Tony

Tony
My brother in law Tony helping the poor

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Favorite Things....

Oprah Winfrey does a show every year where she introduces all of her favorite things (gifts and gadgets) that she loves.  The purpose of the show is to sell the products or items that she has been given throughout the year.  If she likes your product it is included on the show.  At the end of the show she usually announces that everyone in the audience will receive all of the products that were highlighted on that show.  It is met with an overwhelming applause and great appreciation.


I also have a list of my favorite things to give this Christmas time and I would like to share that list with you today.  So here it goes, Joyce's Top 10 Presents to Give this Christmas:


10.  A surprise gift!  It can be anything, but don't tell them you are getting them a gift, just go out and buy them something they might have always wanted without expecting anything in return.


9.  A gas card and a grocery store gift card.  Buy one of each and put them into a Christmas card and then into a needy neighbor or friend's mailbox.  They will flip!  Remember to sign it, From Kris Kringle.


8.  A Honey Baked Ham.  This can be the real deal or a gift certificate.  Deliver it to a family whose parents have been out of work.  If they have to make dinner for Christmas it will be a BIG relief on the family budget.  They don't have to be poor, just down on their luck right now.


7.  A spouse spa day.  At some point after the holiday's, surprise your wife with a gift certificate to a local spa for a day of relaxation.  Dean, if your reading this, this would be big brownie points!


6.  A do-it-yourself-day.  If you have a friend who has been sick or overwhelmed, why don't you write her a nice note in a Christmas card that promises that you will come over and clean her house.  It is a fabulous gift that won't cost you a cent!


5.  Deck the Halls.  Put up pictures of your kids in every room, include their old drawings and art projects from when they were little.  When they come home from school they will be floored!


4.  Plan a mission trip.  Everyone knows I do mission trips to El Salvador.  Think about setting aside a week next year to visit a third world country.  It's not just for Hollywood movie stars you know.  It will give you something to look forward to all year and when it's over you'll have a whole new outlook on life.  I promise.


3.  Get carried away.  Let someone do something wonderful for you!  It's easy to think that we must always be in control and do for others, but it is truly humbling to ALLOW someone to do something for you.  (I admit I have trouble with this one.)


2.  Take a class.  It's never to late to learn.  Spend some time this year studying something you always wanted to learn, like a language or cooking class, or even more important, study the Bible this year!


And the number 1 gift to give this year.......are you ready for this......


Here it goes.......


You're gonna love it.......


YOU!!!  


God gave you life for a reason, now what are you going to do with it??


Don't sell yourself short, you are a gift to this world, maybe it's time you shared it?


Peace of Christ be with you all this Christmas season.  May you truly come to know the real meaning of Christmas in 2011. 


FELIZ NAVIDAD!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saints and Veterans - What do they have in common?

Happy Veteran's Day!!  I especially want to wish my brother John a great day.  John served in the Vietnam War in the late 60's, early 70's.  I was merely 5 years old when he returned (thank God) to us, and a good thing he did!  He has been such an asset to this country, not just in his service, but as a citizen as well.  John is my oldest brother, someone I have always looked up to and has never let me down.  Thank you God for my brother John!  In honor of my brother I thought I would share this story with you.  It is a story of courage AND faith.

Last Thanksgiving my nephew had come home for a holiday visit and was all excited to tell us about his new girlfriend (by the way, they are now engaged).  As we were sitting around the rather large dining room table surrounded by cozy decor and music, my nephew mentioned to me that even though he still considers himself Catholic he doesn't really "believe in all the Catholic stuff."  "Like what," I asked?  Across the table my oldest brother shot his wife a look like "ah ha...we got us another one!"  You see, my brother and his wife belong to Parkside Church, a ginormous non-denominational church on the east side.   My brother was born and raised Catholic like all of us but I think after his divorce he figured it was just easier to switch faiths rather than going through a long drawn out annulment process.  But that's just my opinion. 

Anyhow, my nephew proceeds to tell me that he doesn't understand why we have to believe in or pray to saints.  Of course there is nothing that says we as Catholics have to pray to the saints but we do recognize them.  In fact, there is a saint for every day of the week on our Catholic Calendars, and of course we recognize our patron saints for particular vocations, and whatnot, but there is no "worshiping" of saints. 

Yet I understood my nephew's question and wanted help him understand it better, so I looked to my brother, the ex-Vietnam veteran for inspiration.  My response to my nephew's question was simply this;  My brother (his uncle) is truly a great man and a great inspiration to me.  He is a man who selflessly fought in the Vietnam War and was highly recognized for his bravery and courage.  I thought, how wonderful it is that we have such a terrific monument erected in our nations capital to recognize the bravery of all these great men and women especially those who gave their lives so that we can continue to enjoy the freedom we have today!  It is because of this example that we remember our saints and honor them as well.  If it were not for their bravery and courage we would not be able to enjoy the religious freedom we have come to take for granted. 

How can we dismiss the people who have given their lives for our freedom, religious or constitutional?  When you deny or ignore the saints you are also ignoring history.  I would no more want people to forget the men and women who serve to protect our political freedoms than those men and women who have served to protect our religious freedoms.  How sad it is that we give more honor to veterans of political wars than we do to veterans of religious wars?  We don't pray to our political veterans or worship them either but we do remember them.  Like our saints, we even have a special day marked on our calendar in "honor" of them. 

There are many things that people of other faiths,even Catholics for that matter, find strange, but in all of our persuit for a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" I think we forget that we are not him.  Allister Beggs, the very articulate and entertaining pastor at Parkside Church bellowed during his latest Christmas concert, "it's all about your personal relationship with Jesus."  Well, my question to him is, if all that matters is my relationship with Jesus Christ, what do I need him for?  

One time I said to him as I walked into his HUGE mega church, "where is your crucifix and alter?"  He replied, "we don't worship icons here."  "Then what do you call those big screen televisions?" I replied.  

You may think our methods are archaic and silly but I'd rather be silly and found than contemporary and lost!  

Friday, October 29, 2010

National Do-over Day!

Remember when you were a little kid playing Hide-n-seek or some other great childhood game, and when you lost you would scream out, "DO OVER!"  Well how come we can't do that anymore?  Is there some rule written some where in the "How To Be a Proper Adult" manual that says we can NEVER have a "do over?"

I declare today to be National Do-over Day!  What about regrets?  Most of us will never really know what we regret until we are on our death bed, then we'll say, "I really wish I had been nicer to so-and-so", or, "If I had only done this, or not done that..."  For Catholics, we believe that making a good confession is a practical way to start over.  In my own personal experience I have found confession to be a wonderful cleansing and healing process for the things I should have done better.  But not everything I regret was sinful.  Some things were just bad choices.  For the most part, I regret dumb things like some of the people I have had the displeasure of knowing, or maybe a job that was super disappointing.  I really don't have too many "huge" regrets...well, a few biggies just popped into my head.

That aside, I think it's time for me (and maybe you?) to take real stock of our lives, to think about those people in our lives who have never really appreciated us or treated us the way they should have, or have taken advantage of us, and recommit ourselves to those people who truly love us and treat us with respect.  I don't know about you, but those are the people I have often neglected and I really don't know why.  Perhaps we are the kind of person who seeks approval...from EVERYBODY, even those people who don't love or care about us, or maybe we are people-pleasers and we can't stand it if we think someone doesn't like or approve of us.  It really doesn't matter, for my do-over day, I want to remember those people who have remembered me, who take the time to call me, and when they do call me, they take the time to ask me how I am.

The other day I received a phone call from an acquaintance.  She seemed very flustered and in a hurry.  We finished our "business" and when I hung up the phone I said to myself, "Oh, I forgot to ask her how she was doing!" Then I realized that she never asked me either.  We are always in a rush, always bragging about how "busy" we are, always tooting our own little horn, aren't we?  Well when I am on my death bed I really don't want to regret being too self-indulgent.  I think it is something we all do from time to time, some more than others.  When I hear people talking like that I wonder to myself, "do they have any idea how bad they sound to the other person?  Here's a news flash people, nobody cares!  Nobody wants to hear about your job for an hour, or the "running around" with your kids you had to do.  We all do the same, if not more, we're not impressed!

