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Footprints on the Journey

2014 Second Place Winner of "Best Online Blog-Individual" Category from the Catholic Press Association

40 Days to Pray

 

Yesterday, one of my brothers in law called me to tell me about what a child in one of the religious education classes said at his parish church. The teacher of the second grade class asked the students, “Do any of you know how long Lent is?”

 

One excited child shot their hand up higher than all the rest, clearly wanting to be chosen. The teacher called on the student who proudly said, “Four letters long!”

 

I thought it was such a cute answer. The truth is, Lent is a long 40 days from Ash Wednesday to the vigil of Holy Saturday (the Sundays do not count because Sundays are days for celebrating the resurrection of Jesus at Mass). It’s a time of penance and sacrifice for Catholics.

 

That being said, most Catholics either “give something up” or “do something extra” during Lent that shows they too, are wiling to sacrifice for the faith, or do an act of mercy in the name of Jesus.

 

For me, giving up an item—like chocolate, or wine, or watching television—doesn’t have the same impact as doing something. I think it is because there have been many times in my life when I had to sacrifice things like chocolate or alcohol due to medical reasons.  And giving up television, for example, wouldn’t really affect me too much because it takes me at least an hour to pick something on Netflix anyway, and by that time, I am generally too tired to watch!

 

But adding something into my schedule is extremely hard because I’m forgetful and tend to be lazy. I admire people who volunteer their time, and do things for others. I think that is where my soul needs a lot of work! (I think whatever you do, either giving up something or doing something—is a decision that you have to make with God.)

 

So this year, readers, I’m going to do a #40daystopray Lenten challenge. That means I’m going to pray for family and friends each and every day for 40 days. If you would like to be included, just add your name to the comments field below and I will personally pray for you as well.

 

What are you doing for Lent? Do you generally give up something or do something?

 

 

 

 

Groundhog Day-Ready, Rinse-Repeat?

 

It’s groundhog day! And the famed Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania didn’t see his shadow. According to groundhog lore, that means there will be an early spring. Hearing about Punxsutawney Phil reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, in which he lives the same day over and over again.

 

For parts of the movie, he makes the same, or similar, mistakes repetitively. Every time I see the movie, I think, “Would I be like that? Or would I be different and take advantage of the situation to learn new things, help people, and generally live the best day ever, day after day?”

 

The truth of the matter is, we all have that choice every single day we wake up. We can either repeat the same mistakes we made the day before or learn from them and do better. It’s up to us to try to take advantage of the day to learn new things and try to make it better than the one before or not. As we see in the movie, though, that’s a hard thing to do. It’s easy to fall into the same ruts, to make the same mistakes, to commit the same sins we always do because that is what we know.

 

I often feel that what I do each day can be summed up like a shampoo commercial: eat, work, sleep and repeat. But I heard a poem one time that said something along the lines of—you can do a lot of living in between those same old things. Those things can be extraordinary if we put in the effort.

 

What do you think?

Finding God Among the ‘Stars’

 

About two weeks ago, I began to read the book, “Oasis: Conversion Stories of Hollywood Legends” by Mary Claire Kendall. The book details the spiritual transformations of such actors like John Wayne, Lana Turner, and Alfred Hitchcock, to name just a few.

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One of the lines that Ms. Kendall writes regarding the life of Alfred Hitchcock really stuck with me. In writing about the later years of his life, she says, “Sixty years earlier, Hitchcock’s eagerness for making films had trumped all…Now, with the Reagan era dawning and his health failing, the legendary director was focused on the greatest drama of all-that of Christ’s pure love and healing forgiveness.”

 

She later writes, “What this man, so utterly fascinated with all manner of human darkness and depravity, needed most, it turned out, was God’s light and grace.”

 

Perhaps I enjoyed reading Hitchcock’s story so much because he grew up Catholic and fell away from the faith, but—before feeling that longing in his heart—came back to it later in his life. There is a beautiful scene portrayed in the book, of a Mass celebrated in Hitchcock’s home—with volumes of his movies such as “The Birds” and “Psycho” right there in the room. He wasn’t a holy roller or a saint—not by any means—but he loved God and he found comfort in that before he died.

 

I think that there is something beautiful in that.

 

Have you read a faith-based book or biography that stayed with you? Please share!

Sun-showers and Rainbows

My husband and I were driving along on a crowded Central Avenue yesterday as a near torrent of rain plastered us from above. Suddenly, the whole landscape became illuminated in golden light as the rain-sodden sky changed to one of brightness and sun-showers.

