Lessons From the Sea

Our family has always had a fascination with sea glass. Though we spend more time in the mountains, and I’ve never been a beach person, we love walking along the shoreline, searching for brightly colored pieces of time. It’s a peaceful, calming act in a world of noise and chaos. That was how we spent the last day of our vacation, and it was the perfect ending to an adventurous week!

My sister-in-law makes amazing jewelry, pictures, and other items from sea glass, so we’re always on the hunt for unique pieces and colors. Not to mention, the girls and I love sea glass earrings and necklaces!

Besides the beauty of the glass and serenity of the hunt for them, I think there are some lessons to be learned from these small fragments of glass that would serve us all well.

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What is Your Treasure?

“But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God”(Luke 12:21).

We heard these words in Sunday’s Gospel just before leaving on our summer vacation. Vacations are sacred to us, treasures to be kept in our hearts and cherished. They aren’t tangible, and they can’t be stored physically, but they are precious gifts that we always look forward to and look back upon.

Many years ago, Ken and I made the decision to never skip a family vacation. He has always worked high pressure jobs and rarely has the ability to just take a day off or check out early. Before he had his present job, he traveled so much, he was hardly home for the equivalent of an entire week per month. For his own mental health, we knew that we had to make vacations one of the top priorities in our marriage.

When we lead marriage prep classes for our diocese, we do an exercise in which the couples have to list their individual priorities for their marriage and then share and discuss with their fiancés what their couple priorities for the marriage are. Many of these couples include travel as a priority. We always encourage them to keep that as a priority, especially when they have families, because those times are a treasure indeed.

I’ve written before about how important vacations are in a marriage and family even if it’s just a trip to some place in your home town. But they are more than just jaunts away from home or time off from work.

They are treasures to be grasped and held onto.

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Finding The Way

Next fall, 2023, a few friends and I are planning to walk El Camino de Santiago in Spain. For those who may be unfamiliar with this, El Camino de Santiago, The Way of St. James, is a network of ancient routes taken by pilgrims wishing to make the same journey that St. James made while spreading Christianity (known in the first century as The Way) in Spain. The routes all end at the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, The City of St. James. Hundreds of thousands of people make the pilgrimage every year on routes that take between 8 and 35 days.

We’re not doing the 35 day route only because it’s a long time to be away, but we felt we wanted more than 8 days to experience this pilgrimage. We’ve decided on 14 days, and we will be doing the pilgrimage the way it’s supposed to be done–no tourist agency to plan our every step, no porter to take our bags from one stop to the next, no fancy hotels or five star restaurants. Just us, our lightly packed backpacks, walking sticks, and a modest hotel every few days. We will stay in local BnBs owned by families needing the income to survive. For this trip, there will be four of us, all learning our way along The Way. In 2024, I will be taking a large group of pilgrims (and doing things the easier way with professional help, porters, etc). This time, though, the pilgrimage is for me.

The View from Cat's Den

This week, as Ken and I explore the world outside our cabin in the San Juan Rang of the Colorado Rockies, I begin my preparation for The Way.

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Transformed by Fire

As many of you know, last week I spent five days with my tribe, the women who inspire me, encourage me, and pray for me. It was an amazing trip filled with adventures. One of our outings was to the Franklin Park Conservatory which displays a permanent collection of the famed Chihuly glass. The glasswork can be seen throughout the conservatory’s gardens and exhibits and are meant to “highlight the connection between art and nature.” Each piece of glass was a masterpiece in and of itself, and the displays throughout the butterfly garden and other botanical exhibits were breathtaking. After seeing the magnificent works of art, we knew we could not miss the demonstration of how the works were made.

As we sat in the outside pavilion, warmed on that chilly day by the 1800° oven, we were enthralled by the artisan, by his love of this beautiful form of art, and by the transformation of each piece from a glob of clear, melted glass dipped in crushed, colored glass to a beautiful work of art. Over the course of about 30 minutes, the glasswork was put into the oven at least a dozen times, each time being heated and then molded, changing and becoming that which it was intended to be. Even the color of the glass–clear when first taken from the oven, red when heated, and then the color of the crushed glass as it cooled–symbolized the transformation from indistinguishable glob to bowl or cup or vase or magnificent piece of art. Once the piece was shaped as desired by the artisan, it would be cooled overnight in a kiln at 900°, thus finishing the process.

