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!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Rescue Me!

I am one of those girls that likes to be rescued and I am not ashamed to admit it.   I enjoy being rescued from uncomfortable situations that I cannot fix and some that I can.  I like it when men in my life come to my rescue out of chivalry or love.  I am NOT ashamed to admit it; it was just how I was raised.  I blame it all on my father.  As a youth, anytime I asked for his assistance, he was there.  When I was sick at college, he would stop everything, get in the car and drive two hours to bring me home.  If I had a flat tire, my dad would find a way to matter the location.  He made me feel special because he never complained.  He did it for love; and I knew it and loved him for it.  He made me feel safe and wanted.

There were two instances this week in which I needed to be rescued.  Nothing big mind you, but problematic none the less. The first instance was in the parking lot of a bagel place I frequent regularly. Not thinking, I kept the air conditioner in my car running which in turn drained the battery of any power.  Sure enough, I turned the ignition and heard the familiar "clicking' that indicates that my battery was dead.  Drat!  My husband was out of town, so I immediately called up a few male friends who I knew would know what do do.  No one was home so I was out of luck.  Sadly, I started to panic and wanted to cry.  I wanted my dad and while he lives over 1000 miles away, I knew that if I called him he would COME. But I knew that was probably an unrealistic solution so I thought of a viable Plan B.

So I called a local tire place located just down the street and asked if there was anyone there who could come to the bagel place and give my car a jump.  Sure enough, a young boy no older than 20 years old offered to come down and help.  He arrived with the power box in hand and hooked it up to my car, but it did not work.  He offered to call AAA for me, but I was not sure how long that would take so I asked him if he would consider bringing back jumper cables to jump my car the old fashioned way.  I knew he was busy and had many more things to get done, but he nodded his head and off he went to get cables.  After about 10 minutes I was on my way; my car all juiced up.  I offered the young man $20 for his trouble but he would not accept it.  Rescued!

The second instance is gross, I assure you.  It involves a certain insect that, I am sure, line the walls of Hell:  Roaches.  I hate them.  They scare me more than any other creature on this planet partly because they are ugly and partly because they show up when you least expect them.  Such was the case earlier in the week when my son Nick mentioned that he saw a big roach next to my lower kitchen cabinets.  I dreaded walking near the part of the kitchen where the devil's favorite insect might be.  The next day, I had forgotten all about the roach and started making dinner.  Sure enough, the little demon showed it's tenticles. It's long brown body scurried past my foot and I started screaming as if my arm was cut off and bleeding all over the floor! Henry thought the whole show was hilarious and mimicked my squeals.  But my husband, Chris, instantly knew what was going on.  He knows that certain pitch...the cockroach scream.... where he will, no doubt, be called on to save his wife.

"Chris, I saw a roach! Get it!"   Chris calmly looked around the cabinets and could not find evidence of any devil roach.  He went into the garage to get some insect poison, returned to the kitchen and sprayed the places where he thought it might go.

Not two hours later, I open up the cabinet under the sink, jumped back about three feet and saw IT. Devil cockroach was there..on it's back..its little legs squirming in the air, but basically dead.  YUCK!  My hero scooped the thing up in a napkin and disposed of it!  Rescued and loved!

Hug your hero today and let him know that he does not have to rescue a damsel from a fire-breathing dragon any longer.  But saving her from dead batteries and evil cockroaches...the modern hugely appreciated!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Gus's new hobby

Me: Gus, why are you going through my purse?

Gus: 'Cuz it is like a 'wonderland'.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Being 10

Jack has turned 10 today.  There was not much fanfare since he had to share the day with his sister's first day of school as a senior in high school, his brothers first day as an 8th grader and the regular chaos that normally ensues on the first day of school.  Poor Jack. His birthday always comes during one of the busiest times of the year:  the beginning of school.

As usual, we have to postpone Jack's party until the weekend when we will take Jack and a few of his best buds to the cabin for a few days of swimming, boating, making smores and riding the ever-popular go-kart.

