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Love is a Choice

On the eve of the anniversary of September 11, there are countless topics about which to blog: salute to the fallen, thanks to the heroes, remembering the past.

What strikes me tonight is that we must choose love.

People will disappoint us. Situations will confound us. Evil in our world will seek at every opportunity to defeat us – either through annihilation, injury, distraction, or discouragement.

Our greatest weapon against evil, against the negative, and against hatred is love. Love is patient. Love is kind. Sometimes love is shown in our defending those who are unable to do so themselves.

Whatever the context, whatever the contest or pretext, we must choose love. Love is often a decision we make. When we make it, we shine a light in the darkest corners of the universe. Reflecting darkness never made a pit of muck brighter.

On the other hand, being the light that shines in whatever darkness gives us hope to climb out of that pit and towards a better tomorrow – and will inspire others to do the same.

Beating Depression in an Online Fishbowl

When you’re known as the encourager, the one who empowers others, what do you do when you’re discouraged and need help yourself? If you’re highly visible with a voice upon which others rely, how do you beat depression?

This was hammered home this weekend when a great man, one who often inspired me, lost his battle with depression and shocked many who thought of him as a dear friend.

I don’t know what it’s like to be followed by over 100,000 people on Twitter. But I do know what it’s like to face personal crises while living in a transparent fishbowl. Ten years ago, our home and business burned. The business was only a year old. Most new businesses fold within 5 years. I wager businesses that burn a year after opening have a higher failure rate.

We survived.

At a personal cost. In the months and years it took us to rebuild our home, business, and customer base, the pressure got to me. At the same time, in those dark days of email, I had a nickname – EmailMary. My job was to send informational emails to a homeschool community that grew to cover a Tri-State area, with hundreds of families. I was the lifeline, the encourager.

At the height of that visibility, when I met new homeschoolers, I only told them my first name because if they knew I was “Email Mary,” I would be treated differently. I just wanted to be Mary, the wife and mom of 2 kids I adored.

It grew harder after we rebuilt and recovered, when I sank into depression born of months and years of keeping myself together to take care of everyone else. Highly visible people don’t get time or space to be vulnerable.

Fishbowl visibility made the pressure of depression worse. At my worst moment, I ended up overwhelmed by stress, sobbing in a parking lot. My husband and a few trusted friends found me and got me through those darkest moments.

I didn’t realize I was experiencing early pressure in the Online Fishbowl we now call social media.  If bad things happen and you’re visible, how can you beat depression? These are things that helped me:

  1. Get help. Talk to a professional.
  2. Select the right friends to talk to. Confide in trusted friends and develop a short list of people to call if you get overwhelmed. If you can’t reach one person, go to the next on the list.
  3. Seek a higher purpose. It is only by the grace of God I made it to the light at the end of the depression tunnel.
  4. Reduce negative relationships. Limit contact with those who are negative takers. As a highly visible person, I get an annual poison keyboard email hate letter from a woman. Nevertheless, I occasionally need to see what else she needs to tell me. So we made an email rule that when she writes her annual diatribe, it’s automatically forwarded to my husband and deleted from my inbox before I see it. She gets her anger off her chest, my husband tells me what I need to know, and I can smile cheerfully at her when we meet in public because I’ve never read her destructive, venomous words.
  5. Set small, short term goals. Then set bigger ones. When you meet a small goal, it can give you a feeling of control over your situation, or at least your response to it.
  6. Get out of the fishbowl. Spend a little less time in the online fishbowl and a little more time in real life with people who love you and make you laugh. Make time for yourself. You deserve to be a priority.
  7. It’s ok to mention it’s a tough day. It isn’t human to have to pretend all the time that life is wonderful. Doing so on social media will make your heart a pressure cooker that will one day blow. Maybe you don’t need to post everything bad, but it’s ok to sometimes tweet or note that milk got spilled or things weren’t perfect.

And for those of us who engage and converse with people all over the planet on a regular basis, we can all use a reminder that there’s a person behind every keyboard. Tell people every day that they matter and how they matter to you. A little compassion goes a long way when someone is hurting.

Please, please remember that no matter how dark today is, we’re never alone, and we can have hope for a better tomorrow.


Say It Ain’t So, Joe

Sometimes when a good friend dies, it feels like someone punched a hole in your gut and left it hollow. That’s how I feel today, with the passing of a wonderful boss, Joe. Joe and I worked together for the past 15 years. He’s known me since my kids were babies, when Richard and I started our own business, when we fought back after our fire, and now as my kids are about to leave for college.

