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.

The pithy little saying painted on a rustic white-washed backdrop gave me a chuckle, not simply because they expected some schmuck to shell out $10 for a farmhouse chic clearance item, but because it struck a chord. I tend towards a contradictory mindset at this time of year since I have never been much of an exercise enthusiast. I’ve paid for gym memberships that seemed reasonably priced, but when the cost is tallied against the number of times frequented—$260 divided by three?—not such a screaming deal after all. Naturally, my sensibilities bristle against the constant barrage of media messaging: Commit to this life-altering exercise routine! Eat according to that breakthrough diet! Apply our winning strategy and corporate domination will be yours! Who says? I laughed because the annual ceremonial calendar change signals a worldly lesson on self-improvement—and we are all expected to sit up and take note. Yes, O sage 21st-century pop culture guru, speak the truth that we may all absorb it and comply. As if rock-hard abs, perfectly exfoliated skin, and a lucrative promotion are the only noble goals out there. Deep down in my soul I know that’s not true. Besides, wasn’t it St. Athanasius who said extra fries are always an inherent good? Or it could’ve been Jim Gaffigan…

This New Year’s Eve, our family attended the anticipatory Mass for the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary. The priest remarked that everyone puts an emphasis on making New Year’s resolutions to get physically fit. Yet, we Christians should know we are much more than flesh and blood. We are also mind, spirit, and soul. He wisely advised that we do something for those other aspects of our being. That doesn’t mean we neglect our bodies. Taking care of the tabernacle that houses His spirit is important. But our lives should not be ordered to that single goal which is so fleeting. We must branch out and seek what stirs our minds and souls. We must be directed to wholeness as humans. Last time I checked, having a hot bod was not a requirement for holiness.

Our sincere, thoughtful priest challenged us to make a better New Year’s resolution. He suggested we turn to Mary who we rightly celebrate as the mother of our Lord. She will always point us to Christ. Some years ago, before my faith had been rekindled, I was invited to participate in a mom’s rosary group, but I had an actual aversion to the rosary. “It’s soooooo boring!” Those mumbling old biddies in the back of the church who frankly scared the crap out of me were always grasping beads. The last time I had prayed the rosary I was in the sixth grade. Did I even know how? I also had a deep desire to connect with other moms who were losing their minds nursing babies and chasing after toddlers, so I reluctantly showed up. I was completely caught by surprise, but I shouldn’t have been. Maternal love is dynamic, ardent, and overcomes insurmountable obstacles. The Blessed Mother, in her own quiet and steadfast way, lovingly led me by a string of beads into the arms of her Son. Through Mary, I finally met Jesus. No turning back. And that should be the primary goal as we forge ahead. To work to change our hearts and our perspectives in order to continually meet Christ. That we might meet Him and journey with Him each hour of each day. My conversion years ago has led to many more conversions since—thanks be to God! I pray that He may provide the grace for many many more.

Maybe St. Athanasius didn’t actually take a stand on the extra fries vs. exercise debate, but he did spend a lifetime defending and proving Jesus is God. Not coincidentally, this same second-century saint, and doctor of the church is also credited with writing a beautiful prayer to Mary which I plan to memorize over the coming months of the New Year.

Prayer to Mary

It becomes you to be mindful of us,

as you stand near Him who granted you all graces,

for you are the Mother of God and our Queen.

Help us for the sake of the King,

the Lord God and Master who was born of you.

For this reason,

you are called full of grace.

Remember us, most holy Virgin,

and bestow on us gifts

from the riches of your graces,

Virgin full of graces.

Amen

I’m confident Antanatius would gladly get behind a resolution that involved more reflection and devotion to the Mother of God. A grace-filled 2020 to all! It’s up to you how much exercise and or extra fries it includes. I’m opting for the latter. It’ll be Lent before we know it.

*photo credit: photos.icons8.com

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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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.

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