Change Is In The Air

        Change, change, change is in the air.  I don’t think we had ever heard the word “change” mentioned as much as in the last year.  But no, I’m not talking about THAT change, not in a political context. The change I’m talking about is not an external one of conditions or behaviors, but rather an internal one that transforms us.  The type we experience during Lent.  Yes, it’s incredible, but Lent is around the corner once again.  It begins next week on Ash Wednesday, one of my favorite days of the year, and continues until Easter, Sunday, April 12th

        It is a perfect season for cleansing and renewal.  A time for us to take stock of our lives and our relationships to figure out and adjust those glitches which may be distancing us from the Lord.  In a perfect world, we wouldn’t rely on Lent to make these adjustments; this would be a year-long effort.  But let’s face it; it’s not a perfect world.  Fortunately Lent affords us this specific time in which to look within, and hopefully experience a change of heart and a deeper conversion.

        I came across a question once that asked, “Do you need a faith lift?” I loved that.  I can tell you that I live in constant need of that kind of spiritual makeover.  Because just when I think I’m good in that department, something happens that shows me I’m not. There is always room for growth in the faith department.

        This Lenten season we should ask ourselves what we need to do to strengthen our faith and get closer to the Lord.  Is it to spend more time in thanksgiving and gratitude? We are so blessed on so many levels that we should be in a continuous state of gratitude.  Is it to practice forgiveness and humility? Yikes! This is my area.  There may be people in our lives we need to forgive or from whom we need forgiveness, and pride should play no part in this.  Is it to serve? This is a good time to put into practice the love your neighbor part of that greatest commandment.  Is it to attend Mass weekly? The opportunity to receive the Eucharist should be right up there on our list, we should honor this invitation from Jesus.  Or is it maybe to dedicate time to prayer? Without prayer our faith just wouldn’t be. You could say it would be like not making time for someone close to us.  He or she probably wouldn’t remain close for every long.  

            This Lenten season, let’s take a look at what’s inside of us and ask the Lord to help us tweak those glitches that need adjustment so that we can be better towards ourselves and others, and in turn feel closer to Him.  And let’s definitely strive for this to become a a year-long practice in our lives.  On that note, I leave you with some very good advice:

Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.

Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragements; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.

-Unknown Author

Wishing all of you a blessed Lenten season.  May the peace of the Lord live in your hearts.  : )

Out of Sight Out of Mind

        Out of sight out of mind.   Ay, how I despise that phrase!  I think it’s even worse in Spanish — “ojos que no ven corazón que no siente” — eyes that don’t see heart that doesn’t feel — Yuk.  Few things in life rattle me.  Seeing someone use this approach is one of them.  Just gets under my skin.  Why does this practice appeal to some people?  In a nutshell, because it shields the heart.  But at what cost?

        I mean, I understand the reasoning behind it.  We don’t want to suffer through the mayhem playing out in the news, so we change the channel; we don’t want to be troubled by that homeless soul begging at the street light, so we change lanes; or we don’t want to deal with that someone who triggers in us certain inconvenient emotions, so, no matter how dear or close to us, we shut down and leave them hanging.  Eyes that don’t see heart that doesn’t feel.  It’s an easier way around life.  Oh but what a blatant act of indifference.

        I think this practice of detachment, of conscious avoidance if you will, is to our detriment.  Its only accomplishment is to place our concerns, worries, pain, anger, disappointment, pride, or what have you, in hibernation while we wait and hope for these feelings to fade away or the circumstances to resolve.  And yes, occasionally it works, but at a high cost.  This indifference may shield the heart from certain inconveniences, but it leads to lack of compassion, and that my friends, hardens the heart.  Going against every ounce of what God wants for us.  Because a hard heart cannot hear God’s voice.  Yet it’s tempting, this turning a blind eye so we don’t hurt.  I know, I’ve tried this OOSOOM thing.  But I’m what you call an emotiochist (yes I just made that up, like epishowers, those epiphanies I have in the shower, which is where the thought for this writing originated), so I must feel.  I tell you, with that array of emotions, an introverted personality and an extra large size conscience, the type that causes me to constantly kick myself in the butt (but that’s a topic for another day) it’s no wonder I suffer from arrhythmia.  Pero doesn’t matter, I just rather feel, and a hardened heart doesn’t.  So this “not able to be seen and so not thought about” philosophy is not for me.

