Ladybug Blunders

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When the hibernating ladybugs appear on the inside of my window frames I know spring is just around the corner.

These ferocious mini-carnivores are the darlings of my gardens. As a child I would tip the leaf they were crawling on so the ladybug would fall onto my soiled hand.  Then I would rotate my hand as it scurried across palm and fingers, tickling as it went. Eventually the little red bug would tire of my game and suddenly rocket into flight so fast that I never saw from where its wings had come.

I delight in seeing a few of them appear on my windowsills in late winter. My Franciscan heart won’t let me squish the little visitors, so I end up attending to their needs. Yes, it’s true; I give food and water to a bug. Plucking a leaf from a nearby houseplant, I place a droplet of water in the center and then lay it near the wandering red dot. Invariably these tiny creatures are thirsty and motor quickly aboard to have a drink.

After placing the leaf with its passenger onto the soil of a houseplant I lay a very tiny piece of apple nearby. I am not surprised when I check back on my tiny pet I find it sharing a meal with a few of its buddies. Eventually, weather permitting, they are released outside.

So there it was, a ladybug on the sill of the kitchen window. I was happy to see one after a long winter and I placed a drop of water near it. I laughed out loud as it latched onto the side of the droplet and was suddenly set afloat with its tiny black legs swimming frantically while its pincers sucked the water thirstily.

It must have tried to fly off because the next thing I knew it was upside down in the drain to the sink. To avert the impending doom I placed my fingertip nearby for it to latch on to, which it did, and pulled it to what should have been safety.

But my elderly hands desensitized by arthritis had moved in too hard and unintentionally injured the little creature. While lifting it back to the sill it slowly released itself from my finger and fell on to the counter and stopped moving. I was disheartened and chastised myself for being upset…it was JUST a bug for goodness sakes!

Reflecting as I tossed the expired ladybug into the waste-bin, I was reminded that at times our good intentions can go awry. Our desire to help and encourage if brought forth too abruptly can harm. The response “I didn’t mean to do it” says a lot about not having thought things through. And sometimes it’s impossible to undo what’s been done.

When I’ve done something wrong, something I can’t undo and I feel discouraged and despondent, I am reminded of the words from St. Francis de Sales that encourage me. He guides me to know that it is important to acknowledge what I have done, in all my weakness and humanness, and having done what I could to remedy it—move on with awareness to avoid its repeating.

And when I screw up it is usually much bigger than a ladybug.

(Originally ran 4/2013, and I liked it…so here it is again!)

Image by Myriams-Foto at pixabay.com.

Mercy and Full Moon Crosses

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Another bright full moon was casting shadows across the snow covered yard.  I love winter and how it quiets. While I sat in the oratory at prayer a shadow in the shape of a cross was cast on the floor and I was reminded of a post from 2013:

I looked in awe through the low double-hung window at a winter’s full moon. I had gone halfway up the stairs and stopped; midway offers a direct view of the sky. This moon appears brighter with a crisper white light. The intensity of its glow dims the view of nearby stars.

As I was looking out the west window I noticed my long-haired silver cat, Meadow, had come down to me and back up twice as if trying to move me along. I think my halting has confused her. I watched her walk across the area rug to the oratory and back. Looking at me she offered a soft meow as if encouraging me to move on, wanting me to make my way to the chair so she could rest in my lap.

The moon’s light passing through the window is filtered by a silver screen, creating a cross-shaped halo, with the moon at its center. The simple beauty of this illuminated cross fills me with peace and softens the walls of memory. Its Lent, a time of growing by the increasing Light.

I sat down on the steps, leaned against the railing and released a sigh. It had been a very long time since I had allowed myself to reflect on the absence of family. In the light of that full moon, history comes like old photos in cardboard boxes; random, layered, and compelling.

There on top is the warm sepia image of my mother with alluring dark eyes and wavy black hair. Her face wears a calculated smile like a model in a catalog. She is too young and inexperienced to protect the children she bore. She’d sacrificed one lamb, a little girl, to her husband and herded away the others, believing she could keep safe the rest of her flock.

A little farther down is a worn crackled image of a black and white father, too insecure to be other than angry, without the capacity to be any other way. I remember him now as if he were some old man who lived down the street. When I learned of his passing several years ago, my only emotion was that he might, finally, be at peace. It didn’t seem to matter to me that he, as an old man, had been baptized over the kitchen sink of his double-wide trailer.

The memory that comes next is fading like an old Polaroid print. The deteriorating image is of one of my older brother whose name I choose not to speak, from whom there was no escape…ever. I feel confident that he maintained the legacy of our father somewhere in the northern woods.