Joe taught me most of what I know about corporate training and classroom communication. He did it a little at a time, asking me questions, challenging me to find more practical applications for business clients, and always making me feel valued. A New York Italian, Joe had a highly tuned crap detector, brooked little nonsense and had high standards. As a pro at lean manufacturing, Joe’s greatest talent was helping cut through clutter to improve workflow and the final product. His standards were high, and he constantly sought ways to improve his work and help his clients.

One of Joe’s clients told me last week that the moment Joe came on site, all employees would start paying closer attention to work flow and want everything more organized. When he sat in on my classes, I knew he expected me to give my very best work, every single time. If he thought I could improve something, he would tell me. Whenever he visited my classes, he chatted with the students he knew, and you could tell that they trusted him.

When we would plan corporate training series, Joe often took me to meet clients during the planning phase so we could provide the classes they needed. Little did I realize that as I went with Joe on those trips, he was training me to meet with clients, ask good questions, and develop better classes.

Some memories are more vivid than others – the time I was teaching a night class during a terrible thunderstorm, and the wind blew the front door off its hinges. Joe caught the door before it blew off the building. Fortunately, the class was for utility workers who came in their work trucks and had tools to fix the door.

What I’ll always treasure most was quiet, hidden kindness. When our home and business burned 10 years ago, Joe called me and told me he would try to get as many classes as he could to teach, and he did. He referred work my way at every opportunity. Two years ago, when I returned to work after a 6 week medical leave after surgery, Joe had reorganized my classroom. 

Typical of his attention to personal detail, he had found a picture of my kids and put it by my table, telling me, “So you would feel at home and know you’re welcome back.”

I don’t know if there is any fluff in heaven, but if there is, Joe just might talk to God about how 5S could streamline heavenly works so things run more efficiently. Then he’ll talk to everyone in the room and see just how they are doing.

There are people in your life who fill a paragraph, who fill a page, or who might make up a chapter. Joe was one of those people who opened new books to me and showed me how to always aim higher, keep customer satisfaction as a top priority, and to never quit looking for ways to improve my work. He taught me how to think like a business owner.

As a tribute to Joe, I reorganized my own desk and applied 5S to it. Just like he said, it helps me focus and be more productive. When I heard of his passing, all I could think was, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

You’ll be missed.

Welcoming Strangers

'Indianapolis Skyline' photo (c) 2009, bnpositive - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/The most wonderful things happen when we visit parishes wherever we travel. God uses those we meet to touch our hearts and enrich our lives. It happened again this weekend.

“When you drive through that neighborhood, don’t get out of your car. You’re white, and you could get shot because of it,” a friend warned us years ago. Yesterday, my family drove through those neighborhoods, trying to figure our way back to the main road after parking at the State Fair.

Compounding that warning was a Wisconsin incident this past week where there was a mob uprising late at night at their state fair, where white passengers were targeted, dragged out of their cars, and beaten.

When I was 10, I lived in Louisiana in a hotbed of racism where our family’s pastor had a cross burned in his yard by the Klan. When I was 15, I lived in a neighborhood among hookers and dealers. My mission as a mother is to give my children a better childhood and life than I had. Racism and violence are horrible in all forms, and I worried for my kids’ safety when we drove through those neighborhoods.

We had just enough time to make it to a parish Mass, and we stumbled along our way to find the parish we had never before seen. Where’s the church? When we found it, we were pretty much out of “that” neighborhood. I still worried. “Are there any white people on this street? If not, I don’t want to go in,” I told my family.

“That’s sad, Mom. Race shouldn’t matter,” my son commented.

“You’re right. But we need to stay safe,” I answered. We saw a white family and got out. “Will our car be ok?” I continued.

“The car will be fine. We’re here. God will take care of any problems,” my husband answered.

We walked into the parish, a humble church with about 50 people worshiping. Mass began 60 seconds after we walked in the door. I relaxed in the universal responses of the Kyrie and standing during the Gospel reading. As I looked around, I realized there were other whites in the congregation, but we were absolutely the minority race present. During the homily, the priest discussed Elijah’s hearing God in the silence instead of the bustle around us.

After we prayed the Our Father together, the congregation gave its own twist to the exchange of peace. Members crossed the sanctuary to hug and greet each other. Several deliberately came to us, shook our hands, and welcomed us to their home of worship. We joined together during the Eucharist. Jesus was not only present but once again working in our lives. We just had to be still enough to listen.

