Category Archives: Articles and columns

How [not] to be welcoming



How do we make church a welcoming place?  There are many strategies: introductions, nametags, friendly ushers, donuts after Mass.  And yet the real work of welcoming isn’t something we can delegate to the parish staff.  It’s something that has to start with the people  in the pews.

People like, say, you and me.

Let me take you back in time, to a noontime Mass at a nearby parish.  My husband was sick, so it was just me and the two boys.   I missed most of the Liturgy of the Word because I was trying to keep my younger son from narrating his picture books in a loud voice; I missed the homily because of both boys’ sudden urgent need to use the bathroom.  We all filed out of the pew, leaving the books scattered on the seats, and joined the line for the restroom.

Once business was concluded, we headed back to the pews.  And as we drew closer, my heart sank to find that a man was now sitting in our seats.

There was still room for the three of us to squeeze in, so we did.  The man obligingly moved over, but I was still miffed.  As if Mass with kids isn’t hard enough already, I thought to myself, now we have hardly any room.  And with all these books, isn’t it obvious someone was sitting here?  The Mass went on, and so did the pity party in my head.

And though I didn’t vocalize these thoughts, I’m sure they were discernible.  My posture, my expression, the waves of disapproval emanating from me: it was probably pretty obvious that I didn’t want that man there.

But after the Mass, I realized I hadn’t been fair.  This was not a personal slight; it was simply someone taking a seemingly empty seat so he didn’t have to stand at the back.

And really, what did I know about this man?  Perhaps he was a Catholic returning to his faith, attending Mass for the first time in years.  If so, would his strongest impression of it be the young mom who was subtly but unmistakably peeved at him for taking a seat he’d thought was empty?

And even if he was a regular parishioner,  didn’t I still have a role to play in making him feel welcome?  Wasn’t  there something I could have done to reflect God’s generosity and love?

Yes, there was, and  I hadn’t done it.  I resolved to do better next time.

Because here’s what I keep realizing: Mass is not about reserving a space for my own private worship.  It’s about sharing a space with others.  We go to Mass because  even if we don’t know each other, even if we never see each other again, for a brief but powerful hour we recognize that we have a shared identity as children of God.

And though Mass is about encountering Jesus in the Eucharist, we also find Jesus in the families  squeezing past us in the pews.  We find him in the woman who comes in late and trips over our feet.   We even find him in the man who takes our seat when we’re taking our kids to the bathroom, and if we give that person the cold shoulder because he’s keeping us from the Mass experience we want, we’re missing the forest for the trees.

But if we’re genuinely kind to the people around us, if we smile and make eye contact and willingly share our space, we’re edging a little closer to the kind of church we’re capable of being: a church that welcomes everyone, just as Jesus does.

And I like knowing that every Sunday is a new chance to get it right.

Thought for the day



I love this quotation.  More and more, I agree.

And on a completely different note: If you’ve ever looked up from a home decorating magazine and gazed around your house and thought, “No one in their right mind would ever write an article on THIS mess,” then you’ll enjoy my latest article.  It’s called “If a Home Magazine Did a Feature on my House,” and you can read it over at

Happy Friday!

The terror and treats of parenthood


It’s that time of year when it’s possible to be anything you want to be. A pirate, a ninja, a clown, a queen: Halloween lets you try on any role for a night. Buy a costume, apply some makeup, and your new identity is complete.

As a mom, it’s fun to see the kids get so excited about the possibilities of Halloween. I think back over my own life and recall the parade of identities I assumed over the years, including a cowgirl, a princess, Mickey Mouse, and – in college and my 20s– a gypsy (always the easiest costume to cobble together at the last minute).

It’s intoxicatingly fun, the chance to be someone else for a night. And it’s so easy to assume a new role, knowing it’s temporary and just for a lark.

It’s the opposite of real life, where our roles involve a serious investment of time and energy. This is certainly true of my roles as teacher and wife. It’s even more true of my identity as a parent.

When my oldest son was born eight years ago, life as I knew it changed forever. It didn’t take long before l knew that my new role – a mother who cared for a tiny newborn, who got up multiple times a night to feed him, who wandered around smelling of spit-up – was the most all consuming one I’d ever known.

Parenthood is a commitment like nothing else. It’s not a role you can wear once and discard, like a costume. You’re in it for the long haul, forever (as my mom says, you never stop worrying about your kids). It’s an identity that may feel a little bit uncomfortable in the early days. It may feel like you didn’t get a chance to try it on first, or that maybe parenthood is not as good a fit as you thought it would be.

But the amazing thing about parenthood is that, as the old maxim goes, God doesn’t call the ready; God readies the called. What I didn’t know about babies would have filled a library, but with the grace of God and the help of experienced parents, I got to the point where I could spend a day alone with my baby without fearing I’d make a parenting error that would scar him for life.

And when I look back over my life, parenting my kids is something I’m proudest of: Not because I’m doing a brilliant job (goodness knows I mess up often), but because I began with such a knowledge deficit and somehow managed to reach a baseline level of competence. That role as a mom, which felt alien and downright scary at times, is one that I wear like an increasingly comfortable sweater.

And the best news – the most important bit, really– is that there is such unique joy that comes from living this role.   Seeing your baby smile, feeling a little hand slip into yours, walking two excited superheroes around the neighborhood on a night dedicated to terror and treats: these little moments can overwhelm you with feelings of happiness and gratitude.

Yes, parenthood can seem downright terrifying, especially at first. But with grace and God, we grow more at home in the role. And it doesn’t take long to learn that there is no treat half as sweet as the love of a child.

This article first appeared in Catholic San Francisco.

Smartphones and daydreams

William Wordsworth

I have to give William Wordsworth credit for writing some of my favorite poetry ever.  I also have to thank him for inspiring my latest column, which is about an all-too-common struggle.  Maybe you can relate?

I have very few stare-off-into-space moments these days. Nearly every minute is filled with something claiming my attention. I can’t blame this entirely on my two young kids, nor can I blame it on the teaching job that claims vast amounts of attention 10 months out of the year. These are factors in my busy-ness, yes, but there’s another, more insidious force that always seems to fill the empty spaces in my life.

That force is the Internet.

Earlier this year, my high school students and I were reading William Wordsworth’s famous poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” In the poem, the narrator recalls walking alone through the countryside and coming upon a lakeshore covered with thousands of daffodils. In the last stanza, he says that when he finds himself “in vacant or in pensive mood,” the memory of those daffodils comes back to him, filling his heart with pleasure.

I’ve read and taught this poem countless times, but this year, the words “in vacant and in pensive mood” struck me anew. Is there a better way to describe daydreaming? Wordsworth perfectly captures that state of not actively thinking of anything else, not actively doing anything else . . . just being open to wherever our thoughts lead us.

And it hit me: I am rarely in a vacant or pensive mood anymore, because there is always something to fill those empty moments. It’s a small rectangular something that I carry in my purse.

You can read the rest of the column at The Catholic Spirit.

What we say and how we say it

14 - 11
From my latest column:

My mom has always been an exclaimer. When she sees a beautiful flower she immediately voices her delight, punctuated with an almost audible exclamation point. “Look at that rose!” she’ll gush, bending in for a sniff. “Gorgeous!”

My dad is also quick to share his enthusiasm for awe-inspiring things. I remember car trips as a teenager where he would play and replay his favorite song from “Les Misérables,” exclaiming at the singer’s ability to hit and sustain a high note. “Listen to that! Amazing!” he’d say every time.

These memories make me smile. They also invite some personal reflection: Now that I’m an adult myself, what inspires me to speak in exclamation points?


You can read the rest at Catholic San Francisco.