Category Archives: Musings

Don’t bother me, I’m being holy!


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


The pleasure of poetry

Have you ever seen something that made you instantly recall a line of poetry?  I had a few of those moments last week, when I returned to Filoli for a visit. The potted hyacinths were in bloom — I have never EVER seen such beautiful ones.  They took my breath away.

And T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” surfaced out of the depths of my memory:

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl.”

It was very nice to have the remembered poetry  to go along with the color and the scent.  (I have to admit, the flowers also made me think of a certain overbearing British matron.  “It’s not BUCKET, it’s BOUQUET.”)


Later, coming across a field of daffodils, I naturally thought of Wordsworth:

“Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.”


I didn’t see ten thousand, but I saw quite a few.  And it was a delightful sensation to walk down the little path, daffodils on my right and my left, before me and behind me too.


“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”

That just about captures it.


Any experience is better with a line of poetry to complement it.  I’m not sure why that is, exactly, except that connecting a poem with an experience somehow pulls the drawstrings of my life closer together: the strings of past and present, words and images.  It’s a great reason to study poetry, so you always have a line or lines to match to what you see around you.

Now if only I could think of a poem about camellias …


The Week That Wasn’t (or How A Virus Made Me Wiser)

On last week's menu

On last week’s menu

I got slammed with something last week – the doctor called it an “influenza-like virus,” though it felt an awful lot like the real thing.  It was a whole cocktail of symptoms: fever, chills, aches, sore throat, cough, congestion.  It started on a Sunday and went on for the rest of the week, and because of it I missed four days of school in a row.

That is the first time I have ever missed that much school.  I didn’t even miss that much when I had an ectopic pregnancy; I didn’t miss that much when I had a miscarriage.  It felt like The Week that Wasn’t, a huge black hole in my lesson plans and a complete cessation of my normal routine.  Trust me, this virus was nasty.  (Is nasty: I still have the cough and some of the congestion.)

But everything in life is  a learning experience, isn’t it?  As painful as it was to suffer through this lost week, I did gain some useful insights from it.

Here they are.

1.  It is easier to be a sick mom now than it was when the kids were younger.  I wouldn’t say it was easy, just easier.  Last Sunday afternoon, when this thing hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, Scott was at an event at work and I was home alone with the kids. I gave them two things —  the remote to the TV and permission to watch any mom-sanctioned show they wanted — then burrowed under the covers in my room and tried very hard to get warm.  I spent most of the afternoon under layers of quilts, shivering to the sound of  “Wild Kratts” from the living room, and the kids for the most part left me alone.  This scenario could not have happened when they were babies, or even toddlers.  It does get easier, this parenting thing.

2.  I do a lot in my life as a mom.  Because I was essentially non-operational for the first two days, Scott had to do all the things I usually do in the afternoon/evening: pick up the kids, see them through homework, stay on top of the notes from school, pack lunchboxes for the next day, make dinner, find the clean laundry for the next morning.  That first night I lay in bed feeling guilty for being sick and dumping all these things on his lap. And then I thought, “But wait!  I do those things all the time.”  And I suddenly realized that I’m actually kind of a badass.  It was a good thing to discover.

3.  Morning TV shows vary widely in quality.  I never watch them because I’m always at work, but last week, I did.   I learned, somewhat to my surprise,  that I can’t handle Good Morning, America; it’s  too flashy and has too many graphics.  I was much happier with the more sedate CBS This Morning.  (I’m the world’s youngest old fogey.)

4.  Makeup helps one’s mood.  I didn’t wear lipstick for three days straight, not even to go out in public to the doctor’s office.  By Day Four I decided that I was tired of looking like death warmed over and put on some makeup, even though I was just hanging around the house.  And you know what?  I actually did feel better.  Maybe that just means I’m a slave to society’s standards of beauty, but whatever.  It worked, and that’s all I cared about.


5.  “All About Eve” is every bit as good as I remember.  Nothing like witty one-liners and sparkling repartee to clear your head.


6.  “Enchanted April” is even better than I remember. I first saw this movie when it was in the theatres, which was back when I was in college.  I enjoyed it then, but I can relate to it more now.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s about four English women in the 1920s who answer an ad to rent a dreamy Italian castle on the coast.  All sorts of renewal and rebirth ensues.

The movie has many scenes of the main characters sitting in deck chairs in the sun or lying in the grass of an Italian meadow or on the rocks along the coast, just dreaming.  Though that sounds like boring cinema, it was riveting.  I want me some of that, I thought, some of that silence and solitude and just lying there and doing nothing.

And then I realized  – odd though it sounds – that my illness was, in a way, exactly that.  It was a forced chance to do nothing.   I spent many hours last week just lying around, staring at the walls, not even with the stereo on, just being.  Once the worst of the symptoms had passed, it was undeniably renewing.

And it made me think about how I can work more of that downtime into my non-sick life.  I made a little resolution to work more “being time” into my routine – more time where I am just daydreaming, not on my phone or on Facebook, but just letting my thoughts wander.  (It would be more fun to do it in an Italian castle, admittedly,  but I’ll take what I can get.)

Overall, for a lost week, I guess I gained a few useful insights.  Now the trick is to remember them not just in sickness, but in health.

What a little rain can do


We’re almost two weeks into 2015, and somehow, I still have that January 1 attitude.  I can’t help but feel that new things are waiting in the wings, that life is somehow full of promise.

What are those things?  How and when will I find them?  I don’t know.  I figure that everything will become clear as I continue down the path of 2015.

About a year ago,  I spent some time at the labyrinth at a nearby retreat center.  Last January,  I wrote about it as a metaphor for life, for following the path and enjoying the journey.

A few weeks ago, I stole some time to go to the labyrinth again. It looked markedly different from the last time I’d been there.  Green grass and moss grew around the edges of the path, the result of the rains we finally had last fall after a seemingly endless stretch of drought.


It all looked so different with the green contouring the edges.  A labyrinth is always a hopeful place, but this evidence of new life made it even moreso.

I also noticed green spears already breaking through the ground, bulbs getting ready to bloom.  What kind of flowers will they turn out to be?  I have no idea.   I guess that means I’ll have to go back in a few weeks and find out.


I loved this new,  green version of the labyrinth.   It was visual evidence of both the journey and the fruits of the journey.  It was a reminder that if we walk in mindful faith into this new year, we’ll find surprises along the way, and subtle beauty, and life.

And that makes me happy.