The other day, during a brief phone conversation with my daughter, I did something no parent should do in the presence of their child.
I compared someone unfavorably to someone else.
And my daughter rightly called me on it.
First of all, there was no need at all to make that comparison. I could have said the positive thing about Person B without bringing Person A into it at all.
But she went on to tell me that she’d been to a blood drive at our church just before leaving for college, and “everybody there was talking down about Person A. And this was at the church! People at church are not supposed to be doing that!”
She’s absolutely right, and she’s right to be bothered that people at a church event were gossiping, and she’s right to be bothered that I was gossiping.
I live a life fueled by adrenalin with a side of anxiety.
In short, I don’t do “slow.”
Just ask my poor husband, who strolls, ambles, and meanders along–10 feet behind the rest of the family because apparently all the kids inherited my inability to decelerate.
I’m always looking for a way to get something done–or to get somewhere–a little faster. I don’t take the highway to Little Brother’s school because that adds half a mile and about 7 traffic lights to the trip. I can get there more quickly if I drive through the neighborhoods.
Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw once tweeted:
That’s pretty much how I roll too. And yesterday on my way to Mass at Little Brother’s school (so I could be there for his test-and-dose diabetic routine after Mass) I was driving pretty urgently.
As in 41 mph in a 25 zone.
By the time I saw the police SUV, it was too late. He saw me first and followed me to the school parking lot where I foolishly parked in my usual spot–in full view of half the classrooms.
Did I mention that the police officer had his lights on?
I was polite. He took my license, registration and insurance card and went off to check SCMODS* to verify that I’d never had a speeding ticket in over 30 years of driving.
The officer, mercifully, did not give me a ticket–just a warning that I need to slow down.
Honestly, the embarrassment of being pulled over right in front of the school cost me more than any speeding ticket would have.
So what was I saying Thursday about the hours in the day?
…this Lent is going to be all about letting go of–giving up–the control I want to have over the hours in my day. Resistance is futile, but acceptance is going to be hard-won…
I feel like I go through the day always putting out fires. I only get to what’s urgent, and it’s a struggle not to assign everything to the “urgent” category. Writing these words, I can feel myself clenching up inside.
I’m on a “mission from God.” So is the police officer who handed me some grace in the form of a warning.
*”State. County. Municipal. Offender. Data. System.” If you do not recognize this quote, you need to watch The Blues Brothers. Stat.
Yesterday, as I waited for Little Brother’s coach to arrive at soccer practice, a mom whose son is new to the team parked next to me. We chatted a little about the schedule for the first game and when our boys would be starting school.
When I mentioned that Little Brother attends Catholic school, she commented that she’d grown up next door to one of the teachers from an area Catholic school that closed 7 years ago.
“Even though she was Catholic, she really wasn’t friendly at all,” this mom said of her former neighbor.
I don’t think this mom meant her comment as a slight toward Catholics. On the contrary: the implication was that Catholics should live by high standards when it comes to how we treat others. Since the mom I met last night had such high expectations of Catholics, this probably means that most of the Catholics she has encountered do live by these ideals. At least, I hope so!
Are we welcoming and helpful to newcomers?
Do we anticipate the needs of others?
Do we show concern for others?
We don’t have to be the most outgoing people in the world to evangelize by treating our neighbors as we would want to be treated.
Sometimes you can go along for years believing that a certain person is right about certain things. Whether that’s because you truly agree with them or because they exert an unhealthy influence over your opinion is not what I’m here to discuss (though it’s definitely worth examining.)
And then you find out that this person is wrong–very, very wrong–about something.
Suddenly all those other things you accepted because this person said so, and you trusted them, are suspect as well.
It happens to all of us at some point–someone we’d put on a pedestal falls flat on the ground. Along with them falls all those so-called “truths” that they’d espoused, and of which they’d tried to convince you.
The disillusionment can be tough to take. And it can take a long time to go away. But when it does, a gift is left in its place. Yes, a gift. You are now given the gift of starting over, of looking to form a new opinion, your own opinion. You can have this gift as soon as you are willing to accept it. That means, sometimes, swallowing a little pride. It requires humility and an open mind. But in the end you will be better for the experience. And you get to look at so many things in a whole new way.
(Just for the record, the person I am discussing here is not my husband or any other family member. But beyond that, it doesn’t matter who it is. What matters is that I’m letting go–and it’s long past time for that.)
In the interest of keeping to an absolute minimum the time the oven would be turned on, I got started on a baking session this evening. I needed a batch of blueberry muffins for tomorrow morning’s Secular Franciscan retreat, and I also wanted to make a pan of brownies for Middle Sister. She’s leaving for a week at the beach with a friend’s family, and I thought it would be nice if she brought along a little treat to share.
So I got out my two big batter bowls and got started on the ingredients. Right off the bat I made my first mistake by putting the wet ingredients for the muffins in the big batter bowl (dry’s supposed to go in there first!) But I figured I could make it work. And then I took the Hershey’s syrup out of the fridge–it’s the secret ingredient in my box-mix brownies. I poured a generous shot of syrup into the wrong batter bowl: the one meant for the blueberry muffins.
I’d finished off the carton of eggs in the kitchen, so I went to our spare fridge and retrieved the carton I had out there. Note to self: that was the last of the eggs. After dumping out the ruined batter, I went to crack an egg and discovered that those eggs were frozen.
