Monday, February 24, 2014

Happy Birthday to Favorite Aunt Kathy

Today is a special day in our family, my sister Kathy's birthday. In our family, she's known as Favorite Aunt Kathy.

What makes someone a great aunt? The same characteristics that makes a great parent makes a great aunt.

Love and kindness. Making time to spend together. Being there to celebrate the good times. Joy and sharing. Remembering special days. Helping during the hard times.

In large families, there's often one sibling who serves as a surrogate mom to the younger kids in the family.

That's the role my sister Kathy has always held in our family. Kathy was often found with at least one sibling in her lap or on her hip when she was younger.

Kathy was born the second child in a family which eventually grew to include eight children.

She would have made a great mom, but Kathy was called to serve God through her vocation as a Sister of Charity: serving the poor, teaching children and devoting her life to God.

Despite serving far from home at times over the years, Kathy always found time to keep in touch with the rest of the family.

As nieces and nephews were born into the family, Kathy always took time to welcome them to the world.

The nieces and nephews who lived nearby all met Favorite Aunt Kathy while still in the hospital.

As she held them for the first time, she introduced herself, "I am your Favorite Aunt Kathy."

Her words came to life through her actions. Each niece and nephew knew that they held a special place in Favorite Aunt Kathy's heart.

You can always find Favorite Aunt Kathy at birthday parties and baseball games, dance recitals and concerts, school programs and church celebrations.

Nieces and nephews who lived far away knew Favorite Aunt Kathy would send cards for every celebration and keep to up with their activities and lives from a distance.

Family vacations were the times my kids spent the most time with Favorite Aunt Kathy. Sometimes she visited us and sometimes we visited her.

The best family vacation ever was spent driving across the country with Favorite Aunt Kathy.

We stopped to see the sights along the way, visiting several of our siblings in various places.

From Kansas to California and back again, Favorite Aunt Kathy shared funny travel stories from our childhood, helped with whatever needed to be done and woke the kids with, "Rise and Shine" each morning.

Everywhere we have been with Favorite Aunt Kathy, there are special memories.

As the next generation of babies arrived in our family, Favorite Great-Aunt Kathy took her rightful place in their lives.

Favorite Aunt Kathy loves kids, especially the kids in her family.

Whether they are toddlers or teens, all of  the kids have a good time when they're with Favorite Aunt Kathy.

She's there to help with homework, offer a shoulder to cry on, cheer you up when you're down and celebrate with you when life's going well.

Kathy's also the person who has taken on the role of helping our parents as they age.

Taking our parents to doctor's appointments and helping them with tasks at home are among the ways Kathy helps.

So here's to Favorite Aunt Kathy, who helps us all in our everyday lives.

In big ways and small, through acts of kindness and love, Kathy is always there for all of her family.

In the same way, Kathy's always there to help the children she teaches.

From your siblings, parents and especially nieces and nephews, Happy Birthday, Favorite Aunt Kathy!

Thanks for being a great sister and role model for all of us. Thanks for looking out for our parents as they looked out for all of us.

May your birthday be filled with joy and blessings! And may God shower you with love as you have loved all of us.

Friday, February 21, 2014

In Good Times and Bad, God Gives Us All We Need

If you don't believe in God, your first impulse may to be skip this blog.

We don't all share the same beliefs and nobody can make you believe in God.

As with all things in life, there's a second choice. Maybe you can read the words, take away what applies and leave the rest.

I was born in 1957 into a large Catholic family and raised as a child of faith. To say that my upbringing influenced who I am today is an gross understatement.

In the late '60s, our parish priest was a 'fire and brimstone' preacher. The God he preached about was a demanding God, a non-forgiving God, a God who watched your every move waiting for 'gotcha' moments.

It's a wonder any Catholic kids of my era made it through that type of teaching still clinging to their faith. Like many teens, I went through a period of pulling away from the faith in which I was raised.

As a young married adult, church was unimportant to me and God was a fleeting thought in my mind to whom I offered prayers of request in times of need and occasional thanks during good times.

The arrival of my first child changed that completely for me.

I turned back to God with all of my heart and soul and committed to raising my child in the faith in which I was raised.