To be interesting to others you should take the time to ask them about themselves.  Once someone asks you, keep your responses short unless you can sense they want you to go on.  One day I decided to put this to a test.  Try it yourself and let me know your results.  I would be most curious.  One morning I woke up and decided that each and ever phone call or visit I got that day would be different.  I only asked the person about themselves, I said nothing about myself.  I wanted to see if the other person would notice that the entire conversation was designed around them, and to see if that made them eventually feel uncomfortable enough to turn the conversation around and ask me questions, or if they would just continue talking about themselves until the conversation ended.  (Let me tell you, this is great to try at parties...it's a real hoot!)

The results, each and every person I spoke to that day, with exception of my husband, spent 90% of the conversation on themselves.  Even when I tried to talk about something going on in my world, they would say something like, "oh, that happened to me and this or that happened..."  It's amazing.  Most of the conversations did end with the other person asking me a yes or no question about myself before I hung up or walked away.  I think people do that so that they can leave the conversation feeling like they were considerate.  Not.

I need a do-over.  I need to start treating people the way I want to be treated.  I want to apologize to all the people out there that I have neglected or mistreated in some way.  I want to be considerate of others.  Lord help me accomplish this because I have NO patience!  Empathetic.  That is what I need to be....but how :(  I want to be heard, I want to be accepted, I want to be loved just like everyone else.  But with all our neediness, nobody is getting anything!  We're like a bunch of drifters floating from person to person hoping that someone will care about us.  So, I am going to be a better lister, and in return, I think I am going to remind people when they are not being good listeners...it's only fair, right?  :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Imperfect Perfection

This weekend we celebrated my eldest son's 16th birthday with a big clambake at our house.  We had about 45 people over for the event including about 15 teenage girls and boys.  One thing I noticed was how comfortable people must feel when they come to our house.  My one girlfriend brought her teenage daughter and she bought 2 of her friends.  My other girlfriend brought her teenage daughter and she brought her boyfriend.  My sister brought her husband and another couple I didn't know was coming.  In the end, it made me feel good that people felt comfortable enough to bring others to my house without worrying that I would be upset.

We had PLENTY of food of course as any good Italian home would.  In fact, we ended up sending more food home with others then we did consuming that night.  It was great to see so much of my family and so many of my friends all together.  It was a great time.  One thing that didn't go so well was the timing of the clams.  The guy who helped us set up our steamer told us that the clams only take about 20 minutes to open, but we must not have had the heat up high enough or something because it took 2 hours!  Everyone ate earlier and then when the clams were done they wolfed those down.  (I heard they were delicious!)  It was a great party, but it wasn't perfect.  It sort of made me wonder if the party would have been better if it were perfect?

While we waited for the clams to cook, some us sat outside by the fire while others were inside watching the Ohio State game, and the teens were in the basement doing whatever it is that teenagers do.  We all had a chance to talk and socialize and be together.  I think if the clams were done on time the people would have ate them and then left pretty quickly like they always do, so screwing up the timing ended up being the best thing in the long run.  People stayed until very late and it looked like everyone had a great time.

This experience has reminded me that people can make the mistake of trying to be too perfect.  I know a lot of people with kids, and I have to say, I think it is so sad to see parents who try to force their kids to be/look perfect for the sake of what others think.  What is the point of that?  In a way, I think some parents think that if other parents look at their kids as perfect then maybe adults will look at them as perfect.  In doing so, I think kids miss out on being kids.  Everyone needs to have a little 5 year old fun sometimes.  Jesus says in Matthew, "unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  OK, I know Jesus isn't really talking about "acting childish" but He is not putting children down either.

A few times at my clambake I looked through the window of our basement to see what the kids were up to and it was cute.  At one point about 8 of them were sitting on one couch.  I had to go down there and separate them, but they were having fun.  I have to try and remember that high school is a only a 4 year term, then it is off to college and the real world.  I hope my kids have fun and remember high school with fond memories, and make long and lasting friendships like I did.  They have the rest of their lives to prove to the world that they are the best and ever so perfect....not.  Nobody is perfect and sometimes that is the best thing about us!

There are two movies that I love that talk about our misconception of being perfect.  The first movie is my all time favorite, Moonstruck.  Near the end of the movie Nicholas Cage is trying to convince Cher that she should break her promise to her fiance (Cage's brother) and marry him (Nicholas Cage).  He says (and I paraphrase) "Love isn't perfect.  The moon and the stars are perfect, but people and love are not perfect.  We are here to make mistakes and screw everything up."  Cher could have tried to be perfect and ended up marring the wrong man, but when she messed things up, everything worked out.  Another great line is from the movie, Good Will Hunting.  In this movie, Matt Damon (Will), falls in love but is too afraid to ask the girl out because he doesn't want to find out that the girl of his dreams isn't really perfect.  Robin Williams, who is Will's shrink, says something like this to him, "You're not perfect sport, and let me save you the suspense, this girl you met, she's not perfect either.  The question is, are you perfect for each other?"

In Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams goes on to talk about how imperfect is wife was (who died of cancer), but he also says that her imperfections were the "good stuff" in their marriage.  Those are the things that make us individuals, unique.  Why would anyone, especially a parent, want to take their child's individuality away in order to have a clone or a reflection of themselves, someone they wish they could be?  I would love for the world to "think" my kids are perfect, but in the end, it is their imperfections that make them so lovable! Make mistakes boys....your Mom does all the time!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

People of Honor

The title itself implies something old fashioned, don't you think?  Honor?  Isn't that a word generally associated with people on the front lines in armed services?  Yes, but isn't that is really too bad?  Why can't regular people be considered people of Honor?  What does it take for someone to have honor?

Even though I like to read and write, the material I generally choose to read is something most of you would never pick up.  I have never been able to read fiction books because I could never wrap my head around the twists and turns of a mystery novel, or empathize with any of the characters in a romance novel.  I think it is just the way I am wired.  I can't watch chick-flicks or love stories, or sci-fi either.  I guess you could say that I am a realist, a black and white kinda gal.  That's why I have never admired fictional characters or heroes on screen.  My heroes are real, they are those people I can relate to and try to emulate.

Who are my heroes?  My heroes are every day people, like my dad.  He was a hero to me because he was a real father to his eight kids.  He was completely selfless and honorable.  My dad worked long hours in a factory for 44 years, and on the side he obtained his real estate license to make "extra" money.  He never bought himself ANYTHING.  Every penny he made went to pay our bills, put food on the table, and send us to Catholic school....which was a huge sacrifice for a guy with my dad's meager wage.  He fought in WWII and he never complained about losing his favorite brother in that war in order to help his country.  He was tough as nails, selfless, and a man of great honor.

Other heroes I admire are people like Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II, and Ghandi.  These people were remarkable examples of how to live.  They over came incredible obstacles.  They had to constantly work on themselves and to be faithful in many hopeless situations.  Mother Therese taught in India for years, completely forgetting that she had a call to serve the hopeless and neglected until her own Mother reminded her.  She gave up her comfortable life of teaching to go out into the streets and look at the most vile of circumstances.  She was brave and forthright, she was a woman of honor.  St. John Vianney was a very inadequate priest, he was not smart or handsome or charismatic.  His own fellow priests put him down and made fun of him all the time, but he persevered and went from being very small to being the patron saint of priests!  He was a man of honor.  St. Monica and St. Rita was both mothers of very bad boys.  They prayed day and night for their sons to be men of honor some day...and they were.  Their constant prayers for their children and families went completely unnoticed by their children, but they quietly prayed anyhow.  Their faith and love for their children saved their soles and showed mothers everywhere that their prayers for their own children do not go unnoticed by God.  They are role models to parents and women of honor.

Look at your own families for a minute, do you see any men or women of honor?  If so, tell them how proud you are of them, thank them for being honorable people and good examples to others.  If you do not see men, women, or children of honor around you, encourage them so that they may feel the pride that can come from acting honorably.  Remind them that they are children of God and capable of being all God wants them to be. I miss my dad because he was truly one of the last great heroes of honor.  I would like to see more men and women of honor but I am not sure that that word has such an appeal to people anymore.  Honor is not a badge you wear on your sleeve, it is an indelible mark of courage and sacrifice that is manifested in the heart and lived out in your everyday life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Get Inspired

Several months ago I lost my job working for one of the largest Catholic churches in Cleveland.  It was an unfortunate circumstance.  The parish is one of the largest but it was also one of the most remedial as far as technology and advanced communications.  I worked there for 2 years and in that time I did a lot to bring them into the 21st century but at the end of the day, I was an expense and cost too much money.  The unfortunate thing was I really didn't need the money.  I would have worked for 30% less but they never asked.  I think that was very short-sighted on their part.

