Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer vacation. It's official now.

We kicked off summer officially today, with a short hike around Beaver Trail at Five Rivers Environmental Center and a picnic lunch. I thought that meant we could check two things off our Beach Bucket List (hiking and picnic), but I was informed that today's outing doesn't count because Dennis wasn't with us.

I never tire of visiting Five Rivers, which is just a few miles from our house. Come along for a hike and see what's out there...

Obviously the trails were not icy, despite what the warning sign says. Muddy, yes. Icy, no.

The pond was full and the waterfall rushing, thanks to the recent rains.

Checking out the water chestnut that is taking over the pond, and hoping to spy a frog or turtle.

If you look closely, you can see the wings in motion on this bright blue darning needle. Is it a darning needle or a dragon fly? I'm going with the former.

My favorite view, no matter what the season.

Seeing the world upside down.

Up through the trees.

Half the trail was closed due to flooding. We circled back around and came at it from the other direction.

And we were glad we did because we spotted this little guy from the bridge. A much bigger version was too deep in the water to capture in a photo.

A mama turkey and three babies. She let us get so close, unnervingly close.

Chiara in what has been labeled the "sleeping chair," courtesy of her godfather on a previous visit. I guess the chair only works on him.

Lily pond.

It's not easy being green.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Our annual summer Beach Bucket List

It's the first day of summer, and that can only mean one thing: Time to make our annual summer list of "musts," our Beach Bucket List. Of course, it doesn't mean we'll get to everything, and this year's list includes a few things that get put on the list every year but never manage to get checked off (Howe Caverns, drive-in movie, and camping, to be specific). This year we have to make those three happen, at the very least.

If you'd like to know more about how our Beach Bucket List began three years ago, you can read my July 2010 Life Lines column about it (below):

Last summer we established a new tradition at our house: a summer list of things the kids want to do before they return to school in September. It’s sort of like a Bucket List for kids, or, in this case a Beach Bucket List. The kids liked the idea so much that when I suggested it they immediately got out a marker and a giant sheet of neon orange poster paper and started mapping out the details.

Family camping and tide pooling were listed alongside bike riding and making s’mores. They even listed a few oddities, such as repainting their bathroom, as well as some very basic things like swimming and gardening. Each item on our list had an empty box next to it, waiting for a check mark to show we’d fulfilled a wish or goal. We hung the list on our basement door so we could watch our progress over the days and weeks.

Sometimes there would be a flurry of Beach Bucket List activities, days when sleepovers and water slides and picnics collided all at the same time and allowed us to check off items in rapid succession. Other times things lingered unchecked – like family camping -- until the very end of summer, reminding us that some goals take time and planning and, dare I say, an extra dose of enthusiasm on mom and dad’s part. Even at that, our camping “trip” was in our own backyard, but the kids loved the tent and fire pit and eggs cooked outside in the early morning as much as if we’d driven an hour or two to real campsite.

We recently made this summer’s list. Clearly some things are going to be perennial favorites. Walking on the beach and going out for breakfast are probably always going to be on our list, no matter how the old our family gets. But we discovered some new twists. Chiara, almost 5 years old, added “coloring and crafts.” Olivia said she wants to meet up with a little girl she met at the beach last year and has been pen pals with ever since. And, of course, family camping – at an official campsite – is at the top.

Lots of people talk about making a Bucket List, based on the movie of the same name. And there’s something to be said for writing down our hopes and dreams so we can look at where we’ve been and where we want to go. The danger is when we fill our list with only those difficult-to-attain dreams, the things that may take us a lifetime to complete. Not everything has to be over-the-top.

We grown-ups have to learn to approach our own Bucket Lists with the enthusiasm of a 5-year-old on a summer afternoon. Sure, we may want the big stuff – a trip to Italy, a week-long silent retreat. But we can’t overlook the seemingly small stuff – sitting on the deck with the kids and watching the bats come out at night, picking apples from the tree, buying a bouquet of sunflowers for no reason at all.

Life is full of big moments, small moments and in-between moments. We have to relish each one as it comes along without getting hung up on the one that got away. By making a printed, taped-to-the-wall list, we can see our hopes – and our accomplishments – in plain sight, reminding us of all the good things that are yet to come with a little effort and a lot of trust.

So this summer I’m making my own Beach Bucket List. I’m guessing that many of my wishes will duplicate those of my kids. What a happy coincidence it will be when we simultaneously check off our accomplishments with fingers sticky from toasted marshmallows and hair sticky from salt water and sand.

