celebrate life…every day

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic C...

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It’s kind of a running joke in the Catholic Church, actually it’s probably true of all religious denominations, that there’s an explosion of attendance on two annual occasions, Christmas and Easter. Regular churchgoers have to literally suck in their breaths to make room for the masses of people who join in celebrating the birth of Jesus, and then His resurrection from death. But all are welcome, regardless if they only come once or twice a year.

I acted as a meet and greet person for 8 a.m. Mass this morning. Seems to be a volunteer job I’m becoming more and more adept at doing. No cowboys here though, like there was at my previous gig. Just regular folk in their Sunday best. My husband helped usher people. We arrived about 15-20 minutes before the start of services, so there weren’t a ton of empty spaces left in the pews. I had a hunch we’d be one of the many standing the entire time, which we did.

After fulfilling our tasks, I remained in the vestibule where I’d been welcoming fellow worshippers with “Good morning. Happy Easter.” Meanwhile, hubby stood directly opposite me at the other end of the church. We could’ve waved “hello” but we didn’t. We were respectful, and minded our “P’s and Q’s,” or at least I did. He’s always reverential. Did I tell you he was a seminarian studying for the priesthood when he was in high school? God decided he had a more difficult job to undertake…keeping me on the straight and narrow, which he’s done, at times with difficulty. I’m not the kind of sheep who’s easily led. I like to ask “but..why?”

Because I was standing where families gather, outside the glass doors that separate them from the other parishioners, I couldn’t follow the priest’s words very well. With babies and toddlers cooing and talking, or parading up and down the aisle, or running in some cases, I quickly decided that God was also present among them and all of us standing on the periphery, not just within the main body of the church where the altar was. So I watched, and enjoyed, the children and their parents interact. Jesus, Mary and Joseph must’ve carried on like any one of these normal families.

La vierge aux raisins

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A young couple whom I had brought over to an empty chair in front of me, were wonderful to watch. The husband encouraged his wife to sit with their baby in her lap. Taking off his jacket, and draping it over the back of the chair, he gently stroked his wife’s back as she tended to the little one’s needs. At times, he would lift the girl up into his arms to give the mother a little respite. Once he left, taking his daughter with him. They were gone a little while so I wondered if he’d taken her somewhere to change a diaper or use the restroom. Of course I didn’t know for sure, but he seemed the considerate type who wouldn’t flinch at the task. At the kiss of peace,” I wished them a “Happy Easter,” and told them how much I enjoyed their wonderful family.

It’s always rewarding to notice God’s handiwork in the smallest moments of daily living. Happiness, I think, is an accumulation of all such worthwhile minutiae. Approaching life this way has meant that I’m able to sustain ongoing joy. I’m better able to keep the “valleys” in perspective, not letting them drain me of my positive resolve. It’s an ongoing struggle, for sure, but one which I’m determined never to lose.

My favorite author, Leo Buscaglia, makes the best case for celebrating every day as though it were Easter, or Christmas, or any other sacred occasion.

A Rose to Brighten Your Day

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Life is meant to be a celebration! It shouldn’t be necessary to set aside special times to remind us of this fact. Wise is the person who finds a reason to make every day a special one.

hugs for every day of your life being special…hugmamma.

   

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postaday 2011 challenge: has japan’s crisis effected a change in your life?

 

Misawa Air Base Personnel and Family Members h...

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The challenge by WordPress was for bloggers to think of topic ideas, since the staff feels it’s been a one-way street, with them coming up with the 99 ideas thus far. So I suggested the topic that’s in the title of my post. Here’s the comment I left on WordPress Daily Post Challenge blog.

Have the natural disasters in Japan made a specific difference in your life? If so, what and why? If not, why not?

Living in Washington State, one of the places in the “Ring of Fire,” I’m preparing myself physically, including learning CPR, and mentally, by figuring out what to do…in case. I’m also trying to appreciate everything about the present, loved ones, memories. I’m also reaching out to connect with others in my community…while I can. In the final analysis, people are more important than stuff.

that’s my suggestion for a topic…in fact i’ll be writing about it…hugmamma.

