Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Nothing to be thankful for...?"

While at the grocery store the other day, I overheard a lady complaining about the economy. "Things are so tight this year," she protested, "I don't think we have very much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving."
Now, I don't know her exact situation. I have no idea what hurdles in her life have been laid out for her to jump over. But I could see she was walking and talking. I noticed she had clothes on her back and shoes on her feet. And I am fairly certain she was planning on buying the groceries in her cart and taking them home to eat.
It is too easy to get caught up in the "glass half-empty" mentality when times get tough. We're human and we have our fears and worries. To say that times are hard for many people doesn’t paint a complete picture of the difficulty some are going through right now. What is more, with Christmas looming over our shoulders like a neon sign, inviting us to spend, spend, spend, it is more than natural to focus on debt,debt, debt. What we can't afford becomes more glaring to us than the life we have been afforded. But isn’t that the time we are told to give thanks? Isn’t this the time to truly count our blessings and celebrate Thanksgiving?
The Bible hints at this when the apostle Paul talks about rejoicing in his weakness and giving thanks for the thorn in his side. Granted, most of us aren't quite there yet -- but the point is clear that we need to have an attitude of gratitude on Thanksgiving –and everyday. There is no better time to thank God for what He has given us than when we have been made aware of what we have taken for granted for so very long.
I think the author, H.U. Westermayer said it best when he once observed,"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving."
Who then are we to doubt our reasons to give thanks?
Have a happy, blessed, and grateful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

For Goodness Sake

Even before our turkeys have been sacrificed for our Thanksgiving tables, some people are attempting to sacrifice our Christmas beliefs.
Last week I got an email from a friend who lives in DC where the American Humanist Association has just plopped down $40,000 to run a campaign in bus stations for an ad that features a shrugging person in an oversized Santa suit. The slogan reads, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” Trying to justify this campaign, a spokesman acknowledged, "Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of non-theists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion."
Isn’t that like saying, “All the Super Bowl parties are not fair to people who don’t like football, so we want to remove that aspect of it to make it more enjoyable for everyone?
And isn’t there a better place to spend $40,000 than to try to attempt to chisel away at the sacredness of the season?
When I would chaperone my kids’ holiday parties at their public schools, we had to be careful to include everyone. Kwanza, Chanukah, and Christmas were all to be respected as celebrations that a child might hold sacred. I never would have considered taking a piece of Kwanza or Chanukah and removing anything I didn’t understand or agree with simply so I wouldn’t feel left out.
But somehow, the Christian faith is constantly challenged in public. Will we say “Happy Holidays’ this year --- or will we come right out and say “Merry Christmas"? Will government put a ban on public displays of the nativity again?
Last month, the British Humanist Association began their attacks with their campaign which attempted to advise: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
A recent study reports that 92% of Americans believe in God. Do the other 8% have a right to voice their questions and comments? Of course they do; that is the beauty of our country. But do we have the right to defend our faith? Of course we do; that is the necessity of our times.
The question then, as we prepare for the holy season of Christmas, is what are we willing to do to keep Christ in Christmas? Or better yet, what are we willing to do to keep Christ in our lives throughout the whole year? We need to decide now.
For goodness sake.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Veteran's Day

I received an email from a fellow teacher containing a poem recounting his return trip home from the war –the Vietnam War. He recalled buddies left behind, some he prayed might return one day, others whose flag-draped caskets were the only return they would ever get.
Reading his emotional account of his re-entry into the real-world following his service to his country – my country ---hit me hard on this week of Veteran’s Day.
I was so young during the Vietnam War that I’m not sure what I remember about it and what has actually been planted in my mind from movies and old news footage.
As I grew, I thought the Vietnam War was, like World Wars I and II, simply pages in a history book.
Now, the war-pages of history are still being written.
Daily, we hear of young men and women going off to serve their country.
Last month, when one of my former students left for the Army, this living history became more real for me. I guess I always suspected the war was made up of sons, and daughters, and students, but as long as we can compartmentalize our world here and their world there, we don’t have to put faces on the soldiers.
But of course, they all have faces. They all have positions of importance in someone’s life. And right now they are in a position of uncertainty, serving our country.
Like the Vietnam War of years ago, so much is argued today about the rightness of the war that is currently going on.
But at least one thing that has changed for the better, is perhaps we finally understand that no matter what someone thinks of the war, the soldiers---both young and old--- helping to fight it, deserve our thanks, prayers and praise.
Throughout history, if we have managed to learn anything at all, it is that there would be no land of the free without this being the home of so many of the brave.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Election Reflection

