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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother |

Oh Holy Families

I have visions of an idyllic family experience where real life doesn’t measure up to my visions of a happy little family.

But still, with Christmas break, I want the perfect worship experience with my family while both teens are home.

My hope for perfection gets marred when real life interrupts. We’re getting over being sick, and I was still fighting it. When we sat down together as a family at church this morning, I got hit with a coughing fit that wouldn’t quit. I had to leave. Then I was afraid to return to sit with my family because another coughing fit might make me sick. So I sat on a pew in the vestibule and resolved to spend the service out there instead.

God has to have a sense of humor for me to spend the Feast of the Holy Family at church, recovering from being sick, separated from my own family.

As the homily began talking about self sacrifice and how important that is to family, I saw living examples of it around me. I was outside the cry rooms and saw families working to manage their young children during Mass. As I saw them, I saw reflections of myself and my own years playing tag team parenting games.

  • Parents took their toddlers to the bathroom.
  • One little boy with his dad had to go to the bathroom and then needed a drink. The homily piped through the narthex, “You and I are responsible for the care of each other.” As the little boy walked by me one of his pant legs was tucked in his cowboy boots. I watched his dad lift him up so he could reach the drink of water, and when they walked by I saw the dad had also fixed his pants so neither was tucked into the cowboy boots.
  • There was the toddler who decided he was too big for the cry room and wanted to sit in the sanctuary with the big people.
  • There was the mother with several children in tow who took them all into the bathroom with her.
  • There was the teen girl who went to the bathroom and I suspect was as concerned about her latest text as she was other things before returning to her family.
  • There was the older sister taking her younger sister into the bathroom and managing her.

Each family I saw reflected what the Feast of the Holy Family is about for me. We none live in a perfect world. Life is messy. The first Christmas, Mary had to give birth in a stable because there was no room in the inn.

We often miss the wonder and glory of our imperfections. In each of the mini dramas I watched in the narthex, listening to a homily on families, I saw parents who were doing their job. They were showing up, working through the hard stuff, and doing their best by their kids. I just wanted to reassure each of the young parents to savor these times because these times fly. As they work through the tough times, they will one day remember the times they thought were tough and realize that’s what made them extraordinary families.

In the homily, we were told, “Parents are children’s first teachers in the faith.” What I saw as parents worked through attending Mass with young children was parents who taught their faith by their very presence in Mass.

The miracle of family life is when we surpass the troubles, the illness, and the problems to show love to one another.   Our homily ended,

A family that eats together and prays together will then share their faith with others. As a result true joy will be a radiant light in the darkness, the tender loving presence of God mercifully welcoming all.
 This is what it means to be a holy family.

We show our faith in our daily walk and grind as parents, whether it’s during the changing of diapers or the searching for college scholarships.  Savor these precious moments.

A Semi-British Semi-Lighter Christmas Menu

I still struggle with what to fix for Christmas post heart attack that lets me cook, celebrate family, but try to balance foods so they are healthier for me to eat. This year, we had recently been to turkey and ham dinners, so I wanted something different Christmas Day.

We opted for prime rib on sale, which I’m cooking for the first time this morning. Here’s hoping it works.  Once I chose prime rib for an entree, I decided to go with a British menu – sort of. It’s also a combination of what my family likes to eat. My son loves meat and potatoes, and if I go too low fat, it won’t be a celebration for him. So the beef was something both he and Richard could enjoy.

I’m opting to follow the Old Fashioned Butcher Shoppe’s directions to slow roast the prime rib in a pan with water. Yes, there are other ways to make it. But I don’t want to risk burning it. And I’ve had good experience slow roasting roasts.

Then I added to the rest of the menu. Here’s what we chose and why.

Salad – I like winter salads better when they are a mix of baby greens – this salad will have spinach and Swiss chard, tat soi, and arugula. We’ll top the salad with pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, green peppers, carrots, celery, and kohlrabi (from Seton Harvest). The baby greens last longer than traditional lettuce salads and are more nutritious.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes – I’ve learned to make mashed potatoes with garlic, a dash of olive oil and skim milk. The savory garlic and olive oil adds a flavor so we don’t miss the butter or margarine. My family has decided they like this kind of mashed potatoes better than the traditional kind. So a blend of yukon and russet potatoes are simmering for me to mash – I leave the skins on for more flavor and nutrition.