To read other Life Lines column, visit my website HERE.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Where am I? Connecting the spiritual dots

So here's the deal. When I become scarce in these parts, it's not because I don't appreciate and miss all of you. I do. It's usually because I feel so inept at giving you anything that might provide some spiritual nourishment. Lately that's where I've been. I feel spiritually spent in my own little world, frustrated by goings on in the larger Church, and Not At All Spiritual -- which, as you know, is NOT the name of this blog. So rather than say anything, I say nothing.

A couple of things are related to my state of mind lately, so I'll give you links that might connect the dots.

First there's just a general sense of disappointment with so many of the human failings of our Church and the fact that we seem to be losing more than we're gaining. Then, today, a friend on Facebook posted the link to a column, Top Ten Reasons to Stay Catholic, in America magazine, and it seemed to hit the mark dead on. So I'll share that HERE.

And then, very recently, there has been the former-Father John Corapi debacle. To be honest, I have ZERO patience for this. I'm disgusted by the pathetic situation that is playing out on YouTube and in the blog world. I won't bore you with the details here, but if you want to see my brief post with some good links, click HERE to go to OSV Daily Take. This situation is just one more reminder of how easy it is to get off track and lose spiritual focus.

I'm in this because of Jesus Christ. I'm not in it for some TV personality who has taken on superhero cult status, or for some cause-of-the-moment, or some misguided notion of what Christianity is all about. That being said, I don't pretend to be even remotely close to what I should be if I portend to be a follower of Jesus. But I'm trying. Every day.

A few weeks back, when I gave a spiritual friendship retreat in Rhode Island, I mentioned to the crowd that I once went to confession and told the priest that I often feel like a hypocrite -- I write books and columns and posts about being more spiritual and prayerful and yet my own spiritual life is woefully inadequate. The priest told me I sounded "just like a priest."

During a break in the retreat, a woman came up to me and said she needed "to take issue" with something I said. I started running through everything I had said and assumed it must have been the part where I referred to God as both Mother and Father. Then the woman (who turned out to be a religious Sister) referred to my comment about being a hypocrite and the priest's response to me. She said, " You may not have the collar or the faculties, but you are a priest." I hugged her and said, "Thank you."

I don't say that as a commentary on women's ordination (it's not). I say it because in that moment someone seemed to recognize how I feel about what I do. I can't imagine what it feels like to be an actual priest, but I do know what it feels like to preach and not necessarily practice, to write and all the while be thinking I should just get down on my knees and pray instead. I know what it feels like to have a sense of responsibility for helping other people move down the spiritual path when, so often, I'm floundering around to find my own way.

So I'm here tonight to tell you that I miss being here more regularly, but I only show up when I feel I have something helpful or insightful to share with you (other than reposts and links to reviews, etc.). Thank you for being patient with me and for coming back despite only sporadic posts lately. NSS is my first love in terms of writing. I wish I could be here more often, but I am so thankful for the times I can show up and share with you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Book is 'perfect' for new Catholics and those who want to practice faith 'more fully'

Writer Eric Sammons offers a brief review of my "Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass" in the latest issue of Our Sunday Visitor. Here's what he had to say:
The Mass is a prayer

Sometimes we forget that the Mass is essentially one big prayer. In fact, it is the prayer of the Church, the one through which Our Lord Jesus Christ prays to the Father for the salvation of the world. Mary DeTurris Poust makes this point clear in her book “The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass” (Alpha Books, $16.95). Poust, a popular author and blogger, places the Mass in the greater context of Catholic prayer. In fact, only about 50 pages of this 336-page book are explicitly on the Mass, while the rest focuses on various types of prayers and the reasons why we pray.

Perfect for new Catholics as well as uncatechized Catholics who are beginning to practice their faith again, this book gives clear advice on prayer, which is the indispensable act of the spiritual life. Poust also details the changes coming with the new Missal, explaining them in a lucid fashion and with understanding that such changes can be disconcerting. If you know someone who is beginning to practice his or her Catholic faith more fully, then “The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass” is, well, essential.

Sammons reviews four other books that cover the new translation of the Roman Missal. You can read those by clicking HERE.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dying wishes and regrets

My OSV Daily Take post from yesterday:

A couple of events this week got me thinking about my own mortality. First, I spent some time visiting a friend who is in the end stages of ovarian cancer after a valiant years-long fight. She is now in hospice home care. As I sat in her living room, I quietly soaked in my friend's strength and faith and courage and grace. It was only when I got back in my car that I broke down in tears at the awesomeness of being in the presence of someone who is very much aware that her time on this earth is coming to an end.