There are other memories floating up; the overexposed images of my young adulthood. Those out of focus years still lay in an imaginary shoe-box, scrambled without chronology. I do not feel the need to make sense of what remains; those years don’t define who I am anymore.

Sitting on the steps watching the haloed moon as pieces of my past come into focus, I recall a bible verse …pray for those who persecute you…be a child of a different Father…He makes His sun rise and rains fall on the evil and the good…if I love only those who love me, what reward, what healing will I gain? (Mt 5:44-46)

Mercy. Compassion. Both must be given to be received, or more definitively, a concurrent movement.

The years of walking with God have softened my heart and, once the longing abated, left a curiosity of what “family” is.  And though I play with words, I fall short of describing what I do not know.

In the full moon’s shadows I also remember women friends. Those who in their earlier years faced the perils of childbearing and with their husbands struggled to maintain families centered in Christ. I am dumbfounded as to how it all works, and in awe that it does at all.

What I have as family is a kitty sleeping on the landing in the shadow of a winter’s full moon. That is enough for now.

Image Pixabay.com, CCO, Creative Commons.

I Remain Catholic for the Love of a God I Hated

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These days being asked why remain Catholic is more a challenge than a question. Friends and peers on Patheos Catholic Channel, over the past few weeks, have responded with personal stories of commitment rooted in the theology and beauty of our Church (here is a compilation of their amazing work). Their speed of thought and brilliance in writing is astounding!

I’m a bit slower, and struggled in prayer to find words to fit the depth of my love for all our Church offers. My story for why I remain Catholic began with rage.

At ten I stormed through a darkened church, past the communion rail and, standing in the sanctuary, yelled at the crucifix “I hate you!” Four years later lost and hopeless, I became an emancipated child.

My only remaining connection with the Catholic Church was my maternal grandmother. Because of my love for her, I did whatever she asked. As a teenager, that included accompanying her to Mass. I would often stop at the narthex’s massive doors and glare at the crucifix as Grandmother dipped calloused fingers into the holy water font.

“I’m not here for you,” was the snark I offered the Trinity. “I’m here for her.”

Standing up straight, I would proudly walk the length of the nave beside my grandmother to a pew near the front—she was under five feet tall—and sing with her from a shared cardboard hymnal. I still have that sheet, yellowed and permanently imbued with incense.

My wedding was to be a Catholic affair; the matriarchs would have nothing less. I wanted a garden wedding with a crown of flowers and veil of ribbons, a small reception with tea and cake. At age eighteen, with fourteen attendants, a priest-cousin flown in, hundreds of strangers filling the church, and several thousand dollars later, the wedding was had. It was a beautiful ceremony but not what I wanted—in a Catholic church.

The marriage ended three years later when my husband ran off with my brother’s wife.

Overly social and profoundly isolated, I found nothing to fill the massive gaping wounds to my heart. There was no family, no spouse, no children. I continued my solitary rage at God—a gnat flinging spit—and planned for a doctorate, financial independence, to be a feminist in full control. Then one day it all stopped. My rage, and my desires and drive to continue stopped, never, I intended, to begin again. I fully disconnected from the life I had constructed.

Somewhere from the recesses of a mind gone insane were the words of a catechism Nun—and I believed what she taught—that my eternity would be much worse than my miserable life. And I hated God for leaving me without an option, hated His plan of free will, knew that, as a good parent will want to do, He’d tough-loved me until I turned around.

I did the only thing I knew to do and went to a Catholic church. I couldn’t bring myself to touch the holy water and don’t recall genuflecting or from where the rosary in my hand had come. I was on my knees in a pew, silent, angry, hurt, adrift and hopeless. Tears ran down the back of the pew in front of me. For an hour or more, without words, I emptied myself.

In that time, alone in the dark with only the glow from the dimly lit crucifix, I asked and owned the phrase from John’s Gospel. “Lord, to whom shall [I] go?”  And in asking realized how personal hate can be; I could not hate something that didn’t exist.

The conflict since childhood had always been between the brutality of men and the joy of nature, both God’s creation. Nature was the only place where I consistently found peace, where my longing to be loved—by whom I hated—escaped my control. When I experienced the beauty of mountains, wilderness, gardens and oceans my soul would soar.  Now my soul soars in that same way—in a way that I now find in Adoration, with Jesus.

The intimacy with which I had hated God, has in time as intensely become love. And it has taken time—as water unto rock to wear away the edges.