Sweet Potatoes – We have a few sweet potatoes left from Seton  Harvest, and today’s a perfect day to serve them. They are baking along with the prime rib right now. I’ll mash them with orange juice and brown sugar. My family loves sweet potatoes, and this is an easy way to make something healthful they will eat.

Collard Greens – We discovered 2 years ago that our kids like collard greens cooked more than most other green vegetables. Before the heart attack, I cooked them with a spoonful of bacon grease. Now I use broth. Greens are a cheap and easy way to enjoy green vegetables in the winter. And again, if my kids like them, it’s a no-brainer for the menu. They are simmering on the stove.

Yorkshire Pudding – I’ll use the recipe I got from my adopt-a-mom in England almost 30 years ago. I made them once a few years ago for Christmas, and they were a big treat. They are made from a simple batter and cooked in muffin tins, with a little beef broth in each muffin tin.

Wassail - I make a super simple wassail which is simmering now. It’s a bottle of apple juice, with a little orange juice simmering. There are fancier recipes to make it, but my family likes the one with red hots melted into the juices. I couldn’t find the traditional bags of red hot candies, but I did find cinnamon imperial red hots in the cake decorating section and am substituting those.

Egg Nog – Trust me – I’m not touching that stuff. But my family loves it. So I buy a lighter variety that has less saturated fat.

Tiramisu – My daughter always gets creative with desserts. She developed a tiramisu made with angel food cake instead of sponge cake, which we’ll try for dessert. She made it yesterday. Yes, it’s decadent.

But it’s hard for a cook to avoid all decadence on a holiday. My thought is that with the prime rib and tiramisu, there are enough vitamin-packed options on the menu that the amount of the decadent stuff I eat will be minimal.

And I should stop writing this and get back in the kitchen.

Next time I go with a British Christmas menu, I hope we can add real Christmas crackers. Then the challenge would be – who in my family would wear the paper crown?

We Made It Through the Rain – A Christmas Misadventure

Our journey over the river and through the states to Grandmother’s house we went turned out to have more adventures than we bargained for last weekend.

We live in southwestern Indiana, 10 minutes from Kentucky and 30 minutes from Illinois. My family is an hour’s drive away in Illinois, and we planned a family gathering last weekend. Flash flood warnings had been issued because of pouring rain.

Our 19 year old daughter was visiting friends in Central Illinois and planned to meet us there. Her route to my mother’s home would take her 3 hours, including driving through the town where she was in a car wreck last summer that didn’t hurt her but totaled the car.

As we prepared to go last Saturday, I worried about the downpour, flooding, and risk to our basement. So I prayed if our basement were at risk, for something to stop us from going to Illinois. It didn’t. We learned our daughter not only was dealing with rain but also was scraping ice from her car further up north.

Great. So she was going to drive to meet us not only through flooding but also ice. But she assured us the ice was not on the roads. I prayed for her safety. Like all mothers, I wanted her drive to be in perfect weather, under a sky filled with rainbows and unicorns.

We arrived in Illinois and she wasn’t there. We hadn’t heard from her in 3 hours, and it was a 3-hour car trip. I got a call from a different Illinois number, and my heart began to pound. I called it, and it was a gas station on her route – she wasn’t sure where her cell phone was but wanted us to know she was on her way but had had to re-route because of flooding. She was about a 30 minute drive away. She told us which route she was taking and hung up. Then I checked roads and learned her route had closed roads because of flooding. I called the number she called us from again – a Verizon store in Illinois – and they told me she had already left. But the clerk assured me there would be detours.

Great.  Thirty minutes later, she called us again – she had found her phone under her car seat. She was in another town, another half hour away – several roads had closed due to flooding. But she was on her way. A friend of mine I work with was close to her, and I called her with the frantic mom call. She assured me if she got lost or had a problem, we could each meet her half way and find her.

Finally, she arrived. After an hour or so, we left to go home. The rain still poured. We wanted to get home before it got dark, and our son needed to get to work. Our son opted to ride with his sister, and I rode with Richard. As we prepped to leave, I gave the Worried Mother Mantra to her of highway safety tips in driving in rain.

Fifteen minutes after we left, the rain got worse. We were on a two-lane road trying to reach the highway, with no shoulder or place to get off the road. The road was elevated, with farmland on either side, except the farmland was no flooded.

