Holidays, Mass, and Memories

The holidays are here and that means it’s time for me to write about my most favorite subject ever – My mama! 🙂

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So holidays for my Mom and my family were simply the best. My Mom could be described as “Festive to the Extreme.” To give you an idea, she decorated our house for Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Labor Day with little flags everywhere. I mean, lets face it, most people will celebrate by enjoying the day off work but my Mom would get out her flags and put them in the potted plants outside and in the yard, she’d get on her Flag sweatshirt and grab her Flag Tote bag and would just LIVE for stuff like that.

Christmas was always a bit over the top, and Mom just made it really special. Her last Christmas was no exception. In fact, we considered it a miracle (and looking back, I think Mom just WILLED herself to get enough of her strength back) to be released from the hospital in time to celebrate Christmas.

One of my last memories of that final Christmas was walking down the stairs to the kitchen and stopping on the landing halfway, to just take in the smell of baked cookies and her famous sweet bread baking in the oven and thinking, “This is the last time this house will smell like this. It won’t be the same anymore. I’ll never hear her fiddling in the kitchen, I’ll never hear her playing her favorite Christmas CD’s, I’ll never see her smiling to present her bread.” And I don’t remember crying or anything, but I remember just inhaling that smell before I walked all the way downstairs into the kitchen. And just saying to myself,

“Damn. That was it. This won’t ever be this again.”

And you know what? That first Christmas was really rough. I won’t say it was awful but it was really hard. We tried to decorate the house like she would have but I had zero desire to even put up the tree or anything.

One day in the fall of the year that she passed, I think around Thanksgiving, I just decided to pick up her digital camera and see what was on it.

And the first picture I see is of the interior of our house…at Christmas…the year before. And then another. And another. And another. She took about 20 photos of the entire house with the Christmas decorations because she knew we wouldn’t know how to decorate quite like her. It was basically a Tutorial of How To Do Christmas Like Mom.

I pretty much lost it and called my sister to tell her about Mom’s picture-by-picture guide and she came over and we began to unpack the boxes and started to decorate the house.

And we found a note in one of them. I can’t recall what it said, but something like “Take care of each other.” Mom wrote it apparently when she was feeling well, in remission. We thought “How neat! Mom left us notes!”

We kinda forgot about it until Christmas time and started to unpack those decorations and found..you guessed it – more notes! (I wrote about this whole thing in greater detail in a blog post here). <—Get the Kleenex ready if you start to read that one.

My point with today’s post was to give some sort of solidarity to those who are about to experience their “first” holiday post-loss of a loved one. The first holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers Day/Fathers Day, etc are not really…enjoyable.

I mean, let’s just be real  – they suck.

I hate that word, but it’s just so true. You’re always thinking about THEIR last holiday and how they looked, what they said, what they wore, what they made, where you went with them. And it’s just not the same. Nothing is ever the same.

And people will always try their hardest to make you feel better by saying, “Their memory lives on forever.”

Gag me.

That’s straight out of a Hallmark Channel Movie! So lame. Yeah yeah, their memory lives on. In our minds. Yes.

But that’s not good enough – we want our loved ones here in the flesh. I want to be able to hug my Mom right now, ya know? I can’t hug a memory. (I had the BEST dream about her the other day where I DID hug her and it was so great!)

I want to smell that bread again (IT’S THAT GOOD okay? Trust me, everyone RAVED about my Mom’s sweet bread. Thank God my sister bakes it now and it’s just as good although she’ll read this and say “No, it’s not as good as Mom’s. No one made it like Mom.”)

I want to hear her play her favorite Christmas music and hear her wrapping gifts and complaining that she had to scour the internet looking for that one obscure rare gift my brother always asked for every year, and couldn’t find (but she always found it! Sometimes at the last minute, but she did.)

I want to see her, in her recliner, reading her little devotional books, ask her how she’s feeling, and hear her voice and talk to her.

Last week we celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day. All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation but All Souls Day is not. I feel like they both should be obligatory.  All Saints Day mass was exactly what I needed. The incense, the chanting, the lighting…it was incredible. All Souls Day had the same feel and although it’s a solemn mass and lots of tears are shed, the homily filled me with hope.

I LOVE going to the mass and feeling my Mom there with me.

After all, mass itself is heaven on earth. It’s where we encounter Jesus and it’s where we pray to the Saints and to Mary and it’s where I feel closest to my Mom and all of my relatives and friends who have passed on. They are where I want to be someday (hopefully not soon) but I know it’s where I’ll see her again and hear her laugh and see her smile and give her the biggest hug ever!

