Saturday, December 31, 2016

Praying big

I love Advent. I am not very good at Advent ( I'm much better at Christmas), but I do love Advent. The idea of awaiting our redeemer, which most days I simply take for granted, stays fresh in my mind. As a Catholic mom, I try to find ways to instill the faith in my kids, and so liturgical seasons give form to my hopes for them. Of course, most of what I realize in trying to mold my own children is how hard my own heart is, and how much interior work there is still to be done. I am by nature, an optomist, and even while knowing my weaknesses, I am able to look forward to what I might one day become.

This Advent was special. The kids I teach at our cooperative and  the kids in our homeschool group, helped me make blessing bags for the poor. We made alot of bags. I took some to the Silence of Mary Home in Harrisburg, and a couple of weeks ago, as Advent was winding down, Fred and I went to drop some off at the Frederick Rescue Mission. It was closed, and not wanting to forget to return, we looked for someone nearby in need. 

In minutes we found a homeless couple. We passed on some blessing bags and they were grateful. We also started talking to them. They mentioned they could no longer stay at the abandoned building they had been at and were getting a ride out of town that afternoon. We got in the car and the plan was to go shopping but mostly for the rest of the afternoon, we just spoke about Joe and Jen. We wondered how they got there. We shook our heads at how to fix it. We lamented there wasn't more to do. We wanted to do more, to make a difference. 

I thought of them the following day, but they slowly left my thoughts as the afternoon wore on and the responsilities piled up. Wrapping. shopping. cooking. baking. Christmas was near. At 1pm we headed to confession and mass before Christmas. Afterwards we headed to McDonalds. 

And there they were. 

Right in my town, Joe and Jen. We stopped the car, we talked some more. We introduce the kids. They thanked them for the blessing bags as the childrens eyes grew wide.  They had just arrived. They were living in the woods in a tent. We bought them lunch, we asked if they needed anything, we took a small list of supplies. It felt like God was speaking to us, but neither of us could really understand the words. We both know we cannot solve poverty, but we also equally know we are our brothers keeper. Not knowing how to fix this we just tried to do what we could that day. And the next. 

As the week wore on we got to know them better. They do not seem to be involved in drugs or alcohol. They just seemed really simple, and unintelligent, possibly mentally ill, but not cetainly. I waited for them to try to take advantage of me. It was Advent and I was ripe for being put upon, but no such luck happened. The requests were profoundly simple: water, ramen noodles, a blanket, batteries. After a few days I secretly prayed they would ask for something more to both assuage my guilt for having so much more, and also to do some actual good for them. It was not to be. I have so much. I have been so blessed. I have resources and a community of people I am surrounded by. I can get things done. Despite my most sincere tries, I could not make this better. 

By a weeks end, I asked my friends for advice- what else could we do? I had been calling shelters and soup kitchens and getting nowhere. My friends offered new leads,thoughtful prayers, real tangible help, and solid advice. We made a supreme effort to reunite them with family, but despite our best efforts,  it never happened. On Christmas day I got another ordinary text from Jen : 

"Merry Christmas. Could you bring us 3 gallons of water, creamer,  salt and pepper, and some chocolate snacks?"

I closed the oven door where my Christmas dinner was cooking and asked Fred to drive me to Sheetz, the only open store on Christmas day. We picked up the water and creamer along with the salt and pepper, then scoured the aisles for chocolate snacks. Kit Kats, M&M's, Hersheys. It all felt so small and we felt like such failures. As we were leaving Jen and Joe that day she asked "Hey, do you want to hug me?" and I said yes and we did. 

Over the course of two weeks I asked God what I was supposed to do about this couple, what did he want of me, how could I be of help. No answer came. No heartwarming results and Christmas miracles were accomplished. Joe and Jen seem to prefer to live in the woods, away from people and no matter how much good we want for them, we cannot make them do what we wish. 

2 days ago the real answer from God came. I realized God didn't want me to do anything more than I had done. But he did want me to know what his own heart feels like. All those days I had been recieving those lists and texts I had such power and ability to assist Joe and Jen. They could have asked me for so much and I would have moved mountains to try to help them, but they didn't want mountains moved. They couldn't see what was and is in their best interest. They don't want help or to change. They are content to live this way. When I cautioned them about how bad things could get, they laughed it off and said they'd been through worse. I believed them and felt such pity and heartbreak. They were grateful, but they oddly never tried to get to know us any better, even as we tried to get to know them.   

When I was in a "godly" position my heart was intent on helping them and I was waiting for any real opening to help to move these simple souls in a better direction. I kept my phone nearby in case the weather changed or a need came up. I was so attentive. I simply ached to do good for them. 