Suddenly, we had almost no visibility. The wind picked up, and it was raining sideways. We could barely see the road, but there was no place to go but forward. I half-expected to see a cow fly across the road like in the movie Twister.  I was afraid to call our son because I thought the ring might distract Elizabeth as she tried to follow us through the typhoon-like conditions. All I could do was pray. And watch the headlights of her behind us. If we went off the road, we would land in the flooded fields beside us.

There was a truck ahead of us that slowed, and we couldn’t tell why until we got there. It was dodging and driving over fallen tree limbs. We did the same.  There was no place to go but forward, through the sideways rain and over the tree limbs. We drove over more tree limbs. Water poured sideways and pounded our car as we drove through the rain.

Finally, we got to the highway. And we drove over more tree limbs. As the rain got a little better, my husband said it was the worst storm he had driven through in his life.  We crossed the bridge into Indiana and debated pulling off at the first place we could find. I was posting on Facebook about our conditions and talking with friends.

Traffic suddenly stopped as emergency vehicles blocked the road in front of us. We couldn’t tell what the problem was. A friend on my Facebook wall told us a house had just exploded. I called my son to tell them a house had exploded. We sat for 30 minutes with a blocked highway. A car in front of us turned around – we saw no reason to do the same because all there was behind us was a road covered in tree limbs. Our son called his boss and told him he might run late for work.

The road cleared, and we resumed our journey. The rain lightened up, and we opted to continue to get our son to work as soon as we could. He was only 5 minutes late. When we got home, we breathed a sigh of relief. It had taken us 2 hours of driving to make a 1-hour trip. We could see water pooling around us on roads, along the side of roads.

Then we started to go inside and realized our power was out. Our backup sump battery had exhausted itself, and our basement had begun to flood. I rushed to a neighbor’s house with a generator to ask if we could connect. Richard and Elizabeth raced to find flashlights to get our outdoor extension cords. We hurried to connect the cords and ran cords from our basement sump pump, through the rain, to our neighbor’s power source. As we stood in the rain, trying to get it connected, our neighbor moved his truck in the street to shine his headlights on us as we raced to save our basement. It was still pouring.

I had misunderstood my daughter and thought we had 6 inches of water in our whole basement. It turned out it only had an inch in a couple of rooms. Had we run 30 minutes later, it would have been a terrible mess.

The sump pump began to work again, and we scrambled in the dark to find candles to spend the evening at home in the dark. I went out to get fast food and hot coffee for our dinner. Elizabeth told us as she followed us in the rain, it felt like she was driving through the Dante’s Peak movie where things kept getting in their way. No matter what, they kept going, and so did we.

After 2 hours, our power came back on. We had no damage in our basement.

Neither Richard nor I could relax until our son got home from work. We hoped the roads wouldn’t be more flooded. He got home with no misadventures.

The next morning, I realized we had made it through the rain. We kept our world intact.

Granted, my coat I had worn outside the night before took 2 days to dry. But we got through everything. Over the river and through the typhoon we had gone, and we came out on the other side.

Sometimes, there is nothing we can do to lower the stress around us. I don’t live in a perfect Sim world where people fit in their assigned roles and everything goes according to a simple plan. My world is messy, with imperfect people, and crazy stories.

There was a whole lot of praying going on to get us through the rain. The misadventures my family gets through together often become the tie that binds us. There’s a life lesson there somewhere that when the going gets tough, you just keep on going.

Our adventures also help me appreciate the quiet times when things actually go right.

Oh Christmas Tree!

A Christmas tree skirt my daughter made as a 4-H sewing project that won Special Merit at the Indiana State Fair.

A Christmas tree skirt my daughter made as a 4-H sewing project that won Special Merit at the Indiana State Fair.

“Real Christmas trees are better than fake ones,” Richard told me 24 years ago as we celebrated our first Christmas. I had grown up with artificial trees and mentally dismissed his comment. But I bought him a small artificial tree with ornaments for his apartment because he had none, and I insisted every home needed the Christmas spirit.

When we married 22 years ago, we continued to use the 5 foot artificial one I had had in my apartment, as well as the one I gave him, and the mini artificial trees. My husband missed the scent of real trees.

Some day, we would have a real one. Twenty years ago, when a local store called Phar Mor was closing, I bought a close out Christmas tree “so we would be ready.” It went into our ornament storage bins. But each year, we looked at the price of a real tree and compared it to just using what we had, and we chose the artificial tree.

