No Map Required

“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” —St. Padre Pio

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Recently, I overheard a snippet of a private conversation between strangers. While it could technically be classified as eavesdropping, I’m certain God didn’t mind my listening in. In fact, though the conversation was not expressly intended for my ears, witnessing the seemingly chance encounter may have been part of God’s plan. Looking back, he was leading me to a spiritual breakthrough. In other words, even God can bring good out of my inclination for being nosy.

The day began with the usual morning routine. I parked in my out-of-the-way way spot, careful to avoid the hustle and bustle of school carline and escorted my kids to the designated area for drop-off. As I walked back through the church grounds, I glimpsed a father rushing to herd three children in a single file line. I doubt they saw me. I was on the opposite side of the courtyard and was leaning over to pick up my phone which I had dropped. The tall, business-attired man was taking long, confident strides on the path towards drop-off; while his kids, laden with disproportionately large backpacks and water bottles, trudged behind.  The dad, like a mother goose, looked over his shoulder a couple times to confirm his stair-step goslings safely trailed. The first in line after the father, the biggest of the kids, looked to be about seven or eight years old. He was lagging. Tottering forward, he seemed disoriented by the foreign path the father had chosen. I didn’t recognize the family and assumed they were new to the school. The dad kindly urged, “C’mon, John. It’s this way. You’re going to be late.”

“Daaaad! Slow down.” The little boy’s water bottle fell at his feet. As he bent to pick it up, he reiterated, “I mean it!” His words were thick with frustration and disapproval. Now the little boy came to a complete stop on the path, taking stock of his surroundings. His smaller siblings, unaware of the hesitation, like dominoes, comically slammed into the wall of the backpack in front of them. Papa goose, spotting the traffic disturbance in his wake, once again coaxed, “This way, buddy!”  But the boy did not budge. To be fair, from the young boy’s vantage point, the school building completely obscured the view of the playground beyond. He could neither see, nor hear the gaggle of students awaiting the morning bell just a short distance away. Without that tangible proof, he would not continue on the sidewalk to nowhere. The dad slowed but didn’t stop. He was probably going to be late for work and time was a tickin’. The frustrated child  boldly confronted the dad from behind, shouting, “Do you even know where you’re going?!” The question cut through the morning stillness like a sling of speeding poison arrows.

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I wasn’t able to see the dad’s response. By this point, I was well past the hubbub and would have had to crane my neck towards them, making my eavesdropping completely obvious. I have some standards of propriety. But I didn’t need to see the father’s face nor hear his exasperated voice. I had experienced the same situation with my own kids—many times. It’s not uncommon for them to express suspicion in my authority. They regularly question my leadership, ironically as I try to shepherd them somewhere they need or want to be. How many times over the years have I heard, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” or “That doesn’t sound right. You better google it,” and “You’re not making a whole lot of sense right now, so…” Honestly, the injustice of it all—being doubted by young upstarts who not long ago were putting their shoes on the wrong feet.  And how could they so easily forget the 15-Ga-Jillion times we’ve come through for them, delivered them to where they needed to be, showed up on time, been five steps ahead to get them to safety? It’s what a decent parent does.

I couldn’t resist chuckling smugly under my breath. “Poor dad. Who do these kids think they are? That punk 7-year-old thinks he knows more than his experienced, middle-aged father who is undoubtedly now going to be late for wor—THUNK! One of those arrows had hit its intended target. Piercing hot awareness spread from my core radiating into my bloodstream.

Over the years, I’m slowly beginning to grasp God’s bountiful sense of humor. The Divine Comic’s jokes are intricate, full of depth, and above all else, perfectly timed. I had walked right into another Providential punchline.

That kid’s angry, pointed question, “Do you even know where you’re going?” reverberated in my thoughts. Such a stinging accusation… How many times have I uttered that very sentiment to the Father of all? He who created me is regularly the recipient of my doubt, suspicion, and outright condescension. Well played, Lord.

“I’m that precocious punk kid, right? That’s me who always questions You? I’m the control freak who demands to know where You’re going? I’m the upstart who doubts You over and over. It’s me who needs more proof or I’m not budging. Yet we both know how many times You have lovingly delivered me to exactly where I needed to be.”

Being met with mistrust when it is unwarranted is a tough pill to swallow. Sadly, I speak from experience as a devoted mother who often answers those concerns with a decided lack of charity. Our Holy Redeemer, however, who willingly carried all of our unjust cynicism, fear, and disapproval on His scourged human shoulders, is gratefully more than capable of handling it all.

But my breakthrough wasn’t so much about how God must feel when I throw a tantrum because I naively think I’m lost. I saw myself in that little boy. I carried his heavy backpack. I shared his upset and frustration at not seeing where the path led. He was worried about not getting to the right spot before the bell rang. I completely empathized. It is so difficult to surrender to someone and know that they have your best interest at heart. It’s downright scary. But his father loves him. The Father loves me. With the aid of His grace, I must rest in that understanding.

