“You Haven’t Written in a While…”

Dear Mary Jo,

I’ve noticed you haven’t written in a while. I hope all is well for you and your family. The events of the last several months have been tough on all of us. You don’t know me, but you’ve been in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for sharing your perspective on family life and faith and I hope you continue to write. Maybe you’ve just switched formats and I’m not aware. Either way, God bless you and your family.

Blessings,

Donna

As this thoughtful reader’s email aptly points out, I haven’t written in a while. Many of you are thinking, yeah, and so?… Well, at least Donna misses me!  First off, thank you for your sweet letter. To answer your welcome question, our skeletal staff of five here at “Late For Church,” (AKA the family) are faring remarkably well despite the roller coaster of events playing out across our country and world. Other than a nasty flu-like virus (COVID? possibly, but not definite)  which hit my son, daughter, and me at the beginning of March, we are all fine. I can readily speak to their physical health, however not so knowledgeably on their emotional, mental health. How is it that I cannot nail down my kids’ and husband’s moods when we’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time together, living on top of each other for months? I can barely grasp my own thoughts and feelings, let alone the rest of my family.

There are a whole slew of reasons I haven’t written, starting with the absence of coherent thoughts for many many weeks. Maybe some of you can appreciate this. My mind has raced more than a spry cat chasing a moth with a death wish. (Moths are on my mind as Colorado is in the middle of a seven year cycle of Miller moth infestation. They’re everywhere! Which doesn’t help dispel desperate feelings that we’re experiencing Biblical plagues.) Backwards and forwards my thoughts dart, jumping quickly here, then changing course mid-attack. My random thoughts taunt my brain, “Missed me again, SUCKA!” Honestly, I don’t know precisely how I feel about anything. I have strong thoughts about our our collective health, race problems, politics, the Church, and on and on, then not thirty minutes later, I’m arguing vociferously against those assertions in my schizophrenic brain. I often find things funny, until they are really really sad. “Ha-ha-haaaa! That’s so funny, I’m crying. Sniff sniff, WAAAA!” From laughter to ugly cry in under three minutes. Also, I have been very sensitive to all the heightened rhetoric being written in my social media feeds, and even in texts from friends. Many speak and write in black and white terms, “This is the ONLY way we will get out of this mess.” And, “How can people do/ think/ be THIS way! Liberals/Conservatives are so (fill in the blank with nasty term of choice.) A lot of these posts and texts are sent by people I admire and respect. Alas, everywhere I look—essays that make it sound as if there’s one simple solution. Then all will be fine and dandy, if only people would just hop on board. But everyone has opposing ideas. I have consciously avoided adding to the dissenting chatter. Besides, I can offer no solution. I’m not certain of much right now.

In addition to the above reasons, though we are living in what is ominously been termed over and over as “unprecedented times,” my daily life has become oh so far from unprecedented. Life consists of my very familiar home, husband, and kids, laundry, lunch, dinner, and dishes. Rinse and repeat and that’s a week. Before the pandemic, I drew inspiration from wandering explorations through a list of stores, or walks in places packed with people, and in face-to-face interactions with extended family, close friends, neighbors, and strangers, meetings, coffee dates. Now everything is so… sanitized. I’m not speaking of hand sanitizer, although we do use a lot around here. I am so much more calculated about my interactions and trips out. I map out a plan and act in all efficiency to complete each specified task. I used to meander the aisles or linger places, chatting with those I encountered along the way. We’re all wearing masks. It’s like trying to have a heart to heart in the operating room. I feel tethered by circumstances, but also by the admittedly self-imposed walls of fear, and occasional despair. I’ve lost the gift of spontaneity which is such an inspiration killer. 

Now in this season of COVID and cultural unrest, I find that my life is again meticulously planned and constrained by what I’m advised to do to protect my health and that of my loved ones. I feel constricted by how I am being told I am supposed to think about all that’s unraveling in the world. People impose their opinions about how I need to think and act as a good Christian and a good citizen. Again, no clear path as everyone seems to disagree what that looks like. I feel confused and stymied. Sadly, over the last months, I have lost sight of what inspires me—writing.