When our home and business burned 13 years ago, we replaced that artificial tree with a bigger one I got on sale at 3 a.m. on Black Friday. So we had more room for our growing ornament collection. Most of our ornaments were either made by our kids or are keepsakes of them and about them. We also have a collection of Misfit Toy ornaments I adore.

Each year, we saw the tree stand and decided to “wait till next year” for the real tree. 

One year for a 4-H project, my daughter made a Christmas tree skirt which turned into the sewing project from hell. I sew with a staple gun, but her grandmother is a seamstress. It’s quilted, with beading, stitching, and tassels. It won a special merit. But the skirt was larger than our tree was wide. It was so nice we put it in a special box and put it away to “wait till we have a bigger tree.”

Last year, after my heart attack and surgery, I wasn’t up to putting up our tree. So I sat and watched our kids put up and decorate the tree. I couldn’t help but loved every minute of it. We got out Elizabeth’s tree skirt she had made. I realized there was no point in saving it for the some day perfect year.

This year, I wanted Christmas to be special after everything we went through. We had scraped border from our living room and kitchen to repaint them. I wanted them repainted so Christmas decorations would be beautiful. Except we hadn’t had time to get the painting done.

This year, I bought a can of pine spray to spray so Richard would be reminded of scents of Christmas childhood when he had a real tree.

I finally relented that the painting would happen after Christmas, and the tree needed to go up. So our kids again put up the Christmas tree and decorated it.

The Christmas tree after it was decorated.

The Christmas tree after it was decorated.

Then, two days ago, a friend posted on Facebook that her son’s Boy Scout troop (280 in Henderson, Kentucky) had a close out sale on real trees at their lot. They had 5 trees left. The price was too good to pass up. So I asked her to hold a 6 foot tree for us. Then I texted my kids to find the tree stand we’ve stored for 20 years. We worked out a plan that we would drive our 22-year-old station wagon to Kentucky after I got off work, strap it to the tree a la Christmas Vacation, and surprise Richard.

I had visions of getting the tree into the house, undecorating our artificial tree, and decorating the new, beautiful real tree as a family while watching Christmas Vacation.

The kids couldn’t find the tree stand. We planned via text because we wanted to keep the surprise. So when I got off work, Elizabeth went with me to Kentucky. We told Richard we were Christmas shopping. We slipped out in the old wagon, ready to begin our adventure.

Fifteen minutes later, we were in Kentucky at the Boy Scout tree lot. Three trees were left. When I got out, the guy said, “I haven’t seen that here before.”

“A crazy old lady driving here from Indiana?” I asked.

“No, a station wagon. You just don’t see those any more. I see crazy ladies all the time,” he answered. He suggested we try fitting the tree IN the car instead of ON the car. So I climbed in the car, knocked down the middle row of seats, and we tried putting the tree into the car. At the right angle, he was able to fit the tree into the wagon. It was just a bit inconvenient because the top of the tree came up into the divider between the front seats and covered the rear view mirror. But if we drove a straight show, and I didn’t have to change lanes or go backwards, we should be fine.

Except we didn’t have a tree stand. There was a Rural King a mile down the road in Henderson, so we stopped there next. I pulled all the way into a parking place so I wouldn’t have to back out afterwards. I didn’t want to waste time – we had a tree to decorate!  I felt like a reality show taping the Biever Christmas Vacation episode. I went to the counter and asked, “Do you have tree stands?”

The lady didn’t know, so she asked on the store’s public address system, “Do we have tree stands for a Christmas tree?”

One person called back on speaker phone. “There is ONE left in the store.”

“Where is it?” I asked. They gave us directions to the lone tree stand. When we found it in the Christmas decoration aisle, it looked bigger than the one I had stored for 20 years, and it had no price. No matter. I didn’t want to shop other places with a tree in my car.

My daughter discouraged my urge to buy new ornaments to celebrate the new tree. When I wanted to press the button on the Christmas duck that sang carols, she whispered to me, “Mom, stop it. Act right.”

I told her, “YOLO.”

She answered, “Can’t you at least say ‘carpe diem’ (seize the day)? You’re the one who taught us Latin when we were little.”

I told her, “When I’m in Rural King in Kentucky buying a tree stand while the station wagon’s full of tree, it’s YOLO.”