My coming home to the Catholic Church has been incremental. With guidance, I began to grasp the beauty of our signs and symbols, the freeing nature of our catechism, the liberation of surrendering to God. And all in all, I found in our Church the lessons of fortitude in forgiveness and with that an intimacy with God beyond human expression.

Why do I remain a Catholic? When you find true love, when you find a truth and a joy ever present and easily held, there is a greater insanity in turning away.

(Image “Chives and Dew” by  Jitka Volfova, shutterstock .com)

Untidy Waste of Life

file00019483337 Weeds BramblesWeeds. Even in the small garden they are a bother. I yank them out and throw them onto the driveway, making a mess instead of tossing them in a bucket to be composted.

Composting is a good thing, though. We take weeds and organic waste, and jumble it together to make a rich soil. This new material spread around plants gives nourishment for growth and fruitfulness.

Light and water when added to the waste pile encourages microorganisms to break down the unwanted materials. It takes both fresh green material and old, dried up matter to create good compost.

There is purposefulness to composting. It requires a willingness to carry your weeds to a place to be transformed into what gardeners often call “black gold.” It takes some work, too. Once the waste is gathered and piled in a sunny spot, and watered down to activate its decomposition, it must be turned regularly. Sure, the compost can sit unattended, but then the process is incomplete and the weeds will grow happy in the mound of compost.

Weeds and waste will always be part of the garden, even the garden of our soul in which the Lord takes his delight. He knows that. He also knows the value of weeding out and composting the waste for one’s inner garden to become more productive, more fruitful.

I find that Adoration is the place of this transformation, where the pile of debris gets flipped, where composting the black of sin—old or fresh—is  changed, slowly, into something of value, gold—the black gold of the garden that nourishes.

I wonder why I am so unsettled by the thought of composting the waste in my life.

In my heart there is forgiveness, many times for the actions of others, and almost as many for my own. I never realized my unwillingness to go beyond forgiveness—the pulling of weeds—to the cycle of finding purposefulness from the discarded waste. The waste of life that was rooted out is strewn about, untidy, unkempt, and unattended, re-rooting to grow again.

And here I thought weeding was enough.

(Image by monosodium at morguefile.com)

 

 

Prayers and Praise Rose and Fell

shutterstock_163027622Sitting in my oratory, I finished the Salve Regina prayer. I then looked from the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe out the window at a gray winter’s morning. I felt heavy that morning, down, and I didn’t know why. Kissing the blue millefiori rosary in my hand, I returned it to the porcelain dish, and the beads chimed against its sides. I picked up the Liturgy of the Hours from the table and rested the book unopened on my lap next to the long-haired silver cat purring in her sleep.

Thoughts drifted, memories came and went, prayers and praise rose and fell. Somehow, conflicted in the solitude, I felt grateful and sad.

Again I looked out the window. The morning’s light had increased and I saw it was snowing. A delightful memory filled my heart…

I was seven again, lying on my back on the Flexible Flyer sled and wearing a one piece red-quilted snowsuit. It was early morning, very early. Snow had fallen through the night and when I woke the flakes were still coming down. In my excitement I’d hastily bundled-up, pajamas underneath, and in the pre-dawn light left the house without breakfast. No one would be at the hill and I could play freely.

Two blocks away was Martin Road Park and a sizeable hill for sledding. Up and down I went a dozen times or more, until I lay panting and happily spent beyond its skirt. Rolling over on the sled I faced the clouds and giggled as snowflakes landed on eyelashes, and cried with a love so deep there were no words. The only thing I could hear that morning was my heartbeat and breathing. Snow is quiet and it quieted a world that was, for me, hard and loud. At the age of seven I had experienced, for the first time, the sensation of peace.

Since that moment, snow has carried for me that memory of peacefulness. It quiets the world. It slows people down.

My focus returned to the oratory and fell upon my grandmother’s gold-tone crucifix. The snow outside continued and I wondered if manna had fallen the same way in the desert—if it lightly built up on stems and leaves and covered the ground. I wondered, too, at the conflicted People of God who praised and soon griped at that perfect gift grown tiresome.

And I see in myself how often I gripe about something that is ultimately for my good—forgiveness for example. Forgiveness, much like gathering up manna can be a chore, and tiresome in its repetition. But ultimately it brings what we need, and I know how grateful I am that forgiveness exists.

I stood and walked to the window and watched the snow coming down and make white all that seemed dead and dark. I felt again the peace the seven-year-old me knew, of gently falling grace.

(There were several small crises throughout this week, and multiple deadlines had to be met. I fell short accomplishing everything that needed doing, and today’s blog post was one. This column appeared November 2013, and I rather liked it.)

Image by Leonid Ikan, courtesy shutterstock.com.