Garden glories

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I love tulips better than any other spring flower; they are the embodiment of alert cheerfulness and tidy grace.

– Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth and Her German Garden

 

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Don’t bother me, I’m being holy!

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What grace looks like

Most moms can probably relate to this feeling: the feeling that every small window of free time has some task or activity shoehorned into it.  Some days I feel like this life of mine only works because I am so draconian about making  a mental plan for my day and sticking to it.

This efficiency is good because it means I get things done (most things, anyhow).  It’s bad because it can make me closed off to those happy accidents of grace that aren’t in the master plan, but which – in the wonderful mysterious way of grace – are very much in the Master’s plan.

As an example, let me share an experience I had at L.A. Congress two weekends ago.  As I wrote last week, L.A. Congress is a huge Catholic conference at the Anaheim convention center each spring, a jam-packed weekend in which you never have enough free time to do all the things you want to do.

On my last morning there, I was rushing to the third floor of the convention center for some quiet prayer.  The third floor always has a large room that is transformed into what is called the Sacred Space, a place for quiet prayer and meditation.  There is a labyrinth, and part of the room is turned into an Adoration chapel, and it’s a great place to prayerfully process the wonderful chaos of the weekend.

It was my last chance to get there — truly my last chance, as I had to go back to the hotel and pack up in forty-five minute’s time — and I was heaven-bent on some prayer time.  So I navigated my way up the escalator and found myself walking briskly by the multicultural displays on the second floor.  The various ethnic groups of the archdiocese had each prepared a table display  highlighting their cultural traditions, and I’d spent a lot of time the previous day looking at them and taking photos and chatting with some women at the Native American table and the Polish table.

But at the moment, I just wanted to power past the displays and get up to the third floor to pray.

As I walked past the Japanese table, a little old woman who was standing there smiled at me and said hello.  I said hello back, and tried to look away and keep on going without breaking my stride, but it didn’t work.  She was gesturing to me to come over to the table.

I am ashamed to admit it, but my heart sank.  I didn’t want to go engage in conversation; I wanted to go up and be prayerful.  Don’t bother me!  I’m on my way to be holy!  was my instinctive reaction.  Then the irony of it all struck me, and I realized that the holiest thing I could do would be to pause  my own little busy-Ginny plan and engage with this stranger, this fellow human being, who wanted to speak to me.

But I still hoped she wouldn’t talk too long.

As I approached her table, she gestured with her arm to the table.  It was a huge display of paper cranes, probably seventy or eighty, in different colors, all arranged carefully.   I’d seen them the day before, and I smiled and nodded my admiration, and complimented her on how nice they were, prepared to resume walking.  She wasn’t ready to let me go yet. There was something more she wanted.

“Take one,” she said in heavily accented English,  “take one.”

“Oh!”   Feeling sheepish and touched all at once, I surveyed the cranes.  My eye lighted on a beautiful one, one made of spring green paper with a pastel pattern.  Before I could make a move, the little woman reached out and picked it up, the very one I’d have chosen for myself, and held it out to me.  She smiled her beautiful smile.

I thanked her profusely.  The little crane felt so fragile, so light, so lovely in my hand.

And when I did get up to the Sacred Space, there were a few extra things to include in my prayer.  There was gratitude for the beautiful little bird, for the  generous woman, and for the grace that can break through even the hard shell of efficiency.

How to Get a Crown of Thorns on an Airplane and other lessons from LA Congress

Betcha Best Western has never seen anything like this before.

Best Western has seen lots of things, but probably never this.

Scott and I spent last weekend right across the street from Disneyland, at the Anaheim Convention Center.  The occasion?  LA Congress, the annual gathering of 30,000 Catholics who come to hear speakers and keynotes, attend liturgies, and browse the massive exhibit hall where you can buy books, crosses, rosaries, school curriculum, and all kinds of Catholic things you can’t find anywhere else.

That context is necessary for understanding why, on Saturday evening, Scott got an email from the Director of Religious Education at our parish.  Michael had heard that there was a table where you could buy a crown of thorns, and wanted to know if we could pick one up for use in the Holy Week pageant at church.

“Have you seen any for sale?” Scott asked.

“Nope,” I told him.  “And I’ve been around that exhibit hall a few times.”  Scott sent a don’t-get-your-hopes-up kind of response to Michael, and that was that.

So you can understand my excitement when, the very next morning, I found myself walking past a table piled with crowns of thorns (I do believe this is the first time I’ve ever used that noun in the plural).  Ding ding ding!    My response to this discovery was gleeful and reflexive.  Ten seconds later, I was handing my cash to the guy behind the counter.

And just as he was taking the bills from me, I suddenly realized something that, in my excitement, I’d totally forgotten.

I realized that in  two hours’ time, I’d have to get the crown home.

On an airplane.

Back at the hotel, I gingerly took the crown out of its very thick shopping bag and put it on the table.  Scott and I surveyed it.   This was no Fisher Price Little People crown; those thorns were real, and  sharp.  (I refer you to the picture above.)   It was just the kind of thing that would cause awkward airport conversation in a post 9-11 world (in any world, come to think of it).  We discussed our options:

1) Carry it on the plane, held loosely in the shopping bag the guy gave me, where it would be visible to all.

