• I heard the gentle clank of a mug being placed on my bedside nightstand, and the strong aroma of fresh coffee hit my nostrils. Then, I heard the familiar gentle deep voice I’ve loved for three decades, the voice of my husband.

    “Your coffee is beside you. It’s time to get up.”

    I opened my eyes to a dark room and the shadow of my husband’s silhouette. He touched my face with his hand.

    “Thank you,” I whispered. I picked up the hot mug and breathed in the steam. Ahh!

    It is never easy to get up on cold winter mornings with the wind howling outside in the darkness, but my husband made it a bit easier today. I smile as I realize how David’s small act of sweet kindness has, once again, started my day out right.

    He is my knight in so many ways, and has really taken to heart the job of a husband to provide and protect, not just for me but our little family, in both big and small ways. And I am grateful.

    I recently read an article with the title “Eight Acts of Chivalry to Bring Back” by J. Sama. Right off the bat, I realized how blessed I am. Because of the men in my life, my husband, my sons, my brothers, father and brothers-in-law, I have little exposure to know that acts of chivalry are often missing in modern society.

    Oh, I’ve noticed that some random man walking ahead of me at the YMCA may not stand to hold the door open as I approach, as they did in years past, but on a personal level, the men in my life have always been gentlemen supreme. And in talking with my friends, I hear much the same about their husbands and sons. We are so blessed!

    For the young men reading Today’s Catholic who are not yet educated in such matters, or for wonderful, hard-working husbands who may have forgotten, or for mothers who want to train their sons, I’ll offer the list of chivalrous acts that women appreciate.

    Like most acts of courtesy and kindness, these chivalrous acts reflect the character of the one doing them, regardless of how they are received. So, it is always appropriate for men to do them, even if one individual female may not show gratitude for their thoughtfulness. Doing so reveals a strong, manly character.

    The chivalrous acts mentioned in the aforementioned article were (with my comments following):

    • Giving up your seat for a woman when seating is limited. This includes at Mass, in a meeting, on public transportation.

    • Pulling out a woman’s chair when she is about to sit down. Husbands do this for their wives and single men for their dates of course, but sons should also do this for their mothers, brothers for their sisters, and fathers for their daughters.

    • Opening doors for a woman (any woman). And women, don’t forget to smile and say, “Thank you!” It saddened me when I heard about one of my sons opening the door for a fellow student and she screeched, “I don’t need your help! I can do that myself!” How ungrateful.

    • Calling, not texting for a date. Single men, this is imperative. Married men, while your wives will appreciate you setting up a date no matter how you do it, a phone call is always nicer than getting the message electronically.

    • Complimenting. Find something you sincerely like about your wife or girlfriend (or sister or grandmother) and tell her. (Here’s a secret — not only will it be appreciated and motivate her to be better or work harder at whatever it is you are complimenting her about, but you are rightfully perceived as being appreciative and kind. Hint: Win/win.)

    • Walking on the street side of the sidewalk. The original reason for this is to be willing to ‘take the splash’ from a car driving through a puddle or protect her from being hit. I read of one modern woman, however, who said, “In my culture the men do it to protect their wives/sisters/daughters from other men’s improper calls or advances. It is literally to show that she “does not walk alone.” Nice.

    • (For the single fellows) On a date, walking her to the door rather than just dropping her off. Conversely, I might add, go up to the door when you go to pick her up. Don’t text “I’m here,” and expect her to come out. And certainly don’t honk! Please.

    • Dropping her off at an entrance if you have to park far away.

    I would also like to add:

    • Helping her in and out of her coat or sweater.

    Our faith should shine through all our actions with love and joy, kindness and gratitude. What better way for Catholic men to respect the women in their lives than by doing chivalrous acts? And what better way for Catholic women to respect their men than by showing appreciation?

    When women act like ladies, men are more likely to act like gentlemen. That’s good food for thought too.

