Dear Mary

My sons were confirmed this May. So, newly sealed and ignited by the Holy Spirit they followed in the apostles’ perilous footsteps by taking on the arduous task of… er, sending out handwritten thank you notes. What an exasperating mission for two perfectly capable, literate, bright students, ages nine and eleven, respectively. And if you think it was tough on their end—

“What?! We have to address the envelope TOO?! My hand is killing me!”— you should know it was no picnic for me either.

“Did you like the gift that Aunt “so-n-so” gave you? Well, your sketch of a smiling… slug?… is AMAZING, but does NOT qualify as a thank you note. You must incorporate actual WORDS. This is not a suggestion. DO. IT. NOW!”

“FINE. But anyone can tell it’s a DOVE!” Harrumph!

ethan-hoover-422830-unsplashPhoto by Ethan Hoover on Unsplash

As they stamped their last few letters, my letter-writing challenged boys wondered why anyone would ever go to all the trouble of sending boring old mail. They remarked that e-mail and texting were downright hassle-free in comparison. And while I agree with my sons, who were born AFTER the advent of the iPhone, sending snail-mail isn’t without its own challenges—heck, I can barely manage a few sentences without loads of mistakes in chicken scratch masquerading as penmanship—I also realize that so-called effortless electronic communication: tweets, FB posts, texts, email and the like, present their own set of pitfalls. In fact, I would argue that these newer forms of communication are way more tricky, to get right anyway.

I was recently included in an email chain to a group of concerned neighbors regarding an upcoming HOA project. It was written by someone who I know to be extremely virtuous and upright. Yet, the tone of the email felt somewhat accusatory and insulting. It seemed to lack many of the good qualities I know to be foremost in this person’s nature and so contrary to what I believe they were trying to express. From the amount of hubbub stirred up after the email, I surmised that many people had the same reaction I did. So how did this truly stand-up person get it so wrong? And why is this such a common problem in our day-to-day correspondence? It got me to thinking about all the emails or texts I’ve fired off without as much as a quick once-over. How many times I’ve hit send without considering my recipient or my anticipated end goal. And what about the countless emails I have honestly pored over while composing them, and yet, still gotten it woefully wrong? I can think of at least a few business emails that resulted in curt, combative responses that did not match my desired outcome at all.

william-iven-8515-unsplashPhoto by William Iven on Unsplash

Pondering my own failed missives is humbling, but it has caused me to reexamine the perceived ease and regularity in which we approach this all too pervasive part of our culture. I have begun to reflect on what it is exactly that distinguishes really good and effective electronic communication from total cyberspace flops. You’ll probably be surprised to learn that the answer I received to this query wasn’t so much a WHAT as a WHO. And SHE is not just any WHO, she’s someone I’ve come to rely on over the years and who I happen to think holds a whole slew of answers to life’s most sticky questions.

The particular WHO I’m thinking of is our Blessed Mother.

How does Mary, who has never, to my knowledge, tweeted, snap chatted or posted a single update on Facebook, have the answer to my modern-day dilemma of electronic correspondence? (And if you think you have actually received a post from the Queen of Peace, I’m dying to hear about it, but I think you should put your phone/laptop down RIGHT NOW. An internet fast may be in your future.) In fact, how can a mere Jewish woman who walked the Earth way back in the first century single-handedly hold the key to conveying powerful, effective communication on social media and the like? If you’re thinking it doesn’t sound plausible, buckle up.

Throughout the Virgin Mary’s exemplary life, she modeled two virtues that I think she wants all of us to emulate, especially in approaching how we communicate with the rest of God’s children. Those two virtues that signified Mary’s existence are gratitude and humility. Everything she did, whether modestly saying yes to God’s daunting mission of becoming the Mother of His beloved Son, to quietly, yet staunchly remaining with Him at the foot of His cross, exemplified her deep gratitude and humility.

Consider also how she visited and supported her cousin Elizabeth in the advanced days of her geriatric pregnancy, while she herself faced looming uncertainty and peril. Recall how scripture tells us Elizabeth addressed Mary.