Anyway, after I left I had the opportunity to interview at other Catholic parishes for similar jobs, and other Catholic non-profit organizations who were searching for qualified development directors.  In almost all of the  jobs that I interviewed for I was by far one of the best candidates, but in the end something just didn't seem to "fit."  In one case, I was told that the most important part of the job was to be able to run a multi-million dollar capital campaign.  Although I had never run one myself exclusively, I was sure I would be able to solicit outside resources to help them reach their goals.  I had several interviews with several different people from that parish and in the end I just could not see me working there.  First, our Bishop is instituting his own capital campaign for our diocese next year and he is not going to be approving any parish campaigns over the next few years.  That being said, this parish was still adamant about hiring someone to do just that.

A few weeks later I looked to see who they finally hired; who they thought had the the qualifications they required to run this campaign that I just didn't have.  As it turned out, they hired a young woman who had just graduated college two years ago with absolutely no experience!  I was shocked!  I started to think, "why would the do that?"  In the end, the only answer I could "honestly" come up with was, they must not be paying her very much.  Capital campaigns are huge, and in this economy, almost impossible!  But I wish them luck.

In the end, I realized how silly this all was because about 6 years ago I started my own business called Catholic Marketing Services.  I did fairly well at the job but my family situation required that I work a job with health benefits, so I put it on the back burner and proceeded to go to work for a church as their development director.  After my interviewing experiences in this tough job market, I decided it was time to resurrect my business.  Why you may ask, since I still won't have any health benefits? The answer is simple, I can't help noticing what a great need there is for good, qualified, experienced marketing/development people in the Catholic church.  It shouldn't be a job that is only accessible to the rich and large parishes, it should be available to everyone!

Therefore, Catholic Marketing Services has now been reintroduced.  We offer affordable marketing solutions for any Catholic parish or institution; from parish communication assessments to event planning, CMS can provide everyone with what they need, when they need it.  There is no long-term commitment on behalf of the parish, no employee to hire full-time, no benefits to pay for said employee, and no need to go without the help that you so desperately deserve.  You only pay for what you need, when you need it.  It is essentially, a development director at your finger tips.

Now every parish can benefit from the expertise of a great development director, and this all came to be because of divine inspiration.  God wants to see His church succeed.  He is providing for everyone and treating everyone the same.  God inspired me to live out the call He put on my heart 6 years ago, and I intend to do just that.  My family and I feel at peace with our decision.  I can not be afraid to work for God just because we need health benefits.  I have to trust that God will provide for me and my family just as He always has done.

I am happy, content, and excited all at the same time.  I am here to severe God by serving YOU!  Thank you God for my inspiration.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Entitlement, an American Work Ethic

I really felt this topic was deserving a blog, especially since we are in the month that celebrates "Labor Day."  I also feel that our work ethic is not talked about enough, sort of taken for granted.  Now I can't speak for all of you out there, I can only speak for myself and my own experiences, but have you noticed something different about our culture?

My father worked at US Steel Wire Spring for as long as I have been alive (44 years).  He died 10 years ago but before he died he worked for the same company for over 40 years.  The plant he worked in I'm sure was dusty, dirty, noisy, etc.  I don't really know first hand because my dad never let the girls come to where he worked, including my mother, but the boys in my family used to go.  My brothers started their work careers sweeping the floors in my father's plant.  Eventually they moved up to a few other menial tasks and then they eventually went on to work somewhere else.  That experience for my brothers had to be difficult, seeing their father slaving away all day in a dirty place like that....I'm sure it was the driving force behind their decisions to work hard and have "good" jobs.

Today, our kids see their parents (both of them) working in nice air conditioned offices with windows and a view, and they think, "that's gonna be me someday."  My generation came from a place where we saw how hard our parents worked, not just dedicated to their work, but actually doing hard, physical labor day in and day out. Because we cringed to see our parents working so hard we vowed to never live like that ourselves.  My mother was a beautician on her feet all afternoon after she worked all day in the kitchen of our high school on her feet.  I know that that single witness scared me enough to say, "I'm going to college!"  My parents could not afford to send any of their kids to college so I had to figure out how to pay for it MYSELF!  That's right, myself, with absolutely no help from mom and dad!

Today, our kids feel they are entitled to a first-rate education courtesy of mom and dad.  Period.  They think it is their right!  Parents who do this for their kids get a rush themselves.  They feel good about themselves because they are letting others see that they are good providers for their kids, that they are earning a great wage, and that they are making a "sacrifice" for their children.  To that I say, my mom and dad made the sacrifice.  True, they did not give me a penny towards my college education, but they did give me an incredible work ethic.  That is something I am so grateful to have received.  That's not to say that every job has appreciated my hard work and dedication, all but one job has though. Oddly enough, Catholic Church I worked for did not seem to appreciate my gifts as much as my other employers had. That was quite a shock to me!  I guess the Church isn't used to working with someone with my "go-getter" personality, but I am digressing.

The point is, I learned to appreciate my parent's hard work and sacrifices but I also learned that it was what they DIDN'T give me that made me who I am today.  I hope to return the favor to my kids.  My husband and I agree on the following: at 16 they must  have a job or they can not have a car or drive.  They must understand that we will help them pay for their tuition at a local state college but we are not required to pay for their "room and board" experience parents think kids need.  If they want to live on campus...they have to pay for it.  My kids have saved their Communion money, birthday money, and Christmas money, ever since they were born and they have over $10,000 in the bank!    Although they did not appreciate me taking their gifts and putting them into a savings account, they would have rather spent the money on something useless, they certainly appreciate it now when I say "if you want to buy a used car...you can!"  I'm not saying we shouldn't help our kids.  My husband is giving my oldest son his old car, but Nick must have a job to pay for gas, maintenance, and insurance.  There is a fine line between helping our kids and enabling them.

This is beginning to look like a culture of spoiled brats rather than kids who are motived to work hard because they are scared to end up like their parents....working their fingers to the bone.  A nice balance is needed here.  Let's start developing some character in our kids, some work ethic, some responsibility.  Come on people!  Don't be so scared of disappointing your children.  Instead, teach them the things they need to be full-functioning, independent young adults.  Giving them a full-ride to the college of their choice, no responsibility or accountability, and free trips around the world is not doing them any favors (in my opinion) because it is enabling our children.

Let's celebrate Labor Day with a labor of love, acts of charity and responsibility to those who are truly in need.    Trust me, you'll feel much better in the end!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Peace in Truth - Foot of the Cross (encore)

I'm sure every Christian understands the commandment "love thy neighbor" and all that that entails, but the question is, how?  The Bible tells us that it is easy to love those who are good to us, aka our friends, but if we love only those who love us, what merit is there in that for us?  Jesus had good friends, they were his closest followers.  He traveled from town to town giving people a new way to live. Many people loved to listen to him preach and they loved his message even more.  It is safe to say that he enjoyed great popularity (by our standards) for some time.  His 12 closest friends loved Jesus so much that they were even willing to give up their lives to follow him!  I wonder how many of our friends would do the same for you, or you for them?  But at the end of the day, when Jesus was persecuted and betrayed and ultimately lifted high on the cross, who was there for him?  For all his great popularity, the Bible recognizes only 3 faithful women and one courageous man at the foot of his cross.  Where were all of his "friends" now?  Where was their loyalty?  Even Peter, the Rock, was no where to be found.  I often wonder what went through Jesus' mind at that moment as he looked down from the cross at saw only 4 meager loyal friends out of the THOUSANDS of people he preached to and who followed him.

Doesn't this happen to us sometimes?  I have a few wonderful friends, mostly those I have known my whole life, but a few awesome new friends as well.  I trust them with so much, but can I trust them with my life?  I have been really blessed to have them in my life, but as much as I love them, I'm not 100% sure they would be willing to be crucified next to me on a cross.  We really do love and cherish our friends, especially when we are out to dinner with them or celebrating a wedding or another happy occassion?  But still I wonder, who among them would be courageous enough to stand at the foot of my cross when I need them?  Recently, I had an experience in my life that would challenge this question.  A friend of mine, who I have known for only 5 years, surprised me last week when he stood up for me against some "holy" people who chose to tear me down and tried to destroy my reputation.  This friend not only stood at the foot of my cross, but he helped me carry the cross as well!  He stood by me when no one else would, he had faith in me when I was too weak to go on, he lifted my cross on his shoulder and bore my pain.  He was a true friend. 