And when I’m on my knees in prayer after the Sanctus (the Holy Holy Holy…) I really try to envision all of the saints right there and my Mom too, hovered around the altar, kneeling with us before God on His throne.

I know it can be a chore and really tough to picture this when you’re at mass where there’s crying babies, fidgeting kids, people’s cell phones going off (come on people, it’s been 10 years can we please learn how to turn them off!?) or an off-key singer in the choir or just distracted by your random thoughts, but if you shut your eyes and just listen to the priest, you CAN do this.

Even if it’s just 10 seconds of being truly present at mass, it’s a game-changer. It may be the most peaceful moment you’ll have that day. And if you keep experiencing that peace, I would be willing to bet you’ll want to keep coming back to get those peaceful experiences again.

My prayers are with all of my friends and family members who are experiencing their “first” holidays without your favorite person in your life there with you this year. But you’ll see them again. And it won’t be from a memory.

It’ll be real. 

Can’t wait to see you again, Mom! Save a slice of that bread for me will ya? 😉

National Day of Prayer

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Today is National Day of Prayer. It’s a good time for me to post my personal favorite prayer. But since I have quite a few, I thought, what the heck, why not post all of them? 🙂

Grant me, O Lord, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.

St. Thomas Aquinas

 Let us therefore give ourselves to God with a great desire to begin to live thus, and beg him to destroy in us the life of the world of sin, and to establish his life within us.

St. John Eudes

Say to him: Jesus, look upon the stones, the thorns,and the weeds that I have, but look also upon this small piece of ground that I offer to you so that the seed may enter my hearts.

Allow it to grow, and God will nurture it.

Pope Francis

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:23-24

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – My Savior and My God! 

Psalm 42:5

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do no lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them. Everyday begin the task anew. 

St. Francis de Sales

Fit In Your Faith Today: Take 5 minutes to pray on this National Day of Prayer. Pick one or a few or even all of the prayers I listed above or seek out your own favorite prayer. Offer it up to someone that needs your intention today. You could pray for the leaders in office, you could pray for someone in your family or a close friend, you could pray for the Nepal earthquake victims or you could pray for a certain social justice issue to be resolved. As they saying goes, “Pray for those who don’t believe in Jesus. They need it the most.”

Not an Inspired Message

1 Corinthians 13: 1-2, 8-10

I may be able to speak the languages of human beings and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains- but if I have no love, I am nothing. 

Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear.

Fit in Your Faith Today: Are you falling for an “inspired message” from the secular world about Valentine’s Day and about Love? Remember who and what is love: God. God is love. (1 John 4:7-10) Let us show one another THIS kind of love not just today, but every day. Not just with chocolate and flowers, but with actions and words.

Pray for Those Who Won’t, Those Who Can’t and Those Who Don’t

Spend time praying for 10 things that don’t benefit you. – Dale Partridge

Dale Partridge of The Daily Positive posted this status update on his Facebook page the other day.

I shared it on my own Facebook page with the subtitle  – “A great 2015 resolution!”

Quite the challenge for all of us. Not only to pray for others but to pray for things that will aren’t necessarily going to benefit us. Of course, any type of prayer is always good for us but Dale’s point was for us to see that prayer doesn’t always have to be all about us. It’s quite selfish to always pray for circumstances to benefit ourselves, although that’s what prayer is sometimes – a request for help.

But I think Dale’s point was to get us to stop thinking of ourselves for more than a few minutes a day. Think of others. Think about ways to help someone else for a change.

I admit it was challenging for me to think of 10 different things to pray for that don’t involve me. At first, the first few were easy to write down and pray (a friend of a friend who is ill, a family member looking for a job, a parishioner who recently had surgery) but then I really had to stop and think about more people and events that did not directly affect me. Of course there are always people out there who need our prayers. But do we really stop and think about them? These complete strangers?  These unknowns?

I thought of 3 categories of the people who need prayers:

Those that don’t pray: Non-believers, or just anyone who makes it a point to tell you that they just don’t pray. They might even believe in God and maybe go to church regularly. But, these people just don’t pray. Maybe it’s just not their thing. Maybe they don’t think prayer works.

Those who won’t pray: The people who refuse to acknowledge a higher power. The ones who perhaps believed in something or someone at one point but have left the church or had a bad experience with faith. Maybe they think God hurt them in the past.

Those who can’t pray: Those who are physically or mentally unable to pray; someone with a debilitating disease or condition who can’t speak or communicate in any way; those who have passed on (yes they need our prayers too!).