    Posted on February 25, 2014, to:

  • “Once upon a time, there was a banana. And he lived in a kitchen…” So began the story my eight-year-old daughter Angela wrote yesterday for a homeschool writing assignment. I laughed and laughed, a big belly laugh. I almost couldn’t stop I loved the opening sentences so much. As I read on, I was tickled with her play on words, as the banana attended the “fruitball games” and the “sink bowl.” I so desperately needed this belly laugh from my sweet creative child.

    You see, it seems that everywhere I’ve turned lately, I see stories of sadness and tragedy, even outright evil taking place in city after city, even in my own. I don’t turn on the news anymore because I can’t take the constant barrage of assaults on our faith and stories of disaster that make my stomach turn. In the midst of this media age, it is easy to literally see what is happening not only across our nation, but also across the world, and no tragedy is spared on television: fires, floods, accusations, scandals, murders.

    Our own little communities are affected too — accidents on the road, violence. Just recently, citizens in Elkhart County experienced a random shooter in a local grocery store. Sometimes our own parishes or family is affected. These personal trials can be the most difficult to endure. It is easy to become discouraged.

    While this is scary and unnerving, it is also what has been happening in humankind since the beginning of people inhabiting the earth. Perhaps difficult to imagine it’s true: the ancient Roman times were full of people in debauchery, scandal and local and national gossip. These things have persisted over time. There just wasn’t always mass media to televise it.

    Tragedies can be severe mercies for individuals or communities, which spur us on to humility, repentance and dependence on God. Sadness and struggles bring with them often the gift of wisdom and discernment, of knowledge and Truth. When we realize we cannot control everything, we learn to rely on our Father.

    But guess what? There has also been goodness over time — Truth, Beauty and Goodness — as a matter of fact. God. And children. Children born are our hope in their innocence and promise. They remind us of the Eden that once was and the heaven that will be for each of us who choose God. When we focus on them we find a piece of heaven on earth.

    There is so much to be thankful for when we look out for and after children. Here are some positive things to ponder:

    • For married people, each day is an opportunity to serve a spouse and child, and make a life less burdensome.

    • For consecrated religious, each day is a chance to serve one more spiritual child and lighten the load.

    • Each day a new baby is born, with unique gifts and talents, an unrepeatable combination of DNA and distinctive gifted soul.

    • Each day we have the opportunity to help our children grow in grace and knowledge.

    Our greatest achievement is not climbing to the corporate top, or running and winning a marathon or attaining any other honorable goal. It is living our vocation with courage, even in the midst of a fallen world. The “magnum opus” of parents, regardless of their profession, is the raising of their children to know, love and serve God in this world, to be happy with Him in the next. And the wonderful thing about that is that not only do we have the graces to do so well because of our Baptism, but this job, this vocation is overflowing with joy!

    The joy of raising children well is not only supernatural “up there” joy but also common, simple every day, “down here” joy.

    The same eight-year-old daughter I referenced at the beginning of this column spontaneously informed me moments ago that the dog’s legs are four inches long, her head is three inches and her back is nine. … I turned to see a tolerant puppy on my daughter’s lap, being “tape-measured” patiently. The puppy looked up at me with an expression, that should it be put into human words most likely would be, “Really?”

    And I laughed. How could I not?

    This little girl invited me to dance with her yesterday. She shared a half a cookie with me the day before. She asked me if God has favorite foods. She performed a magic show with her sister (making that patient puppy disappear).

    Children are such hopes and gifts for the world.

    We cannot focus only on the tragedies, sadness and other grim realities, because once upon a time, there was a banana in the kitchen, and that’s reality too.

    Posted on January 28, 2014, to:

  • The Christmas season is still upon us, albeit coming to a close. Traditionally the 12 days of Christmas is celebrated from Christmas Day through the Epiphany, the coming of the three kings on Jan. 6. The Church closes the season with the Baptism of the Lord, which is Jan. 12 this year.