 

That’s about when we saw dozens of people pulling over and getting out of their cars to take photos.

 

When I looked to see what everyone was photographing, I gasped at the vibrancy of the rainbow arching across the sky. I had never seen such a clear, crisp rainbow, or one so large and magnificent.

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What made the event even more special was that the day, Jan. 10, is my father’s birthday. Sadly, he passed away 14 years ago. But the sun-shower and rainbow made me think of a particular family party we had. I don’t remember the occasion—it was perhaps a First Communion party for my brother or myself—and we were to have a barbecue outside in the backyard.

 

Rain broke out and we thought the party was ruined. We had to put all the picnic tables into the garage.

 

But then, a sun-shower broke out. All the kids, me included, were astonished at the sight. What was even better was that my father said all the kids were allowed to go out and play in the rain. I don’t remember much, but I do remember the excitement of seeing that sun-shower and feeling that pure joy when he said we could all go out in it. I felt that same excitement and joy yesterday.

 

When people say God creates wonderful things, I’ll always think of sun-showers and rainbows.

Always Look at the Bright Side of…the Street?

 

Yesterday I had dinner with a few people, among which was a friend of mine who recently retired from Catholic New York. We had worked together for 7 years and this first week was a bit…different.

 

But…he looked happy and refreshed. We were jibber-jabbering as some of the group separated and crossed the street to head toward the Thai restaurant where we would be dining before we did.

 

While we waited for the light to change so we could cross, the song, “Always look at the bright side of your life” popped into my mind. For me, the bright side was hearing him joyfully proclaim, “You can retire. Or you can retire in New York City.”

 

Looking around at all the streetlights and fluorescent store signs that surrounded us in Union Square, I couldn’t help but smile. Here was my friend, happy and content after many years of a job well done, enjoying a beautiful winter’s night in Manhattan with his wife and friends. Yes, I thought, life doesn’t get too much better than that.

 

I know from speaking with him over the years that sometimes things at work were rough. Sometimes life was rough. But he kept going, and is still going, on the path that God set forth for him. That gives me great comfort.

 

I know I mentioned this yesterday, but I think it’s something worth repeating—we may have roadblocks in life, we may get red lights or don’t walk signs. We may get separated from our group or have to go a different way. But like the bright lights of New York City, I like to think that God is there, shining down, illuminating the way for us.  

A Few Good Moments

We are a few days into the New Year and I have to say, things are going pretty well. Notice I didn’t say perfect or use the dreaded phrase “on track.” Maybe that’s because this year, just like last year, I am not making any resolutions.

 

Yup, that’s right. In my mind, resolutions bring to mind one thing-failure. The big “F” word. It lingers around everything I do in order to bring my resolution to fruition. And, I’ve found, that for me, it’s no way to live.

 

That’s not to say that things in my life don’t need improvement—that list could go on and on. However, I’ve found that looking ahead for the entire year at what I want to achieve takes away some of the beauty of the present moment. And, at least in my case, when I find I am not completely happy with myself at any point in time, I ask myself, what can I do in this minute, this hour, right now, to improve my situation?

 

Sometimes that answer is “nothing.” Other times its “take a walk.” And others still its “take my mind off of myself and focus it on someone else.” Oftentimes, I have to reduce my stress in some way that could involve something as easy (yet hard for me!) as texting and opening up to a friend about what is going on in my life.

 

Focusing on the moment in front of me, instead of the moment ten, twenty or fifty steps in front of me, takes away some of the pressure and stress of having it all figured out. After all, it’s God’s job to have it figured out, not mine. It’s my job to live the best I can, each moment at a time.

It’s Only Just Begun

Over the weekend, I heard a few people say, “Christmas is over.” But the reality is, it’s really only just begun. Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas. There are 12 more after that leading to the Epiphany on January 6.

 

It’s only right that Jesus would get a 12-day celebration for His birthday, I think.

 

The Epiphany, for those of you who may not be familiar with the term, is the day that the three wise men visited Jesus bringing with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. That means that there are still quite a few days of celebration ahead. I like that. I often feel that there is so much anticipation and expectations leading up to Christmas Day that once it’s over its as if all the joy and happiness have escaped like air being let out of a balloon.

 

But the truth of the matter is, there are more days to celebrate. The story of Jesus’ birth has just begun. Sure, perhaps Santa has come and gone, but Jesus just arrived. And he’s the real reason why we are celebrating.

 

Merry Christmas!

It’s a Wrap

Sixty-four. That’s how many gifts my husband and I wrapped this year for Christmas. It may seem like a lot, but it’s about average for us. You see, we both have pretty big families—my husband’s immediate family is 31—and when you add in my family and our friends and co-workers, the numbers add up quick.

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It could be considered a bad thing, but to us, it’s a blessing. It means we have 64 people in our lives to be thankful for. That’s not to say there aren’t hardships. The money needed for gifts is one thing (we have a separate account just for Christmas). Then there are the weeks before the big day during which our tiny apartment looks like Santa’s workshop was ransacked with wrapping paper and gifts everywhere. And, of course, there is the frenetic rush for those last minute gifts when time seems to be running out.

 

But the biggest obstacle is the wrapping itself. When you have a pile of 64 presents, it’s hard to start—at least for me. I like wrapping gifts—but I like for them to be perfect—and prefer if I can tie them with ribbon and put pretty bows on them. Sometimes, however, it isn’t possible. Sometimes, I have to learn to let go of my ideal for the perfect gift. And sometimes, even, I have to let my husband wrap a few gifts with his hands that are better suited for crumpling paper than delicately folding and taping it.

 

I think it’s a good reminder for life, especially during the week leading up to Christmas Day. Things aren’t going to be perfect. We have to let go of certain things to move forward. We can ask for help if we need it. And most of all, it’s not the wrapping or even the gift that matters. Like St. Paul said in the First Letter to the Corinthians, the greatest thing is the love.  

Bedford Falls vs. Pottersville

In the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when George Bailey is given a glimpse of what things would be like without him, he sees his lovely town of Bedford Falls turn into the morally degenerate Pottersville.

 

One of my friends jokingly said, “Pottersville is a more interesting town to live in than Bedford Falls.”

 

I told him, “You’re missing the whole point of the movie!”

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You see, the movie, with its message that every life has a purpose and a meaning, is my top favorite Christmas movie of all time. When George Bailey sees how much his life makes a difference in his small town, Clarence, his guardian angel says, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

 

I’m pretty sentimental and that line makes me cry every single time I watch the movie. It’s so easy to look around at all the negativity in the world, in the nation, in your hometown, in your very own life and feel disheartened and disillusioned like George Bailey. I find that to be especially true around the holidays when you are supposed to feel joyful and hopeful and things are just going wrong or not how you planned.

 

It’s frustrating. You may feel hopeless.

 

But there is hope, and He came in the form of a man named Jesus Christ. In Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he writes, “Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, character produces hope, and hope will not disappoint us.”

 

It may seem odd to think that suffering and perseverance in that suffering can bring out something good. But think of the time in which St. Paul was writing—and think of, for example, a blacksmith making a sword in a fire. The only way to make a sword is to place it in the fire and bang it with a hammer over and over again until it is strong enough to withstand any battle.

 

The same is true in our life. When we withstand suffering and persevere, it makes us that much stronger. The same was true in George Bailey’s life. His wasn’t an easy road, but he persevered.

 

Comments? Questions? Want to share your favorite Christmas movie? Please do!

 

Childhood Dreams and Christmas Present(s)

On the radio this morning, I heard a report that said the two most popular jobs young children wish to be when they grow up are a doctor or a professional athlete. It made me think of my own childhood dreams that included a few professions—one of which was a writer—but the two other big ones were a ninja or a secret agent.

 

The ninja was out of the question since I never took karate classes as a child…but hey, The Karate Kid and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were pretty big movies when I was growing up. Cartoons like Inspector Gadget inspired my desire to be a secret agent, I’m pretty sure. As for writing, I always liked the idea of pulling words out of my head and putting them on paper—it almost seemed magical.

 

I’m bringing this up now because Christmas is a great time to foster the gifts that God has given you—and it’s the perfect time to support others, young and old, with some of their dreams as well. Do you have a friend who always wanted to be an artist? Why not get them a paint set and a small canvas for the holiday? Know someone who always was good with computers? How about a book on coding or web design? Is someone good with crafts? How about some crochet needles and yarn?  

 

Christmas reminds me of the Biblical quote: “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14) because it’s the one time of year that I feel full of childlike wonder and excitement. Bringing someone’s former dreams to life can possibly help bring that joy to them all year long.

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