At the conclusion of the service, the priest welcomed visitors, and asked each group in turn what brought them to the parish – others from the State Fair were also present. Afterwards, a greeter came to us and asked how our day at the State Fair had been. She encouraged our kids and invited us to return next time we visit the State Fair. We were the strangers made welcome.

As we left and returned to our car, the sun was shining brighter. I no longer saw the neighborhood but instead saw hope. Each time we reach above racism and violence, we do our own part to reduce their impact.

As I listened, I was reminded our universal faith isn’t just expressed in our responses in Mass. It’s how Jesus Christ works through us all to honor human dignity.

Yes, it’s worth it before every out of town trip to pour over masstimes, look at our map and schedule, and figure out how to squeeze Mass into the weekend. We learn a lot more about other communities worshiping together than we do just driving through town.






Lord, You Will Show Us the Path of Life

Cross of San Damiano, OFM General Curiaphoto © 2011 Jim McIntosh | more info (via: Wylio)
My Meditation During Mother’s Day Mass

Life felt complete as I walked into Mass this morning, my husband at my side and our teens beside us. Sunshine and blue skies were a welcome relief from flooding.  After I sat down with my family, I felt doubly blessed. We would get to worship together on Mother’s Day.

Then they were short a server, and my son went to help. My teens are nearly grown, and we’re on countdown till they leave home to venture their own paths. In those silent, still moments on my knees before God, before the service began, He spoke to me.

I loved you and your family so much I gave MY Son to save the world. Are you willing to give?

During the Psalm response (Psalm 16), my parenting life flashed before my eyes, and I better understood his question.

Lord, you will show us the path of life.  Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge; I say to the LORD, “My Lord are you.”O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot.

Eighteen years ago, we didn’t know if we could have children who would survive.  Like Hannah, there was a time I prayed and cried to the Lord to give and save my children.

Lord, you will show us the path of life. I bless the LORD who counsels me; even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.

During my pregnancy with my son, I spent a month on bedrest hospitalized 100 miles from home and family. It took Paul 3 days of blindness to convert, and it took me 4 weeks on bedrest to change my life. In those nights alone, He exhorted me and changed my world forever.

Lord, you will show us the path of life. Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices, my body, too, abides in confidence; because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.

It’s only through the hand of God and angelic intervention that my children and I survived their births. He answered my prayers. And now He’s preparing to work in my children’s lives. Like Hannah, I had given my children to God, for Him to guide and direct their paths.  When Samuel was weaned, Hannah left him on the church steps to continue his own path in service to the Lord. My teens are older, but I need to study and learn from Hannah so I too can step back from my children for them to discern their own paths. God will show them the path of their lives. God called Samuel while he was in the temple.

Lord, you will show us the path of life. You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.

When Hannah left Samuel in the temple, she still returned each year with a cloak for him.

The Lord showed me this morning the new path of my life is to step back as my teens step forward on their own paths. My prayer is they will answer His call and know Mom and Dad are on the cheering section in the God Squad bleachers, covering them with prayer and urging them to go for the paths to which they are called, wherever they lead.

When they do, I will be singing “My soul doth magnify the Lord….Holy is His Name.”

Water Lessons

Flooded house in Mtwapaphoto © 2007 Villager_87 | more info (via: Wylio)
“‘Water is patient, Adelaide, water just waits. It wears down the clifftops, the mountains, the whole of the world. Water always wins!’ says the Doctor in “The Waters of Mars” episode of Dr. Who. As it begins to rain again in Evansville, I think of this and our battle against flood water.

Though we cannot stop water, we can divert it. We can try to minimize the damage to homes and buildings and pray for sunshine so the water can recede.  As we learn from water, we can gain tactical advantages over it. Lessons I’ve learned the past week.

  1. Start Right. If you begin to build a sandbag wall without learning how to do it right or planning it, you will probably fail. Plastic sheeting needs to be strategically placed because water seeps through sand. Your wall needs to be constructed so it will not collapse. Some recommend a pyramid style with as many rows at the base as you have rows high. Sandbags have to be filled correctly. If you just start throwing down a sandbag wall without this planning, it will either fail, or you will work 10 times harder trying to fix your mistake than if you had done it right the first time.
  2. Accept the Help You Get. Unless you absolutely know someone is physically or mentally incapable of helping with any part of a sandbagging operation, accept their help. One lady called me in an emergency this week to find sandbaggers for someone. I put out the call. One lady who called was turned down because she didn’t sound “strong enough” on the phone to manage sandbags. The lady who was turned down, a former Air Force veteran, then took her 4 youngest children to another location where they worked for an entire day. She worked out a system for her own family where she held the bags and directed her sons as they filled and lifted them. If someone offers you a flood relief meal of sandwiches, don’t refuse and hold out for a donation of hot food. Those you alienate today could well be people who would help you tomorrow if you thank them and treat them right.
  3. Care for Yourself. Stay hydrated – get plenty of water bottles for those you help and who help you. Then drink the water, as in the bottles, not the flood. Take that 5-10 minutes to take care of yourself in a crisis to pace yourself for the long haul. If it’s sunny, get sunscreen. Take especially good care of your feet.