    While the Christmas season usually brings much joy and celebration (rightfully) surrounding the commemoration of Christ’s birth, and happiness abounds as families gather to share a meal and presents, sometimes, on one Christmas season or another, we experience deep sadness or pain. A loved one dies close to the holiday. A grown child strays. A disease is diagnosed. In my own life, my first Christmas as a married woman was like this — I experienced a miscarriage on Christmas day and spent the afternoon in the emergency room at the hospital. Not every Christmas is going to be like the holiday depicted on a Currier and Ives plate. Sometimes, devastating circumstances can be thrust upon us this time of year. Crushingly devastating.

    When this happens, we are prone to feeling something close to despair, especially as the festivities wane and the world seems to be getting back, matter-of-factly, to ordinary life. Have you ever felt like this?

    What do you do when something catastrophic hits you? When you have failed? When clearly your goals and efforts have not been met by an outcome you worked for and desired? When your robust and determined energies have not been enough? When something — physical, emotional or spiritual — comes upon you suddenly, and painfully, and is out of your control, juxtaposed against the gaiety of Christmas joy? When sickness, spiritual or physical, invades your life? Or, when fresh grief is so severe you feel you cannot take another breath, you cannot eat and you cannot sleep? When, while you haven’t completely given up, you are unable to know really how you are supposed to carry on, with such a heavy heart. With questions unanswered. With wondering what you could have or should have done to make things different.

    You long for the typical troubles of the typical family this time of year — where to store the extra garland picked up at a sale at Target, when to fit in writing all the thank you notes necessary from the holiday, and how to clean everything up quickly and efficiently after a busy celebratory season, first world problems for sure. If only that were all you had to worry about.

    I realize most people don’t think of suffering when they think of Christmas, but so often it is there — buried perhaps behind a polite smile, simmering under a sincere but double edged Merry Christmas. In fact, that very first Christmas, in its amazement and joy and prophecy fulfilled was soon laced with sorrow as the evil King Herod hunted down to find baby Jesus. He wanted to kill Him. In fact, from the beginning, the Christmas story was mixed with suffering — weary travelers finding no place at the inn: A pregnant wife, uncomfortable from an uncertain journey, an evil king seeking death for an infant child, a husband waking his wife in the night and sneaking out to escape an evil plan against them.

    Suffering continues to be a mystery in all of our lives, and many times it doesn’t make sense in a logical mind. 1 + 1= 2. If I do A and B, then C should be the result, but sometimes it isn’t. And why do innocent people suffer? Why does catastrophe strike some but not others? And, of course, we all ask, even if just quietly in our hearts, Why me?

    I don’t know.

    Tomes have been written on the subject of suffering, its meaning and its reason. And many more books will be written on the subject for sure. Why? Why? I don’t know. But I know God loves us and is with us in it. That’s all I can offer.

    In your sorrow, in your suffering, in mine, we can find hope in the newborn Jesus. Like Mary and Joseph, we don’t understand the circumstances thrust in our lives at this time, at this juncture in history, even with our best intentions, even when we don’t feel we ‘deserve’ the suffering or pain. And like Mary and Joseph we trust in God’s providence. One step at a time we take our lives in faith, like the donkey led by Joseph into Bethlehem, like the kings who followed an uncertain star. Step by step, in faith, slowly, we too will find Him.

    The Christmas season, beginning on Christmas day and ending with the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 12, is a time of hope, punctuating warmth into the cold of winter.

    If you have a private sorrow, the Christmas season and Epiphany is still for you. In fact, it is especially for you.

    Have hope. He loves you and came for you.

     

    Posted on January 2, 2014, to:

  • We got a puppy!

    I suppose it’s sort of crazy after a dog-less, 27 years of marriage and 20-plus years of cyclical getting up at night with our babies that I would, during the (finally and blessed) peace period of being able to determine my own nocturnal habits, voluntarily put myself at the mercy of an energetic, furry, non human being’s wake/sleep pattern and to be at her beck and call 24/7, at least for awhile. But I did.