In the Catholic Church, babies are generally baptized as infants, with their parents promising to raise them in the faith.

In doing so, parents also commit to living their own faith as an example to their child. If life was that easy, this story would end here. But it's not.

Faith is a strange and mysterious virtue. According to the old Baltimore Catechism, faith is defined as “[T]he virtue by which we firmly believe all the truths God has revealed, on the word of God revealing them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”

The new Catechism of the Catholic Church defines faith in the glossary by saying it is “[B]oth a gift of God and a human act by which the believer gives personal adherence to God who invites his response, and freely assents to the whole truth that God has revealed. It is this revelation of God which the Church proposes for our belief, and which we profess in the Creed, celebrate in the sacraments, live by right conduct that fulfills the twofold commandment of charity (as specified in the ten commandments), and respond to in our prayers of faith. Faith is both a theological virtue given by God as grace, and an obligation which flows from the first Commandment of God.”

I wish I could say that I remember all of these words as taught to me or knew all of this by heart, but that wouldn't be true. I found this information through a document found in a Google search of "What is Faith Baltimore Catechism?"

God gives us a set of standards by which to live our lives.

This yard sign version of the Ten Commandments is very popular in some places.

Like nearly every person I've met, I am a sinner who has fallen short of the glory of God.

I have broken nearly every one of God's rules for life; however, He loves me and continues to shower me with His perfect and everlasting love.

Like many sinners, I try every day to rededicate myself to living by God's laws and walking the path God has chosen for me.

Until I get angry or frustrated, am tired or in pain, face challenges and doubts, deal with injustice and spite or have just had enough for one day.

Life is filled with challenges. Some are physical, some are mental, some are emotional, some are spiritual and some encompass all of these.

Today, I took a walk with God, but that wasn't really my intention.

I woke up to the beauty of the morning sky you see above. I also woke up in a lot of physical pain, the result of recent injuries.

I knew it was going to rain and wanted to get in a walk before the rain came. It would have been easiest to walk indoors at the mall, but I love the beauty of nature.

With camera around my neck, I began my short walk through the neighborhood. God showed me His majesty as soon as I walked out the door. He can paint the morning sky like a brightly-colored ball of fire, then turn the sky cloudy and gray.

All around me, the birds were singing to announce a new day.

We are each given the gift of a new day as we awaken. But it's a 'use it or lose it' gift that we often let slip through our hands.

Today, I was determined not to let my physical pain define me.

My new mantra, "Every day, in every way, I get a little bit better" ran through my head as I walked up the street and around the corner to the sidewalk on the next block.

The great American dream was spread out in front of me.

Rows of post-World War II houses like this can be seen in many neighborhoods in the United States.

When the war ended, families rebuilt their lives, building neighborhoods such as mine.

The houses were built close together, the yards were free of fences, there were front porches for sitting, yards for playing and sidewalks for walking.

Children are still a big part of the great American dream.

Those of us with grown children see the fleeting moments of our childrens' youth when we see an empty swing.

As a young parent, swings like this one meant endless hours spent pushing my child higher and higher while wishing that my child would hurry up and learn to swing without help.

Children grow up and move out to live their own lives. If you're lucky, they don't move too far away, keep in touch and eventually enrich your life with the wonderful gift of grandchildren to push in the swing.

All lives should be filled with joy and laughter. It's what God wants for us and He provides people and events in our lives to bring us joy.

From a cute turtle on a bicycle windmill to a grandchild running to you with open arms, it's easy to give thanks for the daily blessings in our lives.

If you could bottle up the joy of grandchildren to open during tough times, life would be much easier.

Sometimes you have to dig deep to find the small moments of joy that are often surrounded by sorrow, sadness, pain and tears.

Like a grumpy cat on a porch, there are people in each of our lives we wish we didn't have to deal with.

Their sole purpose in life seems to be to bring us down and discourage us.

I don't think God places these people in our lives, but He offers us new eyes with which to look at them.

For we are all God's children. The good and the bad, the kind and the spiteful were all created by the same God.

Like new buds in spring, maybe we are placed in the lives of the grumpy cat people of the world.

Maybe our place is to serve as an inspiration in their lives, to offer them encouragement and God's love.

It's just a thought, but maybe it's also a true fact.

Maybe the grumpy cats are there to force us outside of our comfort zone, to make us look beyond the familiar loving faces of family and friends, to challenge us to rise above pettiness and strife.

Each spring, the world is born anew. Grass and trees turn green. Flowers bud and bloom.

Baby birds are hatched in their nests by loving parents who protect them, then teach them what they need to know so they can fly away to create their own new lives.

As I turned at the end of the block, the rain began to fall. Slowly at first, but quickly becoming a spring-like shower.

It wasn't easy to tuck my camera inside my sweatshirt one-handed, but I managed to do it. I stood under a bare tree for a few minutes, then decided a little rain never hurt anyone.

I was pretty wet by the time I got home and was glad for the gift of a warm shower and dry clothes.

Not everyone has access to those two simple gifts we often take for granted.

As I came inside, a book caught my eye. "My Daily Journey with God" was a gift from a coworker several years ago.

The book stays on my kitchen counter along with an assortment of other items.

As I opened the book, somehow it opened to a chapter titled, "Difficult Times". I'd like to share part of this two-page devotion with you. Maybe it will make a difference in your life today.

"From time to time, all of us face difficulties, discouragement, or disappointment. When we do, God stands ready to protect us. Psalm 147 promises, "He heals the brokenhearted, and troubled, and binds their wounds." (v. 3 NASB) When we are troubled, we must call upon God, and then, in His own time and according to His own plan, He will heal us."
"Dear Heavenly Father, when I am troubled, You heal me. When I am afraid, You protect me. When I face difficulties in my life, You lift me up. You are my unending source of strength, Lord; let me turn to You when I am weak. In times of adversity, let me trust Your plan and Your will for my life. And whatever my circumstances, Lord, let me always give the thanks and the glory to You. Amen"
As I said at the end of my last blog, there are no mistakes in life. I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be right now, even though I may not understand the reasons why.

God makes all things new. Like these spring bulbs pushing up through the old leaves of autumn, God is pushing us to reach for His light as we grow in His love.

I took a walk with God today. It wasn't a long walk and, like many walks we take with God, it wasn't planned.

Take a spontaneous walk with God today. Look around you for the good. You may have to look hard to find it, but it's there.

Until the next time, I'll take what I can get when I can get it and do the best I can to face each day with a smile on my face, a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart.

Blogging Grandma Sandy, signing off for now.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Time to Heal

I'm often guilty of thinking I'm in charge of my own life. Many others think the same thing from time to time.

It's funny how God sometimes has a way of showing me that I'm not really in charge.

Since I hurt my back last summer, I've struggled with being unable to do all of the things I want to do.

I've not faced many physical limitations during my life. So to go from being able to do pretty much anything I wanted to being unable to even lift a gallon of milk has been challenging.

No twisting, bending, stooping, lifting, pushing, pulling, climbing. That's a lot of nos.

Just when it seemed that I was moving along pretty well on the path to healing, I slipped on black ice in the parking lot at work this week and chipped my right elbow bone.

So, it's back to square one in the healing process. A lot of things are more difficult to do when the use of your dominant arm is very limited.

From typing and lifting to cooking and bathing, many things in life are easier with the use of two hands. I expect to face new challenges as I grow and heal during this time of physical challenges. Today, this verse speaks to me.

From Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 KJV

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

This is my season of healing and building up, of growth and challenge, of casting away fears and embracing hope, of asking for help and accepting limitations.

As in every season of my life, this is also a season of knowing that God is with me always and that God is always good.

As I face new challenges, I will lean on God for strength, courage, patience and perseverance. I know He will answer in His time and in His way. And that's enough.

There are no mistakes in life. I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be right now, even though I may not understand the reasons why.

Until the next time, I'll take what I can get when I can get it and do the best I can to face each day with a smile on my face, a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart.

Blogging Grandma Sandy, signing off for now.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Motherhood: The Look of Love

In every mom's collection of memories, there's at least one mental image like this.

A moment when you look down at your child and the love you feel is totally overwhelming.

Motherhood is an endless series of moments in time: wiping noses and bottoms, cleaning hands and bedrooms, tying shoe laces and hair bows, making lunches and laughter, fixing broken toys and mending broken hearts.

Somewhere along the journey of motherhood, you become a different person. You become a person who's less focused on yourself and more focused on your child's happiness.

The sense of wonder and joy your child feels about life is contagious.

You see life through your child's eyes as a series of miracles and rainbows.

That doesn't mean that you don't see the chores and problems, the trials and tears.

You just look beyond the minutiae of life and see what really matters.

Maybe the look of love is passed down from mother to child or maybe it's planted deep in your soul when your child is born.

Sometimes a mom can see that look of love given from her daughter to a sibling, a fleeting glimpse into the mother her daughter will someday become.

It's hard to put into words the dreams and fears that live in a mother's heart.

It's impossible to put into words the pride and joy you feel as your child takes her first steps, accepts her diploma or walks down the aisle into marriage.

Here's a wonderful tribute to motherhood that I read several years ago that brings new tears to my eyes each time I read it.

Motherhood - It Will Change Your Life

We are sitting at lunch when she casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of "starting a family". "We're taking a survey", she says, half joking. "Do you think I should have a baby?"

"It will change your life", I say carefully, keeping my tone neutral. "I know", she says, "no more sleeping in on the weekend, no more spontaneous vacations..."

But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my friend, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing heal, but that becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will be forever vulnerable.

I consider warning her that she will never read a newspaper again without asking, "What if that had been MY child?" That every plane crash, every fire, will haunt her. That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.

I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit, and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub. That an urgent call of, "Mom!", will cause her to drop a souffle or her best crystal without a moment's hesitation.

I feel I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for child care, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting thinking uncontrollably about her baby's sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of her discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.

I want my friend to know that everyday decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy's desire to go to the men's room rather than the women's at McDonalds will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that restroom. However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.

Looking at my friend, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give it up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years - not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her children accomplish theirs.

I want her to know that a cesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor. My friend's relationship with her husband will change, but not in the ways she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is always careful to powder the baby or never hesitates to play with his child. I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.

I wish my friend could sense the bond she'll feel with women throughout history who have tried desperately to stop war and prejudice and drunk driving. I hope she will understand why I can think rationally about most issues, but become temporarily insane when I discuss the threat of nuclear war to my children's future.

I want to describe to my friend the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or cat for the first time. I want her to taste the joy, that is so real, it actually hurts.

My friend's quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. "You'll never regret it", I say finally. Then I reach across the table, squeeze my friend's hand, and offer a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all of the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this most wonderful of callings.

The blessed gift of being a Mother.

 - Attributed to Dale Hanson Bourke, Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Mothers and daughters may laugh together one moment and rage against one another the next moment.

A mother sees the best of herself in her daughter and fears that the worst of herself will also appear.

A daughter looks at her mother and sees the woman she will become - even as she tries to be her own person.

Mothers try to teach their daughters to be strong women, to speak up for themselves, to stand up tall, to behave modestly and to look to the future with confidence.

Daughters try to take shortcuts, to fit in with the crowd, to do what they want, and to avoid being smothered by maternal emotions they don't understand.

When daughters become mothers, they come to more fully understand their own mothers. As they parent their children, daughters come to appreciate the gift of their own mothers.

Daughters reach out to their mothers to understand their own daughters, to know the right words to say, to avoid fighting battles with no winners.

As the years go by, the tables are turned. Mothers age as daughters watch, helpless to stop the hands of time.

Time marches on and daughters become mothers to their own mothers. Through trial and error, a daughter tries to strike a balance between being a friend and a daughter to her mother.

The look of love between mother and daughter remains unwavering, a constant reminder of who the daughter was and who she is becoming.

Motherhood is a rich tradition, a wonderful gift shared by women around the world. Some are really good, some are very bad, but most are somewhere in between. Women becoming everything their mothers wanted them to be.

I'm so thankful for the gift of motherhood and the example of maternal love my mother provided. From mother to daughter, the gift is passed on and a new generation is born.

My story ends here for now. Until the next time, I'll take what I can get when I can get it and do the best I can to face each day with a smile on my face, a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart.

Blogging Grandma Sandy, signing off for now.