My break from writing hasn’t been all bad. I have tried, though not always succeeded, in being more present to my husband and kids. They are experiencing the same worldly tumult that can’t simply be shut out when we lock the doors at night. We’ve enjoyed slowing down together, though it was admittedly bumpy at first. I have also prayed more, A LOT more. Those are both really good things. But I’ve really missed tapping away on my keyboard or scratching excitedly in a fresh legal pad.

So, Donna that’s what’s  been going on. Thank you for encouraging me to write. God willing, there will be more to come. I hope we can all encourage one another to choose to continue to do things that inspire us. It’s not our surroundings or circumstances, which frankly are kinda bleak right now, but how we respond that makes all the difference. What inspires you? Are you doing it? If not, why?

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Hanging By a Thread… of Beads

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Amidst the strange events that are unfolding worldwide, I have been so grateful for my Rosary. The Holy Rosary is my tangible link to the Blessed Mother who continually leads me more deeply into relationship with the Trinity. A month or so ago, I gave a talk to a moms’ Bible study group in which I shared my personal story of how I came to rely on the Rosary. A mere string of beads has been a source of strength and comfort when I had nowhere else to turn—and thanks be to the Almighty, those beads are fortifying me once again when so much uncertainty and fear abound. What a profound sense of peace to pray the Luminous Mysteries with the Pope and the rest of the world this week. I hope we all continue to pick up this powerful devotion daily and marvel at the results.

You don’t have to enjoy saying the Rosary. Truth be told, I often don’t. But, now more than ever, give it a chance. I hope the talk I’ve linked below helps you understand why.

Here’s the intro they read before I began.

Our speaker today is Mary Jo Gerd. She has been married for more than 15 years to a wonderful husband she believes God handpicked for her.

However, she is currently employed by three overbearing, domineering bosses…ages 13, 11, and 9. They just happen to call her mom which is the best and hardest job she’s ever had.

Before taking on that important role, she worked as a promotions writer and producer for a movie channel, doing trailers, celebrity interviews, and red carpets. She traded in her “glamorous” media job for the more rewarding, albeit lower-paying vocation of full-time wife and mother. She hasn’t looked back since. Well, maybe once or twice.

She and her family are active members of their Denver parish. She enjoys writing about family life and her reversion to the Catholic faith on her personal blog, Late For Church.blog. You can often find her essays featured on New Advent. She’s been regularly interviewed on Relevant Radio’s, “Morning Air” discussing all sorts of Catholic topics. And she is a brand new board member of the non-profit organization, Families of Character.

Please welcome Mary Jo Gerd.

“Adulting” Through Lent

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Somehow, it is both shocking and no big surprise that the term “adulting” has worked its way into our cultural lexicon. We collectively commend someone when he dutifully takes on the responsibility assigned to his stage in life. “Yay for you, Gary! You’re paying off your college loans on time.” Yet, as creatures accustomed to so much comfort and ease we will often do whatever it takes to avoid facing difficult but necessary challenges of growth. “But I don’t want to have kids until I’ve lived a full life and visited every major league ballpark in the U.S.”

I recently watched a documentary, “American Factory” which details a Chinese company’s take-over of a shuttered Ohio factory. The Chinese employees who are sent to oversee the transition cannot even conceive how to manage the entitled Americans. In a meeting to discuss the major problem of motivating their reluctant employees, they learn that from a young age Americans are coddled. They are rewarded and propped up even when it is undeserving. The aghast Chinese managers are warned to never criticize American employees. 

This sobering account of American society got me thinking about how our Christian faith offers the perfect antidote to this cultural sickness. And it’s completely contrary to the relentless Communist Chinese work ethic which diminishes and risks individual lives for the supposed sake of the whole. Rather, Jesus Christ by his incarnation teaches of us what it truly means to be fully human. To be a real adult. Throughout his life on Earth and especially on the cross, he exemplified the pouring out of his self as an act of sacrifice for others, for me. If Christ offers us the grace and example to be fully human, then Lent offers us an opportunity to grow as fully Catholic. This is a time to enter into our humanity while delving deeper into the mysteries of our faith. It’s a time to discern our motivations. Are we driven to do good because of pride, or fear, or because we know it’s right? Do we attend Mass out of duty or a sincere sense of piety? Are we able to eschew comfort for the sake of spiritual maturity and to help a neighbor? In becoming more fully Christian, we naturally become more adult. Living as a spiritual adult is a noble goal, but how does one practically get there? I’m sharing some simple personal Lenten guidelines to help me “adult” through this Lent.

