Friday, January 11, 2013

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

The kids just keep getting bigger and we just keep getting older, although the trophy wife in the middle stays a forever-young 29. Photo Credit:  Alisha Workman

Grandma's Tree

(This was originally written for the Youth Ministry E-News-December 2012 Edition.)

My husband Chris grew up on the coast of Mississippi in a small ship-building town called Pascagoula.  His Grandmother, Mary Evelyn, (also lovingly known as: Grandma Clemens), lived a short mile away from the family in a 1000 sq ft post-war home typical of the area.  Grandma Clemens was a small lady, not standing taller than 5ft 3, but was a legend in the small town and was well-loved.   She worked until she was 86 and attended mass every morning before work. Her house was small, just like her, but had withstood the brunt of many a hurricane and survived. 

As my husband recalls, every Christmas, Grandma Clemens would set up an artificial, six foot Christmas tree on the back porch of the house.  It was a pretty tree, from the department store, with ornaments that had little angels inside.  The multicolored lights were the big, bulky ones and the gold tinsel garland glittered against the backdrop of Grandma's back yard. That tree captured my husband's imagination when he was a small boy.  

One year when Christmas had ended, my husband begged his Grandma to not take the tree down.  It was so beautiful that he wanted to see it every time he came to visit.  Grandma, in her generosity agreed and left the tree up.  As Chris grew, he would happily visit "his" Christmas tree on the back porch. 

Time passed when it was time for my husband to bring his fiancĂ©e home to visit the family (That was ME, by the way...for those of you not paying attention!) The first place we visited was Grandma Clemens in her house.... and by golly, there was that Christmas tree, quite a bit dustier (and older) still sitting on the back porch waiting for Chris to come home from Texas where he had been studying.   By this time, Grandma was easily in her 70s, but was still working her job at the shipyard.  The tree had been up for over 20 years.

The time came when Grandma Clemens was too old to care for herself and needed to be moved to an assisted living arrangement.  Chris's parents asked him and his brothers if there was anything they wanted from Grandma's house.  Each grandson asked for a few items to remember the old, tiny, house...but Chris?  He asked for the Christmas tree.  We bagged that tree up and hauled it to my parents' home in Texas where it would be kept safe.

A few weeks later, Grandma's home was destroyed when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and Grandma Clemens went home to be with her beloved a few years after that.   Those were sad events for the Clemens family, but we were thankful for the many wonderful years we had in that house and with Grandma.

What about the tree?  It survives still..... right along with Grandma's spirit and the true meaning of Christmas.  Every Christmas it illuminates the Texas night on the front porch of my parents' house, waiting for  family to come visit and reminding us that Christmas, like Grandma, is always in our hearts.

Happy Advent/Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble sometimes!

This Lent, I came across this wonderful list showing evidences of a lack of humility and saw myself in more than one or two.  I'll be praying about this list and how my lack of humility can hurt my family and those around me.  Lord, make me humble, and when I'm humble, don't let me know it!!
The Seventeen Evidences of a Lack of Humility
By St. Josemaria Escrivá
1. To think that what one says or does is better than what others say or do
2. To always to want to get your own way
3. To argue with stubbornness and bad manners whether you are right or wrong
4. To give your opinion when it has not been requested or when charity does not demand it
5. To look down on another’s point of view
6. Not to look on your gifts and abilities as lent
7. Not to recognize that you are unworthy of all honors and esteem, not even of the earth you walk on and things you possess
8. To use yourself as an example in conversations
9. To speak badly of yourself so that others will think well of you or contradict you
10. To excuse yourself when you are corrected
11. To hide humiliating faults from your spiritual director, so that they will not change the impression they have of you
12. To take pleasure in praise and compliments
13. To be saddened because others are held in higher esteem
14. To refuse to perform inferior tasks
15. To seek to stand out
16. To refer in conversation to your honesty, genius, dexterity, or professional prestige
17. To be ashamed because you lack certain goods

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Censorship Fail.

Becca:  Henry, I need to cover your eyes so you don't see this yucky part on the T.V. (She covers his eyes.)

Henry: (with great enthusiasm)  Becca, my MOUTH is yooking!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Freshman

"Mom, Are you coming to the football game?"  she asked me.  I could fill a book with the many times my daughter would ask if we were coming to a particular football game or orchestra performance. From a musical theatre production or jazz concert, to a competition, a show, a play, or even a church mass.... the answer was almost always YES.  Chris and I have attended more musical events that included Rebecca than we can probably remember.  And I have a drawer filled with programs to prove it!  Admittedly we were more enthusiastic for some events than for others.... depending on whether we had gotten enough sleep the night before with child #5 insisting on hogging the bed and kicking us in the head.