        Besides, at first, it may seem like it’s doable.  Like it’ll help us get away with not having to feel whatever it is.  But most often than not, because we are good and decent, chances are we won’t be able to get rid of those inconvenient emotions and instead we’ll piggyback ‘em until, all of a sudden, we realize that it’s been in vain, not having served a purpose or resolved a thing, other than to make us physically ill and emotionally reckless.  I’m telling you it’s like waterproofing a structure that you cover with concrete or pavers or plants – the deterioration goes unnoticed until the leaks surface.  Then we realize that turning away from that inward or outward experience only increased its power over us.

Bottom line is that when confronted with life’s challenges, those we rather drop like a hot potato, it’s always best from the get go to resign to the power of stillness and prayer, recognizing that there lies the true path to our heart and our ability to truly listen to God’s guidance, to in turn be able to better deal with circumstances.

        Out of sight out of mind.  May the Lord never allow us to give into that phrase.  May He help us rest in the cooling shade of His presence, slow down our restless hearts and fill us with gentle compassion for all people.


“The opposite of love is not hate,
it’s indifference.
The opposite of art is not ugliness,
it’s indifference.
The opposite of faith is not heresy,
it’s indifference.
And the opposite of life is not death,
it’s indifference.”

– Elie Wiesel

“Compassion literally means to feel with, to
suffer with. Everyone is capable of compassion, and yet everyone tends to avoid it because it’s uncomfortable. And the avoidance produces psychic numbing — resistance to experiencing our pain for the world and other beings.”
– Joanna Macy

“I came upon a doctor who appeared in quite poor health.  I said, ‘There’s nothing that I can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.’  He said, ‘Oh yes you can. Just hold my hand, I think that that would help.’  So I sat with him a while then I asked him how he felt.  He said, ‘I think I’m cured.'”
-Conor Oberst

 

Walking the Talk

This Tuesday my son will be receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.  In preparation, this past weekend he attended a retreat given at his school.  His first retreat.  He loved it.  Said it was great.  Having been through a number of retreats myself, both on the receiving end and as a leader/helper, I know the life-altering effect they can have on one, especially a retreat well planned and lead.  His retreat was.  And I want to take a moment to thank the teachers and school alumni who made it happen.  In particular, Ms. Cindy — you rock!  She did an amazing job.  As well, the group of teenagers who volunteered their time to plan and work this retreat — Vicky, Juanqui, Ali, Annette, Ashely, Melissa, Lauren, to name a few.  These teenagers’ dedication and show of faith is a refreshing reminder that not all the youth of this country is lost.  That a large number of them are out there doing their best to set an example for us all, spreading and living the Word — walking the talk, if you will.

Thank you guys for making this a special and memorable retreat for Danny and his classmates.  Keep up the good work.  The Lord needs you.  The world needs you.

There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow men.
There is no greater contribution than to help the weak.
There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.
– Walter ReutherOne thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really
happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.
Albert Schweitzer

You’ve touched people and know it. You’ve touched people
and never may know it. Either way, no matter what your life
feels like to you right now, you have something to give.
It is in giving to one another that each one of our lives
becomes meaningful.
Laura Schlessinger

 

Flak about Michael Phelps

[Contributed by Barbie Rodriguez]