The election that reignited the fire of patriotism in both citizens who vote faithfully every year and those who may not have even known where to vote in the past, is now history.
Never before have I witnessed the passion of a passionate debate like happened in America this year. Our country awoke from an apparent apathetic slumber with a new-found fervor.
Citizens who support life through their debates, discussions and ballots, worked overtime this election.
We did our homework, shared our knowledge and came to the test day as prepared as we could be.
Gratefully, we survived the rainstorm of campaign commercials, contrary columns, angry letters to the editors, and even … infomercials.
We stood on principal. We stood on faith. We stood together even when it seemed we stood alone.
We supported our beliefs, our candidates, our values.
And now, some wave a banner of victory –others a flag of defeat.
But regardless of the banner or flag that is being waved, wouldn’t it be a waste to have all this reignited passion for a purpose, all this reaffirmed commitment for life, go the way of our rotting Halloween pumpkins?
We can’t stop now.
It would be easy to feel we have done our part –fought the good fight and simply sit back knowing we tried our best.
But wouldn’t that be a waste?
We need to hold onto this rekindled passion for the possibilities of our beliefs, our values, our country and we need to move forward with it. We need to harness the energy of the last few weeks –the prayer, the solidarity and the determination, and make something good come from it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, now that our votes have been counted by someone, we have to make sure that our votes count for something.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

For Alice

A poet once observed:
“The sweetest sounds to mortals given
Are heard in Mother, Home, and Heaven.”
I was thinking about this recently after attending the funeral of a woman who epitomizes for me what a mother should be: Loving, faithful, serving, ever-praising.
Alice Willig, wife of Ed Willig, was the mother of 11 children, 36 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. I got to know her as the mother of my dear friend, Fr. Jim Willig. When we were brought together to write his book, Lessons from the School of Suffering, chronicling his journey with cancer, much of it had to be written from his parent’s house where he was recuperating from different cancer treatments.
Alice’s love and care for her hurting son was actually palpable. You felt it the minute you walked into their home. As a mother, I understood. It doesn’t matter if our child is four or forty. When they are hurting, we are hurting. And Alice turned her hurt for her son into ways to help. From praying with him and cooking for him, to rubbing his feet after a weary cancer treatment, Alice served her son with a happy heart. Fr. Jim would often comment how doubly blessed he was to have a loving, heavenly mother in the Blessed Mother, and a loving, earthly mother to help him through his suffering. Alice’s role in his life made his devotion to Mary all the more natural. But Alice wasn’t just serving and loving her suffering son; she was able to serve and love all her children and grandchildren with this selfless, Christ-like love. And all the while she was serving, she was daily praying for them and their salvation.
We can learn so much from mothers like this: Moms who truly live their lives to raise their children in this world with the sole purpose of getting them into the next world.
We get so caught up in our ideas of the super-mom of today: the one who brings home the bacon and fries it up in the pan. But, if truth be told, there is no better supermom than one who spends her life showing her children Christ’s love through her love for them.
Today, we can all learn so much from the life of supermom, Alice Willig. We can smile as we think of the poet’s words once again:
“The sweetest sounds to mortals given
Are heard in Mother, Home, and Heaven.”
And those words are even sweeter when they refer to a life well loved and lived, and a dear mother who finally makes it home to heaven.