Tag Archives: God

Jesus Took The Wheel

I was making my usual morning trek to Starbucks, where I like to sit and write while enjoying a low-fat vanilla latte. My mind was blank as I drove down the all too familiar roads—I guess you could say I was operating on autopilot. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot, I surprised myself by saying out loud, “This isn’t where I want to be.“ I found myself steering the car to The Good Shepherd Catholic Church which was just a few blocks away. This was completely out of character for me since I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for over 25 years.

I had recently read a book called, “Medjugorje: The Message” by Wayne Weible. It tells the true story of a Protestant being personally called by the Blessed Virgin Mary to experience and write about the six visionaries in Medjugorje who have been receiving daily visitations of the Blessed Mother since the early 80s. This simple book had a large impact on me, so much so that I called my mom and asked her to please find and mail my rosary to me so that I could begin reciting it. (Yet another Catholic ritual that I haven’t participated in since I was a child.)

For various reasons, I stopped going to Mass when I went away to college. I considered myself more spiritual than religious. In fact, I often referred to myself as a Spiritual Mutt since I was attracted to elements of several different religions, yet didn’t formally practice any of them. I have always believed in my heart that we are all praying to the same God, we just have different roads leading us to Him.

But today the road was undeniably leading back to my Catholic upbringing.

The main church was locked, but I discovered a small side chapel that was open. Inside, it was completely quiet and very, very charming. There was only one other soul there besides me, and she was quietly praying the rosary, oblivious to my presence. I sat down and started flipping through the pages of the church missal to see if I even remembered the flow of the Mass. I was surprised at how easily it all came back to me. I also noticed that a few of the words and responses had changed. You know you have been away from the Catholic church for a long time when the Vatican has made tweaks to the Mass during your absence!

As I was re-familiarizing myself with the Catholic church, I noticed that several other ladies had entered the little Chapel. About 5 minutes later, the church bells began ringing, announcing the noon hour. It was unexpected and beautiful. Almost immediately the women stood up and began praying aloud. Not wanting to stick out like a sore thumb, I popped up too and joined them as best I could. When they finished, music began softly playing through the speakers. Just one beautiful, instrumental song and then silence. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.

I paused for a few moments and then stood to leave. I attempted to genuflect and quickly realized how out of shape I am when I had to struggle to get upright again. It was just one more reminder of how long it’s been since I’ve been to church. Kneeling and genuflecting was not this difficult or painful when I was a child.

On my way out, I quietly approached one of the women and asked what the noon prayer was called. She smiled and said it was The Angelus. Sitting back in my car, I had to look up The Angelus on my iPhone. It was worth a Google.

Turns out, it’s a Catholic prayer to Mary honoring the Incarnation. It is traditionally recited at 6am, noon and 6pm. French painter Jean-Francois Millet’s famous painting bears the same title. It features two peasants pausing in a field during sundown to say The Angelus. It now resides in The Louvre Museum in Paris.

Photo Credit: From Wikipedia, Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Angelus”

Photo Credit: From Wikipedia, Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Angelus”

I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was there to experience The Angelus. It felt like it was meant as a gift. I made sure to say thank you.

 

 

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Lessons Relearned

Today my dog Hooper decided to wake me up at 8:30am. For most of the working world this would be considered “sleeping in”, but since I’m not currently working I just call it obnoxious. I like to sleep. I love to sleep. It’s a time when my brain shuts off and stops worrying about the “didn‘t dos”, “should have dones”, or “what ifs“. So at 8:30am when Hooper started barking like a banshee, I defiantly pulled the covers over my head and willed him to go back to sleep for a couple more hours. Unfortunately, my telepathic doggie snooze button didn’t work.

I grumpily stepped into my already laced tennis shoes and with Phyllis Diller-styled bed head accentuating my braless pajama attire, I headed out to the living room to let Hooper out of his crate. Normally he wouldn’t even be in a crate but since he is still recovering from ACL surgery, we have to keep him in there at nights and on a leash at all other times. This means I get to personally escort him via his leash to Pooh Corner in the backyard so he can fertilize our dying grass. “What a way to start the day!”

Now you probably just read that last line as being sarcastic, and while I was still inside my house, stumbling around with sleepy eyes, looking for Hooper’s leash, it was quite the cranky sarcastic internal thought. But once I got outside, and saw the fresh dew on the grass, the way the sun was shining through the trees and the neighbor’s magnolia tree in full bloom, I genuinely meant it in the most positive of ways, “What a way to start the day!”