    Puppy house training requires multiple and consistent “catching” (as opposed to “reasoning” and “convincing”), sitting not on the bathroom floor as you do with a toddler, and which I might add is relatively comfortable, but rather standing, shivering in the cold, often rainy, November nights in excursions to a special place outside, hoping the coyotes don’t see you with this laughable excuse for a dog, which the wind could literally knock over, and which would be an easy first course nighttime snack for them.

    Instead of cajoling with M&Ms and reasoning with a human toddler, I, and my oldest daughter, have been traipsing outside every hour during the day and every few at night with a teeny little two-pound mind-of-her-own Yorkshire terrier canine, reasoning with no one, simply shining a flashlight at her behind and encouraging and praising “success” when we see it. It goes something like this:

    “Was that it?” I ask my daughter, not sure, “did she go?”

    “I don’t know,” she says, “I think so.”

    “Do you think we should wait a few minutes?” I ask.

    “Probably,” she says.

    And so we do, two smart women, two college graduates, standing in the misty freezing night, watching a dog’s behind, and trying to figure out the right course to keep the puppy dry until morning.

    When we finally decide it’s safe to go in, we walk Little Miss Puppy toward the door, wipe off her little paws and behind with a baby wipe (I’m just that way), then dutifully mark down the events in the “Dog Log,” a binder with an Excel spreadsheet, which we keep on the cupboard. I put her back in the crate until the next hour.

    Why? Why? Why did I do this?

    I will tell you why —

    I did this because we have a little eight-year-old girl who has been begging since she could first talk for a little brother or sister, and when she realized that wasn’t going to happen, she said, “Well, can we at least get a dog?”

    I did it because the older kids are moving up and out and it’s nice to know this little one will be around for the next 12 or 15 years. She’s sort of insurance that I don’t smother the older ones. Plus, she’s cute and she follows me around, and — best of all — she doesn’t argue with me.

    And finally, I did it because the circumstances were right. They just unfolded in a very comfortable way: My husband, on trip to the furniture refinisher with our dining room chairs last summer, sent me a picture of a puppy so cute (the refinisher was breeding them) that I swooned in the cluttered basement, which I was cleaning at the time I received his text. Amidst boxes and laundry and children’s toys I started to think what it might be like to have this teeny, little, cute dog.

    I did it because after we had a hug-and-snuggle session with the puppy when we went to pick up our furniture, nobody reacted allergically. You see, some of my children have allergies so bad that I keep Benadryl in my purse and Epi-pens on hand always. While one daughter needs hospitalization if she so much as touches a cashew and my own eyes puff up and swell shut if a cat so much as enters the room, this little creature didn’t elicit so much as a sneeze from anyone.

    And she liked me. I could tell.

    My husband looked at me. “Do you want her?” I nodded. That was it. …

    The girls were thrilled. My husband loves her. He named her “Dino,” and thence began the events at the beginning of this column.

    I’m not going to tell you that Dino is adding some huge, big message to our lives, or that she makes us holier or better Catholics. She’s not. But by having her we are learning about receiving God’s little gifts and appreciating more of His creation. Dino’s presence is stretching us in new ways. Making us patient. Helping us calm and slow down. She has been inconvenient, and sweet, and loving, and causing us to grow and relax, individually and as a family.

    And those things alone make me glad we have added this puppy to our lives. Joy. Peace … and learning a little more about God through His creation.

    Posted on November 26, 2013, to:

  • Everyone goes through rough times at some point in life.

    Sometimes, it’s the death of a parent … or child.

    Sometimes it’s the loss of a job … or a love.

    Other times it might be the diagnosis of a physical disease, or the news that despite best efforts, a child has turned from the faith; or a relative is fighting an addiction; or a close friend deeply disappoints us; or a relationship crumbles.

    Perhaps we are troubled by some situation we ourselves have gotten ourselves into … and finally recognize the foolishness of our ways and want out … but don’t know how to get there.

