Smile Though Your Heart is Aching

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When was the last time you smiled so hard it felt as if your face might crack? You know that ear-to-ear grin where you’re so committed to it you can feel the pull of every single muscle contorting your whole countenance. It would require more effort to suppress that goofy smile, if possible at all. It’s often when we try to quash the irrepressible smile when it bubbles up even more. Just thinking about those jubilant times in my life I feel the urge to break into a grin right now. But those giant beaming smiles are too rare for my liking. Unfortunately, they mark moments in time that can never be recaptured.

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.

1 Peter 3:15

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Crying as We Rejoice: The Bereaved at Christmas

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I secretly cried after Mass yesterday. My kids told me that one of the new altar boys that they served with had his grandparents in town for Christmas. The enthusiastic Nanna and Papa were so gleefully proud, they couldn’t refrain from snapping photos to memorialize their beloved grandson’s biggest moments. Clearly, their hearts swelled with pride for their daughter’s treasured offspring.

On the drive home, I told my boys that if Grandma Maureen and Grandpa Jerry were living, they would have taken loads of pictures too. How proud they would be. How proud they are. “Maybe they’re taking photos from heaven…” I mused. Then the quiet tears.

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A Mother For All

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When I was a wee lass, my grandma came to stay with our family for what seemed to me to be an extended period of time. It may have been in reality only a week or two, but to my fuzzy childhood memory, it was longer than usual. And yet, it felt excruciatingly too short.

When she stayed with us, it meant there was a smiling, warm face to greet me after an arduous half-day of kindergarten. My loving parents were hard-working Catholic school teachers trying to carve out a meager living, so they dealt with childcare by entrusting us kids with the heavy responsibility. My brothers were tasked with unlocking the door and not burning down the house until my parents returned a couple hours later. But as the youngest, they wisely thought it best I should spend my after-school time with adult supervision. It was arranged for me to stay with a neighbor mom who had a daughter my age. While we lived only two doors down from each other and attended the same school, our families were very different. My “little” playmate was at least twice my size and a physical and emotional brute. Today she’d probably be characterized by that popular buzzword, “bully,” but I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it back then. To add insult to injury, this mean girl’s mom was pretty mentally checked out and had a knack for turning a blind eye to her daughter’s mean-spirited mischief. She even mocked me when I complained. So I learned to quietly suffer through those seemingly interminable four hours, day after day.

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Advent Life Hacks to Help Your Family Grow in Holiness

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It turns out, for most of my life I’ve had Advent all wrong. Caught up in the whirring consumer machine, I often couldn’t wait to kick start the celebration of Christmas. I’d barely make it to the end of the Thanksgiving meal and I was breaking out the decorations, singing the songs and scrounging at the stores. December 1st signaled the beginning of that most magical time of the year known as Christmas, right? Actually…

(Insert record scratch here.)

Advent is not party time. It’s prep time. What helped me to better understand and explain to my kids was this analogy: Lent is to Easter as Advent is to Christmas. You wouldn’t plan to party it up during Holy Week. (Those of you thinking, why not?… allow me to direct you to some great agnostic sites.) The minute Lent begins, we don’t start celebrating Christ’s glorious resurrection. We work on our spiritual lives. We train in order to get our souls in shape. Then on Easter, it’s the big reveal, the greatly anticipated end to all that work. He is risen! OFFICIAL party time. Now pass the doughnuts!

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Popping the Catholic Bubble

I am not a hugger. But I have a dear friend who is. She will “love-on” the most unsuspecting stranger with abandon. Often when I’ve introduced her to others I lead with, “Be prepared… she’s a hugger.” Then I stand back as she envelops them in a firestorm of affection. If the recipient of the hug is not particularly into it, they often glare at me over her shoulder, followed by a resigned eye-roll from within the folds of her exuberantly tight embrace. I just watch, both cringing and marveling at her expressive boldness.

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How to explain the hugger vs. the non-hugger? Well, my emotionally demonstrative friend has a much smaller personal space bubble than I. You’ve heard how different cultures have varying ideas of acceptable physical contact upon introductions. If you have a Mediterranean bubble, you’re more hands-on and more likely to touch, hug or even kiss someone you’ve just met. Picture the Italians’ cheek-to-cheek smooch, which is a standard greeting among new acquaintances. A person of German or British descent, however, might be more likely to give you a good bit of space and disdain any seemingly gratuitous touching with a person who is not a relative or friend. And a joyful, extroverted lady who hails from the heart of Iowa?—well, expect a big old midwestern uninhibited hug. (For the record, I do hug, but the aforementioned  requirements of relative or friend  must be met before I feel—to borrow from the cool kids’ vernacular— “getting all up into someone’s grille.”)

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Signs You Suffer M.V.D.S on Your Faith Journey

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I drive a minivan. Don’t be jealous. It’s been seven glorious years since my husband and I decided to take the plunge and purchase our little Honda house on wheels. To my mind, we made the right decision. From the ease of the automatic sliding doors when hands are juggling groceries, diaper bag, and baby carrier, to the times we’ve happily hauled gaggles of kids on field trips, it’s been a helpful tool in achieving our family’s version of domestic contentment. However, there have been definite downsides that demand address. “What is that smell?!” Don’t get me started on the joys of finding hidden-away “treasures” in the very back row. Suffice it to say, the heralded discovery of a new antibiotic may be in our future. But a much more pressing and troubling concern regularly plagues me. Everyone else on the road who is not a minivan driver is suffering from a severe case of M.V.D.S.

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Holding Out for a Miracle

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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” 

—Matthew 7, 7-8

I was reading a very insightful reflection on prayer recently and was struck by something mentioned. It stood out because the author advised a practice I normally don’t adhere to.

“Pray boldly!” it stated in very clear black and white.

Hmmm… this shocked me to be quite honest. The writer’s directive for having a successful prayer life was essentially ‘to go big or go home.’ Huh.

What does praying BOLDLY even look like?

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