From the first time she picked up a trombone Rebecca was and continues to be an enthusiastic musician.  As she grew musically, we grew as well.  As she learned new pieces, we had them memorized right along with her, as she struggled with her competitions, we quietly prayed that she would earn a fair score.  Life with Becca has been filled with song and it continues to this day as she pursues a music degree at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC).   She is The Freshman.

Seeing that she asked me this question recently got me thinking of how different it is now that she is in college and doing musical things there.  While she is close to home, we understandably don't see her as much as we did when she lived at home.  We talk more on the phone than we did when she was in high school and we (I) use Facebook more to see how she is doing. (What did she do today?  Did she get some fruit in her diet? Is she eating too many Krispy Kreme doughnuts?).  We don't hear her practicing anymore from her third floor bedroom, and we don't have as many musical performances to attend.  On a happier note, the place is roomier without all her instruments all over the place and we can walk without tripping over some large brass horn left near the hall.   

But when she asked me if I was coming to Kenan Stadium for the first home UNC football game to watch her perform with the UNC band, I was not going to miss seeing her in her blue uniform marching with a college band! Hey that was new and different!  She a college girl now.

The day came when I was going to see her for the first time marching with the band and well, nothing properly prepares you for the moment when you spot your freshman child through thousands of fans, drums pumping, fans yelling, school pride bursting all around you.  When you get a glimpse of your child, your heart seemingly stops beating for a second and you stop breathing.  As you rush to get a better look at her, everything around you gets blurry and all you can  focus on is her.  Who cares if you knock over an old lady using her walker....she should recognize a mom on a mission, right?  When you finally get close enough that she can see you, your eyes meet and you exchange smiles.  You wave enthusiastically, but she can't because she is in uniform and is in formation with the rest of the band.  She saw you, and she knows you are there.  That is the number one goal of a parent; making sure they see you so that they know they are loved.  Relief.

Then you watch as she raises her horn up to play, with a trombone section three times the size she played with in high school. The sound coming from the band is impressive, booming and strong!...and they start to march....away from you, leading the crowd in enthusiastic song and cheers.  You run to follow the band so that you can get a few pictures of the moment, but the tears streaming down your face cause a glare in the camera and the pictures you get are not the best.  But they will have to do. Your husband catches up to you and puts his arm around you as you try not to make a spectacle of yourself sobbing with pride. 

The rest of the afternoon is spent not necessarily watching the football game, but watching her.  When do they move to the field? What are the songs they play to distract the opposing team? Is she getting hot over there in the sun?  All those silly questions pop up and distract you as you watch from afar. Oh, and what's the score again?

After the day is passed, you marvel at just how beautifully and wondrously made your children are.   How God's amazing grace penetrates through occasions such as these and surprises you with a rare gift of unexplainable joy and how eternally grateful you are for having the opportunity to be a small part of what your child will one day become.  

You GO Becca!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Brotherly understanding...

Younger Brother:  What are all those red things on your face?

Older Brother:  God's cruel joke.

Younger Brother:  Huh?

Older Brother:  Just when you start to care about the way you look, God sends you acne to keep you humble.

Younger Brother:  Sorry dude.

Friday, May 07, 2010

My Growing Nick!

Lacrosse season has ended and Nick's team tied for the championship.  Nick is in the 8th grade and has grown a foot this past year, wears a size 14 shoe, eats us out of house and home and continues to be the big brother that the younger kids in the family adore...and for good reason.  He has heart.  And a heart for God.

While it pains me to see my kids grow, it give me great hope for the future and for the family to see how they are maturing into beautiful individuals.  I am growing my own best friends and how I do adore them!

Grow, Nick, Grow.  We love you!

Friday, April 09, 2010


An open letter to Confirmation Catechists

I am getting so excited about the end of the faith development year and all that we’ve accomplished! What we started with at the beginning of the year was a challenge of unknown new faces and personalities…some happy to be in TYM others not so enthusiastic.  Teens who, despite their honest love of God, needed some honest answers of why they should believe, not only the facts of what they should believe. Being a catechist is not for the weak of heart, it’s a job for those WITH heart.  Specifically a heart for teens and their plight!  

Some of us were new at the TYM scene and scared to death (myself included) while others were seasoned professionals who sailed through the year.   We all struggled with ways to effectively “get through” to the kids, lost some hair, vowed we would never come back, and were tempted to stick a movie in the VCR and let someone else teach the kids.  But God always called us back, gently…and reminded us that we are making a difference.