Elizabeth had to hold the tree stand in her lap while I drove home. Clark Griswold, eat your heart out.

When we got home, Nick came out and helped us get the tree into the house. In the driveway, he learned of my plan. We would move the decorated tree to the side, replace it with the real tree, and then take off all the lights and ornaments to decorate the real tree. He responded with the joy of Clark Griswold’s son.

When we got the tree into the house, we realized it wasn’t a 6 foot tree. It was about 6 inches taller than our 9 foot ceilings. So Nick got shears from the garage and trimmed off the tip to of it so it would fit in the room. I ordered pizza for our Christmas Vacation tree decoration party.

Richard ventured upstairs as he heard my laughter. Yes, he was astounded that we now had a real tree – and 2 trees in our living room.

Nick had helped friends put up a real tree and knew more about it than I did. He said we should get the tree put up and then let it set so the branches would go down. First I heard of that.

Well, the pizza was ordered. So we got the tree standing and had pizza without the tree decorations. Yesterday, while I was at work, they put the lights on the real tree and undecorated the fake tree. They took apart the fake tree and put it away.

Last night was a Friday night, and of course my teen-aged children weren’t home. So Richard and I had our own tree decoration party, complete with a fat free bean dip/salsa blend I made with just a sprinkle of light cheese on top. And yes, we watched Christmas Vacation. It was a perfect date night.

The real tree does smell nice. I’m enjoying watching Richard enjoy the real tree. He’s told me for the first time ever, our home smells like Christmas, even in the living room that will get painted after first of the year.

One of my Misfit Toy ornaments.

One of my Misfit Toy ornaments.

Our tree this year is wilder than in years past. It’s  not a perfect plastic tree. It took a little extra work to get it to stand straight, and it will shed a few needles each day. But it’s fuller and richer. There is no theme to our ornaments other than Misfit Toys made beautiful. Where others see misfits, I see potential. And it blends right in to the real life of all the ornaments from our family’s life the past 20 years.  And having the tree skirt our daughter made underneath just completes it.

The lesson behind all this is either YOLO or Carpe Christmas Tree. Seize the Christmas tree moments in your life right now. Don’t wait until things are perfect because perfect never gets here. What we have is now. Enjoy it in all its imperfection.

Life is beautiful!

The Benefit of Self Reliance. Or Why Using The Health Exchanges Would Be a Backward Step For Me

I do not want to use health insurance exchanges for many reasons. A fundamental reason is it would be a giant step backward for me in my version of the American dream.

In my version of the American dream, poverty was a chapter in the past. When my parents divorced, we had worse than nothing – we had lost our home, our dignity, and our sense of stability. My mother worked, and we struggled for everything. I worked a paper route starting in the 5th grade. We lived in a rental trailer on the wrong street. I remember in 7th grade, I had one outfit of clothes for school and a dress for church on Sunday. So we did laundry every night.

My mother worked, but government programs helped us. I was able to eat at school because of the free lunch program. We got the commodity cheese when it was distributed.  We used food stamps back in the day when they were booklets of stamps.

I hated having to rely on others to take care of our basic needs. When I was in elementary and middle schools, no one really knew who the free lunch kids were. When I hit high school, everyone knew because the only kids who ate lunch in the cafeteria were the free lunch kids. We had an open campus, so you could go out for lunch in high school. I chose not to eat the free lunches. I felt degraded by them. We didn’t have enough money to afford for me to go home and eat or bring a sack lunch. If I had money from babysitting, I would go out with my friends and eat. Otherwise, I just did without lunch. I would estimate that through high school, I did without lunch over half the time.

When I turned 18 and went to college, I was on my own financially. Government financial aid helped me with my schooling. I worked crazy jobs, lived in crazy places, and scrambled to survive. There were times I couch-surfed with friends in between having an actual apartment to live in.

Now flash to 30 years later. I beat the odds and worked my way out of where my life had been. My husband and I have been married for 21 years, and we have owned our own home for 19 years.  We have owned our own business for 13 years. Like any family or business owner, we have scrambled at times. We’ve done what it takes to keep our business running. We have done what it takes to pay for our own health insurance. That has meant extra part-time jobs and budget tightening in other areas.

But we often thought of ourselves as owners of a mom and pop business in a 21st century version of the American pioneers. Instead of working in the fields, we worked on our computers. Instead of harvesting crops to take to market, we used the Internet to send work to our clients. And like those early pioneers, our adventures, and our struggles have defined us and given meaning to our lives.