That was enough to start me thinking about life and death, but then along came today, June 2. My mother would have been 71 today, but she died of colon cancer more than 23 years ago at the age of 47. Reflecting on the gift of her life makes me ponder my own life and eventual death --that I have already lived longer than my mother, that any day I, too, could get a diagnosis that changes life permanently and ends it all too quickly, that my children might find themselves marking the milestones of their lives minus their mother.

Just the other night, I was so preoccupied with all these thoughts I couldn't sleep. At all. I remembered how my mother had so many long, sleepless nights at the end of her illness, and I wondered if that is the case for my friend as well. So I did what my mother used to do during those difficult hours. I pulled out my Rosary beads and prayed -- for my friend, with my friend -- allowing my minor bout of insomnia to lead me into a moment of connection with someone who knows true suffering. I can't begin to know what my friend is going through, and yet in the hidden hours of night, in those prayers silently whispered, I felt a spark of grace, a second of recognition, a flash of what my mother must have felt, what my friend must feel now.

So today, when two Facebook friends posted a link to a column about deathbed regrets, I saw it as an invitation to explore further what I'd been mulling over in my head.

What do you think terminal patients regret most as they lay dying? Not the job promotion that was missed or the raise they didn't get or the car they didn't own. The top five regrets had to do with the way they'd lived their lives, the people they didn't keep in touch with, the way they spent their time:

From a blog post at Inspiration and Chai:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence...

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

After my mother died, having witnessed her last breath, I was sure I'd never go back to taking life for granted, and maybe for a few months after her death I didn't. But then life went on and it became easier and easier to slip back into the notion that we have a limitless amount of time to get things done, to make amends, to play with our kids, to fulfill our dreams.

If today was my last day, I know my regrets would have nothing to do with any work project or household responsibility. My regrets would be, like those of the patients who were surveyed, about the time I didn't spend with my husband and children, the friends I didn't call, the time I didn't take for prayer or gardening or all the things that bring me joy, the times I gave up the opportunity to laugh because I thought it was my job to worry.

What would you put on a list of regrets?

To read the full list at Inspiration and Chai, click HERE.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

An unchanging message: Drive-by lessons in faith

Here's my post from OSV Daily Take today:

I'm not one for pithy quotes posted on big signs outside churches. I typically find them distracting at best or silly and inane at worst. But when I drove by the local Reform church in my town yesterday, the posted comment hit home:

"You don't change the message; the message changes you."

I found myself giving a little "Amen!" as I turned onto a side street. Sure this sign referred to the general Christian message, but I think it applies even more appropriately to the Catholic message.

We live in a world where everyone tries to change with the times, and too often society thinks the Church should follow suit. We should be more flexible and fluid, more "modern" and adaptive, we hear from sources of every stripe, Catholic and not. And still we attempt to stay true to the message, even when the message is as counter-cultural as it gets, from abortion and embryonic stem cell research to capital punishment and war.

Why don't we just change the message and take the heat off ? Because our Church knows -- we know -- precisely what the signage tried to convey in one line. If we keep moving the goal posts, changing the message to suit the times, we don't move closer to the Kingdom or according to Jesus' teaching. We move according to our own needs and desires. But, if we allow the message to sink in and to become part of us, even when it's not easy to accept or practice, slowly but surely the message will, in fact, change us.

In her beautiful book "One Thousand Gifts," writer Ann Voskamp writes about discovering the fact that living the Christian message means being grateful -- counting our blessings -- even when the "blessings" are painful or difficult experiences that we don't want in our lives and can't understand. That's some hard teaching, but it's at the heart of this idea that we can't change the message. The message is what it is, and it will change us if we let it.

Ann writes:

"Thanksgiving -- giving thanks in everything -- prepares the way that God might show us His fullest salvation in Christ.

"The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God -- even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion -- this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him. At the Eucharist, Christ breaks His heart to heal ours -- Christ, the complete accomplishment of our salvation. And the miracle of eucharisteo never ends: thanksgiving is what precedes the miracle of that salvation being fully worked out in our lives."

So the message doesn't change. The message can't change. Not if we hope to be changed by it, to be made new in Christ. His message must be our message.

That's a pretty powerful faith lesson for a little church sign on a hot May morning. I hope I remember it, not only in good times but in the bad times that are an inevitable part of life. Thanksgiving, Eucharist -- an unchanging, life-changing message.