The Lord always wants what is best for us. Had the little boy gone along with his dad and let go of all the worry, it would’ve been a much smoother morning. Instead, that brief episode between father and son that I had witnessed likely ended in a meltdown. A lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. No trust, no peace.

From now on, during difficult times, when I’m tempted to shout out to the Heavenly Father, “Do you even know where you’re going?” I will fight off the fear and make an effort to trust His extreme goodness and love. I will strive to rest in His peace. It is foremost in my prayer. And moving forward, maybe, I’ll have a little more compassion for my own kids when they question whether I know where I’m going. To be fair, I do make a whole lot of u-turns. I’ll just gently remind them what I have recently come to terms with—unfamiliar landmarks, twists, and turns are all to be expected on the journey to heaven. God lovingly leads us. Enjoy the view. No map required. 

Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares about you.

— 1Peter 5:7

*1st Photo by Daniel Gonzalez on Unsplash

*2nd Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

5 MUST-HAVE School Supplies to Keep Kids on the Path to Heaven

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It’s that time again when moms and dads across this great land finish checking off a mile-long list of obscure, annoyingly specific school supplies. We scour the internet, traipse through aisle after aisle of every big box store and office supply emporium around, trying to find the correct color, brand, and amount, at the right price. But there’s always one item at the bottom of the page that is nowhere to be found—that elusive pre-sharpened number 2 red Ticonderoga training marking-pencil with a white eraser fashioned out of rare unicorn dust and angel feathers…?

We’ve come a long way from my school days (way back in 19—ahem, never mind!) when the list consisted of at most four or five items—pencil, scissors, crayons, glue, and paper. This gets me thinking about what kids actually need to get across the finish line of school and ultimately life. Here’s a hint: you can’t get it at Walmart. What spiritual tools can I provide my children to help them navigate the more arduous path to heaven? A couple years ago, I compiled my first list: The Top 5 Must-Have School Supply Items for Every Catholic Kid. In the spirit of growing lists, I’ve added to it. For a refresher on what is at the top of my list, check it out here. Now for my 2019 new & improved edition of the essential spiritual school supply list:

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Parenting Like a Convert

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I’m not a convert, but sometimes I wish I were. I come from a long line of cradle Catholics. It has undoubtedly been a grace to grow up simmering in the rich soup of faith seasoned over time with enduring traditions and profound familial witnesses. What a blessing! So why am I so darn jealous of converts? You know that superstar Catholic who dramatically joins the church after a lifetime denouncing the “whore of Babylon”? I can’t get enough! Who doesn’t love a captivating Scott Hahn story with all those twists and turns that ultimately lead to Rome? Or better yet, what about those amazing creatures who have come to faith after years of card-carrying atheism? Their stories are nothing short of remarkable and bear the stamp of God’s own imprint. They come to the Faith with such zeal, humility, compassion, and moral courage. 

And then there’s me.

I don’t mean to downplay my own “reversion” going from a barely checking-the-boxes pew warmer, to one who longs for deeper intimacy with Jesus and His church. But it’s certainly not the thrilling stuff of, say, Saints Paul and Augustine, Blessed Cardinal Newman, or Edith Stein. Or more recently, Jennifer Fulwiler, Tim Staples, and Leah Libresco. Needless to say, I admire their fire, grit, and heroic journeys of faith, risking so much to heed God’s call. I, however, was born into it, with the proverbial silver baptismal spoon gently nestled in my mouth.

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Universal Weirdos

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This is the second chapter of my short memoir, “Chasing Normal.” It details the acute period of grief right after my mom died. I posted the first installment earlier.

I felt surrounded by the grave. The last time I had been to my grandparents’ Florida home, I had accompanied my mother. Back then, I was a carefree teenager. A lot had changed. My grandmother had courageously fought mouth cancer, enduring a significant part of her palette being removed. She did not survive. I could not have conceived at the time that her firstborn, my mother, would follow just two years later from lung cancer. It was strange being in that home with two crucial people missing.

The home was completely different. My grandmother’s soft, feminine touch was nowhere to be found. Instead, every available space had been covered in a swashbuckling nautical theme. My grandfather had hung paintings of ships and seascapes, sadly erasing almost every trace of his deceased wife. It was unsettling, but not completely surprising. While hey had eked out forty-nine years of marriage, I suspect it was not always the happiest of unions. They used to bicker—a lot. His hearing was going, so she would raise her voice. “John!” was often punctuated with heavy sighs and exasperated eye-rolls. It never erupted into a full-blown argument, but there was always an undercurrent of seething.