You know what? I am really, really, REALLY tired of the “I’m only ___ years old.” and “I’m sorry, I used poor judgment” excuses. People are criticizing Kellog’s for dropping Phelps, or rather, not renewing his contract. I say, good for them. He should be dropped from any and all contracts. Yes, he’s young. Big deal. He still knows right from wrong. As to all the brouhaha over his Olympic record. Big whoop. Yeah, great, he’s a great swimmer, sportsman, whatever. Yeah, great, he broke records. IN SWIMMING. Did he cure cancer? No. Did he cure AIDS? No. Come up with plan to end poverty, hunger, homelessness? Achieve world peace? No, no, no and no. Yet still people made a “hero” out of him. Looked up to him. For swimming. You know who the real hero is? The captain who landed his plane in the Hudson, kept his cool, saved ALL lives on board and has kept a low profile and humble demeanor throughout all the hoopla surrounding him. The real heroes are those that keep their families together, their priorities strong and trudge through day after day, paying the bills, taking care of their families, sometimes under the grimmest of circumstances. Those are the real heroes. People who devote their lives to sports and go to the Olympics? Yeah, they are great athletes, but should they be put on a pedestal and get a bazillion dollars in promotional contracts? Not in my book. It’s time for people to start taking responsibility for their actions. And stop using the “I’m young, I’m sorry, I used poor judgment” excuses. Get real. Grow up. Face the facts. People are living under bridges, children are going hungry, the sick are going untreated, the elderly are being mistreated. Why don’t people get as outraged over these facts as they do over the fact that Phelps got canned by Kellogg’s? How skewed are our priorities? Michael Phelps, a fallen hero? Oh, please!

 

I Went to That Game With Your Grandmother

        A couple of weeks ago I got to go to a football game with my son Danny.  But not just any football game, “THE” football game.  The BCS Championship bowl game between the Florida Gators and the Oklahoma Sooners.  Okay so that may not mean much to you, but for football fans, it meant the hottest ticket in town.  Never mind how we came across the two tickets, the sweet thing is that my hubby, being the great guy that he is (plus it doesn’t hurt that he’s a UM alumnus and a Gator-hater), offered his seat to me saying “You went to that school, so you go.” To which I promptly responded, “Okay.”  Don’t need to tell you the look on his face.   Gator-hater and all, he was as excited about the opportunity of going to the game as I was.  But like I said, he’s a great guy.

        Terrific, except I figured my son would not be down for the deal because what 13-year old boy wants to be seen at such gigantic event with his mother? I mean, sure, Danny and I are close, he’s my grocery shopping partner, we bike ride, toss the ball around some (I happen to like sports), and even slap each other around often (that game I’m gonna have to put an end to soon if I don’t wanna end up getting hurt, given his growth spurts as of late).  But the bottom line is that he and Dad are skin-tight, and big football games belong to fathers and sons.  So I thought nah, this isn’t gonna fly.  I think my husband thought the same thing.  Until Danny said he really didn’t care much who took him as long as he got to go.  Such tactfulness…NOT!  Great timing for it though… wink, wink.   During the next few days, however, I did have second thoughts about going.  Being the big game it was I wondered whether he would have a good time going with me.  But instead of folding, I started seeing in this the opportunity for us to make one of those lasting memories together.  The kind he would tell his own kids about.  At least that’s what I hoped it would be.

        Game day came and my hubby dropped us off at the stadium (all the limos in town had been rented…no, not really).  We power-walked through the parking lot amidst a slew of tailgating fans who looked like they had been there a wee-bit too long if you know what I mean.  For a minute there it sorta felt like we were “walking the line.”  But since no one had won or lost yet, everyone was in good spirits so we made it in safe.  We entered our gate and took our seats.  Three seconds later we were gone for food and memorabilia.  Danny and I walked like crazies scouting the stadium stores and concession stands.  We returned junk food loaded, heavy on orange and blue beads, and sporting Gator sweatshirts.  Well what did you expect; we had to look the part, no?