Then, I thought of what my own prayers must sound like to God. What do I really ask my father for? When he looks at me, He too sees a simple soul wandering this earth, homeless and living in a dangerous world. He desires for me to be safe and warm and sheltered. He would move  mountains for me, even move me into his own house if I wanted to, to assure my eternal safety. He would give me anything I asked for that was good for me. 

Instead I  too ask for water and chocolate snacks. 

I wonder how disappointing my prayers must seem to a father who is so generous. I often think, probably as Joe and Jen did, that I don't want to wear out my welcome with a God who has forgiven me so much, and blessed me so much, but I saw that its just not true. I have only misunderstood Gods hospitality, his generosity, and his genuine devotion to my real needs. He wouldn't tire of bringing me water and salt and pepper, or even the extravagant 'chocolate snack', but I know he must wish that I would ask for more. Especially if  he felt it could move me closer to Him and into his safe  heart. 

 I'm sure he would like me to pray bigger. 

I don't mean bigger as in more water and  chocolate snacks, I mean bigger as in I need to start asking for the most important things from him, like peace, and forgiveness, and eternal life. I need to trust him enough to bring him a list that says things like :

I'd like my kids to always keep their faith,

 I'd like to see more souls converted to you Jesus.

I'd like to be able to let go of my pettiness and fears.

I'd like you to cure my friends cancer.

I'd like to  help end homelessness.

I'd like you to fix a failing marriage.

I'd like peace in war torn areas.

I'd like you to bless a childless couple with a baby.

Mostly,  I'd like to know you better Jesus, I'd like to want to know you better,and if its really not too much,  I'd like to  sit with you for eternity and listen the sound of your heart.

I need to  trust He is happy to give those things to me if and when  I stop standing in my own way. The next time my conscience tells me I am getting myself into trouble I have to remember not to boast  to Him that I've been in worse trouble before, as if that somehow minimizes what is currently wrong in my life.  

2016 is coming to a close and 2017 is moments away, I have learned so many things this year both good and bad. Perhaps the very best thing I have learned is to not be afraid to pray big.

Friends, remind me of that as the year wears on... would you?

Have a blessed New Year.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving in the twilight zone

Dear Peter,

Knowing how you love spending Thanksgiving with the crew, and seeing that you couldn't be here this year, I thought you'd particularly appreciate the blog post.Being with family is such a comforting thought at the holidays so I'll do my best to make you feel like you're right here with us!

I'd like to tell you our trip started uneventfully- alas, that isn't true. We were scheduled to leave early Tuesday morning and Dad was really looking forward to a short break from work this year. Sunday, we got a call from Andy saying his roof blew off his house in the storm. Wondering if he was exaggerating, Dad headed over to find Andy and Rachel's kitchen roof in their yard. We went Amish style and called in  all of our manpower  ( there are a lot of advantages to having 7 sons) to get it mostly put back together by Tuesday evening. (You can imagine Grams reaction that Andrew might not be able to make it.)

As Dad  was pulling out of the driveway, Matt mentioned that Rachel couldn't get the furnace started.

We left anyway.

5 hours and 16-calls-about-furnace-repairs-and-you-tube-videos-from-Andy  later we arrived in Gramaland ( cue the Twilightzone music) slightly behind schedule, but still here. Grama and Grampa greeted us at the door just before midnight. Gramps entire head is bandaged up. I gasped. "Phil what happened?" thinking he must have fallen just before we arrived.  "Oh, that's nothing. Its just some cancer." Fred came up behind me. "Oh my gosh dad, what happened?" This time Gram chimed in "Oh, didn't we tell you? Phil had a melanoma removed last week."

No, no, you didn't tell us.
No mention whatsoever.
We had no idea Headwound Harry would be hosting us for Thanksgiving.

After putting all the kids to bed, we collapsed.

This morning Dad awoke to 23 offers of coffee and the various ways he could enjoy it ( black, cream, sugar, just cream,real, decaf, half caf, Jamaican, dark roast, milk, non-dairy creamer, splenda).
When I walked downstairs Gram pointed at the coffee pot and said "Help yourself ". You know the drill- Boys Rule, Girls Drool in Gramaland.

Meanwhile, next door, Uncle Dave  woke during the night to find his entire electrical service is out. I mean O-U-T. Dave spent the day getting parts to fix the lines and making phone calls to  restore power. Hopefully, the power will be back on by tonight. Michael arrived from school this morning and so he Stephen and the pack of boys are currently roaming the neighborhood, in cars now though.The little girls have been riding bikes and eating cream puffs all day.

