Tuesday, September 27, 2011

oh brother

Yesterday after daily Mass, I had a conversation in the parking lot that stayed with me all day.

I like how God set it up for me.  My church-lady friend, who sat next to me, looked at me at the end of Mass and said, "I think I'm going to stay for a little while."  Sometimes she does that.  So I went on without her.

There is a gentleman who began coming to daily Mass a month or so ago.  You know when someone is new because we all sit in the same places every time.  Even new people.  He has been sitting at the other end of "my" pew.  I nod "good morning" to him when I arrive, and we have chatted briefly on the way to our cars, introduced ourselves, etc.  So yesterday, we struck up a conversation on the way to the parking lot.

He seemed to want to talk, and I had plenty of time to listen.  It seems weird to say that there has been some kind of "connection" with him, but there has been.  He is probably older than my dad.  He mentioned that he had a daughter with my name, and I made a pretty safe bet that she, too, was born in the 60's.  I don't usually stand in the parking lot and visit with men I barely know after Mass, but this just drew me in.  There was nothing uncomfortable or strange. 

I have been observing bits and pieces of his journey from an outsider's perspective, but yesterday, I heard it from him.  He and his wife are separating.  I hate to hear that when people who have been married for a long time separate.  I would like to think that my marriage is "safe", but I'm not sure that ever happens.

I have tried to put my finger on what it was about this conversation that stayed with me, and I think that more than anything, it was listening to him talk about the kindness and grace that he has received and the ways that the Holy Spirit has moved in his life in the past few months in the midst of personal difficulty.  Grace in suffering. 

He told me that when he first started coming to Mass, he was going up for a blessing during Communion.  This I knew because I followed him in the line, and there was an ever-so-slight change in the rhythm as the priest put down the host, blessed him, and picked up the host for the next person.  He told me that he had gone to ask our pastor how he felt about him going up for a blessing (some priests have more issues with the practice than others, I suppose) and our kind priest had told him that he COULD receive Communion, even though he and his wife were separated, but first he needed to go to Confession.

He was surprised to hear that he could receive Communion as his first wife is still living, and the Confession requirement didn't seem unreasonable.  He told the priest that he had quite a list after 36 years.  "I'm sure you do," was the reply.  They arranged to take care of business one morning after Mass, and I had figured that much, too, because one day there was no break in the rhythm of the Communion line.

He told me that Confession had just been in our pastor's office with "just you, me, and God" - according to the good monsignor.  "Tell me what you need to tell me," the priest had invited.  He said that when they had finished, he asked if it would be possible for him to receive the Eucharist that day, as it was his mother's birthday.  (Do you think SHE was celebrating in Heaven?)  Our kind pastor had unlocked the church and obliged.  He was so touched by this and by the kindness of our pastor, walking him to his truck with his arm around his shoulder and telling him it would be "OK".    It was beautiful to hear him tell it.

He said he'd had a court hearing the previous week, and he'd stopped the day before and asked our priest for a blessing and a prayer.  He had blessed him, and then told him that he would offer the Mass he was saying at the elementary school the following day for his intention.  He was so humbled, and so happy that everything had gone as he wanted in court. 

I serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at our parish, and last weekend was my turn to serve.  This is a ministry that I would never have sought on my own, but I serve because I was asked.  It just so happened that this man was one of the people in my line last weekend.  He said he had hoped that it would happen that way.  Truth be told, it was kind of neat for me, too.  Certainly not in any kind of romantic way, but in a working of the Holy Spirit kind of way.  It is an undeserved privilege to offer the Body of Christ to fellow travelers along the way.  I am touched by his reverence, appreciation, and respect for the Eucharist, and it was a bit of a divine touch to be with him on that little part of the journey. 

He won't be with us long.  In the next month or so, he says, he is moving back to his hometown.  But there is a sense of him dropping into my life for some purpose.  What, I don't know.