Having grown up with a helping hand, I savor the reward of a life well lived. I am more than thankful for my life and all we have been given by God. Never underestimate the emotional rewards of self-reliance. Life where I rely on my family’s hard work and trust in Divine Providence is a lot more enjoyable than hoping for a government handout.

I sincerely hope we will not be forced into a government-run health program. It would be a giant step backwards, to a time when my family was incapable of taking care of our financial needs. I am thankful those programs were there.

Nevertheless, having to go into a health exchange would be a giant step backwards for me emotionally. And I hope to have the freedom to move forward – not backward.

Peace on Earth

1513212_10152155050020439_134849796_n“The older I get, the less judgmental I am,” a friend told me during coffee yesterday. I understand what she meant.

I’m feeling older these days. And the older I feel, the more I think the Beatles were right with their song “All You Need is Love.”

When I see parents with young children, and the kids are ornery while the parents are frustrated, I just want to tell them to treasure these moments because they will soon pass.

Sometimes I see both sides of the family dynamic. Last night at a store, a tired father barked at his daughter down every aisle of the store. He was getting food for dinner. Each time she suggested something, he barked that they weren’t getting that and she was choosing the wrong things.

Once upon a lifetime ago, I was the little girl who could do no right. I know what the trickling stream of “You can’ts,” and “You aren’t good enough” do to a child’s soul. I saw myself in the little girl who just wanted a moment of affirmation. The greatest gift any father can give his children is affirmation and love. I know because I never had them and have spent a lifetime compensating for the Dad Gap.

And I’ve been the parent working too hard, maybe doing without sleep, and going through strains so hard that I don’t know how I will get through the evening. And if I’m asked one more question, it might be the one who makes the bubble pop.

The father and daughter happened to hit the checkout lane beside mine at the same time I did. His daughter tried to start to unload the cart while they waited in line, and the dad yelled at her to stop.

I prayed for wisdom to say something to help both the father and daughter. “You’ve got a great helper there,” I told the dad. Many times I’ve found a word of praise to a parent diffuses a tense situation.

“She could be if she wanted to be,” was his abrupt answer.

“I miss the days when my kids were helpers. Now they are grown and gone,” I continued.

“I can’t wait till the day she grows up and is gone,” he answered. My heart shrank as I thought of a young girl’s soul being seared without affirmations.

But slowly, as he checked out, the dad seemed less angry. I prayed for another chance. After I wished my cashier a Merry Christmas, and as I got my groceries bagged, I looked straight at the little girl and told her, “Merry Christmas.” And I told the father, “I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.” He may have been tired and angry, but at least he was still there trying, and that’s more than my dad did.

In the little girl’s eyes, I saw a reflection of my own soul as a little girl, just wanting someone to tell me I was good enough and was worthy of love. For just a moment, I saw a spark of hope. All she wanted was love.

The dad didn’t really respond, but there were no more verbally brutal exchanges with his daughter.

As we both left the store, I prayed for a host of angels to cover them last night. I prayed for them to remind him of his precious daughter’s heart, and I prayed for her heart to be protected. I prayed for someone to be able to give them the gift of joy.

So I ask you now. Please look at those around you, Maybe somewhere, you’ll see the father and daughter I saw last night. Or you’ll see someone else who is hurting and needs a moment of love. You can give it. You can share it.

And I reminded myself the first place I needed to start to share that was with my own family – with my husband and my own children.

And then, in our small corner of the world, we can spread the message of Peace on Earth.

I Will Survive

Today’s the one year anniversary of surviving my heart attack.

It’s not like it’s a day when you go out for a big dinner to celebrate something.

My daughter begins college finals today. Last year, on the Sunday afternoon before her first college finals, I had my heart attack. So as she studied that evening, and I was being rapidly prepped for emergency surgery, I got to make one of those phone calls:

I love you. I will be fine. Don’t let this distract you from your studies, and don’t ever let me hold you back. Go for it and do your best.

Even if she had wanted to come in, it would have been a five hour drive round trip. So she studied, we all prayed, I survived, and she aced her finals the next morning.

So this year, on the Sunday before finals, she texted me that no heart attacks are allowed.