I had forgotten how pretty mornings are when the world is just starting to wake up to a day full of new possibilities and promise. As I heard the birds chirping and felt the breeze go by I found myself taking in a deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh air and mentally thanking God for a day well made. “Good job, God. You made a good day this morning. The weather is beautiful. Thank you.“

I figure we all want to be acknowledged for our efforts, and told that we’ve done a good job. Why would God be any different?

As I left the house to run my errands for the day, I thought about how so often I forget things that I already knew—like how beautiful mornings are and how peaceful it is to just take a few moments to appreciate the natural beauty around us. Or how it’s important to mix up the daily routine to keep life interesting—taking the scenic route, getting lost on purpose, trying a different coffee shop, etc.

Sometimes I think that I am just sleeping through life even when I’m fully awake. Just running on autopilot, and not living fully in the present moment. Maybe that’s the reason I like zombie movies so much—they’re not too far off from most people’s daily reality. World War Z may be real (metaphorically speaking of course) and we have to consciously fight it every day.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

Cover of the book World War Z, soon to be released as a movie starring Brad Pitt.

It’s now 11:08am and I am sitting alone at a table in the upstairs outside eating area of my neighborhood grocery store sipping coffee and enjoying the cool weather. I’ve been visited by two birds hoping for a bite to eat and a tiny albino spider who upon further inspection appears to be a master web designer.

Maybe one of the points of me doing this blog is so that I don’t forget lessons when I learn them the first time. And if I do, I can always reread my posts to remember.

“What a way to start the day.“

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View from outside my local Marketstreet grocery.

 

 

Grace Under Pressure

Hooper 3 days post TPLO surgery

Hooper 3 days post TPLO surgery

The last couple of weeks have been particularly challenging.

It began with my dog having TPLO surgery (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) for a torn ACL. I’m not sure which was more troubling, the $4,000 hospital bill or the news that our overly active dog needed to avoid all exercise for 14 weeks. Strong sedatives were prescribed for the dog but they refused to prescribe some for me. I guess they thought I was joking when I requested them. I wasn’t.

After a week-and-a-half of playing nursemaid to Hooper 24/7, I got an unexpected early morning phone call from my mom. She was calling to let me know that my 87 year-old dad had fallen and broken his hip. Surgery was scheduled for the next morning. The typical “mad scramble“ ensued, with arrangements being made to kennel the cat and the recuperating dog. While my husband was negotiating taking off of work so we could make the 10 hour trip to be with my family, I was busy washing underwear, socks and jeans which I determined were the most important clothing items to have clean and packed. I also decided that the next most important to-do item was to get waxed in case things took a turn for the worse. I didn’t want to potentially look like a gorilla if I had to attend my dad’s funeral. Apparently, fear and anxiety do NOT trump vanity.

During the long drive to New Orleans, we received a call from my husband’s dad informing us that my mother-in-law had also been hospitalized and required surgery. She was in a different hospital than my dad on the opposite side of the river. Looks like we would be hospital-hopping over the weekend. We used to go bar-hopping in college, but hospital-hopping would prove to not be nearly as fun. The only similarity between bar-hopping and hospital-hopping is that you feel equally tired and sick after both. Particularly on this trip, since I managed to acquire a nasty stomach malady of an unknown origin.

But this post isn’t supposed to be about me. It’s about family.

Today, a friend posted the following quote on Facebook by Andy Griffith:

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I started to look for the gifts of grace, strength and peace of mind that had been bestowed upon my family members during this difficult time. I didn’t have to look very hard, as it was easy to spot.

Strength: My mom had been praying for months for God to keep daddy healthy until she was able to better care for him. She had been recovering from a series of major health issues of her own including multiple eye surgeries and a hip replacement. She just recently got the “all-clear“ from her doctors to begin driving again, which has allowed her to resume visiting my father in the nursing home and now to care from him in the hospital. Had my dad fallen a few weeks earlier, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Peace of Mind: My husband and I recently made the difficult decision to close my struggling business. As a result, we got a nice tax refund this year which allowed us to pay for our dog’s surgery, some needed car repairs and funded the emergency trip back home to be with our family during this difficult time. It also gave me the confirmation I needed that closing the business was the right decision. I am now free to leave at a moment’s notice to be with my family when they need me.