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Finding the Right Host

I spent this past weekend on a girls’ trip with my besties. We try to get together twice a year, and even a worldwide virus couldn’t stop us from seeing each other last year or the year before.

We played a few games on Friday night that Susan put together to see how much we’d gotten to know each other over the past six years that we’ve been as close as sisters. We learned so much about one another that we never knew! In fact, it was a whole weekend of learning with trips to the Air Force Museum, the zoo, a butterfly garden, a glass-blowing demonstration, and more. Of all that we learned, the thing that keeps coming to mind is that I learned what it means to be a good host.

Let me explain…

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I Pray for Them

This past weekend, Ken and I went out to dinner with another couple. The four of us try very hard to get together about once a month, which isn’t easy with the busy lives we lead, but it’s crucial that we make the effort. We’ve known John and Alix for almost twenty years. Alix and I have been in the same Bible study group for nearly that long. Our kids went to the same school from first grade through high school. Ken and John went on a mission trip to Guatemala together. Our friendship is based on all these things, but what really holds it together is our faith. I have learned so much about prayer, faith, and healing from these wonderful people.

My long-time readers probably know that Ken was in politics for a very long time, almost half our marriage. His political career came to an end during a very tumultuous time in our lives. It was difficult for all of us. Imagine that the person you love most in the world is made into a scapegoat, has his name and reputation smeared by people he trusted, and is dragged through the mud for no other reason than political motivations. It was a heart-breaking time for me, to see my husband’s face on the news and read his name in the paper and know that everything being said was a lie. Rather than being relieved when the state ethics board cleared him 100%, I was angry because our lives had been turned upside down and because the media never once acknowledged his innocence other than a teeny, tiny one paragraph blip hidden at the bottom of an inner page in the local paper. I asked my husband over and over again how he was dealing with all this, how he was coping with the loss of trust and friendship he had, how he showed no anger toward the people who did this to hm, and his response to me was always the same. He simply said, “I pray for them.”

Now, if that doesn’t stop you in your tracks and make you look inward, nothing will.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Matthew 5:44

But there’s more to those four little words than I could comprehend at the time. So much more.

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Mind, Body, Spirit

About seven or eight months ago, I made two major changes to my personal health and fitness. I started seeing a chiropractor to help alleviate my arthritis pain, and I began an anti-inflammatory diet. What a difference I am seeing in my life as a result of these two things! I go for days, weeks, even months with zero arthritis pain (barometric pressure changes still get me every time), and my gut health is better than ever. These two changes have led to other changes in my lifestyle, and Lent is a great time to usher in even more.

For many years, I have done daily exercise. I visited the YMCA every morning for close to ten years before the pandemic struck and I discovered a whole world of exercise classes right on YouTube! Now, exercise fits into my schedule, and the type of class I choose is reflective of my needs that day. After trying lots of different things, I’ve settled on a Pilates and yoga mix each morning and a cardio workout every evening. Between the anti-inflammatory foods and the two exercise routines, I am actually losing weight for the first time in years without feeling like I’m missing out or killing myself doing it. This Lent, I decided to take some of these practices as well as my prayer life to the next level.

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The Power of Love

We are now in the month of February. It’s the month of love. It’s the month when lovers express their feelings for each other and typically the month when we begin Lent, the greatest season of love in the Church. It can be a cold month, when this part of the world can be blanketed in snow, when much of nature is dormant or dead, and when the sun is often obscured by clouds or rain or snow. I think it’s also a month of hope, a month of looking forward to spring, the month when vacations and summer camps are planned and colleges are chosen. It’s a month to love and be loved. American journalist Linda Ellerbee once said, “In the coldest February, as in every other month in every other year, the best thing to hold on to in this world is each other.” The power of love will get us through the coldest of times. It is the greatest force in the universe.

On those winter nights when snow falls silently in a barren world, it’s easy to desire nothing more than to crawl into a hole and retreat from everyone. I say, like Ellerbee observed, that it is at those times, when we feel the coldest, that we should reach out to others, pull them to us, and love them fiercely. It is the power of love which creates the warmth we so desperately need, and I don’t mean just on that one day of year that comes in the middle of this month.

We live in a world that seems to believe that love is nothing more than the sugary-sweet outcome of a Hallmark movie, but true love is so much more than that! True love is the food of the soul, the opening of the mind, and the completeness of the body. It is a powerful thing indeed.

Ken and I got engaged in February–February 13, 1993. We had decided that we wanted to have formal pictures done, so we got dressed up for a photo shoot and dinner afterward. While we’d talked about marriage, I didn’t know when, where, or how our actual engagement would take place. I was truly surprised when, between the photos and dinner, Ken got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. We were so young then, barely adults, and hardly knew what we were pledging to each other when he presented and I accepted the ring I still wear today. It has not always been easy, and I’ve gone to bed angry more than once (don’t lecture me–that’s what I need to do to get myself past whatever has upset me). We’ve had our share of fights, but we’ve had so many more joys. After twenty-eight years of marriage, I wouldn’t change a minute of it. That’s the power of love.

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Healing for Mind, Body, and Soul

I recently came across an article in Scientific American that really intrigued me. As we (fingers crossed and prayers said) go into the diminishing phase of Covid with its strange ailments, long-term effects–and trust me, I know about these–its indiscriminate taking of life, closing of churches, separating of loved ones, and alienation of those who most need socialization, I have become keenly aware of the rise in mental health issues and disorders, including in my own inner circle. It seems that the world has fallen into a deep pit of despair, and our lives have become meaningless and out of focus. We have lost the spiritual connection that is necessary to thrive.

Enter, David Rosmarin, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the McLean Hospital Spirituality & Mental Health Program. In his study of psychiatric patients throughout the pandemic, he found that prayer increased significantly in March of 2020 and continued to rise throughout the year despite the closing of houses of worship. He found this to be an extremely important find since “Spirituality has historically been dismissed by psychiatrists.” He noted that, in 2020, American mental health sank to the lowest point in recorded history with diagnoses of mental disorders increasing by 50%. The use of alcohol and drugs rose as did contemplation of suicide. YET the mental health of those patients who attended religious services, in-person or online, actually improved significantly!

Rosmarin goes on to say that studies show that nearly 60% of psychiatric patients have a desire to discuss spirituality with their psychiatrist yet are rarely, if ever, given the opportunity to do so. He says we can blame it on Freud and his characterization of religion as a mass-delusion. We see this trend in suggestions by both the American Psychological Association’s and Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for coping with the pandemic. The only near-mention of religion is the CDC’s recommendation to “connect with your community- or faith-based organizations.” The author goes on to say, “we ignore potential spiritual solutions to our mental health crisis, even when our well-being is worse than ever before.”

According to this study and another, “a belief in God is associated with significantly better treatment outcomes for acute psychiatric patients. And other laboratories have shown a connection between religious belief and the thickness of the brain’s cortex, which may help protect against depression.” He also concluded that “many nonreligious people still seek spirituality, especially in times of distress.”

Now, sit back and take all that in for a moment.

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A Time for Rejoicing

For the past few months, I’ve been leading a study of the Wisdom Literature–the books of Wisdom, Sirach, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and the letter of James along with passages from other books sprinkled in. It’s funny how often the themes of these studies, while I’m in the midst of them, appear throughout all parts of my life. It’s a constant barrage of messages reminding me what I’m supposed to be taking from these lessons and discussions.

A couple weeks ago, I read to the women this beautiful passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. 

Philippians 4:4-9

The following week, I stepped in to lector at Mass when the lector was unable to be there. Guess what the reading was…

Philippians 4:4-9.

A few days later, Father Mike‘s reading in his Bible in a Year Podcast was…

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