2) Pack it in our already overstuffed suitcase, which would keep it safe but would feel somehow furtive.

Which was least likely to result in the damaging and/or confiscation of this crown? We couldn’t decide.

“I could wear it,” Scott said, an offer which I vetoed the minute I stopped laughing.

In the end, we opted to wrap it carefully in some of our least valued clothing items and set it inside the suitcase.   And I have to say, as we went through the security line, I fully expected the guy to stop and linger over our bag.  I  even imagined the exchange that would ensue:

Security guy: What is this?
Me: A crown of thorns.  You know, like the one Jesus wore.
Security guy: Why do you have a crown of thorns in your luggage?
Me: Air travel these days is my own personal Calvary.

But as happens, we sailed right through and our thorny problem was resolved.  We now have a mostly-intact crown and some slightly perforated clothing.  The troublesome headpiece has now been delivered safely to church, and all is well.   (Apparently Scott walked  into the church office on Monday with the crown on his head, which did get a  reaction from his coworkers, though significantly less than he’d have gotten at John Wayne International Airport.)

That was perhaps the most surreal experience of the weekend (who am I kidding?  of the last decade of my life), but the weekend was full of other wonderfully memorable experiences.   Here are a few:

1) Visiting with the good folks of Loyola Press.  They may be sick of me by now because I kept dropping by their booth to hang out, but who can blame me? — they are such fun people, and Chicago is so far away; I have to take the chance to visit while I can.  Scott and I joined them for dinner on Saturday, which was a blast.  Here I am with Vinita, editor and writer extraordinaire, and Becca of marketing.  Two great ladies.

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2.  Attending the liturgy on Sunday morning.  It was in the arena, and it was packed, and beautiful and moving.  During the preparation of the altar, the live orchestra played “Gabriel’s Oboe”; the music was so haunting and moving that I got all choked up.  If you don’t know the tune, here it is:

And I loved seeing the chalices all lined up before Mass, ready to go.

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3.  Hanging out with people from the Catholic blogosphere.
 I finally got to meet Heidi Hess Saxton, whom I’ve known as long as I’ve been blogging — we had a great visit.

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4.  Greg Boyle’s talk.  He’s the Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries, and he is the author of Tattoos on the Heart, which you should start reading immediately if you haven’t already done so.  His talk was like his writing: funny, engaging, moving, and uplifting.  And yes, there were a few people there to hear him.

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5.)  The recognition of how global this Church really is.  It’s such a diverse crowd; I love that.  And I always love checking out the displays put together by the different cultural groups of the archdiocese:

Korean Madonna and child (with bonus picture of wonderful sister)

Korean Madonna and child

 

I love the Gospel choir figurines

I love the Gospel choir figurines

 

Lithuanian display

Lithuanian display

Thai Madonna and child

Thai Madonna and child

I know the theme park across the street is supposed to be the happiest place on earth, but I’m not convinced.  I think the convention center during LA Congress time just might win that contest.

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Backyard surprise

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I looked out into the backyard yesterday, and what did I see?  A little clump of freesias blooming in the middle of an empty flowerbed.

I planted those bulbs ages ago, even before having kids.  Somehow I always forget that they are there until some day in the spring, when I happen to look out at that part of the yard and find a beautiful surprise.

Now they’re in the living room.  I can see them as I sit here at my laptop; when I get closer, I can smell them.   It makes me happy to think that a little bit of digging on a fall afternoon can bring such lovely, lasting rewards.

What in your life is bringing you joy today?

The word I needed to hear

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Two days ago, about five o’clock, I was sitting at the table helping my kindergartener with the first item on his homework list. Specifically, I was telling him to brainstorm things around the house that start with the letter “L.”

“Luke,” he said immediately.

“Good one,” I said.

“Legos.”

“Yes, we have a lot of those around the house, don’t we?” (Many of them, in fact, were scattered around the table at which we sat — only one small part of the clutter chez Moyer these days.)

I have to admit, I didn’t really want to be there supervising homework.  I was in that Weekday-Between-Four-and-Six P.M. Mood, that mood that comes on me after a long day of teaching and grading when I’ve just gotten home with the boys and the breakfast dishes are still in the sink and the dishwasher needs to be emptied before I can even start making dinner, which I should have started a half-hour ago.  I can best describe it thus: After giving to my students all day, I realize I have several more hours of giving to do before the kids go to bed, and I start to wonder whether I’m actually up to the task.

But I dug deep and kept going.  L words, things you find in our house.   “Legs,”  I said.   “There are six legs here in the house at the moment, if you count yours and mine and Matthew’s.”  Okay, I told myself, we’ve got Luke, Legos, legs.  That’s got to be enough.

Luke’s  face suddenly  lit up as he thought of one more word.  “Love,” he said.

Sometimes, your kids say just what you need to hear.