The Cheerful Giver?

Cheerful-Giving“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)



A few days ago, my mother came upon a woman in a Facebook group who was collecting donated goods for some families with children who were in desperate need this holiday season.  Upon looking at the list, she felt like she could help them out with a good number of items.  She contacted me to see if I had anything on the list that I would be able to contribute.

Just like most of us, I have plenty of extra things sitting around that, in all honesty, I don’t really need to keep hanging on to.  Not only did I have a few things, once I started really looking, I found that I had a lot of things that I could pass on to these other families.

Giving away the goods was not the challenge of this act of charity.  No, no.  Physically handing things over to another person, family, or organization doesn’t take a lot of effort.  I found where I really need to learn a lesson in giving and that is in my attitude.

Because, what good are all those items given to another if they aren’t given, as St. Paul says, “cheerfully”?
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The ONE Thing I’m Thankful For

vintage-thanksgiving-postcard-8It’s that day.  THE DAY when we make our obligatory list of “Things I’m Thankful For” and prepare to present it in front of family and friends around the Thanksgiving table.

We all know how the list goes: air, family, friends, health, job, home, football, pumpkin pie (in whatever order is preferable to you), etc., etc.  All great things to be thankful for and generally worth mentioning.

I’ve been meditating on the “what are you thankful for question” a bit more this year, though, because I feel like saying, “Duh” when all those general gifts are mentioned.  OF COURSE I’m thankful for my family and children, the blessings we have in the form of good health and a job and home and all the extraneous things that make my life what it is.  I try to daily live my life as a woman who is aware of my many, many blessings and who regularly tells God “thank you” for them.

But, why?  Why do I try to live in this mindset (or, really, HEARTset)?  What is it that I am truly the most thankful for that allows me to be a person of thanksgiving, of praise, with a grateful heart?
Read the rest of this entry

Music with Morgan, Billy, and Ylvis

My kids have now reached the age at which we start having music fights in the car.  Our travel playlist has become quite eclectic.  For example, tonight we spent an hour in the car and our selections included:

  1. This summer’s VBS theme song (Stand Strong)
  2. Bon Jovi
  3. Billy Joel
  4. One Direction
  5. The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Theme Song
  6. Matt Maher
  7. Elton John
  8. Hakuna Matata
  9. Kenny Chesney
  10. Sidewalk Prophets, and
  11. What Does the Fox Say

One particular song that hit our playlist tonight was Billy Joel’s Summer, Highland Falls.  The lyrics of this song are so moving and beautiful that when I was studying poetry in college, I wrote Billy Joel a letter thanking him for the way he was able to evoke such emotion by pairing beautiful imagery with haunting melodies.

“It was by music that the ancient kings gave elegant expression to their joy. By their armies and axes they gave the same to their anger.” – Confucius

Just to give you a brief example:

We are forced to recognize our inhumanity
Our reason co-exists with our insanity
And though we choose between reality and madness,
it’s either sadness or euphoria.

You can listen to the whole song here:

I suppose it’s no wonder that I started thinking about lyrics considering that tonight’s playlist moved us from Billy Joel’s poetic genius immediately into One Direction’s Best Song Ever.

The refrain to that song?

I think it went oh, oh, oh / I think it went yeah, yeah, yeah / I think it goes oh

To say that One Direction is no poetic genius is putting it mildly.

To be fair, I must admit that  I sang the “oh, oh, oh” and “yeah, yeah, yeah” with just as much gusto as I did Summer, Highland Falls – and with significantly more dancing.  By the time we got to What Does the Fox Say, I had hopped down from my mental soapbox and forgotten all about my concern for modern song lyrics.  It could be that I was just too busy trying to make my kids laugh by imitating the CGI fox dance moves at the end of the song without sacrificing my driving.

“Music takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Then, I got home and found this gem on my Facebook feed:

I listened to these classic actors, with their rich voices, reciting such banal…well…crap… and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Hearing One Direction (and Miley, and that idiotic Chinese Food song) in that context brought the point slamming home again.

“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” – Shinichi Suzuki

The songs whose lyrics are recited in that video (along with a thousand other modern pop and rock songs) make me want to laugh, dance, sing along, and bop my head.  But while that makes those songs entertainment, I don’t know that it makes them music in the idealist sense.

“[Music is] the exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal bursting forth in sound.”  -St. Thomas Aquinas

Truly good music has been a soundtrack of my life.  From the heart swell that begins with the opening bars to “Over the Rainbow” to the short story revealed in Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” to the mind bending insanity of “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the tears that well up each time I hear the “Ave Maria” – in its purest and most ideal form, music evokes emotion.

I can’t say I get much emotion out of

“You a stupid hoe / You a / You a stupid hoe / (stupid, stupid)”

unless you count dismissive condescension as an emotion? (That was Nicki Minaj, btw.)

Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents. – Ludwig van Beethoven

Maybe (probably) I’m over thinking it – and I’m still going to sing along with “What Does the Fox Say” – but every time I do, I’m going to imagine Morgan Freeman…

You're Kidding

I’m also going to try to be a little more deliberate about including some truly great music in the car’s playlist.

This Was Not the Plan

I don’t know when I started to realize that no matter how many and how often I made “plans” I made for my life, it would almost never go the way I envisioned it.  When I look back, I can see how different things that happened in my life were dots that were going to connect me to another dot in a way that I hadn’t envisioned and never would’ve thought of.

The first place I can really remember it happening and changing the course of my “plans” was in high school.  After two years of playing on the volleyball team (one of those years as varsity), I was unexpectedly cut altogether.  I was devastated and had all my high school plans and dreams seemingly crushed. Crossing out Plan A and writing Plan B on a blackboard.

But, that event led me to a new dot – going from running track in the spring to running track in the winter, too.  Though I never really wanted to pursue track in college or try to make the Olympic team or anything like that, I ultimately had a much more successful career as a runner than I probably ever would’ve had as a volleyball player.

God knew what He was doing.  Imagine that.

When I review my life thus far, I can now clearly see how things like that happened constantly, changing the course of my life and taking me in a new and better direction.  Sometimes they were things I had no control over (like getting cut from a team), but often they were choices offered that I hadn’t considered, I ended up choosing, and that made all the difference. Read the rest of this entry

Remembering 9/11: Sharing & Praying with My Children

No adult can forget where they were or the emotional turmoil of September 11, 2001. Even if the frequency of our prayers or the urgency of our commitment to peace has wavered over the past 12 years, each September 11, we remember, we pray for our country, those who were lost, and those who mourn, and we recommit to working for peace in our homes, our families, and our world.

I sometimes find it hard to believe that while the emotions and images of that day are seared into my memory, my children will only read about it in textbooks and hear the stories second, third, and fourth hand. For them, September 11, 2001 will be like the Pearl Harbor bombing or the WWII concentration camps were for my generation – something understood intellectually, but not experienced emotionally.

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There’s a part of me that is okay with that. I don’t necessarily want my children to experience the frightening emotions of that day and the weeks the followed. I don’t necessarily want my children to know the shock of watching the attack on our country happening live on TV or sorrow of watching people fall from building sides and hearing the death toll continue to rise. I don’t necessarily want my children to feel the bitter emptiness of the New York skyline. There’s a part of me that wants to protect them from all of that.

However, if I engage only in an emotionless dissection of the September 11 event, my children will also never know the hope and unity that, if only for a short while, overshadowed the fear, sorrow, and brokenness of those days. I do want them to know the feelings of comfort we got from gathering as communities to pray together. I do want them to experience the unity of “one nation under God” that we were at that time. I do want them to know that divisiveness and partisanship have not always been the name of the game in Washington. I do want them to feel the peace and hope that came from the stories of ordinary people demonstrating extraordinary heroism and compassion.

So, I will remember 9/11 with my children – not with clinical facts, but with all of the emotion those memories raise in me. I will be honest with them about what it was like to witness evil that day, and I will delight in sharing with them the many, many ways we saw good overcome evil, light overcome darkness, and hope overcome fear.

9-11-cross-prayer

My grandfather was a POW who recorded interviews and about his horrific experiences in the German camps in WWII, and he presented me the model of how I plan to remember these events with my children. He never forgot the evil of that time in his life, but each time he shared a dark or frightening story, he followed it up with a story about goodness, about the human capacity for compassion and generosity, about the power of prayer, and about how he managed to find moments of true joy in the midst of tortuous pain and overwhelming fear.

Tonight and each year on this date, I’ll spend time remembering and sharing with my children the story of how we witnessed the Paschal Mystery of suffering and death leading to resurrection – of many tiny individual acts of good triumphing over a few big acts of evil. And then we’ll pray together – for those who were lost, for those who mourn, for those who still suffer from acts of terrorism, for our country, and for peace in our world.

Father,

We pray for all of the people who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. Comfort them and continue to guide them in your hope. Help us to honor the lives of those who died, through our thoughts and our actions, and grant them the happiness and joy of heaven with You. Fill us with love and forgiveness, and help us to live peacefully with each other.

As we see pictures and hear memories of the suffering and confusion of September 11, help us to remember all the good that you have put in Your world. Help us, most of all, to share Your love and promises with those we meet that are suffering and confused.

Amen.

adapted from
Peaceful Remembrance of September 11, 2001
Forty Days of Prayer for Children

(download PDF)

Do you talk about the events of 9/11 with your children?  Why or why not?  If so, how do you remember that day with them?

