Now that I've been speaking of cold...I guess there may be a sad story to go with it. 

On New Year's Day, a man froze to death on a front porch in Pontiac, Michigan (which is in the northern metro Detroit area). There is now an effort underway to get warm items to the homeless who may not be able to make it to a shelter or warming center. Faith@Work in Troy is collecting items. I know we have more than enough blankets and winter gear at our home. Perhaps you'll join me (if you're local) in clearing out some excess and helping those whose lives may depend on things that are currently warming your closets instead of your bodies. Here is the official word from Faith@Work. 

PROJECT MICKIEJoin us as we collect freshly laundered blankets, hats and gloves in honor of Mickie Roquemore. Mickie is the gentleman who froze to death on a front porch in Pontiac, on New Years Day. Let us bring good out of the tragic loss of his life and let us honor his memory by helping others.Please drop your blankets, hats, gloves at Faith @ Work. We will work with other organizations like Song & Spirit to make certain they get to those on the streets.

Spread the word and pray for the homeless.
Faith @ Work, 1977 E. Wattles, Troy, MI   48085   248-250-9216

If you are local and cannot make it to Troy, please contact me if you have items you would like to donate and I will work with you to find a way to get them to those who need them. 

If you are not in the local area, please consider contacting agencies that work with the homeless or ministries that have outreach to those who are not making it into a warm place on these deathly cold nights. Here's a great chance to love selflessly and serve joyfully and allow others to live with dignity.

Breaking Bread...Not Bad! My adventure into baking our own bread began by my mistakenly buying "light" bread at the store. I have a sensitivity to any artificial sweeteners (as in they make me ill), so I happened to read the label a little more closely before I opened it. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Holy moly. I know, I know. I have read all the articles, heard all your voices. Natural is the way to go. Make your own foods. But y'all...I'm lazy, dontcha know?

Combine this reading exercise with the fact that my stand mixer now sits in the kitchen finally and has been seducing me with its shiny ways, gently calling my name...and I decided to bake my own bread. Nevermind that the yeast packets I'd gotten when I first had the idea were well "expired." I know about those dates too...scams, right? Thank goodness for the joys of social media! I posted the packets on Instagram and called out to the lovely ladies who actually are not lazy and bake your own bread. With their help, I figured out that dates on some packages are in fact a scam and got to Holly Homemakering it up. Add to this the scones I made on Sunday (because, hello, Downton Abbey is back), and I am now a domestic goddess in the making. It may be a very slow making, but here I go! 

In the Shop: I've taken a bit of a break over the holiday, slacker that I am. I am about to take things back to full speed again with some new products and more of the mugs. Stay tuned as these start to be completed. If you want to follow along, you can find the shop on a separate Instagram page.

Fighting the Good Fight: It seems like the holidays were filled with not the best of news. Cancer, death, you know, not the things that make your sing fa-la-la-la-la. Here are a few people who could use your help as they fight the good fight.

The Lenaburgs: Many of you know Mary and her dear Courtney, who went home to the Lord a few days after Christmas. While their immediate needs are met, there are approximately still about $27,000 in medical bills to be paid off, and if we could offer them a even little extra so their hearts and minds can rest and not have to think about provision at this time, wouldn't that be the best thing ever? If you feel called to donate, you can donate via PayPal or GoFundMe. While I only know Mary through her blog, her witness of selfless, unconditional, sacrificial love has impacted me deeply. Prayers for peace and healing as they grieve their beautiful daughter.

The Allors: Jaclyn is a friend of mine who was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 Uterine Cancer. Even after surgery, there is still a fight to be fought, and if anyone is gonna kick cancer's ugly butt, it is gonna be this lady! She is a fighter! Jaclyn has four children and piling medical bills, of course, so if you feel like you want to find out more about her or help them out, a friend has set up a GoFundMe in her honor.

