Thursday, August 29, 2013

Man! Do I Make Good Chili!

I know this blog is Do Not Be Anxious, and yet some of what I write seems to make you anxious -- and me too, for that matter.  And so sometimes we must turn our thoughts to lighter matters, to ease the tensions of the day.

Man!  Do I make good chili!!! 

Yes, it took me seven hours, and yes I was interrupted for two hours helping mom's former caregiver move to her new apartment, but NOTHING could make this day anxious.

Man!  Do I make good chili!!!!

After morning mass and a stop at the coffee shop, this day has been a chili one --- and I'm not talking about the weather.  The seven gallons of chili I made should last me the first part of the winter (and I think there will be at least one more "chili day" this fall.)  When it was finally "just right," the two huge bowls I had for breakfast/lunch/dinner tonight made the full day's work all worth while. 

After I had my dose, I took a large container over to the neighbor's; I know Josh and Megan love hot chili, and so I have to take care of them.  After all, I do practice "Love Your Neighbor," because the Bible tells us so, and oh, did I ever mention he's a wine distributor?  (I give him something to warm his insides; he gives me something to warm mine.)

I hope your day was as pleasant as mine, today.

It'll be almost a sad thing to put all those containers of chili into the freezer later, but I did retain a large pot-full in the fridge for later this week. 

Man!  Do I make good chili!!!!!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why Didn't I Notice That?

I was on my way back from the book store this morning, having replenished my stack of used books (buy 20, get 1 free), when I caught the end of Fr. John Riccardo’s hour on Ave Maria Radio.  I don’t know the focus of the whole talk, but when I turned on the car radio he was speaking about how Jesus is there for us when we need Him.
Fr. John spoke about how Jesus said: “My burden is easy and my yoke light.”  He explained that Jesus was referring to the yoke typically worn by a pair of oxen, who pull together.  When Jesus said that His yoke was light, it referred to the fact that He helps us carry our burdens.  We pull through the difficult times together, “and,” Fr. John explained, “if we find ourselves feeling like we just can’t bear the burdens of our life, perhaps we need to ask ourselves the question:  are we pulling too much of the load?  Jesus is there to take some of the burden off our shoulders, if we let Him.” 
That is always a good reminder, especially for those days when nothing seems to go right. 
But then Fr. John continued.  “You know that in the movie the Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson deliberately illustrates those words of Jesus.  When Simon is depicted as helping Jesus to carry His cross, something strange happens that is not seen in other similar movies.  Every time Jesus falls with His cross, Simon falls.  We think of the story as Simon helping Jesus with His cross, but in the movie it is Jesus who is bearing the heavier load, easing Simon’s burden.  And so when Jesus falls, all the weight of the cross then transfers to Simon, who cannot bear it and so he also falls.”  Even in His Passion, Jesus was carrying the cross for us, carrying part of our load.
Huh!  I watched that movie every Holy Week since it was first released.  Why didn’t I ever notice that subtle message? 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Can I Save My Marriage?

For those who seek answers to their questions in Tweets of 140 characters or less, let me be brief.  The answer to the title question is:  No.
But for those of you who may think the subject is important enough to spend more than 10 seconds of your time, you may find something of value here, if you would read a bit further.
The speaker to our small Tuesday morning men’s group today was the deacon who presided over our opening Communion Service.  He also is the local high school football coach, and his talk today was about the important things and moments in our life, and not surprisingly he based his talk on the lessons he tried to teach his young football players.
The coach said he emphasizes to his team that in every game there are three or four plays which decide the game’s outcome.  If those plays didn’t happen as they did, the outcome would be different.  He told us how his team had a particular rival school which, more than any other, they wanted to beat.  And in the last three years in row, they did beat this rival --- by a total of seven points.  In each of those last three games, it was only ONE key play made the difference in the outcome.  He said he emphasizes this fact to his players often, and the key point which must be remembered:  you don’t know which play that will be a crucial one, and so you must play each down in the game as if it were the most important. 
He gave us an example where his team was leading near the end of the game, when suddenly things seemed to turn around.  Up by only two points, the opposing team marched right down the field.  His team was very tired and didn’t seem to have the energy left to stop them.  With less than a minute to go, the other team was on the two yard line.  Even if they were to stop them on the next play, that team would almost certainly kick a field goal to win the game --- almost certainly.  But then ….. the opposing team fumbled the handoff, and the smallest man on his team’s defensive squad, who hadn’t tackled anyone the whole game, snuck under the pile and recovered the fumble.  His team got the ball back and ran out the clock to win the game.  Smiling the coach told us how that day when he reminded the team in the locker room after the victory how “in every game there are three or four plays which decide the game’s outcome” and they can never give up, they REALLY understood it.
The importance of giving our all each minute applies to more than a football game, the deacon in him told us; it applies to our lives.  He told us of a survey which discovered that 99.6% of marriages where the couple pray together daily, DO NOT end in divorce.  Nothing in this life is certain, but … 99.6%?  That sure sounds like a certain thing.  But then the coach in him began speaking:  no, even that is not a sure thing.  He pointed out that prayer is not really an event, like it rained yesterday, but many of us want to treat prayer that way.  We want to relate to God in an event-by-event fashion. “Okay, God, I’ll pull the weeds in the garden, and then you make it rain.”  Or, “I won’t comment on how late dinner is tonight, and you make my wife stop nagging me.”   We may pray for things or events --- and at some time or another, we all do --- but prayer is not really an event driving action, like turning the key in the ignition and having the car start.  Prayer is a conversation with God, a two-way conversation, which implies a relationship, something that is built over time.
The coach gave the example of his boys working out in the weight room.  Coming into the room for the first time, some 98-pound weakling may set a target of lifting 500 pounds.  That might be a reasonable goal for him, but almost certainly he will not achieve it that first day --- even with prayer.  Building muscle occurs over time.  It takes patience and persistence, and a strong desire for the outcome.  And even if you have these things, perhaps it still might not be possible ---- achieving 100% of YOUR goal.  But the thing is, the coach pointed out, that along the way to what you may perceive as a failure, there may be many good things happening.  Getting stronger, you may be able to run faster, and in a football game you might now be able to run down that opponent with the ball before he scores.  Getting more endurance, it might be you who best that lineman from the other team at the game’s end, tackling their quarterback and saving the game.  These are game-changing plays, one of only three or four in a game, which now you can accomplish because of your efforts in the weight room --- even if you didn’t meet the goals you set.  In the weight room, or in prayer, it is persistence that matters, and a strength we did not know we needed may be there when we need it most.  And we can change the outcome in the game of our life.
The deacon said it is only in the movies that people say “That’s the day we fell in love.”  Real love grows, and perhaps a truer statement might be: “That’s the day we realized we were in love.”  Regarding marriage, if you want a truly successful marriage, one which will last a lifetime, surveys say you can achieve that 99.6% of the time, if you pray together every day.  It’s not an event promise with the Lord: “We’ll pray together each day --- that’s our part, Lord, and then YOU make our marriage work.”  There is no I and you with the Lord; prayer is a relationship.  It is a “WE.”  Even with daily prayer, I don’t make my marriage work; it works when we cooperate with the Lord.  When we give, through prayer, the Lord permission to enter our marriage, to be part of the marriage; that is what strengthens the marriage.  And it doesn’t happen in an instant.  Like the weight room training, good results come through patience, persistence, and a strong desire for the good outcome.
The deacon commented on the prayers our little group had said before his talk.  He was impressed.  Among those we prayed for was the granddaughter of one of our group who, two years ago, we had helped send to teach orphans in Ghana, Africa.  After a year there she came back to Michigan and entered college for two years, but the yearning for her family there was strong, and so she went back this summer to see how they were doing.  The small school she had started before she left the first time had grown significantly (Ghana has no public school system), and in the short time there, she now had formed a non-profit organization to support it --- with an amazing cast of volunteers who emerged to serve on its board, to ensure the school’s success.  The deacon was pleased how we had taken up a collection, we had prayed, and how we, with this young woman and God, were cooperating to make a huge difference in many lives.  (You can read about Kathleen on her blog at:   An opportunity had occurred for each of us, a “game-changer,” that rarely comes in a life, and we had played the game --- and prayed the game --- with persistence.  It’s what a life well-lived is about, making a difference, cooperating with God.
Coach told us how this year the seniors on his team will do a “different” half time show during one game.  During the halftime break, the seniors will give witness to “the big plays” of their lives.  They hope to show how they, in their young lives, have made a difference in this world, because they wanted to, they prayed, they persisted and they cooperated with God.  And by their witness, they hope to be a “game-changer” to even one life in the stands.  They truly have recognized the importance of each moment.
“Can I Save My Marriage?” was the title question to this blog posting, and I answered: No.  Marriage is a process and it is a cooperation, with your spouse and with God.  You alone can’t save it.  For marriages in trouble, there are marriage renewal weekends and marriage support groups and marriage counselors --- some very good ones who can make a huge difference, if you and your spouse attend and work with them.  But a good marriage isn’t just about two people; it includes a relationship with God.  Praying every day together has been shown to make marriages work, but the work itself will take time and persistence.  And you might be surprised what happens along the way. 
Even if you have to get up early each morning and pray alone --- in the beginning, great progress can be made if you are but willing to start this relationship with God in your marriage --- and not expect answers in 140 characters or less. 
I have it on good authority: the pope may, but God doesn’t Tweet.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

You Don’t Know What My Life is Like

On the way to the chapel tonight, I listened to the radio as a soldier told of the horrors of war that he had lived through.  He described how some soldiers’ minds shut down in the face of those horrors, and how they ceased to function.  “Not insane, and not cowards in the face of battle, they were just shocked.  And later some of these same men came back and became decorated heroes.”
Sitting in the quiet of the chapel later, just God and I, I thought how sometimes I felt in a “different” situation than those around me.  I was not shocked into inaction like the soldiers described, but still I felt myself in a place of “loneness.”  And while I can calmly think on this now, I realized that many of us are, at times, in this unique situation where we feel like no one understands us, and perhaps we may even scream in reaction to it at those around us: “You don’t know what my life is like!”  It is so maddening sometimes.
A true statement, screamed in anger, and like many of the statements we make in anger, it’s one we really don’t expect an answer to.  “I lost my job.  My loved one died.”  These might be true statements also for us at one time or another, but what response can anyone give to those words?  That they’re false?  Or the usual statement of empathy: “I understand,” (but they really don’t)?  Or the common response given by many Christians: “I’ll pray for you?”  None of those responses satisfy the root cause of our anger and frustration and so we want to say: “You don’t know what my life is like!!” --- and at the same time we can’t bring ourselves to say words of our real feeling: “I feel so alone.”
That is the truth, and there is no adequate response to that truth either.  There are many events and situations in life which impact us very personally, and because we are unique beings, by definition no one can know what we feel.  I’d like to tell you that when that happens you should not scream in anger at others, but that you should just deal with it.  But in this calm quiet of the chapel, I realize that, sometimes, we can’t “just deal with it.”
I heard the story of the soldiers whose minds shut down; their bodies couldn’t deal with a horror beyond their comprehension.  Most of us don’t shut down despite the “horrors” that impact us, but to some degree we all DO deal with it.  Sometimes we have to.  And to some degree our triggering “horrors” (and anger reactions) aren’t always physical events, like death, but often are our reaction to ways of thinking foreign to our own.  And we find those hard to “deal with.”
Sometimes we’re shocked by what someone says or does in a situation --- that’s not the way we think.  But if we have some degree of wisdom (or have some quiet time in the chapel to think on these things), we may realize that sometimes people look at US also and reflect: “That’s not the way WE think.”  And that doesn’t make them --- or us --- “bad” or “wrong,” just thinking differently.
I’ve written recently about some of the unique thinking of Muslims.  In the past, I’ve written about the unique thinking I’ve perceived among blacks or among liberals, thinking that in some situations is very different than my own.  And certainly I’ve reflected in the past on how differing values, education, and closeness to God impact our marriages, and our relationships with those around us.  Whether grouped by religion, by color, by cultural background, or by life situation (like war), we can be different from others in ways sometimes beyond our understanding.  And sometimes in our own uniqueness, we are different from everyone else, beyond their understanding.  This is life, and we HAVE TO deal with it.
I watched a movie the other day about a woman whose child was kidnapped, and never found.  The story followed how “she lost it,” and then gradually “dealt with it,” although her pain never went away.  And her husband and other children never really understood her pain.  (And, yes, she screamed at one point: “You don’t understand!!”)  But the movie made YOU the viewer “think” about the situation, and to some degree you DID understand her pain.  Would that we could all see the difficult situations of our lives, or the lives of others, as objectively as shown in that movie.
I went on a charity golf outing this past week.  It was a huge event, and the golf play was exceptionally slow, so my partner and I often set the golf cart in a shady spot while we waited for our turn, and we talked.  He was a businessman, as I was, with a family, and who went to the same church I often did.  We knew many of the same people, and had much in common to talk about.  But when I mentioned that I was reading von Hildebrand’s book, The Nature of Love, he joked: “Why would you want to read something that heavy?”  He voiced a quick one sentence definition and said: “That’s what love is.  There’s nothing else to say.”
My response to him was equally quick, mentioning the value of philosophers from Socrates’ time to today whose words help us consider what is important in life --- and why.  At that brief moment of our conversation I quickly realized that this man, this good man, had a certain view of life, formed over many years, which differed markedly from mine.  That difference could have been a point of discussion or argument, but it wasn’t.  It was neither the time nor the place for such a discussion --- and perhaps it never will be.
Just because someone is different from us in thinking or understanding doesn’t mean we have to “convert” them.  My Catholic understanding of life certainly says I am to make a difference in this world, to “evangelize” if you like that term, but I believe I do that more in actions than in words --- although words are necessary in some circumstances, to some degree.  I’d like to think I said just enough on the golf course.  Now it’s up to him --- and God --- if he would gain value in his life by seeking to understand things more as I do.  But, perhaps in God’s wisdom, that is not important for him, for the unique being that he is, in the unique situation that he is in.  He and his life are not the same as mine.
I think that it is a wise and loving thing when we can accept that others may be different from us, and we don’t need to make war on them to demand they think as we do.  Sometimes we may think that is proper, because we believe that the way we think, and our thoughts, are soooo important.  But I think it diminishes our uniqueness, the way God made us to be, to think that we’d want everyone else to be like us.  It would be denying the importance God places on us.  We each are uniquely His creation.
“You don’t know what my life is like” is sometimes said in frustration to others.  We’d like them to change somehow.  But, as I pointed out, that statement is a true one; we each are unique.  They can’t change to fully understand us, because they are not us.  Only we are.  And the only persons we can change are ourselves.
 The example of the soldier in shock reminded me of my experience with my mom’s dementia.  Often in the evenings it got noticeably worse, a syndrome so common it has a name: Sundowner’s Syndrome.  And so some nights she got so confused that she didn’t even know me, but then would come bedtime, a night’s rest, and then like the soldier, the next day her mind “re-set,” and she was back to normal.
Wouldn’t that be a great thing if we could all re-set our troubled minds?  The thing is, to some degree I think we can, if we want to.  Most of the shocks of our lives are not as serious as the soldiers’ or mom’s, nor perhaps as “un-serious” as the conversation on the golf course.  But they are usually closer to the golf course situation in that we CAN think about our situation.  We don’t have to get angry; we don’t have to vent to our friends and family.  We CAN be a thinking being --- and even if we don’t think too well, we can turn to those who do.
It was Jesus who said: “Do not be anxious.”  He was a pretty wise man, and he said lots of other equally wise words.  Perhaps we should read them more often.  There are other wise men too, whose thoughts you can read, and there are experts on certain life situations, like dealing with grief or marital difficulties or depression, whose writings are readily available.  And if you are not a reader, there are people who can explain situations from various viewpoints, who are trained to help you see your uniqueness and your unique situation, and how to deal with it.
And yes, there are people who will just listen, if you just can’t bring your mind to try to understand why your life is as it is, a “horror” that no one else understands.
And one of those who would just listen is God. 
I am absolutely sure that I don’t know what your life is like, nor do you mine.  But we have so much in common.
And to be honest, I’m kind of relieved that no one else is like me.  : - )
Do not be anxious.  It’s a good thought to start with when we’re feeling overwhelmed or angry. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

You're Worth The Trouble

It is good that you exist.
You’re worth the trouble.
Intellectually, I like that first definition of Love, but in my heart I like the second.  The first is an affirmation of you, of who you are in your essence, while the second is what I am willing to do with that knowledge:  Anything.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.