I have no idea how long my church lady friend stayed inside the church after Mass.  I never saw her leave, but I noticed that her vehicle was gone when I left.  I spent some time with the Blessed Sacrament last night while my kids were at CCD.  I wish I could tell you that it was the peaceful prayer of the week before - praying for my friends with cancer.  But I just ended up praying for those in need of healing - physical, spiritual, and emotional.  I imagine that covers about the whole human race.

And my new friend - he told me his given name, but he says "just about everyone" calls him "Brother".  And so I have been given a new Brother-in-Christ.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

beggars at the feet of Jesus

That was part of the homily last Sunday....how none of us have a right to anything but our sinfulness.  There are no entitlements with God.  We are all beggars at the feet of Jesus.

So I spent some time begging the other night.

Backing up a bit.  My sister-in-law hosts a Rosary group.  We meet about every-other-Tuesday and have some regulars who pray with us.  Two who have been there when they are able are SIL's best friend who was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer last fall and a mom from my kids' elementary school who was diagnosed with stage 4 Lung Cancer 2 1/2 years ago.  The doctors gave her a 15% chance of living a year.  Both have recently received challenging news in the way of new cancerous growth.

So what are we to do but pray?  Keeping in mind that prayer changes us - not God - SIL thought about organizing 24 hours of Adoration to pray for the needs of these two ladies and a cure for cancer.  That rather quickly evolved to "Find some time to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the next couple of weeks and let me know..." so that we could present them with a Spiritual Bouquet of sorts...and maybe some real flowers, too.

My kids had CCD the other night, and I needed something to do to fill the time.  Could be nothing better than spending it with Jesus - begging.

I went down the street to the church near my school.  There is a dance school across the street, so at this hour the church parking lot is populated by parents in SUVs waiting to pick up their ballerinas.  There is a keypad by the church door and I let myself in. No one else is there this evening.

I kneel for a while and say "hello" to Jesus - acknowledging that He is all powerful.  The light is fading.  I decide to say the Rosary.  Monday is the Joyful Mysteries.

The Annunciation.  I think of Mary's surrender and think of the difficulty the ladies must have in surrendering to God's will in the face of their cancer diagnoses.

The Visitation.  Why exactly did Mary go to visit Elizabeth?  Was it to help her?  Or was it to learn from her?  Or was it so that she could be touched by Jesus' presence?  And these ladies....are we to help or to learn from or to be touched by them?

The Birth of Jesus.  He came here to be part of our lives...to enter our world.  Even the suffering - or maybe especially the suffering.  I pray that they continue to know His presence in their lives.

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  It often strikes me that this Joyful Mystery is also one of the Sorrowful Mysteries prayed in the 7 Sorrows Rosary.  Mary and Joseph offering their Son to the Father.  And my friends...offering their suffering to the Father.  Knowing His Love, but also knowing such pain and heartache. 

Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple - Again, a Joyful Mystery that is also one of the Seven Sorrows.  Jesus is in the home of His Father.  I pray for these ladies that they, too, are about their Father's work, that they are obedient to what He wants them to do, just as Jesus obediently returned home with Mary and Joseph.

Sometimes I rest my arms on the pew in front of me and put my head down while I pray through the Hail Mary's.  It is darker when I open my eyes again.  The candles flickering on the wall are more noticeable.

It is so quiet.  During the day, the building creaks and moans as the sun heats up the structure.  But at night, it is quiet.  The cars waiting in the parking lot for the dancers have gone.

I walk to the front, and in the darkness, I stand at the foot of that cross and look up.  We have no right to anything.  Sickness and pain entered the world because of man's unfaithfulness.  None of us deserve a miracle.  Miracles are for the glory of God.  I don't remember the words, but the prayer comes from the heart. 

It is time to go.  He is the light that conquers darkness.  And for that, I will happily beg.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

keep calm and carry on....

Maybe life will slow down a bit.