        As kickoff time neared, the stadium filled with a sea of orange and blue.  It almost seemed the entire Gainesville population was at Dolphin Stadium, which by the way saw its largest crowd ever to watch a football game there.  Talk about home field advantage.  It felt like I was back at the Swamp.  Trust me, I remember it still.  Yikes!   So far we were having a good time and the game hadn’t even started.  Once it did though, things got serious and down to business.  We had a job to do. To roar at the top of our lungs, and even louder on third downs.  That was our job and we did it dutifully and proudly.  HA!  It was fun. So far Danny looked like he was having a good time.  I was glad about that.  By the time half-time came around, our ears were ringing.  We needed a break so we went inside for some more food and some more junk to buy.  This time a disposable camera since with all the excitement during drop off, we both forgot our digital in the limo, I mean the SUV.  Our stroll around the lounge area included an unexpected bump into Bob Costas, yeah you know, that giant of the sportscasting world; figuratively that is, because the guy is Danny’s size, we almost missed him.  We rushed back for the second half and made our way to our seats high-fiving everyone in our row because by this time in a football game if you’re not at that point with those around you, you’re a dead beat.  And my son and I weren’t there to be deadbeats.  No, we weren’t, and we got pictures to prove it.

        The second half was even louder.  The day after the game I read an article which said that a field-level decibel-reading devise indicated the noise during parts of the game was equal to that of a jet engine.  The entire game was like that, but even more so during the fourth quarter.  I don’t think we sat down but a few minutes all game long.  Danny and I cheered along with every other rooter to every single cheer there was, Gator chomping along to the theme of Jaws and in the face of every Sooner we saw.   It was fun, to say the least.  Especially since the Gators won.  We stayed through the end of the trophy presentation, as we sat back in our seats totally exhausted by this time, and watched Tebow and his John 3:16 scripture painted face walk around the stadium shaking hands with fans.

        Meanwhile, across the highway, our chauffeur was maneuvering through the traffic madness. We eventually made our long walk back to our pick up point, somewhere out there around the stadium, where we met up with the limo, I mean the SUV, as it swiftly picked us up while still in movement.  Yeah there was no going around again for that driver, the poor guy.  Thank you honey for giving up your seat and for so graciously getting us there and back.  As we sat there tired, our voices hoarse, and our heart rates just then returning to normal, Dad asked, “How was it?”  — “Awesome,” his son said.  So it sounded like I had held my own, scoring about an 8 in the “football buddy” department, with zero embarrassments.  I did wait for him outside the men’s bathroom, but c’mon, what you want from me?  

        In the end, I thank God for the opportunity He gave me to make yet another lasting memory.  One I will hold dear and high up there with those to come — his graduation, his wedding, his children’s births….But it was just a football game you say.  Not to me. And I hope one day, if and when the topic arises while reminiscing with one of his own, he’ll say, “That game? Oh yeah, I went to that game with your grandmother.  It was wild….”    : )

-by Connie Perez

Worth Watching: 22 Weeks

Here’s a low budget film which was released late in 2008.  The film “22 Weeks” shows the hidden side of abortion.  It is based on the shocking World Net Daily article by Ron Strom, about a woman in her 30s named Angele who went for an abortion at an Orlando clinic in April 2005, while 22 weeks pregnant.  The film is scheduled to be shown in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, the day before the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, and the annual March for Life protesting the decision.  The official web site for the film is http://22weeksthemovie.com/index-flash.html, and you can go to http://22weeksthemovie.com/ to check screening dates, to purchase the DVD, or to request a screening of the film in your school or community.

The abortion controversy stems out of some people’s adamant and sometimes prideful fight for a “woman’s choice.”  But at what price? is this blogger’s incessant question.

Source:  YouTube

Book List 3

More books I recommend (most current read on top). You can click on the links to read about them. Note: For you Spanish speaking folks, the titles marked with an asterisc are a better read in Spanish.

Nieve en la Haban: Confesiones de un Cubanito* by Carlos Eire

The Shack by William P. Young

How Good Do We Have to Be? A New Understanding of Guilt and Foregiveness
by Harold S. Kushner

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Brida by Paulo Coelho

A Day With a Perfect Stranger by David Gregory

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny
by Robin S. Sharma

365 new ones!