Some day, the rain will stop. Instead of thinking how we can beat the water – we never will – we can figure out how to divert it and outwait it until the flooding recedes.

Then we can take the lessons we’ve learned and apply them to the rest of our lives.

Special Easters

IMG_3249photo © 2010 Karen Frederick | more info (via: Wylio)
Church was crowded last night, and we sat behind friends of ours, a family with daughters, one of whom has special needs. Her parents sat on either side of her and helped her get through the service. Because the service didn’t follow our normal routine, it was more difficult for her. As we sat in the dark, quietly lighting candles, her turn came.

Originally, her parents were going to skip letting her have a candle. But she wanted one. Her dad helped her light it while her mother pulled her hair back so she wouldn’t have an accident. As we all stood there in the candlelight, her parents worked a silent tag team ballet of helping their daughter enjoy participating with us all.

Their daughters are as old as my own, and I’ve known them since our children were preschoolers. When they were younger, I remember our kids playing Duck Duck Goose in a circle of friends, and their daughter’s aide helping their daughter participate. Then the same aide realized my son, who was in intense speech therapy, could say neither duck nor goose. She helped him find a way he, too, could participate.

Those are the moments that break and build a mother’s heart at the same time.

My son not only learned to talk but learned to talk back. Their daughter will need help the rest of her life. Her parents and her sister work with her.

As I watched these 2 parents work so well together, I thought of the other special needs children and families in my circle of friends. One mother told me this week, “My son shows the light of Christ and brings out the best, most beautiful parts of everyone he knows – whether he’s at school, at church, or anywhere else.”

I thought of the speech classes I’ve taught and an autistic boy who participated in one series, often sharing keen observations no one else would dare have mentioned – but doing so in such a humorous manner there was neither harm nor foul. I remembered another girl in another speech class who had Down Syndrome and severe speech impediments; for her final speech night to perform with families, she recited the Lord’s Prayer, not only saying it but signing it so beautifully an audience of 200 were left in tears.

And I looked at our kids – our daughter sitting with us and our son serving – and remembered the empty seat beside me which would have belonged to another daughter, who was anencephalic and had Down Syndrome, and how our lives would be different if she had survived.

Our service concluded with the hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” Their daughter knew it and sang it with her family. As she sang, her mother watched her with a face lit with joy. Her daughter was participating and singing with us all. For the brief moments of that song, I saw the hand of God working on a mother’s heart and giving her a needed and much-deserved blessing for Easter.

Afterwards, I thanked the mom for blessing us with her family’s love. She thanked me for sitting directly behind them because others who don’t know their daughter can get distracted by her ticks.

As we sang Jesus Christ is Risen Today, I thought of Jesus, welcoming the little children. He welcomes all of them – especially those with lifelong challenges.

God has a special purpose for those with special needs. When we welcome them and their families, He shows us windows of grace where we can glimpse at the power of doing simple, everyday things with great love.

Happy Easter. Let’s all sing with our whole hearts and souls and voices – Jesus Christ is Risen Today.

Easter Vigil

Easter Vigil at Immaculate Conception, Faribaultphoto © 2006 Steve Moses | more info (via: Wylio)
Tonight is one of my favorite nights of the year – Easter Vigil. We begin outside the Church with a bonfire, remembering the first time St. Patrick lit an Easter bonfire in Ireland centuries ago. From the bonfire, the Easter (Paschal) candle is lit, and we each light our own candles from that fire, spreading the light of Christ. Our responses in song include “Christ our light” and “Thanks be to God.” In the early Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem said this night was as bright as day.

Then we process into the darkened church as the Exsultant, or Easter proclamation of man’s sin, God’s mercy, and our Redeemer is sung. Then the lights turn in the Church, we see the beautiful Easter decorations, and we begin our Easter celebration. Constantine introduced the lighting of lights to represent the light of Christ. As the lights turn on and dispel the darkness, our grief of Good Friday turns to joy at the celebration of the Resurrection.