So those are the people and their unfortunate circumstances that I’m praying for currently. And of course, this challenge isn’t just a one-and-done type of endeavor. I plan on trying to do this everyday. Let this be a challenge for all of us in this new year. To give and to think about others. To cease our selfish ways for a moment and pray for others.

Fit in Your Faith Today: Challenge yourself and pray for 10 things that don’t directly benefit you. Write them down and pray for all 10 things every day for a week. Then start a new list the following week and continue for the whole year. What a tremendous accomplishment and what an amazing number of answered prayers to be thankful for at the end of one year.

 

Stop circling this mountain…

Deuteronomy 2:3

Then at last the Lord said to me, “You have been wandering around in this hill country long enough; now turn to the north.”

Different translations read: “You have circled this mountain long enough; now turn north.”

The point is clear either way you translate it – God doesn’t like us to play the victim. He’d like us to stop with the self-pity, the fear, the pride, the negativity that can paralyze us. He’d like us to stop circling whatever mountain it is we are on, and go in a different direction.

From the book “Made to Crave” by Lysa Terkeurst – the author quotes a friend named Ruth Graham who has this to say:

Either we ca be victimized and become victims, or we can be victimized and rise above it. Often it is easier to play the victim than take off our masks and ask for help. We get comfortable with our victim status. It becomes our identity and is hard to give up. The Israelites often played the the victim card, and I love what God finally tells them: Turn North! It’s time to move on! Taking off our masks takes courage, but if we don’t do it, we will remain in our victim status and end up stunted.

Do you find yourself claiming to be a victim of your circumstances?

Social Status: I’m too nice to people so I allow friends to take advantage of me. Why do they do this to me?

Health Status: I’m overweight because I have bad genetics. It’s not fair that other people can eat whatever they want and never gain a pound!

Financial Status: I have so much debt that I accumulated over the years. I don’t get paid enough by my job to pay it off!

Marriage/Single Status: I lost so much in the divorce, I have to start at square one! It’s not my fault that it happened! Or, I don’t understand why I’m still single when all my friends are married with kids. Why is it so for me to meet the right person?

Fit in your Faith Today: God is telling you to stop toiling the mountain that your on and start in a NEW direction. It’s a new year. The start of a new chapter in your book of 365 pages. Are you going to stay wandering in the desert of self pity and victimization? Or are you going to heed God’s word and start a new path?

The Word is Alive

John 1: 1-5, 9-14

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas to all the children of God on this most blessed day, the day our savior was born!

 

Fit in your Faith Today:  Be sure to spend some quiet time after the gifts have been unwrapped, after the last sip of egg nog, after the final goodbye to relatives. Spend time in quiet prayer in awe and wonderment at the true meaning of what this day signifies to all of us and to you.

Be Like St. John the Baptist

Most people probably don’t think they could possibly be like a saint. They might not describe themselves as being very holy or good or sin-free. But you can be saintly, everyday.

There is a light inside all of us. And each day you have an opportunity to show people that light. For some, it’s barely lit. For others, it’s burned out. But for most, it’s shining as bright as the sun.

To be like a saint, in particular like John the Baptist, you can prepare the way for something (or someone) good to enter someone’s heart. Especially to those whose light is barely shining.

How?

  • Recognize they are hurting, perhaps depressed, bitter, or lonely. Don’t make it about you and your feelings, remember it’s about them.
  • Steer conversations to how they are feeling, what they are doing to get better. Make them do most of the talking.
  • Your role is a listener. Listen as the saints listened. They were silent when God spoke to them. Be that good listener and hear the words your friend is speaking.
  • Show them your light by taking them to lunch. Buy them a small thoughtful gift. Something even as small as a smile and a “How are you doing today?” can mean the world to someone who feels like there is no one they can talk to.
  • The sense of touch can make all the difference. A simple hug/embrace may sound like nothing. And maybe it’s even a little uncomfortable for people who aren’t used to affection. But even a friendly gesture like a hug can brighten someone’s day.

After you leave your friend, you’ll have shown them some of your light. You can be like the saints and like St. John the Baptist and prepare the way for Christ to enter his or her heart. It may seem like no big deal on the outside, but on the inside, that friend is grateful and transformed. And you can say that YOU helped make it happen.

Fit in Your Faith Today: Seek out that person that needs a saint in their life and show them that light inside of you.

Are YOU the one that needs a saint?  Hold that mirror up to yourself and ask what you can do personally to become like the saints. Prepare the way for Jesus to come into YOUR life.