But because of the timing of Jack's  birthday, I always try harder to make his birthday DAY special.  I try to find gifts that he will especially like, a cake that is his favorite flavor; a dinner that makes him smile....mostly because I feel guilty that he may feel overlooked.  But Jack is always content and happy with what his mom and dad provide.  I see it in his smile and his sweet nature.  But I always have that nagging feeling that I fell short.  Very short.  Maybe there was not enough attention paid to the day Jack graced our lives forever.

I forget that Jack is probably one of the most content children in the family...much of it due to the fact that he knows how to entertain himself in a family of extroverts.  He is very good at  reading, playing with friends and hanging with his brothers. He's a happy kid.

Later in the evening after presents, dinner and cake...Jack says to me much to my surprise, "It was the best  birthday ever!"

Well, it wasn't much hoopla, but we did mark the day with hugs and kisses in thanksgiving for our content child, Jack.  (John Christoper)  And it was apparently enough for him!

Happy Birthday Jack!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My baby, all grown up

My baby. My first.

She's all grown up. And is a senior in high school. A SENIOR!

Just a few years ago, my days were long, exhausting days with my new baby, new husband, new life, new world. And the days went by very, very slowly. Today, as I look at this picture of my first born, playing the life out of her trombone; I reflect back to those early days when so many people would tell me how 'fast time flies' and that 'before you know it, she'll be off to college'. I remember patiently nodding my head at them in agreement; shifting my baby from one hip to the other, but inside thinking they were crazy. "Oh, they are just nostalgic for their younger days." I would think.

Well, they weren't crazy. Time does go faster as the kids get older, and 17 years later I am jolted to the core as I stare at a picture of my daughter fully grown, doing what she loves (band), with her back turned in the picture as if to tell me: "Mom, it's time for be to get ready to go. I'm ready to walk away from you and dad and enter the vast world."

I have one precious year left with my daughter at home and I plan to milk each and every minute of it. Every concert, every practice, every quiet moment I will relish because she's my #1 guinea pig for all the other babies and a good one she was.

And the moment she does walk away from me...I'll be able to say that she gave me a life worth living, a new perspective, and wild and fun ride into what raising children all about. And that hopefully will get me through MY moment of nostalgia....when I see that mom with a baby on her hip..and I say, "before you know it, she'll be off to college."

Enjoy your children everyone...time DOES go by fast.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Becca's band friends come over....

Gus:(hiding behind the bookshelf) Mom, we're being INVADED!

Me: Really? By whom?

Gus: Teenagers!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Love = Reading to your sons!

Well, summer has been humming along over here at the Clemens house, and school begins the end of August (not that I'm counting or anything). It is getting to the point that I am desperately looking for projects or outings that the kids will enjoy and that I will not lose my mind planning. Oh, we've been to the museums, on walks, fishing, swimming, camp, hiking, baking bread, and on and on, but one of my favorite summer things we have done together is READ.

Jack and Gus are totally engrossed in the Percy Jackson book series which begins with the book, "The Lightning Thief". There are a total of 5 books in this series and each one is just as creative and adventure filled as the next. I find myself hurrying the boys to their baths and bed-time routine so that we can meet together in my King Size bed for our reading time. I so enjoy hearing my boys laugh out loud as I read the latest adventure. We even guess what will happen when the foreshadowing of an event occurs in the book. What fun!!

If you are an adult, go and get yourself the first book in the series and read it. You will enjoy it as much as the kids! It is such a pleasure to find a book series that brings all ages in our home together for quality time. Reading time is MY favorite summertime activity with the kids, and I don't even have to leave the house!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stop, Look and Listen

At the parish where I work, we are in the midst of a very large building project that is changing the old church site into a newer, bigger, more modern place for more Christians to come and worship. The demand for more space is huge at our ever-growing parish and it a beautiful thing. God has blessed us with resources to continue to build his kingdom both physically and spiritually and I feel blessed to be a part of God's massive undertaking here in CH. It is an exciting place to be right now, an exciting place to work.

