Who I want to be when I grow up



My younger son recently announced that he wants to be Spiderman when he grows up.

“You can’t,” said his very literal brother.  “You can’t be someone who isn’t real.”

I kind of hope he’s wrong about that, because I too want to be a fictional character when I grow up.  My choice?  Ma Joad from The Grapes of Wrath.

If you know the story (about which I blogged just a few weeks ago – I must really like it), you know why I idolize her.  Ma keeps her family together throughout all the trials and challenges of their trip from Oklahoma to California.  She is able to handle drought, death, stillbirth, poverty, whiny children,  floods, hunger, car trouble,  rude people, and still hold it together.  Other people bring their crises to her because they know she can handle them, and she does.

I love how Ma has the quiet inner strength that she needs to buck her  family members up when they are feeling low.  As the narrator explains, “It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials,” which is a great way of reflecting  what parents do for their kids when times are tough and we try to find any little positive thing we can to change the tone of the moment.

It’s what I try to do when my own little family hits rough patches, but I know I’m nowhere in Ma Joad’s league.   Changes in the normal running of things tend to throw me; I kvetch loudly about car trouble and broken dishwashers, and I am slightly obsessive about needing to know what is coming next.  But Ma Joad – she takes anything life throws at her, which in this book is quite a lot.   And though Pa is the titular head of the family, everyone in the story knows that Ma is the really strong one.

And it’s not just that she’s tough; she’s loving, too.  As Jim Casy says, “There’s a woman so great with love – she scares me.”  That love extends not just to her immediate family, but to the other needy people she encounters along the way.  It’s inspiring, no matter how many times I have read the book.

So I guess my son and I each have our own personal superhero.  His is a guy who can shoot webs and walk up walls; mine is a woman who can soothe her fearful children and keep the faith and set up camp anywhere life takes her.  And maybe one day, if I’m lucky, I will be just like her.

Finding God in the math homework



Two weeks ago my kindergartener and I were sitting at the dining room table after dinner.  I was helping him with his math homework, which involved counting and coloring stars.  He sat there, blue crayon in hand, intent on his work, when all of a sudden he spoke.

“God made the stars to give us light,” he said.

“That’s right. He did.”

“And he gave us the moon and the sun, too,” he informed me solemnly.

I love it, these childhood flashes of spiritual connection, this flexible little mind that thinks of God right in the middle of a math worksheet.  Increasingly, I can do the same; I have become better over the years at letting awareness of God’s presence color the various events of my day.  But there are still many things I do where it’s harder to sense God, to connect the dots between my task and the divine.

I think of things like sitting in traffic, or grading stacks of papers, or waiting on hold with the DMV.  And I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of God while doing a math assignment, unless it involved a desperate silent prayer uttered moments before a pre-calculus test.  (I’m a word girl, not a number girl.)

But St. Ignatius believed you can find God in all things, and ultimately I believe it, too.  Some things and situations are easier than others,  but maybe that’s why we need other people; they find the connections we miss, just like my son did when his math homework became an occasion to think of the Creator.   Other people see the fingerprints of God in places where I just see smudges.  And when they share, they gently train us to have a sharper, clearer vision than we did before.

So that’s my challenge: to try to make my mind as flexible as my kindergartener’s, a mind that bends toward God even in the traffic and the math.

If Picasso had a Blue Period, I can have a Blue Day

Lately, I’ve been more conscious about noticing color. It’s all part of my  “praying is paying attention” thing;  I’ve found that an effective way to pray is to savor the many different colors that I see as I go throughout the day.

So last weekend, I dedicated a day to noticing blue, in all its wonderful variations.  Here are a few of the highlights.

Morning glories are pretty when they’re purple, but they’re beautiful when they’re blue.


In the same garden where I saw the morning glories, I found hydrangeas in varying shades, light to vivid.  (A close-up of a hydrangea is a gorgeous thing, don’t you think?).




When it comes to indoor things, I love the blue of this little decorative English plate that my mom gave me last Christmas (I believe that’s Balmoral Castle?).

balmoral plate

The flowers on the bedspread are a lovely soft shade … I don’t know what you call this kind of blue, but I like it.


Wedgewood is pretty synonymous with blue, and I love the colors on this Madonna and Child medallion my aunt once gave me.  (I believe it’s meant to be a Christmas ornament, but I have it hanging on the wall all the time.)


In my backyard, there are these tiny blue lobelia that pack one heckuva colorful punch.


And how can I forget the lovely, warm September sky?


I don’t know why “the blues” are associated with sadness.  All these shades make me very happy indeed.