We moved the last bit of stuff out of the old house this weekend.  (not out of the shed or storage area, but out of the house.)  That is good, because now I can focus on putting away stuff at the new house, instead of trying to keep the balance of moving stuff out and moving stuff in.  Maybe sometime around Christmas we will actually be able to park our cars in the garage.

Our renter moved in yesterday.  My stepson's mother.  My husband's ex-wife.  At first it was really a weird proposition. Kind of ironic.  But I think it will be a good arrangement.

Sometimes our priest uses the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation.  In part it says...

Your Spirit changes our hearts: enemies begin to speak to one another, 
those who were estranged join hands in friendship...
Your Spirit is at work when understanding puts an end to strife, 
when hatred is quenched by mercy, 
and vengeance gives way to forgiveness.

When I hear that, it makes me think of this current arrangement.  Things were not sunshine and roses 20 years ago.  But the Spirit is at work in the world and in our lives if we allow it.

Just when I think that I've seen everything at school - teaching in a middle school for all these many years - something happens and I know that I have not.   Yesterday my student with autism was freaking out because he had missed his bus.  "Take a deep breath," I told him.  So he did.  And then proceeded to blow the whole thing in my face.(I wonder if that's what it was like when Jesus 'breathed' on his Apostles!)  If there had been a birthday cake with a 100 candles on it, he would have surely extinguished them all!  Ewwww!!  I politely wiped the mist off of my face with my shirt.  Keep calm and carry on. (I saw that on Suzette's blog a while back....so appropriate!)  One of us freaking out was quite enough.  When I got home, I found my pro-biotics.
I am frustrated with part of my current situation.  There were many cuts in my department last year.  We lost three teacher assistants and a teacher.  Now there are just two of us who remain, but we have about 50% more students spread throughout 4 grade levels.  There are simply not enough minutes in the day for us to provide what they need.  I have three fifth graders (of the 8 who are assigned to me) who are reading below a first grade level.  I know that what little I am giving them is truly not providing what they need.  They NEED to learn how to read.  I am failing them, but even more, our system is failing them.  

I suppose my next step is to start calling parents to let them know that we cannot provide what their IEPs say that we must.  My supervisor's solution is to double-up grades...teach the 5th graders and 6th graders together for example.  But putting 16 special needs kids in a room with one teacher really does not meet any needs, either.  It just lets them say that they are "providing services".  I refuse to play that game...

Sigh.  Keep calm and carry on.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

there's an app for that - part deux

Oh how I love my iPad.  I say that it is my second brain.  Here are a few of the apps that I use regularly.

Daily Notes + ToDo

This is one of my very favorite apps.  It functions like a DayBook.  I use it as a journal when I go to sit before the Blessed Sacrament.  I use it as a place to keep track of phone numbers and passwords and students and other assorted tidbits of information at work.  It is password protected, so that even if someone is using your device they can't stumble upon whatever information you may have stashed there.  You can add photographs to an entry, which would be really handy with the iPad2 or with an iPhone.  I can take notes here - say at a faculty meeting - and then immediately email them to whoever might need them.  About the only thing that I routinely wish that it had was a way to emphasize text - with Bold or Italics.  I bought this app - I think it was $3 or $4.  Worth it!  There is also a "To Do" list feature, but I have used that rarely. 

iBreviary HD

I believe this was a free app, but so well done and useful.  If it wasn't for the shock factor of the little old ladies at my parish, and the fact that I sometimes like to take notes on the homily (just a word or phrase or two) I might give up my paper missal and just use this to follow the Mass readings for daily Mass.  The Breviary has all of what you need to pray Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer and the Office of Readings.  I think it also has some of the Midday Psalms.   


Do you love sticky notes?  Well....there's an app for that!!  I use mine as reminders for things that need to be done.  And when it is completed, I drag it over to the pile on the right.  A sense of accomplishment!  There is a free version, but you are limited to 25 notes.  I think this version was $1.99 or so.  It's an organizational help for when I am feeling overwhelmed or just lost.