Because of all the construction equipment and workers on the site, the parish campus is very loud. Very. Even though I work inside temporary trailers, I can still hear the humming machinery outside and the beeping of equipment I could never begin to operate myself. Looking out the trailer window, the workers are very busy trying to meet construction deadlines and building requirements. They have much to accomplish before school begins in the Fall. They are doing a great job and working quickly and steadily to do the job right.

In the parish office we are working diligently and steadily to prepare for the Fall faith development (Sunday School) year. Every day we inch a bit closer to the moment where we welcome the 900 + youth and children through the doors of their classrooms to enlighten and teach the Catholic faith. We use the latest technology and social networks to get information out to parents, fast and efficient computers to communicate and search for religious resources. We have facebook groups, twitter updates, newsfeeds, e-newsletters and much more. The purpose of which is to help build His kingdom....yet ironically, it is hard to find the voice of God though it all. It is very loud; we are very busy.

The other day, I was walking through the construction zone over to the church. I am always happy to come into the church...a church that I know well, that is my home, that holds who I am within its walls. When I walked inside, it was quiet and peaceful and I felt comforted and content to be there. The loud world quickly disappeared and I was alone.

For me, it is slightly uncomfortable to be in the church alone. I feel the tug on my heart to go and spend more time with Jesus. It is when I am alone in the church that I can sense God calling me...most especially when I have passed the Blessed Sacrament chapel...I can hear God say, "Come, be with me". But more often than not, I think, "I'm busy God, doing your must understand that I am busy..right? I must prepare for the faith development year."

But God always wins and I finally kneel before the Blessed Sacrament. All of my failings and flaws are placed before Him. As a youth minister of the church, a mom, a wife and friend... if I can't make time for God-the creator of who I am and what I do... then I am doing something wrong. This kind of communication with our Lord requires nothing fancy, nothing with instant news feeds or e-mails. It requires one on one time that only comes when I make it a priority.

As the world gets busier and adds more communication options, it's comforting to know that God does not require anything fancy to communicate, just time and an open heart.

Be still and know that I am God.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mission '09

Well, we are off to embark on a mission. A mission to reveal God's love to those less fortunate.

I am slightly embarrassed to mention that this is the first large group mission trip our church has ever taken with a group of youth. It had always been a dream of mine to start such a ministry, but I never had enough hands to get a project like this off the ground. As divine intervention would have it, a dear friend had the same desire for our youth and offered to help me organize what seemed like a mammoth task. We worked diligently for a year to get this project started...and after many months of planning we are finally embarking on the goal: A real-life mission trip for the youth of STM!

Oh, it's nothing glamorous or glitzy. We are not going anywhere far off, but we are going to help others who are in need.

We leave tomorrow at 9am to a location only 5 hours away. We are working with Group Work Camps and they will be giving us our community service projects when we arrive. The best part is that while there, we will be gathering with other Christian youth groups from different parts of the country and will be working side by side with them...learning serve from the heart.

When you have a bit of time, please pray for the youth of my parish, the chaperons and the many hands that we will be working with this week. Pray that we see God frequently in all that we do, and that we leave our mission better Christians and more understanding of the plight of our poor.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corpus Christi

Ave Verum Corpus

Hail, true Body born of the Virgin Mary;
truly you suffered,
impaled on the cross for the sins of the world.
From your pierced side flowed blood and water.
In my last agony,
grant me a foretaste of your presence.
O sweet Jesus
O Gracious Jesus,
son of Mary,
have mercy on me.
Tr. by Andrew Burnham, A Manual of Anglo-Catholic Devotion

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gus's First Holy Communion

Sunday was a wonderful day for the family! It was Mother's Day and also the day my 4th child received his first Holy Communion. I must say that it was the best Mother's Day gift ever! The tears flowed as I watched my excited son approach Fr. John..hands extended and and full of expectation. Afterwards, Gus entered the pew and exclaimed, "Mom! Jesus tastes good!"