    Finally, maybe we get to a point when torrential rain after torrential rain of affliction hits us hard, and we desperately seek reprieve, but can’t seem to find peace, or relief. What on earth are we supposed to do, when prayer is dry and hope is distant and we feel far away from God?

    Here are some tricks I’ve learned and collected from people I respect and love, for how to get through those desperate times.

    • Pray. I know. This seems useless. You feel spiritually dry and as if you are getting nothing from the prayer. Guess what? God sees. He understands. With your good intentions, He multiplies like He did with the loaves and the fishes. One sincere, honest supplication is all it takes. Asking once can be enough.

    If your prayer life is dry, pray anyway. God sees your efforts and like a kind father to a frantic child, He will take care of you. Be patient. The results may not immediately be seen. And God may be bringing us through the dark for a purpose of growth.

    We see the knotty side of the quilt. In time, the beautiful handiwork of the beautiful side will be seen.

    The most powerful spiritual weapons, my sister Mary reminded me the other day, are Masses, which we can attend, and which we can also have offered for the important intention or intentions. She also reminded me of the importance of asking for the Blessed Mother’s intercession. The Blessed Mother loves to intercede for us. She cried on Calvary and suffered real human sufferings like ours. She wants to bring our intentions to her Son. Let her help.

    • Seek out the sacraments. Reconciliation and Holy Communion are natural healing balms to the troubled soul and body. You don’t have to feel them with a dramatic shock to know they are at work.

    Once my husband was deathly ill, hospitalized for acute septicemia, which came about suddenly from an undiagnosed primary infection. His temperature rose higher than 105, and doctors put him on an ice bed to prevent brain damage. His blood work was erratically abnormal and potent antibiotics were pumped through his veins. There was talk of an emergency lift to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis.

    After the reception of the Sacrament of the Sick, however, his white blood cell count, which was dangerously low, inexplicably began to normalize and within a day he grew surprisingly stronger and his physical health was restored. This began the moment he received the Sacrament of the Sick. True story. I was there.

    When you feel enticed to despair or give in to temptation, my friend Susan says, “Be stubborn. Refuse to give up and give in. Do not entertain any negative thoughts. Any time a dangerous thought enters your mind, immediately and deliberately push that thought away. Just put one foot in front of another and press on.”

    Susan also suggests finding a phrase that you can repeat to yourself until that temptation or thought or struggle leaves. “Passion of Christ, strengthen me” is one such phrase, or, “My Jesus, Mercy.” She also says that if a certain time of the day makes your thoughts go in a direction that you do not or should not go you should change your routine. In other words, avoid the temptation. Finally, she says to find consolation during difficult times wherever you can — in a beautiful sunrise, the refrain from a lovely song, elegant wording of a prayer, the whiff of fresh autumn air, the hug of a child, the closeness of a spouse.

    She recommends not over-thinking the situation and challenge. She says not to entertain persistent evaluations, reconsiderations or fluctuating emotions, or go over and over the problem or the private grief. She said to busy yourself with tasks to avoid stewing.

    Susan reminds us not to think about daily skirmishes and minor spiritual wins and losses in terms of feelings because the only thing that matters is our will and the final battle. If we stay close to Christ despite dryness, we will be safe. Our time is not God’s time, she says. Remember that God cannot fill us unless we are empty. If it is His will, in humility, we must allow Him to empty us. Peace.

    • Lastly, try to maintain a sense of humor. St. Teresa of Avila is quoted as saying, “If this is the way you treat your friends (Lord), no wonder you have so few of them.”

    I like to watch “I Love Lucy” reruns when I feel desperate and challenged. Coupled with the other suggestions above, this allows me to relax and put things in perspective, even if just for a few moments. God created laughter too, you know. We can have joy in our sorrow. The reprieve is God’s gift.

    And, if nothing seems to work, in the midst of your worst troubles, simply try to muster up your faith and press on. This too shall pass. God bless you!

    Posted on October 29, 2013, to: