Finding Christ in the Clutter

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Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it. “For well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event of their lives with the divine grace which flows from the Paschal mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. From this source all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.” —1670, Catechism of the Catholic Church

I have a 5”x7’’ picture of the face of Jesus on the dresser directly across from the bed. It’s a pretty popular characterization of Christ that I suspect can be found in many Catholic homes. What makes the rendering especially moving are His eyes. They follow me. Not in the menacing way I imagined portraits and pictures did when I was younger. It’s a non-threatening, loving stare. His eyes search for me, pleading, imploring.

I keep the picture there as a concrete reminder that Jesus wants to hear from me and probably more important that I need to listen. It’s my intention that His eyes seeking mine are the first to greet me upon waking. Often what happens in any household though, spaces and shelves that are clear one day, suddenly become littered with random objects, stacked and scattered haphazardly. I’m not pointing any fingers, but a certain someone I happen to be sacramentally pledged to for the rest of my living days has a particular problem with accumulating clutter in spots that are otherwise neat and tidy. Slowly what transpires over the course of a few days, or weeks, things pile up on the dresser directly in front of my picture of Jesus. An empty coffee mug, a half-drunk water bottle, our kids’ latest and greatest artwork, books, a hairbrush, my saline spray, random receipts… Ok, some of it’s my junk too. Pretty soon Jesus is obscured in all that worldly clutter.

This morning when I woke up, I looked across the room and could make out only the top of His forehead. It’s a nice forehead as foreheads go, but it doesn’t exactly inspire the magnetism of those compelling, soulful eyes. I tried to snake my neck to gain a slightly better view. But a Ziplock bag loaded with junk made it impossible to see much more. It struck me in the moment, how this is the perfect allegory for my faith life. I often unknowingly, and unintentionally allow things of this world to get in the way of the view of my Lord, Jesus. Within the blink of an eye, He is blocked, obscured or seemingly way off in the distance. Not because of any change in His stationary, constant position, but because I’ve done a good job of blocking Him out—with stuff.

As a youngster, we had plenty of sacramentals peppered throughout our house. My parents had a huge painting of Christ above their headboard. I must admit, His eyes did seem to follow me in that creepy, “I’m watching you” kind of way. We had a prominently displayed pretty cream white Hummel of the Blessed Mother with the infant Jesus that was knocked over and glued back together numerous times. There were rosaries and scapulars hung from bedposts and a gold colored chi-rho (the P with the X through it) saved from my parents’ wedding cake that hung on our living room wall. I didn’t know it at the time, but the religious symbol signifies the first two letters of the word Christ in the Greek alphabet. Needless to say, there were concrete reminders of our faith throughout our house. I never really thought of them as such, but there they were. I was soaking in it.

My beloved Italian “Gramma Pippa” quite possibly illustrated the most enduring image of using sacramentals during the day to keep her eyes fixed on Jesus. She would go through drawers looking for other things, a photo, a recipe, her glasses and she’d inevitably come across a holy card lovingly stashed under a heap. She’d stare at the iconic image on the card, bow her head and deeply kiss it. Then, she would hand it to me and entreat me to kiss it as well. It felt so odd, but I loved my sweet Gramma and I knew it would please her. So I too kissed the picture of Jesus or the Blessed Mother and then the picture would get safely tucked back in the drawer sequestered away where it awaited the next opportunity to see the light of day.

As a middle-aged mom who honestly struggles with the concept of patience and mercy with regard to my children, I have found sacramentals to be a help in parenting. There have been moments where I am in mid-scream, rant or meltdown, when I spy a crucifix, a photo of JPII, a framed sketch of Mother Teresa cradling a baby, and I am shut down in my uncontrolled passions. And if I’m not directly in that moment arrested by an image of holiness and goodness, I am reminded almost immediately after. Ok, 10-15 minutes later. At least you can hang your hat on the fact that a sacramental has the real potential to make me rethink my words, actions, rage at some point later in the day.

The point is I need A LOT of reminders. In the midst of the worldly crap that so quickly accumulates, I have a real short-term memory problem. Simple tasks are sometimes impossible. Ask my holy other-half mentioned above who has to find my keys/ phone/ sunglasses on a DAILY basis. Not unlike that Nemo character, Dory, the lovable, but dim fish who earnestly chases something and then mid-stream completely forgets where she’s rushing, I am Dory in my Christian faith. I will sincerely pray and ask for great patience and then, not two seconds after making the sign of the cross, I’ve forgotten and am surrendering to anger. That’s why concrete reminders like sacramentals are such a big help. They can never take the place of the sacraments or our active discipleship as Catholics. In fact, I often ask myself if all these reminders were removed from our home, would anyone know we were Christian? Would they know we love Jesus by our actions and virtue? But sacramentals, when combined with a strong and genuine faith, are useful tools. I liken them to my GPS which can reorient all the pointless meandering and get you to where you need to go. Sacramentals direct us to convert our hearts daily, hourly and in my case, mid-tantrum. They can help put me back on the path. God already knows we’ll occasionally get off the path in our mission as His followers. He is the good shepherd. We are his sheep. Is it any wonder that sheep will pursue a hole in the hedgerow like a millennial to his SnapChat account? He knows what we need.