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Tips to Make Your Kids’ Valentine’s Day About True Love (No Crafting Involved!)

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I’m about to write something extremely controversial and provocative. Proceed with the pitchforks and torches if you must. It will not change my opinion. Here goes. I’m glad—no, downright gleeful that my kids’ Catholic school does not celebrate Valentine’s Day. There. It’s officially out there. I’m truly happy there will be no shoebox “mailboxes” wrapped in red and pink paper and plastered with colorful stickers and foam heart decorations. No cutesy purple cupcakes heaped with gobs of frosting and sprinkles. No party with pastel streamers, balloons, Pinterest-inspired crafts, sugary drinks paired with adorable polka-dotted straws, and candy galore. Some of these things I look back on fondly from my own youth. I did really love those candy hearts with the pithy little sayings… miss you, be mine, kiss me. And taking my stuffed mailbox back to my desk where I opened each valentine with eager anticipation—I’ll admit—it was fun. And yet, I don’t want that same pleasurable memory for my own kids? There’s a reason I’ve taken such a counter-cultural stance against the feast of February 14th. In one sentence, we’ve lost our minds, folks. We took a turn towards Cuckoo-Ville, accelerated, and haven’t looked back.

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Exercise?! I thought you said extra fries!

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Since one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more authentic, I admit that the fun title for this post came from a little framed art piece I spotted in the aisles of JoAnn Fabrics. While I would prefer to confess my inspiration springs from all that Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare I’ve been poring over lately (NOT!) or the endless hours minutes spent in daily prayer and reflection… I’m certain God continues to seek this undeserving soul’s attention. And He will undoubtedly work with what He has. Sometimes that’s the clearance section of a big-box fabric store.

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DON’T STEP IN IT! 5 Things you should NEVER say at a Family Gathering

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I’ve been on the receiving end of countless awkward comments. Unfortunately, I’ve uttered plenty of them too. Navigating social situations is a bit like dodging roadside IED’s while blindfolded. The obstacle course often gets more treacherous at family gatherings during the holidays. Christmas get-togethers are already rife with turmoil and stress. Merely sharing surnames and relatives doesn’t mean anyone will agree on anything: faith, politics, diet, fashion, or even what’s funny. Why would anyone want to pile on and make an already difficult situation more strained? “Pass the green bean casserole, Uncle Ned, you pony-tail wearing, commie-loving hippie!” Obviously, not appropriate. But what about the more veiled remarks delivered with the best of intentions? These little conversational nuggets are the dirty bombs of small talk. The gift that keeps giving—like my father-in-law’s homemade sugar-free cranberry sauce which packs a bitter wallop upon first taste, but the memory of that punishing, mouth-puckering sharpness lingers a lifetime.

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Where’s the Beef This Advent?

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If you’re as ancient as I am, you’ll remember those Wendy’s commercials from the 1980s which featured a spritely grandma who takes apart her fast-food burger to reveal two comically oversized buns with a pathetic, tiny piece of meat nestled on one of the halves, barely detectable. It’s dwarfed by the pickle chip. An unwitting spokesperson, this little gray-haired lady, heroically takes up the voice for the rest of America. She, like all of us, is tired of being ripped off, as she rightly demands, “Where’s the beef?” (If you don’t know the commercial, trust me—it’s a laugh riot, but you should stop reading now so you can finish your spelling homework.) The point of the commercial is that other fast food joints try to pass off tiny burgers in enormous buns to unsuspecting customers, while Wendy’s clearly has their priorities straight. It’s all about what’s sandwiched between the gigantic slabs of bread, the generously portioned all-beef patty. That tiny speck of meat the other restaurants are peddling will never truly satisfy.

