The Sacred Heart.

“Stick to the sides,” my husband told me.  We were going to a child’s birthday party, one of the little ones my son has grown up with.

“It’s a barbecue, right? So hamburgers and hot dogs.  We’ll have to stick to the sides.”

Oh, right.  It’s Friday.

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“So why don’t you eat meat on Fridays?” A friend asked, as we began to prepare dinner on our camping trip – meatless — not impossible at all, just…inconvenient.

“Because Jesus died on a Friday,” I explained.  “So we sacrifice something on Fridays in a memorial of that.  Traditionally it’s been meat, so…we do meat.”

It makes sense to me, but it sounds so silly, and I can understand why people would think it’s strange.

“So when was the last time you had meat on a Friday?”

I squint.  “Um…just before Lent, maybe?”

I shrug, and the conversation ends there – we both are fine with where we are.

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It was my husband who came up with the idea of doing the Sacred Heart Devotion – attending Mass every first Friday of the month for nine consecutive months.  (A much better explanation of the devotion can be found here and here.)  But I had found the Sacred Heart much earlier than that.

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My mother died in the middle of the night.  My husband and children and I were staying at my in-laws’ house in New Jersey, close enough to the hospice center where my mother was.  We had been waiting – making calls to nurse friends – Is this the end, is this the end? – and trying to make plans.  My husband and I had decided to return to Pittsburgh with our kids and return after she had passed, because we didn’t know how long it would take, and there was precious little to do outside of sitting – sometimes in different places, like a hallway or a cafeteria or a hospice room – and waiting.

But she passed away in the middle of the night, so there was no returning to Pittsburgh when we’d thought.

I was asleep in my sister-in-law’s childhood bedroom, my seven month old daughter shifting in the pack-n-play on the floor next to the bed.  A small light gently illuminated the room.

My phone rang.  It was my father.

“Mom passed away,” he told me.  He sounded so tired.

“Okay,” I said.  “Thank you for letting me know.”

Later he’d say he was confused by my reaction, he wasn’t sure it was even me he was talking to.  But I was half-asleep, and in reality had no idea what to say or to think.  I had been so tired, we all were, of waiting.  And the moment had come, and I was still so tired.

It was still dark.  I left the room and quietly made my way down the hall to the other room where my husband and son were.  I wanted to wake my husband up to tell him, but decided he should sleep.  No point to waking him up.  (And there’s never, in my opinion, a good reason to wake up a sleeping child.  I am very against that.)  They both lay there, completely asleep, and I turned and walked back to where I’d been.

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The first thing I did when I returned to bed was thank God over and over that it was over, and felt this enormous sense of relief completely wash over me.  She had been so sick, and for so long.  And she wasn’t any longer; and for that I was so, so grateful.

I turned back to my phone and messaged a bunch of my friends who had been praying for us and my mom, and told them she had passed.  I put my phone back on the little table and rolled over again.

I started to drift off, and in those moments, caught between wakefulness and dreaming, I saw it: a heart.  A large, anatomical-looking heart, completely suspended in black space.  It was a completely still heart, not moving, but I understood it was alive.  I knew, in my limited dream-understanding, that it was the Sacred Heart, and it understood suffering and was at peace with it.  It knew my personal suffering, and did not turn away.

It didn’t do anything, just hung in suspension, but a great peace radiated from it.  I knew, somehow, that my suffering and my mother’s suffering and the suffering of all those who knew her was absorbed by that suffering heart; and all I knew was that it understood.  It got it.  And that was enough.

I fell asleep soon after that and woke up when my daughter did.

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We have two months to go until our First Friday devotions are complete.  We’ve had to attend Mass with both kids this summer as school is out, and it’s not exactly what I would call a fun time, bringing two small children to a very early morning Mass – they make a lot of noise.

I hadn’t had any particular interest or understanding of the Sacred Heart prior to my experience with my mother’s death, but I can’t accurately tell you – nor put into words – the comfort and consolation I experienced from my encounter with it.

And it’s a comfort to me that even after the First Friday Masses are over, we’ll still be sacrificing something on Fridays as a reminder to us that we remember Jesus’ sacrifice, too.  That we can share both suffering and consolation with Him.  Because He understands both.