In the end, there is no guarantee we will remain good friends, perhaps this is just for now, just for this moment, just to get me through to the next day.  None of us can be sure who will be at the foot of our cross at the end of our life, but I'm pretty sure I'll be surprised!  Even more importantly, we need to ask, whose cross do we have the courage to stand at the foot of?   Is there someone you know you should be helping but you refuse?  Is there someone who has helped you but you are not willing to support for some reason?  Is there someone out there who is suffering an injustice at the hands of cruel and ungodly person(s) and you have turned your back on them out of fear of being rejected or persecuted yourself?  If so, this is not the message of our Savior.  This is not taking up our cross.  This is not the Christian charity and brotherly/sisterly love that Jesus spoke about.  Make the decision today to do what is right and live in God's Truth and peace.  Do not choose what is easier; chose what is right!  In doing so, you will have lifted the burden of someone else like Simon helped to lift Jesus' burden.  Doing the right thing may not bring you reward on earth but it will mark your place in heaven and bring you great peace on earth.  


Remember, the Bible says, "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for his friend."  Sometimes when we lay down our life for our friends, it is not appreciated, or reciprocated, or even welcomed, but do it anyways.  Doing the right thing may not always seem easy, but please don't let the devil make is seem more complicated than it is!   Live in Truth and Light today...and everyday...then you will find peace in your heart.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

America, Home of the "Slave"

 I realize that this article might ruffle a few feathers, and I sure hope it does.  A few weeks ago, as a tribute to the 4th of July, I wrote an article on the true meaning of freedom.  Since then I have to admit that I have seen some things in my own life that have made me question our choice of freedom in this country.  I am not too terribly old but I have lived long enough to see some changes in this country that have seriously altered my opinion of "freedom."

Just yesterday I was shopping with my sister at a local department store in Cleveland.  She was adamant about getting some new makeup product at one the many counters.  So, just to be social, I decided to approach one the counter sales clerks about a makeup product I have been using for years but just haven't been able to find.  Since I don't like to wear heavy foundation on my face (I prefer a more natural look-this might be TMI) I choose to use a tinted moisturizer.   In the summer I like to have a natural tinted moisturizer with no sunblock, but for the past 2 years it has been impossible to find and I am getting real tired of trying to squeeze another drop out of the tube I am already using.

When I asked the clerk where I could buy such a product, she said that ALL of the makeup manufacturers have decided to put SPF in their product since "it is better and healthier for your skin."  "Oh really?"  I guess I never knew that...right!  Of course I know that too much sun is bad for your skin, but really, how much sun are we talking about when we women wear foundation makeup?  We walk from our car to our jobs, back to our car, and then back to our attached garages.  Ooooh, I'm sure I am killing myself.  The government even went so far as to add an "extra" tax on purchases at tanning salons.  The truth is, I like to have a little color on my face.  I look at all the white pasty people walking around in the middle of summer and think, "you would look so much healthier with just a little bit of color on your skin."  Now come on people, you know you've said it yourself.

And what about all those people in hot tropical places like El Salvador?  I'm pretty sure they are not strolling up to the Este Lauder counter and demanding sun block for when they work in the fields.  They look good to me!  They look healthier than most of the pasties in this country.  And then came the announcement from the Cleveland Clinic that they will no longer have any food items available that contain sugar, in any of their facilities.  So now we can add sugar and sunshine to cigarettes and tanning the drug companies, government officials, and doctors have declared are no good for Americans.

The most ironic thing to me is that you can turn on the TV, and while I do not subscribe to any pornographic channels (to the dismay of my teenage boys), we can all clearly read every smutty description on every Pay Per View channel available; or we can walk down any neighborhood street and get an abortion, no questions asked, or buy a gun and carry it almost anywhere; and there are probably more young adults on "prescription" marijuana in the state of California than anywhere else in the world!  But get a suntan...how dare I?!

It doesn't stop there, now we have cameras watching our every move as we drive down the street.  You can be happily driving along, and then BAMB...you get a bill in the mail for $200 for going 10 miles of the speed limit.  It's crazy and it is an encroachment on our freedom.  You want to get me speeding, catch me fair and square, after all we are paying tax dollars so that we can have police on the streets to do just that.  We have all this being taken away, but the one thing we Americans NEED we can't seem to have...a job.  We have restrictions on so many things these days but I never thought we'd have restrictions on finding work.  A friend of mine told me that a friend of his took his life last week because he had 3 kids and a wife and could not find a job for the past 3 months.  3 months, and he killed himself with one of those guns anyone can walk up and buy. Those won't kill you but sunshine sure will!

Come on people, get real.  Stop telling everyone what to do in this country.  When I was a kid I couldn't wait to become an adult so that people would stop telling what to do all the time.  Now that I am an adult I feel like my "parents" are still barking out orders.  I want my face lotion without sunscreen.  I want to be able to put on the TV in front of my kids without cringing at the vulgar language. I want to be able to drive down the road to my house in peace without fear of getting a nasty bill in the mail.  I want to live in AMERICA, the home of the brave, not the slave.

Who's with me on this one?

I'm sure there will be those who think this article is anti-American but I am hear to say it is VERY American.  I am exercising  my right of free speech....at least while I still can!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Stranger of Hope

Do you know what people really want?  A job? Less bills? More money? Happy lives?  Nope...it's HOPE (you like my little rhyme?)  Why don't we talk about this hope more?  Why do we take it for granted, like it is an abstract word or something?

Why hope you ask?  A few days ago I was feeling pretty down.  What happened was, I have been home with my kids this whole summer, and what a beautiful time to be home in Cleveland!  I was loving it.  Then, my son started football practice and suddenly it dawned on me that summer was coming to an end.  That meant that I had to kick it in gear and REALLY start looking for a job.  On top of that, I received an email from the Unemployment Bureau that Congress has been in a filibuster over extending unemployment benefits.  Which meant that in just 4 weeks my unemployment was going to run out and there might not be an extension available (which I was sort of counting on - my bad).  Well, that changed everything!  The rush was on now.  How could this summer have gone by so quickly?

So a few days ago I woke up at 7 am and started researching job opportunities.  I can not tell you how bleak it is out there.  In my industry (marketing/pr/development) there are only a handful of good jobs available and about 300 applicants per job.  Then there are those jobs that pay $10 an hour, which I wouldn't mind, but as soon as they ask what my previous salary was they pretty much hang up on me.  Then there are a ton of great development jobs, that's because in a bad economy non-profits are scurrying to find every spare penny.  The problem is, when the economy is bad the last thing people want to do is give their money away!  So you see the problem.

I was so frustrated and depressed that I almost had a breakdown.  I sat down to pray and said, "God, you got me through college with two little kids in tow, you gave me the strength and the courage to get it done, and I know there are a million people more needy than I, but you HAVE to give me something to hope in!"  About an hour later I put everything aside and decided to take my pooch Lenny for a walk.  We walked almost half way around the block when a rather large man started walking towards us.  He was well dressed and looked like he was walking with a purpose.  As he approached us I waved and started making a little small talk.  He told me that he was a big golfer.  "So is my husband!" I barked.  I asked if he golfs at Gleneagles (our community "country club,") he replied, "yeah, all the time."  I told him I just had my charity golf outing there 2 weeks ago and he asked for what charity?  I explained I host a golf outing for the people of El Salvador every year, then I told him how I visited the people there several times.  He said, "are you looking for work now?"  "Oh yeah!" I replied.  He said, walk with me to my house, I have a name of someone I want you to talk to about a job."

Now, this guy had never met me before, and if memory serves me right, I'm pretty sure I was dressed more for going on a jog than an interview, but he took a few minutes out of his busy day to talk to me and help a stranger.  I have no idea what will come of our little chat, I'm not even concerned about it, but what I am surprised about is how quickly God answered my prayer!  It's not that I wanted a job that day (I'm still enjoying the sunshine:) but I wanted some HOPE.  I wanted to hope in the Lord again, hope in others, and hope in myself again.  This kind stranger gave me what I had prayed for....hope.