Recently glancing at the calendar as November winnowed away, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition of notable days. To my surprise, sandwiched between the two biggest consumer holidays of the year is the weekend which marks the beginning of Advent. I must have realized this before, but for some reason, it was the first time I really made the connection. In other words, God turned a nightlight on for His daughter. To my shock, the crucial Sunday when we begin to prepare liturgically and spiritually to welcome the Savior of the whole wide world—just happens to be bookended by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Situated poetically between a day for hardcore bargain hunters which inspires fistfights in the aisles of Walmart—and a workday when adults opt to remain in their jammies staring at blue light for hours trying to score killer deals, we find the kick-off to Advent. Is it just me or is the world committing a dastardly sleight of hand, playing up the non-essential part of our lives in the lead up to Christmas and seriously downplaying the only part that truly matters? Am I so unsuspecting and gullible as to fall for a trick like that? Not this year. I’m looking back at what the world has to offer and demanding none too politely, “Where’s the beef?”

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Hate This! Not That!

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Years ago I used to enjoy the mind-numbing babble of a popular national morning show while I got ready for work. One segment that caught my attention was, “Eat this! Not that!”  The ultra-skinny host whose own diet clearly consisted of an occasional rice cake topped with kale would run through a display of mouth-watering dishes, often well-known fast food items. With the help of an “expert” guest, the bobble-headed anchor would compare the fat and calorie information of each. By comparison of the nutritional facts, they would conclude, “Eat this grilled chicken sandwich which has 50-billion fewer calories than that one loaded with mayo and fried in gobs of fire-retardant lard. (Gasp.) And for heaven’s sake, don’t ever eat that!” But the greatest shock entertainment value came when they compared seemingly healthy salad entrees against obvious fat-laden dishes like pizza, or hamburgers and fries. The plates piled high with greens and veggies often contained—wait for it—double or even triple the calorie content of the junk food items! The moral of the story: unsuspecting customers were often hoodwinked into heart disease by the lurking fat in “healthy” salads. Poor shmucks! “They should eat this delicious all-beef patty! But not that deadly harvest salad piled with carcinogenic croutons and dreaded trans fats! It contains enough calories to nourish a small town for two years. Just look at all that BACON and RANCH!” Yum…

Recently, I came up with a twist on the morning show game which has shed some light on the problem of recurring sin in my life.  Let’s call this little game of spiritual discovery, “Hate THIS! Not THAT!

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G.P.S. (God Positioning System)

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Recently, I wrote about how God spoke to me through an incidence of eavesdropping. You can read about it here. In His not-so-subtle way, the dear Lord woke me up to a weakness that regularly plagues me: I don’t trust Him. I constantly question the benevolence and guidance of the One who created me.

I pray. I read scripture. I love God. And sure I’m totally on board with His leadership when everything is running along just fine. I’m a happy passenger. But I hit a random bump in the road, or find myself in unfamiliar territory and oh boy, I’m gonna grab that wheel from the Almighty. It’s nothing short of a herculean task for me to surrender to His infinite love and trust. I think we all struggle with this to some degree, but when you tend toward the controlling end of the personality spectrum (my hand is raised real high right now) it can seem downright impossible. Maybe some of you out there can relate.

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How This Introvert Got Super Involved at Her Parish

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I was caught off guard recently by someone’s response to meeting me. While shaking her hand, I made the customary smiling introduction. “Nice to meet you. My name is…” I had barely gotten my name out when recognition instantly spread across her face.

“I totally know that name! I see your name attached to everything here.”

With that string of innocuous words, I was suddenly rendered self-conscious and exposed, as if she’d said, “I can tell you had spinach for dinner. You have a hideous green thing in your teeth.”

I answered her tentatively. “You’re probably right…” Nervous laughter. “We are pretty involved.” Awkward pause. “I’m not quite sure how that happened. My husband and I aren’t normally joiners, but…”  What I said after that is a blur because my mind was racing with the implications of her statement. No doubt her comment was meant in complete kindness, but I felt a wee bit of shame for being the person who’s name is “attached to everything”—mainly because it was just so unlike me!

On the drive home, as my husband and I sat at a red light, I broke the silence to voice my concern, “How did that happen? How did you and I, a couple of introverts become so involved? We’re at the church a lot.  All of a sudden, I’m that lady. Weird…” A sudden intake of breath. “Oh dear God, I’m a Church Lady!”

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