Even though I still can’t currently see my favorite image of Jesus from my spot on the bed, I know his eyes are still pleading with me. “Turn back. Turn back and look at me.”

I Cried with Michael Jordan

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Certain iconic sports images of epic underdog wins and poetic last plays witnessed over the course of my life remain imprinted on my brain. Consider Tiger Woods dramatically donning the green Masters’ blazer as the first person of color, Michael Phelps shattering the record for the most gold medals, the Chicago Cubs’ curse-breaking World Series triumph against my beloved Cleveland Indians. I could easily go on, but there’s one memory that is even more enduring. Yet, I suspect many of you probably won’t even recall it.

For me, the moment crystallized not just a legendary sporting achievement, but an encounter with sadness and mourning in the midst of victory. It was Father’s Day, 1996. Michael Jordan had just won his 4th championship for the Chicago Bulls. His win was rendered even more momentous after a brief retirement and triumphant return to the sport that made him a household name. Also notable, this marked Jordan’s first major career win without the support of his father in the stands. Jordan’s dad had been murdered three years earlier.

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A Holy Cheat Sheet for the End of Summer

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I’ve been a mom for over a decade now. But each year, summer still seems to slip through my hands like sand through one of those sandbox toys my husband runs over while mowing the lawn. There is roughly one month left to make the most of these endless hot, unstructured days. I’ve challenged myself to step up my game—the result, a list of family activities that will capitalize on our last weeks of freedom while helping to lead this domestic church from hullabaloo to greater holiness. Join us as we 

Carpe Do’em!

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Seismic Shift

The word perspective derives from the Latin: per, meaning “through” and spectus, which translates to “look at.” So with a bit of word origin sleuthing, perspective means to look at something or someone through a particular vantage, viewpoint or lens. Simple enough. But not really.

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One summer morning, when I was roughly twelve years old, I was lazily sleeping away the day, when my mother uncharacteristically barged through my bedroom door, interrupting my peaceful slumber. She was crying. Hard. I was disoriented and deeply moved. She didn’t cry often. In the split second it took her to explain what was amiss, my brain instantly raced to the only possible conclusion. My dad was dead. My dad was a good 14 years my mother’s senior. Aging and death were subjects he never shied away from. In fact, in some ways he strangely celebrated them. He was the only person I ever knew who gleefully looked forward to turning 60, which meant a “Golden Buckeye” card that offered a discount at many Ohio stores. He regularly lamented how tired he was, allowing him a pass on many physical games or activities with my brothers and me. I was also very aware that he was the oldest dad among my friends’ fathers. Much to my horror, someone had once mistakenly called him my grandfather. My father, however, found it delightfully amusing. Looking back, a narrative took shape in my brain that my dad would go first. It was the natural order of things. No one ever spoke it, but the idea that my mom would outlive my aging father was sort of a morbid understanding.

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Boasts & Pot Roasts

I’ve been blogging long enough now (nearly a year!) to officially have a recurring post. I will patiently pause for the mandatory mini fireworks display in your brain…

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This marks the second installment of my wildly successful “Boasts & Pot Roasts” franchise piece. And by ‘wildly successful,’ I mean my husband has read it—at least that’s what he swore to me when I relentlessly interrogated him on an unusually hot June day.  For those of you who are just catching on to this cultural phenomenon, allow me to direct you to the first post in which I described my “Boasts” as the things I’m proud to say I read, saw, experienced or heard. Sometimes they are newly released, but they can also be classic hidden gems worth a second look. My “Pot Roasts,” on the other hand, are books, TV, movies, music etc. that have received a whole lot of hype but to my estimation fall flat. Think Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty’s “Ishtar.” For those of you under the age of 40, how about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in “Gigli”? You get the drift. Now on to my list.

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Aiming to Please Him

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I experienced a mini victory recently. No one else would ever perceive it as such, but God knows. For the better part of my life, I have tried my darndest to not disappoint or displease those I encounter. Please note the word, “tried.” Those of you close to me will have something to say about whether or not I achieved those goals. With the gift of hindsight, I’ve come to realize that trying to please others or going out of my way to not let people down is actually a fruitless goal in of itself and undoubtedly destined for failure. Often, the complete opposite of my intention is accomplished. But that realization didn’t dawn on me with such clarity until recently.

I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start with the mini virtue victory.

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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!

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As they stamped their last few envelopes, 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. Continue reading “Dear Mary”