Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Maybe I'm Amazed

Do you collect anything? Aside from the occasional Christmas ornament I pick up whenever I travel to a new destination, I don’t collect anything material. However, I do have a collection of intangible treasures that I regard as priceless.

One gem is the first time I saw a shooting star. I was probably eleven years old, and we were at a picnic playing hide and seek. As the call of “Olly olly oxen free” went up, I emerged from my hiding place to run across a dark field to home base, when on the horizon before me, a shooting star streaked across the sky. I was so amazed by the sight that I stopped short and stood in the black field with my mouth gaping in awe.

Another gem I collected twelve years ago while on a cruise in the Caribbean with my family. It was that magical time of day when it’s still light but the sun is sinking and everything drips with melting gold. There were several other ships in port in St. Maarten with us, and as evening drew near, one-by-one the ships left for the open sea. The water was flat and the wind was nil. As my dad and I stood at the rail on the upper deck, we watched as each ship sailed into the setting sun. But what I will never forget is how each of their wakes left a golden filigree on the placid surface of the sea for miles.

I picked up another treasure several years ago while on another cruise–this time near Mexico. After spending the afternoon in port, we came back to our room to recuperate before getting ready for dinner. While my husband and son lounged in our cabin, I went out onto the small veranda off our room, sat in the lounge chair, and closed my eyes to relax. As I was dozing, I was awakened by the sound of several shipmates on the decks above and below me shouting, “Whale!” I glanced to my right, and there beside the ship was this enormous whale leaping out of the ocean. I couldn’t get to my feet fast enough to open the cabin door and yell, “Come quick. There’s a whale!” As my family watched this sleek whale put on a show, I looked above and below us. Hundreds of passengers had gathered on the verandas of the various decks. There were so many people lining the rails on this side of the ship, it was a wonder we didn’t tip.

Just last month, I added a new treasure to my collection. We had tickets to see U2 at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. It was rather chilly for June. And cloudy, but that is not unusual for Pittsburgh. We had cheap seats, high in the upper deck, but as they gave a glorious view of Pittsburgh’s skyline, I didn’t mind sitting up that high. But what really impressed me was something that happened moments before U2 took the stage. Although it was not raining anywhere in sight, a red rainbow formed over the field and terminated above where the group would soon appear. Now, I’ve seen many rainbows, but this was unusual because there was no precipitation and because you could not see any other colors of the spectrum but red against the leaden sky.

It seemed that everyone saw the phenomenon at once as a gasp arose from the crowd and thousands of cell phones were held aloft to capture the beautiful sight. The red rainbow stayed for several minutes, and then before it faded, it cast its light on the surrounding clouds turning them a rosy pink. Sure, U2 was good, but I’ll never forget that red rainbow.

I can’t remember where I read this, but someone once observed that humans are continuously fascinated by God’s handiwork but easily become bored with things made by human hands. Case in point. If you grew up during the 1960s and 70s, you may remember the nation’s fascination with the space program. People clustered around their televisions to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, but with each successive trip into space, less and less people paid attention. Yet, people never get bored with watching something as simple as a sunset.

Why does that happen? Clearly, there is something embedded in the human soul that longs for the Divine. The summer provides us with more opportunities to be out in nature and to observe God at work in His creation. Keep your eyes open. It may be something as simple as a hummingbird buzzing your garden or as spectacular as bioluminescent ocean waves pounding a beach or the flash of the Northern Lights that give you a glimpse of His glory. You never know what treasure He may cast before you that will spark your sense of amazement and that will become a cherished addition to your treasure chest.

This originally appeared on the Catholic Writers Guild blog.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Review - Finding Patience

With so much incivility, hate, and violence in the world, you may be wondering how have things spun so out of control? An even more important question is: How to do we reverse this disturbing downward spiral?

Virginia Lieto’s children’s book Finding Patience offers some answers. Lieto, who is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s College in Maine, teaches theology and advocates a return to instructing our children in the virtues.

Finding Patience follows sisters Charity, Hope, and Faith as they adapt to a major change in their lives—a move to a new home and school. When Faith has difficulty adjusting, her parents guide her to pray and practice the virtue of patience—a lesson not only for children but also for adults.

The book offers reassurance that God is good and only wants the best for Faith but that will come in His perfect timing. And when it does come, Faith receives Patience in a delightful twist at the end.

If you want a children’s book that not only entertains but also edifies, then Finding Patience is the book you have been waiting for—I hope patiently!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It’s Perfect – Not!

It was Father’s Day weekend thirty-one years ago. Married only a couple of years, my husband and I had moved into our first house that previous January. We’d spent that spring painting, wallpapering—the things you do to get a home into shape. On Saturday of that weekend, I’d cleaned the whole house while my husband had spent the day outside trimming hedges, weeding, and cutting grass in anticipation of a Father’s Day picnic for both sides of our family—the first event in our first home.

As we called it a day, I remember looking at our neatly manicured lawn and gleaming house and thinking, “Everything is perfect.”

Then the phone rang at 7:04 a.m. Who calls that early on a Sunday morning? I thought as my husband rolled over and answered it. When I saw the color drain from his face, I knew something was terribly wrong. He hung up and stared blankly at me, too stunned to show any emotion. “That was my mom. Tommy’s been killed in a motorcycle accident.” Tommy was his twenty-three-year-old little brother.

We’d anticipated a Father’s Day picnic filled with fun and laughter. Instead, we were now faced with death, identifying a body at the morgue, and making funeral arrangements.

So much for perfection.

Flash forward to June seven years later. I’m sitting in a counselor’s office after suffering for months with panic attacks. “From what I’ve observed,” the kind therapist said, “You are very hard on yourself. You need to allow yourself to be human. You think you have to be perfect.”

As you can see, my dance with perfection has been filled with missteps. From Tommy’s death, I learned that life is not perfect and never will be, and through my joust with anxiety, I learned that I am not perfect and never will be.

So, how does someone who’s had these types of reality checks with perfection square them with Jesus’s words in Matthew’s Gospel where He instructs us to “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To a perfectionist, His words area a recipe for disaster. You may have heard the adage “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” Well, when we perfectionists get rolling, we tend to discount anything, however good, that does not meet our level of perfection. We get tangled up in being immaculate. I’ve worked hard not to be a perfectionist, so when I came across that bit of scripture again recently, I, once again, reacted to it with disregard and confusion—not a good way to react to scripture.

I know perfection is impossible and shouldn’t even be pursued lest I become paralyzed in my quest to be flawless. There is no perfection on this side of eternity. I know I cannot be perfect, I made myself sick trying. Why would Jesus impose such an impossible directive on those He loves?

Ah, but I’ve also come to learn that when Jesus commands us to do something, He always promises to provide us with the grace to achieve it. His words in John’s Gospel provide the key. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from Him, I cannot reach perfection. Apart from Him, the world wallows in sin and destruction. Perfection in the way Jesus means is a work of transformation and something for me not to achieve but to surrender to. Through Jesus and His act of redemption, we reach perfection. Paul in his letter to Philippians gives us this assurance: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

I’ve learned that Jesus is working on me, and that sounds absolutely perfect to me.

(This originally appeared on the Catholic Writers Guild Blog.)