And a Bonus App that you should check out is the Merriam Webster Dictionary.  You can speak a word into your device and it will tell you how to spell the word.  That was a free one...and very cool.  I don't use it very often, but it's useful for impressing non-technical people.  :-)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


It's been so long since I've posted a real blog post.  There is just the feeling of being very busy with very boring stuff.  All that beginning of school stuff, I guess.

One of the things I like about my new house is the rose bush in the backyard.  There are actually two, but one is mostly covered by a lemon tree.  The other, however produces beautiful roses on a regular basis.  I love being able to have fresh flowers on the table.

Here is a picture of the bush tonight.  Beautiful flowers, though the color kind of washed out in the flash....

We had a tropical storm a week or so ago.  It was a nice little change of pace.  They predicted as much as 20 inches of rain.  We didn't get that (or anything close as far as I could tell), but we did get a good bit of rain.  The wind must have blown a little bit because we had some branches to pick up.

Some little ones, too...

One of the things that I'm not really loving about the new house is the Water Oak tree overhanging the house.
How long before a good sized limb falls on my roof?  Plus all of the leaves and acorns in the pool and on the patio. 

I caught my child reading the other night!  He was probably trying to make an inappropriate gesture as I documented this unusual occurrence.

This sight here is taking years off my life.  Nothing you do in parenting prepares you for the moment your child gets behind the wheel of YOUR car with you in the passenger seat.  Although the last time we were out wasn't too bad, I didn't have to hang on for dear life, nor did I see my life flash in front of my eyes.

We are still spending time at the "old house"...trying to get it all the way empty and trying to get it decent enough for someone to move in.  It needs a lot of TLC.  Then there is the yard, too.

We removed some wallpaper....and put on fresh paint (of which I have no pictures yet)

We burned fallen branches.  (This is something I may actually miss, though with a funeral home next door now, we have less opportunities for fires in our backyard.)  Dear son mowed the grass, too.

We removed the shower doors.  Disregard the condition of the bathtub...that was partly due to me standing in it to clean various things.

The kids played a final game (or two) in their old bedroom.  You have to admit that it looks a little better in this picture than it did in the one shown here!

I always hated their closet.  I called it "the cave".  The oldest hung his clothes on the top bar on the left; the younger on the bottom.  It worked better when they were babies than when they were teens.

Found this while we were cleaning up.  I think my grandmother might have made it.  This is what people did back in the day before cable TV and blogging and the internet.  It was an art form that has been all but lost...all those special knots and stitches.

We found this hunk of cake frozen in the freezer at the old house.  None of us could remember where it came from, but we used our powers of deductive reasoning.  The icing looked gold....did we know anyone who had been married 50 years?  And the writing "urch"  Hmmmm.... Couldn't be "lurch"  How about Church?  Then it dawned on me...our parish's 50th Anniversary Celebration!  That was back in December.  We deemed the cake "safe" enough to eat.

And finally - just because - the clouds at sunrise this morning...

Do you see now why there hasn't been much in the way of blogging?  You might thank me for that - sparing you all the boring details!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

lost and found - an 'encore' presentation

Reposting from last year, with only minor editing.  Because there isn't really much else that can be said.  Prayers for those who lost loved ones that day.  Prayers that we can work together to prevent another such attack.  Prayers for those who's lives were changed forever.  Prayers for all of us.

September 11, 2001.

It's one of those days that most of us will remember forever.  We will remember where we were, who we were with, what the weather was like, and what we felt.  We all have a story to tell about that day.

It was a Tuesday.  I had a mindless meeting before school, so I was already at school when the first plane hit the first tower.  The bell rang, school started.  First hour.  Second hour.  I was doing "inclusion" with an 8th grade science teacher at that hour.  My students were included in his 2nd and 3rd hour classes, and we were standing on the sidewalk during the change of classes.  Someone came up to us and handed us a typed-written memo.  It said something very generic about the terrorist activities in New York and advised us not to say anything to our students and not to worry because local law enforcement was monitoring things.