Thank you God for answering our prayers.  Thanks also for not answering us when we demand what is not meant for us.  Today I have renewed hope in God, others and myself.  So many times we get discouraged with ourselves and others which can begin the slow process of slipping into depression.  Ask God to help you, to give you the courage to trust in Him....even when we can't.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Freedom is a Choice, not a right

Here in Cleveland we have been blessed to have some absolutely fabulous weather this summer.  It's that kind of summer that reminds me of when I was a kid.  We used to hang out on the front porches of our neighbor's house and everyone would have either their car radios on or we would gather in someone's basement and listen to one of the many bands that formed from the hundreds of talented kids on our street.  Ahhhh, the good old days, right?  Wrong.  Now that I have two teenage boys those memories are beginning to haunt me.

I just happen to have two VERY handsome boys (they must get their looks from their dad....not).  Anyhow, my younger son Johnny has been very adventurous this summer, riding his bike all over the neighborhood, visiting every girls house on his way to nowhere.  To be honest, I'm not really happy with the fact that he has all this new found freedom.  It's really funny though because when I was his age (and don't tell him this) I would do the same thing!  I would ride my bike to 50 different houses, stop and talk to all the boys, then come home some time just after dark.  But for some reason, his doing it is a LOT different.  Of course, we didn't have cell phones then and there was no way for my mom to check up on me (not that she ever would want to) and there was a great sense of "freedom" I enjoyed, but for some reason, when kids today do the same, we parents totally freak out!

I don't think we should not trust our teenagers or want to take away their "freedom", I think it is our responsibility to restrict their freedom for their own safety and keep a close eye on what they are doing.  Nothing bothers me more than parents who don't care or don't have a clue what their child is doing.  The truth is, I am not capable of policing my kids 24-7 so I have to have some trust, but at the end of the day you can be sure that I am asking the questions!

This leads me to ask, what is true freedom?  Freedom, as I explained to my young son, is not the right to do whatever one wants, it is the right to choose only to do good.  "What?" you may ask.  Let me explain.  People have the gift of free will, but with every gift comes responsibility.  If we were given the right to do whatever we wanted, what would stop us from killing, stealing, raping, lying, hurting, drinking and driving, etc.?  If we choose to do anything evil, mean, or illegal, we are not choosing to be free.  Eventually, one infraction leads to another and then another and another.  Soon we become slaves to whatever we were "free" to choose.  Addictions are examples of how a person's freedom can be taken away from them.  First, we like it, then we can't live our day without it.  Does that sound like freedom to you?

God gives us free will so that we may alway do what it right.  When we choose things that we know are morally or ethically wrong, we are choosing to disobey God, and therefore we are giving up our freedom.  I am writing this article today on the weekend of our countries celebration of its freedom, July 4th.  I hope this is a reminder to all that our freedom was earned on the backs of others.  We enjoy freedom in this country because of the many people who lost their lives so that we can have it.  We continue to enjoy this country because of the many people who continue to give their lives so that we can keep it.  Let's not abuse our right to freedom by carelessly choosing to be selfish.  We parents try to encourage our teenagers to make good choices because in the end we know it is better and healthier for them to do so.  We adults need to also make good choices as examples for our kids.  This weekend, remember the true meaning of freedom and I pray that we "choose" to make good and selfless decisions that will benefit all those who come after us so that they will continue to enjoy this same gift of FREEDOM.  Thank you Lord for setting us FREE and holding us accountable.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fighting for Your Life!

I am 44 years old.  I am looking back on my life thus far and I have to tell you...it's pretty amazing.  I am amazed that I survived being the youngest in a family of 8.  There were so many kids in such a little house, not to mention the lack of food, clothing, and punishments we had to endure, oh my God.  All of us children not only survived, we all became productive citizens and descent people.  And the homework that had to be done, my mother only had a 6th grade education, my father went a little bit further but then he joined the Army, got his apprentice degree, and even a real estate license.

My dad worked for 40 years in a sweat shop only to  have his pension stolen just a few years before his retirement.  My mom worked cutting hair in our basement and later worked in the cafeteria at the public high school we attended so that she and my dad could have health benefits when they retired.  It was an incredible work ethic to behold.

I had a bunch of friends in our neighborhood.  On the street I grew up on we had 500 kids!  Some of those people I still keep in contact with, but I don't make any great effort.  Why not?  Well life hit me.  My parents couldn't afford to send us to college so we were forced to take menial jobs as secretaries or typewriter sales.  One day, when I was in my early 20's, I decided to apply for a job answering the phones at a bank.  When I went in to apply for the job they told me that they don't hire anyone without a degree.  Can you believe that?!  You needed a degree to answer the phone.  Something I did about 100 times a day in my house!  That was the moment that I decided I was going to get my degree even if it killed me, which it almost did.

I started going to school at night, then I got married and had a baby.  I took a year or two off but eventually I got a job at Nestle which paid for college tuition.  I worked there for 10 years and during that time I received my degree and had another baby.  I was 30 years old by the time it was all said and done, so who had time to keep up with old friends?

Looking back on the situation, I probably wouldn't have changed a thing.  I admired myself for having stick-to-it-iveness. I just watched the movie Precious and it reminded me of how hard things can be for some people.  I had it pretty easy compared to Precious, but still, I have always felt like I have had to fight for everything.  For me, things don't come so easy, but for my kids they do.  I think it is better to have adversity and challenges in life, it builds character.  For those of you who know me, you know what a character I am!

As I am getting older, I am starting to think that fighting for everything isn't the answer.  As kids we fought for the last pork chop on the table, as a teen I fought to drive the car, as a young adult I fought to go to school, in my 30's I fought for respect, and in my 40's I fought for injustices, (and to stay awake!)  I'm tired.  I'm burnt out, and I'm not so interested in fighting the good fight anymore.  Is there something wrong with me?  I just think it might be someone else's responsibility to fight for what's good and right.

When I started doing mission work in El Salvador I was full of excitement and anticipation, but you would not even believe the road blocks that were thrown in my path!  I used to lie awake at night and think, "All I'm trying to do is a little good, why is it so hard?"  I grew tired of helping people too.  The only thing that kept me going was the thought of seeing one little person suffer because "I was tired."  When I thought about the real reason for helping the poor I stayed with it.  I didn't do it because I thought I was changing world, or the country, or even a village.  I did it because I thought it would make one person's life better.

A good friend of mine I had once said to me, "keep fighting the good fight, Joyce."  I listened to him.  I felt he knew what was best for me.  Today, that very same person has made it almost impossible for me to continue to help.    But God finds a way.  Whenever one door closes He opens another.  I do not feel discouraged or hopeless.  I feel at peace.  The Bible says that God wants us to be happy.  He created us so that we can live abundantly, which I do.  Even though I am only 44, I have lived a lifetime.  I have no idea what my 50's or 60's will hold, but I sure hope it doesn't involve fighting for anything.  Maybe I'll have to fight for my life, maybe I'll have to fight for my kid's life, maybe I'll have to fight for my rights.  I really don't know, but I sure hope God's promise to be happy and live abundantly continues well into my 80's.  There is nothing worse than feeling worthless.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Friend in Need is a Friend in Deed!

I had lunch with a really good friend of mine.  She is one of those people you can call while on your way to someplace and say, "hey, can you meet me at such and such, I want to get a cup of coffee?"  And she will be there!  I have another good friend, the best really, he does EVERYTHING for me and my family.  He is very handy and super generous.  He has remodeled our bathroom, painted like 5 rooms, built our deck, yada yada.  Basically, he works for food.  He will come over on his day off during the week just to get away and "relax" with the Colovas', which I could never understand how those two words can cross paths, relax and Colovas'.

My family has become so comfortable with our friend that the other day it was really funny, my son came down stairs and said, "when is Fr. John coming over, my bike is broken and I can't go anywhere?"  So I called him and invited him over for some delicious barbecue ribs and corn on the cob.  I called my husband and said, "Fr. John is coming over for dinner and to fix Johnny's bike."  Dean said, "ask him to fix the air conditioner that's leaking too!"
Which he did.

