Category Archives: Musings

Rush slower

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If there’s anything that modern moms do well, it’s rush.

We rush from one thing to the next: from school dropoff to work, then from work to school pickup, then to the grocery store, then to the soccer or baseball or swimming practice, with that obligatory stop at the gas station shoehorned somewhere into the middle of it all.

And — if you’re anything like me– all that rushing can really sap your energy.

I wish I were better about praying through the rush.  I’m not; usually I’m too focused on watching the clock, the gas gauge, the traffic patterns on the streets around me to take a deep breath and recognize the presence of God.

But today, as I left work and got into my car for the first leg of the afternoon rush, I noticed something growing in the dirt patch by the parking space.  There, poking through the carpet of old oak leaves, was a plant with purple flowers.

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See that green thing?  Look closer …

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I have no idea what kind of plant it is.  I don’t even know if it’s what we’d classify as a weed, not a flower.  But it didn’t matter.  It made me happy.

Forgetting the schedule for a moment, I pulled out my phone and snapped some pictures.  The flower swayed in  the breeze a bit, and I had to be patient and wait to snap it in closeup.  But I finally did, and I felt better for having stared into the face of this beautiful little bloom, growing so silently and quietly in the middle of a dirt area near a parking lot, this gorgeous little thing that pulled me out of the rush for a brief, blessed moment.

It’s tempting to rush faster, to try to get everything done quickly so I can finally relax once the to-do list is completed.  But maybe that’s not the best way to go about this modern mom-life of mine.

Maybe the answer is to rush a little slower, slow enough to notice the flowers along the path.   That’s a kind of prayer, after all, and it does a soul good.

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Grateful.

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My dad on his First Communion Day

A dollhouse.  A Cabbage Patch kid.  A luggage set.  A wristwatch.  My parents have given me many gifts over the years, gifts that came under a Christmas tree or  wrapped in birthday paper.

They’ve also given me the kind of gifts you can’t put in a box: a college education, intellectual curiosity, the security of knowing that home would always be a safe place to fall.  I’m grateful for all of these.

And, the older I get, the more I appreciate another gift, too: the gift of being raised Catholic.

Dad again: middle row, second from left.

Dad again: middle row, second from left.

I didn’t always appreciate this gift.  In my college years and early twenties, I worked hard to put a certain distance between myself and my childhood faith. It wasn’t  that I regretted being raised in the faith; I could (and did) get a lot of mileage out of Catholic school jokes, and it was nice to be an English major who understood any and all Catholic allusions.  But my religious upbringing felt like a weight attached to the hem of my skirt, keeping me from moving easily into new experiences that I wanted to try.

I could never have imagined that I’d end up where I am today: a practicing Catholic, a woman who goes to Mass by choice, a writer who somehow can’t get away from scribbling about her faith, a mom who is as excited about her son’s forthcoming First Holy Communion as she would be about a trip to Hawaii.

I guess that’s how faith works, for many of us.  Your parents give you the foundation, and you grow up knowing that it’s important, that they cared enough about it to pass it on to you.  And then you have to wrestle with it at some point, maybe pull away from it for a time, maybe take some steps down another path.

But for many of us, that childhood faith remains one of the strongest influences we know.  It’s part of our identity; it’s comfortable, and comforting; it’s a link with the people whom we love, the people who have always loved us.

And maybe, as we get older and talk to our parents, we find that they once did the same dance we did.  They too pulled away from their faith, tried out something new, wrestled with questions.  And yet they returned to their Catholic roots, drawn back to the faith they knew as children.

And they passed it on to us.

Me, 1981.

Me, 1981.

And, years later, we pass it on to our own children.  We know — oh, boy, do we know – that this Catholic heritage is many different things at different times.  We know that it’s mysterious, captivating, frustrating, challenging, comforting, inspiring, perplexing, beautiful, visceral.  We know that it is sometimes all of these things at once, for good or for bad.

But most of all, we know that it is a gift: a gift that keeps on giving, from one generation to the next.

The butterfly of happiness

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Sometimes I need to stop and remind myself that I am, actually, happy.

This should seem like an easy thing to remember.  I have a loving family, my health, a place in which to live (so what if it is small and chronically cluttered?), enough food to eat.  I don’t live in a place torn by violence or persecution.  I have books; I have friends; I have my spiritual life.  That’s not bad, all told.

And yet, so often, I need a reminder.

About two summers ago, I wrote about how I started to notice a yellow butterfly in the backyard.  It was big and beautiful, and it would flutter about as I sat in the yard writing or gardening or watching the boys play with water toys on the lawn.  It was so large and unmissable and it always came so very close to us, just like a butterfly in a Disney movie,  that I began to see it not merely as a butterfly, but as a symbol of happiness.  I felt a connection to it.  For months afterwards, I’d see it, and think about my many blessings.

As the seasons changed, though, it was easy to forget about my little friend.  Autumn and winter are not good seasons for seeing butterflies.  And this has been a tough fall and winter, with some very big challenges at work which have been hard not to carry with me into all other areas of my life.

And then a few weeks ago, I was at Filoli admiring the lilacs.   Lilacs are like a religion to me; I was burying my face in them and inhaling deeply, trying to fill my lungs with enough scent to see me through the year until they bloom again next spring.  I happened to be carrying some brand-new work stress with me that day, and the purple smell of the lilacs was doing its part to mitigate it, but it was a particularly tenacious kind of stress.  I was having a hard time getting past it.

Then, all of a sudden, a yellow butterfly landed on the lilac blooms. It was the first butterfly I’ve seen this year.

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And I started grinning, right there by the lilacs.  I couldn’t help it.  It was a graceful, yellow, airborne version of a smack upside the head.  You are happier than you realize, that butterfly reminded me.

It stayed for a long, long time on the lilacs.  It let me get very close.  And I won’t say the stress was entirely gone, but those lilacs and that butterfly did help me find a perspective I needed. They reminded me that God speaks to me in all kinds of ways, some of them small and delicate and beautiful.

 What is reminding you to be happy today?

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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