The Old Testament readings (at least three will be read) share Salvation history – these include readings from Genesis and Exodus 14. Before an excerpt from Romans is read, we will sing a Gloria as bells are rung in celebration, and we will sing Alleluia before the gospel reading.

After the homily, we celebrate baptism and welcome new members to the Church. Another reason I love tonight is because 14 years ago, I was one of those who was welcomed, and I celebrated my first communion in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We will all renew our baptismal vows and resolve to follow Christ.

Each reading, song, response, and gesture is full of meaning and has been repeated throughout centuries of tradition. Our celebration crosses languages, border, and time as we rejoice and sing Alleluia.

It reminds me of the final scene in a Star Wars movie, where the great battle is won, and everyone rejoices.

Whenever there is a great celebration, there is also a feast. And as a cook, that means lots of kitchen prep time.

I have many dumplings to make, eggs to dye, and desserts to bake before I sleep, so this blog must end!

Keep Walking…

This morning, as I helped at a water station at a half marathon, a lady sped by wearing a shirt that said on it, “Keep Walking.” As the marathon concluded, as I stood by the finish line cheering those who finished, she walked by, still strong and steady, with her shirt’s saying in front.

Keep Walking.

Those who finished encouraged others to finish their own races, sometimes running beside them.

How do we keep walking when we’re hot, tired, thirsty, and don’t feel up to another step? Watching the marathoners today reminded me of steps to success:

  1. Set a goal. Commit to an external goal. Sign up for it and tell your friends what your goal is.
  2. Prepare. Set a training schedule so you’ll be ready for the big race.
  3. Pace yourself. Your training will help you set a pace you can complete. Better to complete the long haul than to sprint at the beginning and collapse.
  4. Position yourself among cheerleaders. The world is full of Debbie Downers who will help you discover any hidden self doubts and discourage you. Avoid the people who use words like fail, can’t, and stupid. Gravitate too those who cheer and encourage. One of my favorite parts of the half marathon conclusion was seeing people cheering strangers to meet their goal and give that last little bit to cross the finish line. J.J. organized our YaYa extension club to volunteer for two water booths – she’ in the photo cheering us on just as she cheered on those who finished the race.
  5. Hydrate. A long hot endurance race is not the time to prove you’re the tough guy. Get the water and the energy you need so you can cross the finish line.
  6. Keep walking. Don’t quit. Remember what got you to this point and keep going. Don’t think of the final mile. Think of the next step. With each step as you think of the next one, you’ll get through that final mile.
  7. Encourage Others After You Finish. After you meet your goal, encourage others on their own marathon. Encourage some who’ve never done a marathon to try it.

Not all marathons are run in tennis shoes. Some are family, personal, or business ones. Whatever your marathon,

Keep walking!

When you meet your goal, savor the moment that you fought the good fight and ran the hard race among a great cloud of witnesses. Savoring today’s victory makes it easy to set a goal for tomorrow and meet it.

Christ in Strangers

The kindness of strangersphoto © 2009 Ed Yourdon | more info (via: Wylio)
Two years ago on New Year’s Eve, I made a single resolution: at every opportunity, with each stranger I met, see Christ in them and treat them like Jesus would. That meant every cashier, waitress, grocery bag guy, and person at the gas station – even the rude ones. Sometimes, it meant seeing that in the stranger sitting next to me at church.

At times, I fail miserably. With time, as it became a habit, I found it transformed my life.

The grocery clerk may be grumpy because she’s been on her feet 8 hours and was up all night with a sick parent or kid. When I respond with kindness and zone in the 30 seconds of our conversation to say something to encourage her, it might be the boost she needs to make it through the final hour of her shift before she goes to her second job. Often the person who deserves your kindness the least is the one who needs it the most.

Everyone has a story, a silent sorrow, and hopes for the future. If we look at everyone with fresh eyes and see their soul in their eyes, it will be easier to be kind.

The small things we do with great love can save a life and change the world.

Over time, more of those strangers have become friends. The bag boy at our corner grocery now trusts me such that I know when he’s hurting and when he’s happy – and why. And on the days I’ve been hurting, he’s given me the smile I needed.

Cast your bread on the waters. Share your smiles with strangers. In each one, see the face of Jesus Christ in a person fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

Someday, in seeing Christ in the strangers you meet, the life you save may just be your own.

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