Yes, Gus, he most certainly does.

May we all remember the excitement of our first Holy Communion, now and until the end of our days.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The inquisition

Jack and Gus were on Spring Break this past week. In order to keep them occupied with things other than video games, I took them to the local hobby store to find a "project" they could work on. It did not go well.

Me: Gus, why don't we buy some airplane models for you and Jack to work on?

Gus: Naw. That is not our "thing". That is Nick's thing. He likes models.

Me: Ok, well, what are you and Jack into these days. What is your thing?

Gus: (pausing for a second and then running over to Jack) Jack, what are we into?

Jack: Video games

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Endings. A note to our youth catechists.

As we begin the final three sessions of the faith development year, my mind turns to more sentimental things. Endings. I just hate endings. As you all know, the parish office was demolished last week and a shiny new gym will stand exactly where the old building was. There were many good memories in the parish office for me as well as those I work with. Many years ago it was a convent and was later converted into the STM parish offices. If only those walls could talk!

I was wondering when I looked at the pictures of the destroyed office whether the many hands that worked so diligently all these years had any real effect on the many faces that graced its doorway? Did we make a difference in the lives of the faithful? Was Jesus happy with our ministries and most importantly, did we do justice to being “Christ’s hands and feet?" There were many memorable events over the years. We celebrated with those coming to plan weddings, baptisms, new registrations, conversions etc…but most assuredly there were the days where people came in for help out of desperation and sadness: those hungry, those struggling with fallen away children, an unexpected death and sadness. The parish staff worked hard to understand, listen, serve and hold those who were in pain and suffering. We did what we could and that is all. The Lord took care of the rest. That is our commitment to our calling, our ministry, what we were placed here for.

At the same time, we look toward the ending of the faith development year and the many memories we hold of the junior high youth group and their unique exuberance for life. We have had some great moments where we collected tons of clothes for the poor, invited inpirational speakers such as APeX ministries and Steve Angrisano, had whitewater rafting/skiing adventures, movie nights, open gym nights...we prayed together, laughed together and became friends. All good memories, all good times.

Then there were those tougher things to get through…the challenging kids who proved to be difficult in the classroom, sacramental prep struggles, bilingual barriers, coming unprepared, what seemed like a million distractions, and lack of time to impart the teachings of a very big church. Did you wonder at times if you would ever get this year over with? I did.

But as we near the end of this faith development year, we naturally want to ask ourselves the question, “Did I make a difference with the kids?” Did I do a good enough job? Did I do justice to being “Christ’s hands and feet?” “Does it even matter?”

And these are good questions to ask. Especially at the end of the year.

I don’t know for certain the answer, but I do know of many adults along my journey who helped me in my early years of formation, and I am sure they asked themselves the very same questions. Who were the ones who helped to form you? Did they do a good job?

We are ministers of Jesus and his Church. With Mary as our mother and Jesus as the center of our lives, we impart the wisdom of the faith to the kids each Sunday, and that is all we can do. The Lord takes care of the rest. That is our commitment to this ministry. So walk in confidence that Christ is with you in your class and that while things may not be going so well in the physical world, it is what happens in the supernatural world that counts….and he is there at both. Cheering you on and walking with you and your class and fertilizing the seeds that you are so diligently sowing. So keep sowing and never stop; that is the part that never ends. And that is the part where together, we are making a difference.

Mark. 4: 26 and 27: This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cousins, then and now.

Henry and Cousin Mary-2007

Henry and cousin Mary 2009

“Cousins are many. Best friends are few. What a rare delight to find both in you.”

How 'ya doin?

After the wonderful Easter Vigil, our dear family friend Fr. Scott approached me and said, "Do you know what your oldest son did tonight?" I looked at him with dread and said, "Don't tell me, I don't want to know."

He told me anyway.

When 12 year old Nick came up for communion, Fr. Scott raised the host and said, "Body of Christ."