What strikes me most this year and this holiday season is how unhappy people are.  When I walk through public places – grocery stores, airports, or wherever, I see lots of people who look like they need to take an ex-law or they are as worried as the drones working in the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter.

I just want to shake them up and tell them to seize these moments and find joy wherever possible.

So in that vein – I have survived another year. So have you. So let’s celebrate!

We will survive!


Singing a New Song

Yesterday, I was again reminded that one season’s ending is another’s beginning. Sometimes a season ends before we are willing to let it go. When we finally let go of the past, new opportunities will present themselves. The song “Turn to Me” reminded me of that yesterday.

Letting go can be hard. I can get so drawn into the mission of a non-profit that I put its well-being ahead of my own and that of my family. One of my passions is to walk into a nonprofit in crisis and find ways to resolve the crisis so it can continue to meet its mission. The problem is I can get so sucked into the problem solving that I neglect myself and my family.  I’m an all or nothing kind of person, and I don’t do halfway with anything I start. So I can add, and add, and add to my plate until it is too full and I break.

My heart attack a year ago tomorrow was a wake up call. I decided the best way to lower my stress was to stop adding new things, and I changed my management style. It’s more vision-oriented than in years past. I cut some small things from my plate and tried to keep going where I thought I was needed the most.

I was too stubborn to let go of a position I held with a nonprofit as their president. They needed me.

I tried to keep helping at the same level I had in years past. But it was no longer fun. In addition to the pressures of keeping fundraisers going, I felt pressure not to get upset and stressed. I ignored many signs to stop. I tried to keep going, convinced I could make it work. They needed me.

The problem is others who loved me were concerned about the impact and worked twice as hard to not only pick up my slack, but they worked to shield me from stressers that might upset me.

This week, the scales fell from my eyes. When I realized how much they were protecting me, I knew I had to go. A good manager needs to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of an organization in order to make the best decisions. I knew I needed to quit but hated to do it.

As I struggled, with tears rolling, my family intervened. I told my husband I would give it a few days to see if there were another way out. He told me it was time to go and stop delaying the decision. Then my kids told me it was time to quit. I was astounded – I took this position years ago to help their organization.

But one is now in college, and the other graduates from high school in the spring. They told me I would be happier without it.  I realized they needed me, and they needed me to be happy. They wanted me to focus on my new job that I love, full of new challenges.

It seems everyone else saw this season was coming to an end, but I stubbornly clung to it, convinced I could keep going.

Finally, Friday I quit, effective immediately. In the hours after the resignation, I felt a slow and growing peace. This was the right decision.

Yesterday was the morning after the resignation. I saw pieces falling into place this past year. More than one friend has told me this year that when you remove something that doesn’t quite fit any more from your plate, something better replaces it. In cardiac rehab, I had been told to remove stresses from my life.

After the resignation, friends cautioned me not to rush to add something new to my plate. They told me God has different plans for me, and I needed to sit back for Him to show me where I go now.

So we went to Mass last night. For years, I had cantored but I quit because I wanted to sit in Mass with my children. I love singing in Church. After my heart attack, I had been afraid to begin cantoring again. What if I had chest pains in the middle of a service? What if something stressed me? I was afraid to add to my plate, so I resolved if and when God wanted me to sing in Mass again, someone would ask me.

Last night, as we walked in to the service, I realized we had an organist and no cantor. The organist came to me, asking for my help. Of course, I said yes. There was no time to warm up or rehearse. Within 3 minutes of my saying yes, the service began. As the music began, I could feel the Holy Spirit flowing through me from the tips of my toes to the hairs on my head.

There were a few Bridget Jones moments – but I like singing by the seat of my pants. I couldn’t find music for the Alleluia when it began and started off faking it, realizing just before it was time for me to sing the solo part that my music was turned upside down on the music stand, and I did have it. When I sang a couple of songs, I got lost briefly as I hit a repeat and had to scramble to find in the music where it repeated to. Every moment was thrilling.

I was happy and had fun. It was my voice singing, but God was guiding me at every step. As I sang “Turn to Me,” I realized once again that that was what I was called to do. Turn to God.

After the service, I told my husband that I felt that God was telling me that He had new plans for me. Once I let go of the old song, He gave me a new one. My husband said he had the exact same feeling at the same time.

So I don’t know what songs I will sing or where I will sing them next. God only knows.

Life is always easier when I sing the song He presents before me.