At the end of the year, I think it’s important to take inventory of what we accomplished and not let any tough moments monopolize our thoughts.  The truth is that we ended up with a hopeful group of 9th graders who continue to mature and move closer toward Confirmation.  We have 83 primed 10th graders who have a healthy grasp of what it is to be a faith-filled Catholic.  They are ready to be sealed in the Holy Spirit by the Bishop in a couple of weeks!  We have numerous Seniors in the WIRED group who will be graduating and experiencing a new life filled with possibility (My daughter is one of them-Lord help me!) as well as 8 committed Latino youth preparing to receive their first Holy Communion and Confirmation at STM.

Our kids have attended retreats, went on mission, discussed tough issues, served in various capacities, played and laughed with their peers, were offered words of encouragement, given new perspectives from guest speakers, did not shy away from asking, and asking (and asking) the tough questions (which we answered) and were given opportunities to confess and pray. How many of you were given so much in your youth program when you were a teen? 

But what makes a youth program great is not necessarily the size of the program, quality of the programming or craziness of its leaders…it’s the authenticity of its leaders, the lives that we lead and the honesty with which we teach. It’s the confidence in knowing that what is true, good and sacred resides in the Catholic Church.  We couldn’t teach it, unless we believed it. And that, my friends, is the greatest gift we’ve given our youth…BELIEF! 

So in the last few weeks before we must say goodbye for the summer, I want to say THANK YOU, for believing…in God, His son, our youth, in yourselves and in me.  We will walk away from this year different people and so will the teens. And it does not get any better in a youth program than that….

Monday, April 05, 2010

Henry's Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

On Good Friday, Henry and I decided to color our Easter Eggs while listening to the album, Alma Mater.  This music is a release of modern classical music and features the Choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.  The music is very inspiring and perfect for a day like Good Friday; however, I could not tell if the music made Henry extra sad about his egg mis-hap or if he was sincerely sad about it.  You be the judge. 

Thursday, April 01, 2010

An artist.

Me:  I need the water vaccume to clean up the dirt smudges on the hallway carpet.

Him:  That is not dirt.  It's Henry's handprints after playing with your makeup.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Youth Group Shadow Stations

I have been a youth minister in the Catholic Church for many, many years. I've experienced the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to build a program from the bottom up and to watch it grow and change into the place where the God can do His best work.  There are some very hard days when you work in  ministry and there are a good many successes; but at times you work so hard that it's easy to lose track and simply "check the boxes" of what needs to get done:  Confirmation retreats and interviews, sacramental documentation, parish service, permission forms, service projects, food drives, catechist training, workshops, e-mails and Facebook notices, flyers and advertisements, invitations and social event planning. On and on it goes, without end and without relief.  It's OK though, because the reward is always bigger than any struggle and  it is always exciting co-creating with the God of the universe.  He is so full of surprises.

Then there are those rare glimpses of profound grace through all the work.

Each Lent,  the teens in the parish perform the stations of the cross in shadow format for the parish.  What I mean by 'shadow format' is that each station is acted out from behind a large screen (basically a king size bed sheet) which is illuminated from behind.  The kids stand behind the sheet, completely still, and create a shadow.  It's a relatively easy project to produce as long as you have all the necessary props and volunteers.

This year was no exception.  I had 20 eager enough teens...some participating simply to meet their parish volunteers hours, others were there because they had been part of the stations in the past and it had become something of a tradition for them.  At practice, we casually rehearsed the poses of each station and made sure our speakers knew their parts with the proper inflection and dramatic pause.  The musicians ran through their songs, various verses of "Were you there..." and learned where they were to come in.

On the night of the performance, everything went off without any major issues.  The youth stepped up and performed their best. The final product you can see here.  Haunting, beautiful, full of emotion and drama.

The moment of grace for me is actually viewing the pictures of each station.  I have never been on the shadow side of this event...only on the back side of the sheet, directing the actors and speakers.  This was also the first year that we had taken professional pictures of each station, and essentially  it was the first time I had ever seen the final product from a true audience perspective.  It was awesome.

The images struck me and made me take pause...from all the work and the necessary pieces of youth simply enjoy the beauty of what our young people are capable of, and to be reminded of just how privileged I am to be some small part of God's great work at STM.

May the remainder of our Lenten days be ones of new awakening and a deeper love for the God who suffered so much pain for our sake.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

File under: I can't believe I said that.

This mother of five had to yell at her third child tonight, " Jack!  You cannot wear your school clothes to bed!  People don't do that on weeknights!"