The Coakleys: Paul and Ann are friends of Mary Wilkerson (of Let Love Be Sincere fame). Their story is just incredible in terms of the amount of fight they have had to bring. While their initial goals of fundraising have been met (praise God!), please go over to YouCaring or GoFundMe to read more and give more if you feel called, or simply add them to your prayers. They are fighting one heck of a fight.

That's all for this week. Now let's get out there and love 'em all like Jesus!

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Of Kings and Babes and Mud and Straw

Happy Epiphany!! We've muddled through the twelve days of Christmas here, in which we hadn't much of a break between gatherings, going ons, and my work schedule. We are finally at Epiphany, and it dawns on me that in the hubbub of the holiday I didn't prepare for one of my favorite feast days. Christmas is great, but me, I like me a good Epiphany celebration. Epiphany is just such a vivid and raw event. A king of a babe in a manger, surrounded by mud and straw and animals and stench. Visitors from distant lands making their way to Him, furtively evading the one seeking to destroy this child. What it must have been like to stand anywhere near that blessed event. What it must have been to approach that child, the King of Kings. I love the lyrics of the Newsboys' song Adoration - it is such a vivid depiction of what it might have been like. "She (Mary) sees me shivering here, she smiles and with a nod, I walk through the mud and straw to the newborn Son of God."  I think I link to this every year, but it continues to be my favorite so here it is again!

I had grand plans for Epiphany...grand, I tell you! Alas, it wasn't to be. It doesn't help that my inexplicable (minus blaming scar tissue) stomach cramps came back in style in the wee hours of the morning and have only now subsided some seven hours later, despite medicine. Wait. There it is. There is my myrrh offering to Jesus - I brought the myrrh. Happy Epiphany!

Today was the first day of a new routine for 2015 with the school days. Gia only goes twice a week, but this semester the Hubs has changed his work schedule so he can take her in the mornings and I just have to pick her up. It's going to be a long semester for him, but it surely was a treat having home a little longer in the morning. Daddy's girl most definitely liked having daddy take her to school, but that tender-hearted little gem gave me a big hug and said I could take her again one day too so I shouldn't be sad. Perhaps she should have also explained this to her brother who was more than devastated not to leave with her. Tears, so many tears. (Not so many tears that a puzzle couldn't fix it.)

Preparing for a secret mission should he choose to accept it.
We had a slow morning playing with puzzles, listening to praise and worship, and I even got a few minutes in with my new devotional. This is unheard of in these parts. Unheard! So me, I'm thinking I will like this new routine. The Hubs...well, let's all say some prayers that he is given the grace of extra peace and serenity with the new schedule which is overly busy for him as he teaches six straight periods, takes a class of his own, and teaches a night class once a week. I hope the glee of his little girl will be consolation enough...

Speaking of my new devotional, a new year has also brought a new approach to prayer (again). I've seen over the years people "choose" a word for the year. I've never been drawn to that, as I rarely will make resolutions in the new year. It is fairly plain to me that I am always a work in progress. However, this year, the Lord placed a word on my heart, and a verse on my heart that keeps popping up over and over, so I cannot escape it. I have a word for the year, and it's a glamorous one.


That's right, empty.

It struck me as odd, because I have felt empty much of the last year, but it brought frustration and failing. Empty was negative. Nothing. Bare. Barren. Less than. Incomplete. Worthless. Meaningless. Incapable. Empty. 

Yet, when this word came into my heart and continued to reverberate within it, no sadness was attached. It was as though I had been holding my breath and could finally exhale. Empty. Pure. Simple. Holy. Potential. Peace. Serenity. Humble. Home. Receptacle for grace, blessing, light, joy... Open to abundance. Ready to overflow. 

The verse that keeps repeating along with that word are the words of St. John the Baptist. 

"He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30 

More of Him, less of me. Empty me. Fill me. By the day, the hour, the minute. Every second of every day, a greater desire to lay myself down at the foot of the cross and let his grace and mercy fill me. Leave resentment and complaints at his feet; let gratitude fill me. Leave my worries at his feet; let dreams fill my heart. Leave my ambition and selfishness at his feet; let His will consume me. Leave my fear and the past at his feet; let His promises fill me. 