Putting People in a Box Fails

Smart leaders will make use of personality assessments but will keep them in perspective.

Imagine that we assess the personality of each team member and put each person in a pre-designated box. We appropriately label that box, put it on the shelf, and tailor our responses to the person based on that label. In the end we just have a bunch of boxes with different labels.

It becomes easy to then think of people according to those labels and forget their humanity and vulnerability.

Great leaders recognize that and don’t just mentally place people in boxes. What are the characteristics they exhibit that work effectively?

  • They personally recognize the worth of their team players and work to tell and show them that they matter.
  • They answer questions when asked.
  • They spot the potential of their team players and nurture their strengths.
  • They help the players on their team discover unknown strengths, hidden talents, and encourage them to use them.
  • As they inspire their team players, they clear paths for their creativity instead of blocking the path for future growth.
  • They are loyal to their team members. Their team members know their leader has their back. Whatever loyalty is reflected from the top to the bottom of a team is reciprocated in the other direction.

Often, the most effective things to say are “Thank you” and “You are valued.”  In The Help, Aibileen was onto something when she told Mae Mobley, “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.”

Instead of putting people into individual boxes, the wise leader takes the team to a room of boxes, asks how those boxes can meet the needs of the task at hand, and pulls the best from each team member to build something great.  The wise leader is secure enough to encourage greatness in individual team players, willing to let those players shine in spotlight while the leader celebrates in the background.

People outside of boxes will create something better than people kept inside them every single time.

Privacy, Free Will, and Subsidiarity

I love technology. Mail merges get me almost as excited as a good spreadsheet formula. So I thought nothing of having to enter my medical history online upon making an appointment to see a doctor.

Then I saw the questions being asked. Some were so offensive that I can’t type them. Others failed to acknowledge options for my situation; five years ago, I had a hysterectomy. So questions on my monthly cycles are irrelevant as there is no choice for no longer having them.  I refused to answer several questions on those topics, as well questions about my relationship with my children and my financial status.

When a question asked, what stress have you been under during the last 4 weeks, I answered, “I was asked intrusive questions for a medical database.”

HIPAA supposedly protects our healthcare privacy. However, the questions I was told to answer before I would be allowed to see my doctor invaded that privacy. After I completed the medical history, I called my doctor’s office, told them the questions were too invasive and if I were required to answer them before my appointment, I would cancel the appointment. They told me to answer the questions I wanted, and there were no problems when I arrived.

We have the right to say no.

However, it reminded me of an incident when I was pregnant with my son. I went through 4 PUBS during my pregnancy with him, where they inserted a needle into my stomach, into the umbilical cord in utero. My body was destroying his platelets, and they had to closely monitor his blood levels. Before the second PUBS, the anesthesiologist tied me to the operating table. I questioned her, and she said it was “policy.” I thought I had no choice. Afterwards, I spoke with the head of anesthesiology and asked if in future PUBS I could stay untied if I promised not to move.

The anesthesiology head told me, “If you didn’t want to be tied to the table, you should have just said no.”

I hadn’t realized I had the authority to just say no. Just because a database asks a question doesn’t mean I have to answer it.

I tell people in my social media classes that the best way to keep something from spreading online is not to share it. I believe the same to be true for medical privacy.

Coercing people to share things that make them uncomfortable is not only an invasion of their privacy but also negates their free will. As a friend of mine said yesterday, “God gave Adam and Eve free will and still gives us free will today. Health regulations shouldn’t take that from us.”

Finally, the creeping of big brother into every aspect of my life and that of my family violates the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. Under the principle of subsidiarity, social organizations exist for the benefit of the individual.  What individuals are able to do for themselves should not be taken over by society. If a small organization or unit can manage something, it should do so instead of being supplanted by larger organizations. In other words, my husband and I bear first responsibility for ourselves and our family. What we are unable to manage others can do instead.

Subsidiarity promotes a sense of personal responsibility. That in turn leads to greater self-reliance. And that in turn results in not only being able to care for our own family but being able to help others who cannot care for themselves.

The flip side of failing to honor the principle of subsidiarity is that when society takes over roles best handled by smaller groups or families, society will not do the job as efficiently. Further, it leads to a degeneration of personal responsibility and self reliance.

And when we lose our sense of personal responsibility and forget we can often solve many of our own problems, we will no longer recognize when our privacy has been invaded. Nor will we care. We will lose our ability to say no.

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