Poor kid.  He must have thought it was the weekend or something.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The simple things

It's the little things.   It really is the little things.

About four years ago,  I noticed my neighbor had these wonderful Christmas decorations that caught my attention.  You've probably seen them around your neighborhood too.  They are round balls about the size of a softball, and they light up.  Most people like to hang them from their front porch or in front of a window... usually in groups of threes or fours...they are so pretty.  I just love how they brighten a home for Christmas!

Anyway, I saw these decorations and decided that I should buy some at the end of the season at a discount for the following Christmas.  So I did.  I bought was made of multi-colored lights and the others were made of the white lights.  I packed them up with all the other Christmas decorations and forgot all about them.  A year passed and I rifled through my Christmas decorations and was pleasantly reminded of my round "orbs" and instantly became excited at being able to put them up.  Alas, the "orbs" did not make it up.  Life was too busy...Henry had been born, we were traveling to Texas and things just got away from us.  The "orbs" stayed stored in my closet for four years...neglected.

This year as I gathered my decorations, I found my little treasures.  I looked at them and thought, "too much trouble" and "there is not enough time".  But I did pull them out and set them on the front porch thinking that maybe, just maybe, my handy husband might find some time to put them up for me, but my expectations were low.  After all, I hadn't even ASKED my husband really...nor had I been very clear about my desires for the things.

It's now a few minutes into Christmas Eve and I have sat down to write a few thoughts about how Advent has been in my house.  I've settled into my usual spot in the living room and as I was gathering my thoughts on what to write,  I happened to look through my front window and that's when I saw it hanging there...glowing in a most radiant light.  One Christmas "orb" hanging in all its glory on my front porch!

I was surprised and delighted...those silly things do make me smile!  But it was my husband who went through all the extra effort to put it up for me as well as a whole slew of outdoor lights.  Just in time for the King of Kings to be born.  What better a time than Christmas Eve?

Merry Christmas everyone!  And may we all enjoy the simple things that Christmas brings!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Jesus Take The Wheel

I’ve just returned from a last minute trip to Texas with my parents.  The reason for the trip was to assist them by driving one car behind them while they drove our old Mercedes Benz to Texas to live forever. My dad wanted our unused 1984 vehicle…300,000 miles and all.  We were afraid that the Mercedes would not make the trip, so I agreed to follow along just to be safe.  Old and cranky, it made the 3 day trip without skipping a beat.

Three days on the road with my parents brought back some good memories of traveling with them when I was younger. We drove everywhere in a big gold 1968 Cadillac that had no air-conditioning, was a smooth and nauseating ride, where my brother and I could stretch out on the backseat and never touch one another. When we took those long, hot trips to visit relatives or friends…you can bet that mom and dad were going to pull out the ol’ rosary for some much needed prayer time.  My brother and I were held captive in the back seat, forced to pray the rosary whether we wanted to or not.  My mother would start, “Hail Mary, Full of grace the lord is with thee, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus”  my dad, brother and I would sleepily respond.  This was a ritual of travel for us, a prayer that was a chore to me as a child…I didn’t “get” it.

Today, when my parents come to visit, they always make time to stop in Irondale, Alabama where EWTN hosts its global Catholic Radio Programming. There is a small chapel there that holds the Blessed Sacrament.  This Chapel is televised throughout the world through EWTN and offers Christians live streaming to pray in front of it. 

Predictably, my mom and dad entered the chapel as they had many trips before, took their seats (Mom in the front pew, Dad in the pew behind) where mom pulled out the rosary.  They began quietly praying. I sat behind them, distracted, watching them pray--ever faithfully.  They had gotten so good at it, their rhythm and steadiness struck me. That is what happens after 53 years of praying together.   I got it though, I saw the continuity of what they were doing…how their prayers sustained us, brought the family together over the years, allowed grace to penetrate when God seemed far away.  It reminded me of the saying of how “God does not want us to be perfect, just faithful”.   They have most certainly been faithful.

It rings true of what we do with the youth of our parish each week.  Realistically, many don’t want to come to youth group sessions, while others do, and some are lukewarm…like me in the back of that Cadillac.  But the fruits of our faithfulness will be harvested over time.  Most of us will never know the fruits, but the kids will “get it”…eventually.  And something you said or did will resonate and make a difference.  Thanks for being faithful!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stories of Strength to learn from

This week I was reminded how strong human beings are, when the grace of God is allowed to move in their lives. 