“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” —Luke 1, 43

Elizabeth, also extremely humble, immediately recognizes and honors the greatness standing before her. This would cause just about anyone else’s head to bloat. Imagining myself in Our Lady’s dusty sandals, “No problemo, Liz, though it was an extremely long walk and my back is killing me. But, I’ll try to use my connections to put in a word for you with Big Guy. We go way back.” Heaven help us!

But, Mary, being the sinless human she is, humbly responds with her beautiful Magnificat:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:

the Almighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his Name.” —Luke 1, 46-49

She humbly removes herself from the spotlight and gracefully redirects it to where it belongs, on God. Her words are gentle, yet powerfully convey what needs to be said. She rightly acknowledges her place in the history of humanity but she does it with gratitude and humility. She regards herself as a lowly servant who owes everything to God.

When facing the minefield-laden task of sending an electronic missive, we should be asking ourselves: What would the Mother of Mercy write? Do our words communicate true gratitude and humility? Or do we more realistically convey the counterparts to those virtues: thanklessness and pride. In the words of the great modern prophet, Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” I am starting to ask myself does this email contain humility? Will my recipient glean my gratitude? It’s a template for successful and powerful contemporary communication. You can’t go wrong! Mary will not let you down.

Remember those annoying rubber bracelets that displayed WWJD? Did I say annoying, I meant (cough) inspiring. Ok, truthfully, I never got on that particular bandwagon. As much I LOVE the overall sentiment of those colorful wristbands proudly proclaiming, “What would Jesus do?” I just wasn’t loving the sanctimonious fashion statement. But when endeavoring to write an email, I can’t overlook a similar acronym which I find to be highly applicable when trying to communicate in our fast-paced postmodern world. WWMW? What Would Mary Write? It’s got a nice ring to it. No doubt the bracelets are forthcoming.

 

Holy Homerun

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Recently, a friend candidly shared with me her worries about the amount of faith her son was getting in our Catholic school. It concerned her that every single subject was neatly tied to Catholicism. She expressed frustration that it all funnels back to the faith.

“Religion in Phys. Ed.?! I mean, are they just peddling the Catholic kool-aid?”

This was my chance. Very rarely in life do you get lobbed the absolute perfect pitch, just standing at the ready, anticipating the moment you are about to connect with the sweet spot. While I didn’t share this mom’s concern AT ALL,  I understood it completely. More than understood it, I had lived it. Growing up, I picked up on the mistaken and misguided message that our Catholic faith was something that we trotted out for religion class and at Sunday mass, but once you entered the parking lot, AKA real life, all bets were off. You hopefully lived life as a decent human being—read: good enough, but not aiming all too high, making sure not to murder or maim, intentionally anyway. Under this pervasive philosophy of Catholic-lite Christianity, the faith never truly informs the ins and outs of day-to-day-life. People whose lives were always guided by faith, we called priests, nuns or just plain cuh-razy.

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Put On Your Big Girl Pants!

brooke-lark-194253-unsplashPhoto by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

“Mom? Does this match?”

“You can NOT do white socks with black dress shoes.”

“Harumph.”

“Mommmmy! I can’t find my hairbrush!”

“Can we PLEEEZ get doughnuts after church?! Pleeeeeeeease? It’s been weeks!”

“We had them last Sunday.”

“Yeah, but they obviously weren’t that good… because I don’t even remember them. Pleeease?!”

“It’s 8:17! We need to be in the car 5 minutes ago…”

“Did you brush your teeth?! Get in there and brush your teeth!”

“Why are you crying?!”

“He kicked my purse. It’s ruined!”

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

“GET IN THE CAR!

In the mad scramble before leaving for 8:45 mass, I grabbed a pair of black dress pants to put on. When I went into the closet I had thought, “It’s Mother’s Day. I should wear something festive. Perhaps a dress…” Instead, I grabbed a nice, but a very plain pair of old black pants. You might say they picked me since they’re certainly not what I had in mind as “festive,” but I didn’t have time to dawdle so I just went with it. Before kids, I used to spend gobs of time painstakingly considering each color coordinated, name brand garment before I went anywhere. Now I grab and dash! 5 minutes and I’m ready to meet the Queen. Take that Meghan Markle! Can I get an AMEN from all you lovely moms out there?

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Fantasy Mom

Today is the 25th anniversary of my mother’s sudden death, a singular event that undoubtedly forever changed me. While the sting has lessened over time, I still struggle with the profound loss almost on a daily basis. It informs my thoughts and dreams, which may explain why I wrote this essay.

gabriel-sanchez-265726-unsplash (1)(Photo by Gabriel Sanchez on Unsplash)

Don’t tell anyone, but for quite a long time I’ve had a Fantasy Mom. Just as four-year-olds will gleefully gush about their imaginary friends, I’d like to brag about my Fantasy Mom. She’s the most loyal, loving, funny, kind and of course, wise mother who ever did NOT exist. Fantasy Mom is an intricate combination of my real mom, and every warm,  maternal character I’ve admired over the years.

Fantasy Mom firstly derives from the foremost matriarch, the very real Blessed Mother who quietly, yet staunchly remained at her son’s side during His greatest suffering. Despite doubtless unimaginable dread and fear, she never wavered. I’m confident she journeys alongside me too, especially as I navigate life’s more dodgy roller coasters. Her presence offers such peace and calm. She’s certainly my gold standard for all mothers. So how do you improve on sinless perfection? I mentioned this was a fantasy, right? 

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Boasts & Pot Roasts

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Remember when you were an insecure teenager/ young adult and a new song came out that no one else had heard of? You made sure everyone was keenly aware that you were in-the-know about that super cool, very underground tune, while everyone else was tragically and pathetically in-the-dark. Your cool factor would go up a few points that day as you revealed this well-kept secret that was on the verge of going mainstream but definitely hadn’t yet. All of you shaking your head and thinking, “Nope, not me,” you must have been in that elite group that was simply too cool to care. Wipe that smug smile off your face! The rest of us sorry souls, who were squarely in the not-so-popular plebeian crowd, we cared A LOT. Despite my braces and acne, I wanted to share with the world the things that I thought were going to GO BIG. And I most certainly wanted credit for those prescient recommendations.

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Stalked By A Saint

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I noticed her eyes immediately. They seemed to be following me. I was in a meeting, explaining something when mid-sentence—Zap! Poof… everything I was saying magically evaporated.

Awkward silence. “I’m sorry. I just had a senior moment,” I heard myself saying to excuse my inexplicable, abrupt absent-mindedness. She responded with mild laughter, but I just swallowed and tried to reorient myself.

The Parish staffer with whom I was meeting had a smattering of photos on her wall, some I recognized as famous 20th-century saints, others not at all. But there was one black and white headshot of a young woman that seemed to be imploring me to look back. As I gained my composure, I found myself continually drawn to those familiar, heavily-lidded eyes. Each time we experienced a lull in the conversation, my gaze landed on that photo. While I had undoubtedly never seen the young woman before this moment, I was strangely convinced I knew her.

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Weeping on Easter

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Photo by: Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Without fail, the tears start welling up at almost the exact same time. It’s always Easter Mass. I could set my watch to it, but I’d never dare because the annoying alarm would draw even more attention at a time I’d prefer to simply disappear. Like it or not, there’s no stemming the tide of my mounting emotions. I bow my head and clench my eyes shut hoping no one around me notices. Usually, I get by without drawing too much attention to my red nose and watery eyes. But occasionally my reaction is so intense, a series of muffled involuntary sniffles gives me away. The kids or my husband will look at me with startled questioning eyes. My children especially probe my face with their intense, troubled looks. To lessen their worry, I flash a huge toothy smile and roll my eyes to let them know I’m fine—not only fine, I’m overcome with sheer joy. These are tears of complete happiness.

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