Nick replied in a most honest and sincere way, leaned in and said, " Amen. So, how 'ya doin?"

Yep, my son Nick wanted to start a conversation with the priest in the middle of communion. Totally clueless. Totally sincere. I just love that kid because it all comes from innocence and sweetness.

That whole incident got me to thinking about Nick and his true self. Nick comes by all of this honestly. He has no real sense of the sacred, but neither does his poor mother. It's all learned. I mean, the part that amuses me so much is the many urges I've had over the years to receive communion with more than just an "Amen". Sometimes when I see a Eucharistic minister I know well, I have to hold my spirited self back from saying something similar to "how 'ya doin oh, and thanks for Jesus!" It just seems like the natural thing to do. This person is giving you the most amazing gift of all so it seems appropriate that they receive a hug, embrace, a wink, smile, kiss on the cheek or whatever! It is an intimate act that has profound meaning which has the relational aspect to it suppressed for practical reasons.

What is more interesting is the quiet understated receiving that I have witnessed over the years both as a teenage Eucharistic minister and as an observant adult. That relational piece always finds its way out, which gives me joy that there is more than an 'Amen' going on in the hearts of the faithful. There is real joy, hope, peace in receiving. I've seen tears streaming from older faces, excitement from the first holy communicants, desperation from those truly seeking God, humility, those walking on their knees for miles to receive and blatant disinterest. It's all good; part of the journey; part of what we relate to as human beings.

All in all, a good strong AMEN has it all covered. Nick and I can keep it short, sweet and to the point...but when the innocent blurt out a random comment or smile...there is our God....saying, how 'ya doin. I love you. It is perfect, so, so perfect.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

O Jesus, Who by reason of Thy burning love for us
hast willed to be crucified
and to shed Thy Most Precious Blood
for the redemption and salvation of our souls,
look down upon us here gathered together
in remembrance of Thy most sorrowful Passion and Death,
fully trusting in Thy mercy;
cleanse us from sin by Thy grace,
sanctify our toil,
give unto us and unto all those who are dear to us our
daily bread,
sweeten our sufferings,
bless our families,
and to the nations so sorely afflicted,
grant Thy peace,
which is the only true peace,
so that by obeying Thy commandments
we may come at last to the glory of heaven.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Roll 'um.

My son Nick is a master procrastinator. That being said, he comes by it honestly since both of his parents are woefully bad at deadlines. Still, it is a challenge for me not to pull my hair out in frustration when Nick comes home mentioning a project that needs to be completed. Here is how this conversation usually rolls:

Me: Nick, do you have any homework tonight?

Nick: Ummmmm. Not really. I just have a small thing to do.

Me: What is it?

Nick: Just a small project for English.

Me: (suspicious) Small project for English? How small?

Nick: Oh, it's no big deal...I just have to make a movie.

Me: Oh. (even more suspicious) When is it due?

Nick: Tomorrow.

Me: WHAT? TOMORROW? Are you crazy Nick???

Anyway, you get the jist and all. I wouldn't react as harshly if it were the first time the boy procrastinated. But he's been doing this since 4th grade and giving me a heart attack each time.

Now in the beginning of this habit, I would help him get out of the mess he put himself in. Many a night he and I would stay up and complete a poster board of a famous individual, or a collage, or diorama and the list goes on. But since he has been in Middle School, I rarely help him out of these predicaments. This is a good thing since theoretically he will learn that there are consequences to waiting until the last minute..and that he will learn from that, and that he will start earlier on these projects, and that he will realize that projects that get the best grades are the ones that you slave over....theoretically.

OK, so back to the movie he needed to make.  Nick only had  a few hours to complete the project. 

"Nick!" I exclaimed, "You don't even know HOW to make a movie, much less how to operate the camera or even make a story board! I can't help you out of this mess, Nick. I don't even know how to make a movie!" Nick looked at me calmly and said, "Mom, don't worry..I know what I am doing!" I glared in anger at my 12 year old (having heard that phrase before) and waved him away to start doing whatever he was going to do.Unfazed by my attitude Nick said, "Can I borrow your camera?" "Yes" I reluctantly replied, "but don't break it!"

A few minutes later, a couple of neighborhood kids knocked on the door and asked to see Nick. They had been enlisted by him to be his actors. I heard some running around, bumps and clunks and soon after, they went home.  Nick went upstairs to the computer to begin his editing work.  I just waited.  Waited for my son to do what he normally does in these instances, and that is to come down the stairs whining about how much work he has left to do on his project.  I waited some more.  No Nick.  

After about an hour and a half, knowing that it was late, and feeling Nick's pain a bit I decided  to go upstairs to offer any help.  There he was, sitting at the computer shuffling things around on the screen, typing words, playing with music....all kinds of things.  I walked closer to get a better look.  

I just stood there amazed.  He had basically finished the project  and it was interesting...I mean for a 12 year old who had never made a was amazing!  And I had NO idea how he did it!!  

"Mom, do you like it? What do you think?  Should I add music here?  How about if I add an accent?"  I just sputtered out something like, "Nick, where did you learn how to do this?"  "Oh, remember that movie making camp you sent me to last summer?  I learned it there."  

Oh.  He learned how to make a movie at the movie camp last summer.  Imagine that.  Amazing.  I stood humbled and proud and shocked and a little embarrassed that I did not have enough faith in my son to complete what he said he could complete.  I apologized to Nick and told him that I was delighted in his project.

Before you watch Nick's 47 second movie, I'll let you know that he was to create a movie based on a book he read in class....a short preview of the book, if you will.  

I don't know if he learned any valuable lessons from this project, but he did prove his mom wrong. You GO Nick! I love to be surprised by you.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pandora-Internet Radio

Now I may be a little late to the party, but if you have not yet learned of the Human Genome Project---a project developed by musicians that group certain styles of music that you enjoy into an Internet radio---it's time to pay the website a visit!  You simply enter one of your favorite artists, and the Internet radio selects an array of songs/artists that you will enjoy. It's kind of scary in a way. It seems to know exactly what you want to hear and plays the songs in a pleasant order.

To access the radio, called Pandora, here and enjoy the music!! while you surf the net!! (BTW, for those of you with the I-pod touch or the I-phone, there is a app for Pandora that you can download.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Haircut Season!

Line 'em up!  It's time for summer cuts!

Henry Before:

Henry after!!

The Annunciation

This feast symbolizes and celebrates the announcement of the incarnation by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, and the conception of Christ in her womb.  

The story of the Annunciation, meaning the announcing, from the Latin annuntiare, is told in Luke's gospel. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive a Son, and his name will be Jesus. His greeting, "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you" has echoed down through the ages in many prayers, and is known as the "Hail Mary." Mary is initially confused as to how she will bear God's Son, seeing as she is a virgin. The angel then explains that the Holy Spirit will come upon on her. This is why when we recite the Nicene creed we say "by the power of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus] was born of the Virgin Mary and became man." The Apostles Creed likewise affirms that Jesus was "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit." Thus, the Feast of the Annunciation is the beginning of Jesus' miraculous life, and it begins with the theotokos conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit's power.

Mary's response to the angel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word," (Latin: ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum) is a statement of humble faith, and a model for how we are to respond when God calls us to do what seems impossible. This response is called Mary's fiat, from the Latin word meaning "let it be done." The Catechism addresses the significance of Mary's faith in relation to her role as Christ's mother:

By pronouncing her "fiat" at the Annunciation and giving her consent to the Incarnation, Mary was already collaborating with the whole work her Son was to accomplish. She is mother wherever he is Savior and head of the Mystical Body (973).


Monday, March 09, 2009

The Formation of Conscience

I was walking through Gus's school last night and saw a display of crosses created by the 2nd graders. Beside each cross was a petition to God. I was moved when I read the simplicity and honesty of my son's petition:

Dear God: Help me to be nicer to my brothers Nick and Jack because I yell at them too much.