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So. Many. Feast.Days.

October in the Catholic Church is like harvest time for the garden: look! Here’s some awesomeness! Ooh, here too! Look at this one! I love this! There’s just so much!  It is absolutely chock-full of feast days for a great many wonderful role models that were real, authentic people.  And if I were the type of woman I want to be (meaning I would actually celebrate these feast days in a meaningful way), then I absolutely would; but as it is right now I have very little time & energy to do more than just note them on the calendar as I’m doing the dishes and checking the school snack calendar that hangs right above it.

But there’s always next October!

So let’s review.  October 1st: St. Therese.  I’ve written about her here before, and in thinking about her life what I love the most is how hard she worked at refining away all of her selfish, (and self-described) bratty tendencies.  There’s hope for me yet!

October 4th: St. Francis.  So I’ve never read Harry Potter and only saw the first movie about 15 years ago, but as I remember it, there are times when a wizard can conjure up a feeling or an animal or something and it appears as a symbol of what they want or need or whatever.  And if I were to have such powers and wave my wand and conjure up such a symbol for myself, it would be St. Francis. When I was in college and thought about becoming a nun all the time, I went on a discernment retreat at a Franciscan convent and loved it.  There is so much that is attractive to me about his philosophy of living and life. I might have more seriously pursued it, though, had I heard about these ladies before deciding to not go that route with my life.

October 5th.  St. Faustina Kowalska.  Mystic.  Stigmatic.  Vessel through which the (much needed and) important message of MERCY was directly given to us.  MERCY.  It’s there for you, right now.  Yeah, you.

October 7th: Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  Back when I was in college and part of a campus ministry retreat team, I was put in charge of saying the rosary every day at 2pm (and inviting the rest of the campus to join me.  I was usually alone.) I learned how to recite the rosary very quickly, and I didn’t appreciate the calmness it brings to me as an adult.  When my babies were little and I had long times to nurse them before bed I’d pray it, and I mostly didn’t fall asleep myself.  I’d highly recommend this for those with anxious, fearful minds that like to obsess mercilessly over things for hours (or days) at a time.

October 15th: St. Theresa of Avila.  What I love best about St. Theresa was that she was a reformer, and the way she reformed was she returned (and encouraged others to) return to the basics of Jesus’ message: help the poor and the suffering. Pray. Serve, serve, serve.  And become poor (at least in spirit) in order to remember the most least among us.

*(There are seriously so many saints that we honor in October, so I’m going to skip some in order to go to bed at a decent hour.)*

October 22nd: St. John Paul II.  Guys.  Guysssss.  I have seen a saint with my own eyes.  Up close, and by up close I mean like a quarter of a mile away on an enormous Jumbotron, in an even bigger field that held nearly one million other young people my age.  But he was there and I was there and distance means nothing at all really! I stood during his homily for World Youth Day in Rome in the year 2000 and I did absolutely nothing but cry, because there really is nothing else you can do when you’re in the presence of an actual saint.  So.

October 28th: St. Jude Thaddaeus.  You know this one.  Patron saint of desperate, lost causes.  He was one of the original 12 apostles but he was largely ignored by the faithful as someone to turn to since he sort of had the same name as, you know, that other guy, and so people didn’t want to get confused and end up praying to the man who betrayed Jesus and started all the trouble in the first place.  I myself have prayed many, many novenas to St. Jude for things and homeboy does not disappoint.  I mean, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup this year, so there you have it.

There are many, many more saints to celebrate this month and if you’re looking for ways to honor their days in your home (the way I want to every day but never get to, because – I’ll keep it 100 – there is laundry to do and weddings to attend and politics to fret over) check out Hayley’s fantastic ideas over at Carrots For Michaelmas.

Until next time!

 

Currently…

Reading: I just finished Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth.  I’ve loved her for years, and was so excited when her book came out I hauled the kids to the library the moment it opened last Tuesday to make sure I snagged a copy.  Her greatest gift is making it look effortless – taking moments that seem so mundane and transforming them into magic.

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Watching: Now that this season of Mr. Robot is over (long sigh), our Wednesday nights are for American Horror Story: Roanoake.  It’s all right so far; not my favorite season, but watchable.  We’re also watching Fear the Walking Dead.  We recently cut our cable in favor of Playstation Vue, which we really enjoy, and we’ve been trying to make room in the week to catch up on some other shows.  We’re still two seasons behind on Homeland, and I’d love a Northern Exposure rewatch.