Where are you noticing beautiful color today?

P.S. Congrats to Emily — you’re the winner of last week’s giveaway of The Feasts!

Celebrations, the Trinity, and a review of “The Feasts” (and a giveaway, too!)


Celebrations are a big part of family life, and they’ve been on my mind a lot lately (my son Luke is on the cusp of his sixth birthday, a fact which he does not fail to remind us multiple times a day).  Even beyond birthdays, there are so many occasions we remember in our family: the day Scott and I had our first date, the day we got married, the days the boys were baptized, the day our beloved friend Mary passed away, the first day of the school year.  We mark these dates on the calendar; we remember them with rituals and photographs and –depending on the occasion –  gratitude or tears or smiles (sometimes all three).

Catholicism isn’t much different, really.  This is a massive family with a lot of things to remember: special events, special people, special truths.   And while it’s easy to overlook these feast days in the hectic pace of our busy lives, life is so much richer when we take time to recall and remember.

That’s why I love the new book The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us As Catholics by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina. It’s a celebration of the many feasts and seasons in the Christian calendar, everything from Advent to Easter to the Ascension and the many  Marian feasts.   “The feasts are to time what churches are to space,” the authors explain in the Introduction.  “They are moments we mark off as sacred.”  Wuerl and Aquilina explain why we humans crave and need these celebrations: “In the feasts we recognize that God has given us a good life, and we ‘have it abundantly.’ (John 10:10).  The feasts are a fixed occasion to indulge in the joy God made us to desire — and made us to possess in the end.”

Sign me up!

What’s so nice about this book is that it doesn’t just ponder the general importance of the feasts, it also takes a detailed look at some of the most beloved ones.  Wuerl and Aquilina zero their focus in on a sampling of feasts, solemnities, and memorials (these terms are all clearly explained in the book) for closer examination.  They share the history and the traditions of each feast day, also explaining the beliefs behind each one.  In so doing, they invite us to reflect on what — exactly — these feasts mean in our own lives.

Take, for example, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, which is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost.


Holy Trinity Window, St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Scott Moyer.

The Holy Trinity is one of those truths that it’s pretty hard to get my head around.  (Actually, who am I kidding?  It’s impossible to get my head around.) As the authors explain,  God  “is one and yet is three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Three in one.

How does that work, exactly?  I have no idea.  And yet I believe in it, because — as I once said to a non-Catholic friend of mine — it’s just crazy enough to be true.  (She understood exactly what I meant.)  As the book puts it, “The truth about the Trinity is so mysterious that it exceeds human understanding.  It is inaccessible to unaided reason.”

And while I like reason in most things, I  have learned through forty-one years of living that there is a huge veil of mystery around this world, some things I’ll simply never know this side of the grave.  I am okay with that, because what matters with me is not the How but the What, and the Why.

I don’t know how God manages to be three separate persons in one.  But I like what that says: God is all about community.  Other people and other relationships matter, and no one is an island.   Even though my innate tendency is toward being an introvert, a life lived alone is not the life that is most healthy for me.  Family and friends and coworkers and neighbors and a broader community are vital: they stretch me, challenge me, enrich me.  I find God in those interactions, and I’m challenged to act like God for others as well.

As the authors write, “If we say that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16), we can do so only because we know that God is not a solitude, but a community, a plurality.”  And if God is a community, there are implications for us as well: to strive to be like God in our own interactions.  We’re challenged not to be remote from others but to engage, whether that’s with the son who wants to play blocks with us or the stranger who stops to ask directions even when we’re in a hurry.  We’re meant to remember ourselves as beings who operate in relation to  others, not spinning out there on our own.

That’s what the Trinity calls me to remember.  It’s a reminder I need, honestly, as I live out my life both in the smaller context of my immediate family and the larger context of a global one.   I’m glad there is a day in the calendar that is dedicated to this truth, and I’m grateful that this book invited me to ponder it more deeply.

Have I whet your appetite for feast days?  If you’re interested in reading The Feasts, you’re in luck:  Image Books has kindly donated a copy for me to give away.  To enter, just leave a comment in the comment section below.   Entries will close at midnight on Wednesday, September 17th, after which I’ll randomly choose a winner.  (Many thanks to Image Books for the review copy.  And I’m just one stop on the blog tour for the book, so be sure to check out the other blog-stops for more reflections on these fascinating feasts.)

And the winner of the “Mary and Me” giveaway is …

… Jill L!  Congratulations, Jill!

Thanks to all who entered.  I just may do this again sometime, so keep checking back.

And while you’re at it, have a terrific weekend.