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

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Last night Father Brian hosted our “neighborhood” dinner. In attendance were probably 75-80 people who contributed appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts to the potluck meal. We took a favorite Hawaiian meatball dish, as well as a sliced tomato, mozzarella balsamic vinaigrette seasoned salad. Both were gone by night’s end… except for a couple of meatballs which I devoured at home. They were so good!

From the get go, another woman and I immediately connected. I overheard her telling an acquaintance something about ballet. My ears perked up. Stepping forward I asked if someone was involved with ballet, to which the woman replied that her 9-year-old grand-daughter was taking lessons at Pacific Northwest Ballet. Explaining that my daughter dances professionally, our conversation continued in earnest.

My husband and I shared a table with my new friend, her husband, acquaintances of theirs, a young couple, and another gentleman with whom we were already familiar. It’s not often we dine with new people, but my communication skills never fail me. I’m sure readers of my blog have discovered that for themselves. I can talk, and some.

Downtown Seattle, Washington and the Bainbridg...

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Having moved west 3 years ago from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Marilyn and Rich were happily settled near one of their daughters and her family, including 2 grand-children. Another daughter resides in Portland, Oregon with a couple of other grand-children. A very lovely couple, we spoke of life on the east coast, where we’d lived before moving here 13 years ago. We also learned that they had actively participated in their church community, and felt inclined to be a little more laid back now that they were retired.

Looking around at the other tables, I observed that everyone was engaged in lively conversation. Father walked about, chatting, laughing, very comfortable in his role as host. While expected, the transition to business was done without the usual moaning and groaning. In fact, people actively participated in discussions about making the church and its community more relevant in the lives of the church-goers. Some in the group volunteered to form a committee to move this neighborhood gathering to the next level of involvement.

Post church fellowship

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Funny thing is, my husband and I were at the wrong neighborhood dinner. Our zipcode gathering occurred last week. But, of course, we weren’t turned away. We enjoyed ourselves, and those we met. Now we’ll just have to find our neighborhood community, and work our way into their midst.

leave it to me…hugmamma.     

an energetic organizer, and true christian

Haven’t posted about our pastor, Father Bryan Dolejsi, in some time. But today’s Mass reminded me of the gifts with which he has been blest, and which he uses with enormous energy, and generosity. I’m sure there are many others like him, in positions of leadership, within the religious world, as well as within the secular. I, for one, have rarely seen someone possessing all that it takes to be a force for good, in a world that has gone so bad. I say we clone the man, and distribute him to the furthest corners of the universe. Yes, even the aliens could use Fr. Bryan.

Why do I go on singing his praises? Have you ever heard of a pastor, one in his late 30s, instigating neighborhood gatherings? After Mass, the parishioners were invited to sign up for community dinners according to our zip codes. If no one steps forward from among those listed, Father hosts the dinners at his own home. I’m certain it’s a pot-luck meal, but still. In my 61 years, I’ve never eaten a meal at the home of a priest. I’ve had them to our home, but never been reciprocated, and never expected to be.

Obviously Father Bryan’s purpose is to bring his congregation together, to know one another, beginning with small groups, and eventually growing so that there is camaraderie among all in the parish. Sensitive to the isolation of individuals, Father attempts to gather all unto himself, infusing us with his love and energy to go forth and spread God‘s word of charity and compassion towards others.

Breaking of the bread.

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After Communion, Father Bryan asked that parishioners of less than a year gather before him to receive his blessing, and ours. Then he asked that they turn toward the congregation and receive our applause, welcoming them into the fold. He then asked that we speak to our new members, say “hello” or offer assistance if needed.

Now what mom wouldn’t be proud of a son like Father Byian? Not having met the woman, I’m positive his mom couldn’t be prouder of the man she raised from birth. 

for a leader who shows by example…and for the mom who set the example…huge hugs…hugmamma.

“blessed are the children”

Fr. Bryan was his usual, charismatic self. At 38 years old, he’s got the talent and ability to run a business, so the Catholic church is lucky to have him, especially at the salary they must pay him. I’m betting it’s less than $20,000 a year. Today’s homily was proof of his capability to manage the “firm.”