Family and friends – We are hours away from welcoming a new year…PHEW!! 2008 has been a duzy that’s for sure. Anyone out there who did not fear they could end up living on the streets by year’s end raise your hand…anyone?…anyone?….Right, I thought so. This year brought us the collapse of banks, the stock market, and the U.S. auto industry, sending many to the unemployment line. And all courtesy of the third deadly sin: Greed. Greed on the part of the companies that enticed us with their rose-colored avarice; and greed on the part of the consumers who, despite their own economic hardships, thought that bigger and better than their neighbor meant happier. Luckily we’re all quick studies. Hopefully, no?This year also brought us the continuation of the never-ending Middle East chaos, which sometimes looked like child’s play in comparison to the atrocities being committed right here in our homeland by some of the less than human and more possessed-like individuals to make the freak list. Unreal! Oh, and yes of course, it brought us a new president…uhum uhum….

It wasn’t all bad though, and many of us triumphed as we fought tooth and nail to overcome whatever stones patterned our paths. Fortunately for us, the infinite grace of God once again held our planet together yet another year, despite our relentless attempts to destroy it and everything in it. May He continue to be ever so merciful, is all I can say.

Meanwhile, my sincere best wishes go out to all of you for a healthy and happy 2009. May the Lord provide you with a daily dose of serenity, strength, courage and wisdom. God bless you, and your 365 new ones!

I leave you with a recipe for a Happy New Year that I found recently:  

    Take twelve fine, full-grown months; see that these are thoroughly free from old memories of bitterness, rancor and hate, cleanse them completely from every clinging spite; pick off all specks of pettiness and littleness; in short, see that these months are freed from all the past—have them fresh and clean as when they first came from the great storehouse of Time. Cut these months into thirty or thirty-one equal parts. Do not attempt to make up the whole batch at one time (so many persons spoil the entire lot this way) but prepare one day at a time.

    Into each day put equal parts of faith, patience, courage, work (some people omit this ingredient and so spoil the flavor of the rest), hope, fidelity, liberality, kindness, rest (leaving this out is like leaving the oil out of the salad dressing— don’t do it), prayer, meditation, and one well-selected resolution. Put in about one teaspoonful of good spirits, a dash of fun, a pinch of folly, a sprinkling of play, and a heaping cupful of good humor.

 

Every Man For Himself

A good friend of mine e-mailed me today writing:

I have a question…and since you are the Cuban Dalai Lama, I thought I’d address it to you.  If the government has the money to (possibly) lend the automakers a gazillion dollars … why doesn’t it have the money to fund our schools, provide medicine for the sick, feed the hungry and house the homeless?  I’m thinking of writing a letter on this very subject to our President-elect.  Because these are issues that truly bother me.  I have a family in my development that is facing serious economic problems.  These are honest, decent, hardworking people.  He had two accidents, one work-related, another was a car crash, and was unable to work for almost a year.  She works cleaning houses, takes in sewing, laundry, you name it, she does it.  Because of the economy, two of the houses she cleaned weekly have stopped using her services.  She’s down to one house.  She made pillow shams and seat covers for my sofa, did a splendid job and charged me a very reasonable rate.  Then I thought, well, I go to the laundry and spend money there, maybe she could do that for me and I’ll pay her what I pay the laundry.  Done deal.  She also makes and sells croquetas (I’m a steady customer).  He can’t find a job (he’s a welder).  They have exhausted their savings and were unable to meet their rent for this month, so they got an eviction notice.  They are expecting a settlement check from one of his accidents, to the tune of approximately $5,000 (the attorney got the larger chunk).  They went to their attorney yesterday, eviction notice in hand, to see if he could do something about getting their money now.  He said there’s nothing he can do, it’s a process.  The other case is still in the settlement process, or so their attorney tells them.  So … they could be out on the street. They went to the management office and explained their situation, they gave them until the 15th and then they’ll start eviction proceedings.  They don’t live in a luxury apartment, their place is identical to mine, one bedroom/one bath.  It’s a blue collar neighborhood.  It hurts to see this.  It hurts even more to see the government mulling over the possibility of lending billions to automakers who gad about in their private jets.  In the words of Chris Rock “that ain’t right.”  I am having a very hard time dealing with this, it’s very frustrating.  At their church, their pastor got him a job delivering newspapers, minimum wage.  You should see them, they have such faith and they know they will get through this.
Okay, I have vented … I have unloaded.  Feedback please.
B.