How can one person be so lucky?  I have a great family that I enjoy, I have wonderful, thoughtful, and kindhearted friends, and I have the joy of my faith.  Why does God seem to give everything to some while others seems so unhappy?  Is it just their perception?  I believe perception is 90% of the problem.  Some see the glass half empty while other see it half full.  I see my glass almost completely full!  There is nothing more that I want or need, and if there is, I have no problem waiting for it.  Waiting for things is a lost art.  I was at another friends house this past weekend and they showed me their "new" basement.  It had a theatre size TV screen, leather couches, a concrete bar that sported fiber optic lights, a fish tank in the wall, etc.  This couple has 4 kids and they are about 5 years younger than me, and neither of them is working!  I thought, wow, I could not possibly ever have all this in a million years, and my husband is a lawyer and I've worked good jobs my whole life!

But they must see life as something you seize for the day, while I tend to live for tomorrow.  They don't see the need to wait for what they want (in a way I really admire them!)  I think if I had all that they had I would feel guilty, especially knowing the kind of poverty I have seen in El Salvador over the years.  I really don't think my heart would be open to those kinds of luxuries.  On the other hand, if you saw my house you might say the same about me.  I have a lovely home with freshly painted walls and a nice deck (thanks to Fr. John!), granite counter tops and much more.  I just don't have a decked out basement.  So, how can I think that what my friend does is extravagant but I what I do isn't?  See, it's all in how we look at things.

I'm just happy/lucky that God has provided me with ALL that I have!  But mostly I'm happy for my great family and friends....at least that's how I see it!

:)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Never Look Back - A Graduation Story

This is a time for graduations.  Young men and women are graduating this week from grade school, high school and college.  During this time there is a lot to reflect upon.  For graduates, it is a time for them to look back on their school career and relish the memories made, ideas learned, and friendships cherished.  But I have some unique advice.  My advice is to never look back!  While those things are important, they are not the most important.  Most of the memories you made while in school you will probably not be too proud of later, and the things you learned are only stepping stone for more learning, and the friendships you cherish now will most like fade away over time and give way to new friendships.

The most important thing for kids to remember is that they are on a journey, one that will never end.  When I was in school, particularly grade school, I really struggled.  In fact, my worst subject was English!  Can you believe it.  I think I almost flunked English for 9 straight years, until I was in the 10th grade.  I had a teacher (Mr. Geiser for my Garfield Hts. readers) who had the intellect to see that the way I was learning was not working for me, so he gave me a new way to learn.  He challenged me to take home different parts of speech and memorize them, which I did.  First prepositions, then adverbs, conjunctions, etc.  In the 8th grade I memorized the Preamble to the Bill of Rights and other historical documents, which I still know to this day.  I memorized the Act of Contrition in the second grade in one night, and today I can easily memorize the lyrics to almost any song, even rap.  Everything began to change for me.  In college, I even graduated Magna Cum Laude.

Once I learned how to learn, I never looked back.  I never lamented over those days when I thought I could not learn, and never again did I not believe in myself.  Today I love to write.  I write for a living, I write this blog, and I am working on writing a book (which I won't publish until I am old and everyone I know is dead or close to death :)  Sometimes the most challenging things in our lives become the things we love the most.  Relationships can be challenging as well but my advice is still the same.... don't look back.  Why?  Because you can never recapture the sentiment you once had in a relationship.  Did you ever fall in love with someone when you were younger and think, "I could NEVER live without you!"  For a while you "love" each other, you want to spend every moment together, you make each other laugh, and cry, you have everything in common.  Then, one day things change.  Maybe one of you does something that makes you mistrust the other, maybe you become jealous and petty.  Soon, this person you adored makes you feel sad and unappreciated.

Doesn't that happen?  Perhaps not only in marriages but friendships as well.  It's sad when it happens but I encourage you to look ahead in times like that.  Do not look back on a lost relationship but look ahead to knew and happier times.  Unfortunately, people are not 100% trustworthy, they will break our hearts and try to break our spirit, but never let anyone have that kind of control over your life.  Never give anyone the power to take away your joy and happiness, and please, never look back.  Jesus is the only person worthy of your complete trust.  He has YOUR best interest at heart at all times.

This blog is for all you young men and women out there, especially for my young men, keep an open heart so that you can recognize love when it comes, but when it does, don't close your heart to God, because you might need him to mend it for you some day.

Congratulations to all the graduates out there, including my son John.  Don't ever look back and dwell on the things you did wrong, the mistakes you made, or the things you neglected to do.  Today is a new day.  A do-over, so do it right!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jesus Take the Wheel!

My eldest son Nick just started driving.  At first I was petrified to be in the car with him since he was so inexperienced, but after a few times out I realized that Nick is really a very good driver.  One day as I was taking him out for a lesson I noticed that I had stopped concentrating on how he was driving.  It was as though I had been with an experienced driver for a moment.

That experience made me take note of who is really in control over my life?  Who is in my driver's seat?  So many times we want to grab the wheel and step on the break of life, but God has it all under control....or does He?  I was sitting here thinking about all the things I would be doing differently if I were God.  First, I would give all the power, grace, and pleasure to those people who make a conscious decision to do what is good, and decent, and loving.  Then I would make all the people who are self-centered, mean, or jealous suffer!  Next, I would only open doors of opportunity to those people who chose to do His divine will, and I would not allow them any obstacles.  Last, I would make it so that everyone can see the pain and suffering in their neighbor, and when the see it, they MUST do something about it instead of ignore it like we like to do, you know, pretend it really doesn't exist.  If someone sees an injustice or suffering and does nothing about it, I would make sure that person suffered even more.

Now doesn't that all sound great!  Why doesn't he make it simple like that?  Why does God try to complicate everything?  After sitting back, relaxing, and forgetting my son was an inexperienced driver, something finally hit me.  Maybe God really is in control.  He has to be, because if he weren't there would be even more suffering in the world.  Unlike me, God is merciful! Thanks be to God.

The reality is, we are all guilty of selfishness, turning our heads on people in need, and not following the will of God.  If the world ran by my standards and conditions there would be no one left to do any good at all because we are all guilty and sinful.  I think if we really tried to let go of the wheel and sit back patiently, we might just enjoy the ride and love where we end up!  Instead, we impatiently reach over and try to stir the wheel, we put our foot on the break or try to push on the gas.  We don't wait with patience.  We tend to think "whoever has their hand on this wheel does not have enough experience and they don't know what they are doing!"

I hope I can practice what I preach in this column.  I hope I can learn to be patient and not so self-centered.  I hope I can put myself out there to help someone in need even though I may have needs left unmet, but until I can do all those things....I guess I will just have to hope in God's mercy.

So sit back and enjoying the ride!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Is it wrong to question one's faith?

   I have two teenage boys.  They are at that age where I hope they start thinking about their faith.  When I was their age I used to really question my faith.  I remember thinking that God did not really exist, that He was just a made up fairy tale that my parents told me about in order to try and control me (I was pretty wild).   I had a girlfriend, she is still my girlfriend actually, whose mother was very Catholic.  They were Philippine and they had 8 kids in their family just like we did.  I used to go over to her house and have these long battles with her mother, who no matter how worked up I got, used to always respond confidently and calmly to me.  I look back on those days and I am ever so grateful for the time she took with me to help me understand God and my faith a little better.


   Recently, when my husband and my eldest son were not home, my 14 year old son decided to take me on....spiritually I mean.  It was like a flashback of old times.  He came at me with his ideals that "God is like Santa Clause" or, "He is just a mean person waiting to jump on me every time I do something bad" theories.  And I sat there thinking about my sweet Philippine friend's mother, so in that moment I became her, calm, confident, and loving.  We went back and forth for about an hour discussing every possible motive for good and evil, and battling the case for Christ and God in the world.  In the end we came to a few understandings.


   I told my son many things that I thought would help him during this time of spiritual growth, but one thing I hope helped him understand is that his faith is his alone.  No one can give him faith, or teach him how to love God, he has to learn that on his own.  I encouraged him to read the New Testament and to educate himself about Jesus and the love He had for him.  I repeated to him, "in no way is God a tyrant, or mean, or vengeful," God is only good.  God is Love (John 3:16), therefore, God only loves him and wants him to be happy.