I liked my maternal grandma. Although, I sometimes sensed that there was a time limit or expiration date on our welcome. Past that window of time, we grandkids were interlopers. It was understandable; She had raised seven children, almost single-handedly. As a typical husband of the 1940s and ’50s, my grandfather dutifully provided for his family. He was away a lot while serving in the Navy, and later, as a U.S. postal worker, who moonlit as a musician. Grandma had finally retired from the business of child-rearing. This was in contrast to my dad’s mom, my Italian Grandma Pippa. She couldn’t get enough of my brothers and me, as if her happiness depended on breathing the same air as ours. As different as they were, both were as good as gold and surprisingly linked through their deaths. Grandma Pip had died about one year after my maternal grandma, and precisely one year before my mom. Three years, three deaths. The matriarchs of my family were dropping like flies.

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Chasing Normal

I’m working on a short story about a series of random events that happened shortly after my mother died. Her death is a theme that makes its way into much of my writing. This is the first edit of my first installment. 

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Armed with a Cucumber and Cheap Ham

In the days and weeks that followed my mom’s sudden death, I was feeling anything but normal. Yet circumstances and the people surrounding me seemed to be marching onward. It was all strangely just as before… Oh, but it wasn’t.

We buried my formerly vibrant mother. I headed back to college to complete the last days of my senior year. Finals. Not sure how I managed. It could have been the result of a handful of professors who took pity, although I don’t know if anyone actually knew. Or maybe I was on a mission and the distraction offered a sort of respite from the darkness, allowing me to become hyper-focused on my studies. My mom had happily anticipated my graduation after all. Whether it was attaining that noble goal, or a blind eye from the administration, or a combination, I will never know precisely how I passed—with an impressive 3.5 G.P.A., I might add.

Graduation followed without my biggest fan present. Troubled and searching for her in the faces of all those happy onlookers, I reached for the diploma. My dad and brother were there, albeit late. There had been a panicked minute or two where I thought no one from my family would witness my proudest achievement to date. When they rushed in, visibly harried, I let out the breath I had been holding. They were emotionally lost and grieving as well. But I couldn’t help thinking that she would’ve been on time.

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Anatomy of a Catholic Snob

I’m not gonna lie, Pope Francis scares the living daylights out of me. Can I get an AMEN from the rest of you faithful pew warmers who consider yourselves orthodox Catholics? I certainly don’t take issue with his beautiful message of mercy. And he may even be right about the Our Father translation, but some of the things he says, or more importantly refuses to say… alarming, right? Try as I may, my response to the Holy Father is rarely measured. Justified or not, the pope is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my struggle to resist falling into a prideful superiority complex. I’ve judged many of my brothers and sisters in Christ and found them not up-to-snuff.  That’s due to my predilection for Catholic snobbery. What is a Catholic snob? Here are a few simple questions that will help you spot the signs and find out where you land on the Catholic snobbery scale: Do you regularly turn up your nose at other Catholics and Christians? Is your personal piety beyond reproach? Are you constantly flaunting your superior Catholic cred? You may be a Catholic Snob. Continue reading to discern whether your nose is in the air and you just don’t care! 

You may be a Catholic snob if…

1. You have no funny bone.

In order to really appreciate our human condition as well as our Catholic faith, it’s important to be able to laugh, especially at ourselves. Laughing at our own foibles with a sincere and contrite heart is a small step towards sainthood. St. Francis de Sales remarked, “Humor is the foundation of reconciliation.” St. Padre Pio is credited with saying, “Serve the Lord with laughter.” However, the Catholic Snob finds very little funny. They can be severe and make many harsh judgments about others and themselves. If they are found laughing, often it is because they’ve met someone who prefers the guitar Mass to Gregorian chant.

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A Face for Radio

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I was on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air show recently. If you haven’t heard of Relevant, it’s a wonderful Catholic radio network that broadcasts all over the country. You can download the Relevant app and listen LIVE in case you don’t get it in your neck of the woods. I’m still trying to figure out why they’re interested in talking to me. I’m no theologian, nor a psychologist. I’m just a wife and mom who loves her Catholic faith. Nonetheless, I’m so honored to be able to talk about what the Holy Spirit has put on my heart.

My interview was set to begin at 6:30am Denver time, 8:30 on the East coast. So I said my prayers, injected some black coffee into my veins, fired up the old laptop, and quietly tiptoed to our basement. It was my hope to not wake up the rest of the house. I prefer to have serious talks about the faith when my kids aren’t screaming and horseplaying in the background. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I lose serious credibility when I can be heard shouting, “You kids are killing me! STOP doing cartwheels off the coffee table NOW!!!” As I sat nestled on our downstairs couch in the beautiful silence of our basement playroom, my phone decided it wasn’t going to cooperate. Mere moments before I was slated to be on, as I was attentively listening to the interview preceding mine,  my phone reception started breaking up. This is a sample of what I heard:

Next, we’ll be talki—KSSHHHHHTTT—She’ll tell us abou—KRRRRRRRRSSSSHHHT—and join us fo—SSSSHHHHPLEK!

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