It is fitting that one of the verses for reflection today in my devotional was John 10:10. "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (I prefer the NRSV translation here versus the NIV in my devotional.) Abundant life. The words evoke images of lush fields, great joy, raucous laughter...I cannot help but smile. And Jesus is here, always here offering this abundance to us. Every day, every moment, he is waiting to fill us, but we must be empty to be filled. I must be empty to be filled. 

And thus it is decreed: 2015 is the year of empty. Less of me, more of Him, as I continue in my journey to try to love more selflessly, serve more joyfully, and live more boldly.

May all His grace and mercy and every good thing be yours in this new year!

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Great Light of Christmas

 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
~Luke 2:8-14

Good news of great joy...couldn't we all use more of that? In this time of great celebration, a time when that quiet, still space in our heart grows two sizes bigger, we can sometimes forget that we continue to be surrounded by those in great suffering. There are those who do not know that voice, do not know the joy of having a Savior, those who feel alone, those who have suffered great losses, those who are dejected and rejected. 

In this time of great joy, I ask us all to lift up in a special way those who feel no joy, who face life with no hope, who are lost and feel forsaken. It seems like the past days have brought news of despair and suffering for a handful of people I know personally. Our Savior Jesus Christ belongs to them as much as He belongs to anyone. I pray that they are able to see His light in the midst of their darkness. In the year to come, may we be a beaming light in a world that seems darker by the day. 

As we gather around the table, as we gather in worship, as we unwrap the gifts, we give thanks to God who has given us every good gift. Perhaps, if the quiet stillness in our hearts is just loud enough, we commit ourselves to being more present to Him, so He can make us more present to the world around us in such desperate need of His love.

Thank you for being a part of this family and visiting here throughout the year.

Wishing everyone a most blessed Christmas!

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Do We Need to Keep Christ in Christmas...?

Photo from WikiCommons
I see the signs floating around this time of year. Some find their way to a church lawn, others find their way onto a bumper or window. "Keep Christ in Christmas," they say. I understand the sentimentality. I do, I really do. In a world where Christmas merchandise is available along with our Halloween decorations, all roughly thirty seconds after the back-to-school sales have ended, I understand. In a world where Santa is busily Ho-Ho-Ho-ing you to buy more, do more, be more this Christmas, I understand why we could be drawn to the sentiment. 

If you'll forgive me, though, I must argue that it is a misguided sentiment. It may even err on the side of a narcissistic fantasy that we determine whether Christ is or isn't in any THING. Christ, the Lord of all, Savior, Redeemer, Son of God and Son of Man, hardly needs us to keep Him in anything or any season. Christ was, is, and always shall be the core of Christmas. The Mass of Christ. It belongs to Him.

On the converse, where are our hearts? Are we showing up for Christmas? Are we allowing Christ to be our focus in this season, and truly, always? Are we allowing the incarnation of Christ, who was, is, and ever shall be to reign in our hearts every day, every minute, every breath, every second? Are we pouring ourselves out for our neighbors? Are we taking up our cross to follow Him? Are we allowing ourselves to die to selfishness and growing in virtue? Do we look at our neighbor as the "other" or do we see the image of God in them? 

Perhaps Christ would remain more visibly in Christmas if He were more visible in us every day of the year. I know there is whole heaping load of room for me to lose my self-focus and empty myself to make that more possible. 

Christ was, is, and always will be the heart of Christmas. The real question is, are we with Him?

Wishing you and yours a most joyous Christmas. May the love of God be poured out into your hearts to overflow, so that when the world now sees you, they see Him. 

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Friday, December 19, 2014

{SQT} The Holiday Hustle, My Sincere Gratitude, and a New Family Mission

I keep meaning to sit down and tickle the ivories letters on this keyboard to fill everyone in with what's been happening here, but I've been too distracted by what's been happening. Here is a quick glimpse of life in our very own fast lane!