An older gentleman that I have known well for about 10 years recently shared a story with me about his life as a young man.  The story was a painful one …filled with rejection, sadness, death, depression and loneliness. To hear the story, you would think that no human could overcome it; it was just that sad.  To know this man, you would have never guessed the pain he has endured all these years.  He is successful, hardworking, creative, respected and loved by many.  He goes about his work in a quiet, unassuming way, never making any waves and gently doing what he does best.  He has dedicated his life to bringing the beauty of God to people every day and does it without much fanfare or thanks.  I was shocked at the deep, deep, anguish of his story, but marveled more at how he overcame the darkness and found his way through to the light.  While his life is not easy, it is clear in knowing this man that he knows the heart and grace of God well.  He has lived it and has been touched by it. 

My mother called me this week to let me know that a neighbor of hers was on her last days of life. Her name is Peg. Breast Cancer had gotten the best of Peg and my mother was her only source of life outside of chemo.  I did not know Peg personally, but knew that my mother had taken Peg “under her wing” when she found out how sick she was.  Peg had no husband, but four kids who wanted little to do with her; they had their own “issues”.  It was another sad story.  For the last two years, my mom had been driving Peg to the beauty shop, taking her to lunch, sitting at the hospital with her, going grocery shopping for her and (being a breast cancer survivor herself) gave her words and prayers of hope to go on.   And while my mom did not “know her well” she freely gave her time to make Peg’s last year of life bearable.  Peg’s daughter was the only one who regularly came to check on her mother, but could not stand to see her in such a state, so my mom would send her home and sit with Peg.  Yesterday, on what may have been Peg’s last day on this earth, her sons reluctantly came to say their goodbyes…they were outwardly indifferent to their mom’s plight but still, my mom would patiently talk with Peg’s kids and give them words of love and support.  “Mom ”, I said, “How can you just sit there and watch Peg die?  How can you deal with all the dysfunction of Peg’s kids and stand so strong?”  My mom in all her wisdom said, “This is what I do.  I am just called to do this for those who are in need. I plan to be there when God takes Peg home, Georgie…how could I not?”  

I feel like such a lightweight compared to people like this, but at the same time I know that God is teaching me a lesson through their stories. It is how I live my life after knowing such stories that is important. That when times are dark, and those days will surely come, the grace of God will give me strength to make it through.

 I have proof.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Eight year old Gus was handed a full diaper, compliments of his brother, Henry.  It was chilly outside so when Gus reached to throw the diaper away for his dad, he exclaimed, "Wow!  This would make a great hand warmer!"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Tale of Two Birthdays

There is nothing more bittersweet than a child's birthday.

We celebrated two birthdays in September:  Rebecca and Henry.  My firstborn child, Rebecca, turned a happy 17 as we celebrated with a surprise party at the local Pizza Hut.  Over 20 of her friends met me at the restaurant and at the appropriate time, ducked under tables and chairs so that she would not see them as she walked into the place.  She walked through the door, completely expecting a quiet family dinner of pizza and soda, but instead found all her friends jumping out of their hiding places yelling, "Surprise!"  We ate over 12 pizzas, countless sodas, and two birthday cakes.

Later in the evening, Rebecca came over to me and said, "Mom, they all came out for me?"  I replied that she was so blessed to have so many good friends who love her...including her chaotic and loud family.  Happy Birthday Becca!

And then there is King Henry who turned three.  He is a man of simple tastes and asked for the same cake he had when he turned two:  "Da Hamburgur Cake".  I think the other kids get more delight in the cake than Henry.  They marvel at how much it looks like a Hamburger.  Personally, it grosses me out.  I mean, here you have a cake that looks like a real hamburger, but when you take a bite out of it, it is sweet!  Weird.

We celebrated Henry's birthday as a family.  My plans were to go to Bullwinkles (which is essentially, a more classy Chuck e Cheese's)...but when we arrived, it has closed.  Boo.  But you know, when you are three, you have no idea the fun you missed!  So we decided to go down the road to the Olive Garden. Henry could have cared less where he went, he just wanted his hamburger cake to go with him.

We pulled out one of his presents at the restaurant and Henry was delighted to play with it the entire dinner.  Good for us, good for him.  We ate a relatively normal dinner with minimal interruption and Henry ate nothing, but played with his new hot wheels garage.  After dinner, we pulled out our hamburger cake, and well, every head turned in the restaurant.  They were amazed, or horrified...I was not sure really.  Let's just say the cake had a rough trip over after Nick shoved the cake under the chair. It was kind of smushed, but I did my best to fix it.  Henry didn't care.  He blew out his candles and ate his cake.

Three is gonna' be great for my little guy...Happy Birthday King Henry!