First I'd heard about any terrorist activities.  So third hour started, and the teacher started with his daily routine - taking roll, etc.  I went to the computer in the back of the room and tried to find something - anything - that would tell us what was going on.  The servers were incredibly slow (overloaded) that day.  I think I tried the network news and cnn.websites trying to get something.  Finally I went to parentsoup.com - a parenting website with bulletin boards where I frequently posted.  Today that site would have been blocked, but not in those days.  There, I could see by postings of other parents what was going on.

I saw that both towers had fallen.  This was just inconceivable.  I couldn't cry then.  There was a class full of kids, and we weren't supposed to let them know??  So we just carried on like normal.  I remember conveying the information that I had found to the teacher.  And we went on.

The day was beautiful.  Clear blue skies.  And not a plane in them, as I stood outside on playground duty.  It seemed more quiet than usual.

My sister had gotten married on September 7.  She was honeymooning in Pennsylvania.  I wondered about her safety.  My aunt and uncle from New Jersey had come down for her wedding.  They flew home on September 10.  They saw the World Trade Center towers from their plane.  They were beautiful in the setting sun, they said. Who knew it was the last time the sun would sent on them?  My brother-in-law was living in LA at the time, but had a friend in NYC.  He had been visiting her that weekend, and he was on a plane from NYC to Los Angeles.  His plane was grounded in Ohio or some such place.  I think he finally rented a car and drove home.

There were a lot of things lost on that day.  3000 lives.  Innocence.  Security.  Liberty.  We saw evil that day. 

But there were also some things found on that day.  As only God can do, there was good that came from what was evil.  Our nation united in grief, in support, in a common purpose, but that unfortunately did not last.  Remember those flags that were everywhere??  Our family found its way back to church that weekend, and that did last.  While 3000 lives were lost, our 4 lives now have a fighting chance to be saved. 

I had always felt so safe in this country we call home.  Even if someone were to invade us - we would have at least *some* warning that they were coming, I rationalized.  Only with this, there was no warning.  They turned our own airplanes into weapons to be used against us.  The simplicity and the ease with which it was done deeply shook that sense of security I'd always had.  Suddenly we were vulnerable...I was vulnerable.

It was a wake-up call for me to stop and look at my own life.  What would have been my fate on that day, if planes had hit *my* building???  It wasn't a reassuring thought.  We were infrequent church-goers, I hadn't been to confession in nearly a decade, and those before that had been rather "selective" in what I mentioned [read: not totally honest].  I had some "things" that needed to be set right.  This started the wheels turning and that did happen a few months down the road - the setting right - and it was a wonderful, wonderful thing.  

So, on this day, let us not give into the temptation to hate. Let us pray for our enemies. Let us morn for the things that were lost, and give thanks for the things that were found.   Let us always look for ways to bring good out of evil.

Here's a picture from the archives for you.  A picture of a picture because I'm not so fond of scanning any more, and the original is probably forever *stuck* in one of those "magnetic" photo albums.  This was taken on one of those visits to New Jersey to see my grandparents. We took a day trip to NYC.  I think this is about 1974.  My younger brother, my grandfather, my mother, me (I think those were seersucker pants) and my dad.  My then-2 -year old brother had been left behind, and my much-younger sister, not yet born.  Aren't we some stylish people??

Saturday, September 3, 2011

spoiler alert

It's been a reasonably calm relaxing weekend so far.

Tropical Storm Lee is pouring forth much rain upon us. 

I have discovered that there is a low spot in my driveway.  Right at the entrance to the garage.  And the water comes into the garage.  And you need boots to get to the vehicles parked in the driveway. 

I turned off the auto-fill on the pool.  Just in case we got the 20 inches of rain that were forecast.  I don't think we're any where close to 20 inches (at least not yet), but the pool is filled up almost to the tippy-top.