If only my petitions were as simple and straightforward.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

A friend mentioned that as a former Catholic, she never knew exactly why she gave up things for Lent. She said that no one ever explained the reasoning behind having to give up particular foods, habits, etc. Of course she found it a dull, dry and hollow tradition. I paused and had to remember the reasons behind the whole "giving something up" for Lent in my Catholic tradition. At times it feels hard to explain, but once reminded, I am grateful for a time in the year where my habits are challenged...and challenged for a really, really good reason.

One of the best ways to begin Lent is with the Holy Father’s message:

From what I have said thus far, it seems abundantly clear that fasting represents an important ascetical practice, a spiritual arm to do battle against every possible disordered attachment to ourselves. Freely chosen detachment from the pleasure of food and other material goods helps the disciple of Christ to control the appetites of nature, weakened by original sin, whose negative effects impact the entire human person. Quite opportunely, an ancient hymn of the Lenten liturgy exhorts: “Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia – Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.”

May we all find freedom from our human desires and seek God in all that we say and do this Lent.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mardi Gras Madness!

The other night, I organized a mini Mardi Gras event for the youth group complete with D.J., King Cakes, silly carnival games and lots of door prizes! The event went smoothly and attracted around 100 youth group kids and their friends. Of course, my boys were very interested in attending an event where there would be food and prizes. They found my box of wacky Mardi Gras costumes and decided to show them off for the camera! Doesn't Henry look fabulous in purple??

Here's to ringing in the Lenten season with plenty of fun and frolik!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

6 boy pile-up

Since I have four boys in my house, it is expected that these boys will want other, louder, more boisterous boys over for some play time.  I don't know why they can't settle for each other...I mean, I think I have been plenty generous in giving them enough male siblings to pick from (don't you think?) but alas, they eventually beg for another male friend to play with. When the friend/friends come over, rough play becomes part of the play-time routine.  Boys can't help it.  They have the desire to dominate in their nature.  The rough play starts innocently enough, starting with the universal name for all buddies:"Dude". It usually goes something like this:  

Boy #1 "Hey, Dude, check out my moves with the sword." 

Boy #2:  "Awww, Dude, yeah, that is pretty cool, can I fight you?" 

Boy #3:  "Yeah, Dude, let's train to be fighters! We will have a competition to see who is best."

Boy #4:  "Doooooood, you can't beat me, my dad tells me I'm the best fighter in the neighborhood."

OK, so you see the progression here.  They eventually invite as many testosterone filled boys to participate, challenge each other and finally move toward wrestling. (All of this despite the pleadings of the mom to "be careful or you'll take someones eye out!!")  This gets especially interesting during the winter months when much of this behavior moves inside.  

Boys come by this naturally; mostly by learning from other boys.  They give each other advice, encourage more daring moves and take pride in showing the younger set "how it's done."  This brings us to a moment this past holiday where there were 6 boys involved in competitive wrestling in my house (see pic).  Now the interesting part of this is that while these boys were wrestling on the ground, King Henry decided that it looked really fun. He decided to insert himself in the activity by jumping off the ottoman onto the pile of arms and legs below. 

We all were shocked at the enthusiasm of our 2 year old!  He was not afraid, he was empowered!!!  Over and over Henry would release a guttural growl, and then fly through the air onto the pile.  Why not?  His brothers were doing it and Henry loves his brothers.  See, there you have it, learned behavior...all in the span of 10 minutes. 

Part of me watched and enjoyed every minute...part of me just wanted to scream, "Dude!!!  Watch out for your baby brother!!!"

Sunday, February 01, 2009

2009 Clemens Family Superbowl Predictions

Jack: Cardinals 21, Steelers 14
Gus: Cardinals 37, Steelers 27
Becca: Cardinals 26, Steelers 20
Nick: Cardinals 39, Steelers 47
Dad: Cardinals 17, Steelers 21
Mom: Cardinals 27, Steelers 28
Henry: no opinion

Superbowl cuisine: Create your own taco (bar), chips and hot sauce, grapes, lemonaide and for dessert: create your own ice cream Sundae!!