I happen to share in my friend’s frustration. This family’s story is one I hear often nowadays…about friends of my friends, about friends of my mother’s…it’s everywhere, it seems most of us know someone being put through the wringer by this economy. Meanwhile, our government gets in bed with these mega-companies, I think not so much to save the day as to get to own a piece of the pie, as this latest deal indicates. There is no piece of pie to be had in funding schools, providing medicine for the sick, feeding the hungry, or housing the homeless. Do you see? The standing economy will make the rich richer (as there is much money to be made off the inopportuneness of others), make the middle class sweat it out (as most of us consider gambling with our children’s future too high a risk), and make or break the poor (as necessity is the mother of invention).

As for this family she talks about, we should take comfort in knowing that they are so faithful, because that is precisely the one thing that will get them through this, not our government. Because the only words I hear lately from the political powers that be, reverberate that old familiar Spanish saying that goes: “Salvese el que pueda.”

It is frustrating indeed. But, just because our government’s thinking is “every man for himself,” doesn’t mean ours, the people’s, has to be, no? We can certainly have a hand in bailing out one another.

 

Geez, we should all be so disabled.

        I have this student, let’s call him Joe.  He’s kind of slow, a bit mentally challenged; enough to be labeled with a disability.  I gotta tell you though that if Joe’s disability has something to do with the reasoning he exhibits, maybe more of us should suffer from the same kind of disability.

        I’ve had the opportunity to observe him for a few weeks now.  This fourteen year old, despite his slowness, seems to be in tune with what matters.  This past Saturday I asked the kids to take out a piece of paper for an activity.  Of course there is always someone in class without paper who has to borrow from the others.  This was the case last week with one of the kids sitting at Joe’s table (they sit 4 to a table, as I teach in the school’s art room).  While the other students at his table were oblivious to this kid’s need for paper, before he even asked, Joe was handing him one.  I’ve seen him do this kind of thing time and again for the other students.  Always attuned to their needs.

        I proceeded with the activity and asked them to list ten things for which they are thankful.   Joe is a slow thinker and writer, but the kid managed to finish that list before anyone else, listing things such as family, school, friends, food, while some of the other kids’ minds were bogged down with so many material things they just didn’t know which ones to write first.

        Even though he seems to be far off somewhere, he lives in constant awareness.  His mind is occupied with what’s in front of him only.  And I believe this is what allows him to be so in tune with those around him and their needs.  With us, if we seem to be far off somewhere is probably because we are.  I know half the time our minds are preoccupied with legit concerns, I grant you that, but the other half of the time they are so full of insignificant material, it seems like there’s almost no room in there for what’s important, what’s essential — the now — that which is right in front of us.

        Later, I spent part of that class talking about siblings and the importance of that relationship in our lives.  Some of the kids shared their own sibling experiences, some of which were pure nightmares.  And during the break, Joe came to me and said: “My sister thinks I invade her privacy so sometimes we fight.  When I go home now how can I get near her so she doesn’t think I’m doing that…I don’t want her to hate me.”  The genuine concern in the tone of his voice, coming from a person like him, broke my heart and at the same time put a smile on my face. 

        I don’t think I need to explain to you why.  All I’ll say is that at that moment, and after what I had witnessed from him throughout that class, I thought to myself, geez, we should all be so disabled.

 

“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.”
-James Thurber

The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.
-Henry Miller