September11Children

Memes and Miley: a Modern Day Parable

The last thing I want to do is get dragged into the Miley Cyrus / Robin Thicke VMA fiasco.  There is plenty of intelligent commentary on Miley’s fall from grace, Robin’s equal blame, and our society’s return to a post-modern prudity.  But the intelligent commentary is, unfortunately, in the minority.  For the most part, the Internet responded as the Internet does these days – in 140 characters and memes.

I want you to know that I tried, really truly tried (as in – spent far too many hours Googling every variation of “Miley Cyrus VMA meme” I could think of) to find a few of those memes that I could post here that would be funny but that wouldn’t subject you to gratuitous sex or tempt you to objectify these people more than they have objectified themselves.

I couldn’t find one.  Not. A. Single. One.

All of them were offensive, some of them were funny, and a few even gave me hope that we’re not as depraved a society as people think we are.

Celebrity reactions during VMA performance.  Dear Hollywood:  there IS a line.

Meme: Celebrity reactions during VMA performance.
Message: “Dear Hollywood: There IS a line – this crosses it.”

But there was one in particular that made me, well, sad.

billy-ray-cyrus-i-should-have-pulled-out

I understand that both Miley and Robin chose to act in a way that indicates they’d prefer to simply chew up, spit out, and take a big ol’ crap on their human dignity.  That makes me sad for them.  This meme makes me sad for us.  Just because they chose to act that way does not give the rest of us permission to forget that the individuals involved in this circus (Miley, her parents, her friends, her fiance, Robin, his parents, his friends, his wife, etc) are people with dignity and worth.

Whereas the memes using still shots of the performance are, for the most part, a commentary on reality (the performance happened, and that’s what it looked like), this one is not at all based on reality – it’s based on our discomfort.

Billy Ray Cyrus has not indicated that because his daughter made what he believes to be a terrible mistake, he wishes she had never been born.  Say what you will about his parenting failures, he has never indicated that Miley only exists to make him look good or feel good.  In fact, throughout Miley’s fall from cute Disney star to…whatever the heck she was Sunday night, Billy Ray has indicated that she is first and foremost his daughter.

We, however, as a society have indicated that Miley (and others like her) exist only insofar as they can provide entertainment for us, make us feel good about ourselves, or give us fodder for our sexual fantasies.  This meme indicates that we’re done with Miley. She embarrassed us because even we can’t believe that we have created a society where anyone would consider that performance acceptable.  She made us question our societal insistence that sexualizing women is the way to women’s liberty, that pornography is harmless, and that sexual morality is old fashioned.  Because she embarrassed us and convicted us, we think it would be better if she hadn’t been born.

After the VMAs Billy Ray Cyrus didn’t say “I should have pulled out.”  He said,

“She’s still my little girl, and I’m still her dad regardless how this circus we call show business plays out. I love her unconditionally and that will never change.”

This is an unconditional love that truly honors Miley’s dignity and worth at a time when we all most need to be reminded of it.  It’s a love that refuses to objectify her or try to profit from her.

It’s also a love that does not condone the behavior.  Billy Ray sits on the Parents Television Council with its mission to ‘protect children from graphic and gratuitous programming and to restore responsibility to the entertainment industry.’ The same Council who issued a harsh statement condemning the performance.

It’s not all that different from the love another Father has for His daughter Miley, for His children killed in the chemical weapons attack in Syria, for His son who walked into a Georgia elementary school with an assault rifle, for each one of us.

I seem to remember Jesus telling a story a lot like this one.  The father in that story didn’t say “I should have pulled out” either.

And the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation…

Never mind - found one.

Scripture + Pop Music + Meme = Blog WIN!

Shoot, looks like I let myself get dragged in after all…

Oh, Happy Day!

It’s really easy to focus on all the negative and bad things going on in the world and our own lives, too.  And, let’s face it, there really are a lot of crappy, upsetting, unfortunate, and sad things going on around the world.  It’s easy to rue the world and our society.  It’s easy to become bummed out.

But, as much as Facebook drives me crazy at times, I have to admit that I’m thankful that I have a lot of uplifting and joy-filled people in my life who make it their business to keep the good in the forefront.

Sure, there’s lots of beautiful pictures of babies and weddings and family that celebrate the miracles and happiness of our daily lives.  However, there’s lots of great stories and articles circulating about society and culture at large that continually bring me hope (and often a teardrop or two).  God made all of us very good – and that’s really what’s deep in the souls of all people…

Goodness.  Beauty.  Joy.  Love.

Click one of the words above and you’ll be taken to one of my favorite stories and articles of the past few days.  Don’t forget to keep a tissue nearby – I promise you’ll need it!  Hope this brightens your day as much as it did mine.

(Oh, and here’s a bit more happy just for the heck of it…don’t even act like you aren’t singing, clapping, and chair dancing along with it!)