Just for kicks, the entire family is rooting for the Cardinals....because we are Catholic!!

Monday, January 19, 2009

LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

On the eve of this momentous inauguration, I ask you all you pause to watch this very short clip on the potential of LIFE. I understand that there are many hardships that would justify the act of abortion and I am sympathetic and understanding of the difficult situation a woman with an unplanned pregnancy faces. But I feel more strongly that the LIFE inside the woman has the right to its own LIFE. Hope is what this country is all about and we throw it away at over 1.1 million lives a year. Let us extend Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness to all our citizens, especially the smallest among us.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I thirst...

Well, Danielle Rose does it again. She has released another amazing inspirational album of faith titled "I thirst". Her combination of folk/contemplative music sends me into an immediate state of prayer. Her lyrics are filled with scripture references as well as reminders to strive for humility, grace and making Jesus the center of the family. A clear tribute to all that Mother Teresa worked toward as an example for all of us. I highly recommend this album for anyone needing peace from the sometimes hectic world in which we live. Listen to some of her songs at the Catholic Music Network and then buy her album!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Music and Arts

Music is a big part of our lives here at the Clemens compound. We listen to all types of music most of the day. We have i-pods, an i-pod dock in the kitchen and playroom as well as radios that play all sorts of music. At at least two times a day you will hear one, maybe two, of my children practicing either an electric piano, trombone, french horn, trumpet or guitar. Sometimes it is a painful experience for a parent to hear the squeeks and squaks of an instrument that is just being learned, but most times it is a joy to hear the sounds of music at the hands of your offspring. Actually it is delightful.

At times, I will be outside on the porch swinging with Henry, and hear Rebecca's soulful trombone playing from her room. Henry is accustomed to her practice times and listens as well. "Trombone" he softly says through his binky. She plays a piece, stops, adjusts her technique, tries again and again. The sounds lilts outside the house and down the road, bounces off neighbors homes... for all to hear. I am amazed that a child that came from my body is so good at something that is completely foreign to me. It's a mystery to me that while children come to this world with some characteristics of their parents, still have a unique individualism that makes them who they are...separated from their parents. Aren't they supposed to be just like us??

As a parent, I've made it a priority that my kids learn to play at least one instrument. It teaches more than just notes, but an appreciation of sounds, emotion, the musician, as well as instilling a sense of discipline and hand-eye coordination. All good things, all worthy educational experiences even if they don't end up playing in the best orchestras. The local school band is great to me.

That being said, I was at a loss for Jack and Gus. My "irish twins" who are 8 and 9 lacked any real instruction in any instrument. I looked around for something they could learn together, but had no idea what to guide them toward, they are so young. Luckily I ran into an old friend who is a master musician in her own rite. She was giving lessons in none other than....the violin. "Violin", I thought. Now that's an idea!

I went home and shared my idea with the boys. Jack instantly became excited about the prospect of becoming a violin player. Gus? No dice. He scowled at the idea and said "I'm not doing it." "Too bad", I responded, "It will be good for you." I started researching how to find a decent violin and quickly found hundreds of inexpensive violins for sale on e-bay. Believe it or not, I discovered some brand new, cheaply made violins for only $50 a piece. They were awesome for starter violins and so I plotted to purchase the violins for Christmas have the boys open their instruments on Christmas day.

Long story short, the boys opened their violins on Christmas, and even Gus excitedly exclaimed, "I didn't know I would get my own violin!!! That's awesome!"

Since then, the boys have begun their lessons and are totally on board (for now.) I did, however, catch them trying to use the violin bows as swords the other day (so tempting!!). They have learned some fingering, how to hold the instrument and have learned a short song! And while their playing is not exactly music to my ears, it is....totally delightful!