Sunday, January 11, 2015

LITTLE SHOCKS OF JOY

Several days ago, I ordered Jennifer Louden's latest book, A Year of Daily Joy, and signed up for her year-long adventure in looking for and creating joy in our lives daily. Mary, my daughter who lives closest to me (about half an hour away), is going on the journey with me.  Yesterday I listened to what the author called a "spreecast," in her own inimitable style, to jumpstart the year.  

As I was reflecting on this beginning, I realized that following this path is a journey I would never have expected when Mary was a teenager and clashed frequently with me.  Those were years filled with drama, conflict, and tears, and I often wondered how we would survive them.

Today, when Mary has five small children of her own, I see the similarities between us, which gave rise to much of the friction, but now they are a source of understanding and enjoyment.  In addition to our joy journey, Mary has agreed to give a talk with me to the newly-formed mothers' group at our parish on "Yes, There's Hope!" about building relationships with your children as they grow and when they become adults.  As I look forward to giving this talk, I feel a little shock of delight that I am doing this with my daughter who has grown up into my friend.  Not only that, but all five of my daughters, who are individually very different, are all women whom I admire as dedicated young mothers and enjoy as intelligent, compassionate friends.  What a gift to be able to continually unwrap throughout the coming years!

Friday, January 9, 2015

RECLAIMING LOST LOVE

As I continue to try to maintain an open heart towards life and its curvy path of unexpected change, I am surprised by revelations I don't expect if I shift even a small pebble in long entrenched routines.  

My husband and I began making an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament over 25 years ago, every Wednesday from 7 to 8 P.M., when I was pregnant with our fifth daughter. The only times we didn't go was when we were out of town. When he was diagnosed with cancer, many friends started to join us each week, and after he died, one couple became my constant companions at Holy Hour.  

This week, neither of them could join me, so I went alone and determined to try a couple of suggestions that our pastor had given a friend of mine.  He had told her just to meditate on the Scriptural passage, "Be still and know that I am God," and as the time passes, eliminate each ending and ponder "Be still and know that I am," "Be still and know," "Be still," and "Be."  So in the silence of the Blessed Sacrament chapel, I did that for the first half hour.  

After that, I turned to the "prayer of reminiscence," which he had introduced at the parish women's prayer group a few months ago.  He told us that we should allow ourselves to look back over our (happy) memories and ask the Father to point out to us the one on which we should meditate.  We then ask Jesus to help us revisit the scene and imagine it in vivid detail, followed by petitioning the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what God's message is for us in the memory.

When I had prayed this way at the women's meeting, I immediately envisioned a day when I was about 10 which I consider my happiest childhood memory.  I was visiting my grandmother's farm and my uncle, who is also my godfather, asked me to if I wanted to go out on the combine with him. Any time spent with this fun-loving uncle was a treat and I felt honored that he asked me to go with him.  Riding the combine was like climbing onto a huge John-Deere-green dinosaur, and I felt like a giant sitting high in the cab with my uncle.  After a while, he asked if I wanted to ride in the back where the grain came down the chute.  For a tomboy like me, nothing could have been more exciting.  (Note to parents and children:  DON'T try this at home; we now know that this is very dangerous!)  For what seemed like hours, I sang at the top of my lungs, with the hot blue sky arched above me, as the grain poured down around me until it was up to my neck, when my uncle came and pulled me free, dirty and delighted!
I realized that although my godfather wasn't right with me, he was still there, driving the combine and keeping an eye on me.  And although I seem to be alone in the world since my husband has died, I know that God is still there, driving the combine and keeping his loving eye on me as well.

I didn't expect anything as dramatic as this when I began the prayer of reminiscence this week, but I settled on a vague memory of a time when it had begun to snow when I lived in Oklahoma.  My siblings and I walked home from the bus stop in the damp, cold air, with snowflakes tickling our faces and the chill penetrating our coats.  When we got home, we discovered that our mother had homemade hot cocoa in the big Dutch oven warming on the stove.  That turned a dreary day into a chocolate dream.  

As I reflected on this memory, I experienced my mother's love for us more clearly than any words could express. When my parents lived with us the last 15 years of their lives, I often felt my mother's criticism much more than her love and I can often still be bitter about the way they seemed to be over-directive and domineering when I was growing up.  But this memory revealed the love that was at the core of her relationship with me, just as a home movie that showed my father playing with me when I was about three underscored the loving joy he took in me.  And it is a gift to be grateful to them and to know that they did the very best they could to raise a difficult daughter to embrace the Faith and become a wife and mother with her own weaknesses as well as a great many strengths.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

START YOUR ENGINES!

It’s too late to make New Year’s resolutions, but why not January 7 intentions?

What if I begin with the way I wake up and start the day?  Now that I am a widow I don’t have to take any one else into consideration.  All the children are grown and the one thing that can affect when I get up is what time my son has class.  It doesn’t need to impact my time to arise, but since I prefer to take my shower before he leaves the house, when he has an early class, I like to get up by 5:30 or maybe 6.  On Sundays I get up at 5 so I have time to warm up on the French horn before I play at the 9:00 Mass, and on Tuesdays I get up at 5 so I can have breakfast before I walk with a neighbor at 7.  I like to go to daily Mass, so I usually get up at 5:30 or sometimes 6, but if that weren’t a factor my perfect sleep schedule would be 11-7, with nothing scheduled that would make me feel rushed. I suppose my ideal day would be a day on vacation, when I wouldn’t have to set an alarm and could move into the day slowly and at ease.  

Of course, I could do that almost any day now—most of the time I can schedule things later but I can feel pressured if anything is on my calendar, and since I like going to Mass, especially since our three new priests came to our parish, I find myself setting alarms so I can follow my morning schedule, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, write in my prayer journal, and practice my French horn before I leave for Mass.  Then I might run a few errands, like mailing a card order at the Post Office, and head back to the house where I can settle myself at my desk and contemplate the day.  


For the last four days, I have been working at setting my goals for this year, and this has given me a boost of excitement as I have really thought about what I want to accomplish and why and tomorrow I begin the process of implementing them.  I’ve already started on some of them and even this post is a way of beginning to brainstorm a project I want to work on when I go to a writer’s workshop in May.  I’d like to write a novel that was more like a collage—a thread running through it about the life of a widow, but with poetry, perhaps photographs, some sort of greeting cards/post cards, and maybe even random thoughts collected at intervals.  It’s only beginning to whirl around in my mind but breaking into creative fragments is an engine boost for moving ahead.

My dear husband frequently tried to point out to me that much of what I did was my choice; there was no "they" out there forcing me to do many of the things I thought I had to do.  I lived a life of shoulds and oughts which meant I usually had a battle mentality with which I faced each day.  Now when I have a great deal more freedom than I did when I was in school or raising our children, I am trying to think intentionally about what I do and what I say yes to and learn to say no to things that aren't right for me, or right for now.  When I do this, I find much more joy in life and in what I choose to do--especially when I remember that I did choose it!