…I’m going to miss Mr. Robot. So much.

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Listening to: Mix CDs in my car, as usual.  The kids have been digging my Vince Guaraldi Trio / Audioslave / Sting mix these days.

Proud of: The essay I wrote for Coffee + Crumbs, “When She’s Gone.” (Published today!) I’ve been very humbled by the warm response it’s received, and I’m glad that sharing my story of losing my mom resonated with other people.  (Welcome to C+C readers who found me this way!) Also, I’m proud of the fact that I recently assembled my son’s Hot Wheels track all by myself, like a grownup, no husband help needed! (Hey, it was hard! Those things are no joke.  It had a loop and everything.)

Hoping to: Get my house more clean these days!

Looking forward to: Starting some fires…in our fireplace! We’re getting firewood delivered this weekend and I’m excited to start getting toasty.

Laughing at: Hillary Clinton’s appearance on Between Two Ferns.  I don’t know how his guests go on the show without hysterically laughing the entire time.

As always, recommendations are welcome!

Mama T.

So Mother Teresa will be canonized this week.  I don’t know an incredible amount about her, but one of my favorite stories came from a seminarian I once met who went to volunteer with her order when she was still alive.  He described the horrible conditions of where he went to work, and what it was like to live and work for Mother Teresa.  He had brought along a mirror with him, I guess to check his reflection or whatever, and the story went that she caught him checking his look one day before volunteering.  She walked over to him, took the mirror and broke it, and gave him one shard to use instead — anything bigger would be the height of vanity.

I have no idea if that story is true or not, but I love it.  I love the single-mindedness of helping God’s people.  What a role model to have at this time in our history.

I was thinking recently about being a Catholic and what it means to be a Catholic voter in America these days, and I thought about what actually needs to be done to affect change in our country.  Think about the one issue (or two, or however many) you feel in your life is the most important thing, and if it needs changing, how would you change it? How would you change racism, or poverty? Indifference? Ignorance? Whatever the issue is, pray about how God wants you particularly to do something about it, and let’s do what Mother Teresa did — pray for courage and strength, break our mirrors, take the focus off ourselves, and go to work.

In the news today was a story about an FSU wide receiver, Travis Rudolph, who did an astounding act: while visiting a middle school, he sat with a kid during lunch.  The young boy has autism, and would normally not have anyone to sit with during mealtime — the other kids leave him out.  The player didn’t know about the disability – he just saw a boy sitting alone – and decided to keep him company.  The act blew the boy’s mother away, and on social media, she announced the good deed he did that made such a difference to her family.  The story blew up and became such big news because it highlighted that to which we are so attracted: stepping outside of ourselves to help others.

Mother Teresa did that.  Did she solve the problem of poverty? No.  But she showed us how we can start.  Travis Rudolph did that.  Did he solve the problem of ostracizing others because of fearing a disability? No.  But he showed us how we can start.  You and I can do it, too.  We’re all called to it, no matter how large problems might seem.  It will make a difference, I promise you.

Some Thoughts On Kanye.

So I guess as a disclaimer I should say right off the bat that I haven’t listened to a Kanye West album since 808s and Heartbreak.  But since his beginning, Kanye West has fascinated me.  I believe he is a genuine artist: extremely talented, astute, and gifted. But I also believe he’s a person who is trying to be as self-aware as they can be in an environment that is never stable.  He’s not a port in a storm; to me, he comes across as the piece of flora caught in the storm a piece of nature powerless against the incredibly strong wind that is determined to blow however the hell it wants.

Kanye West is probably the most apt representation right now of what it’s really like to be famous: constantly bewildered; knowing you have a platform and knowing you want to say something but not knowing how to present it in a way that will be relatable; trying to manage the deluge of coming from nothing, where very few people on Earth care who you are to being something that has become a commodity.

It would be an adjustment (to say the least) for anyone.