Our parish must submit a 20 year plan for its projected growth. Father indicated that we are a suburban congregation on an urban plot of land. Physical expansion is nearly maxed out. To assist in his plan, Father conducted paper surveys during masses, over the course of 2 weekends. The first dealt with the demographics of the churchgoers; today’s asked which of 4 options we favored. Should we maintain the status quo? Should we stay put, expanding to the max, including constructing a parking garage? Should we consolidate the elementary, middle and high schools on one campus? Should we consolidate all of the church buildings, and the schools onto one compound? Of course, the price tag escalates with each option, from half-a-million dollars to $18 million. 

Father explained that when parishioners asked how soon various and sundry items would be fixed or initiated, he would tell them “We need to come up with a plan.” Interestingly enough he made more sense than my husband who tells me to show him a business plan, when I’ve expressed the desire to open an antique/gift shop. Another question often asked of Father is how long he’ll continue to be our pastor. He told us today that his 3 year contract is up in the spring. We’ll know then whether or not he’ll be renewed for another 6 years. 

Maybe parishioners are wondering  whether or not they want to commit millions of dollars, if Father Bryan is not around to enjoy the “fruits” of his labor. That’s what happened with the parish’s last major church remodel, about 10 years ago. Father Clark accomplished the task with a league of faithful volunteers. He was soon reassigned, and when another priest took his place, many left because the new pastor was not blest with people skills. Even my patient, long-suffering husband experienced moments of frustration. And that’s saying something.

While Father Bryan was speaking about our parish’s “mission,” since today was Mission Sunday, I was admiring the loving relationship of adoptive Caucasian parents for their Hispanic, 7 or 8-year-old son. Sitting in the pew in front of us, I first noticed the husband rubbing the small of his wife’s back in a very loving way. Initially I thought they might have had a little spat, and he was trying to get back into her good graces. But then I noticed the youngster between them, arms wrapped around his father’s waist. For a few minutes, I was distracted by something Father said. When my eyes returned to watching the family, the boy had his arms around his father’s leg. The man looked to be a little over 6 feet tall. Later, mother and son had their arms around one another, she stroking the arm he held across her tummy.

If ever I felt a child belonged to his parents, he was standing right in front of me. The aura emanating from that family was so organic, their love so natural. The difference in their ethnicities meant nothing to them, and yet it spoke volumes about them. I couldn’t help but lean forward, touching the mother on her shoulder, and telling her “I love how you love your son.” She smiled her thanks, sidling over to her son, both of them moving closer to her husband, his father. Tears welled in my eyes, which I had to quell before they trickled down my cheeks. My daughter put her arm around my waist, love in her eyes. She too smiled upon the family, and understood what a blessing they were, especially for those who beheld them.

While I listened to the wisdom of one mother’s son, I beheld another who was so loved by his parents. God touches us, when we least expect it.

all God’s children, hugs for…hugmamma.

“charism,” a call to serve

The other evening my family and I attended a lecture by a visiting priest. We’d heard him preach during Sunday Mass, and liked what we heard. Wanting a little more spirituality in our lives, we were open to hearing more of what Father had to share.

At 7 p.m. we’re usually settling in for the night. After chores, errands and work, we’re not inclined to venture out again on a week night. But after a hurriedly prepared dinner of scrambled eggs with sliced turkey kielbasa thrown in for added protein, we made our way to church. God must’ve been smiling down upon me, because sitting quietly on a hard pew, one day a week, is more than enough for me. Remember an earlier post when I mentioned that my mom would pinch my butt, as it slid back to lean against the edge of the pew? Happily, I can now repeat the same offense without repercussion. It’s one of the benefits of old age. I can also catch “40 winks” behind closed eyelids, while the Mass drones on. I don’t do it often, but as I’ve said before, my mind does tend to wander.

About 35 parishioners were assembled in the pews at the front of church. Father stood before the group. As he spoke, he would refer to what we were seeing projected onto the screen situated near him. While I can’t remember all he said, I do recall that Father spoke of “charisms.” The word isn’t in my paperback copy of Webster’s Dictionary, but perhaps it’s the root for “charisma – a personal magnetism that enables an individual to attract or influence people.”

According to Father, God has bestowed us with “charisms.” These are unique “gifts” that make us feel good, when they are shared with others. Ultimately they bring us the fulfillment we seek. This is our vocation as Catholics, disciples of Christ. Each of us, according to our own “charism,” is called to serve others in our daily lives, out in the secular world. Priests are not the only ones who are “called” to serve. As an illustration, we listened to Jan Vallone tell her story, up on the screen.