Andrew finally fixed his  furnace and he and Rachel are on their way. Gram is relieved Thanksgiving can proceed now that Andy will actually be in attendance.

I was glad we got to facetime with you for a bit. Gram was lamenting you  not being here so we prayed the family rosary.

The power is still not on next door, so we all had mince and rice for dinner (Diane arrived from work and was offered eggs). Dave decided to fire up his generator since the power company is delayed. Unfortunately, the generator wouldn't start. Dads heading over now to take a look-see.

No political fireworks yet as we all voted on the same team here. Friday could be interesting with the arrival of the left wing of the Legare clan. (I personally  have never witnessed these political fights I've heard tale of in the past. Maybe this year will be different). Dad suggested that just in case tensions run high, we should consider filling a pinata in the form of DJT -with  cream-puffs. He's unsure if Gram will let us.

The carburetor on Daves generator is busted. Grampas generator has been transferred next door. Diane is making pies over there and walkIng them over  here to bake for her trip to Theresa's tomorrow. Dads threatening to eat them. Andy and Rachel arrived close to midnight and were promptly given napoleons.

 The power is still not on next door. They may be wearing coats to bed.

To be continued in the a.m...

This morning Dad went to Dunkin' Donuts to avoid the hysteria of coffee choices. The power company finally restored the electricity next door around 10am. The turkey is being stuffed and I'm being peppered with questions about cooking temperasure for the size the bird-I have zero answers. I'm watching March of the Wooden Soldiers instead.

By mid-afternoon we did our traditional Thanksgiving walk thru the graveyard. I'm not sure how this became a tradition, to walk through the graveyard, but we did. Naturally I asked if we should pray for the dead to gain an indulgence for them, but John-Paul pointed out it was a Christian cemetery not Catholic, so these souls wouldn't go to purgatory. after some hesitation we said the prayers anyway-just in case.

Dinner is just about underway now, and the house smells incredible. Gram is in the kitchen saying she destroyed the turkey (she didn't) because she cooked it upside down. Grampa is insisting it's because she's rushed it. No one else cares. 

Your little brothers are out in the cow pasture as I write, trying to muster the courage to approach the bulls. They won't go out there at night as Gramps scared them to death about coyotes. 

The others will be back later tonight after dinner, Nikki will be back with them. We miss you and wish you were here! Thank you for your sacrifices for our great nation. we truly are blessed and most thankful.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

These are my friends

If you're friends with me on Facebook, you're probably sick of my Bunnygate posts this week. I can't really blame you for that, but my friends John and Angela, who've been heroic in their vigilance to these matters,  posted about our community tonight and reminded me again why we are all actually fired up. They shared some memories from their past with us, and offered context as to why some of us are fighting so hard. It occurred to me that it would be good  for me to do the same. I haven't written a blog post in eons, but this seems like a worthy post.

The people in my community are a strange mix of home-schoolers, professors, and Washington DC guys who can't- tell-me-what-they-do-for-a-living-or-they'd-have-to-kill-me. We are in the same clubs, troops, and home-school classes. We belong to local parishes that share our youth group. Monthly, we get together at our place for a pot-luck dinner and rosary night where we all wrestle with squirming kids. We eat together, talk about our life, break up our fighting kids, and try to teach them to pray. We all want the kids to see that they grow up in a community where our faith matters and should be the litmus test for our actions. We fail at that example an awful lot, but we keep trying.

 Some of us did better than usual this week, no doubt by Gods grace. When given the opportunity to do what was right and what was easy, they chose to do what was right. Even when that meant their whole world would come crashing down around them. So, the flurry of posts from the rest of us, are really an effort to stand alongside the people we have come to know and trust, to support the friends we pray with and play with. At times we may seem to flail a bit in our efforts, but I can assure you that our intentions are all good.

I don't generally do much picture taking at our gatherings cause I'm usually too busy talking to do so.  This year though, my friend Chris asked me to take pictures of all of us at Christmas time for one single purpose. He said, "Ellie, you should take pictures tonight because it would be good to look back at them some day and remember how happy we all were,  for some day when we might need them." So despite my usual aversion to pictures, I actually walked around that night and took shots of my friends. These pictures aren't of some newsworthy professors. No major social justice advocates came into focus in my lens. No one in the room appeared gutsy enough to sacrifice themselves for the good of others that night as we joked and chatted and made merry like we always do.

Tonight, I offer you some glimpses of the people who have been making national and international news all week. Fred found some more from Easter, and a few days in between. Maybe these glimpses can help you put a human face on some of the really wonderful people that I call my friends. Maybe you will understand why some of us are fighting so hard to keep them standing.