Assumption of Mary: Reflections for You & Your Family

Assumption

Although it is not mentioned in Scripture, the Assumption of Mary has been a solidly held belief of our faith since apostolic times, and has been officially celebrated by the Catholic Church since 6th century AD.

The Assumption of Mary was declared a dogma of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius XII in 1950: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.” (Munificentissimus Deus)

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a holy day of obligation for Catholics – meaning you need to get to Mass today!

A few reflections to help you enter more fully into today’s feast:

From Pope Francis’ Assumption Homily:

“At the end of its Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council left us a very beautiful meditation on Mary Most Holy. Let me just recall the words referring to the mystery we celebrate today: “the immaculate Virgin preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (no. 59). Then towards the end, there is: “the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and the beginning of the church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise, she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come” (no. 68). In the light of this most beautiful image of our Mother, we are able to see the message of the biblical readings that we have just heard. We can focus on three key words: struggle, resurrection, hope.

From St. Josemaria Escriva:

“Joy overtakes both angels and men. Why is it that we feel today this intimate delight, with our heart brimming over, with our soul full of peace? Because we are celebrating the glorification of our mother, and it is only natural that we her children rejoice in a special way upon seeing how the most Blessed Trinity honors her.”

From St. Bernard of Clairvaux:

“And with regard to ourselves, how deservedly do we keep the feast of the Assumption with all solemnity. What reasons for rejoicing, what motives for exultation have we on this most beautiful day! The presence of Mary illumines the entire world so that even the holy city above has now a more dazzling splendor from the light of this virginal Lamp. With good reason thanksgiving and the voice of praise resound today throughout the courts of Heaven…let us not complain for here we do not have a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come, the same which the blessed Mary entered today.”

From Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB:

We celebrate three great moments of Mary’s life knowing that they represent all of our lives…God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death. Through her Immaculate Conception, Mary was called for a special mission.

The second moment of Mary’s life is the Incarnation. Through the virginal birth of Jesus we are reminded that God moves powerfully in our lives too. Our response to that movement must be one of recognition, gratitude, humility, openness and welcome. Through the Incarnation, Mary was gifted with the Word made Flesh.

The Church celebrates Mary’s final journey into the fullness of God’s Kingdom with the dogma of the Assumption promulgated by Pius XII in 1950. As with her beginnings, so too, with the end of her life, God fulfilled in her all of the promises that he has given to us. We, too, shall be raised up into heaven as she was. In Mary we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we in God’s. Through her Assumption, Mary was chosen to have a special place of honor in the Godhead.”

Share this feast with your children:

  • Women for Faith & Family has some suggested activities including placing flowers around a statue of Mary in your home or church.
  • Catholic Mom has an idea for an art project reminiscent of a pop up book.
  • Catholic Culture suggests having a tea party in honor of the Assumption.
  • Take them to Mass!
  • Pray the Glorious mysteries and focus specifically on the Mystery of the Assumption.

Any other suggestions? How are you helping your children understand this important feast day? Other than going to Mass, how will you celebrate this feast?

P’wned

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I don’t know about you, but I just got p’wned by the Pope.

Television and Faith Through the Eyes of A Child

26763f8c00f811e3b88d22000a1fd1dd_7-aAbout a month ago I had a conversation with my 8 year old son that went something like this:

Son:  Mom, I know what the most important thing in the world is.

Me:  Yeah?  What is it?

Son: God

He didn’t say “duh,” but it was implied.  At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about my Catholic parenting skills.

Me: Absolutely!

Son:  Do you know what the least important thing in the world is?

Me:  What?

Son:  I don’t know, I thought maybe you could tell me.

My, how quickly those good feelings are replaced with much more familiar feeling that I am blindly groping through this whole raising children thing.

Me: Ummm…well…what do you think it is?

Let’s be honest:  This is a classic parenting technique that should be known as “I have no idea, but am hoping you will talk some more so I can have time to think up a good answer.”

Son:  Maybe money?  But…even if money shouldn’t be the most important, it still is kind of important because we need it to buy food and gas and our house and stuff.

At this point, still floundering for an answer, I’m just grateful he didn’t include video games or Legos on the list of things we need money for.

Son (continuing):  For a while I thought maybe the Devil was the least important…

Wait?!  He’s been thinking about this “for a while?”

Son:  …but even if he’s bad, he’s still important.  I mean, he shouldn’t be important – we should just be able to ignore him all the time.  But, we can’t, and we have to watch out for him – so I guess that means he’s kind of important too.

At this point in the conversation, I’ve ceased trying to come up with a good answer and am just soaking up the kid’s theological wisdom (and wondering why I paid so much for a Master’s degree in Theology when I’m getting totally owned by my 8 year old in a theological debate I wasn’t prepared for).  I really don’t want him to stop, so I make an intelligent response intended to encourage him to continue and affirm the thinking he’s done so far. Read the rest of this entry

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