Having grown up Catholic, Jan always did what her parents wanted. It was her dream to teach, but she became a lawyer because that was her father’s desire. During the 18 years she worked in law, Jan felt neither happy, nor fulfilled. When the firm she was with downsized, she took the opportunity to apply for a teaching job. To her astonishment, her application was accepted. As a high school English teacher, Jan’s spirits soared. It meant a great deal to her that she was making a difference in the lives of her students.

In addition to teaching, Jan began writing. Her memoirs caught the attention of a publisher. But because marketing her manuscript consumed so much of her time, she felt distracted from her true calling, teaching and writing. So she plans to return to both, leaving the selling to someonelse while she teaches the high schoolers she loves, and begins writing her second book. Jan feels fulfilled, knowing her “charism” is helping others, something which neither practicing law nor marketing a book could do for her.

I think I’ve found my “charism” in Hugmamma’s Attention to Detail. In my blog, I’ve been able to combine my passion for writing with my desire to be a voice for compassion and positivism. In sharing my experiences, thoughts, and feelings with others, I hope I’m able to provide a ray of light in a darkened corner of someone’s life.

My husband’s “charism” has always been as a role model of integrity and compassion in the business world. He “climbed” the corporate ladder without chicanery, or “brown-nosing.” Solidly committed to his principles throughout a 40 year career, he has garnered the loyalty and admiration of peers and employees, as well as business associates. I’ve even suggested that I’d be a great hire, to which my husband has always replied “I already have a CEO and President at work. Thank you very much.” I guess he’s right. Better that he leaves work behind, when he leaves the office.

Dance has always been our daughter’s “charism.” Beginning with her first performance as an 8 year-old tap dancer, she drew the attention of the audience. Afterwards a father approached me to say, he thought our daughter had tremendous “stage presence.” We’ve always been told that, and often by complete strangers. People have also said they can’t take their eyes off her; that they track her throughout the performance; that she’s their favorite dancer. Our daughter has always said that she feels blest with a gift that she wants to share, in the hopes that it will touch someone.

As Father put it, God would never set us up for failure. Our “charism” is what He has called us to do, as his disciples in the world. 

your “charism” calls,… will you answer?…hugmamma.

      

 

return to venice

During a recent visit to Venice I felt a longing to return someday and spend more time, perhaps a month. Living as a local, I wanted to wander the narrow alleyways as if time were a luxury. Traveling the globe as a tourist is not my idea of experiencing the real face of a country. Doing so seems more like being on this side of the glass in an aquarium, observing underwater creatures swimming blithely through their sea world. With eyes wide, face pressed close, my imagination wanders, piercing the “barrier” separating me from them, be they natives of the sea or of the land. Momentarily, I’m one of them. Excitement lures me in, but fear of the unknown pulls me back into the comfort of my own skin. I envy those who can abandon themselves to what’s new, undeterred by the consequences. Like the “I Love Lucy” episode where she, wanting to “soak up local color” to prepare for a small part in an Italian movie, is drenched in grape juice when she wrestles with a villager in a vat of grapes. I’m up to scheming like Lucy, but lack her bravado in following through. What is it that holds me back? Is it my island mentality, older age, my husband’s antipathy for “dancing on the edge,” or my dysfunctional past? Whatever it is, I am fine living within this “moment.” But life has a way of changing things up, so I never say never.

A Thousand Days in Venice is the author’s story of her life-altering, middle-aged marriage to a Venetian. “He saw her across the Piazza San Marco and fell in love from afar. When he sees her again in a Venice cafe’ a year later, he knows it is fate. He knows little English; she, a divorced American chef, speaks only food-based Italian. Marlena thinks she is incapable of intimacy, that her heart has lost its capacity for romantic love. But within months of their first meeting, she has packed up her house in St. Louis to marry Fernando–“the stranger,” as she calls him–and live in that achingly lovely city in which they met.”