   In the end, I think my son understood what I was trying to say.  It was really a grace filled moment for both of us.  My son is on a journey now to seek higher understanding, not from teachers or people who think they have all the answers, but from God Himself.  One thing is clear I told him, that everyone will die someday, whether 7 or 70 years old, what you do while you are on this earth will determine how you will spend the rest of your life after death.  You will either end up either in heaven or hell for all of eternity.  God is not a tyrant, He loves each one of us like a good father loves his children.  I explained that if I gave my son a curfew and he broke it I would learn that if he can not be responsible with the small responsibilities I give to him then he will most certainly not be responsible with the big things I ask of him.  That is how God is with each one of us.  He gives us opportunities to succeed and to be socially and morally responsible, to others, to the poor, to the needy, the sick, etc.  If we fail in those areas we most certainly will fail when the big things come up.


   My hope for all you you with children is that you realize that when your kids doubt or questions their faith, it really is a good thing!  It means they are wanting to understand it more deeply.  It is when they do not think about their faith that should cause us concern.  I am so grateful for my memories of my Philippine friend because without my own personal experience of doubting my faith, I don't think I could have ever understood how my son felt.  I'm glad he came to me, and I am glad I was there for him.  


Thank you God for sending me Your Son, and for giving me my son as well! :)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Time for Positive Changes in the Catholic Church

OK, I know a lot of people are going to cringe at what I am about to say but here it goes....it's time for positive and peaceful changes in our Catholic Church!  There it is.  Over the past several weeks we have been hearing gospel stories which involve Mary Magdalene.  Here is what we know about Mary in a brief synopsis.  First, she was a follower of Christ, she was one of only 3 people who stood at the foot of the cross during Jesus' crucifixion, she was the first person to arrive at the tomb on Easter Sunday, she was the first person whom Jesus appeared to after the resurrection, and she was commissioned to "go and tell" her brothers what she has seen after her encounter with the risen Christ.  


We can not over look her importance in the life of the church.  She was the first person chosen to bare witness to the resurrection and the first evangelist.  WOW.  It's amazing since you must also consider the position women held (or didn't hold) in society over 2000 years ago.  Jesus was sending a message.  He was telling them (and us) that women were not to be looked at as less than human beings.  In fact, there are MANY women in the New Testament that remarkably engaged in great conversations with Jesus, and ultimately great conversion.  Some of these vital stories and women were; Mary the Mother of Jesus, Martha, Mary, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultry, and the woman who washed His feet with her hair.  In fact, these women were used as examples of obedience, loyalty, friendship, and conversion.  Many men (other than the apostles) were not as good examples of the above.  Take for instance, Pilot, Harod, the rich man who could not sell his material possessions.  I am not saying women are MORE important in the Bible, after all Jesus is a man, by they were not LESS important either.  


When we were kids, my oldest sister was notorious for telling on the other kids.  If she saw you do anything that my mom or dad would not be happy about she would most certainly tell on you!  In our church right now I see so many things that make me sad, so many articles and stories that cast my church in such a dark and negative light.  It makes me so sad and even angry.  I have to wonder, maybe it got this way because there were no big sisters to tell to mom and dad.  I have to believe that if women were present and respected in the church 30 - 40 years ago, there is no way these atrocities would have continued.  Where was the presence of a good women?  


Maybe now the church will not just give women "jobs" within the church but actually give them some "authority" as well.  Too many good and passionate women are looked at like agitators or problem makers.  The funny thing is, so was Jesus!  The Pharisees thought he taught "perverted" doctrine, but they misread Jesus' passion for a chance at positive change.  Let's not be modern day Pharisees and judge our sisters (and brothers) by our standards.  Let us try to see the women in our lives, and especially in our church, as leaders and "mothers" to our priests, helping them to stay focused on Christ and nudging them to stay on track for their own good, as I am sure my sister would have said it was, and even telling "mom and dad" when necessary.  Accountability is everything moving forward.  If we want to build a positive image for the Catholic Church moving forward, we must be held accountable to everyone, not just brother priests.  Look to your mother for guidance.  She will neither let you get away with anything, or let you get hurt!



Saturday, April 3, 2010

To Rise

He is risen!  Happy Easter Everyone, may you experience the joy and hope of a brand new day!  One of the best things about Easter is the time in which we celebrate it; at the beginning of Spring.  It is the perfect time to rise above the darkness of a long a dreary winter; it is the perfect time to reflect on where we are going, both as Christians and as humans.  Like spring, Easter is a time for new beginnings!  

For my readers who are not in Cleveland, you will be happy to know that we have been blessed this past week with some absolutely beautiful weather.  The temps have been in the 70's and 80's and Easter Sunday, although they are calling for a little rain shower, should be another glorious day.  But Easter is more than just a season, it is a challenge and a special calling for each of us.  What are we being called to do?  Rise!  How can a mortal body rise, you ask?  Simple, we rise above.  

Have you ever heard or used the phrase "take the higher road?"  This is what I'm talking about.  As Christians, we are asked to rise above many things, like pettiness, rudeness, jealousy, anger, the need to retaliate, the desire to pervert, selfishness, sadness, and temptation.  We have a perfect example in the resurrection of Christ on how to do this.  He shows us that when we take the higher road we have chosen to "rise" above these things.  

Let us take this opportunity to be the Christians we are called to be this Easter season and let us begin by taking His rising more seriously.  With God all things are possible, even rising ourselves...body and soul.  We are more than just flesh and blood we are spirit as well, and we have the ideal example of how to live in the spirit by encountering Jesus rising every day in our own lives.  We can be examples to others of doing what is right not necessarily what is popular.  When we are being challenged and we want to take the easy way out, let us take a moment to see the fork in the road and choose the road that will lead us closer to our own resurrection.  The goal here is to live in eternity with God and so we must decide how we will get there. 

So many of you have invested in those GPS systems for your car (I haven't yet but then again, where do I go?) For those of you who have them, don't you think it's great to have someone telling you what do to every step of the way so that you don't make a mistake and get off track and lost?  We have a spiritual GPS also, it's called the Bible.  Read it.  Commit it to memory so that when you are confronted with which road to travel you will be sure to take the high road, the road that leads to salvation, albeit, the road less traveled.  

Happy Easter to you and your families.  May the Lord guide you and bless you on your spiritual journey to "rise" above....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Foot of the Cross - Part II

With Holy Week fast approaching, I thought I would give my readers something to think about. I am actually stealing some of my own material which I wrote several months ago but felt it was even more appropriate for our upcoming Holy Week.  I have taken my original article and enhanced it for this special edition.  


I'm sure every Christian understands the commandment "love thy neighbor" and all that that entails, but the question is, how?  The Bible tells us that it is easy to love those who are good to us, aka our friends, but if we love only those who love us, what merit is there in that for us?  Jesus had good friends, they were his closest followers.  He traveled from town to town giving people a new way to live. Many people loved to listen to him preach and they loved his message even more.  It is safe to say that he enjoyed great popularity (by our standards) for some time.  His 12 closest friends loved Jesus so much that they were even willing to give up their lives to follow him!  I wonder how many of my friends would be willing to the do the same for me, hmmmmm.  But at the end of the day, when Jesus was forced to walk the road to Calvary, and then was ultimately lifted high on the cross, who did he see?  For all his great popularity, the Bible recognizes only 3 faithful women and one courageous man at the foot of his cross.  Where were all of his "friends" now?  Where was their loyalty to their friend Jesus?  Even Peter, the Rock, was no where to be found.  I often wonder what went through his mind at that moment as he looked down from the cross at his 4 meager followers.

Doesn't this happen to us sometimes?  I have some wonderful friends, mostly those I have known my whole life. I can tell them anything and I have complete trust in them.  I have been really blessed that way, but as much as I love them, I'm not 100% sure they would be willing to be crucified next to me on a cross.  We really do love and cherish our friends, especially when we are out to dinner with them or celebrating a wedding or another happy occassion?  But still I wonder, who among them would be courageous enough to stand at the foot of my cross when I need them?  This is what I ask you to think about today.  Very often the people we "think" will be there, will not, and perhaps the one's we have neglected, ignored, or treated unfairly will surprise us and have courage.  I'm not sure who will be at the foot of my cross but I'm pretty sure I'll be surprised!  Even more importantly, Whose cross do we have the courage to stand at the foot of?   It is one thing to ask another to lie down their life for a friend, but it is totally another for us to do this for another.  