I had 4 teenage boys in my house last night.  Better than 4 teenage girls, I think.  They swam in the rain.  They beat each other like maniacs with foam "noodles".  They left 4 wet swimsuits.  They ate, and played XBox and debated the merits of various musical groups and bands.  I think I need to start a Lost and Found.  Because each week, I seem to have another pair of unfamiliar underwear and a swimsuit in my laundry.

I met my stepson's mother at my old house today.  She is going to rent it from us.  It's kind of an unusual situation.  This could never have happend 20 years ago.  There was much "drama" and ill will in the relationship with lawyers and custody issues.  But time and God's grace have a way of healing things.  Grandchildren don't hurt the situation, either.  The house is not in pristine condition, (and not likely to get that way), but she is genuinely excited to be moving in, and I am glad for that.  You won't find it in Better Homes, but there were a lot of good memories there.

We went to 4:00 Mass this afternoon.  My boys had to serve.  Before Mass, I flipped through the missalette to read the readings.  It is good if you've read them ahead of time, I think.  You can listen better.  But before I got to this weeks, I stopped at next week's.

That's where the Spoiler Alert comes in.  I was amazed at the appropriateness of the readings for September 11, 2011.  Even moreso because they weren't chosen special for this anniversary.  My pastor likes to say that there are no coincidences in God.  Would you like a taste? 

The first sentence that God speaks to us next week: 

Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.


Forgive your neighbor's injustice...

The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

He....redeems your life from destruction...

how often must I forgive?

So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.

Appropriate?  Impossible?  Another chance for God to show his healing power?  This week, we prayed together, as part of the homily, the prayer of St. Francis (because where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name...)

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

gone fishin'...

Not really.

I've never really gotten what the attraction for fishing is.  Having never actually caught a fish, I guess.

It was the homily at Mass this morning.  How we are called to "fish"...to evangelize.  And it's not really an optional thing - it's part of who and what we are.

A lot of mornings at Mass, I am there "alone".  Not really alone - I'm not the only one there - but I don't have any one with me..."unaccompanied" might be the word.  But today I sat with a couple of friends.  One falls into the "church lady friend" category and the other was a work friend.  The church lady friend and I met a few years ago at Mass at another parish, and would run into each other at various places.  Eventually we went for coffee after Mass, and a friendship has developed. (Coincidentally, we were meeting for coffee this morning after Mass.)

My work friend, I have known for quite a few years.  When she worked in my classroom several years ago, she would often mention that she had gone to Mass before school.  It is because of her that I started going to Mass - at the very least, she planted the seeds.  Or in today's theme, she threw out the net.  Her attendance at Mass has come and gone with various stages in her life.  Sometimes she will join me morning after morning for months, and then other things interfere.  Today was the first morning she had joined me in many months.  She said it was the result of my "fishing".  I told her I was there because of hers.  Weird how that all works.  A further reminder that we don't need to go into far-off mission fields to evangelize.


It may appear that I have indeed Gone Fishin' by the scarcity of blog posts lately, but I am still right here.  It is just one of those points in my life where there is lots going on, but little worth writing about.

School has started; we are finishing our third week, and I have yet to teach kids.  I have done tons of paperwork; written and held 4 IEP meetings, made 2 different schedules, helped several people set up Promethean Boards and trouble-shoot problems, done at least 30 minutes of lunch duty every single day, given potty breaks, called for records, written 4 behavior plans and designed the charts to track them, etc.  I haven't been idle.  I just have no idea how I am going to teach AND keep up with paperwork.  When I voiced that to my supervisor...well, you know what is important to them.

One reason that I have yet to teach kids is that our school is losing 3 teachers this week.  This means that on Tuesday after Labor Day, we will have a First Day of School all over again...new schedules...the whole thing.  We are going from an 8 period day to a 7 period day.  Remediation is being cut, as is our 2-period Math class.  Not sure how we will raise our all-important test scores.  And on that note...

hope you have a great Labor Day weekend!