There are revealing moments in their relationship. When Fernando makes his first trip to America to see Marlena in St. Louis, she asks why the hasty visit, since she’d just arrived home a couple of days before. In response he explains that he was “…tired of waiting. I understand now about using up my time. Life is this conto, account,” said the banker in him. ‘It’s an unknown quantity of days from which one is permitted to withdraw only one precious one of them at a time. No deposits accepted. …I’ve used so many of mine to sleep. One by one, I’ve mostly waited for them to pass. It’s common enough for one to simply find a safe place to wait it all out. Every time I would begin to examine things, to think about what I felt, what I wanted, nothing touched, nothing mattered more than anything else. I’ve been lazy. Life rolled itself out and I shambled along sempre due passi indietro, always two steps behind. Fatalita, fate. Easy. No risks. Everything is someone else’s fault or merit. And so now, no more waiting,’ …”

Laughing until she cries at something he said, Fernando asks ‘And about those tears. How many times a day do you cry?’ Later Marlena’s thoughts return to his question, “Much of my crying is for joy and wonder rather than for pain. A trumpet’s waiting, a wind’s warm breath, the chink of a bell on an errant lamb, the smoke from a candle just spent, first light, twilight, firelight. Everyday beauty. I cry for how life intoxicates. And maybe just a little for how swiftly it runs.”

My daughter has said more than once that my tear ducts are intertwined with my heart-strings. My tears flow easily when she is ecstatic or unhappy, during old films, when listening to sad, or happy, news. I don’t think I cry as much as I laugh, but it probably runs a close second. During Mass yesterday, I braced myself for a hymn that always brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. “Be Not Afraid” had been a favorite of the pastor who presided over our 100-year-old church in Redding. He’d baptized our 5 month-old, walking her proudly down the aisle, showing her off to fellow parishioners.

Father Conlisk was a close family friend who dined with us regularly. During a visit I asked our toddler to go and find her father, in answer to which she readily climbed up onto the priest’s lap. One particular Christmas morning as we sat in the front pew at church, he asked her if she’d been visited by someone special. Without hesitation she showed him Dumbo the elephant, her new stuffed animal. He held it up for all to see; the congregation broke into peels of laughter.

When Father died as a result of lung cancer, I took our daughter to the funeral Mass at our small church and later, to one held in a larger church at a nearby parish. Both times I allowed her to stand just outside the pew, so she would have a better view of the proceedings. In preparation, I explained that Father Conlisk had gone to Heaven where he would be free from pain, and find happiness with God. We  followed others to the gravesite, where I showed our 5-year-old Father’s final resting place. I think she found closure because from then on, she seemed to accept his absence from our lives. Perhaps it also helped that we became good friends with the priest who replaced Father Conlisk.

So like Marlena, I tend to shed tears for “Everyday beauty…for how life intoxicates. And maybe just a little for how swiftly it runs.” What we may all have in common with the author is “this potentially destructive habit of mental record-keeping that builds, distorts, then breaks up and spreads into even the farthest flung territories of reason and consciousness. What we do is accumulate the pain, collect it like cranberry glass. We display it, stack it up into a pile. Then we stack it up into a mountain so we can climb up onto it, waiting for, demanding sympathy, salvation. ‘Hey, do you see this? Do you see how big my pain is?’ We look across at other people’s piles and measure them, shouting, ‘My pain is bigger than your pain.’ It’s all somehow like the medieval penchant for tower building. Each family demonstrated its power with the height of its own personal tower. One more layer of stone, one more layer of pain, each one a measure of power. I’d always fought to keep dismantling my pile, to sort and reject as much of the clutter as I could. Now, even more, I made myself look back straight into that which was over and done with, and that which would never be. I was determined to go to Fernando, and if there was to be some chance for us to take our story beyond this beginning, I knew I would have to go lightly. I was fairly certain the stranger’s piles would provide enough work for both of us.”

We all seem to emerge from childhood with “baggage.” Perhaps a lucky few escape, body, mind and spirit intact. But spending our adulthood living in the past, wastes what’s left of a good life. As we peel away the layers of yesterday’s disappointments, we make way for tomorrow’s possibilities. Better that we declutter, rather than hoard negative experiences simply to have someone, or something, to blame for our inability to cope or our downward spiral. The process may vary for there are probably as many paths toward resolution, as there are individuals in the world. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all. However the common denominator should be compassion and a positive attitude, toward oneself and others. We all deserve to live our best lives, going forward. Maybe when we disavow our mountains of past pain, we’ll be able to abandon our fears of the unknown, and…return to Venice. 

live our todays and tomorrows, never our yesterdays…hugmamma.