I am still getting used to having a child in school. Yes, it is only preschool. Yes, it is only two days. Yes, it is only half days. No, I'm still not on the ball. Things I forget on a regular basis: take notes and reminders out of her folder, let her pick out an outfit for the day on the night before, put her homework (yes, they have "homework") in her bag before the morning, recycle the "change of outfit" in her bag (I think she has had the same clothes in there since the cooler weather hit). I'm hoping next semester I might get into a school mom routine. We are a people of hope, right? Right?

In case you somehow missed this
cuteness on Facebook or Instagram.

Also new this year, Christmas concerts and school parties. I can handle the parties - the teacher has made signup super easy online. The Christmas concert details sent me over the edge. I am trying very hard not to be "that mom," but I fear a note to our principal may still escape my outbox. Why? The concert started at 6, which is okay, but the kids had to be there at 5:30. Why, you still ask, might this be a problem? Oh, I don't know. I may be one of those parents who works until 5:00. The Hubs may be the one with a second job and working that night. I understand that it is hard to balance convenience on the start time with convenience on the end time. Still it seems like perhaps it is a burden to expect parents to take time off work when there is a concert to be had. Also, it is a little bit crazy to have the preschoolers perform the first song and then go to their class to wait out the rest of the concert so they can perform during the LAST song. We are talking 3 & 4 year olds. It was a beautiful evening, but all too insane for my taste. There is some room for nixing a bit of the chaos. I fear that email is escaping...

Next on the "new to me" list: teacher gifts. Yes, I have seen everyone's posts about them for eons. It just didn't dawn on me that YESTERDAY was our last day of school. Because Christmas is NEXT week. There is no school, of course, because those lovely teachers deserve to bask in the restful peace of the season have to catch up on their personal to-do lists after they've dealt with newbie unprepared parents like me. I then realized that her first day back falls on the actual feast of the Epiphany (not the "hey let's just do it on the closest Sunday because no one will come" feast day). It seems like God has smiled on my unpreparedness with His perfect timing. Or something like that.

In my effort to not get caught up in the hustle of the season, it seems I may have been taking it too easy. My apologies to Amazon and UPS. Our final gifts were just ordered. I will be wrapping it up into the wee hours of Christmas Eve Eve methinks.

Our Christmas cards have also not been sent. This one is quite intentional. I prefer to send them the week of Christmas so they arrive during the Christmas season. So, if you usually get a card from us and haven't yet, rest easy. You have not been snubbed! At least not as of now.

Lest I forget, I wanted to thank all of you who have supported my new wee shop over the past few months. Thank you especially to those who featured the shop (Jenna at Call Her Happy, I'm lookin' at you!) or allowed me to publicize it via their virtual space (this one's for you, Simcha!). Thank you, grazie, and all that jazz!! We were totaling up the sales and closing up for the year, and it was humbling to say the least. The shop was something I started on a bit of a whim to give it a go, and you have all helped to confirm that it should maybe be less of a whim and made more of a focus of my time...and so I shall in the coming year. I'll be experimenting with some new projects and products, so stay tuned!

{SIDENOTE: I also have to say I so appreciate the way Simcha features Catholic art and artists. I think there can be a tendency, especially in Bloggyland, to get bogged down with the written and spoken word when it comes to evangelizing, and we forget that beauty and art can often draw the soul to seek its Creator. So thank you, again.}

This is a handwritten presentation of
the first letter of John done by a freshman
student of my husband's for extra credit,
inspired by the St. John's Bible.
The Hubs and I are also working on a new project to start in the new year. As I was praying on a recent short retreat, his love of Scripture and my desire to "do more" came together in a new family mission. I know you will be waiting with bated breath (thank you Cate for the background and spell check!), but it will involve a weekly feature on Scripture including study (him) and prayer (me) as well as uniting "rescued" Bibles with new owners. Prayers for us as we begin this little mission in addition to our family rosary offering would be appreciated. It is daunting to take on more, but when the Spirit tugs, you let Him drag you, right? 