I think he’s still trying to be real.  I think he’s still trying to be himself, whatever that is. Others who are famous and successful and beloved (and not viewed – at least right now – as mentally unstable) have become that way because they either 1) focused attention on issues other than/larger than themselves; [e.g. Bono]  or 2) they’ve surrendered who they really are, either putting on a show or becoming the one who orchestrates it [e.g. Beyonce].

All of this makes me sound like a major Kanye West apologist, and I’m really not.  I think I’m most interested in the idea of fame as a construct. The larger issue, one we can really all relate to, is what our authentic lives look like.  Who are you? Underneath the labels of what you do for a living or how many kids you have, who are you? How would that change if you were famous? And if you are somebody with a platform of some kind – and you might be – what do you have to say? What is your reality?

On How “Wonderwall” is Kinda Like Baby Food

I don’t wish for high-tech things often, but I’d love a Bluetooth hookup in my car so I can listen to songs from my phone.  My Jetta came out just before the Bluetooth-in-car revolution, though, so I content myself and my kids with old mix CDs I have from college.  The one in the car right now (a really strange mix that includes dialogue clips from the films Chasing Amy and Dogma) features their current fave, “Happy Happy Joy Joy,” and Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” Driving home today from a friend’s house, one kid asleep in the backseat and the other nearly there, I realized two things:

  1. Wonderwall, as a song that was released in the 1990’s, doesn’t really hold up for me anymore.
  2. But that’s okay.  Because I’m not the person I was in the 1990s.

When “Wonderwall” was released, I was a naive, overweight teenager who was full of 90’s angst.  Its lyrics spoke volumes to me: I had multiple crushes on many of the neighborhood boys, and had no way to properly express my feelings for them.  So when I heard

I don’t believe that anybody
Feels the way I do about you now
And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I
Would like to say to you but I don’t know how
it made sense to me.  Oasis was speaking my language. Every boy I had a huge crush on was worthy of all my love and all my attention at the moment.  I was putting everything I had into the fantasy of being their girlfriend.  No one else ever felt the way I did about them, etc. etc.
And I’m grown up, now.  I see things much more differently as a mom in her mid-thirties than I did as a kid.  And the song itself just kind of grates, all that nasally singing and the monotonous strumming.  So it’s changed for me.
I think I might feel tempted to forget that I really liked that song, to laugh and say I was just a stupid kid when I listened to it.  But things meant something to me, and because it did, it wasn’t stupid.
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My daughter is 13 months now and totally over baby food in the jar.  She wants real people food, big pieces of whatever we’re eating.  But in order to get to the bigger stuff, she had to go through the pureed things.
Baby food in a jar is probably the best thing ever.  Babies love it because food scientists engineer what goes into it to make it taste wonderful.  When my son was trying solids, I’d make food for him, also pureed, that tasted like garbage compared to the same things I’d buy in a jar.
It’s kind of like that with music, too.  I’ll listen to a Justin Beiber song, or any pop song on the radio today, and that is a song that is engineered to be catchy as hell.  “Shake It Off” won’t be anywhere in 20 years, but that is a fun song to dance to.  It might not be the best song ever in terms of longevity or depth, but it’ll taste good going down!
That was “Wonderall” for me.  To get to where I am today, I had to go through Oasis.
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I read part of this interview recently with Dave Grohl, lead singer of Foo Fighters, and something he said really struck me.  He said,
“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I believe that you should be able to like what you like.  If you like a f****ing Kesha song, listen to f***ing Kesha.”
I don’t wish to be a teenager again.  It was a rough set of years for me, and I wouldn’t want them back to do over, not even knowing what I know now.  But I don’t mind that I used to like what I like.  I hope I don’t keep minding it.

The True Adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle

I won a contest, guys! It was for an essay detailing the misadventures of my first car, a beautiful, bright red Volkswagen Beetle.  I loved that car so much.

Like most things that happen to me, these stories are 100% true.

“It took me five tries to get my driver’s license.  It was mostly due to parallel parking – well, that and K-turns, those three-point turns you have to make to make a U-turn out of wherever you are.  It was pretty embarrassing, having to go through the test five times, but my brother took the cake for worst license test-taker in our family when he mixed up the gas and brake pedals and nearly hit a DMV worker who was walking into the building.”

Read the rest at Lumos!, the newsletter for Pittsburgh-area nonprofit Luminari.