My kind neighbor talked me down from the ledge, handed me two eggs to borrow, and told me that while she completely understood my reasons for attempting to bake two things at once, I shouldn’t try it again this evening. Gratefully, I accepted the eggs and the advice.
There are things that just require your full attention. Fortunately, tonight, all that was lost was a couple of eggs, some milk and some vegetable oil. But multitasking can have its price. Just ask a parent who has lost a teenage child who texted while driving.
And what about the spiritual cost? Our attention is divided enough these days. I know that when I’m trying to pray, I struggle with intruding thoughts of shopping lists, chore charts, and what I’ll be making for dinner tonight. Multitasking in other areas will only make us less and less able to lend our full attention to what really matters.
My daughter’s class went on a pre-Confirmation retreat. We drove 1 1/2 hours to the retreat house (at the beach), where the students listened to a short talk by the priest who was coordinating the day. After that, they saw a prolife video that showed how babies develop in the womb–and just how soon after conception the heartbeat, brain waves and other functions have already gotten started. Mass was next, followed by lunch, a short activity on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and then cleanup for departure.
The students were lucky to have as their retreat director Monsignor Michael Mannion, who has not only worked with Mother Theresa and been a campus minister at several universities but also has worked with Project Rachel, a group that ministers to post-abortive mothers and fathers. Msgr. Mannion and my daughter’s teacher strongly believe that it is never too early to teach children about the sanctity of life and the value of each person.
In his opening remarks to the students and later during his homily, Msgr. Mannion explained the difference between “idols” and “heroes.” Idols, he said, are people who may work very hard at what they do–but it is for their own gain. Heroes, on the other hand, work very hard so that others, rather than themselves, will benefit. He challenged this group of 30+ teenagers to strive to be heroes, rather than idols; to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit in ways that will help other people. The day closed with the famous reading about love from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
The day was definitely worth the long ride on an unheated school bus. I hope that the eighth-graders were inspired by Msgr. Mannion’s presentation and Mass today.
Yesterday I headed over to Big Brother’s high school to help process orders for their magazine sale fundraiser. I hate fundraisers like this, but it’s a way I can help during the school day, which is the best time for me to volunteer.
It was nice to meet some other moms, since I know very few parents of kids in the high school. We had some down time, and it was a chance to discuss things about our kids, and the school, and sports, just all kinds of things.
One mom was telling a horror story about a soccer game her daughter had recently played, where someone on the opposing team caused an injury to her daughter and the opposing fans were yelling, “Hit her again!”
That conversation quickly degenerated into a denigration of the other school, with statements like: “Well, after all, look where they draw their students from.” “I had to go in there one time and there were about 5 pregnant girls sitting outside the office.”
At that point I had to jump into the discussion. I let them know that for many years I have been a “homebound tutor” for several area schools including Big Brother’s high school. I’ve taught pregnant students before, and held their newborn babies while they took notes or completed tests. Some of these girls were from our school. A Catholic school.
Of course, they brushed off my comments. They were not interested in hearing about that.
Do they think that this school, because it’s a Catholic school, is naturally immune from teen pregnancy, discipline problems, and drugs? Because if that’s what they believe, if they leave it all up to the school, then they’re lying down on the job. And those problems will never go away.
One of my favorite songs to sing in church is “Only This I Want.” It’s based on one of the Epistles. Part of the song goes like this: I will run the race, I will fight the good fight So to win the prize of the Kingdom of the Lord. Only this I want, but to know the Lord And to bear His cross, so to wear the crown He wore.
This song kept coming to my mind today as I sat in a seventy-year-old National Guard Armory and watched Big Brother run the mile.
I’d never been to an indoor track meet before today. It’s a crazy environment. There’s lots of noise, starter pistols going off, bells ringing, and constant announcements being made. There are coaches yelling times as runners zip by. Parents are clapping and calling out to the runners. In the middle of all the running, there are other athletes jumping over high things and throwing very heavy things. People are moving in all directions all the time. Several athletic contests are happening simultaneously. I counted five other schools that had the same school colors as Big Brother’s, so it’s hard to tell sometimes which ones are your teammates.
And there’s a lot of sitting around, waiting for your turn. The runners are restless; they use their nervous energy pacing, jiggling, cracking knuckles. And suddenly in the middle of the garbled announcements they hear something that makes them get up and move with purpose to the table in the corner of the room to get ready for their race. Suddenly they know where to go and what to do, and they hope they can do it fast enough.
On cue, the runners line up at the starting line and wait for the pistol. They’re running a mile, so they conserve as they run. They don’t start nearly as fast as those running in the 200-meter; those kids are just a blur going by. You can watch the milers, see who is in the lead, watch them pass each other and keep track of the runner from your team. Coaches follow the runners for a bit and shout encouragement along the way.
Big Brother ran a good race. His stride was confident. He saved his energy for the end, but he had passed several runners in the middle few laps. The official clock stops showing times after the top six come in, but his coach kept track and showed him that he had not only achieved a new personal best, but beaten his goal for the day. He does not go to the meet with the goal of winning, but of doing better than he did last time. Today, he did not win–but he came in under 6:00 for the first time ever. That was his goal. He beat it by 3 seconds, coming in at 5:57.
How different are all of us from these runners? We too are in a noisy, chaotic environment. We have to listen carefully for the Voice that calls us to do what we are here to do. We must pay attention to the advice of those more experienced, with the goal in mind of achieving our own Personal Best. And only then can we win the prize.