Wishing you all a most peaceful conclusion to Advent and the greatest joy in the Christmas season. An early Merry Christmas from our family to yours!


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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

From Holy Cow to Holy Spirit {What's In a Name}

But now thus says the Lord,

he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. 
Isaiah 43:1

I have spent many hours mulling over in my head how to pull together the random thoughts floating through my head about my name. You see, I had this great idea based on what I was told my name meant. Then...oh, then I did the unthinkable and went to Google to get more details. Wretched Google with it's balloon bursting intricacies that more fully explain that perhaps your parents glamorized or romanticized what your name means.

Rakhi. Growing up, my parents told me my name meant "gift of love." I presume you can imagine what growing up with a highly-unusual-in-this-country, ethnic name that phonetically sounds a lot like the name of a famous boxer and mountain range might be like. Let me tell you anyway. Kids can be cruel. When you are one of the few non-white, non-"normal" kids in the class, kids can be cruel, despite well meaning teachers and parents. It wasn't the brown skin that got to me. Truth be told, even to this day I sometimes forget I'm not white. That's a story for another day.

It was the name. The name was the source of many-a-tear for me. Rakhi. Rocky. Yo, Adrian! Did your parents think you were a boy? You look like a boy. What, are you super strong or something? Are you gonna beat me up? Yeah, some kids are cruel and just dumb. (I won't go into the highly inappropriate pick-up lines I was on the receiving end of in college.)

In the midst of such teasing, I must have asked my parents why they gave me such a hideous name. Of course to them it was hardly hideous. It's apparently not such an unusual name in India, after all. It was related to a nickname my father had "Rakhal" whose meaning I don't actually know at this time. One thing about names in my family - not one person went by their legal name. Until Facebook, I had no idea what most of my cousins' actual names were. So while my dad's name was Ganen, much of his family called him Rakhal. Enter the name suggestion from his side of the family in India - Rakhi. 

This could have been an entirely different story if my mom had gotten her way back in California in the 70s. No, they weren't flower children, so no Apple or Rosepetal. Michelle. My mom wanted to name me Michelle. Sometimes I dream of what it might have been like to have a common name, to blend into the roll call of children at homeroom. There is an eerie calm that comes over me, but then I quickly snap out of it to realize that just in that one small detail, I would be someone completely different. 

You see, I am a big believer in the idea that names are meaningful and carry weight. Identities are formed in names. God allowed man to name all the creatures and to this day we identify them by their names. Names bring to mind images and defining characteristics. Now, that isn't to say that one's destiny lies in one's name. I'm not making that leap. Nevertheless, I believe names are important. We took great care in praying over our children's names before settling on them. 

Back to Rakhi. What does it actually mean? While it could be interpreted as a "gift of love," what I found after my foray into Google is that it actually means a "bond of protection." The "rakhi" is a string bracelet that is exchanged as a bond of fraternal love/protection between siblings. While I had to mull this all over for a while, I realized that it simply added greater depth to what I already believed about my name. 

I have always believed that I was born out of great love, and as such, born to share great love. Sure, there was always the pursuit of the great romantic love. When I would come out of that fog, though, there was deeper within a desire to pursue something that would do more, be more for others. Whether a doctor (because what Indian kid isn't meant to be a doctor, after all?) or a lawyer, or a politician, or eventually in education and ministry, I had an inner desire to fight for the other. 

It wasn't until more recently that I could give a voice to that desire - a desire for every living thing to know how greatly they are loved, their worth, their dignity - to know they belong to God and He to them. 

With a name like Rakhi in a small Iowa town, knowing its meaning...or an interpretation of it...gave me some consolation. A gift of love is what I was told, and a gift of love was all I wanted to be, and to receive. To belong somewhere, to someone other than my parents, to not be on the outside, to know that great love. All that desire lay in my heart, growing more torturous as the years progressed into adolescence. Love created longing. 

That's all for this edition. Shakespeare I am not, but if you want to continue reading, I'll be back with another installment!

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Hail, Full of Grace

Painting by Cano.
The Immaculate Conception is by far one of my favorite holy days of "obligation" in the Church. I think for me the wonder and the possibility of that moment captures every corner of my imagination (as though my imagination was a box with lots of corners). Can you imagine? From the beginning of time, God had already had in mind the role He had for Mary in the history of salvation. 

Hail, full of grace. 

Painting by Rubens
Mary had to be created in a special way, set apart from all other human creation. She would bear God in her womb. She had to be created immaculate to carry the Christ child, the Savior, our Redeemer and hers next to her heart. 

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,and you shall name him Jesus.

Painting by Antolinez
Mary, the mother of God, created without sin, didn't simply bow her head and say, "You got it!" She was taken by surprise at the news of the angel. She was in awe of what was being said to her and asked of her. In her perpetual state of grace, she met that awe and bewilderment with reverence and docility to the work of the spirit. But she appeared to be taken aback just the same. "Do not be afraid," the angel said to her. "You have found favor with God." In her stupor, what immense faith Mary had to even think this possible. In her undefiled soul, God had prepared her from the time she was even thought of for exactly this, to be receptive in this moment, to believe in this moment. 

As it was with the virgin mother two thousand plus years ago, it is with us. While we have not been prepared immaculately to bear in our womb the Savior of the world, we have each been prepared for some specific purpose by God from the moment we were thought of by Him. He says to us what the angel said to Mary, though perhaps it begins a little differently. 

Perhaps to me it sounds more like, "Hail Rakhi, with a bit of grace..." 

Yet, He says the same thing to each one of us. "Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God. Behold, you will..." That's the challenge isn't it - to be docile to the Spirit that is calling us to cooperate with God's plan? To discern how God has prepared us to participate in the work of salvation is a lifelong endeavor. Some days the whispers are difficult to decipher, and other days the angel is loud and clear. Sometimes we hear that call and cower in fear. "Not me, I'm not good enough, I'm not smart enough, I'm not holy enough, I'm not {enter disqualifier here} enough, I'm not enough."

That angel says to us, "Be not afraid. You, yes YOU, in all your mess, in all your sin, in all your brokenness, YOU have found favor with God and He has a plan for you. A beautiful, wonderful, seemingly daunting, fulfilling plan just for you. You will not know all the details, but you can trust that at the end of the day it will play a part in His plan to redeem the world and draw you back to Him for all of eternity. You have found favor with God."

Happy Advent!

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving Through Works of Mercy This Advent (Oh, and It's Giving Tuesday)

Rumor has it that it is Giving Tuesday once again. Once again, I have an innate problem with designating one day for us to put on our charitable hats and in our great benevolence bestow our prized attention and gifts upon a source who has won our affection. After Black Friday...and Small Business Saturday...and Cyber Monday. Thank GOODNESS for Giving Tuesday. I mean...what would we do with all our leftover money otherwise??? Just imagine!

All ranting aside, I have been working on an Advent gift-giving series that focuses on places to shop and items to purchase that help us to live out the works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal. Today seems as good as any for the first edition of that guide!

5 Ways to Give Through the Works of Mercy This Advent

1) Purchase some spiritual reading for a prisoner: Faith@Work bookstore in Troy is founded on the works of mercy as a non-profit Catholic bookstore. In the time that it has been open, Faith@Work has donated all profits to local organizations working to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, ransom the captives, instruct the ignorant, and all that jazz. This season, they are giving customers a chance to participate in their works of mercy by purchasing a Christian book for an inmate in the Oakland County (MI) Jails. You can make your purchase online, or go visit the store at 1977 E. Wattles, Troy, MI. If you are local, I highly suggest making the trek in to the store. You'll fall in love. Really. 

2) Purchase a book for a high school Catholic apologetics class: The Hubs teaches at a Catholic high school, and he would like to use a new text for his apologetics class. As school budgets are set and tight, they have given him permission to conduct a "tin cup collection" (as Mark Shea would call it) to allow others to purchase the books as a gift to his class. Yes, it is set up under a baby registry on Amazon right now because the Wifers was too lazy/unmotivated to look beyond the standard registries. No, we are not expecting a third child. Do consider donating to "instruct the ignorant" so they can be formed to share the light and love of our faith with the world as they graduate. [UPDATE: Thank you, thank you, thank you! Because of so many generous donations, including one from Ignatius Press, books have been purchased for the whole class! Thank you!]

Photo from Noonday Collection webpage
3) Shop at Noonday Collection: A friend of mine introduced me to this shop, and I love both the pretties and the purpose. She writes, "As you begin to enter into the next holiday season, please strongly consider giving a gift that gives *twice* this Christmas. Noonday Collection uses fashion and design to create economic opportunity for the vulnerable. When you purchase jewelry or accessories from Noonday you join in supporting 28 artisan groups across 10 countries (think 88,000 family members!) You have the opportunity to treat a loved one to a beautifully handcrafted piece, to honor the artisan's craftsmanship, and to bless an individual, family, and community. This Christmas give...
  • Dignified jobs
  • Sustainable income
  • Long-term trade partnerships
  • Emergency assistance
  • No-interest loans
  • Job training
  • Scholarship programs

Please consider stopping by the shop and supporting their work.

Photo from the Artful Giving website.
4) Make a habit of Artful Giving: This one is a twofer that can be carried on throughout the year. This Advent, why not make it a practice to send a handwritten note of encouragement, love, forgiveness, prayer, etc. to people in your life? Or perhaps you can adopt a pen pal who is elderly, imprisoned, or alone. To make it a twofer, consider purchasing notecards from an organization that gives back to the community like Artful Giving in Arizona. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of their cards and artwork currently go to support UMOM's Child Development Center. UMOM is the largest homeless shelter for families in the state of Arizona. Every night they provide safe shelter and supportive services for over 170 families through their continuum of services. They also offer nearly 300 units of affordable housing across the Valley, each community with Program Centers for residents. 

There are many others out there who are selling their crafts and cards to benefit different charities (if you are in the metro-Detroit area, Faith@Work has cards that benefit Mary's Mantle). Find one that tugs at your heartstrings and watch your heart grow more than the Grinch's this Christmas!

Photo from the PIME USA website.
5) Support the PIME Missionaries: If you are a follower of this blog, you may have seen me write about the PIME Missionaries on occasion. Their North American headquarters are located in Detroit, and we have had the privilege of working with them during our stint in Campus & Young Adult Ministry with the Archdiocese. PIME has several ways for you to participate in the works of mercy through their organization. They have a little shop with items you can purchase, you can sponsor/foster a child, or you can simply make a donation to support the work of missionaries throughout the world, especially in some rather dangerous and troubled areas now. In their most recent publication, Fr. Ken Mazur (the Regional Superior) wrote an article sums up for me the shift in perspective the world so desperately needs. It is not dispensing with our traditions and festivities, but grounding them in their source through prayer. Here is an excerpt which I hope he will not mind me sharing:
"Then the rush begins, the time for the preparations leading to Christmas. Each year in my words, homilies, and letters I always urge us all to take some time to prepare ourselves and our hearts as well as our homes and celebrations for Christmas. Before we realize, it will be upon us. For each present we buy, try to say a short prayer for the person you are buying for. For each cake, cookie or other delicacy you bake, say a short prayer for those who will be enjoying them, and for those who won't be having enough food at Christmas. For each Christmas wreath, tree and decoration you hang, pray another short prayer for our missionaries who are far away from home at Christmas. And as you string the lights inside and out, remember that each one brightly announces the birth of Jesus into our sometimes dark, harsh and hostile world. Don't get caught up in the rush."
Also taken from the PIME USA website. Sorry, Fr. Ken! You know where to find 

That's it for this first edition of the Giving Through Works of Mercy. If you have other shops, organizations, or ways to live out the works of mercy as you shop this holiday season, please let me know.

Happy Advent!

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