Grace: My father, besides having a broken hip, also has advanced Parkinson’s Disease, Congestive Heart Failure and Dementia. On his “good days” which are occurring less frequently, he believes that his dreams and memories from the past are happening in the present.

Some people say that before you die your life flashes before your eyes. I believe, that for my dad, he is experiencing the highlights of his life in sequential order every time he sleeps or day dreams.

Two years ago he was speaking as if he was still living in his childhood home with his parents and siblings. Last year he was talking as if he was a young bachelor just starting his engineering career and enjoying being a Navy man. Two days ago he was speaking as if he was a middle-aged husband and father. He’s getting closer to the end. While it makes me very sad at times, I think it’s been an odd comfort to my dad and me. He gets to experience all of the best parts of his life again—filled with excitement, laughter and joy. He is reconciling his life in preparation of saying goodbye.

Strength, Grace, and Peace of Mind: My mother-in-law was very fortunate that her emergency surgery occurred when her sister was in town visiting. Aunt Sandra has been the most gentle and attentive caregiver ever. She has slept at the hospital for days, and is always at the ready to jump up and attend to her sister’s needs or simply offer soothing words and a loving hand squeeze. Knowing that she is at my mother-in-law’s side has been an enormous comfort to all of us. I believe in my heart, that although traumatic, this experience has brought an odd sense of peace to my mother-in-law. She now knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that she will never have to go through difficult times alone. Her sister, children, ex-husband, best friends and daughter-in-law will be there for her. Always.

Thank you God for my wonderful family and for all your blessings.

Faith the Size of a Willow Leaf

I have always had very vivid dreams.

As a child I was plagued with night terrors, which are like nightmares on steroids complete with night sweats, rapid heart beat, and bed linens being thrashed about while sleeping. The next morning I was always able to recount my fiendish dreams in great detail. The retelling of the dream seemed to take forever, and my mother was always amazed by my recollection.

The nightmares that scared me the most seemed to run on a loop. My five-year old self called them my “reruns”, and dreaded going to sleep each night to see which dream would be airing. The worst of the nightmares involved a gothic castle, gargoyles, tribesmen and one magical weeping willow tree.

The dream begins with me finding myself attending a huge gala with my parents at a very creepy Gothic castle. All of the adults are dressed in their best attire and are drinking cocktails and enjoying the evening filled with music and laughter. The children were dressed in their party clothes as well and were running around playing hide and seek. The castle was an endless series of hallways, doorways and staircases. I found what I assumed was a closet door and thought it would be a good place to hide. Upon turning the big brass doorknob, the heavy door opened and there was nothing but a sea of blackness inside. It was a frightening vision, made worse by the dismembered skull that came flying toward me yelling that the wine the adults were drinking was poisoned.

I raced through the interior labyrinth of the castle to my parents and begged them not to drink the wine, but they couldn’t see or hear me. I then ran out of the building to find help. Around the bend was a small wooden bridge that led to a strange, primitive village filled with raised huts. As soon as I crossed the bridge, angry tribesmen carrying spears and wearing war paint came pouring out of the huts and began chasing me back to the castle.

Once I reached the castle grounds, I saw that all of the party guests (my parents and playmates included) were standing under a bare willow tree, staring ahead blankly, and holding a single leaf. The giant clock on the face of the castle was starting to gong the midnight hour and the stone gargoyles began to crack from their casing and become alive. Intuitively, I knew that I had only seconds before I was to be brutally mauled to death by the savage beasts. The key to avoid certain death was to hold one of the leaves from the weeping willow tree, but the tree was now barren. 

The tribesmen clan was at my back preventing me from running away, and the almost-freed gargoyles were growling on my right. I started to cry as I looked upon my parents and friends for the last time. And then, as the clock struck midnight, a light gust of wind blew a small previously unseen leaf off the top of the tree and placed it gently in the palm of my hand, saving me from a horrible fate.

I had this particular “rerun” so many times that I was eventually able to alter the script slightly and experience it from a different perspective. I came to recognize the flying skull as a friend warning me of impending doom and not someone to be feared. I decided that the tribesmen were heeding my call for help, and had sprung into action to defend me, ready for battle. The wretched growling gargoyles were just cranky and achy after being trapped in stone for centuries. They didn’t want to hurt me, they wanted to get the heck out of there.

But just in case I was wrong, I always knew that in the end God would save me by sending that precious little leaf on a soft cloud of air. Now the real trick is having that kind of faith when I’m awake.

I’m still working on it.