• “She tried hard and loved much.” 

    Not to be morbid, but I hope that can be truthfully put on my tombstone. I’m not planning on dying any time soon, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Over the years I have come to realize that a great way to live is to really consider my own death. What is important in life? How could someone sum up what I’ve done in my short time (hopefully 99, give or take, “short” years of course) on this earth? In a busy world of seemingly endless demands and constant choices which must be made almost instantly, what should I strive for most? What, in short, really matters?

    I self identify strongly to labels such as homemaker, wife, educator of my children, writer. These are my life’s work. But in the end, I realize none of these simple facts will mean I have done them well, even if they are memorialized in a permanent, pretty font on a piece of formal grey granite protruding from the earth where my body will some day lie.

    She kept a clean house. 

    I suppose that could be said. But so what? Did my children laugh in my home? Were they loved there? Cared for there? Were they encouraged and challenged and valued? Did I spend time with them? Did I put other less important work before them? Did my husband enjoy coming through the door at the end of a hard day? Was he welcomed warmly and loved passionately and much? Was I a true helpmate to my husband in the journey back to heaven and through life’s struggles or was I distracted with an agenda of my own and overly attentive to personal interests and pleasures and accomplishing something “in the world”?

    She was an author. She wrote a column. 

    Both could be written about me. But truthfully, who cares? Anyone can put down his own opinions on paper. In fact, today with blogging, almost everyone does. And studying English grammar and literature can help many people develop a way with words. The important question will be: Did I seek to share truth in my words? Did I have something substantial to say? Did I think before I said it? Did I help? Did I use my personal gifts and talents wisely? (Mt. 25:14-30) Did my words uplift and encourage? Were they sincere? Kind? Did I seek benefit or to benefit? Did I try?

    She educated
    her children. 

    Yep, I did. I spent a lot of time doing this. But, you know, so do a lot of people. The important question is this: In what did I, with my spouse, educate our offspring? Did I educate them in truth, in morals and virtues and values, in the things that last for eternity? Or was I caught up solely in an academic or fine arts education devoid of meaningful context? Do my children know God better and love more because of the knowledge and experience or worse and less? Are they better people because of what they have learned and the opportunities they have had? That is what counts. That is the stick by which I will be, and should be, measured.

    My children’s catechism book asks: Why did God make us? And the answer is: God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven. The next question asks: What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven? And the answer is simple: We must know, love and serve God in this world.

    That sounds an awful lot like putting family first and prioritizing in love.

    Mother Teresa once said, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” Wow. She really made an insightful point.

    If we take Mother Teresa’s words to heart does this mean ambassadors should not work to find solutions to world problems or to bring agreements to foreign governments or that social efforts and projects of inclusion and understanding should cease? Of course not. But peace (and love, and understanding, and agreement, and inclusion and offering truth in love) does begin in the home, and those who receive it there can more easily give it in the world.

    Pope Francis recently said that it is within the family that we first learn how to open ourselves to others and become good brothers and sisters. What we learn from them goes on to benefit society as a whole.

    So it really does go back to trying hard and loving much.

    And so, I revisit what I stated at the beginning of this column. My goal is that the phrase “She tried hard and loved much” can someday be put on my grave, and that it will be the truth.

     

    Posted on February 24, 2015, to:

  • My husband got stuck in an elevator last week. He had flown home, cross-country, after a long business trip and was ascending in the elevator to reach the sixth floor of the parking garage at Midway Airport. He had just picked up a sandwich. His bag was thrust over his shoulder, and his thoughts were turning toward home. He was looking forward to finally sitting down and resting after a few intense, litigious days. Suddenly the elevator, which was between the third and fourth floors, lurched forward. Then it stopped. “Come on!” David said to himself, “Are you serious?”

    David pressed a couple of buttons. Nothing.

    He pressed all of the numbers on many buttons. Nothing, again.

    David shifted his bags and studied the control panel. He found the emergency button and pressed that firmly several times. After a few moments, he heard a voice.

    “Yes, may I help you?” the man on the other side of the intercom nonchalantly asked, as though he were simply at the library circulation desk pointing someone in the direction of non-fiction, self-help books.

    “Yes, I’m in the elevator. I’m stuck!” David said.

    There was a pause.

    “What floor are you on?”

    David looked at the light inside. “I think between three and four…” he said.

    “Ok, sir. I’ll send maintenance over.”

    Figuring this might take awhile, David, a typical guy, hunkered down to enjoy his sandwich. Time passed. Finally he could hear someone outside the elevator. Banging. Knocking. A voice.

    “Are you all right in there?”

    “Yes, I’m fine!” David shouted back.

    “How many of you are there?”

    “One!” David answered.

    “What?”

    “One!” David shouted louder.

    “How many are in there, sir?”

    “One! There is one of me!”

    “How many are in there?”

    “Just me!” yelled David, now starting to laugh.

    More banging. More voices. The maintenance folks got busy.

    At this point, David made a phone call to me.

    “Hi honey. I’m stuck in an elevator,” he told me, “I don’t know when I’ll be out, but my phone is dying. I’ll call you when I’m on my way home.”

    It was the weirdest phone call I ever got.

    “Wait! What? Don’t hang up!” I said.

    “I have to go. My phone is dying.”

    Stupidly, I asked, “When will you be home?”

    Thankfully, he laughed.

    “I will let you know….”

    Back in the elevator, David heard banging and commotion, but there was no progress. The elevator did not budge. Every couple minutes, a voice would ask him, “Are you doing okay in there?” “Yes, I’m fine…” David replied each time. Thirty minutes later, the voice on the other side said, “Sir!”

    “Yes?” asked David.

    “Sir, I’m going to have to call the fire department. I can’t get you out.”

    Sigh.

    “OK!”

    At a point when I would have surely panicked, my husband took it all in stride. If his phone hadn’t died yet, I’m sure he’d have been checking his emails or heading over to iTunes to bide the time.

    Long story short, the firemen came. The police came. A crowbar was used to pry open the door just enough for David to climb up and out, tossing his luggage out first and scrambling through an opening that could have left him falling down a three story shaft.  But he was fine. It had been about an hour and a half since his adventure began.

    David made some joke. He thanked them. He shook their hands, grabbed his luggage and headed toward the parking. “I’ve got to get home!”

    And so he did.

    In hearing his story in detail, all sorts of metaphors and ideas shot through my brain: some times in life can be like being stuck in an elevator against your will … in between floors, out of control. Patience is important. We’re dependent on others. And so on…

    But the most important realization was way simpler than that, and came to me as I snuggled up next to my husband on the sofa that night. He was still laughing, recounting the details of the day. And I was laughing, almost uncontrollably with each new detail. We were having so much fun. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks — some people think marriage today is outdated and confining. Some might even say it’s like being stuck in an elevator.

    Pshaw to that and pshaw to them! If heaven is the goal then life itself is like being stuck in an elevator. Uncontrollable events are going to happen, yes. But how wonderful it is to have someone beside us who makes us laugh and offers a good perspective. What a blessing for us when we find and marry a life long best friend.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Posted on February 4, 2015, to:

  • When I was a little girl, our dog dug up a rabbit’s nest. I can’t remember if she ate the mama bunny or the mamma bunny ran away and never came back. All I remember is that five little baby bunnies were orphaned, and my gentle mother felt sorry for them. Mom called the animal shelter to find out what she could do. My memory is vague but this I do recall. Eyedroppers were purchased, and some sort of solution of nutrition (milk, baby formula) was mixed together for them. Every hour a solution of that nutrition was dropped into the mouths of the hungry bunny babies, and their tummies were gently rubbed to help them digest.

    I soon found out that rabbits, like humans, have different propensities and personalities. Some of the babies accepted the milk dribbled into their mouths. Some licked the sweet nutrition. One tiny bunny, however, freaked out, for lack of a better term, squirming and flailing, instead of taking in the sustenance. I remember the frustration of trying to feed that bunny. I thought: He’s not helping himself. If only he’d relax, it’d be better.

    That image stuck with me for a long time, that of fighting reality instead of accepting it. It occurred to me that rabbit was a lot like me, at times. Sometimes I resist. I fight. I freak out. I don’t trust. I let fear take over. If only I would relax.

    For a long time, I was terrified to fly. I just couldn’t imagine how being up in the air in a manmade contraption, airborne, could be safe. It didn’t help that my brother-in-law was killed in a small aircraft plane crash on a foggy night one January. But fear can consume us if we let it. It can prevent us from going places, literally. And my fear of flying almost prevented me from some of the best experiences of my life, trips with my husband, excursions to see my adult children. In time, I learned to manage my fear of flying, small step by small step, flight by flight. I listened to soothing music. I wore sunglasses to block and keep things calmer and dark. I took deep breaths and consciously relaxed each muscle group. I prayed the rosary, not frantically, but deliberately, slowly, peacefully. Each time I reached a destination, I gained confidence.

    The year I was diagnosed with cancer was another fear-provoking time. I had nine children and a new baby when a collarbone lump was determined to be malignant. Again I fought. Again I thrashed against the situation. My mind tormented me with thoughts of “what if” and darkness. One afternoon, bald and exhausted from chemotherapy treatments, I drove to pick up my son from soccer practice. On a whim I decided to stop in the Adoration Chapel at St. Thomas the Apostle in Elkhart to pour my heart out to God. My son was hungry and tired. I told him it would just be for a minute. I was empty and knew I had nothing to say. I just felt the urge to give Jesus that nothingness because it was all I had.

    My son and I entered the chapel and I knelt down. I made the sign of the cross and felt myself sigh deeply. “I don’t know what to say,” I told Him, “Help me … help me … help me. …”

    Just when I felt I could say no more, I felt a warmth in my soul and a gentle calm washed over me. I suddenly knew that Jesus was with me and would be with me through the cancer ordeal. I knew that His being with me was not like a husband is sitting next to a wife during labor, supporting but not experiencing the event like she is. Rather, I felt, I knew, that Jesus was with me, in me, experiencing with me every physical pain, every emotional sorrow, and every mental anguish that cancer put upon me. He willingly, through love, took that on and went through it Himself. He carried this burden no less than I did, in fact, more. Suddenly, I understood the cross and what it meant. Jesus took and takes the pain with us not merely next to us, but He absorbs it for us and walks with us every single step, enduring every pain we do, for us. And I knew I needed not to fight but to accept because God was with me. My suffering could be redemptive when united to His on the cross.

    Fighting a strong wave leaves us exhausted. Experts tell us if we are ever caught in a rip tide, we should not fight, but swim along sideways until the shoreline can be reached. Patience achieves what brute strength cannot. And there is nothing to fear when God is literally with us.

    How to suffer? Don’t fight. Unite with Christ. Breath deeply. And trust.

    Posted on December 30, 2014, to:

  • I was reading a post in an online Catholic mom’s group to which I belong. A young mother was extremely frustrated. Actually, “livid” was her exact word. She had put her seven year old in charge of the four year old, three year old and one year old, and was trying to cook dinner. The baby got into the dog’s water dish, and the children started out playing together, but ran into the back bedroom and began jumping on the bed.

    Mom pulled the children back near the baby and again instructed the seven year old to watch the one year old. In a few minutes, the baby had poured the dog’s water out and was splashing in it. The kids started running around. Then the baby got mama’s purse, had unzipped it and was playing with lipstick and hand sanitizer. Whew! This made me really feel for this mama. All she was trying to do was cook some dinner for her family!

    Mama was really, really frustrated, and I don’t blame her. A seven year old is absolutely capable of entertaining a one year old for 15 or so minutes under the watchful eye of mom. And four and three year olds can surely sit still for that amount of time and obey the instruction to play quietly. But upon pondering the situation for a few minutes, it seemed to me that mom had inadvertently set herself up for disaster.

    Several things could have made the circumstance easier for this mom: Before she started cooking, the dog and its dish could have been put away in another room; the purse could have been put up high, out of reach of little hands. The baby could have been contained safely, perhaps in a crib or playpen with special toys only allowed at that time, or strapped in a high chair with Cheerios or with a little background music and a spoon for pounding out the rhythm as no one year old can resist.

    I don’t know exactly how mom instructed the children because her post didn’t say, but the best case would have been for her to get down on their level and make eye contact as she told them specifically what she wanted them to do in a peaceful, soft voice. Most importantly, she would exude calm because a mother’s demeanor sets the tone of the entire household. You’ve heard “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?”

    Lastly, mom could have ended with telling her little ones, “Thank you for helping me. I’m counting on you. Can I count on you?” or something like that. In short, while the children should have obeyed, mom could have made it easier for them to do so, and that would have helped everyone.

    Obedience, of course, is a very important virtue to learn as a child, but it is equally important to help a child achieve it. Our little children are like tiny boats and we need to send them coasting down the stream in the proper direction before we ask them to swim against the current. We need to set up our children for success in doing what’s right and make it easy to do so. The challenges and difficulties will come soon enough.

    As I thought about this, I realized that we can take a lesson from this mom’s situation and apply it to our lives in general and our prayer lives specifically. We can be organized and smart in helping ourselves reach goals.

    Here are a few questions to ponder: How many times do we set spiritual goals such as “pray the rosary more” or “read the Bible each day” but we don’t do the little things that set us up for success with these goals? Do we actually put the rosary at the side of the bed, where we can reach it and see it first thing in the morning? Do we consciously carve out time at midday, turning off the cell phone after lunch and closing the door of our office so that the atmosphere is really conducive to reading the Bible? If we want to attend a weekday Mass do we purposefully not schedule doctor’s appointments or meetings that day so we can actually meet that goal? Do we take a deep breath, slow down and concentrate? Do we eliminate distractions and put temptations out of reach?

    If we plan ahead and anticipate potential trouble spots, we set ourselves up for success. We give ourselves the best opportunity to grow in faith and goodness and to reach all goals, spiritual and otherwise. We also offer our children an example for which to strive. It has once been said, and I agree: Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.

    A little foresight has a lot of power, the power to create the best possible scenario for us to get things done.

     

    Posted on December 2, 2014, to:

  • I woke up this morning to welcome the home security guy. He was traveling from headquarters in Ohio to meet me, and I was told by a dispatcher that he could arrive anywhere from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. I figured I better be out of my bathrobe and into real clothes by 8 just in case. Good thing I slipped my Pilates pants and stretch shirt on before I made coffee, and well before 8. He arrived early, just as I was loading last night’s dishes into the dishwasher, grabbing random shoes off the family room floor, and replacing a toilet paper roll in the back bathroom.

    Our teeny, three-pound, sweet Yorkie pup did not detect the security man sauntering up the walk, nor ringing the doorbell nor walking past her in the kitchen. She was too busy whining for scrambled eggs that she somehow knew were in the frying pan, left over from my older daughters who had left for the local Catholic high school.

    As the security man turned to speak to me, (and since I was not responding to the canine whines, I think), the dog suddenly started barking crazily. I excused myself and put her in her crate in the far end of the house. When she didn’t stop barking, I moved her upstairs.

    I had hoped I might quickly show the security guy around the house, and then get to the business of educating my two youngest girls, ages 9 and 12, who are homeschooled. But showing the security technician around took longer than anticipated. One thing led to another and he shot a few questions my way: Why did he bring the wireless box and equipment when our home was hardwired? Didn’t they tell me I’d need different equipment if there was something already in place? Did I, after all, want to install the wireless kit he brought or go with the hardwired equipment, which would take a little more work to update, have a less fancy keypad and no two-way speaking system, but was overall a better idea in his opinion? Where should the glass break detectors go? How many did I say I wanted? Did I want to add this or that? That or this? A “thingamabob” or a “whatchamacallit”?

    I better call my husband, I told him, who might have an opinion on the matter. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Dog was alternating whining with barking now, from a distance.

    Dial. Dial.

    Ring. Ring.

    My husband wasn’t at his desk at work to take my call. And he didn’t answer his cell phone either. I was going to have to decide these things alone.

    Before settling on the security decisions, I tried to imagine all the possible break in scenarios: Bad guys bursting through the front door with machetes; burglars sneaking in from the back with revolvers, no … rifles, no … machine guns; someone climbing a ladder, swinging up the tree, jumping on the roof and jimmying open the window in the corner of the second floor. Okay, there were lots of possibilities. I was thinking I might say I’ll take 15 glass break detectors and 32 window-break detectors, when I realized that might sound a bit excessive. And really, how much would that cost? Eventually, I simply agreed to the security tech’s recommendations.

    The girls came down for breakfast and were dismayed to see that their older sisters had taken the choice doughnuts for breakfast after eating their healthy fruit and eggs, and they wanted to know why their sisters hadn’t saved at least one of their favorite doughnuts for them. The chocolate covered donuts still left in the box looked pretty good to me. “I don’t know why they chose what they chose,” I whispered to them, “What’s wrong with these?”

    The security man began explaining the intricacies of the system he was about to install, when suddenly one of the girls screeched. There was a young coyote in the yard. And, it was just about time, my youngest was surmising, for the dog to go out and do her business. At that moment I made an executive decision to put out newspapers for the dog in the garage.

    The phone rang right at that moment, but when I answered I couldn’t tell who it was because there was a loud buzzing tone on the line. I made a mental note to call AT&T later that afternoon.

    Life is so crazy sometimes. It’s full of ironies and monotonies and busyness. It is hectic and mundane and sometimes chaotic. And it is ours.

    St. Teresa of Avila is said to have claimed that life is like a stay in an uncomfortable inn. And so, sometimes it is. But it is our life, the life God ordained for us to live, in its intricacies, little joys and challenges, as well as the big ones. We can work out our salvation in these small moments, more so I think than even in the larger ones. How do we do it? With steadfastness, patience, endurance, joy and humor, yes lots of humor.

    The home security guy left my house today with me thinking about our ultimate home, our heavenly one. And a thought occurred to me: If we trust in God and move forward in faith, every moment can be a path to sanctity. We can have the ultimate home security by living each moment with acceptance and peace, and simply embrace it for the love of God.

    Posted on October 28, 2014, to: