There are no coincidences around here

Sometimes things unfold in just the perfect way, with connections made between seemingly unrelated events: there’s no other way to explain it except to acknowledge that God has put it all together, and even made some small good come out of something that started out bad.

Here’s the story.

I spent some time this weekend at an event where it became increasingly clear throughout the day that the only people welcome and the only ones whose voices would be heard were the ones who espoused a politically correct point of view (one I do not share.) Such an attitude was patently out of place, given the kind of event it was. The implicit message that I did not belong at that event because of my views was very upsetting to me.

Afterward, I reached out to a few trusted friends to ask about how I should respond to what happened. It’s certainly not an event I intend to revisit, but it’s one I’m expected to attend. Slowly, a plan began to take shape, and I felt peace about that.

On Sunday, I saw one of our deacons at Mass; he’d missed daily Mass all week (very uncharacteristic for him) so I asked if he was OK. He replied that he’d been suffering from a back problem. I figured he must have been in considerable pain, and wished him well.

Yesterday that same deacon was back at daily Mass. He normally proclaims the Gospel rather slowly and very clearly. But he was reading more slowly than usual, and it seemed like he was slurring his words a bit. (I figured he might be taking a new pain medication, and hoped he wasn’t driving if he wasn’t used to it yet.)

At the end of Mass, he couldn’t get up the aisle to leave the church without assistance. Again, I figured it must have been his back injury. Since he had a few people helping him, I continued on my way.

One of the friends whom I’d been in touch with about the weekend stopped me on my way out the door to talk about what had happened. We chatted for about ten minutes, then noticed that there was an ambulance at the other door, figured it was for the deacon, and went back into the church.

Our pastor said that the deacon’s blood sugar was very low, and that he’d eaten a candy bar and had some water.

“Candy bars are no good,” I replied. “The fat in the candy makes it slow to absorb. He needs juice first. I have some in the car.”

(Have teen with diabetes, will travel. I keep a lunchbox in my car, filled with a juice box, granola bars, peanut butter crackers, and fruit rollups or Smarties. Emergency sugar, with and without fat.)

I ran to the car and got the lunchbox, and gave the Capri Sun that was inside to the EMTs. Then we all waited some more. When the EMTs came out of the sacristy looking for milk or peanut butter, I handed them the whole lunchbox so they could take what the deacon needed. Finally, they decided he was OK to go home (with someone else driving).

The rest of us all continued on our way.

This doesn’t make what I went through over the weekend any better, but there is comfort that something good — even something little — came out of it.

PSA, since it’s National Diabetes Awareness Month:

Signs of low blood sugar

TL; DR: if I hadn’t had that bad experience over the weekend, I wouldn’t have been around Monday to help.

… all things work for good for those who love God. (Romans 8:28)

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz

There Are No Coincidences, Even On Vacation

Last week my family and I went on vacation to Myrtle Beach, SC, where this was the view from my office, located on the 19th-floor balcony of a high-rise hotel:

View from My Office 08 2015c

I could sit and look at that all day. And a lot of the time, I did exactly that.

We arrived late Saturday evening and after unpacking, got set to find a church for Mass the next morning. It made sense to go to the closest one after spending many more hours in the car than we’d planned (traffic on I-95 in Virginia was terribly slow. For hundreds of miles.)

After Mass, we were handed a bulletin on the way out, and I idly scanned it on our way back from church. That’s when I saw a familiar name in the list of announced Masses for Monday morning.

The Mass was for one of my great-aunts. She had moved to Myrtle Beach a few years ago to be near her only daughter.

She’d passed away the year before at the age of ninety-something, predeceased by her husband and daughter. Another aunt (my mom’s sister) had made a few trips to SC during Aunt Marge’s final illness to help arrange things, so I texted my cousin to tell her about finding Aunt Marge’s name in the bulletin. My cousin said that one of the parish priests was faithful in visiting Aunt Marge in the nursing home, praying with her and giving her the Sacrament of the Sick. After Aunt Marge’s death, my mom’s sister sent a donation to the parish in gratitude. She received a note of thanks that stated that the priest had dedicated that donation to several Masses for the repose of Aunt Marge’s soul.

Hubs and I made sure to get up early the next day so we could attend that Mass for Aunt Marge.

What are the odds that we’d have chosen that vacation destination, putting us closest to that church, during that very week? We couldn’t have planned it better if we’d tried.

Good thing we weren’t the ones with the plan.


Last Saturday, Hubs announced that he wanted to go on vacation to the Outer Banks.

Pretty much immediately. Except he didn’t want to miss his Sunday visit with his mom in Assisted Living, or his Sunday-night Adoration hour. So we had 36 hours’ notice to get out of town.

I did a good bit of scrambling in those 36 hours, but it was worth it, because from Monday to Friday, I got to look at this:







Little Brother and Hubs savored crabs they caught themselves.

I just savored the view.

What You See Every Day

Confession time:  I am suffering from scenery envy.

It all came to a head last night when Maria posted a very beautiful photo on Twitter.

“Do you get to see that EVERY DAY?” was my reply.

Turns out, she does.


Next week we’ll spend Thanksgiving at my sister’s house. When you look out her kitchen window, you see endless woods. And deer. And pretty rocks. She gets to look at that EVERY DAY.

Paterson Falls copyright 2012 Jackie Estrella
Paterson Falls copyright 2012 Jackie Estrella

Growing up, I had the opportunity to see this several times a week:

I miss that. I really do.

There are advantages to living here in the ‘burbs:  I have neighbors who have become good friends. We have shared joys, sorrows, pantry staples, child care, recipes and backyard pools. I live a block and a half from the nearest gallon of milk. I can walk to Target, Panera, Dunkin’ Donuts, and the post office.

But all that convenience does come at the price of beauty. I have 3 gas stations in a half-mile radius, but I don’t get a panorama uninterrupted by a looming orange Self-Storage sign.

I could wallow in self-pity that I don’t get to enjoy, on a daily basis, a Georgia lake, the North Jersey mountains, the Paterson Falls. Or I could take better notice of what I do get:  beauty on the micro scale. There are no sweeping vistas, but I have a lilac bush right outside my living-room window, with a bird feeder nestled inside. That window faces west for optimal sunset viewing. My dining room and kitchen face east, so I can see morning sunrises as I pack lunches and evening’s moonrise while I wash the dishes. I can appreciate my neighbor’s pink-flowering dogwood tree every spring. I can marvel at snowflakes collecting on empty lilac branches and tiny snowbird footprints beneath the bird feeder.

The beauty of God’s creation is both big and small. Do you appreciate the beauty in your world, in what you get to see EVERY DAY?

Bite-Sized Prayers

In the past few weeks, my family was blessed by many friends who showed up here with dinner during my hospitalization and recovery at home.  I can’t even express how wonderful it has been to be on the receiving end of a meal prepared and delivered with love.

And the kids are still raving about Sally’s Magic Chicken–as well they should.  It was delicious.

Every time a casserole dish came through my front door, I made a silent promise to myself that I would repay the favor, or at the very least, pay it forward.  But I didn’t expect that my first opportunity to do so would come quite so soon.

After yesterday’s follow-up appointment with my surgeon, I’ve been cleared to drive (though it’s still pretty uncomfortable to do that) and to increase activity gradually, except for heavy lifting.  I got back behind the wheel just in time to pick up a few ingredients for a dinner I’m making tonight for my friend Sally.

As I rolled up those turkey enchiladas, I prayed for Sally and her family.  I prayed for the soul of Sally’s recently deceased mother.  And it occurred to me that when our friends made us lasagna, pot pie, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken with spinach and linguine, homemade mac & cheese, pot roast, turkey, antipasto and that Magic Chicken, they were probably praying too.  I know that the prayers and love that were stirred into those dinners helped with my healing.  And I hope that the prayers and love that I rolled into those enchiladas help to bring peace to Sally’s heart and to her family in this difficult time.

Don’t think for a minute that delivering a meal to a family during a difficult time is a silly gesture or, worse, an unwelcome intrusion.  I was guilty of thinking that–until folks did this wonderful service for us.  Now that I know how much it means, I’ve resolved never to hesitate to help someone out in this way.

After all, there’s a prayer in every bite.

By Weight, and not by Volume

Remember the fine print on boxes or bags of snacks?  You don’t see it so much anymore–I guess we’re used to seeing half a package of air when we open something.  But it would read something like:

This product is sold by weight and not by volume.  Some settling of the contents may occur during shipping and handling.

Even as a kid, I realized that this was a lame attempt at heading off at the pass some disgruntled consumer who wanted a package full of snacks, not air.  The disclaimer was never a good thing.

I was reminded of that bit of fine print this morning when I heard the Gospel.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Stop judging and you will not be judged.  Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.  For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”  (Luke 6: 36-38)

There’s no disclaimer in that Gospel, because God’s love and God’s gifts don’t come with a disclaimer.  He doesn’t work that way.

If you bake, you know that weight and volume are not the same in terms of quantity.  In fact, they can be very different.  Depending on how much you “shake down” the cup of flour, you can get about another 1/4 cup in there.  The same is true with brown sugar–“pack” it down and you can really increase the quantity.  Too much (or too little) flour or brown sugar or any other ingredient can really mess up the finished product.  That’s why expert bakers insist on measuring by weight rather than by volume.

It’s a good thing that God is not a baker, though, because Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that God is not concerned by volume when it comes to love, mercy, forgiveness.  He’s going to pack in as much as our cups can hold–and then some, until they are overflowing.

And all that is expected in return is that we try to do the same for the others we encounter.


Monday, Monday

…can’t trust that day…

Normally I like Mondays because they signal the beginning of a new week.  Everyone is back to work or school and my house is quiet again and it’s back to routine.

I love routine.  It makes my world go ’round.

Mrs. C with my kids, 2004

Today was not a routine Monday.  No one had work or school.  Instead, Middle Sister and I had a funeral to attend (I know!  Another one!!)  This funeral was for the son of the lovely woman who babysat Middle Sister twice a week when she was 4 and I had a part-time teaching job.  At the time, Mrs. C was mourning the loss of her husband, who’d had Alzheimer’s; she had cared for him at home for the better part of a decade.  Middle Sister kept her company, learned to play Chinese checkers, took walks around the block with her, and discovered the magic of microwave pancakes thanks to Mrs. C.  With her own grandparents living upwards of 75 miles away, Middle Sister adopted Mrs. C as an extra grandmother.

Today Middle Sister towered over her former babysitter, who had stayed with Big Brother and Middle Sister the night Little Brother was born.  Today, as always, Middle Sister was quick to hug Mrs. C.  And after we sat down in our pew, Middle Sister wondered if she might be needed as an altar server.  Since the parish school closed, they haven’t had servers for funerals (that’s 8 years ago now.)  Usually one of the deacons, or Mrs. Deacon, or a member of the Bereavement Committee does the job.  But Middle Sister purposefully marched to the sacristy, high heels and all, and asked if she could help.

It was a full-court press on the altar today, with two priests (present and former pastors), one deacon, one server, and another deacon “behind the scenes” babysitting the incense.

The former pastor, whom I haven’t seen in almost 10 years, greeted me as he walked by my pew before Mass.  “How are your kids?” he asked me.  I replied that one of them was his altar server for the Mass.  He looked puzzled until I mentioned her name.  “OH MY GOD!!!!!!” was his response.  He hadn’t seen her since kindergarten.  She’s grown a bit in 10 years.

Being at that Mass today, listening to that former pastor pray and preach was healing for me.  Some priests are good administrators.  Others are good in ministry to the sick and the bereaved.  This priest definitely falls into category “B.”  Unfortunately, all of my dealings with him while he was our pastor were in category “A.”  There was a lot of hurt that I’ve been carrying around for about 12 years now, hurt caused by administrative decisions this priest made that I took personally.

Middle Sister isn’t the only one who’s grown in the past 10 years.

I left that church carrying the burden of grief for Mrs. C, for her daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, and newborn great-granddaughter.  I left behind the burden of hurt that I’d been carrying around, for no good reason, for more than a decade.

I had no idea, walking into that funeral, that once again I’d be made proud of the young woman my daughter is becoming, and that I’d be able to let go of something I didn’t need to lug around in the first place.

In your kindness, remember the C. family as they grieve, and pray for eternal rest for Tom, who made serving God through others his life’s work–and his life’s joy.


The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord will be celebrated on Sunday, January 8 this year.

That means you’ve got time to plan ahead; get some holy water and some blessed chalk (your priest or deacon can bless it for you) and prepare to bless your home this weekend.

A time-honored Catholic tradition is the blessing of the home at Epiphany.  We remember the visit of the Magi to the home of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

LEADER:  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

LEADER:  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us.  It is Jesus who enlightens our hearts and homes with his love.  It is Jesus who is our source of hope, joy and comfort.  May all who enter this home find the light and love of Jesus Christ.  Let us listen to the word of God:
                In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of an only Son coming from the Father, filled with enduring love.

ALL:  Our Father, who art in Heaven…

LEADER:  Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only son to every nation by the guidance of a star.  Bless this house and all who live here.  May the light of Jesus shine from this house so that others may find their way to your light and your love.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We sprinkle holy water in each room of the home.

We conclude by using the blessed chalk to mark, above the doorway, the initials of the three Magi, surrounded by the numbers of the current year and separated by small crosses:  20+K+M+B+12

The above blessing service is the one that is used by members of our parish.  This year the Secular Franciscans prepared 450 blessing kits that included this prayer, a container of holy water and a piece of blessed chalk.  It looks like we’ll need to prepare even more for next year–these went quickly!

Here is another very simple prayer that you can use to bless your home.  A friend shared it on Facebook:

Heavenly Father, walk through my house, and take away all worries and illness, and please watch over and heal my family and friends. Bring quiet where there is chaos, bring light where there is darkness and put love in our hearts. Amen.

Finally, Esther shares a beautiful home blessing service.

Take your pick–and make it a family tradition to bless your home this (and every) Epiphany!

Cast Your Cares Upon Him

“Cast your cares upon Him.”

That was one of the messages in today’s first reading.

“Cast your cares upon Him.”

This was the first time all week that I’ve been able to get to Mass, and the reading was just what I needed to hear.

“Cast your cares upon Him.”

I was in my usual Worry Over What Might Happen Even If It’s Really Unlikely mode, all day long today.

“Cast your cares upon Him.”

Tonight at our Secular Franciscans meeting, our ongoing formation centered on Mary. A theme that kept coming up in the discussion was her great trust, and the example she sets for us with the trust she displayed.

“Cast your cares upon Him.”

If I’m worrying over what might happen, I’m not doing too much trusting, am I?

“Cast your cares upon Him….and He will lift you up.”

Finally as the meeting closed and we chatted while we cleaned up the room, I was lifted up. I laid down my cares and some wonderful friends reassured me. I wonder if my sisters in Francis know that their words and kindness meant so much.

“Cast your cares upon Him.”

We were truly not meant to carry our cares all alone.

“Cast your cares upon Him.”