As Holy Week nears and we celebrate Good Friday (usually for most Catholics this includes the traditional "kissing of the Cross") I really would like you to think about this topic.  When you walk to the Cross and bend to kiss His feet, ask yourself if you would have been there that day to comfort Him?  If not, no matter, He would have loved you and forgiven you anyhow!  


Let us enter into Holy Week with the courage to lay down our lives for others.  

Sunday, March 14, 2010

An Absolutely Incredible Story!

Immaculee's Journey of FaithLast week our St. Rita 8th grade students were invited to attend a talk at nearby St. Barnabas Church.  Since I have an eighth grader at St. Rita I decided to be one of the chaperones.  The talk was given by the beautiful woman from Rwanda pictured in the front row in the above picture.  Her name is Immaculee.  Her story was so moving that you could hear a pin drop in the church when she spoke.

She spoke about her horrible experience of having to hide for her life during the Rwandan genocide.  She told the kids a story about how she was forced to have to live in a tiny bathroom with 7 other people in order to try and stay alive.  But her story really began when she enthusiastically described in detail what happened when they (the enemy) finally came to search the house where she was hiding.  I of course can not do her story justice, but I hope to highlight for you the miracle she encountered.

Immaculee described the day they were raided.  She said the soldiers looked everywhere for people hiding.  They looked on the roof of the 4 bedroom home, in the attic and walls, they looked in suit cases for babies, and they searched each room thoroughly.  Then, one of the soldiers was about to put his hand on the door handle of the bathroom they were in when he turned to the home owner and said, "Forget it, I trust you," and walked away.  It was unbelievable!

The story does not end there.  Immaculee told us that she had a family whom she loved very much who died during the genocide. Before they died her Father insisted that Immaculee go away to find safety in another area, which she did, but before she left her father gave her a rosary.  Immaculee said she was so frieghtened during her 91 days in captivity that all she could do is pray her rosary for strength.  She prayed 12 hours a day!  She believes that it was this prayer that saved her life and the lives of her friends.  A true miracle!

I believe in her story.  I myself have had supernatural experiences that absolutely can not be explained.  Have you ever had a miracle take place in your life?  Maybe you shrugged it off as coincidence, or maybe you have never experienced anything like that?  Well I have, and let me tell you...there is no going back once you witness a miracle.  Immaculee now spends her life going around the world and telling her story as a witness to her her faith in our Mother.  Her life has forever been changed.  Because of this experience she says she can no longer tell a lie, deceive, or hurt another person's feelings.  She has been converted!  Once a person is shown the light they must live in the light.  Her days of darkness are over and now she can rejoice!

She was the happiest person I have ever met.  She walked up to me and threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug and a smile.  She is beautiful inside and out.  She is a walking, talking, breathing saint.  I drove 4 boys to the talk that day, and on the way back to school I said to them, "do you boys pray?"  They all looked at each other and said, "no not really."  "Do you know why don't pray?" I asked, "because you don't need to!" "That's right, in this country and especially where we live, you have everything you need; freedom, clean water, food, clothes, an education, nice place to live, car, etc,  but where most of the people in the world live...they have to pray; for safety, food, work, freedom.  This is something you boys will probably never have to know.  But someday you will want to pray, you will need to pray, but until that day, pray in gratitude!  Those of us who have been given so much should wake everyday and thank God.  So why don't you try that for the rest of Lent?" I asked them.  I know I am!

To read more about Immaculee and her incredible journey of faith, visit her website at: http://www.immaculee.com/

Saturday, March 6, 2010

From Darkness to Light

Well, here in Cleveland we have been practically buried in snow and darkness for the past 4 months.  Every now and then we are blessed with a glimpse of sunlight shining through our dirty winter windows.  Along with shadowy days comes cloudy emotions.  For many of us who live in the northeast or anywhere snow covered, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This week, for 3 days in a row now, we have been blessed with bright sunshine!  It really lifted my spirits and put a spring back in my step.  It has motivated me to look forward to my workouts and even inspired me to take a long hike in the park.  That was a great day!  I feel reenergized, rejuvenated, and reinspired.  Easter is still a month away but I am looking forward to having my family here for Easter dinner.  My husband is Greek Orthodox and almost ever year they celebrate Easter on a different Sunday than Traditional/American Easter, but this year it happens to fall on the same Sunday so I am happy to have both sides of my family here to celebrate.

When my boys and the other kids in my family were little, we used to have a huge Easter Egg Hunt and celebration the weekend before Easter.  There were times when there were like 30 little kids at one person's house to dye eggs, look for Easter eggs with money, and eat wonderful food and pastries.  It was a time that I will never forget.  Although the kids are all grown up now and we no longer get together for that occasion, those memories will be with me for the rest of my life.  Just like when I was little girl.  The thing I remember most about Easter was Palm Sunday.  In our house, Palm Sunday was the real day of tradition.  My Mom would make tray after tray of lasagne.  She would serve it with a huge homemade Italian dressing salad (which we all still make), and garlic bread.  The entire family (all 8 kids, my parents, and any spouses, children, etc.) would come over to my mom and dad's tiny house and cram in around the table.

I don't know why we picked Palm Sunday to celebrate but it sure kicked off Easter week for us!  It was the beginning of something great.  It was like moving from darkness into the light.  This is a tradition I still hold dear even with my own little family.  My mom will be celebrating her 80th birthday on Palm Sunday this year and I suggested we celebrate the old fashioned way, by having the traditional Palm Sunday and lasagne dinner at her surprise birthday party (shhh don't tell my my Mom).  I can't wait to for that!

As I am writing this story, a memory just popped into my head about the one time my mom and my sister Jan (she is the eldest) got into a huge argument one Sunday morning (Sunday always was, and still is, in my house the day to make "sauce.")  Anyways, my sister ticked my mom off so badly that my mom picked up the huge double handle pot of sauce and threw it at my sister who was sitting in our carpeted living room!  I don't need to tell you what that had to look like.  Ahhhhhhhhh growing up.....the memories.....good times.  Ok, ok, you know I couldn't be all nostalgic without throwing a little bit of reality in there.

On another note, just when I thought things were never going to brighten up, I also met a new friend, someone who has taken the time to listen and someone whom I can trust.  Do you know how rare that it is to find?  All is looking brighter on the less than sunny side of Cleveland.  I love the season of Lent because it can teach us very important and valuable lessons like how to trust in the Lord, and how to depend on His grace to get us through the darkness, and for that I am eternally grateful!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Giving Up is Hard to Do

Lent.  In general, Lent is supposed to be a time for reflection, penance, and self-denial.  I asked my kids today, "so what are you giving up this year?"  My one son told me he is giving up Lent, "that way I'm killing two birds with one stone," he says.  One time a friend of mine asked me, "what are you giving up for Lent this year?"  I said, "potato chips."  He said, "way to stretch yourself."  I had given up potato chips for Lent every year for the past 15 years.  This year I thought about trying something different, "stretching" myself a little bit more.  I decided to give up trying to be all things to all people.  Instead of looking others in the eye and trying to please them, I am going to try and look Jesus in the eyes and please him.  Do you think that  is going to be easy?  Heck no!  You try and see if you come up short.

For as long as I can remember I have been trying to make others happy (unsuccessfully I might add).  My boss, my mother, my kids, my husband, my family, my friends, my dog....yada yada.  When I think of how little success I have had just trying to achieve that goal I realize that I am a complete failure!  So this Lent, instead of unsuccessfully trying to please PEOPLE, I thought for the first time in my life I would try to please the one and only person who truly loves me...God!

I wonder if I will succeed?  I wonder if it will be as hard as I think it will?  I wonder if He will notice?  I wonder... In 40 days I will no longer wonder, I will know the truth.  So where did this idea come from?  Well, I hate to say it, but again I must credit Joyce Meyer, the TV evangelist.  She brought up a very good point.  She said that people gotta stop trying to please people....it will never work!  She said, "stop spending so much time trying to please the people in your life that are not happy, and try to please God in your life who wants YOU to be happy."  Can I really be happy not looking for acceptance and approval from others?   Well, I'm sure going to try, even if it does kills me!  However, I might find that it is was much easier to do than not eating chips!  In which case, my Lent would be lacking in penance and self-denial.  Hmmm, I better reflect on that.